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Author Topic: Dying is no way to live, Sci-fi (2,200 words)
Captain of my Sheep
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Eleven years ago I found this forum and thought, "Someday, I'm going to post my own first 13 lines." This is a kind of rite of passage for me. I have no idea why I'm telling you this. Anyway...

I think the opening below corresponds to the first thirteen lines of a short story, when formatted for submission. I'm looking for readers for the whole thing and I'm game if you want to swap critiques, as well. I like to return favors. [Smile]

----

Cal had nice manners, he looked into my eyes when he stabbed me. He could’ve let me kiss him first, since it was our third date and I was eager to, but still, I’ve been stabbed in the back enough times to appreciate the inherent honesty in a knife to the gut delivered face-to-face.
He slid the knife out of me–it was long enough to reach my liver–but didn’t use it again, he wanted my liver to bleed freely so I died as fast as possible.
“I thought you were going to kiss me.” I pushed the heel of my hand into the wound to staunch the bleeding as I stumbled back, searching for something to lean on. He wasn’t looking at my lips, though...

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Jed Anderson
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Wow. All right.. We'll you now have my full attention.
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wetwilly
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If grabbing attention is your goal, then goal accomplished. I'm definitely paying attention and reading on.

Some of the potential impact of this violent scene as an opener is undermined by the lack of reaction from the narrator. On the other hand, I'm very curious about why this person doesn't seem terribly bothered by getting stabbed in the gut. It's a trade-off, I guess; depends on what you're going for.

"I’ve been stabbed in the back enough times to appreciate the inherent honesty in a knife to the gut delivered face-to-face."

Very cool line.

One nit: "He slid the knife out of me–it was long enough to reach my liver–but didn’t use it again, he wanted my liver to bleed freely so I died as fast as possible." This is an unnecessary comma splice. It bothers me.

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extrinsic
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An individual fatally stabs a romantically interested individual.

What works most for me is the flow is mostly dynamic and centered, smooth forward movement more or less. Character development well begun; events, well begun; an engaging start, well begun; and a conflict and complication are set up from an immediate and artful in medias res scene. Not much setting development yet. Time enough later for that. Not altogether clear what the story is really about, though strongly and artfully implied the story is really about love interest betrayed, from a tangible action package of a revenant sort who lives (and loves?) by dying. Well done, opening fragment needs met, mostly.

The title, while poignant, is on the clever-cute side, though apropos of the fragment's cavalier and everyday conversation language mannerism. That casual language nature and the actual stabbing event, otherwise a tangible problem wanting panic and despair, signals irony and is to me a strength, works for me mostly. The everyday language quantity and nature is on the excess side and causes me a few bumps, though.

First bump is a punctuation matter. The first sentence's comma separates two otherwise independent clauses. The comma signals the ideas are related enough to be joined, though is a comma splice, a sentence fuse. A colon is indicated to firmly signal they are correlated ideas and not a mere grammar glitch.

"Since" is a time coordination conjunction, not a causation conjunction to substitute for because. In any case, the medial dependent subordinate clause warrants an end comma after "date" as well as the start comma.

This is a particle word fault: "was eager _to_". "To" can be an adverb or a preposition of a two-word verb. The verb's case, objective or subjective, would indicate which. In this case, "eager" is an adjective, not a verb. Or the "to" could be a start of an infinitive verb, the verb elided, for example, eager to _kiss_.

"But still" is used as an interjection expression and piles on empty emphasis.

"Stabbed in the back" is either a literal statement or an idiom, or both at once. The idiom is the more prominent use: to mean betrayed. The title, the cavalier nature of the language, the possible different meanings of the statement all combine to raise confusion whether the viewpoint agonist, in fact, had been stabbed in the back, means betrayed, or both. Some clarity is warranted.

This is an unexplained viewpoint glitch: "he wanted my liver to bleed freely so I died as fast as possible." How does the victim, who is so far in close psychic distance, in personal thoughts, know his thoughts? Is the victim omniscient? First-person omniscient needs a setup to clarify that ability.

"inherent honesty" is an abrupt switch to sophisticated formal language apart from the otherwise informal, everyday mannerism of the fragment. "Inherent" is an empty modifier to begin with.

This is a preposition case glitch: "honesty _in_ a knife". "In" there is a questionable preposition, perhaps adverb, for the objective case, transitive verb (appreciate) and preposition-object phrase. A clear preposition is warranted instead: "of."

This is a conjunction splice: "I pushed the heel of my hand into the wound to staunch the bleeding _as_ I stumbled back, searching for something to lean on." Comma or conjunction splices fuse otherwise separate sentences. "As" is a correlation conjunction, in the first place, and "as" subordinates its clause's idea to a main idea. Like "as fast as possible" is a correlation phrase. And is the ideal coordination conjunction for contemporaneous actions and near invisible. Otherwise, separate sentences are indicated,

Because the fragment is mostly in close psychic distance, the italics format of the final sentence are empty emphasis. Italics are for emotional emphasis and a feminine writing trait, which does add some clarity this agonist is female, though serves no other interpretable function to me. One more reason, previously set up, could substantiate the italics.

Twelve lines, by the way. The last line, also, is only "though..." More words for the twelfth line and one more line available.

I went from engaged reader to mixed engaged reader-editor due to the above matters of language mannerism bumps. The everyday language serves a double function; one, that the language is stream-of-consciousness methods of on-the-fly thought, artfully done, though is to me on the excess side; two, that the net language emotion comes across to me as a cluster of amusement and annoyance and a sinister, ominous edge. Events are about to break loose dramatically. Emotional clusters challenge writers though are essential, I believe, to dramatic composition. That skill is well developed here though on the too subtle side I feel.

In all, I would read on, though, mindful, as an editor that, if this work was recommended for acquisition, some editorial adjustments would be warranted before publication.

[ November 29, 2015, 01:33 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Captain of my Sheep
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First, thank you a ton for your comments Jed, wetwilly and extrinsic.

Now, a round of comments from me:

wetwilly:
quote:
On the other hand, I'm very curious about why this person doesn't seem terribly bothered by getting stabbed in the gut. It's a trade-off, I guess; depends on what you're going for.
Curiosity is great. I wanted something on top of curiosity, though, because curiosity is a fickle friend. I suspect you’ll need answers to the question of why the MC isn’t terribly bothered by getting stabbed, and soon, or you’ll bail. I’m not sure I give them fast enough, or make the answer clear enough in the next lines. I’m a bit worried now.

You’re right about the comma splice. I changed it and it even adds some punch to the second sentence. Thanks!

extrinsic
quote:
The title, while poignant, is on the clever-cute side,
I agree. I don’t like the title, it doesn’t resonate with me but I’m sick of calling stories “Untitled”, so I slapped that one on. [Razz]

quote:
"Stabbed in the back" is either a literal statement or an idiom, or both at once. The idiom is the more prominent use: to mean betrayed. The title, the cavalier nature of the language, the possible different meanings of the statement all combine to raise confusion whether the viewpoint agonist, in fact, had been stabbed in the back, means betrayed, or both. Some clarity is warranted.
Crap. This comment, along with the one fro wetwilly, mean I have some tweaking to do.

quote:
This is an unexplained viewpoint glitch: "he wanted my liver to bleed freely so I died as fast as possible." How does the victim, who is so far in close psychic distance, in personal thoughts, know his thoughts? Is the victim omniscient?
Hehe. No, but thanks for catching that. What I meant to convey with that line was that the MC is intimately familiar with how one kills another person, and fast. I think that with a small change in wording I can make that sentence sound less like a head-hop.

quote:
Because the fragment is mostly in close psychic distance, the italics format of the final sentence are empty emphasis.
You’re right. I don’t know what would be the difference between that sentence in italics and that sentence without them, considering the story is written using the first person.

quote:
Twelve lines, by the way. The last line, also, is only "though..." More words for the twelfth line and one more line available.
I need to check Scrivener again. It stole a line from me. [Mad]

quote:
In all, I would read on, though, mindful, as an editor that, if this work was recommended for acquisition, some editorial adjustments would be warranted before publication.
Thank you. Sadly, if this first lines are any indication, there will be a lot of “editorial adjustments” needed. I’m really, really trying to make the story grammatically sound, but it’s like a new language.
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extrinsic
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Stream of consciousness is a grammar of its own, grammars actually, unique to individual circumstances, apart from though close to otherwise formal Standard Written English.

The "stabbed in the back" motif is a great line, to be clear, only the confusion of the several possible meanings is unclear. The sentence doesn't imply this time the agonist is stabbed in the back, that some prior time she or he was stabbed, betrayed, or both.

A time word, one word, could clarify the back stabs came "before" and a tense change. A few words could clarify the back stabs were actual stabs, betrayals, or both. I favor both, to mean she or he had died before from betrayal or the cowardice of an ambush attack.

For example, "I’ve been stabbed in the back enough times to",

//_I’d_ been stabbed in the back enough times _before_, _betrayed and real_, to//.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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extrinsic is right about the fragment only being 12 lines - the textarea boxes are still unreliable. Sorry about that.
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Grumpy old guy
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I liked the opening but I had one major problem with it--the stab wound to the liver. So, checking Wikipedia and a few other corroborative sites I submit that hepatic injuries resulting from stab wounds cause little damage unless a vital part of the liver is injured such as the hepatic portal vein. A gunshot wound causes much more damage but still, with modern medical intervention the prognosis is favourable. If the stab wound is less than 3cm deep no surgical intervention may be required, any deeper and she could probably walk to the Emergency Ward.

So, unless your killer knew exactly where to thrust the knife to sever the hepatic portal vein, your heroine is probably not fatally wounded. Bummer! [Smile]

Phil.

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Captain of my Sheep
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Extrinsic, thank you for clarifying. I think I’ve found my kind of solution. But you, and everybody here, have been of tremendous help.

Kathleen: No worries. [Wink] I didn’t use the textarea, actually. I compiled the story on Scrivener so, it’s its fault!

Grumpy old guy, thank you for your feedback! You gave me an idea about how to answer the “is the stabbing in the back literal or figurative” question sooner.

quote:
your heroine is probably not fatally wounded.
There’s another thing Cal did that would lower her chances of living. You learn that later. And the killer does know exactly how to kill fast, where to aim, how far. I hint at it in the 14th or 15th line.

I didn’t research enough to know just exactly where he should cut. I looked at three different sources that said the “right” stab wound to the liver was one of the causes of relatively fast exsanguination. Exactly what that “right way" was, I didn’t care at the time. Now I know, and I think I’m going to use it. Thanks again! [Smile]

I don’t think I can do much to make you read further, though, if this problem would make you stop reading. [Frown]

[ December 01, 2015, 07:20 PM: Message edited by: Captain of my Sheep ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Welcome to the problems inherent in first person POV; the reader can only know what the character knows. So, how does it feel to be fatally stabbed in the liver, and would you know the wound was fatal? Perhaps you would, but I don't want to do the required research.

If rapid exsanguination is the aim, the carotid is easiest to get to, but leaves a great wet mess. Next is the aorta, rapid internal blood loss (with little mess) and death within a minute. Last, the femoral artery in the inner thigh near the groin: if completely severed the artery retreats into the body so that while there is some external bleeding, most of it pools in the bottom of the abdominal cavity--death within 3 minutes so I'm told.

Finally, there are always ways to impart required information to the readers, it's just a case of finding the right method. [Smile]

Phil.

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Captain of my Sheep
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quote:
If rapid exsanguination is the aim, the carotid is easiest to get to, but leaves a great wet mess. Next is the aorta, rapid internal blood loss (with little mess) and death within a minute. Last, the femoral artery in the inner thigh near the groin: if completely severed the artery retreats into the body so that while there is some external bleeding, most of it pools in the bottom of the abdominal cavity--death within 3 minutes so I'm told.
Yup. All of those researched and discarded. But thanks for going to the trouble of letting me know [Smile]

quote:
Welcome to the problems inherent in first person POV; the reader can only know what the character knows.
Hehe. I'd argue that the problem you had isn't a problem of 1st person, it's a problem of one just can't fit all the information every person would want in the same 13 lines of text. I can't have a character be stabbed and have their first thought be "I'm sure he severed my hepatic portal vein." XD

Anyway, I'm happy with all the insights I got from this experience. It will force me to take an even closer look at the story once I'm ready for the next draft.

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Disgruntled Peony
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I thought I'd already replied to this. [Eek!] It looks like the major concerns with the opening lines have already been pointed out; I don't really have anything to add there. I just wanted to say that this did, indeed, grab my attention and I would definitely read on.
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Captain of my Sheep
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Thank you, Disgruntled Peony! It's good to know you'd read on despite the issues others pointed out. [Smile]

Now I have to edit this little monster. [Eek!]

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extrinsic
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I feel one of the challenges of thirteen lines results in a tendency to cram in an explosion of motifs and details. Jerome Stern labels similar features "population explosion," too many characters introduced in quick succession and none important at the moment. Motif and detail explosion -- in some cases, too many motifs and too much detail; in others, too little; in others, low-importance motifs and details at the moment.

The fragment contains more suitable motif and detail strengths than shortfalls, I believe. The excruciating explanation detail of the stab wound and intent, to me, could be less and, by less, more said through implication. Later, more detail could unfold when it matters most. Knife in, knife out, fatal intent, response . . . Oh bother!? He didn't kiss me. Time for a reaction. The kiss demanded? Then the next action sequence to naturally come, the kiss refused? Then oaths of retribution?

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babooher
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extrinsic, I have a question about your use of the word "motif." As I understand the word, a motif is a recurrent element that helps to illustrate a theme. So when you use it to label something in a 13-line post that is never repeated in that post, I have the feeling that I'm not fully grasping your meaning. Are you assuming the elements will arise again or is there something more? If a motif is a recurrent element, how can you cram them in to the 13 lines? I'm afraid this post sounds like I'm trying to say you've made a mistake. I'm not. I'm assuming you're using motif correctly, so my understanding of the term must be less than yours. Could you help me out?
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extrinsic
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Each item is a potential motif in the sense of recurrence. For narrative, event, setting, and character items, persons, places, and things, times, eras, etc., are potential motifs in a particular sense; that is, they contribute to development of theme, unity, and movement. A short story's brevity limits number of motifs, and limits theme, though a start motif could be an acorn, later a sapling, later a grand oak, later firewood, a time flow theme.

Some dramatic influence and change degree for each motif recurrence is a flow of time, perhaps implied, and a dramatic movement, character movement, story movement, emotional movement, and plot movement.

Of course, probably not an ideal to alter characters to the point they are unrecognizable, though a character is a motif too, a representation of a persona, and a recurrence of altered-by-dramatic-action representation in each instance. Plus, broadly, characters as more or less constants themselves are a recurrent motif across the dramatic arts' opus, and event and setting motifs. Together, they are a theme of the human condition.

I visualize a character like a paper doll chain, similar and altered in each instance of the chain, or like a film clip: twenty-four frames per second, twenty-four instances per second, twenty-four recurrent motifs slightly altered. Or a story board that depicts key scenes as motifs and the rest to be filled in by the completed film.

A risk though comes from too much distinction of motif as recurring. No matter that the letter T occurs X number of times in a narrative and is a motif of a theme in that sense, say, T's representation of tau, which means life or resurrection, from Phoenician taw. Maybe a word level motif is as far as need be gone into minutia and stop. Though up through to the entire dramatic arts opus' level for recurrent motifs of the human condition, war for whatever rationale, for one. The latter is more concisely a topos, though. The warriors, materiel, and tactics, etc., of war are motifs of the war topos theme, not to mention, any given attitude toward war could be a motif or topos of the war theme and war itself could be a motif of a theme.

Motifs are generally symbolic or emblematic representations, imagery too, depicted through concrete items. A rose is a rose by any other name; a motif for a romance theme though, and is a common topos of poetry, less so a prose topos.

A central character is a motif in the narrower sense the character is a representation of the human condition, subject to change, and a unifying item of a whole. This account happened to So-and-so, and the whomever was changed by it, not to other individuals. Longer fiction is less limited than short fiction to character number considerations, though each is a motif part of a larger scope.

[ December 03, 2015, 12:50 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I never said I wouldn't keep reading, just that the thing with the liver pulled me up short. I know far too much about human anatomy and trauma than is good for me.

As for reading on--definitely. I would rate this opening as one of the best I've read in three years, or is that four? In fact, I hope you'll send me a copy to critique once you've gotten to the final draft stage. [Smile]

Phil.

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Captain of my Sheep
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For whatever it's worth, there are things in the opening that do appear again. I don't know if that repetition would be considered a motif—at least, one as extrinsic knows it—because I didn't set out to use one, it just happened.


Phil, I will send you the story as soon as it's done. Thank you! [Smile] (And thank you for your kind words.)

[ December 04, 2015, 01:38 PM: Message edited by: Captain of my Sheep ]

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