This is topic Disembodied, SF, 6800 words in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Hey guys. Story opening for a SF story I'm working on. Looking for volunteers to read the whole story. Any comments about the opening are welcome, as well.

I hunched over the handlebars of the crotch rocket I had stolen from the bar at the base of the mountain, a purple and black Ducati, and laid her open. The scream of the engine drowned out all other noise as it kicked between my thighs like a rodeo bull. The wind whipped ice crystals into my face at, according to the odometer, 97 mph. I tore down the mountain on this narrow, winding road in the dark. My visibility was limited to what I could see in my headlight, which, at this speed, was only visible for a fraction of a second.
This was a seriously self-destructive impulse, and that was sort of the point.
Fear lapped at the edge of my consciousness. This was not my fear; it was the fear of the guy I had taken over, one Gerald Pohler, Jerry to his friends. He was trapped inside somewhere.
Posted by JSchuler (Member # 8970) on :
I'm interested in the hook, but the writing needs work.

"crotch rocket... purple and black Ducati" is redundant. Stronger phrasing would replace "crotch rocket" with "purple and black Ducati."

"The scream of the engine drowned... as it kicked between my thighs" If a scream is kicking between anyone's thighs on a motorcycle, there are some impressive acrobatics going on.

"according to the odometer, 97 mph" Odometers measure distance traveled, not speed, so I understand why he would mistrust it enough to qualify the source. Also, 97 mph is oddly specific.

"base of the mountain... down the mountain." When did he go up it?

"My visibility was limited" Passive voice kills this for me. "The headlight struggled to light much of anything..."

"sort of the point" The hedging of language is out of place considering everything else the character is doing.

"one Gerald Pohler" This reads as clinical. Detached. Ironic for someone inhabiting his body. Contrast with the following "This was not my fear. It was Jerry's. He was trapped inside somewhere."
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
The prose can be cleaner, but I'd read on. Send it along if you wish.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
A being possesses a person, steals a motorcycle, and drives the bike recklessly fast at night on a mountain road.

For me, the event sequence is jumbled and thus diminishes reader effect. Note that two events are described through use of past perfect tense: "I had stolen" and "the guy I had taken over".

Which happened first? Presumably, the possession did, then the theft, then the reckless drive.

A test for passive voice: sentence first position subject is a receiver of a predicate's action, a to be auxiliary verb like "was," and a preposition connects the predicate to an object that is the sentence's actual subject doer of the predicate's action.

"My visibility was limited to what I could see in my headlight,"

Though in clause subject position, "My visibility" is the object of the predicate "was limited". "To" is the preposition. "What I could see in my headlight" is in object position and likewise an object of the preposition and of the predicate's action. A suitable sentence subject is absent altogether.

Also, that clause is static voice -- an ongoing state of being expression, a stasis statement among process statements. Process statements are dynamic voice.

The suitable, active voice subject of the clause is nighttime darkness. Also, to express dynamic voice, instead of static voice, a more finite time span for darkness limits his visibility to the headlight's beam is warranted.

The expression does describe an ongoing event that spans a long though vague time span. However, for best reader effect, the moment of substance could be expressed in active and dynamic voice limited to the sequential moment the driver notices and reflects upon the limited vision; in other words, a vivid and lively scene segment that finitely expresses the setting situation, in scene mode, not summary and explanation tell mode. The scene moment would still express the limited visibility spans an ongoing time period, though stronger and clearer and less vaguely define the finite moment the driver takes notice.

Also, "The scream of the engine drowned out all other noise as it kicked between my thighs like a rodeo bull." "As" is used there as a coordination conjunction, is a correlation conjunction term, and splices two clauses into a run-on sentence. The two independent clauses' ideas are somewhat congruent, somewhat contemporaneous; however, their sensations' received action sequence is not simultaneous and also the causality is indeterminate -- vague. Which happens first, the //buck// of the rodeo bull-like acceleration or the scream of the engine? A nano second gap between event sequencing means either may come first. Which, though, is more logical first and is best reader effect?

Formal composition places emphases up front. Artful prose places emphasis at the back end for inevitable surprise sequencing. For example, "I came; I saw; I conquered." Emphasis and surprise from word "conquered," its two hard consonants emphasize the triple-event sequence's outcome: beginning, middle, end.

When or while are time coordination conjunctions, not "as."

Could one of the clauses be stronger first? Sound or tactile sensation first? Either is causal-logically first. The consideration could pivot upon which is least expected. Therefore, for this circumstance, perhaps stronger and clearer expression would adjust the clauses into separate sentences and amplify one so it is last and stronger surprising emphasis.

The earlier use of "crotch rocket" is the first event of the sequence. The engine scream and the rodeo-bull //buck// are repetitions of that first instance. For the Ducati motif's mythology development, its agency, later repetitions warrant substitution or transposition -- given -- with emotional amplification: not given.

Consider the engine scream as a small degree of emotional expression, vague though. Is this Ducati a rice burner? A sewing machine? Or a howling banshee? Stronger expression from the latter.

Rodeo bulls bolt out of a gate and then buck. They do kick for part of their routine, though a kick in the sense given is like a mule or such propels an unwary individual away.

Coordination of "scream" and "kick" is warranted, I feel, in any case. Roar and buck coordinate, for example, and howl and bolt.

For inevitable surprise sequencing of the three instances of the Ducati's muscle power, the third instance to me could strongest be the engine scream if more emotionally developed. How does that feel? Nerve-racking of a high-pitched whine? Deep-throated, bone-rattling, comfortable and thrilling rumble of a powerful engine? Which is more thrilling? And how to make it a surprise? The surprise is the driver's; that is, that the engine is overclocked, customized horsepower. And the surprise of the driver be likewise readers' surprise.

The gauge of a motorcycle that indicates velocity and mileage is commonly labeled an odometer, though the functions are combined in the one gauge. The speed clocked at 96 miles per hour vaguely signals the speedometer reading is digital. Some clarification is I feel warranted for both gauge and readout.

The fragment gives a sense of the motorcycle drive thrill; however, the event of substance is the possession of Gerald Pohler, with which the motorcycle drive best coordinates, likewise thrilling? though is left until the fragment's last to introduce, and takes place before the motorcycle theft and drive.

Gerry, by the way, is the conventional nickname for Gerald. "Jerry" is a hiccup to read after the name.

Grammar in these above ways informs rhetoric and artistic flair, content and organization -- craft -- expression and voice, and audience appeal for a symphonic synergy.

[ May 08, 2015, 11:22 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
JSchuler, glad the hook works. Thanks for the line crits. Good catch on the odometer. Speedometer, then?

Denevius: thanks for the offer. I sent it. You're a real mensch.

Extrinsic: thanks so much for the extensive time and expertise evident in your crit. I'll definitely get that static line cleaned up.
Posted by JSchuler (Member # 8970) on :
"The speed clocked at 96 miles per hour vaguely signals the speedometer reading is digital."

Let me elaborate on my criticism here.

The reason I found 97 mph as oddly specific is because, unless you're using cruise control on a straight road, the speed is going to be inconsistent. You're going to be constantly braking and accelerating. I don't see why anyone would peg the speed to a specific number unless they were trying to set a benchmark. If you're just out for a joyride and having fun, I'd expect a round number to describe the speed. "A hundred" or "over ninety."
Posted by rabirch (Member # 9832) on :
Most of this actually read really well for me. I had no issue with both crotch rocket and a purple and black Ducati. It gives me both voice and specific description.

The speed thing was the one place where I also got stopped up. Not because of the specificity, but because of the pointing out that they're reading the speed. They're driving a vehicle. It's going to be assumed that they're reading from the speedometer. For me, it would be simpler to just say, "The wind whipped ice crystals into my face at 97 mph."

Otherwise, I thought this was effective.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
A specific detail, like 96 miles per hour, could artfully imply that's the speed the driver notes when looking for an instant moment at the gauge. The speed variation might then be partly implied and partly detailed -- not too on the nose, as MattLeo could say -- and accessible for readers' imaginations to reasonably infer.

Content-specific and finite time span details for now moments evoke readily inferable variation and ongoing action, as the case may be, and use dynamic voice for a robust and fluent flow, for vivid and lively action.

Reading a digital gauge and reporting the received reflection of noted velocity at the moment of 96 miles per hour is a step of that kind of detailed description. Another or two timely and judicious repetitions, with substitution and amplification, fulfills the functions I see of speed and thrill and, as the situation warrants, implies variation and expression of full-throttle acceleration, with, of course, emotional commentary.

For example, a next or two speed reflection might note the engine sound deepens and bogs on an up incline or winds out on a down incline.

These details develop mythology and reality imitation -- scene mode -- that have strong reader appeals, especially when emotionally charged. These are "telling details" development and function.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Apart from the last sentence of the first paragraph this doesn't work for me. The reason is simple: none of it reads as if it has been written, or is being thought about, by someone experienced in riding a motorcycle.

We may only make up a small proportion of your possible readers but we're passionate about what we do. When writers get it wrong we just assume they've got most of their other research wrong as well.

My qualifications? I haven't owned a car/truck for thirty years; during that time my only mode of transport has been by motorbike, seven days a week, rain, hail, or shine. Oh, I've also been a professional, in a small way, motorcycle racer. There are no chicken strips on my rear tire.

Specific issues:

You don't look at your speedometer, you listen to the engine note for rpm's; actual mph isn't relevant. An experienced rider knows if they can get around a corner, or not, by visual clues; if you're glancing at the speedo you might not see the deer crossing the road at that moment.

Ice crystals on the wind and a winding road on a mountain? I'd be more concerned about ice on the road; ice and snow are that natural enemies of the motorbike. Crash, slide, bang, ouch!

Oh, yes. A Ducati doesn't scream , it growls; as do most V twins.

Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
Got it, and will get back to you shortly.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Thanks, Phil. I appreciate the knowledge. I definitely want to get the details right.

To your first point, I was not at all aware that was a habit of experienced riders. I've actually never been on a motorcycle. (Well, I rode B-word once, but that doesn't count). However, this guy is not an experienced rider, so, knowing now what you told me about an experienced rider's habits, I think it would be less believable for him to have those habits.

To your second point, he is intentionally endangering his life, and the ice is meant to ratchet that danger up a couple notches.

To your third point, thanks for helping me get that right.

rabirch: thanks for the positive feedback. Extrinsic is right about my intention in including that odometer detail: sort of stream of consciousness, following his thought pattern as he glances down to see how fast he's going. It seems to be tripping up a lot of people, though, so I'll have to re-examine it once all my crits come in.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Mythology development is a method for satisfying a range of reader considerations: about the speed and looking at the gauge, about the icy conditions, about perceptions of the Ducati, etc.

A telling detail, for example, might be the intents of the possessor; that is, only the thrills of a risky motorcycle ride or an intent to smear poor Mr. Pohler on the roadway as the intended thrill, to experience mayhem and death firsthand. And the possessor could be able to split perceptions such that the gauge and roadway are within ken, a possessor able to focus on both peripheral and focal point views simultaneously.

Note that ordinarily single-occupant vehicles -- bicycles, motorcycles, skateboards, surfboards, inline skates, etc. -- an operator rides the vehicle. Vehicles which carry passengers or freight and operators are driven. That difference is a potential method to signal the possessor is naive about motorcycle culture, that the possessor and Pohler drive the motorcycle, not ride, per se. The possessor, though, rides Pohler, a characteristic of Haitian Vodun expression: Papa Legba, intermediary between humanity and loa, rides who he possesses.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
I may use the "ride" terminology as part of his personal mythology, extrinsic. I like it. I hadn't found the right word for him to use about what he does. "Riding" just might be it.

He is the only one who knows he exists, and he doesn't know how or why, so I suppose he would have developed his own mythology about himself. That's something I need to develop.
Posted by telflonmail (Member # 9501) on :
JShuler (mainly) and extrinsic said most of what I would have said in a different way, of course. They had interesting and readable opinions.

My 2 pence/cents is: I would have started the story with your 2nd sentence "The roar of the purple and black Ducati drowned out all other noise as it bucked between my legs like a rodeo bull."
Posted by T. Griffin (Member # 10411) on :
Not sure what else I can add technically, but I will say that while the first paragraph didn't do much for me (I didn't understand his reckless impulses yet), the last two hooked me. I'd read the rest.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Thanks so much for the thoughts, folks!
Posted by WB (Member # 10414) on :
If you still want readers, I'll read.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Thank you for the kind offer, WB. I'd love to send it to you, but it looks like you don't have your e-mail address listed. If you don't want to list it here, you can send me an e-mail (mine is listed), and I'll reply to it with my story attached.
Posted by Scot (Member # 10427) on :
I don't have much to add, except a kudos for the hook about Jerry. I wasn't especially interested in the events until that twist about Jerry's fear. At that point, I would have turned the page, for sure. [Smile]

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