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Author Topic: The Field Trip
Bob Wyveryn
Member # 10861

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Vince stopped running. Exhausted and scared, he slumped against a large rock jutting from the narrow mountain trail. Closing his eyes he slid slowly to the ground until he was sitting with his knees in front of his tear streaked face. Shaking now, he thought of the trouble he was in. He tried to warm himself by wrapping his arms around his legs. He hugged them tight to his body as more tears came. Vince knew his parents were going to be mad he didn’t make it back on to the bus. If I hadn’t stopped to pick those stupid stickers out of my socks this wouldn’t have happened, he thought angrily. But they were painful, some poking into him hard enough to draw blood. Earlier, when he had finished removing most of the stickers and hurried to catch up with his classmates, he was confronted with the most important decision of his short life. He had just turned seven that summer. Just ahead around a curve, the trail forked in two different directions.

[ November 01, 2018, 01:06 PM: Message edited by: Bob Wyveryn ]

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Member # 8019

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An individual separates from a group, an opposite of Jerome Stern's Gathering shape, (Making Shapely Fiction). Or is it? Maybe misses the gathering and leaps instead to after the departure for a reminiscence scene, occasions missed to develop motivation (complication) and stakes risked (conflict).

Vince is alone and takes stock of his situation. Stock taken is an aftermath scene, a sequela, an effect without the cause developed beforehand, the third segment of a three-part sequence: tension setup, tension escalation and relief delay, tension relief, the relief segment; not an iota of dramatic movement, a recap more so than an action, and bereft of dramatic contention. This, pure backstory, albeit portrayed in scene of the now moment, of no implied or actual motivation presented.

I would not read further as an engaged reader.

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Member # 11024

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I don't too much mind it being backstory, and there is a hint of danger in the sense of a child left behind, but the voice is a bit flat, there is no hint of a speculative content (I'm assuming its speculative fiction.)

I suggest a more specific approach to the decision, give us some idea what it was, perhaps even make that the focus of the opening.

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Jay Greenstein
Member # 10615

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Vince stopped running.
The first line in the story is the most important because it’s the reader’s first impression. But learning that someone I know nothing about stopped doing something I didn’t know he was doing, or why, or where, is not high on my list of “must know,” subjects.

Vince could be old or young, short or tall. He could be running for his life, chasing an alien were-mouse, or training for an Iron Man. You know. Vince knows. But the one you wrote this for, the reader, has not a clue. And with that first line, as it stands, comes no ambiance or context. And-fair is-fair. You’re going to make poor Vince’s life hell. So let him live the story in real-time, and make his own decisions—for reasons that are important to him, not you. As Sol Stein said: “In sum, if you want to improve your chances of publication, keep your story visible on stage and yourself mum.”

You, of course know exactly what’s going on as you read the opening. So it works. But pity the poor reader, who has only what the words suggest based on their background, not yours.

Ask yourself, for every line, if the reader has context, as they read. Ask yourself if the line will raise a question in the reader’s mind that they will either have context to resolve, or receive it from you, quickly, as if they’d asked you.

Think of poor Vince, and what matters to him. And use evocative language rather then simply informing the reader of plot point events and backstory. Instead of him stopping for unknown reasons, you might have said something like:

Though fear demanded Vince run ever faster, exhaustion brought him to a staggering halt.

Presented this way, we at know he stopped because he had no choice, and have initial context for he was running. And phrased that way there’s self-contained context that brings the reader into his viewpoint. It also raises the question of why he was running, which is what needs to be addressed next. Dump that backstory. It’s irrelevant to him at the moment, and it’s his story, not yours.

Vince is on a mountain, and lost. That matters to him because he has to solve the problem. He’s frightened, for some reason, and that’s driving him, which means that as our avatar, to live the story in parallel with him, as he lives it, we need to knows what matters to him, and what his resources and needs are.

Do we need to know the intimate details of why he missed the bus? No. His parents, or someone, will probably ask, at some point. But at the moment Vince is not thinking about thorns in his socks unless they’re a factor in his being able to walk. His focus is on controlling his environment. And of critical importance, you are not in that trail with him, so what matters to you, and the details of his history are irrelevant—to both him and the reader.

Story happens, it’s not talked about and never explained. So place yourself into his viewpoint and ask what he’s noticing and reacting to in the moment he calls now. Right or wrong, for good or bad, he will always have reasons to make decisions, so if we are to see the situation as he does, we must know what drives those decisions.

But again, you are neither on the scene nor in the story. So every time you become visible, and chat with the reader about him, the scene-clock is stilled, all momentum the scene might have evaporates, and you switch from showing to telling, which turns your story into a report. Informative? Sure, but not entertaining. And that’s a killer, because the reader is with you to be entertained.

The short version: It’s not a matter of talent or potential. It’s not that you’re doing something “wrong.” It’s that there’s a lot more to writing fiction that sings to the reader than there appears to be, and damn few of them were mentioned in school, because they’re skills, and tricks-of-the-trade, that only fiction writers need. And since you’re a fiction writer…

In other words, it’s not a matter of “Do this instead of that, and you’re okay.” If it was that simple everyone would be a pro. And the path isn’t an easy one, because there’s a lot to learn, and to perfect. But that being said, the learning is fun, like going backstage at the theater. There’ll also be a lot of, “Damn, that’s so obvious. Why didn’t I see that for myself?”

Your local library’s fiction-writing section is filled with goodies: the views of pros at writing, publishing, and teaching.

And though it’s not an overnight process, when it does come together, and your fiction-writing skills are as intuitive as the nonfiction skills we’re given in school, you’ll wonder why you ever thought it hard. And, a few professional tricks have the power to give your words wings. Who knows where you’ll fly to, then?

Sorry my news isn’t more upbeat, but when you think about it, pretty much everyone faces this problem because we all leave school thinking that writing is writing, and since we learned to write in school all we need is a good story idea, a knack for words, and a bit of luck. So it’s annoying, and a maybe you won’t be a rich and famous author by June. But it’s no big deal.

It does come, though, and the result is well worth the work. So hang in there, and keep on writing.

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