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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Death is a Door (awful working title)

   
Author Topic: Death is a Door (awful working title)
wetwilly
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1st 13 of...hmm, I guess it would be a modern fantasy story. This is my version 1.5 (finished a rough draft, have gone through it once to clean up glaringly bad parts). Crits of opening welcome. Also looking for readers for the whole story. 6100 words.

***

Lauren sat on the handrail of the fire escape outside her bedroom window, kicking her feet into the darkness and staring at the pavement seven stories below. She swallowed a mouthful of fire from the bottle she had snuck out of her mom's private cupboard and tried her best to ignore the sound of her parents fighting inside. She didn't know exactly what was in the bottle, only that it went down with a reassuring burn.

She had shut the window, but it didn't block the yelling, only muffled it. Her parents fought like they always did: her mom raging drunkenly and her dad responding loudly but mechanically, shouting the same words he had shouted a thousand times before.

Out of nowhere, she heard music. Not distant music, like from a neighbor's apartment, but music that surrounded and overpowered her...

***

(chopped off mid-sentence for 13 line rule)

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Disgruntled Peony
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Before I get to the grammar recommendations, let me just get this out of the way: there is a lot of potential in this opening, and I definitely want to read the full piece. The intro really grabbed me, personally.

That said, there are some changes I would recommend to clean the opening up:

I see a lot of 'ing' words, which are best done away with (my early drafts tend to have those too). There are also a lot of sentences that open with the word 'she', which you might want to change up a bit--using the pronoun itself is fine, but opening too many sentences with it too quickly risks the reader's boredom due to repetition.

The bit that bothers me most is actually the opening of the third paragraph: 'Out of nowhere'. My knowledge of grammar is often more instinctual than technical, but I can safely say that feels wrong. I get what you're trying to say with the sentence, but I feel like it would be better to reword it. I can't think of an example to suggest at the moment, or I would.

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Tiergan
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I agree with Disgruntled on the 'Out of nowhere' it seemed fabricated or forced to me. I would search for a better way of saying it depending upon how it happened. Music flared, or blared, or hit, if it was all of a sudden. Or was it really all of sudden? Or did she just now noticed it? The driving beat of music drove into her senses ... Words like out of nowhere, and suddenly seemed forced to me, like telling not showing.

Nice intro though.

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extrinsic
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A young or early adult shelters outside from a contentious clash inside.

Not much of a complication or exposition setup to speak of. Nor a fantasy motif introduction. Some of a parental problem and Lauren's generic want to avoid their clash.

The grammar consideration of substance for "Out of nowhere" is "Out of" is a two-word preposition -- preposition at the start of a sentence and a paragraph. Grammar "rules" proscribe prepositions at the start and end of syntactical units. Prose's rhetorical exceptions notwithstood. A rule is part of consideration, though why is a substantive consideration.

Prepositions usually connect verbs and objects, especially transitive verbs, which require an object. (Prepositions could also connect nouns and modifiers, nouns and objects, verbal phrases, and subject, predicate, and object complements to their counterpart main subject, predicate, and object phrases.)

//She heard music out of nowhere.// is easier to read and comprehend, and evinces a larger consideration; that is, the sentence is vague and static. The summary verb "heard" tells that a sensory action takes place; instead, a description of the sound is stronger prose, is show. A bald description of the music's sound -- instrumental, lyrical, whatever -- also affords an opportunity to introduce a fantasy motif.

Overall, the fragment is static from static and ongoing, nonfinite time span verbs and lack of other specificity -- significant subjects, predicates, and objects.

For example, instead of a report, a tell, that Lauren sits on a fire escape handrail seven floors above the pavement below, describe the fire escape setting's influence upon Lauren and such that the setting emblematically mirrors the parents' activities inside.

Verbs like "sat" are insignificant and static from their vague ambiguity confusion of time span. Just this moment sat down or sat for a while and how long? The former is an intransitive case verb, which optionally takes an object, and the latter transitive case, which requires an object. In any case, to sit is usually a two-word verb that takes a particle adverb or preposition, that defines a finite time span, often a directional adverb or preposition. Sat down, sat in, sat on, sat back, sat still, etc.

Many -ing present participle verbs and gerund nouns ring like a noisy alarm bell and are static noise. The simple past or present tense forms are more robust, if not more dynamic -- to mean of a finite time span. Also, many gerunds can be simple present or past participle verb forms instead of present participle, or another word choice -- diction -- that's not an -ing gerund. For example, "yelling" could be "shouts" or the sentence recast to suit "yelled," "yells," or "shouted" and adjusted for finite time significance, like particles included: "shouted down," "yelled over," and so on.

Past perfect tenses often signal summary and explanation tells and a confused temporal flow.

"the bottle she _had snuck_ out" reverts to an earlier moment of the action. Perhaps the bottle snuck could be a start point, and possibly a complication and exposition setup, if not a fantasy motif introduction opportunity. Consider the bottle perhaps a sweet though potent schnaps or cordial made from a fantasy fruit or a fantasy motif anyway, Goldschlager maybe, even in Lauren's imagination and not actually fantastical -- a youth's first perception of the arcane mythos of strong spirits, and an opportunity to develop the complication and exposition of the whole. And also, the taste, more than a burn, a contrast of burn and delightful sweetness, and Lauren wonders what the hubbub is about beverage spirits if the taste is odd.

That -- what the whole is truly about, I have no clue, other than the parents alienate Lauren, their self-involved, immoral drunken binges and quarrels a setup for Lauren's isolation that then develops story movement from efforts to reintegrate socially to a new normal emotional equilibrium.

A sequence formula for story movement (character, emotion, and plot movement), especially young adult fiction: alienate, isolate, complicate, reintegrate, satiate.

I would not read past the first sentence, due mostly to starts with the viewpoint agonist's name from out of nowhere, static verb "sat," and -ing participle verbs "kicking" and "staring." Although, a vague, if any, impression of what the narrative is about, after the fragment end, the complication and exposition underdeveloped, to me, also contribute to my decline to read on.

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Grumpy old guy
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As a piece of prose, the fragment does have some shortcomings as noted by others. However, at this early stage (ver 1.5) I'm willing to forgive and move on. My issue is more about where this fragment should sit within the story.

For a short story, which this is, the fragment is, in my opinion, too vague and, while it begins character development needs, it does not immediately grab the reader's attention. I can intuit the seeds of a possible character internal conflict: Lauren's repulsion at her mother's shrill, drunken tirades in conflict with her father and the fear she could end up exactly like the thing she despises. I say this because Lauren is also drinking to escape. However, regardless of what her internal conflict might be, it is important in short stories to bring the internal conflict to the fore as quickly as possible.

So, for a short story, I would be looking for an opening sentence or two prior to this fragment that lays out Lauren's dilemma in some manner. It need not be overt, but it should be clear enough to grab the reader's attention. Of course, I have no idea at this stage what the story is really about and what aspect of the human condition, if any, you are exploring. It could simply be a rollicking good yarn. [Smile]

Phil.

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wetwilly
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Disgruntled, can I ask what grabbed you about this opening? And let me give it another pass before I release it into the world, then I'll send it over to you.

Tiergan, I totally get your issue with "Out of nowhere." Just not sure how to fix it yet, because it's important that it's clear that this music did in fact show up suddenly and with no source.

Extrinsic, I hear what you're screaming. Working on those static verbs.

Grumpy, you may be right about start point. I'm going to try backing up a paragraph.

Thanks, friends.

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Disgruntled Peony
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It's hard to pinpoint, because it wasn't just one thing. Some of the metaphors caught me (mouthful of fire, for example). The whole opening paragraph intrigued me, personally. Opening a few sentences earlier as Grumpy Old Guy suggested would not be a bad idea, but I am personally fond of what the opening paragraph entails.

I empathized with Lauren's situation. The combination of a female protagonist and the situation with her parents' marital distress caught my attention very quickly. The impression I got is that Lauren wants to escape but can't leave the house, so she's trying out the alcohol as an alternative.

The music bit at the end also intrigued me--it struck me as having potential for an alien abduction or some other kind of otherworldly visitor, which tickled my fancy. It could be something completely different, of course, but the point remains that I want to find out what it is. [Smile]

Considering how I've felt about the other writing that I've seen from you thus far, I think it's safe to say that I tend to enjoy your stories in general. Your choices of story and theme tend to resonate well with my personal tastes as a reader.

[ October 04, 2015, 07:48 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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babooher
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Anyone else get an Inferno (from Niven and Pournelle) vibe from this? Maybe that's just the resonance I'm feeling.

I don't think I'd back up in this at all. I have to guess at this (thank you 13-line-rule), so forgive me if I'm off. The music isn't natural, right? The descriptions are vague and that doesn't help. Chimes (a la The Dark Tower), guitar riffs, thunderous drums and piercing picollos? What is this music? And if it is death's doorbell or whatever, I want to get to that threshold as soon as possible. So personally, I think I could shorten the intro to allow for the same info and imagery, but get to the music faster.

If Lauren's conflict with her parents is the conflict that must be resolved, I'm completely wrong. However, if it is simply the exigence that gets Lauren to the railing, I don't think we need anymore explanation.

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wetwilly
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You are correct, babooher, the music isn't natural. Well, it kind of is natural, actually, but only according to the rules of the world of this story, which Lauren doesn't know about at this point. The description of the music comes very shortly after the 13 line cut-off. (It's an upbeat jazz combo).

Lauren's stressful family life is the exigence (thanks for teaching me a new word) that pushes Lauren to the edge. It is part of the the central conflict, but it's more about Lauren figuring out how to deal with the nasty parts of her life than it is about her finding a solution for her familial problems. So as I write that, my mind is becoming more clear on the fact that the focus of this intro needs to be on how Lauren is reacting to the fight rather than on the fight itself. I think this intro does that, so I don't want to change that. But, I think I can back up a line or two and tell (yes, tell. Sometimes telling is okay, right?) the reader what is going on here.

After fighting the advice on my last story to back up and tell the reader what the hell it was about at the beginning, I tried it and decided it was better after all, so I think I'll give that a try again.

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jerich100
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Was the bottle not labeled at all? Would someone really drink out of a blank bottle? What if you said it was XYZ drink, but that she thought it had been altered be cause it burned more. This way there is intrigue without her being overly foolish. "The bottle said it was XYZ, but..."

Also, I've noticed in my writing the frequent use of "he", "she", etc. I am rooting many of them out and I believe it makes the reading less repetitive. For example, you write, "Out of nowhere, she heard music." Instead, write, "Music came from out of nowhere..."

Instead of writing her dad, "shouted the same words he had shouted a thousand times before," (which flirts with "telling"), change it to, "shouted [insults, lectures, 'I told you so's', etc.] like he had done a thousand times before."

Also, if she's ticked off at her mother being drunk, why is she drinking? Can she be doing something else, or does her mother have to be drunk? Or can she think, "I'm only having a sip--which is what my mother always says..." (confliction)

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by jerich100:
Also, if she's ticked off at her mother being drunk, why is she drinking? Can she be doing something else, or does her mother have to be drunk? Or can she think, "I'm only having a sip--which is what my mother always says..." (confliction)

Ah confliction, an astute insight of a central story movement attribute -- the self-justification of only a sip and Mother always says that -- the clash of wills is internal and external at once in this case. Exponential, 4 to the 3rd power, confliction in an economy of words. Beautiful.
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wetwilly
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quote:
Also, if she's ticked off at her mother being drunk, why is she drinking? Can she be doing something else, or does her mother have to be drunk? Or can she think, "I'm only having a sip--which is what my mother always says..."
A logical argument--it sure makes sense to me--but not the way the human will works in my experience. Especially not the traumatized teenage brain. Mom's way of dealing with life is a model for kid, even if kid is consciously aware of the harm that the behavior causes. I've seen the pattern often enough to call it a common part of the human experience and not an unusual anomaly.
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extrinsic
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I feel the commonness of the human condition jerich100 examines makes that kind of motif all the more useful, and its exotic characteristic appealing as well, not unique per se, uniquely subjective and individual to a specific person. The confliction attribute more insightful overall than per se any particular motif. Each motif to its natural and necessary milieu.
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wetwilly
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Something to think about for the next draft. Just might add an extra layer of complication into the character. I'll let it percolate until I'm ready to attack the next draft.
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babooher
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I took Lauren's unfamiliarity with what was in the bottle as a sign of her inexperience. Is it a rum, a vodka, a sherry, bourbon, etc.? My kids, while younger than what I assume Lauren to be, can spot alcohol even if they don't know what kind it is. And yes, if Lauren reads the entire label, she might discover that she's drinking a sparkling wine as opposed to a cognac,but many people don't read labels that closely.

I also didn't get that she was mad at her mother for being drunk. It seemed to me that her aversion was to the fighting, not the intoxication.

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Captain of my Sheep
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I think it might be too late, but ever since I read this I've been wanting to read the entire story.

Are you still looking for readers?

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wetwilly
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What a great compliment for my story, Captain (the 1st 13, anyway). I'll be happy to send it to you. I'd love to hear what you think. Hopefully the rest of the story sticks with you like the opener.
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Rivka Willick
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Wetwilly,

I think the opening gets to the story pretty quick. I got that she's drinking to shut out the discordinant noise her parents are creating so the music stands out in contrast. I'd like a couple more details about Lauren--sensory clues so I can imagine and remember her, especially if the story progresses quickly into action.

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