This is topic The Woman From Nowhere, 8,500 words, sci-fi in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Hi, folks. Been away for a few weeks answering the call of real life. Thankfully, real life has calmed its crap back down and I can get back to what really matters: making stuff up about people who will never exist.

I've got a finished draft of this ready for readers. Critiques of the first 13 are welcome; offers to read the whole thing are greatly appreciated. I'm happy to return the favour and swap crits.


Arminot burned ions into the sky. Cold air slashed his face and whipped his coat flaps as he zipped through the night, hunched over the handlebars of his fission bike. Twin engines rumbled between his knees and blasted a trail of blue light behind him. Other fission bikes shot past in different directions, leaving their own trails of burning ions criss-crossing through the darkness.
Arminot landed his bike in a certain alley behind a certain warehouse. The alley was narrow, barely wider than his bike, and his exhaust pipes smacked the corner of a dumpster on his way down. The warehouse was technically abandoned, but Arminot knew that, in this case, that was not the whole story.
A gangster named Kuli Sang ran an underground drinking establishment out of this place--what the criminal underworld ...


Arminot stepped up to the gangster Kuli Sang's table and concentrated on controlling his nervous habits: keep hands out of pockets, breathe regularly, stop drumming fingers on thighs.

And do not, for the love of God, piss yourself.

Easier said than done, when you're so nervous your heart is trying to crawl out your throat and your intestines are trying to crawl out the other end. Arminot had always made his living at jobs of the strictly legal variety. He did not, as a rule, venture into the criminal underground. Yet here he was.

From the outside, the warehouse had looked convincingly abandoned--busted windows, boarded-up doors, gutters hanging from the roof--but the inside told a different story. People gathered around small tables, talking, laughing, and drinking very illegal booze...

Arminot burned ions into the sky. Cold air slashed his face and whipped his coat flaps as he zipped through the night, hunched over the handlebars of his fission bike. Twin engines rumbled between his knees and blasted a trail of blue light behind him. Other fission bikes shot past in different directions, leaving their own trails of burning ions criss-crossing through the darkness. Arminot's eyes darted left and right, trying to keep up with them. At this speed, a mid-air collision would mean instant vaporization.

But if he slowed down, Kuli Sang's goons would catch up to him, and they had already tried to kill him once tonight. Arminot clenched his teeth, let out a low, tense groan, and pushed the accelerator a hair further, to the bike's maximum output. Light trails whipped past him in a luminescent blur...

[ April 25, 2016, 09:22 PM: Message edited by: wetwilly ]
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
...hunched over the handlebars of his fission bike.
You would add to the milieu if you gave the bike a name. Harley. Ninja. Kawasaki. Not these names, of course, but a name for this narrative universe.

Arminot landed his bike in a certain alley behind a certain warehouse.
I'm sure you have a reason for this word choice, 'certain', but it really sucks the life out of the opening. It calls attention to itself in an unflattering way, pulling me out of the narrative.

Anyway, I'll swap with you. Drop me a line when you get a chance.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An ion skybike rider roars to and lands in a seedy alley.

The language is robust and dynamic. The basics of structure for a start are here. Enough event, setting, and character and complication development are begun to evoke moving images of a scene and start story and emotion movement. Artful opening overall. I'd read on.

Idiom use of "certain" usually bumps me if the use is emotionally flat and as if a throwaway use empty of meaning. These two uses are fraught with meaning. The uses are grammatically appropriate adjective uses and more -- they are figurative amplification from their repetition and substitution uses and as well meaningfully significant idiomatic use. They say what they mean; that is, shady doings are afoot.

The idiom is usually of that nature, like Certain people don't know right from wrong, actually, an artful use of sarcastic irony to target a victim: shady and clandestine activities. The full meaning of the certain place can wait for later and does emerge in the next few sentences, kind of a syntax expletive use, pronoun-like, that clearly and strongly signals the idiom is intended and meaningful and more to come. The only matter for consideration is if more development is indicated later, and it is, and signaled so. More is afoot and will become significant later, arouses my curiosity from the mystery.

Likewise that the bike hits muffler pipes on a dumpster, not as artful as the "certain" uses, somewhat underdeveloped. That is sure to cause an immediate emotional reaction and isn't timely given. One word could fill in the emotional context, an expletive or interjection or emotive adjective that modifies "dumpster."

The "technically" adverb is grammatically appropriate, though an emotionally empty use, though a far better use than the usual emptiness of "virtually." Best practice is to excise the adverb or use a more emotionally charged word. Adverbs' strength and function is emotional commentary.

"underground drinking establishment" is quite clear, though too direct, for me. "underground" is likewise an idiom that's fine enough, if clear that the place isn't below ground, instead is hidden below scrutiny. The word is problematic in that regard, the figure of speech easily confused with the direct meaning, metaphor-like and not clear enough.

"drinking establishment," though, tends toward too direct and sophisticated for the situation. Something perhaps from Prohibition is indicated, something that's readily accessible yet preserves the air of mystery afoot. And noir, the adventures of a hardboiled cynic in bleak, vice-ridden settings. "Shot house," for example, rather than, say, speakeasy or gin joint, etc., to preserve the air of mystery and noir.

"gangster" also is too direct, too vague and dated too, for a futuristic situation where ion skybikes are a common transport mode. Law enforcement would use the word, probably not a skybike rider. A euphemism is indicated, say "boss man."

"criminal underworld" is likewise on the too direct and sophisticated side. "Underworld shot house" substituted for the above metaphor considerations defuses somewhat that metaphor hiccup, stays strong and clear, too. This one -- again, some Prohibition-era-like street language maybe is indicated for mystery and noir preservation. Something law enforcement wouldn't use; something a peripheral shady service and product consumer would use instead -- again, say, a euphemism like, I don't know, "friendly business."

The title is on the vague side, in terms of expressing what the story is really about. Consider an adjective to modify "Woman." I don't know, //The Fatal Woman from Nowhere//, for instance, a femme fatale!?

Again, I would read on, though decline to read the whole at this time. Such language considerations as the above I would expect are common in this, bumpy changes between stream-of-consciousness expression to direct, unequivocal sophistication and back and forth haphazardly, though, and suggest reconsideration of voice criteria per word; that is, for the mystery and noir preservation and internal voice development of Arminot noted above.

[ April 06, 2016, 01:31 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Thanks for the feedback, Denevius and Extrinsic.

Denevius, I will hit you up later when I'm on my computer. I always enjoy reading your stories.

Extrinsic, if I were to tell you that Arminot is not part of the criminal underworld--is, in fact, a total outsider who is stepping into this world for the first time--would that make all those awkward phrases used to describe criminal elements make sense to you?

I haven't settled on that title; it's just the least bad one I've thought of so far.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Originally posted by wetwilly:

Extrinsic, if I were to tell you that Arminot is not part of the criminal underworld--is, in fact, a total outsider who is stepping into this world for the first time--would that make all those awkward phrases used to describe criminal elements make sense to you?

I haven't settled on that title; it's just the least bad one I've thought of so far.

Three categories for voice inspiration and focus present: one, law enforcement's vernacular; two, street lingo; three, law enforcement and street naive, otherwise every-person idiom. Or something else from column D or form E or more.

The phrases are sensible enough; my consideration is they oscillate haphazardly between sophisticated formal essay's dialect and personal casual stream-of-consciousness dialect. I feel a focal voice aesthetic, personal informal more so than formal impersonal, has more appeal, is unifying, and is indicated.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Thanks, extrinsic.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
While the prose in the fragment is above par for the usual Hatrack submission there is no WOW factor. And despite being quite well written and having some level of social intrigue, I would not read on.

The first question I would ask myself is: What is the story really about? From that you may be able to find an opening situation that is more conducive to providing that missing WOW factor. Perhaps in the Bar? I remember the first Hell's Angels party I was invited to. Despite being the personal guest of the Chapter President, I would not have been immune to a thorough beating if I had crossed the line; the problem was I didn't know where the lines were or what they were. Fertile ground for tension and some genuine WOW! Just a suggestion; perhaps you have started this story in the wrong place.

Added later:

Let me be more specific about this missing WOW factor. The opening fragment is simply the story of a guy driving to a clandestine bar. Be it an Ion bike or a Buick, he's just using available transport to get to where he's going. Nothing noteworthy about any of it--except the last sentence.


[ April 07, 2016, 09:10 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Thanks, Grumpy. Here's what I'm going for: an "establishing shot" opening to give the reader a setting to mentally place the action in before jumping right in to the thick of it. Set the stage before jumping into dialogue, so to speak. For this story, the settings are especially important, so I wanted to start there. You don't think that's a legitimate opening strategy? (Not meant in the spirit of defensiveness or argument; just fostering discussion.)
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
an "establishing shot" opening to give the reader a setting to mentally place the action in before jumping right in to the thick of it.
Though this is simply how it is now, and railing against it is probably pointless, I think thinking about prose using the rhetoric of film weakens your writing. Writing in workshops tends to sound a lot like entertainment you see on the screen.

Phil makes an excellent point in that when you take away the flashiness of your opening, it *is* basically a guy riding up to a bar. He could be on a skateboard, a segway, or an ion bike. But the opening isn't really giving us much to introduce the narrative.

Now, I've read your fiction before and have been left surprised by the odd turns in narrative you take. This opening, though, works fine as an opening sequence for TRON, or some other scifi movie. As a fiction written down on the page, however, I think it lacks the quality that would pull me in as a reader *unless* I already knew the writer's work.

Your descriptions are nice, but when I sit down to read a story, I prefer to discover something about character motivation fairly early on. Or even just a plot hook would work. Not a flashy description masking what is a relatively mundane event.
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
Honestly, if he was on a segway while those ions bikes flew across the sky above him, I'd probably be more intrigued. *That* says something about this guy's character.

And you're trying to bring out character in these opening.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
It was my thought, wetwilly, that setting the opening inside the bar, if that's where the story really starts, gives greater scope for introducing milieu, character, and looming conflict/inciting incident. Also, there are people in there in all their variety to display the current society's foibles.


P.S. I also have to agree with Denevius; translating film techniques to prose (dramatic of genre) is a really bad idea. The saying, "A picture tells a thousand words." is a truism. Trying to emulate that in prose will probably bore readers.


[ April 08, 2016, 10:05 PM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
You might be right about that opening, Grumpy. I'm too close to it to kill it, though. I'll have to let it sit and get some distance before I can get enough objectivity to decide that intelligently.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Posted a new opening up above (draft 2). Anybody have any thoughts or feedback about it? I'm trying to accomplish two things: (1) cut the extensive warmup writing out of the start of the manuscript and start the story much closer to the inciting incident (a redundant phrase if I ever heard one), and (2) add stronger character voice to the narration.

Specifically, I'm interested to hear what you think/how you react to the 2nd person lines, but any thoughts you have about anything else are certainly welcome. Feel free to beat me up. Every time you folks kick my butt, I come out the other end with a stronger story.

I'm not looking for readers of the whole story at this point.
Posted by babooher (Member # 8617) on :
Forgive me if I use film techniques to discuss this prose. I simply think it might work here.

If this was a film, you gave us a shot inside a bar, and then showed the outside, and then came back inside. It is an unnatural flow for me.

The second version, while closer to the action, is still a lot of telling. The direct characterization forces the label of gangster on one character. Why not let readers make that determination? Why not show us the armed muscle standing around the relaxing Kuli Sang and let the reader infer that Kuli is a gangster? I want to write more but it means talking about things beyond the first 13. If you'd like I can shoot you an email or I can post more here.
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
You could probably drop the words 'the gangster' out of the first sentence and the opening would read better as a result. That said, I think this opening is a lot better than draft 1. It raises the tension a great deal and illustrates Arminot's reaction to the situation very strongly.

The second person lines strike me as Arminot's personal thought patterns. According to a psychology article I read about a year ago, a lot of successful people think in the second person when they're trying to work through a difficult situation. It gives them a more objective stance on what they're doing, like they're giving advice rather than scrambling to figure something out.

Overall, this opening grabs me much more strongly than the first draft. I'd read on.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
I would still not read on--but for different reasons. A synopsis of this opening would read: Arminot walks up to the gangster Kuli Sang's table and stands there nervously. I know he is nervous because you told me so. I know Kuli Sang is a gangster because you told me so. Then you tell me that Arminot doesn't, as a rule, venture into the criminal underground--yet here he is. Is that where we are? Finally, you tell me about the outside of the building/bar: Why, is it important?

That's a whole lot of telling just to get Arminot standing at Kuli's table. There really isn't much revealing of character or setting in the passage--it's all writer's tell despite the internal dialogue.

It's just my opinion, but I would prefer a more immersive opening where I'm in Arminot's shoes as he's about to do something life-changing--and possibly very dangerous. In very general terms I see this as the time when you develop Arminot's character while you place him in this setting (nervous and unsettled in the unfamiliar environment of a seedy bar filled with assorted low-lifes and criminals), and then his focus is drawn to Kuli Sang--the criminal Kingpin doing something obviously criminal and Kingpinish. It is also the place where you can first hint at a part of Arminot's dramatic internal conflict: the tension between his fear and his need; he's there for a reason after all--a bit of foreshadowing.

All in 13 lines? I don't think so, but that's the task at hand as I see it for the beginning of this scene. You are allowed to do it in more than 13 lines you know, just not submit them all.

Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Version two starts stronger, more artfully, though mixed and gapped voices and viewpoints confuse the strength and clarity of the fragment.

The first sentence starts as a narrator summary then shifts into character viewpoint and voice. The sentence's emotional charge presents after the colon, where the artful strength emerges somewhat. Note that, though the after-colon clauses use no second-person pronouns, they are second-person implied, imperative, and self-reflexive. In and of themselves, they are artful stream of consciousness. However, they are character viewpoint and voice expression, not the inert narrator point of view of the sentence's first part.

Likewise, the colon fusion of the two parts is contraindicated due to the two distinct voices and viewpoints. A paragraph break is indicated instead or the first part recast into character voice and viewpoint.

The narrator first part of the sentence, I guess, could be the apocryphal start freebie. However, the function of narrator starts is to start overall narrative point of view development of a narrator direct-address report to readers. Narrative point of view, in a granulated nuance sense, is the overall perspective of a narrative that establishes narrator voice, attitude toward an overall topic, and emotional and moral valence -- charge. That method asks for all three: a distinctive narrator voice, a narrator's strongest discernible expressed or implied attitude toward an overall topic, and narrator's strongest emotional and moral valence commentary.

That point of view at its pinnacle attainment is the traditional mode from early literature that phased out of vogue beginning during the Realism era and Realism's continued development through Modernism, Postmodernism, and whatever the current manner is -- some kind of plural crossover of many streams that has yet to develop a noticeable departure from what has come before, though is on the move. Anyway, scholars do still like that point of view, in particular, classics English literature professors.

The vogue currently, though, is viewpoint character perspective, viewpoint, voice, attitude, and emotional and moral valence. The appeal is from being relateably close to the unfolding of charged circumstances -- up close and personal and in the now moment of such circumstances. An overall description of prose generally is a portrait of an intimate, emotionally charged, morally charged, transformative contest between two or more forces and entities, be they external, internal, or both.

Second person of the self-reflexive mode is the voice's prose strength. The part of the first sentence that is in that mode and second and third sentences, are strongly effectual in those regards. Artful, used to their best effect. Only that they are bookended between inert narrator tell. Though subtle to many readers, the transitions between are glaring viewpoint glitches to those in the know, which is wise and successful writers' purviews. Those transitions between dramatic persona voices are abrupt and gapped.

The fourth sentence opens distance far outside the narrative's setting space, not entirely so abruptly that it is artless, though enough to feel bumpier than a pothole. An adjustment to consider is staying in character voice, that stream of consciousness voice of the prior three parts. Not per se second-person reflexive, a smoother transition to narrator voice, perhaps, or, and this is a most curious prose phenomena, third person substitution for first person. Narrator voice features for that mode are estranged in favor of character voice features. Although no less third person on the surface, is a first-person transference from third person.

Note that the sentence's syntax is the same as the opening clause's -- subject noun, predicate, object: "Arminot had always made his living at jobs of the strictly legal variety." The two superlative adverbs are suited to emotional charge, "always" and "strictly," though are empty therein in terms of character voice for the context.

Consider, for the above rationales, a pronoun subject instead, a different predicate formation, say a subjunctive mood instead of indicative mood's declarative statement mode, which the first sentence's first part also is, and a few diction selection options for as-given, vague words, for a personal and distinctive lexical voice reflective of Arminot's. A reflexive conditional circumstance, for example, uses a pronoun, "He," in this case, for a subject instead of a noun, a conditional auxiliary verb, like "would," that signals subjunctive mood and also is of an interjection-like emphasis weight, a more concise and robust main verb that speaks to the situation, like "earn," instead of the vague idiom "make." and for emotional-moral charge, "honest" instead of "legal." Perhaps as well, a personal term or two that fit Arminot's lexicon, say, "livelihood" instead of "living" and "sort" or "kind" instead of "variety." Personal, emotionally charged, and morally charged lexicon suitable for stream of consciousness, narrator estrangement, yet possible transition, gapless, and reflective report of Arminot's thoughts from his up close and personal viewpoint, plus aligned to and in congruent opposition from the setting's vice-ridden circumstances:

//He would always earn his livelihood at jobs of the strictly honest sort.//

Interjection-like expression that leaves open to question whether Arminot will, indeed, remain honest in the future.

The use of the verbal auxiliary "would" does most of that implication task, and that the expression is of a thee doth protest innocence too much emotional charge. The demonstration sentence above also speaks to what the fragment overall is about on its surface and what it's really about between the lines through subtext's implication use. The demonstration sentence also sets up for the next two sentences comparative open distance, though not outside the setting space: somewhat estranged narrator, though still in touch with Arminot's reflected thoughts.

The fourth paragraph returns fully to inert narrator voice. Bookended by the first sentence part, the medial narrator part of the fourth sentence, and narrator part of the fifth and sixth sentences as they stand.

I still don't know what the story is really about. I'd be curious to read on from what's given, though a feature or two are missing to set up the promise of what a story's unfolding report entails, to start story movement forward. That fourth paragraph actually shifts plot movement into reverse motion, time-wise at least.

A hint at least of what Arminot personally wants is essential for story movement incitement, for preparation and suspension sequences at least. Why is he at the saloon? Because . . . ? No clue. I can't even project a reason from what's given. Maybe the title provides the vaguest of clues, though appears more as if Arminot meets the eponymous woman at the saloon by coincidence, as dramatically artful and relevant as that might later could become.

Micro focus considerations:

"concentrated" a simpler and more robust word of Artminot's whatever mien could substitute, say, "focused"? Number of syllables is one metric for such considerations. Two instead of four therein. Or "fixated," three syllables. Relationship of hard to soft consonants and vowels and accentual stressed and unstressed syllable weights are others. Plus, of course, concision, emotional charge, and relevancy to a moral topic.

"is trying to crawl out" -- twice -- "is" to be verbal auxiliary, present participle -ing secondary verb "trying," infinitive main verb "to crawl," and verbal particle adverb "out." Wordy predicate part at least, static voice, too. And a predicate phrase run-on fusion that is cluttered with excess, and twice, back to back. //try to crawl out// is a concision improvement though shy of best effect. Science fiction and figurative language confliction troubles are an opposite consideration. //your heart crept out your throat// and //your bowels crept out your other end//, the more direct, nothing "is trying to" about it, could be construed as actually happened, though not by me. Subjunctive mood has a reconciliation adjustment for both opposites. That conditional verbal auxiliary "would" again, or "could," maybe:

//your heart would creep out your throat and your intestines creep out the other end.//

"underground" is a word used in the sense of social and political disobedience, not criminal enterprise; "underworld" suits, or other perhaps from Arminot's lexicon, "underbelly," for instance.

"warehouse," that's the disguise, is this not a prohibited saloon?

"convincingly" empty -ing present participle adverb form.

"abandoned" consider an Arminot lexical alternative that parallels an honesty in jeopardy perspective, "derelict," for example.

This is empty in terms of emotional and moral charge: "busted windows, boarded-up doors, gutters hanging from the roof--but the inside told a different story." Mere vague setting detail description that, if charged, potentially could advance story movement by, again, specific to Arminot lexicon and emotional and moral charge.

Likewise: "People gathered around small tables, talking, laughing, and drinking very illegal booze..." Do they gather at the immediate present-past moment or are they there for a while beforehand? Some emotional charge in "very illegal booze" from the adverb "very", though again, a missed opportunity for Arminot's lexical and emotional and moral charge developments.

The fragment's shortfall that stands out most for me is a lack of a want for Arminot's pursuit, a reason why . . . Two strengths that stand out most for me are enhanced, stronger and clearer, emotional and moral charge and closer, generally, personal distance to Arminot's character viewpoint and voice compared to the first version. Adjustment of the former could, would somewhat adjust the latter. Full realization, though, asks for less bumpy persona voice and viewpoint transitions.

I do not intend the quantity of the above to be a negative commentary on the fragment as failed in my estimation -- the expression growth progression and boldness speak loudly in favor of the second version -- though that the points, if considered, and perhaps compared to stronger and clearer openings, more artful intensity for limited word count real-estate though not crammed, forced, or rushed, might see a pathway past their considerations toward stronger starts and prose composition overall. I struggle with these matters too, and critique of them fosters me to grow. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

[ April 22, 2016, 04:13 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
I still think the ending of your story would be enhanced if the beginning had something to do with it. But if I had to choose one of these two openings, it would be the first. 'Amniot burned ions into the sky' is simply a more intriguing opening sentence then, 'Arminot stepped up to the gangster Kuli Sang's table...'

'stepped up to the gangster' pales in comparison to 'burned ions n the sky'.

'Cold air slashed his face' puts me right there on the bike with him. '...controlling his nervous habits' makes me an outside observer to your character as he reports his inner monologue.

And as I mentioned before, though you see something like this on television, people pissing their pants out of nervousness is probably quite rare. Think of the last time you were really anxious about something. Probably a serious concern of pissing your pants didn't cross your mind, unless something like that had happened to you before.

Pissing your pants is a generic television worry, as well as unexciting sentence construction. And as overused as it is to express apprehension, it's also a cilche'.

I still don't know what the story is really about.
From the openings above, I'll echo this sentiment.

Paradigm shifts work because something in the opening relates directly to the conclusion of the story. A popular modern phrase that I absolutely loathe is 'easter eggs'. But twists in narratives are only twists because on first read the clues, or easter eggs, are there but aren't noticed. It's only when you've finished the story that all the pieces connect and you're left with an 'Aha!' moment.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
Thanks all, for the thoughts about v.2. I'm still not there, but I think I'm getting closer.

Denevius, I really like the "burning ions" opening as far as imagery and language, but I have come around to the point of view of you and others that it is way too far before the real start of my story, so I'm trying to move my opening as close as I can to that gunshot that gets the ball rolling. I also agree that walking up to a table is a much more mundane, dull opener. Perhaps I can rearrange events so that burning ions actually relate to the gunshot. As long as the gunshot happens, it really doesn't matter how, when, or where.

Or, I come up with an equally cool image inside the bar to open with. I'm a big fan of the eyeball punch opening, which I think I achieved in draft 1; it was just an eyeball punch that didn't relate to the story. I think of William Gibson's famous eyeball punch of a line at the beginning of Neuromancer. That is one of the handful of perfect lines I have come across.

Maybe I hold on to my burning ions and save them for another story.

Or, maybe I open with Arminot burning ions while he's hauling ass across the sky because Kuli Sang's goons are chasing him. Maybe he dodged the first murder attempt, and they're going after him to finish the job. Open with a kick-ass skybike chase through the city that ends with the fateful gun shot.

I think I'll give that a try. Thanks for the thoughts and letting me bounce ideas off you.

Ex, I'll probably have some follow-up thoughts/questions for you after I've had a chance to process everything you wrote.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Have at it. For my part, discussion benefits my writer's growth, the duality of workshop's benefits notwithstood.

On the matter of ion bikes and the fateful or fatal gunshot, Chekhov's gun principles of foreshadowing are on point. The actual gunshot is a consequence segment and could be a final inciting event segment. The gunshot need not be essential until a fourth of a word count has unfolded. Portrait of the gun's presence beforehand first sets up the firearm's discharge at some later time and place in word count.

If Amrinot, though, implies or expresses a personal want, and attendant problems, that is a first cause. Why he's on an ion bike, why he goes to the saloon, why someone has a gun, why someone discharges the gun, why Arminot meets "The Woman from Nowhere," and so on, until the bittersweet outcome of Arminot's want. The want, in other words, is the causal event most and first foreshadowed, most pivotal, most appealing, the first of Chekhov's gun's sequence of events.

[ April 23, 2016, 04:00 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :

From Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction - page 120:

The opening is especially important and difficult because it has to stand on its own; every other part of the story has the preceding parts to lean on. The opening must establish character, setting, situation, mood and tone of the story; it must provoke interest, arouse curiosity, suggest conflict, start the movement of the plot--all this in about two hundred words.

He adds:

What is the right place to begin? Usually it is a moment not too long before the first important event of the narrative; but not too close to it either

Of course none of that is easy; that's why published writers get paid the big bucks.

In my opinion, because all my stories are character driven, both your openings are starting, or attempting to start, too close to the action. You're looking for the eye-popping opening when I believe introducing Arminot in his usual setting and doing his usual thing is a better bet--you might get us to care about him and his problem as well as set a behavioural baseline against which we can judge his reactions under the stress of being shot at for the first time. Your job is to do that in as interesting a manner and as short a space as possible. But that's just my take on it. As I said, I focus on character, not action.

Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
New draft (Draft 3) posted above. If you're getting tired of talking about this story, that's cool. I don't want to dominate conversation around here with my story. I just thought some might be interested in seeing how the drafts shape up as a result of our discussions. If you have thoughts about the new draft, I certainly welcome them. If not, no problem.

Grumpy: I get what you're saying, but I think moving the beginning of this story back in time would be "too long before the first important event of the narrative." It's trying to find that sweet spot between too long before and too close to it that is the struggle.

I don't want to start with "She pulled the trigger and shot..." I see too many of those openings, and I rarely like them. I never care about the gunshot (or whatever "the gunshot" is in that particular story) because I don't know anything about the person who got shot, who pulled the trigger, why it happened, or any other information that would make me give a crap about this particular gun shot.

On the other hand, go too far in the other direction, and you get your MC brushing his teeth, eating breakfast, and going to work for five pages before the story starts. I think my first draft of this story was sort of a version of that. A whole lot of foreplay that really didn't matter before we got to the story starting on page 9. I had a bunch of writing that I liked in those 9 pages--cool imagery, snappy dialogue, even a little twist or two--but it was just a more interesting version of that long "none of this matters" opening.

So I think I'm zeroing in on a good start point. Even though my new version (draft 3) starts with some of the same lines as draft 1, I've actually moved the opening so that it's starting in a completely different place, with the direct lead up to the inciting incident (which I will hit way before page 9.) I feel like I'm getting closer to finding that tricky balance.

Extrinsic: You know, I think you're right. The transitions between those third person and second person lines are awkward. I think I'm actually cutting the 2nd person part out of the new draft, but I think I'll still rework that opening to try to smooth it out just to figure out how to do it. I like the vibe of those 2nd person lines, but I don't know how to work them smoothly into a third person narrative. I'll play with it and see if I can come up with anything that works.

[ April 25, 2016, 09:49 PM: Message edited by: wetwilly ]
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
But if he slowed down, Kuli Sang's goons would catch up to him, and they had already tried to kill him once tonight. Arminot clenched his teeth, let out a low, tense groan, and pushed the accelerator a hair further, to the bike's maximum output.
I still think the story should be Kuli Sang's since she has the clearest motivation. Sans that, however, I can't think of much to add in regards to your newest opening.

Best of luck!
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
Draft three has a sense of immediate urgency that the previous two openings lacked. I'm definitely curious about where this new opening will go. If you need feedback on your latest draft, feel free to send it my way.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
The second person sentences of the second version to me are artful and bold and engage the voice's person in its artistic glories. The first second person sentence is notably a smooth transition and setup to the next two; that is, the implied person feature. Works for me.

What doesn't work for me is the transitions from and to third person narrator exclusive and inert voice. The narrator report is direct to an audience and emotionless.

On the other hand, the third version smacks the knucklehead emotion and motivation-wise. More dynamic emotion, overtly though subtle, the awe and wonder of Golden Age science fiction's heyday. Plus anxiety and urgency, as Disgruntled Peony notes. And too, Arminot expresses a strong and clear want to evade the problem of the goons and not be shot, a motivation for his actions of the fragment.

However, the nature of the want is sequential to a preceding pivotal first cause. Arminot flees from Sang's goons. That is a why motivation though places Arminot in victim mode. Victim mode has its appeals, though for the scope of action adventure appeals, a self-initiated and motivated cause of troubles and problems holds stronger appeals.

Now I'm curious why the goons chase Arminot. That why motivation might begin with and from Arminot in an earlier segment. To me, that why and motivation that incites Sang and the goons therefrom is either known by Arminot and is on his mind and readers want to know, or isn't known at the moment of the third version's action start. He doesn't know why the goons trail him though wonders why, what he did that draws Sang's ire, in a thought, for example.

The third version does accomplish to a greater degree the art of third person transference for first person that a narrator voice estranged in favor of a viewpoint character voice magically does, for the all-important mystic reader immersion spell. A small touch of more Arminot personal emotion and lexical expression would carry the fragment to an immersion target space that fits the action and urgency and that curious third-first person transference.

The moral charge of the fragment also fits its action: Arminot avoids ill-intented goons for some as yet unrevealed moral offense among thieves. By itself, that strongly implies a moral contest internal to Arminot and external between him and Sang and Sang's syndicate. That, too, is artfully done.

Great strides afoot exhibited for the third version in the writing skills overall and for meeting thirteen-lines' challenges.

[ April 26, 2016, 03:02 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
For me, there is still no enticement to read on. Version 1 & 3 have colour and movement but are sans information. Version 2 is essentially narrator tell about how scared Arminot is when he faces Sang but is still devoid of any narrative information.

I know nothing about the character of Arminot or why he is there. Is he 'good' or 'bad'? In all three examples I have no idea why he is in trouble and no reason to care about him or his troubles. Why is Sang after him; all it takes is a sentence or two and you can introduce an awful lot of narrative/plot relevant information. But there is none to be found--or am I dense?.

Example: The only thing worse than owing money to Kuli Sang was not being able to pay it back. What made this situation tricky was Arminot's mother owed the money.

The above is just my take on it.


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