This is topic Liners (working title): Post-Apocalypse Fiction (3500 Words) in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by wcoditwgth (Member # 10431) on :
I'd like some critique on the first 13 lines. I'm not sure if this actually sounds believable as an adult thought process.
An FYI, this short story jumps between three characters, each which are supposed to have a distinct voice to distinguish them from each other.
Another FYI: in hindsight, this piece of writing seems more like a "slice of life" than something with a coherent plot. Are there issues with "slices of life?"
If anyone does happen to find this somewhat interesting and would like to finish reading it, just let me know.

First 13 lines (I think):
Part I: Father
“Papa? Papa?”
A kid’s voice echoed through the tunnels. In his words is a hint of…concern? Strange. Last time he replied to my weekly letters he told me to stuff it. Guess growing up in the underground makes people a little edgy. Maybe he wants to apologize?
“Shut it! You want the Watchers to come back?”
A different voice. Female. Familiar enough for me to imagine the speaker’s face. Jane. Ah, ever so beautiful Jane.
Posted by WB (Member # 10414) on :
I'd rather know what's going on.

Regarding voice and character: I think a father wd think of the child by name, not as the kid; and he wouldn't be thinking of snarkiness, but just fear for the child's safety, as it seems there is cause for concern. That is, the father is thinking more as a teen bystander than as a father.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
I agree with WB. My main issue is there is a lot of information thrown at me (a kid, an estranged father maybe? Growing up in the underground, a past transgression that may require apology, the Watchers, Jane and what I infer is her complicated relationship with the narrator). Unfortunately, I don't understand what any of it means or what is happening in this scene.

My thoughts (for what they're worth as an unpublished writer): introduce one thing at a time and give us an understanding of that thing before introducing the next thing.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Eight lines, actually.

Slice-of-life vignette narratives customarily entail conventions of landscape portrayals; that is, setting and milieu depictions; less so, if at all, plot's event engine, and, otherwise, emblematic characters in the service of an impressionistic setting's vignette snapshot, so to speak.

An issue for slice-of-life vignettes is that dearth of plot-engine energy readers generally desire.

I don't see a vignette, nor anecdote or character sketch or drama from the fragment.

A strength for me is the almost two-person interaction. Too many struggling narratives start with a viewpoint agonist already isolated for no previously given cause, and result in stuck-in-a-bathtub navel meditations, no plot movement. If characters passionately interact, some of a scene sequence segment's work is done.

I see unnecessary tense shifts, a misused ellipsis points, and much possible opening development, under-realized, partly from short of thirteen lines, more so from shortfalls of expression clarity and focus.

I would not turn the page, nor even read ordinarily past the first line: "Papa? Papa?" Opening with dialogue from a disembodied voice generally doesn't work for me.

By the way, thirteen lines is fragment content lines, does not include preamble, empty lines, nor story title or section title lines.

[ June 21, 2015, 11:17 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
I would not continue on past this: In his words is a hint of…concern?

As extrinsic said, beginning with a disembodied voice that could be anyone is a game finisher for me.

This passage: A kid’s voice echoed through the tunnels. In his words is a hint of…concern? Strange. is clunky, chunky, and could be finessed into an evocative moment with a bit of thought.

As for your question: Are there issues with "slices of life?" That depends on what you do with it.

All stories, regardless of type or length should deal with some aspect of what it means to be human and involve a struggle to find that elusive thing the character is searching for. Plot? Not so necessary nowadays; modern readers are sophisticated enough to understand what you are trying to do; so long as you do it well.

This would include staying true to the structure of stories: it must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And, while it is no longer necessary that a story have an Aristotelian magnitude, or length, it should be, as Freytag says, significant; that is, it should explore some aspect of the human condition. The characters should be ones we can relate to, and should be 'larger-than-life'. Also, a short story of 3,500 words does not preclude writing a tragedy with its recognition and reversal scenes.


[ June 22, 2015, 05:00 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
Posted by Scot (Member # 10427) on :
Trying out extrinsic's summary approach: A man hiding underground anticipates meeting his estranged family.

Why is he hiding? Why are they estranged---is this a jerk who ruined things? I don't think that I'd read more to find out, but that's what I would like to know so I can decide if I want to read more.

However, I'm a sucker for the romance line, so that bit about Jane would probably get me to turn the page.
Posted by wcoditwgth (Member # 10431) on :
Thank you all for your comments and critiques. Looks like I have some editing (more likely a full rewrite) to do

WB: Good point on the lack of name for the kid. Not sure how I'm going to fix this though, since the lack of a name is a detail that pops up a bit later. Maybe I should give the kid a nickname?

wetwilly: My story must be in the cliche category, since you basically just named off every single trope/detail. I'll see if I can make the story a bit more tight and coherent.

extrinsic: Good to know regarding the lines and tense shifts. I was hoping to go for an "in the head thought-process" type of phrasing, which is why there are some random jumps. I'm not sure how to write a pause in someone's thinking pattern, which is why I used the ellipsis. Is there another way of writing something like this?

Grumpy old guy: Ok, good to know about the slice-of-life question. I'll have to rewrite the beginning to get rid of the disembodied voice issue.

Scot: Ok, so I definitely need to adjust the tightness of the story. When I first wrote the last romance line, I had originally intended it to be more of a reminisce about past times. In hindsight, it seems strange for my character to think of something like this, especially when he's supposed to be in a tense-situation.

From the general trend, two major areas I need to rewrite are the intro disembodied voice and the ellipsis point. Guess I'll start rewriting!

Edit: There also seems to be an issue with the "thought-process" point. Since the entire story is written from three characters' thoughts/observations, it looks like I might need to rewrite the entirety of the story.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
wetwilly: My story must be in the cliche category, since you basically just named off every single trope/detail. I'll see if I can make the story a bit more tight and coherent.
I don't know about it being a cliche. Those were all ideas I picked up on from your fragment, not things I've come across in other stories. For the record, the one that most caught my interest was growing up in the underground, whatever that means in your story.
Posted by wcoditwgth (Member # 10431) on :
wetwilly: I was concerned at first that the story would seem like a typical "hiding underground" story and that it would be too common of a premise/start.Thanks for letting me know that there is at least some creativity in this.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Originally posted by wcoditwgth:
extrinsic: Good to know regarding the lines and tense shifts. I was hoping to go for an "in the head thought-process" type of phrasing, which is why there are some random jumps. I'm not sure how to write a pause in someone's thinking pattern, which is why I used the ellipsis. Is there another way of writing something like this?

An "in-the-head-thought process" is what narrative theory labels stream of consciousness. A general principle thereof is free association content and organization. Some grammatically unconventional expressions are artful, some are artless, free associations, a general principle of which is a leavening of them which in no way disturbs the all-important fiction dream yet enhances the internal discourse expression appeals. Cast thought to be easily discernible as thought, not lecture, and as personal perceptions, stimuli and responses, causes and effects, and emotional feeling reactions.

For the context of this: "In his words is a hint of…concern?" what is the intent? I project a mite of confusion and doubt intended. Okay. Then what other way could that be clarified and strengthened without a clumsy ellipsis points use? Resort to words wherever practical and avoid use of punctuation shorthand that signals a writer's orchestra conductor baton. This, for example: //In his words is a hint of, what, concern?//

Ellipsis points' singular function is to signal omitted though easily understood content, and discretionary when an omission leaves a passage grammatically incomplete. Notwithstanding formal composition's ellipsis points' use for citations.

Proscriptive principle: ellipsis points mark omitted content. "When in the course of human events . . ."

Also note the Microsoft ellipsis points compresses the punctuation mark into a single glyph. For publication purposes, a properly formatted ellipsis points is space, point, space, point, space, point, space. I won't go into the four-points ellipsis mark. That one is almost exclusively used for formal composition when citing excerpts.

Prescriptive principle: ellipsis points mark easily understood omitted content when the text passage is grammatically incomplete or when signaling the expression is an ellipsis is warranted.

Ellipsis (figure of speech): "the omission of one or more words that are obviously understood but that must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete" (Webster's).

For example: "You were in the hospital?" Ashley said. "I was shot, so . . ." Brandon said. (No following space inside the close quote mark.) Likewise, an example of an ellipsis that is grammatically complete: "If I'd have gone to the bodega a few minutes later . . ." The "If" makes the otherwise complete sentence an ellipsis from subordinating the sentence idea and not giving the expected main clause otherwise.

Descriptive principle: ellipsis points signal trailed-off speech (as in the above "so . . ." example) or thought and faltering speech or thought, though the omitted-words principle proscriptively applies, and without regard to whether grammatically complete or not, only that the expression be elliptical.

"I went to the Hammies on Main . . . how weird it felt . . . a robber shot me."

Sparing, timely, judicious ellipsis points use is warranted for special emphasis only (emotional) in any case. Otherwise, excess of any kind and a character and a writer come across as gibbering idiots. A timely ellipsis points leavening to signal faltering speech or thought is all the quantity needed. The excess of the examples given above is for illustration purposes, not how a writer is best advised to judiciously use ellipsis points.

[ June 23, 2015, 04:06 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Originally posted by Scot:
Trying out extrinsic's summary approach: A man hiding underground anticipates meeting his estranged family.

If you've read the "Ways to Critique" forum, that summary approach is a best advised strategy for opening a critique. A summary signals a critiquer has read and understood a writer's creative vision, and then comments on strengths and shortfalls -- what works and what doesn't, respectively, from a critiquer's perspective -- that relate to the vision's effective expression. Worth note, the summary start and strength and shortfall comments are the conventions of writing workshop responses overall to a more or less effective degree. Also, that is the basis for the "sandwhich" critique approach, a main function of which is building rapport between critiquer and writer for most effective and persuasive critique.

Although, also, the greater benefits of workshopping accrue to critiquers, less so to a writer, whom I am grateful to for the opportunities to hone my writing skills, though a gratitude, I am ashamed to say, for which I don't express enough thanks.

Thanks, fellow writers!

[ June 23, 2015, 03:56 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by wcoditwgth (Member # 10431) on :
Thank you for all that info about ellipsis, extrinsic. Lots of good stuff for me to improve upon.
I'm still a bit behind the curve on terms, so I apologize in advance if I start using layman phrasing. If there is a more professional/correct/accurate word, let me know please, I'd love to learn.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Writers develop a consensus community about literary terms. Terms for any given concept vary from several broad communities to several focused communities and also within a community. For example, Hatrack members literary vocabulary varies broadly. Literary terms are shorthand for complex topics, though their functions become second nature once mastered, which is a value of terms. Literary terms entail a duality or more of identity, at least a mechanical-structural attribute and one or more aesthetic attributes.

For example, sentence fragment, a grammar concept, entails a one-word or short phrase set off by punctuation from other syntax units: by a comma for an independent clause or phrase or word, a period, a question mark, an exclamation mark, a colon, or a dash. Sentence fragments are widely considered a fault for formal composition. A long sentence fragment is for most uses a grammar fault.

For informal composition -- prose -- sentence fragments are interjections, when judicious and timely used for emphasis, thus emotionally charged, positive or negative (aesthetic function), a neutral charge when of a rhetorical figure of speech for congruent emotional appeal values. Sentence fragments for their grammatical unconventionality are also a component of stream of consciousness expressions. Stream of consciousness entails its own set of attributes.

Literary terms as shorthand are effective for intentional -- timely, judicious, artful -- application of their concepts. The number of literary terms is as voluminous as a comprehensive dictionary's and many literary terms aren't indexed in everyday dictionaries. Learning the gamut is a daunting task, though diverse reference resources provide a crude study guide. Otherwise, many writers acquire their literary skills intuitively, without resort to or development of references and vocabularies, and through absorption and apply them intuitively.

Anyway, my discourse community's term for a writing and literary-term vocabulary is lexicon.
Posted by Scot (Member # 10427) on :
Thanks for the tip about the Ways to Critique forum. And here I was, thinking I knew so much that I wouldn't need that folder.

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