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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » NIGHTLIVES first thirteen

   
Author Topic: NIGHTLIVES first thirteen
micmcd
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The opening to my NaNoWriMo (winner:-) book from this year. Genre == adult fantasy. All comments welcome.

edit - KDW - resized, though as far as I could tell the first fit well within the window.

I'm looking at this in Chrome on a Macbook Pro - though the OS shouldn't matter since Chrome is Webkit standard.
quote:

Five psychology grad students sat in a semicircle around Ian. All were women, and all furiously scribbled notes as their professor, Dr. Wentworth, spoke. Ian leaned against the desk at the front of the room while a hapless undergrad girl poked at the touchscreen of an HD camera fastened to a tripod twenty times its size.
Ian listened as Wentworth rambled on. “The point is to understand how a patient thinks about his own dreams. You’ll never meet someone who remembers them like Mr. Jonas, but from his memories you’ll better understand impressions others have.”
Dr. Wentworth was a contrast in generations from his students. He was plump, gray-haired and gray-bearded, and wore a tweed jacket.



[ February 18, 2013, 06:03 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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MattLeo
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I think you make the reader work too hard to prize out a basic fact: the POV character's name is Dr. Ian Wentworth. The reasoning goes like this. There are six people in this scene, five of whom are women. Dr. Wentworth may be a man or a woman. Ian is a man's name so it can't apply to any of the five graduate students, so it must apply to Dr. Wentworth. Therefore the POV character's name is Dr. Ian Wentworth. Oh, wait, there's an undergrad present too, but she's a girl.

Also curious: how do you compare the size of an HD camera, which is probably a small box, to a tripod? In any event, this is an irrelevant detail. What difference does it make what size the camera is, unless it is absurdly small or large, and then only if you are going for some kind of comic effect.

Same goes for the teacher's desk being at the front of the room; it seems like superfluous detail because that's where we'd put the teacher's desk in our imagination. Of course you just said that the students were in a semi-circle around Dr. Wentworth, so maybe readers have imagined Dr. Wenthworth seated without a desk. Perhaps you could say they were seated in a semi-circle around Dr. Wentworth's desk?

The difficulty of prizing out the name of the POV character, the detail that seems like it's implying something but apparently isn't, and the lack of paragraph breaks (I think KDW doesn't count them towards 13 lines) all conspire to make this opening harder to read than it ought to be.

One thing about this opening is that the perspective doesn't quite seem to gel. I'm assuming this is told in the third person omniscient, because of this sentence:

quote:
Dr. Wentworth was a contrast in generations from his students. He was plump, gray-haired and gray-bearded, and wore a tweed jacket.
If this were third person limited, we'd be focusing on Ian's perceptions, and he's have no reason to compare and contrast himself to his svelte young female grad students (or maybe he does wink-wink nudge-nudge say-no-more). But the wealth of details seems to *feel* more like we're picturing the scene through one character's perception. I don't know what to make of it.

Also, note that HD is a bit of marketing jargon that may disappear in five or ten years -- if posterity matters to you.

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extrinsic
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The title's play on the term nightlife and the association with the dream state intrigues me.

I'm not sure the viewpoint character and the opening fulfill the title's promise. If someone experiences the dream nightlife, he or she to me is the ideal viewpoint character and about whom the dramatic complication most closely relates. In order to "hook" readers, get into the dramatic action right away.

"Five psychology grad students sat in a semicircle around Ian."

This line implies the grad students face toward Ian. "Sat" is a fuzzy word, a static voice word. Fuzzy from not clearly expressing whether the grad students just this moment sat or if the action is ongoing. Static from that's all the descriptive action the grad students impress upon Ian.

"All were women, and all were furiously scribbling notes as their professor, Dr. Wentworth, spoke."

The first were functions the way to be verbs work best, describing a state of being, though I think five women lumped together misses an opportunity to develop Ian's character from his impressions of their individual characters.

The second were is static voice. "Were furiously scribbling" blunts the impact of "scribbling" when scribbled expresses the action in the same tense as the previous clause and previous sentence's verbs. "Furiously" doesn't add much impact.

The "and" conjunction of the second sentence dosen't work for me either, from the two independent clauses expressing different ideas. The "as" conjunction neither, from, one, the backflip my mind did when I realized the women orient on Wentworth and not Ian. And two, that the sentence has yet another conjoined, unrelated clause.

Okay, he's a doctor-professor, a teaching doctor, but clarifying "their professor, Dr. Wentworth" makes the already overburdened sentence yet more awkward, more so from the main verb "spoke" arriving after the three indepedent clauses' and several appositive phrases end. A periodic sentence saves the main idea until last, okay, but the ideas connect and build meaning along the journey. A loose sentence, conversely, often begins with the main idea then adds context and texure from expressing modifying ideas.

"Ian leaned," another fuzzy and static action verb, static voice. "Leaned" like "sat" doesn't clearly express if the action is done or ongoing and summarizes and explains an action. If Ian is the viewpoint character and the narrator isn't, he cannot observe himself leaned. If the narrator's the viewpoint character, introducing the narrator's identity matters.

Same sentence, another static conjunction "while" joining unrelated ideas.

"Hapless" tells a summarized action sequence when a brief sentence or two would show how the undergrad is hapless and allow for describing the odd juxtaposition of the small camera on an oversized tripod. That latter to me is a strong visual sensation.

However, the next paragraph jumps from the camera girl to the middle of Wentworth's lecture without a transition. I'm doing another mental backflip from the camera to Wentworth, who I imagine is the camera's subject. I think a stepped transition might note a nonverbal communication between the camera girl and Wentorth, then perhaps a brief synopsis of whatever introduction Wentworth began with, maybe he repeats for the camera what he said before. Some sort of "As I was saying."

The second paragraph focuses on Jonas. I'm thinking he might be the protagonist at this time.

I feel like the third paragraph fits before the second paragraph though. And though it focuses on Wentworth's appearance, it places him in first position over Ian as protagonist due to greater detail and an artful observation about Wentworth's contrast to the grad and undergrad students. I'm guessing at this point Ian is also a student but I'm thinking he might be a graduate teaching assistant along for the presentation.

I'm lost by this opening about who and what this story is about.

[ February 15, 2013, 12:19 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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Although I think it's a bit much to expect a story to be fully introduced in 13 lines, extrinsic puts his finger on the problem here. There's a lot of detail to process, but a coherent, vivid picture doesn't emerge.

The overall impression is clutter, like you're trying to do too much in the space you have.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Although I think it's a bit much to expect a story to be fully introduced in 13 lines,

I suppose that's one of my points, trying for full introductions in limited real estate and creating "clutter" instead. A bit of kitchen sink syndrome and population explosion can create cluttered introductions.
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micmcd
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The main character's name is NOT Dr. Ian Wentworth. Ian Jonas and Dr. Wentworth are two completely separate characters. Ian is the subject of a study by Dr. Wentworth, and the Dr's students are getting ready to examine him.

I hadn't noticed that it could be construed that way. There are eight people in the room: the five grad students (all women), the female undergrad screwing up the camera setup, Dr. Wentworth, and Ian Jonas.

There is no POV violation because the POV is Ian's, not the professor's.

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micmcd
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Thank you all for the detailed response. It appears I need to clear up that Ian, the POV, is the main character.

I'm a bit torn with regards to some of the details you mention, extrinsic. For instance, you say I could develop Ian's character by his reaction to each of the individual students, but had I done that, the first thirteen would have ended before he'd gotten through three of them. His first reaction, simply noting that they were all women, should give you a little bit of a clue to his character.

There isn't a lot of action, nor can there be, but the intended hook is that his dreams are sufficiently interesting to be the subject of a university study. You get glimpses at his character by the fact that he notices the comical contrast between the old professor (the old guard of psychologists) and the young students. He's also clearly a technologist ("Is that the Cannon HD557-D"), and is at least a little impatient.

I'll look into revising it. Thanks again for all the feedback.

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MattLeo
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Ah, well, I stand corrected then.

Knowing that this Ian is a different character and that the scene is from his POV clears up a great deal. I think the smushed together layout contributed to my confusion.

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extrinsic
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I've got three possible names for protagonist, Ian, Mr. Jonas, and Dr. Wentworth. So Ian is Jonas. I still don't know who's the protagonist.

A point of view violation generally involves an abrupt change in viewpoint character perspective, like a section details one character's thoughts reacting to stimuli then expressing another or more characters' thoughts reacting to stimuli without a viewpoint transition.

The weather balloon caught fire from the bunsen burner on the table. Melted latex rained safely onto the school playground. Lacey felt like a hot poker skewered her eyeball. Jeremy thought the incindiary burst was funny.

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micmcd
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No worries, MattLeo - If that wasn't clear from the way it was written, then I'm the one that needs to fix it.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by micmcd:
Thank you all for the detailed response. It appears I need to clear up that Ian, the POV, is the main character.

I'm a bit torn with regards to some of the details you mention, extrinsic. For instance, you say I could develop Ian's character by his reaction to each of the individual students, but had I done that, the first thirteen would have ended before he'd gotten through three of them. His first reaction, simply noting that they were all women, should give you a little bit of a clue to his character.

Thirteen lines of roughly ten average words per line starts opening introductions, not a once and done in one hundred thirty words, roughly sixty-five glyphs per line, introduction and completed character and other features' development.

A word or two work miracles for beginning opening introductions using description mode. How much matters regarding how important a character or characters are to a viewpoint character. If they're markedly different women--modifying terms express a viewpoint character's attitude toward subjects, like otherwise indifference toward unimportant characters. Frumpy, frouzy, giggly, sober-serious--one or two terms implying the women are different from each other or freakishly identical give the essential "telling" details.
quote:
Originally posted by micmcd:
There isn't a lot of action, nor can there be, but the intended hook is that his dreams are sufficiently interesting to be the subject of a university study. You get glimpses at his character by the fact that he notices the comical contrast between the old professor (the old guard of psychologists) and the young students. He's also clearly a technologist ("Is that the Cannon HD557-D"), and is at least a little impatient.

"Hooking" readers requires inciting them to care and be curious about characters with wants and problems wanting satisfaction. Though anecdotes have entertainment value from their interesting or entertaining features, and are usually used for short stories, they still require an organizing dramatic structure opening and throughout in order to engage readers' caring and curiosity.
quote:
Originally posted by micmcd:
I'll look into revising it. Thanks again for all the feedback.

You're welcome. Consider focusing on what the title Nightlives means in relation to the entire narrative in parts, parcels, and wholes. I think that's the E-ticket to ride. That's what the title makes me curious and care about.

[ February 15, 2013, 01:45 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by micmcd:
edit - KDW - resized, though as far as I could tell the first fit well within the window.

I'm looking at this in Chrome on a Macbook Pro - though the OS shouldn't matter since Chrome is Webkit standard.

Wow, micmcd, I'm amazed that there would be that much difference.

I look at every "13-line" post on the same computer, so they all are treated the same and all are read through the window I see.

The new version is what fits in the window I see.

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