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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » Divided

   
Author Topic: Divided
Long Writer B8
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Would like your thoughts on the following novel opening:
Tracking Pa is like tracking a rattler, Geo realized as sticky sweat trickled down his neck, washing away mosquito repellent. He didn’t want to sneak up, startle, and risk getting attacked.
Shifting his backpack and rifle, Geo applied more of Pa’s home-brewed mosquito ointment and cursed the suffocating heat. Why couldn’t the weather settle somewhere between this furnace and last winter’s snow that threatened never to end? Pa called it the worst winter in South Appalachia in the two decades since the Second Civil War.
Geo eased his way forward, careful to keep leaves from crunching beneath his worn leather boots and alerting forest dangers like Rangers patrolling the Appalachian side of the border or Civ’s mechanized female warriors from Knoxville jumping the border

[ January 11, 2013, 07:03 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Grumpy old guy
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G'day, for me there's too much information being dumped on me. Just a personal preference of course. Now, some specifics.

For non-American readers (there are a few out there) where the heck is Appalachia? Yes, there's the internet so I can do a quick search -- but that takes me out of the story.

Then I'm told that 20 years ago there was a second Civil War. I don't have a problem with that, it sets this story in the future -- something the reader needs to know and fairly quickly.

Next I'm told the MC needs to be on the lookout for 'forest dangers' (my immediate thought was animals). I find out that there are two main ones (apart from animals) Rangers (but I don't know where they're from and why they're a danger) and Civs (I'm even more in the dark about that) who have mechanised female warriors (are they in mechanical vehicles or have their bodies been mechanised?).

So, for me the opening is a vague info-dump and not at all reassuring. I also have some problems with your sentence structures, but that's probably another personal style issue. For instance you wrote:

Tracking Pa is like tracking a rattler, Geo realized as sticky sweat trickled down his neck, washing away mosquito repellent.

I'd write:

Geo realised tracking Pa was like tracking a rattler. He wiped away the sweat trickling down the back of his neck.

As I said, a personal preference.

Phil.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Tracking Pa is like tracking a rattler, Geo realized as sticky sweat trickled down his neck, washing away mosquito repellent.
"Realized" is one of those words I call "state-of-mind verbs". They exist to draw attention to the fact that the foregoing is in the point-of-view character's head. But of course when you write from a character's point of view, more or less everything is by default in his head.

Here's an example of a case where I'd use a state-of-mind verb:
quote:
Alice reached out to shake Bob's hand, then realized/saw/remembered it was covered in blood.
Compare to
quote:
Alice started to shake Bob's hand, but it was covered in blood.
Both work, but in different ways. The state-of-mind words work if you want the reader to share Alice's shock as her previous state of ignorance is overturned. If you don't want the reader to share that shock, the second version is better.

Unless there is a particular reason to draw the reader's attention to the fact a piece of information is in the character's head, I think state-of-mind verbs discourage readers from identifying with the POV character.

I think "realized" is in there because you want show reader's Geo's inner monologue, and by analogy with an actual monologue you're reaching for something like a dialog tag. In fact you don't need to do that; if you write within a character's point of view, readers will assume any opinions expressed by the narrator are the opinions of the character. It's called free indirect speech. Writing the opening sentence to use FIS, it might out like this:

quote:
Sweat trickled down Geo's neck, washing away mosquito repellent. Trackin Pa was like tracking a rattler.
Now on to the sound. A good narrator has a certain sound -- some call this "voice" although that creates confusion with other technical aspects of narration. Try reading the following sentence out loud:

quote:
Why couldn’t the weather settle somewhere between this furnace and last winter’s snow that threatened never to end?
It strikes me as a bit flat and overlong as a sentence, not something someone is likely to say.

One trick I like to use is to make the narrator echo the habits and rhythm of the POV character's speech. Imagine Geo saying this to another character; suppose it would sound like this:

quote:
"Last winter we had snow that never ended," Geo said. "Now it's like a furnace that won't quit. Why can't the weather settle on something in-between?"
Now translate that to free indirect speech:

quote:
Last winter there'd been snow that never ended. Now it was like a furnace that wouldn't stop. Why couldn't the weather settle somewhere in-between?

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:

For non-American readers (there are a few out there) where the heck is Appalachia? Yes, there's the internet so I can do a quick search -- but that takes me out of the story.

Oh, come now, Phil. I happen to know there's a town in Western Australia called "Marble Bar". I also happen to know that Sydney is kind of in the southeast corner. But if a story took place in either of those places, it'd hardly be necessary to point out where they were, unless somebody in the story decided to do something like walk from Marble Bar to Sydney.

Shakespeare confused "Bohemia", a historical kingdom located in what is now the Czech Republic, with Egypt. Bohemia was landlocked, but in the Winter's Tale he shipwrecks his hero "on the coast of Bohemia". It doesn't matter, because the story is long ago and far away.

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Grumpy old guy
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I understand what you're saying. However, if you told me it was in Alabama or Mississippi I would have an idea. Marble Bar is a tourist destination, as is Sydney. But, if I set a story in the Mallee, would you know where that is? It's a rather large region, so is the Murray-Darling Basin but neither is commonly known outside Australia.

I do know where 'The Wilderness' is; I'm a student of military history. But I doubt that would be common knowledge outside the USA either.

It was just an observation because I did have to look up Appalachia on the Internet.

Phil.

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Long Writer B8
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Appreciate the feedback. It's always tough placing story in new setting.

Thanks

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MattLeo
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Any story that takes place somewhere real is going to take place somewhere unfamiliar to people outside that country.

In *Dracula*, the newly minted vampire Lucy stalks Hampstead Heath, which is in what was then suburban London, a fact that is obscure to Americans but makes no difference -- it's clear in context that it's not far out of the metropolis. Likewise *Hound of the Baskervilles* takes place on Dartmoor, which is between Exeter and Cornwall -- also obscure to Americans. What's important is that getting there involves a train journey of something like five to eight hours for Holmes and Watson, and that it is rugged and remote which Watson's narration makes clear.

Granted, many Americans probably can't tell Wales from Scotland on a map without reading the labels, but they have no difficulty reading popular literature set in Britain.

The important thing about Appalachia is its cultural significance, not its location. In an American ear, "Appalachia" automatically conjures up a number of stereotypes and tropes about proud, poor, belligerent people of Scots-Irish stock alternately feuding and eking out a meager living by farming the rugged terrain and, of course, moonshining.

But even that's not important. In a story, it's just a name, like "The Shire". If the author does his job it'll be clear the kind of place it is even if you have never heard of the region.

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ForlornShadow
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I liked a lot of your opening, it has a personality to it. I would, however, change around some of the phrases and phrasing. For example: the sentence after your opening line is a bit misplaced. I would either move it somewhere or cut it all together, it interrupts the flow of the rest of the opening. I'm intrigued as to why Geo (love the name by the way) is trying to hide from what seems to be people on opposite sides. I also like how you use words like "Pa" and "rattler" to give the reader a hint as to where your story takes place.
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