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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » desperately searching for a place to begin with description

   
Author Topic: desperately searching for a place to begin with description
arriki
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I don't really want to start the novel here, but I can't find another spot where a character is looking at someone and evaluating the person. So, on the basis of these few lines, would you feel inclined to read on at least to the end of the page, and the next page and so on?


The hovership pilot spotted the arriki herd easily. Their red coats stood out clearly in contrast to the green grasses. The pilot tilted the hovership forward to begin braking. Its compressors blew waves through the knee high grass. The herd moved up the hillside, but with obvious difficulty.

At the bottom of the hill a party of Agriculture’s workers huddled around an arriki lying on its side. One of the healers stood up and waved the pilot to land nearby.

As soon as he cracked the ship’s hatch, the pilot smelled death.
“I have a message for your hallen,” he told the young worker sent to bring him over.

He hadn’t met this hallen before. Mranth stood taller than he had been led to expect. Not tall, but she wasn’t so short she had to

[ June 12, 2013, 08:16 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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wetwilly
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I can read it.
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IRWhite
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Hey, arriki.

Why do you need to start with someone looking and evaluating someone else?

Where would you prefer to start your novel?

I was mostly fine with the first three paragraphs, but the shift of focus from the dead arriki and the healers to the hallen (without explanation of the urgency of the message or any transition) jolted me.

If this was my only problem with the opening, it wouldn't have bothered me enough to stop reading quite yet. But if it was followed by another abrupt transition soon after, that probably would have gotten me to put the book back on the shelf, so to speak.

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arriki
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I would prefer to begin with Thwelin and the discovery of the Agahharn's changeling (posted somewhere down below, but not too far down -- I have post several variations here in the past few days) but I can't seem to get a physical description in the first paragraphs with Thwelin's opening.

You say, Why do you need to start with someone looking and evaluating someone else?
I do not understand the problem you are having with this. To me it is just a way to bring in a description. How am I failing with this?

I'm not sure what you are getting at
Why was the change from the dead arriki to waiting for the hallen not working?

what is the next abrupt transition that threw you out of the story?

But, thank you for your comments.

arriki

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IRWhite
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My questions were merely questions: what is your goal by trying to put in a physical description of a person as soon as possible. Is the description your hook? Is it an element without which we can't get the world setting? I thought the answers to these questions would help me give you a better answer to your question.

I'll read your other opening a little later, I didn't realize there was another version. I'm just restarting to play in this section after a looong hiatus, so this was one of my first posts I read here.

The transition between the sick cattle and meeting the hallen for me was too abrupt. I was interested in what was happening with the healers. The text did not indicate that the pilot knew what was going on, or that it was a mundane matter. In particular "the pilot smelled death" was a very strong sentence. Grabs your focus like nobody's business.

But then the pilot never reacts, internally or externally -- never engages the healers (or gives us a reason why he can't engage them: for example, he doesn't have the time because the message is more urgent, or it would make their worry about the arriki dying irrelevant, or maybe it's against regulations to talk to them other than about his immediate task, etc.). Instead, we just move on to the message.

Then, without any transition (other than a new paragraph which is anyway required by the rules of transcribing dialogue), we're standing in front of the hallen. Was the hallen with the healers? Was the hallen in a different location the pilot traveled to? Was "the young worker" the hallen? I think it would read smoother if we knew this before jumping into her description.

Furthermore, just like by ignoring the pilot's reaction to the sick arriki you're giving up opportunity to give us hints about your world, you're giving up a ton of opportunities to do some characterization of your "actors" here. For example, how did the young worker approach the hallen? This can show us how her people treat her in two words. Then, did she hurry to meet the pilot, or did she gracefully wait until he approached? Again, it would tell you a ton about your characters, as well as the balance of relationships in your world.

It's just my personal opinion, of course, but to me, these would be more important than how the hallen looks, UNLESS her physical appearance is your most important hook, or integral to your setting... hence the question in my previous post.

Finally, there was no "next transition": I was answering what I thought was your hypothetical question -- would I read on based on these first thirteen lines -- so I was suggesting that one bumpy transition wouldn't bother me, but in this case, a second bumpy one soon after would be a deal breaker. I'm very sorry I misunderstood your question, which I now realize was asking who would like to give you feedback on more than the first thirteen lines.

And I apologize that my feedback above was worded poorly.

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arriki
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No, you misunderstand. I want comments on the 13 lines but this is also the only place to solicit longer commentary on chapters, even the entire novel.
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extrinsic
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I might read on if this opening led to a point where I felt plot movement. I might give it five hundred or so words to get to a point. I say "point" because this opening and the proposed others don't seem to me to imply this novel's emphasis is about a character, a setting, or an event, but its emphasis might be a theme.

This opening reads a little like the openings of John Grisham's legal thriller The Confession and Tom Clancy's Cold War thriller The Sum of All Fears, both being theme-emphasis oriented. Theme-based narratives tend to be grand and sweeping, covering multiple viewpoints and settings.

Openings I feel should introduce at least a dramatic complication: a want or problem wanting satisfaction. The closest this opening comes to that is revealing a dead arriki. But not a how or why the arriki's death matters, nor what's dramatic about the arriki's death. Knowing from sampling several other potential openings for this novel that lysican changelings are involved implies that the arriki was killed by a lysican.

I project the discovery of lysicans is at the core of this novel's beginning, what complications they pose for humans.

As far as openings go, the story shapes this opening project are visitation, gathering, specimen, danger at the door, and routine interrupted. See Jerome Sterne's Writing Shapely Fiction for features that distinguish each shape type. I project danger at the door as most potent for what I feel you're going for with these proposed openings.

Descriptions of the lysicans I feel do not need to be completed comprehensively in the opening. They can be interleavened as the drama unfolds. In fact, since one of your intents I suspect is a specimen-type narrative, focusing at times on the lysicans, perhaps the strongest and clearest way to introduce their physical appearance, behavior traits, and, most importantly, personality, might be showing a focal-character lysican or two killing and feeding on an arriki for a prelude-type opening.

That kind of prelude scene can be open narrative distance, reported neutrally though viscerally by the narrator. The key for engaging readers in that prelude scene is "viscerally."

Then the main action might begin where the hover pilot (Thewlin?) comes upon the dead arriki's scene. Readers knowing about the lysican creates a dramatic irony, being in the know where the hover pilot isn't, as the pilot unravels the mystery and readers are a step ahead while the pilot fills in details through the investigation and dramatic want to catch the perpetrator lysican. Understanding that lysicans are not at that moment known to humans.

In terms of theme emphasis, I'm a at a loss what this novel is about. Blue-sky projecting, since the dangerous stranger among us seems a general theme area, like werewolves, a figurative theme or intangible theme might be, generally, an indiviudal in nature: Nature is at war with each of us and proves our vulnerability. Satisfaction outcome then might be a truce between humans and lysicans.

Theme in literary analysis or similar venues is not the same concept or approach, actually, as it is for writers. Theme is the unifying feature of narrative forms that makes them relatable. Theme directly relates to complication, in that a theme-complication is what a story is about figuratively. Tangibly, this novel seems to me to be about humans and lysicans clashing. Thematically, what the lysicans represent figuratively I'm at a loss to identify. Maybe the wild, untamed natural instincts humans suppress but let out once in a blue moon.

[ June 13, 2013, 02:17 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MAP
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quote:
Originally posted by arriki:
I would prefer to begin with Thwelin and the discovery of the Agahharn's changeling (posted somewhere down below, but not too far down -- I have post several variations here in the past few days) but I can't seem to get a physical description in the first paragraphs with Thwelin's opening.

You say, Why do you need to start with someone looking and evaluating someone else?
I do not understand the problem you are having with this. To me it is just a way to bring in a description. How am I failing with this?

I'm not sure what you are getting at
Why was the change from the dead arriki to waiting for the hallen not working?

what is the next abrupt transition that threw you out of the story?

But, thank you for your comments.

arriki

Arriki, out of all the openings I found the Thwelin one the most interesting. I think you should trust your instincts, and do what feels right for the story. Don't worry about up front description. Work it in where you can.

Just my two cents. [Smile]

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arriki
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Well...that's comforting. But will an agent or editor agree?
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MAP
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From what I've read about what agents and editors want, they want to see the story moving forward, and that is why I liked the Thwelin beginning. It felt as if we were moving towards something. The others felt a little stagnant. In other words, I didn't have a feel for where the story was going.
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arriki
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Yes, but don't they want a bit of description, too. Especially for introducing aliens? The humans are mentioned but we don't see any of them until chapter three.
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MAP
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I'm sure they want both, but they don't need everything up front. Work the descriptions in while moving the story forward. You don't need a full description in the first thirteen, but we should have a pretty good idea of what the aliens look like within the first few pages. Honestly, I think this is one of the more challenging aspects of writing, but it can be done.
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