This is topic Cacti in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Kent_A_Jones (Member # 10234) on :
SF, 4000 words, just need a crit of this opening. Thank you.

“Mr. Bruder,” Rockson addressed Dad. Viceroy Inc’s Security Coordinator was standing ‘at ease’ in the sunken entrance, just outside the hermetic door seal of Verlon’s family home. Rockson wore a clear allergy mask. He turned to Verlon. “Your son’s wanderings in the Quint wastelands make the young men…”

Verlon saw the reflection of himself he called, the other, in Rockson’s anxious eyes. He had never recognized it as himself.

“…uneasy.” The Coordinator, his gold trimmed black uniform gleaming in harsh sunlight, shifted from foot to foot. Dad didn’t say a word. “Sir, he wanders the reaches barefoot. Some say they’ve seen him naked out beyond the hazard markers.”

Dad turned. The other was in his eyes, steady, patient. Verlon was a man and Dad expected him to speak for himself.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
None of this ‘works’ for me. I know that a short story with a small word count requires the writer to get to ‘the meat’ of the story as quickly as possible. And, in addition to that, there is the requirement and overriding necessity to ‘hook’ the reader into continuing past the first sentence. However, that’s where you lost me, the very first sentence.

You wrote:
Mr. Bruder,” Rockson addressed Dad.

All I really get out of that is that the use of the word ‘Dad’ tells me that we are in the narrator’s POV and that he would appear to be the protagonist. But it doesn’t really tell me anything else.

The sentences that follow do nothing to clear up the matter either. By the end of this 1st 13 I still don’t know where we are, what’s at stake, why it’s at stake, why his wanderings in the Quint wastelands make ‘the young men uneasy’ and what exactly this ‘other’ is that he keeps seeing in peoples eyes. I am left wondering what is going on, but not in the “I’m yearning to know more” way most writers attempt to infuse into their writing. I’m more in the, “I just can’t be bothered finding out” camp.

For me, the main thing an opening should do is to acquaint the reader with either the time, place, person or problem (also called milieu, situation, character and dramatic complication). If you can accomplish two or more of those goals at the same time, even better, as a much stronger opening ensues.

Try asking yourself this question: “What do readers need to know at the start to understand the story?” In answering this question I don’t mean for people to start writing truckloads of exposition outlining back-story, I mean what essential information does the reader need to know to understand why Rockson is knocking on the door and why walking barefoot in the Quint wastelands would make people uneasy. And, in trying to do that, you need to do it in the most entertaining and engaging manner you possibly can.

Perhaps try a beginning like this: Verlon heard the knock on their front door and he instantly knew his life was about to get even more complicated . . .

Just my 2c worth.

Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Several motifs potentially arouse curiosity: hermetically sealed residence, a "Quint" (five) wasteland, allergy mask, Verlon thinks of himself as an other, presumably outwardly "normal" though inwardly another identity, Verlon (Latin-Greek derivative of Verlin meaning "blooming") running buck wild in the wasteland, the Coordinator correcting, castigating, controlling Verlon's counter social behavior, Verlon an adult responsible for his own behavior, and to his dad and his community.

The event of consequence I feel is the Coordinator chastising Verlon in front of his dad for waywardness. Otherwise, I feel too much context too fast is crammed into the fragment, the event hidden among much rushed context and texture.

One introduction feature is most crucial, above setting and character introductions; that is, an antagonizing event's emotional upset for tension's sake, for a focal agonist (contestant) that arouses readers' empathy or sympathy and curiosity. The Coordinator chastising Verlon, though addressing his dad, shaming Verlon, is to me that motif.

Verlon's feral wildness countered by whatever his "other" appearance is at home, is also a dramatic complication that serves somewhat the tension axis, partly introduced: Verlon wants the feral life of the Quint, and problem of yet having to return home for reasons not yet given. Time later for that latter, though.

On point in terms of High-concept crisis is the Coordinator's outspoken imposition upon Verlon of behavior adjustments, the demands of the community for well-adjusted behavior--cooperating with community norms for the common good.

On point in terms of Low-concept crisis, Verlon has another agenda in the Quint, perhaps one for the common good that only an "other" outsider ranging on society's frontier peripheries can accomplish, a solitary frontiersman. Message as much as saying nonconformists are people too, needed for a vigorous community.

I think focus on how the Quint is percieved as a problem for the community that Verlon might satisfy (allergens? Verlon himself an enviromental irritant), along with the Coordinator representing the community's dissatisfaction, would fit into fragment limitations.

[ May 21, 2014, 12:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Kent_A_Jones (Member # 10234) on :
Thank you, extrinsic,
One clarification is that Quint is the name of their planet, so, ' Quint's wastelands...,' might be better.

As you've labeled them, both High-concept and Low-concept crises are very important to the story. I think they are of equal import. The High-concept crisis triggers a fundamental transition in Verlon. I felt that I needed to present both ideas to the reader very soon in the narrative, so I split Rockson's dialog in order to present them simultaneously.

Are you saying that the High-concept crisis is of greater import since it involves community, while the Low-concept crisis is of lesser import since it involves only Verlon?
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
High-concept is the big picture in terms of tangible, material, concrete, universal events and actions, what a narrative is about on its surface. Lord of the Rings is about destroying the One Ring and dark forces opposing the goal, for example.

Low-concept is also big picture, though intangible, immaterial, abstract, moral ideal events and actions, a moral value system ideology. Lord of the Rings is actually about wickedness and nobleness, power and corruption, to name a few low-concept themes of the epic. What a narrative expresses subtextually, accessibly, meaningfully, is actually about, the human condition moral-wise.

Both high-concept and low-concept are important. A solely high-concept narrative is, in a final analysis, a superficial And story: and something meaningless happens in the beginning, and something meaningless happens in the middle, and something meaningless happens in the end, and to no meaningful end. Popular mass culture studio films, summer films, exhibiting visual and audio spectacle and simplistic plots are generally high-concept emphasis and universally approved and consensus-accepted generalized moral value systems.

A solely low-concept narrative is equally problematic from inaccessible thematic meaning too sophisticated for entertainment, even if the entertainment is solely intellectual stimulus. The so-called plotless James Joyce aesthetic of Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses are examples of overwrought low-concept narratives with deficient high-concept.

A proportion of each high-concept and low-concept according to a writer's intent and message is the ideal, even though that proportion vary from writer to writer and narrative to narrative and reader to reader.

Low-concept is not necessarily a reader effort imposition, so much as it is a glue that binds and unifies otherwise superficial And action, and a filter for context and texture directly related to dramatic complication and its attendant conflict, attitude, and emotional expression.

Low-concept is what makes a narrative meaningful such that the commentary is artfully packaged, not preachy, implied and inferrable, and persuasive, if not the message but the persuasive evocation that arouses readers emotionally. Ephemeral, lackluster narratives overlook one or the other's relevance to reader tension arousal and comprehension and ease appeals. Narratives with staying power are meaningful, timely, relevant and likely overall more at least popularly if not critically successful than otherwise narratives.

Not that the low-concept only involves Verlon, but that his personal moral crisis involves the community and its vigor. He's on a threshold of community-wide shunning for his idiosyncracies. Isolated, physically and emotionally detached from the community, he acts to reintegrate socially in such a way that his importance to the community is realized, hence his idiosyncracies tolerated due to his contentious though cooperative contributions to the common good.

Initially, the community rejects Verlon for his rejection of their conformist moral values. He reacts by rejecting the community. However, the moral crisis is he's a social being and is as dependent on and obliged to the community as they are of him. That's the satisfaction of that moral crisis.

[ May 21, 2014, 04:46 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by jerich100 (Member # 10202) on :
When a plant emerges from the ground it is tiny and thin and frail. That is how a story begins. While “addressed” is a good word, it distracts from Mr. Bruder and Rockson. How about, saying “said” instead, and then describing Rockson’s demeanor without using any obvious words like angry, happy, impatient. This lets the reader decide and visualize, rather than having something plopped on one’s lap. Who is the Security Coordinator, the dad or the son? See—we don’t know yet because it’s delivered to us in a sudden slug.

The first sentence in the second paragraph is unclear. Missing words? In the third paragraph the word “uneasy” completes the sentence from the first paragraph. This may be okay, but isn’t this a fancy-advanced trick an expert may use? I recommend that you not do that, only because you’re already trying to learn a zillion things about writing (as are the rest of us) and you might want to keep things simple and just end the sentence normally. You can be a big shot later.

We read about the coordinator shifting from foot to foot without yet caring why he’s doing it. Is the coordinator always under great stress? Is his boss unreasonable? Is he a wily evil dude? Isn’t it true that actions have meanings? If we don’t know the meaning, then doesn’t that make the action...superficial? The very same action later could be completely logical and necessary.

For me, this is why starting a story is excruciatingly difficult. In fact, the start of a story is like a singularity (to use a sci-fi reference), or perhaps similar to division by zero. Or maybe like pulling out a sliver. It’s HARD.

I believe the entire scene must be slowed down.

Perhaps it’s time for some commentary on the 13-line rule. [Smile] Maybe the rule should be loosened to, say, 30 lines. I’m aware of the reasons for the 13-line rule. But there may be OTHER reasons for allowing a longer entry. Perhaps the 13-line rule encourages us newborn writers to submit a rush of words, when we might present our stories a little more calmly if given the opportunity.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
I support the thirteen-line principle emphatically. The rush shortcoming of openings is as much if not more a product of shorthand, shortcut, "telling" writing common to struggling writers. The thirteen-line principle in a nutshell encourages and fosters an environment of working through rushed writing to fully-realized writing. Unfortunately, the "tell" stalled plateau intervenes.

Tell: summarization and explanation lecture akin to a narration of a family vacation slideshow without the pictures shown.

Show: fully realized reality imitation.

Thirteen lines is generous--more often than not, I know by the first word if a narrative will engage me as reader or as critical analyst.

[ May 28, 2014, 05:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Kent_A_Jones (Member # 10234) on :
I believe the thirteen-line rule is an efficient way to present work to a maximum audience. I offer my work for critique in this forum because I want feedback from an audience interested in SF.

The only thing I personally dislike is when a crit brings me up personally. I want to tell entertaining stories, brain children of things I find interesting, to as large an audience as I can reach. I find it a gratifying pursuit. Perhaps one day it will be rewarding as well.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
In another incarnation of myself I fell hook, line and sinker for the rush to get it all happening within the first 13 lines. Now, a calmer frame of mind rules and I believe that you can grab a readers attention and interest with only a word or two if expertly chosen. The rest of us will need a line or two, or perhaps thirteen, to hint at what awaits the avid reader.


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