This is topic The Distribution's Tail in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by HenryMcF (Member # 10246) on :
The story is a near future hard science fiction about 2200 words. Thanks for taking a look--comments are welcome.

Joe leaned back in his chair; he looked very pleased with himself. “I’ve done it, a revolutionary advance in actuarial science.”
Ryan waited for his friend to go on. Joe never needed any prompting to keep talking about work—or about his achievements. The other employees at Provita Insurance found Joe tiresome, and they tried not to sit with him at lunch. But they didn’t like Ryan much either. Besides, even if Joe’s feelings were all about him, they were positive, and they weren’t boring. Ryan looked around at the blandness of the company cafeteria—the florescent lights, the Formica tables, the tasteless food. He was sick of boring.
“We got the results today—our model predicts the date of death

[ April 05, 2016, 04:25 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
“I’ve done it, a revolutionary advance in actuarial science.”
I think the mistake you're making with this opening paragraph is not just stating what the revolutionary advance is in the first sentence.

Everything else in this opening paragraph is what's called warmup writing. You're getting your thoughts together, building up towards your actual story. And so for me as a reader, it's neither engaging or interesting.

Plus, you have prose that's been overused.

Joe leaned back in his chair; he looked very pleased with himself.
Think of the number of times you've heard this exact wording, and also ask yourself, exactly how does a person's face appear when they "look pleased with themselves". For me, absolutely no image comes to mind, though I've heard people say this many times.

Which is another point. This is something you hear on TV a lot. Your opening reads like television dialog and not written prose.

“I’ve done it, a revolutionary advance in actuarial science.”
A movie line, maybe from something like 'Jurassic Park', or any number of scifi commercials for soon to be released flicks. This is supposed to draw an audience in, but remember that while the actor will repeat a cliche line like this, we also get the benefit of images. Dinosaurs roaming modern day earth, or massive robots fighting an invading alien species.

So my suggestion is to start the story with the advance in specific terms, and to freshen the narrative with more unique prose.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
The first line lost me, mainly because I have no idea what "actuarial science" is, and this fragment doesn't give me any context clues to figure it out. What I know from this line, then, is that he's figured something out about something. Not gripping to me.

The second paragraph confused me a bit. I spent some time mentally floundering, trying to get locked in on whose point of view I should be in. I settled on Ryan's, but the confusion came from the fact that I assumed that the first named character (Joe) was going to be my point of view character.

"Our model predicts the date of death..." is the first thing that begins to hook me. I don't have enough info to know what it's about, yet (which is fine), but it immediately raises some interesting possibilities in my mind. In fact, if you want to start with dialogue, that might be a stronger first line hook.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
HenryMcF, you have 2200 words to tell me a story; what is this opening telling me about that story? What's it about, who's the central character, who's the viewpoint character? In 13 lines I have nothing to grab hold of other than a vague reference which implies Joe is an actuary and no one likes him.

The story opens in Joe's viewpoint: “Joe leaned back in his chair; he looked very pleased with himself. “I’ve done it, a revolutionary advance in actuarial science.” And then jumps to Ryan''s viewpoint where Ryan tells me everything that is going on and what people think instead of revealing it as the story unfolds. There is nothing in this fragment that reveals character, inciting incident, looming dramatic conflict, rising action/tension, or plot.

I would not read on.

Posted by HenryMcF (Member # 10246) on :
Thanks for the comments. How about this instead?

Ryan scanned the company cafeteria looking for someone to eat with. Not surprisingly, there was an empty seat next to Joe. He looked even smugger than usual. “Hey, we got the results today—our model predicts the date of death with pinpoint accuracy. 95% of the panel died within one month of the predicted date.”
A month’s bigger than a pinpoint, Ryan thought, but he had finally learned not to say things like that. He waited for his friend to go on. Joe never needed any prompting to talk about work—or about his achievements.
“Deep data my friend, that’s the secret. Once we got enough data, not just health, behavior, and family history but transactions, all the things they bought, we could fit the right model. Now we’ll have perfectly priced products.”

[ April 13, 2016, 03:11 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]
Posted by babooher (Member # 8617) on :
It is not easy to discern who is saying the first line of dialogue until after the dialogue is given.

The overall concept doesn't grab me, or maybe the drab reaction by Ryan deflates the concept. If Ryan is the viewpoint character that I'm supposed to attach to, his reactions signal what my reactions should probably be, and there isn't anything there.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An observer is left only a pleasantly unpleasant individual to eat lunch with in a communal dining hall. That's a delightful juxtaposition of an emotional charge cluster and the social ritual of shared bread breaking.

I held off commenting on this opening because the first two words set me out of the story. Subject names in first position for me are a challenge to overcome, by significant dramatic action development within a sentence, usually the predicate part, if not an object part's contributions. Ryan's character, emotional, and story movement does develop later, though I expect a character introduction by name to start into character development within its sentence.

The only movement action Ryan takes in the first sentence, second version, is a visual scan of the cafeteria, an undramatic movement. The action is a narrator summary and explanation of the action -- a tell -- not a development of the sensation. If Ryan instead reflectively describes his visual sensation, and emotional response to it, that becomes a significant expression apropos of a character's name introduction and dramatic movement. The name may, though, then best practice fall in sentence object position.

Any verb that expresses a sensory action is a missed opportunity to develop dramatic movement. See, hear, taste, smell, touch, emotion, etc., verbs ask for descriptions of the sensation and less so the action itself. Besides, a viewpoint character cannot externally observe her or himself look, listen, taste, or smell; sometimes volitional intents can internally observe the self touch and feel emotional feeling. The sentence is an inert narrator viewpoint of Ryan.

I believe that character viewpoint is more appealing and narrator viewpoint estrangement likewise -- for that oh so magical mystic reader immersion spell that sings gloriously. The narrator viewpoint doesn't matter to this story anyway. Ryan's does. I want to know what Ryan senses and feels about what he senses.

Ryan's so far okay by me: he sits with Joe despite his reservations and hold his tongue when Joe misrepresents data. Maybe I could like and trust Ryan to report faithfully. If Ryan were more forthcoming about his personal experience, I'd be immersed.

The remainder of the fragment pulses somewhat toward character viewpoint and narrator estrangement, though the narrator waits in the wings or raises its head and speaks.

The idea of an applied insurance actuarian seeking comprehensive actuary data is delightfully disturbing, though. Hubris, sure and simple, fraught with peril and abuse. That to me is what the story is really about and timely, relevant, important, and exquisite. No matter the outcome, the satire is accessible and of substantive interest, for me anyway. Commercial privacy invasion intents is the satire's substance. This is a dramatic complication, both tangible and intangible (moral) worthy of satire's arts.

My sole reservation for reading on is the proportion of untimely tell, noticeable most in the first sentence though never far from the surface, I expect will impede the reading immersion experience.

[ April 15, 2016, 07:50 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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