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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Death Magnet (working title), Alternate History/Fantasy, 4,400 words

   
Author Topic: Death Magnet (working title), Alternate History/Fantasy, 4,400 words
wetwilly
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Looking for readers. Happy to exchange crits. If your story is longer than mine, I don't mind; I'm not keeping score, here.

This is the first 13. Feel free to critique this chunk, and let me know if you'd be willing to read the rest.

Fair warning: this story takes place during the holocaust, in a concentration camp. It doesn't dwell on the gory details unduly (at least that's my intention) or take any pleasure in them, but, obviously, atrocities were committed, and they're present in this story.

***

Prisoner B-11438 did not die, and Lieutenant Klaus Vogel could not explain this disturbing fact.

After Vogel shut and locked the door to the gas chamber, the usual weeping and screaming and pounding on the door started up from inside, and the usual nausea started up in Vogel's gut.

He told himself it was just like slaughtering chickens for dinner back home. The chickens squawked and squabbled, but you just had to tune out the noise and do your job. Chickens were weak and people were strong. It was ugly, but necessary.

And this discomfort he felt, this was just momentary weakness that he had to push through. He had to be strong.

After a few minutes, the noise ceased. A few more minutes for the ventilation system to clear the air, and Captain Schneider gave the “all clear.” Vogel threw the door open.

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Disgruntled Peony
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Your opening sentence grabbed my attention. Vogel's discomfort and attempts to resolve his cognitive dissonance kept it. I would definitely read further.

Quick note: Paragraph two is a run-on sentence, and could probably be smoothed out while still building up the tension. For an idea of what I mean, all you have to do is look at paragraph three.

I'll send you an e-mail when I have the time to look this over. [Smile]

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extrinsic
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An extermination camp guard officer routinely fulfills his gruesome duty, albeit, a surprise at the end of this episode this time.

Though the first line is an attention grabber, the surprise of it comes from a vacuum. The line could be stronger, surprise-wise, at the fragment end. The remainder of the content is preparation setup, and suspension and anticipation sequences. More timely and judicious sequencing places that line at fragment end. Otherwise, it is a melodramatic gimmick and obviously a ploy that rings false, to me.

More so, though, that its placement is less artful than best practice. One, up front, the line comes from a narrator tell out of a wild blue sky yonder. At the end, after Vogel's interior discourse, the line is a summation reaction and in Vogel's reflected voice and viewpoint -- without changing the diction or syntax.

Two, sequencing again, a grisly routine that prepares for the surprise is more artful and appealing. However, several diction and syntax choices for the remainder skew dramatic movement, aside from the nonlinear chronology, stall, stop, or reverse movement.

The latter above, the falsely fused clauses and sentences do most of the damage. Run-ons. Filibusters. The everyday informal conversation filibuster of fused sentences doesn't suit the emotional charge, either.

For example:
"After Vogel shut and locked the door to the gas chamber, the usual weeping and screaming and pounding on the door started up from inside, and the usual nausea started up in Vogel's gut."

The "After" is altogether artless and unnecessary subordination. Break the clauses' ideas out into their own sentences, for emotional charge reasons.

Do "shut and locked" evoke a vivid visual and aural sensation? Or is the clause cluttered by one, at least, detail? "locked" by itself imitates enough of the intent. Likewise, twice "the" definite articles is wordy and signals that this wants more specificity.

//Vogel locked the gas chamber door.// is almost enough "hook" by itself for an opening line. That implies what's afoot and leaves room later for more development, in case readers are unsure. More, though, specificity would name the facility; that is, //Vogel locked Crematorium IV's gas chamber door.//

"the usual weeping and screaming and pounding on the door started up from inside, and the usual nausea started up in Vogel's gut."

Does "usual" carry the intended emotional charge that "nausea" implies? Usual: routine, therefore, accommodated to and, ergo, oblivious? Or is the intent to express a contradictory, warring emotional cluster? Resignation to the duty or else worse for Vogel and his disgust, for example?

"weeping and screaming and pounding" is a triplet, that suggests repetition and substitution scheme's amplification, escalates, as it were, though could be more powerful if more descriptive distinctions were used. Or, and both asyndeton instead of polysyndeton and distinctive specificity, and perhaps more robust, emotionally charged verbs and participle nouns so that the "usual" is clear and strong as an emotional charge cluster.

//The usual pitiful weeps, screams -- bangs on the door, etc., erupted inside.//

"and the usual nausea started up in Vogel's gut."

Second in quick succession "started up," perhaps redundant repetition, artless. Yet, the repetition, like above, could intend a warring emotional cluster, that Vogel wants to feel composed but cannot. Clearer and stronger description by any of a number of methods could bring the ambivalence forward, like artful punctuation.

//-- the usual nausea boiled in Vogel's gut." (Side note, "Vogel's gut" and "Vonnegut," Kurt, either happenstance or deliberate artfully off-kilter allusion?)

Reconsider the emotional intent and how each connective word shapes emotional charge and cluster (pity and fear for B-11438's plight, hopefully not Vogel's) takes away or adds to the intent.

Concerning concerns about sensitive issues, several here to consider. Would readers object to a fiction work that uses the Holocaust as an incidental feature? Possibly. Does inmate number B-11438 correspond to an actual person? Perhaps who died in a camp or survived? The number is valid, for an Auschwitz prisoner, maybe. Sensitive areas that a publisher would be wary about, unless intended for a disapproving commentary about the Holocaust, or an audience of skinheads, who don't read fiction much if at all, anyway.

Likewise, the SS officer Klaus Vogel, real or invented? Untersturmführer or Obersturmführer? which in his mind are terms he would think. Plus, allusion to Klaus Barbie, a notorious Nazi, artful by design or artless? Vogel, which means "bird," is a common German name though no known SS officer of that surname served in the SS extermination camps.

Consider, not evading sensitive areas so much, more so, for the prose arts, specificity of content that enhances verisimilitude -- double down on the reality imitation of the situation, use actual names, except for B-11438's. Probably a good idea not to use that number either. Instead, consider using one or more of the more controversial prisoner nicknames of the situation: Soap.

I would read on to find out where in context the story goes, though not as an engaged reader. The gimmicky placement for the first line and the confused emotional charge set me already out of the story and irretrievably.

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D. R. Brown, Jr.
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Your opening line got me, I want to know more about prisoner B-11438. I had trouble with the second sentence with the problems already pointed out. I'd like to read the rest. You can email me anytime with the full story.

[ August 12, 2016, 05:00 PM: Message edited by: D. R. Brown, Jr. ]

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wetwilly
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Everyone found this sentence to be too much to bite off.

[Quote]After Vogel shut and locked the door to the gas chamber, the usual weeping and screaming and pounding on the door started up from inside, and the usual nausea started up in Vogel's gut.[\Quote]

Does this go down more easily?

After Vogel locked the door to the gas chamber, the usual weeping and screaming started up inside, and the usual nausea started up in Vogel's gut.

The first one didn't feel like too much to me, so I'm sort of blind on whether I've "fixed it."

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extrinsic
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Two main considerations, one, ease of reading and comprehension; and two, intent clarity and strength.

The recast sentence is shorter, some nonessential content omitted; however, the underlying fused and spliced syntax is unchanged.

The first clause, the subordination clause, is unnecessarily subordinated by conjunction word "After" to the main idea of the sentence, which is unclear what the main idea is in the first place. Also, "after" conjunction use at the start of a prose sentence is an awkward position, awkward most locations in a prose sentence: start, middle, or end. Best practices are instead to omit and line up sentences in temporal sequence to show time progression or use another temporal signal method.

Also, "locked the door _to_ the gas chamber" is wordy. Unnecessary prepositions are wordy. Wordiness impacts clarity and concision.

The second clause doesn't contain a main idea either, nor should a medial clause of a complex-compound sentence contain a main idea, loose or periodic sentence, which the sentence is neither, only a cluttered run-on. Plus, two present participle gerunds and a lackluster verb sag the sentence's arc.

"Started" idiomatically takes a particle adverb or preposition, for everyday, present-time, casual conversation, a two-word verb case, to start up, as for an engine, etc., if the verb is for an intransitive case. //The engine started up.// Prescriptively, though, standard grammar, the word takes no particle word. Start-up, noun or adjective case, is an entirely different matter. Again, wordy.

The third clause entails a possible main idea, if "the usual" from the previous clause and repeated in this clause are taken for an ironic tone, though the confusing sentence and limited affirmation of the irony occlude that possibility. Otherwise, the one-sentence paragraph trails off without a clear and strong main idea given. The irony is that main idea, I expect, and warrants calling strong due attention to its irony. However, pointing out irony for prose is as artless as explaining a joke or a pun is injudicious.

Also, repeated lackluster "started up," tired and retread idiomatic language again. Repetition best practice accompanies substitution and amplification or other similar rhetorical schemes. For a list and explanation of schemes see Silva Rhetoricae, "Figures of Speech: Schemes"; "Scheme: An artful deviation from the ordinary arrangement of words."

In other words, shy of a clear and strong main idea, the sentence sags under its own wordy weight.

[ August 12, 2016, 12:17 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I would recast it thus:

Vogel locked the gas chamber door. Inside, the usual weeping and wailing rose in pitch. Just like the nausea in Vogel's gut.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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Or perhaps:

Vogel locked the gas chamber door. The usual weeping and wailing rose in pitch, in tandem with the nausea in Vogel's gut.

Essentially, I was unfond of the sentence was because of how severely it was compounded and how many different ideas it compounded into one sentence. If you make locking the gas chamber door separate, that gives the action more weight. It feels very final. The weeping and wailing and Vogel's nausea are related, however, so those two ideas are good to pair together.

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wetwilly
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Okay, separate the actions into separate sentences. I dig.

Thanks, folks.

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extrinsic
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If we're demonstrating how we might recast the sentence ourselves . . . I'd consider the cynical euphemisms Wafen SS expressed, like showers, not gas chamber. And follow through with similar ironic cynicism for the verbs, nouns, and modifiers of the next two clauses. I'd also place Vogel in sentence object position, even if passive voice is necessary. Consider anyway. An SS lieutenant wouldn't sully his hands with the work of locking a door; Sonderkomandos did the work. So that Vogel's reaction is all the more powerful a surprise affirmation of the cynical SS irony.
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Kolona
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I know I'm a little late to this party, but your opening line caught my attention, wetwilly. It's a great hook.

Yet I can also see it at the end of this segment, as extrinsic suggested, but if you go that route, naming the facility as extrinsic further suggested would make sense. Whichever way you go, though, you need to watch the verb tenses.

As you have it here, Vogel shut and locked the door after the prisoner did not die. The word "after" in the story doesn't place the action in the second paragraph before the action in the first paragraph, but only indicates that Vogel shut and locked the door before he heard the screaming.

quote:
Prisoner B-11438 did not die, and Lieutenant Klaus Vogel could not explain this disturbing fact.

After Vogel shut and locked the door to the gas chamber, the usual weeping and screaming and pounding on the door started up from inside, and the usual nausea started up in Vogel's gut.

The actual time sequence you have is:
  • did not die
  • could not explain
  • shut and locked door
  • screaming etc.

Adding an extra action might make it more obvious:

quote:
Prisoner B-11438 did not die, and Lieutenant Klaus Vogel could not explain this disturbing fact.

After Vogel shut and locked the door to the gas chamber, he lit a cigarette to calm himself. The usual weeping and screaming and pounding on the door started up from inside, and the usual nausea started up in Vogel's gut.

The time sequence is the same with one addition:
  • did not die
  • could not explain
  • shut and locked door
  • lit cigarette
  • screaming

To have paragraph two precede paragraph one, you need some auxiliary verbs to back up (time-wise not protect-wise) the verb tense. I'm a bit rusty on the particulars, but I believe for a segment like this, to avoid having a slew of hads that just do not read very well, you use one or two in the beginning of the segment of time that is being offset and then one or two at the end of the segment.

The second sentence isn’t really a run-on sentence, but a complex/compound sentence. But it is awkward. "(S)tarted up" does need rethinking, but I like the repetition of it and of “usual." "After" does seem to weaken the sentence, so you could break the sentence up, though it wouldn’t be impossible to tighten it. For instance (while retaining the present first sentence and the verb tense change mentioned above):

Vogel had locked the door to the gas chamber, and the usual weeping and screaming and pounding had risen from inside, and the usual nausea had risen in Vogel’s gut.
or
Vogel had locked the door to the gas chamber. The usual weeping and screaming and pounding had risen from inside as the usual nausea had risen in Vogel’s gut.

In paragraph three the ambiguous "it" is used twice.

quote:
He told himself it was just like slaughtering chickens for dinner back home. The chickens squawked and squabbled, but you just had to tune out the noise and do your job. Chickens were weak and people were strong. It was ugly, but necessary.
If at all possible, don't use "it" at all. Specify. For instance:

He tried to dispel his discomfort by comparing his duty at the chamber to slaughtering chickens for dinner back home. Chickens squawked and squabbled but you had to tune out the noise and do the job. Ugly, but necessary.

I didn't understand the chickens weak vs. people strong comment. It might not be necessary here or it needs to be developed better, maybe that he didn’t consider the people inside the gas chamber as people--yet at least one person/chicken survived. Was that person strong? Is "strong" used twice purposely? Did you introduce the idea of chickens with the idea that Vogel could not be "chicken?"

Anyway, I liked the opening line, but be aware the tense shift could be tricky.

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