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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Monday on the Wall Science Fiction 2600 words

   
Author Topic: Monday on the Wall Science Fiction 2600 words
D. R. Brown, Jr.
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A very short story about the last day in a regular soldier's life.
Any feedback is appreciated. Please let me know if you'd be willing to read the rest of it.

First draft -
Griff rolls to his right so he can free his left arm to slap the alarm back into blessed silence. He grumbles incoherently as he attempts to shake the same blasted nightmare from his consciousness. This is only the fifth sleep cycle he has suffered from the images and sounds of the death of his former squad. He tells himself he’ll seek help if it happens again. Of course that’s what he told himself after the third, and the fourth. As he sits up in his bunk and swings his legs over to the floor, he wipes the sleep from his eyes and over his wide, often broken, crooked nose and down over his mouth, feeling the three day growth of stubble on his square, dimpled chin. He rubs his scarred right shoulder and upper bicep just above the stump of his arm to get rid of the ghost-limb feeling.

Here is the re-edit. I toyed with the idea of starting with the nightmare sequence, but it didn't work for me. The nightmare is parceled out through the rest of the story.

Second draft -
Griff rolls to his right so he can free his only arm, the left. The Galactic Marine slaps the alarm sitting within a small indentation of the grey stone wall back into a welcome silence. He grumbles and shakes his head in an attempt to clear the same blasted nightmare from his consciousness. The images and death sounds of his former squad continue to haunt him. He tells himself he will seek help if it doesn't stop. Of course, he’s told himself that before, more than once. Griff sits up in his bunk and swings his legs over to the floor. He wipes the sleep from his eyes and over his wide, thrice-broken nose and down over his mouth. The three-day growth of stubble on his square, dimpled chin scratches against his palm. He massages his scarred right shoulder and upper bicep just above the stump of his arm to get rid of the painful tingling.

[ August 12, 2016, 05:23 PM: Message edited by: D. R. Brown, Jr. ]

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extrinsic
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An individual suffers from survivor guilt's ennui and angst.

Three sentences mid paragraph contain a few artful qualities: "This is _only_ the fifth sleep cycle he has suffered from the images and sounds of the death of his former squad. He tells himself he’ll seek help if it happens again. _Of course_[,] that’s what he told himself after the third, and the fourth."

Intensive adverb "only" signals an irony, a litotes, actually: figurative meaning affirms the opposite of a literal meaning. For example, He _only_ lost a pitiful few billion dollars. Litotes more generally are negation statements, like, Oh no, not another windfall boon. The ironic quality, though, loses strength from the double object phrases and twice "of" prepositions that misdirect emphasis at sentence end, where little of moment adds to the expression. A run-on sentence that falsely fuses several main ideas into a car-wreck pileup.

The next sentence confirms the irony yet leaves open for doubt whether Griff will seek help or not. That establishes a contest of some small substance, not much for a short story, though potentially enough for an opening and that it could be a bridge complication-conflict to the story's larger complication-conflict. Motivations and stakes, in other words.

The third sentence confirms the first irony further and the complication-conflict irony of whether Griff will, indeed, seek help or not, the artful ambiguity of a dramatic contest, likewise, part from intensive sentence adverb phrase "Of course." Prefatory sentence adverb constructions, being dependent content, take comma separation for prose grammar. Journalism grammar may omit the comma separation, to save space, journalism's grammar priority after ease of reading and comprehension, plus information-type structure priority. The comma is indicated there to emphasize and clarify the self-reflexive ironic commentary.

That section more than the rest timely closes narrative distance, clearly signals this is Griff's internal perception and viewpoint reflected by the narrator's received perception of him, his thoughts, want-problem, and actions. Narrative distance management is a challenge for prose writers, and therein is artfully managed. Not to mention, that part establishes a contest commencement -- which is one of the more important, if not most important features for commencing story movement overall. Somewhat a quiet, perhaps adequate start, though.

The first sentence of the fragment establishes some sense of a physical setting, not much telling detail that entails drama's contest content. To me, a lackluster opening sentence. Part of the shortfall is otherwise emotionally charged "blessed" intends a clean emotional interjection though misses the intended mark from overlooked ironic application of the term's usual context and texture. "Blessed" denotatively means divinely gifted; its ironic contexture usually means cursed. The irony instinct is valid; the delivery falls short.

The sentence is also a run-on. Note two words, "so" and "to," are connective words that mark places where separation may best practice be advised -- for maximum dramatic and, ergo, reader effect.

The sentence's emphasis, as is, pivots on the onomatopoeia word "slap." That three actions transpire in a triplet sequence leaves open which is the more pivotal event; that is, escalated repetition. Separation into three sentences, one, follows a more dramatic temporal sequence; two, erects a more dramatic arc; and three, adjusts for true subject syntax. The alarm clock's signal, as it were, is the true subject of substance for the three parts overall. Its alarm wakes Griff, causes him to roll toward it, freeing his arm to slap that annoying thing into wanted silence, or is the lonely silence wanted? Therein is the irony potential, much expressed as part of the next section.

The second sentence is a false fusion, too, a run-on car-wreck pileup, marked by correlation conjunction word "as" used for a coordination splice of two disparate and unrelated ideas, except for the intended signal these two events transpired simultaneously and best practice are separated as sequential. "He grumbles incoherently _as_ he attempts to shake the same blasted nightmare from his consciousness."

"attempts to shake," is a hedgy statement, an infinitive verb "to shake," too, is static (nondynamic). He does or doesn't shake his head. The attempt is to clear his thoughts. Adverb "incoherently" and adjective string "same blasted" intend emotional expression though fall short of a bull's-eye mark. "blasted" is another "clean" interjection attempt that falls short. Adverbs, adjectives, and similar modifier phrases' prose function is emotional commentary when verbs themselves fall short. Plus, prescriptively, an adverb precedes its modified verb. //incoherently grumbles//. That rearrangement tests whether the adverb does its commentary job. Nope; falls flat. Grumble is possibly by itself enough emotional charge anyway.

The fourth sentence is a filibuster train-wreck run-on sentence. "_As_ he sits up in his bunk _and_ swings his legs over to the floor, he wipes the sleep from his eyes _and_ over his wide, often[-]broken, crooked nose _and_ down over his mouth_,_ feeling the three[-]day growth of stubble on his square_,_ dimpled chin."

The main or only function of the sentence is a character appearance description through physical movement and tactile sensation. Somewhat more artful than a plain and much dreaded mirror reflection, though untimely stops story movement. The slight contest commencement doesn't evoke enough tension (emotional caring and curiosity arousal) to carry a solely character physical description that stalls or stops story movement.

Note conjunction function words and punctuation underscores bracketed above. "As," another false correlation conjunction, multiple "and" coordination conjunctions, and comma coordination splices. Any or all could be a place for separation. The "as" is altogether unnecessary. Also, "three day" is an adjective phrase that modifies "growth" and takes a hyphen. Plus, preposition fault, "in his bunk." //on his bunk//

The fragment depicts a wake-up scene, and is another much deprecated opening method. Wake-up openings are a challenge to compose artfully and dramatically. They are a tired and trite entrance into a story due to their commonness in unskilled prose craft hands. The general instinct for wake-ups is enter and explore -- as if waking up in a story -- for setting, character nature, and event development, and story contest commencement. Consequently, little or no story movement transpires. The allusion is that the writer enters the awakened state of a narrative from the real world and that's what goes onto the page.

Wake-ups that work generally start contest movement most so and the wake-up is secondary to other matters, like the contest introduction itself. Wake-ups might also support more than one primary dramatic function: foreshadow future events, establish a tone (emotional attitude toward a topic), show ambivalence, establish stakes forces in opposition, introduce a bridge complication-conflict, and other matters like characterization and setting development. Only that a wake-up be dramatic; in other words, antagonal, causal, and tensional related to a main contest.

The title and the fragment do not imply what the story is really about, neither tangibly nor intangibly, nor express any fantastical science fiction science, technology, or social science -- necessary conventions for a story opening fragment.

I'm confused whether the story details events that caused the deaths of Griff's squad or his coming to terms with survivor guilt. The quick summary of the squad's demise skips past that pivotal event in any case. "Monday on the Wall" carries potential complication freight to mean a miserable Monday workday blues, though not timely cleared up whether the Monday is the squad's demise or an aftermath Monday Griff endures as a consequence or not.

Frankly, that narrator tell waves past the pivotal event that is the strongest life-transformation force for Griff. Story craft proverbs say, three hundred sixty-five days in a year, the day that's different and life transforming is the one a short story is about. That day's event is important to the story, could be the actual contest start, middle, or end.

I suspect the story setting starts at this future-now moment and then doubles back to a past-now moment, and then ends, having depicted why Griff feels depressed and with no satisfaction outcome of his depression. He starts depressed in the future now beginning; he becomes depressed in the past-now middle; he ends depressed at the time of the future-now outcome ending. That is a confused and incomplete sequence organization: depressed, not as depressed, becomes more depressed, ends worse depressed. At the least, events should flow in one direction, good to bad or bad to good.

If bad to good, classic comedy, in other words, then some other event is the contest start of substance that propels Griff toward a normative or optimistic state of being. If good to bad, tragedy, in other words, a no less inspirational outcome is indicated, say a noble self-sacrifice that enriches his emotional well-being at a great personal cost. Or both comedy and tragedy, a mixed outcome of personal growth at a personal-loss cost, favoring greater personal growth -- not a zero-sum outcome of growth equal to loss cost.

The present tense doesn't work for me; that tense's strength is unreality of depiction, sort of subjunctive in the sense that circumstances are other than objective and, ergo, subject to interpretation and open to question. The third person narration, on the other hand, its objectivity, combined with a close narrative distance due to narrator report of received reflections from Griff, mostly from the ironic tone, works for me.

In short, the title and fragment signal to me this is a stuck in a bathtub navel contemplation narrative -- nowhere to go. I would not read on, some craft and language to recommend it, though, mostly because I can do without victimism's self-centered pity, ennui, and angst.

[ August 11, 2016, 10:13 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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Definitely a gripping scenario: the PTSD of a soldier after some battle tragedy. I get a strong sense of character and internal conflict in this fragment.

quote:
This is only the fifth sleep cycle he has suffered from the images and sounds of the death of his former squad.
Awkward, confusing sentence.

The part where he wakes up and sits in bed thinking about what he looks like is a bit of a turn off to me. Who does that?

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Disgruntled Peony
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I'd recommend re-working your opening, but I do think this story has promise based on what I've seen thus far.

Essentially, my biggest concern with the opening is that a lot of early writer's stories begin with a character waking up. (I did it myself less than a year ago, and was corrected on the error.) Generally speaking it's considered a beginner's mistake, simply because of how many people do it and how tired editors get of reading wake-up openings as a result.

I do understand that the reason for the wake-up opening is due to the dreams Griff has been having, but there might be a stronger--and more interactive--way to introduce that conflict. The opening scene could be a conversation with a roommate or significant other, for example. The other character could ask him about the dream--they would likely have been woken by it, if he got loud--and be the one to recommend therapy. That gives Griff the opportunity to declare he's uninterested in therapy, which would likely spark some sort of tense discussion or argument. You could turn what is currently an inner monologue into an interactive conflict that develops not one, but two, characters if you play your cards right. (This isn't a hard and fast recommendation, as I don't know what the rest of your story is about. It's just an example/suggestion of ways to potentially ratchet up the tension and conflict of the opening scene.)

The description of Griff's face feels unnecessary, but the description of the arm is both important and interesting. I should point out, I've done some research on the ghost-limb feeling, and it's often quite painful. It's possible you get into that later, after the initial thirteen lines, but it seemed like something that would lend extra oomph to the description.

I am curious--is there a specific reason you picked third-person, present-tense?

Also, when I looked at your summary of the story, I noticed something I thought it would be wise to comment on.

quote:
Originally posted by D. R. Brown, Jr.:
A very short story about a regular soldier's daily life.

Most short sci-fi/fantasy stories that sell are not examples of everyday life, but of something out of the ordinary. Conflict, character arcs and change are essential tools for holding a reader's interest in a market where new and unusual things crop up every day. There's characterization and some (slow-building) tension in this opening, but I'm not left with a strong sense of the setting. As such, my default mental image of the setting is a modern-day apartment. There are plenty of sci-fi stories set in the modern day, but if your story is set in a different time period it would be good to give some contextual clues in the opening thirteen lines so the reader doesn't get surprised by the change later.

All of that said, I do have some interest in the story, and would like to look it over some time in the near future so that I can give more accurate tips and recommendations. I'll shoot you an e-mail when I'm available to give it a read. [Smile]

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D. R. Brown, Jr.
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Thank you all for taking the time to read and respond. I have taken all the comments and am working on a rewrite that I shall be posting when finished, already I've looked back at the critiques quite a few times for reference.

quote:
I am curious--is there a specific reason you picked third-person, present-tense?
No, that's just how it happened while I was typing. I started as a first person perspective that just didn't work with the way the rest of the story flows and ends.

I will also be changing the description of my story when I post the edited version in the future. Again thank you for your comments and critiques.

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