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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » again with my novel Evolution for Immortals -- new start

   
Author Topic: again with my novel Evolution for Immortals -- new start
arriki
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I'm kind of stalled - a week till Lone Star Con (I'm going) They have a very "old" version of my opening for the writers workshop. Here's a new one --

Thwelin had spent two days sifting through burned and half melted work orders, expecting to find nothing of importance. Pure garbage, no matter what the language. Then...he almost tossed away the note scribbled on the back of a change order, but the wording caught his eye. Curious, he set the note aside and began carefully reading every scrap in this particular bundle of trash. A few layers down, he found three partially burned documents with more hints. Shortly after those finds, he made the real discovery. One crumpled medical form mentioned a special human changeling to be included in a shipment of Agahharn hibernation chambers. What? Hidden somewhere in these vast storage caverns might be a new sort of changeling made by the Agahharn!

Everyone had heard how interested Mranth was in the Agahharn. If

Would anybody here read on?

[ August 22, 2013, 09:54 AM: Message edited by: arriki ]

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extrinsic
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An opening sentence with a perfect past tense would set on my developmental editing cap. "Thwelin /had spent\ two days sifting . . ."

That might signal that the opening ought to begin two days before when Thwelin first experiences the enormity of the chore. Two days into a long-term chore, I've settled into it and no longer as emotionally reactive to it. I'm numb usually.

Anyway, it's a summary opening, a tell, that doesn't artfully show the setting Thwelin is in. If he's situationally aware of his surroundings in the immediate moment of the dramatic action of the moment, show them. Show him discovering the triggering stimulus of the note scribbled on the back of the change order, beginning from outward circumstances and progressing to the closer circumstances of the scribbled note. And include his attitude, in thoughts, toward the significant circumstances, like where this scene's action takes place. On a starship where everyone died, right? What does Thewlin feel about that?

Six senses, use at least five of them them here, since it is a garbage pile: sight, sound, smell, touch, and emotional feeling.

And open the focus a bit to take in Thwelin's situational awareness of his surroundings and their larger relative situated significance, like where the place he works is situated in the cosmos and who is nearby. He may be alone but someone is close by that he's aware of. Near Earth? No. But where and when and who context so readers can get situated too.

Who, when, where, what, why, and how, ask these questions until you know all the answers readers want. Then get them onto the page.

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arriki
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Okay, I know...but I do get in a physical description a page or so later. What I did originally plan was to lead with this below and then get to a physical description.

opening:

“I realize it’s a scut kind of a job” the supervisor was saying to Thwelin. “But you came highly recommended as someone who reads the Agahharns’ language. I only need you to go through the bundles in here. These.” He toed for emphasis one of the bales of documents filling the belowground storage vault. “I had to promise we’d check every piece of this trash before we clear it out. Tell me if you find anything worth noting.”
So, Thwelin spent two days sifting through half-burned forms and notes, expecting to find nothing. It was all pure garbage, no matter what


and then the description a bit later on page 2

Thwelin hurriedly dressed in fresh clothes. He smoothed away the wrinkles where his best jacket hung too loose across his chest and brushed a bit of cleaning powder still clinging to his immaculately white hands. Lastly, he took time to re-braid his black hair. It wouldn’t do to look like some slovenly worker who actually belonged down there in storage!

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extrinsic
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arriki,

I feel like this and the other openings I've read bracket the target you're trying for but avoid the bulls-eye.

I think closer narrative distance, more of Thwelin's voice than the narrator's is the bulls-eye. By voice I mean portraying Thwelin's intimate perceptions and reactions, including emotional attitude thoughts. Thwelin's thread runs throughout the novel. He is in my opinion the central character, though probably not the protagonist.

I think this novel has an experimental feature, in that the milieu or events or ideas are at the forefront of the action, in particular the main dramatic complication and perhaps the milieu, instead of any one character. What most changes or is most transformed by the central action of this novel? Thwelin? The milieu? The idea? Or the main event?

However, Thwelin's centrality to the whole serves as a reader surrogate tying the whole together and gives readers a friendly, trustworthy, likeable character anchor to accompany throughout the novel. Thwelin seems to me a hapless bystander and at times participant at the center or close to the main action who readers can most identify with but not a character appreciably transformed by the action. He is like a witness living his experiences live and in the flesh. So what is at the center of the dramatic action he experiences? An idea? An event? Or a milieu?

An opening's main function is introductions. Introducing a central and influential character readers identify with, like Thwelin as a central figure, is one of an introduction's functions. Also, introducing the main dramatic complication or perhaps a related bridging one. And introducing setting's time, place, and situation. Begin developing those three; character, setting, and complication; and an opening begins plot and story movement barreling down the track.

Consider what is being introduced here. Thewlin? His viewpoint (perceptions and reactive emotional attitudes toward them)? Or the narrators's perceptions and reactions? I think this opening is trying for introducing Thwelin, but the narrator is in front of him and in the way of the moment of the action.

How about the complication? Finding a medical chart referencing a changeling implies that the changeling is the complication. That's developed enough for now but, if it's the main complication, keep developing it gradually until its full import is revealed to Thewlin.

How about setting? The garbage pile is situated somewhere. Develop a few hints about when, where, what, why, and how this unique garbage pile matters where it is and what it's relative to.

I also think that your writing is trying for stronger emotional expression but not quite accomplishing it. Frankly, I'd be ambivalent, angry and pleased at the same time about being assigned solely to sort through garbage because I have unique language skills. Give me some help! Give me a motive of my own that has a payoff, like recognition by superiors. Show me as angry but becoming interested and pleased that I'm doing an important task that causes me to cool down somewhat. But I will remember and exact payment because I was assigned to a thankless and meaningless task because I was beneath notice except for having a unique language skill.

Ambivalence is a strong dramatic method for developing character, character voice, plot, and setting. Ambivalence is a dynamic bridging feature, perhaps a bridging complication that asks for a decision (want satisfying the problem of being ambivalent) to be made soon to be one or the other; for example, angry or pleased.

Ambivalence upsets emotional equilibrium: that's a strong opening. Opening and continuing emotional disequilibrium works for me and for audiences in general as long as occasional emotional reliefs relieve the tension of, for example, ambivalence.

[ August 22, 2013, 08:51 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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arriki
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Actually...before the title and chapter number there are two sort of encyclopedia excerpts -- info dumps --

Info dump #1

Lysiscan: a type-three species averaging two meters in height with white flesh, black hair on the top and back of the head, eyes that change from full black to solid white but mostly remain in the grey ranges, and blue blood. They also are noted for their many secretions (threnn) mostly in the palm of the hand, as well as their hive mentality. They have retractable claws on both hands and both feet.

And info dump #2

Human: a type-three species averaging one point seven meters in height. Varying hair, skin, and eye colors. Red-colored blood. Almost certainly extinct after their planet of origin was destroyed.

I included the stuff on page 2 describing Thwelin but also relied on the above-the-title stuff here.

I don't why I am having so much trouble.
This story is a snowball rolling downhill picking up details and story as it goes -- or, so I hope.
There are many pov characters.

It is a "foreign" location and cast of main characters. I finally gave up on trying to always get the meaning of foreign (alien) words across. I now utilize a few footnotes and an appendix at the end of the novel. Terms such as "elan," "Gnihe," "threnn," "riell," and a few others have no equivalents in any human language.

How can I make Thwelin work? He has to because this hibernation chamber he discovers contains one of the three main (critical) characters. Thwelin was never supposed to be more than a minor character. He just insinuated his way into the story.

One problem is that Mranth is the critical and main character but she is NEVER a pov character. The reader sees her only through the eyes of other characters. The people who have read this novel tell me they never noticed that. So, maybe I am getting that aspect right.

[ August 22, 2013, 09:09 PM: Message edited by: arriki ]

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JSchuler
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This opening seems to suffer from a same occurrence as your first: you immediately talk down the situation. In your previous version, we're looking at a "scut job." Here, we're told there's "nothing of importance" and it's all "pure garbage." That's not exactly something that makes me want to read on.

I think it could work if you just stated the interesting situation and then got right to the action. Consider the following:
quote:
Hidden somewhere in these vast storage caverns was a new sort of changeling. Thwelin kept glancing at the singed medical form as if to assure himself he hadn't hallucinated it. He really shouldn't have left his makeshift office for the caves. There were still piles of half-legible documents to go through. But who could resist discovering an unknown piece of Agahharn tech?
Right away, the reader gets a handle on the situation and has an idea of what's at stake. Then we move to the POV character acting (searching the caves) which allows us to get a hint at his personality (impulsive and curious).

See if cutting right to the chase helps your opening out.

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arriki
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Again I try to find a place to start--

Thwelin waited anxiously out in the corridor. He stood behind a stack of boxes, listening for doors sliding shut on nearby offices. He heard the Storage supervisor talking with others as they headed aboveground for food and sleep. Only then did Thwelin sidle along through the emptying corridors to the master file chamber with the cargo manifests of Agahharn treasure.

Yes! One of the lists confirmed his discovery. That Agahharn hibernation chamber was here somewhere belowground. Unnoticed! Untouched!


Does this open better? Would a reader read on to find out more about where this is taking place.
Is it tense and yet understandable?

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extrinsic
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arriki,

I feel your struggles. The one shortcoming I see most hampering your growth as a writer is personal emotional expression. Thewlin is ideally situated to express personal emotions about the dramatic action of the novel. That is what readers will identify with, find accessible and most appealing. However, it's not making it onto the page.

Damon Knight speaks to this in Creating Short Fiction. Social pressures compel us to supress our emotions. So we don't have the habit of expressing our emotions publicly and even privately they are supressed. But supressing emotions in fiction writing throttles our stories, making them emotionally flat and lackluster. Let loose the supressed emotions that society deprecates. Loose them onto the page where they will flourish, are harmless, and appeal to readers who similarly want emotional release. Loose the quacken!

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arriki
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Another try -- does this work any better? Am I making progress to a good opening?


Excited, Thwelin felt threnn – natural marking fluid – beading up in his palms. He smelled the odors of his fellow workers’ relief as they finished tasks and began to leave their workstations. Door after door slid shut on offices here twenty levels belowground. Thwelin squirmed in his hiding place beside a stack of records stored temporarily (for the past twenty years!) out in the corridor. His feet itched with impatience to get going. Finally, he heard the Storage supervisor, who had assigned him the tiresome task of sorting through century old trash, joking and talking with others as they headed up for food and sleep. Then Thwelin sidled along through the emptying corridors to the master file chamber with the cargo manifests of Agahharn treasure.

Yes! One of the lists confirmed his discovery. There was indeed an Agahharn hibernation chamber with a human changeling hidden inside

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extrinsic
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Much stronger and clearer too. However, there's a tell or two asking for development or excision. The opening word "Excited," for example. The following sentences to a degree express that emotion, more one of anxiety, though, than excitement, and in opposition an undertow of eager curiosity. In other words, ambivalence.

I feel more from this opening as if I'm in Thwelin's shoes or at least his wake as he hides and moves to a more secure hiding spot to explore his discovery, and less like an audience listening to a narrator lecture. I'm also more curious about what's going on and more empathetic for Thewlin's personal complication. This is beginning to develop tension from developing an appreciably closer narrative distance through emphasizing character voice over narrator voice. I believe you are on the right track.

[ August 24, 2013, 12:17 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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Another thing to consider:

I know there's a lot of talk about having a hook in the first thirteen, and often that relates to a situation or mystery or something of that sort that grabs a reader and makes him keep reading on. There's something to having that in the first 13 when you're writing a short story and space is a precious commodity.

But this is a novel. You have the space and the time to get to that unique plot revelation. I believe good, solid writing is more important in the first 13 for a novel rather than a conventional hook, because at this point the reader is trying to decide whether they want to spend however many hours with your writing. The hook that you would have in a short story is already going to be on the back cover. Placing emphasis on a hook in the first 13 is just telling the reader what they probably already know, and so might not be the best way to sell yourself.

So feel free to develop your opening concept further, even if it means the whole changeling thing falls off the first 13. I think you're really close with this last one.

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arriki
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Thanks, that's encouraging from both of you. I'll keep tweaking.


Latest tweak --
Hmmm this space won't let me reach the new stuff -- try to imagine everything down to Thwelin's feet itching and then --

Finally, Thwelin heard the Storage supervisor in the hallway. “He looked so downtrodden today. There’s nothing hidden in that Agahharn trash. It’s been sitting around for a hundred years. But upstairs finally decided to have one good look through it, then they promised I can clear it all out.”

Thwelin bounced on his feet a few times. They didn’t know!

“I think he’s skipping some bundles," said another voice.

“Doesn’t matter. Everything Agahharn’s been dead for years.”

No, it hasn’t, Thwelin thought. Not everything!

[ August 24, 2013, 11:04 AM: Message edited by: arriki ]

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extrinsic
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This sentence is a narrator summary, a tell that I feel could be more artfully and craftily incorporated in Thwelin's viewpoint, his voice: "Finally, Thwelin heard the Storage supervisor in the hallway."

For example, show him sneaking up closer so he can eavesdrop clearly on the conversation. That would imply he's nearby enough, can hear the conversation, and then have no need for the narrator to report Thwelin heard it. Reporting beforehand first Thwelin heard the conversation, by the way, jumbles the chronological order. I suspect Thwelin first hears a conversation, then realizes it's the Storage supervisor, then realizes the meaning of the words, that its about him. Reporting he heard the conversation before he hears a word and understands its meaning puts effect before cause and the action reporting into narrator voice and viewpoint.

Or if Thwelin stumbles onto the conversation nonvolitionally, it's a surprise to him and more dramatic that way I believe. Make it emotional too and ambivalent, since Thwelin is sneaking and curious, probably anxious and fearful too.

Also, a fully realized scene depicts Action (dramatic and physical and reaction actions and acts), Sensation (you've got the aural sensation of dialogue in there already. What other sounds of the speakers' motions and the setting might Thewlin hear or overhear? What other sensations does he observe, visual, tactile, olfactory?). Since dialogue is also Conversation, that's already there. Introspection is the thoughts of the viewpoint character reacting to the other stimuli (Action, Sensation, Conversation, and Emotion).

And Emotion. Thwelin bouncing on his feet implies an emotion, though it is not clarified as to what emotion. The two sentences punctuated with exclamation points signal that they are Thwelin's emotional reactions. However, exclamation-point use is widely deprecated and as a best practice should be used only extremely judiciously and sparingly or not at all. Let the context and texture do the exclaiming.

Or, and this is a challening but appealing method, use sentence fragments that are interjection parts of speech in that they are understated or overstated exclamations. Also use them sparingly and judiciously though. They are strong emphasis when used sparingly and judiciously but an ample portion of them can clutter the action and make the reading pace stutter and jump chaotically. Plus overuse of fragments like overuse of exclamation points blunts ther emphases when they are vital.

Again, the six essential features of a fully realized scene: Action and its counterpart reaction acts and actions, Sensation, Conversation, and Introspection, and the most crucial one Emotion. Not every scene needs to have them all, but trying for them all makes for a very dynamic and appealing scene.

Lastly, as JSchuler suggests, linger in highly dramatic scenes. Lingering implies emphasis that signals to readers this scene is important now and will have additional relevance later. So give them time to digest the scene and remember it for later by lingering; meanwhile, keeping the action moving forward.

[ August 24, 2013, 01:41 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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