This is topic Coyote and the Green Man (Period Fantasy, approximately 4.5k words) in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
1st Draft, Opening 13:

The undertaker’s seemed a terrible place for an animal sacrifice, but Mallory was out of options. Tobacco smoke curled from reed pipes arranged strategically on the floor. A rabbit squirmed and squealed as Mallory gripped it by the hind legs and slit its stomach open. He caught the flood of blood and entrails in a bowl to preserve the cleanliness of the room. He whispered an appeal to the spirits to accept his offering. Then he waited, kneeling on the floor, the still-twitching husk of the rabbit dangling in one hand.
Smoke twisted and danced into a humanoid face that leered at Mallory with hungry eyes and a canid grin. The body soon followed, a lithe amalgamation of human and animal forms.
Mallory inclined his head in a curt but respectful manner. “Coyote.”


2nd Draft, Opening 13:

Three coffins lay open on worktables in the undertaker's embalming room, each sized for a youth between four and five feet tall. Three dead boys in three days. Roots grew out of their otherwise-empty eye sockets, snaked out of each nostril, poked out from between their pallid lips.
Sheriff Mallory reached under his shirt collar and pulled out the medicine bag that hung around his neck. Three dead boys. Three days. There was no time for the multiple-day fast that accompanied a vision quest. Thankfully his mother had taught him quicker, if less reliable, ways to attract a spirit's attention.
Mallory burned sage to purify the room, then placed and lit reed pipes full of pollen and tobacco in every corner. He set a bowl of specially seasoned rabbit meat--Coyote's favorite--in the

[ June 07, 2016, 10:45 PM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
Seems like a solid opening to me. Some things could maybe be altered, but for a first draft, it mostly works. I would have to read the whole thing to know what specific changes would be needed for these paragraphs.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An individual summons a spirit.

Why? Why most relates to dramatic complication: proactive want and problem satisfaction. A short story and any length creative composition start movement begins with implied or direct expression of a want-problem aspect.

Mallory easily summons Coyote. Spirit summons rituals are difficult. The spirit summons rituals of the Azteca and Ute Coyote way believe sincere laughter is a necessary part of a successful summons. The sacrifice includes tobacco, plus sage and maize. Sacrificing animals is not part of their summons rituals, except evil magics. Rabbits are sacred spirits, too. Of the major spirits, Rabbit is a third part alongside Coyote (or Fox for Eastern Woodland nations) and Black spirit representative of ancestor spirits. They are the three spirits before the one Great Spirit of all.

Celestial spirits, sky spirits, earth spirits, woodland spirits, water spirits, and fire spirits. The horned serpent is for Azteca and Ute beliefs an earth and fire dragon. Coyote is a celestial, earth, woodland, and water spirit.

The Coyote summons ritual includes sincere laughter and a sincere lie, both. Coyote will not come if neither is sincere or either is left out of the ritual.

These above are, for fiction, matters of authenticity, verisimilitude, and story movement. In regard to the lie, the laughter, and the dramatic complication, they afford opportunity to imply or express Mallory's main personal want-problem of the moment. The why he summons Coyote, perhaps implied as a lie and laughed at.

Green Man is a woodland spirit of European cultures and represents the circle of life, is a good fortune spirit. Green Man is not summoned; he is discovered as a fortuitous omen.

If the title is intended to express or imply a clash between Coyote and Green Man, that then is the complication matter that Mallory witnesses. What, though, is Mallory's personal vested interest and why?

Though an early draft, the larger part of the fragment tells summary and explanation. The first sentence, for example, tells and explains in summary that the undertaker's place is the sole ritual location option Mallory has. Why?

The art of drama entails the W questions' context and texture: who, when, where; what, why, and how, subtly implied and subtly answered in preparation, suspension and anticipation, and satisfaction sequences. Why most and foremost first of all.

Why does Mallory summon Coyote? An artful answer involves vice and virtue in clashed contention.
Posted by walexander (Member # 9151) on :
Overall interesting start. The concept has intrigue.

But your ritual needs a lot of work. It kind of reeks of a "Charmed" episode or basically no knowledge of native American summonings. The sacrifice and poof the devil shows up is very European, but mostly TV. In almost every culture the actual summoning to manifest a deity is very extensive and would take a heck of a lot more than a rabbit unless you are just asking for a blessing, good fortune, or your neighbor gets a wart. To this day, the dark spells of the native Americans are completely unknown except to their own shamans they believe so strongly in them.

You may want to address Coyote by Coyotl, its Aztec origin name. Divinities might be picky about such things. (Wink)

Just a thought,

Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
Telling seems to be one of those things I'm struggling with more than I realized, lately. Definitely something I'm going to try and clean up in draft two. Those 'why' questions get answered later in the scene. I'm not trying to withhold information from the reader; I am, however, striving to gain interest and avoid first-paragraph info-dumping.

I'll look into the summoning ritual in more depth when I start doing edits. I did briefly look into spirit-related rituals when hammering out the initial scene (which is why I included the tobacco pipes), but I was pushing too hard to meet the challenge deadline to do extensive research on the subject. I'd actually considered including sage in the ritual, but wasn't sure if it would be appropriate and therefore left it out.

I also wasn't trying to make the ritual seem easy; I was trying to imply the culmination of a ritual that had taken a great deal of preparation while moving quickly into the meat of the story. My basic thought with the rabbit aspect was that Mallory was looking to get the spirit's attention in a big way and was therefore providing an offering of food in tribute. I suppose I'll have to clarify things, possibly drop the animal aspect if inappropriate.
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
It took about a week longer than I meant it to, but I've finished the second draft for this story and am now willing to share it if anyone wants to critique the story as a whole. The new set of 13 lines follows!


Three coffins lay open on worktables in the undertaker's embalming room, each sized for a youth between four and five feet tall. Three dead boys in three days. Roots grew out of their otherwise-empty eye sockets, snaked out of each nostril, poked out from between their pallid lips.
Sheriff Mallory reached under his shirt collar and pulled out the medicine bag that hung around his neck. Three dead boys. Three days. There was no time for the multiple-day fast that accompanied a vision quest. Thankfully his mother had taught him quicker, if less reliable, ways to attract a spirit's attention.
Mallory burned sage to purify the room, then placed and lit reed pipes full of pollen and tobacco in every corner. He set a bowl of specially seasoned rabbit meat--Coyote's favorite--in the
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
The revised fragment entails stronger and clearer content and organization detail and flow, and an artful though clumsy telling detail of note -- roots grow out of the boys' heads. Almost a start worth reading for fiction's functions, for me.

Matters of organization shortfalls to me: for example, start large and zoom in or start close and zoom out, other organization structure types are manifold. Formal essay composition starts with broad strokes and proceeds into greater detail, or journalism starts with a high magnitude circumstance and follows with relevant though lower magnitude circumstances, or similar organization strategies. Near to far, remote to close, important to related though less important, chronological, causal-logical A causes effect B, cause A and effect B cause effect C, and so on, etc.

However, prose is not so bound by logical and rational structure, rather by time flow of circumstance discovery and reversal, includes nonlinear timelines that start at a moment of incitement to act proactively and circle back to causal compulsions that at first when they transpired do not seem causal or compelling, backstory later for why and how what caused this or that drama in the first place.

The standout for the fragment is the telling detail of roots grow out of the boys. That would be the first attention grabber Malory is aware of at the start, to me, would be foremost on his mind, beforehand too, why he's prepared to take the ritual measures he does. Clumsy, though; roots grow into a media, not out of a media. That raises a consideration: what kind of plant is this? How is what the plant is relevant a telling detail? Perhaps event, setting (time, place, and dramatic situation), and character related? Are they an arid Southwest plant? Cactus? Joshua tree? Other yucca species? Other any kind of plant? What kind of plant at least implies the setting's larger place is an arid desert climate, for example?

Event-wise, that a plant grows out of the boys' heads is event enough, and profound and sublime, if the species is given and is relevant to the moment's setting and dramatic event and the whole. Character-wise, how Mallory emotionally reacts to the circumstance develops characterization and can also develop event and setting.

The most significant telling detail of the moment, that starts the whole movement into motion, and it's a vague, confusing, and clumsy, might-as-easily-be-left-out detail? More detail is indicated for, one, emphases of quantity and quality and emotional charge expression, to imply the plant matters now and later, to make that memorable for readers; two, to develop event, setting, and characterization; three, to relate the plant to a personal and private matter Mallory cares about and that matters publicly to readers; and four, to imply somewhat what the story is really about. Like what? Someone or some force wants boys dead why?

Cites below from Webster's 11th collegiate edition.

Telling details; Telling (adj): "carrying great weight and producing a marked effect". Synonyms: valid, sound, cogent, convincing; "suggests a power to overcome doubt, opposition, or reluctance to accept"; "telling stresses an immediate and crucial effect at the heart of a matter". Matters of narrative authentication rely on telling details, for best, strongest, clearest reader effect.

Telling details are sensory (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, and most crucially, emotional feeling), idiosyncrasies that draw immediate attention and stand out vividly, loudly, and lively from a routine situation. This is prose's primary organizational concept: matters of what most stood out first, when, to who, why, and how.

Those authenticate a narrative, draw readers into a narrative's reality imitation, develop the all-important reader effect -- the mystic-magic immersive reading spell. Also, telling details misdirect -- ironically, they capture the total essence of a circumstance's details and yet only a smallest, most necessary, essential part, a sort of hand wavium that, instead of skipping or rushing past development, serves a whole identity up in an instant moment for readers' imaginations to fill in from their life experiences.

Two types of tropes -- the rhetorical figures -- illustrate the telling detail concept: metonymy and synecdoche. Metonymy: "a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated (as 'crown' in 'lands belonging to the crown'. Related to metonymy, though distinct, synecdoche: "a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships*, the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage)".

Roots that grow out of dead boys heads -- what do the roots represent? Life from death? Life that causes death? How might they be tropes of metonymy or synecdoche? By being specific plants? Cacti are thorny, yucca are pointy sharp swords, for examples. Mosses and lichens, molds and fungi and bacteria -- decomposition processes -- herbs and fruits and vegetables, whatever is the telling detail, what is the species of plant life?

Fantastic fiction generally uses both those above tropes to a greater extent than might be obvious on the surface of words' meanings, though favors a non-one-to-one correspondence, not readily interpretable as tropes. Fantastic fiction disguises rhetorical language so that rhetoric does not call undue attention to itself, so readers are not distracted from a narrative's dramatic action by poetic expression, though is poetic nonetheless.

For me, generally, the fragment entails an overall content and organization shortfall, doesn't express or imply what matters most at the moment and contains unnecessary details and is generally out of a best practice sequence.

One grammar glitch stands out, "There was no time . . ." Problematic sentence subject "There," use of a pronoun with no antecedent subject referent, what's known as a sentence expletive, a syntatical use of a vague pronoun sentence subject that delays identification of a true sentence subject until later in sentence positions. What is the true sentence subject? Mallory? The fast? The vision quest? Which is the telling detail?

The second version's fragment I am less ambivalent toward reading on than the first. However, if the submission came across my laptop, I'd probably decline, more so because, while the concept is promising, I'd anticipate much tedious, costly, and heartbreaking editorial correspondence indicated to shape the narrative into a cogent work suitable for publication.

[ June 09, 2016, 06:13 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
For me this fragment is so close to getting me to read on; and yet it falls short. One reason is the apparent disconnect between Sheriff Mallory's sense of urgency in his direct thoughts and the calm and detached observations of the narrator.

Example: “Three dead boys. Three days.” Clear, concise, urgent. Although I feel the urgency is dissipated by this: “There was no time for the multiple-day fast that accompanied a vision quest.” It might be better to consider something like: No time for fasting--this would make it harder.

And for me this definitely lessens the impact of the Sheriff's thoughts: “Thankfully his mother had taught him quicker, if less reliable, ways to attract a spirit's attention.” Detached, unnecessary, distant narrator tell.

The next reason may be me just being pedantic. Three corpses dead in suspicious circumstances, the oldest three days dead, the freshest--probably today. Why are they in a mortuary instead of a morgue? Surely the Medical Examiner/Coroner would want to investigate simply for cause of death--tree roots being unacceptable to anyone except Mulder and Scully.

Just me being a nuisance. [Smile]

Posted by Geoff Hawthorne (Member # 9772) on :
I found the first draft opening intriguing and witty! I know you've edited since but I'd like to read the full story, if you want to send it to me. Thanks!
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
The next reason may be me just being pedantic. Three corpses dead in suspicious circumstances, the oldest three days dead, the freshest--probably today. Why are they in a mortuary instead of a morgue? Surely the Medical Examiner/Coroner would want to investigate simply for cause of death--tree roots being unacceptable to anyone except Mulder and Scully.

Honestly? The biggest reason for this is because the story is set in a small Texas town in 1886. I've had a really hard time conveying that during the opening thirteen lines, though. I can't seem to find a way to clarify the matter without slowing down the action or making it sound forced.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Ah. Let me think on this.

Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
I've been trying to work toward stronger environmental cues. This is my tentative opening for draft three:

Three child-sized coffins lay open on worktables in the undertaker's workroom, each occupied by a boy twelve years of age. Live oak seedlings sprouted from each boy's nostrils and peeked out from between pallid lips. Tightly-knotted roots curled inside eyeless sockets. The pungent scents of arsenic embalming fluid and rot combated the crispness of fresh-grown greenery.
Sheriff Mallory finished his examination of the most recent body, sighed and pulled his Stetson low over his face. He always felt a measure of responsibility when an innocent was hurt on his watch, but three dead boys in three days? That was the kind of guilt that gnawed at the soul. His father's favorite saying weighed heavy on his mind: Extreme remedies for extreme ills....
Mallory reached under his shirt collar and pulled out the
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
It appears to me that you have decided that the only place to begin this story is in the undertaker's with three already dead bodies. It may not be. There are really only a few ways to place a character in their 'time'. One is exposition, or narrator tell; the option you have chosen in the third version of this fragment.

To my mind the narrative distance you have chosen is far too close for 'setting' milieu. Two paragraphs in and all we know is the sheriff is wearing a Stetson--and that's hardly definitive proof of an 1880's milieu. If you choose to use exposition then I would lengthen the narrative distance as far as possible from the character--creating a disembodied narrator or some other device to 'set' time and place.

For demonstration purposes, the most extreme method of gaining narrative distance in both time and space is to use the following uncommon though not unusual method: creating a mock-up of a relevant historical document or, in your particular case, a newspaper article from the time (perhaps in the Alvarado Weekly Bulletin) reporting on the “Mysterious Deaths in (insert name of town here)”. Such mock-ups need not be current reports and for best effect I consider they should be reports well after the 'fact'. In your case, done well and using period style, vocabulary, grammar, idiom, typesetting etc., it should be easy to quickly draw the reader into time and place. After that, start your 'true' story.

Btw, such documents and reporting in all their various possible incarnations should not be accurate, rather they should be plausibly inaccurate so the 'real' story may be told and the reader feels like they are the only ones in 'the know'. An added bonus is being able to say, “Damn (insert job title here)! Can't ever get their facts straight.” And by, by the way, there is a name for such contrivances but I forget what it's called--I just know their uses.

However my preferred method of placing a character in their proper time and place is (no surprises here) 'show'. It's also a quicker intro for a short story.

Consider your character, what he is doing and how he got there. Was it a hard ride from his homestead? What's he wearing: spurs, chaps, a Colt Navy .45, deerskin gloves, a bandanna against the dust, a battered Stetson? Is he carrying the supplies he needs for his ritual in the saddlebags slung over his left shoulder? Is there no way for you to introduce enough of these details as he walks through the door of the Undertakers without appearing forced and contrived? The simple internal commentary observation that these bodies would NOT be displayed in the front window should be enough--undertakers routinely displayed their skills in embalming for the locals to peruse.

Just a couple of ideas right off the cuff.


PS. If you want to really sound knowledgeable, refer to his gun as a cap and ball Colt Navy .45. Not everyone had a Colt Peacemaker.

[ June 25, 2016, 07:59 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
It's not so much that I'd decided I wanted to begin with the three dead bodies as that when I first came up with this story idea what gripped me as an awesome opening visual was the summoning. In my mind, that was just how the story opened. Then people wanted to know why the summoning was taking place, which made sense, so I pulled back a bit farther and the summons was no longer the immediate focus of the scene. That brought the lack of immediate setting context more to light, and setting context is important for this story to me.

I honestly hadn't thought of pulling back further, which was leaving me very frustrated as I struggled to fit too much into my opening. I usually try for immediate introduction of the story complication, but most of my previous stories have been set in times and places that require less immediate emphasis of mileu. Pulling back a bit farther really is what's needed, here. Thank you for the advice; it was extremely helpful.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Small town Texas 1886 undertaking was a fluid circumstance. Formaldehyde was discovered 1858 and soon in widespread use for embalming across the globe. Arsenic was still in limited use. No preservation at all was still in use too. Undertaking by the time had become a professional trade in large communities; smaller communities, undertaking was a side business of furniture makers and doctors and other trades less commonly.

The undertaking situation itself is an opportunity for setting and milieu introduction. Coffins for example, the iconic toe-pincher shape and plank and pier construction; posts, as it were, commonly secured the six vertical plank joints. Due to being made by furniture makers, who had and skillfully used the tools of the trade, the undertaker's parlor was often a woodworkers' shop and not a dedicated mortuary space. Initial viewing took place there of coffins set on sawhorses or leaned against walls, indoors or outdoors. Or the viewers' wake was done at a family's home in a parlor or great room, also the parlor coffins were set on sawhorses or table trestles sans table boards.

Rectangular-shaped coffins are better known as caskets. They were usually more elaborate and for more affluent individuals. Though crude crate-like caskets were not uncommon.

A small town would not support a dedicated undertaker business. What, maybe ten or so deaths per year? Ten or so deaths per month might.

Arsenic trioxide, the salt commonly used, may smell faintly garlic-like when heated or subjected to blunt impact. Otherwise, arsenic is odorless.

A more open narrative distance is one consideration -- False Document is the label for a real-to-a-milieu, though real-world fictitious composition, like a newspaper or wanted poster -- another consideration is a Foil character with whom Mallory could interact. Also, he could interact with objects in the place, touch objects, woodworker tools or wood, for example. Maybe he could handle a coffin lid, or a jack plane or rabbit plane to finish a lid for one coffin. While he does that, he is aware of the boys' odd appearance, though tries to not look at them directly.

Perhaps, somewhat unusual for a lawman, maybe Mallory's the undertaker, too.

Story movement only demands dramatic movement's antagonism, causation, and tension, not per se physical movement.

Short fiction demands a near immediate start of dramatic movement. That only means an implication introduced something is contested. Let's see, rustic lawman, vegetation grows from dead boys heads, and a soon-to-be-introduced spirit summons to investigate why. The puzzle problem is the contest action, the way I see it.

Trouble and doubt comes from attempting to discover when and where a narrative best practice begins; further and further back in time is the usual result. When would such a narrative's action begin? Edgar Alan Poe believed short fiction's action starts as close to a contest incitement's outcome as practical. The old-adage platitude is to start at the start -- of a contest. For me, a start is a discovery of a suitable magnitude want-problem complication, a contest start that causes a reversal, or an emotional disequilibrium event. The summons ritual itself might not be an ideal start, rather might be a plot pivot much later or even the denouement's outcome scene.

The incitement of the fragments seems to be discovery that plants grow out of boys' heads and kills them. That Mallory's discovery is advanced beyond that moment, to me, could be untimely late in sequence or an in medias res start opportunity. As is, readers are already in the dark as to when and where the propitious discovery and reversal transpired.

An individual could summon Mallory to the carpenter-undertaker by a "messenger scene" that is elusive and allusive. Come and see, Sheriff Mallory, you won't believe your eyes even when you see cactus growing where it shunt! Or Mallory could already be there and the messenger tells him when, where, and under what circumstances the boys were discovered while the carpenter prepares the coffins. When and where are clues to what happened maybe. The mystery unravels over time, though, until Mallory solves the mystery and can then take steps to end the antagonal cause.

This is a discovered puzzle-problem-to-be-solved or -satisfied story, in Damon Knight's vernacular. When, where, who from, how, and why does this happen to the boys? Plus, though the boys are not Mallory's kin, that public stakes matter is a sheriff's private stakes too. If Mallory has a boy kin who is vulnerable to the same circumstances, that becomes yet more private stakes and, ergo, stronger private motivations to solve or satisfy the problem-puzzle.

Live oak seedlings is somewhat confused by that they sprouted from the boys' heads. "Sprouted" implies the seedlings just this moment sprouted from the boys.

Live oak seedlings are somewhat difficult to differentiate from other deciduous tree species' seedlings. They show at best a few immature leaves on tiny stems. Saplings show more foliage, stem, and root growth, are more mature. These plants lay in an indeterminate and confused state: sprouts, seedlings, saplings? Somewhere between seedling and sapling possibly. Maybe a different plant species is indicated. Something more exotic and strange, faster growing, with gnarled and ropy roots maybe. Bamboo, river cane, poison ivy, and fox grape suit that possibility.

Arid climate plants grow slow, though. Maybe tumbleweed that grows in sudden spurts when rare rainfall deluges water them, which Mallory can note is ironic.

Human flesh and fluids' salt content compares to seawater's, though. A salt-tolerant plant species, maybe? Live oak is to a small degree salt tolerant. Yaupon, cedar, or scrub shrub wax myrtle or laurel are more salt tolerant -- a small coastal town or deep inland, salt tolerance might or might not matter for believability's sake? Whatever plant species, best practice is for such a motif to be symbolic of something, believable, and related to the dramatic action. And the plant species itself is perhaps a clue to the puzzle.

The third version, still, to me, rushes to get to Mallory's Coyote summons ritual. The why of the ritual is crucial, to find answers, clues, or to solve a puzzle or at least develop clues, right? though need not be separated. The boys' appearance details can be interleavened while Mallory receives details about when and where they were discovered while he rushes to prepare for the ritual that only reveals a few clues. A few clues, otherwise, the story nears the end already, because the summons solves the puzzle problem.

When and where to start? The questions that plague writers relentlessly. Start when and where the events reach the point they compel proactive efforts. Like, Mallory's discovery of the first boy in a fertile planter state. The other two boys could turn up later and reveal more clues. Mallory and a concerned parent find the first missing boy in an arroyo? Meanwhile, Mallory is eager to perform and delayed from performing the Coyote summons.

Also, wouldn't anyone, say in 1886, have a natural reaction to immediately attempt to remove the plants? And probably before embalming, which could kill the plants anyway?

When and where does the puzzle-problem contest begin?

[ June 27, 2016, 11:40 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
The original spark which ignited the fires of creativity is 999 times out of 1000 the absolutely worst place to start a story.

Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
My inspirations reflect that apocryphal [anecdotal] statistic. Inspirations are most often outcomes and not dramatic contest incitements.

[ June 28, 2016, 04:43 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
I've been trying for an in media res opening, simply because I want the story to be fast-paced. However, I can introduce elements of the setting while still opening the story in media res.

It makes sense that most small towns don't support a full-time undertaker; I thought of justifying the undertaker's employ due to specifics of the setting, but then realized I could go a different route with it and give the undertaker more character as a result.

(For the record, I'd already thought about the plants being removed. They have been, some more than once; they keep growing back, which is part of the mystery. I will consider alternatives to the plant species; the longer I think on it the more it makes sense if it isn't native to the region.)

Updated lines follow.

Sweat beaded on Sheriff Mallory's neck as he walked down Main Street, a pair of saddlebags slung over his slumped shoulders. He maneuvered through the noonday bustle of foot-traffic, riders and wagons, numb to the chaos that surrounded him. It was a mere tenth of a mile from the jail house to Osko's Carpentry Shop, but Mallory never appreciated the journey or the destination.
Vladimir Osko moonlighted as the town undertaker, and often displayed embalmed corpses in his storefront window. Mallory found the practice distasteful--morbid at best, disturbing at worst. He had received multiple complaints from the other businessmen in the area. Unfortunately, it did not break any laws, and Osko insisted it was was good for business.

[ June 28, 2016, 07:35 PM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
The next version somewhat clearer and stronger introduces the setting's time era. It entails physical movement.

However, the event, setting, and character "telling details" content are flat and dramatically motionless. Those details' organization, also, starts close and widens and closes and widens distance, and closes and widens: from Mallory to the street, from Mallory to the shop, and from the shop to other businesses. The reverb fluctuates and wears. Plus, none of the details move toward the action of substance.

In medias res means in the middle of the thing -- the action -- the contest. That definition is near worthless, though, mere synonym and no explanation. The thing is the contest about which a composition's movement pivots. The middle of a contest is indeed after the contest begins. However, the contest's compulsions are no less central at every moment, foremost in mind, for the sake of overall movement. The middle of a contest is at least after a contest's incitements are known and proactive efforts to satisfy the contest's goal are underway.

In medias res portrays the overall contest incitement, the motivation's wants and problems, as part of every turn, includes a start's turn.

Mallory uncomfortably walks toward a carpenter-undertaker's shop. Routine daytime main street activities distract his attention. Another problem contention about an undertaker who publicly displays his wares distracts Mallory's attention.

Those are generalities; specifics related closely to the contest are what matters. Like if the people of the street are blissfully unaware of the boys' awful deaths, like if the displayed undertaker wares are the boys, like if Mallory sweats because he's afraid, like if Mallory sweats, too, because he rushes to the undertaker with an enthusiasm borne of knowledge new to him, that he can now summon Coyote so that he might learn more new knowledge.

The sentence content and organization still force connections that are separate and force emotional charge.

The first sentence, for example. "Sweat beaded on Sheriff Mallory's neck as he walked down Main Street, a pair of saddlebags slung over his slumped shoulders." Three clauses' separate ideas forced together. "slumped" is the only emotional charge possibility there, though vague why the shoulders slump, among a surfeit of flat expression, and partly clumsy from paired saddlebags over both shoulders.

The clauses could be rearranged and adjusted for stronger clarity and effect or separated, though no less might could be adjusted stronger. The first consideration here is that the third clause is in an awkward position. It is subordinate to the main idea though in main idea position, for a complex sentence of a periodic type. The loose sentence type places the main idea at the start and -- and -- subsequent clauses modify the main idea.

//A pair of saddlebags slung over his slumped shoulders, sweat beaded on Sheriff Mallory's neck, as he walked down Main Street.//

Still disjointed. The shoulders, the neck, the legs, as it were, that walk do not connect together.

Though a false "as" coordination conjunction use to subordinate its clause, this demonstration shows the hung-out (dangled) idea of its clause:

//As he walked down Main Street [why?], sweat beaded on Sheriff Mallory's neck [why? because of the heat?], a pair of saddlebags slung over his slumped shoulders [why?].//

Wordy, too. Consider this syntax organization:

//Saddlebags slung over slumped shoulders, as he walked down Main Street, sweat beaded on Sheriff Mallory's neck.//

Five ideas: sweat, Sheriff Mallory, a street walk, a saddlebag, slumped shoulders. Plus, do saddlebags sling over both shoulders? And which is the opportune telling detail that implies the contest? Is, therefore, the main idea?

The sweat, to me, perhaps, or something in the saddlebags, or a telling detail from several former versions -- the medicine pouch hung on a string around Mallory's neck? Say the sweat is the telling detail, what modifier could imply what's wanted there? Awful, maybe? Note that "awful's" etymological roots connect with awe and both that and idiomatic "exceedingly objectionable" meanings meant how? "Awful's" use as an intensive term and suited to the milieu -- awful ugly sweat. Or powerful ugly? Or terrible, horrible, evil, or similar though different maybe?

Or instead of the noun and verb "beaded," the verb to sweat significates?

//Saddlebags slung over slumped shoulders, as Sheriff Mallory walked down Main Street, ice and fire clots of awful fear and dread enthusiasm sweated from his neck.//

Note that syntax places emphasis most on the third clause, second on the first clause, and least on the comparatively unimportant middle clause. The emphasis arc ascends, as is indicated for an opening line.

The least such an adjective could do is emotionally charge "sweat" and imply all is not right in some terrible way that is known to Mallory and is in touch with his reflections of the knowledge.

What is the sentence's main idea anyway? The intent is to introduce Mallory and somewhat the setting, though entails no dramatic movement. There is no idea to stand out that incites movement. This is the place to introduce a main idea of the whole overall, the thesis declaration, the claim, the want contest itself, start the contest's movement even if only or, actually, more artful, implied.

Something awful (horrible, terrible, fearsome, ugly, wicked, evil -- whatever) kills children and Mallory must stop it.

[ June 30, 2016, 12:02 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Before I comment I would like to know if you are more comfortable with this most recent opening of yours compared to it's previous incarnations.

Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Before I comment I would like to know if you are more comfortable with this most recent opening of yours compared to it's previous incarnations.


I ended up doing some more tweaking after I posted it, but overall I felt like it started at a more reasonable distance. I'm not as emotionally invested in it, but my personal emotional investment isn't as important as making sure the reader has the information they need.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
The undertaker displaying his work in the window is a very cool detail. Definitely don't cut that.
Posted by dmsimone (Member # 10502) on :
I read only your latest opening 13 lines, and no other posts, so I went into it pretty raw.

That there is a sweating sheriff with saddlebags immediately pulled me to the old west.

I am trying so hard to be sensitive to my grammar, lately. I understand that the word “but” is meant to contradict. So in the line that starts “It was a mere tenth of a mile…” has “but”…in which a contradiction would follow. Is the sheriff’s lack of appreciation a contradiction to the short distance? I don’t know. I just thought I would point it out so you can ponder it, as I am learning.

I got the impression that the sheriff has something on his mind and he is pointedly going to go take care of something. With the introduction of Osko, I thought that someone was dead and the sheriff was going to request Osko’s services.

Creepy to display dead people. I like that.

Back to grammar. I am wondering if you need the “had” in the “He had received multiple…” sentence. I believe you use “had” in the case of past perfect when two events happen in the past. There is only one event – “received complaints” so I don’t think you need “had.” Again, just something for you to consider.

Two characters are introduced. The second has some interesting quirks. The setting is introduced. I like how you did it. I just didn’t feel any emotional pull. However, I would definitely read on because of Osko’s creep factor.

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