This is topic The Dead Lies in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Zaquesquatch72 (Member # 10998) on :
This is from a short story I have written, around 8,400 words though I plan to edit that down. There is an into paragraph before this indicating that it is from pages found at an archeological dig in New Hampshire and seems to be an account from 1677. If anyone would like to read through the whole story, I'd be happy to hear feedback. It is meant to emulate the style of colonial captivity accounts of the time. There is a later horror twist, as it was initially to be submitted for an anthology with a specific horror theme.

Many years we had in Exeter with small trouble from the Indians, yet since the savage known as King Philip had agitated his people to revolt and war against the English, none were truly safe. Whether Metacom’s belligerence served as a goad to those who were to be my captors, I cannot guess, for who can say what dark currents guide the savage heart? Whatever set alight the fire that burned in them, our time of peace was ended.

On the 3rd of March 1677 they came upon us, the Indians, and in great number. We knew of them first by the noise of guns, then by the smoke of some houses burning at the edge of town. So swift was their attack that no sooner did we realize the danger than the black howling devils were already among us. All was a chaos of noise and shouts, and the reek of powder smoke and blood. I was

[ September 07, 2018, 06:00 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An individual recollects a back story.

Tales from the Indian Wars hold special interest for me, due most to persistent curiosity for the "Noble Savage" mythos. For sure, New England Colonists' attitudes toward the Native Nations spanned diverse variants. Early Puritan alliances and later interlopers perceived the True People as little more than subhuman wastes and wicked heathens, and their "idle" lands ripe for confiscation. Those ambivalences characterize a large portion of the troubles and accounts and tales of the cultures' contact tableau tribulations.

Though but a small piece of back story, the fragment lacks any cue of those ambivalences and is, like many narratives of those times, large part a summary tell of little emotional and moral attitude, both of which dominated the everyday backdrop rationales for the Wars across the several Colonies. Each and all of the Colonists believed in their collective and individual Exceptionalism, and counters to it outraged all. For the Natives, outrage was large part due to the waves of successive settlements and encroachments upon their sacred lands and natural rights and a squeeze between this and traditional nemeses to the west.

Present-day prose readers tolerate less back story blocks and favor more in medias res, vivid sensory portraits, lively dramatic movement, and close and deep personal experiences of singular personas' public and private contests in the immediate now-moment of their presentations. The fragment portrays a generic and lackluster experience recollection. One distinction of the narratives from those times is strong and clear emotional and moral expression among the summary report tells, which is deeply personal and close.

William Bradford, who was instrumental about New England's public arenas at the time, also wrote some of the earliest and most acclaimed accounts of New England's several social ills. Bradford was as literate as they come for the time, though as prone to convenient literacy habits as any of the age and place, and a self-righteous preachy bigot.

He, though, would not make the mistake of mispunctuated serial lists: "the reek of powder[,] smoke[,] and blood." Or the "reek of powder[-]smoke and blood." Nor use "reek," as it is at the time associated with breath and emotionally neutral. Nor use "some" offhandedly, rather, as an intensive with strong emotional and moral innuendo undertones. "dark currents guide the savage heart?" "dark" to mean evil, wicked, or sinful is of a more recent coin. Nor did then rhetorical questions that were more declarative statements than quandaries take a question mark.

"noise of guns" Would this more appeal if //thunder of muskets// or similar? Note that Native Nation peoples at first perceived firearms as thunder lances gifted to the Pale Faces of Death, who came from under the world, by Michi-ginebig, the sky spirit, an invisible great horned serpent, the dragon of Eastern Woodland lore, a forked tongue and forked limbs, who tail walked across the world's platter and represented thunder and lightning and rainstorms. Pale Faces speak with forked tongues' bitter bites, indeed.

This, disordered modifier sequence and descriptor error: "black howling devils" //howling black devils// Algic and later all Native peoples were labeled "red" for the puccoon colorant of their war and sunscreen-insect screen makeup that dyed skin red, often dried, ground bloodroot, a toxin caustic to skin.

Natives considered red the symbolic color of robust animal and human life, too; white, death; black, ancestor spirit realm; green, Nature life; blue, sky and water; gold, orange, and yellow, Sun, warmth, and riches; purple, royalty; brown, Earth; silver and gray, madness. The Colonists' color scheme symbolism differed and clashed.

A regular read of any compositions from the time notes use of initial capital case for all nouns, common and proper. Present-day readers would be alienated by excessive capitalization. A judicious sample, here and there, would express the sense of the times' composition principles without excess or alienation; say, subject matter nouns: Savage, Smoke, People.

No reason to expect a 1670s Exeter habitant writer appreciates any of Native Nation culture, though some lore, even if mistaken, would be a natural part of most anyone's situational awareness then. Erroneous lore would most appeal, a paradox figure that is contrary to known lore yet contains a greater underlain truth. For me, if this narrator were also somewhat versed in and sympathetic to Native Peoples, that would all the more appeal, as that would be at odds to the pendent contest of captivity and travails.

Title "The Dead Lies" does work how an apt title should, several implications, congruent opposite entendre, and potential thematic significance and what the story is truly about. Exquisite!

As is, I would not read further as an engaged reader, most due to thin, if any, dramatic movement progress.

[ September 08, 2018, 05:27 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Zaquesquatch72 (Member # 10998) on :
Thank you for reading my lines and taking the time to give feedback. I will explore some of the lore and accounts you mentioned for further research. Those that I have read did refer to the Native Americans as black, which actually surprised me a bit.
I appreciate the less pedantic portions of your response and will think on how I might add more action and emotion while still emulating that narrative style of the period. This can be a challenging balance to strike but your point is well made. Hooking a reader in thirteen lines is challenging and my framing this story as a piece for found writing may have made it all the more so.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
U.S. Anglo literature of the early, mid, and late seventeenth century amounted to moral law assertion personal essays, sermons, embellished mission reports, and overstated exhortations to entice venture investors and immigrants to New World opportunities. And of an Old World Anglo voice, of course.

The pattern continued until the New America movement culture departed from hidebound Anglo literature traditions early to mid nineteenth century. Nathaniel Hawthorne is among the better known of the New America Romanticists, and Herman Melville. Hawthorne wrote anti-Puritan dark satire that was unkind toward all his subjects and topics of human vice and folly. Yet Hawthorne and the era's writers generally retained the untamed recursive syntax and discursive logic of earlier eras and places.

The Romantic expression mannerism persisted into Realism's departure from earlier movements and all but perished from vogue with Modernism's reality imitation extension from Realism. A feature that set Hawthorne apart is an early emergence of vivid and strong reality imitation traces that later movements adopted wholeheartedly and evermore appealed to broader audiences.

Hawthorne, though, retained the invisible bystander narrator, who held court unseen from on high, and summary tells and omniscient, omnipresent narrative point of view, that permeated literature through to the Modernist movement. The tell mannerism lost relevance alongside emergence of Industrialism and Urbanism and publication culture and technology innovations from the late nineteenth century onward. Publication industry demanded large audiences to pay for the factory complexes and line executives and stakeholders' pockets: urban workers and consumers. Modernism literature adopted to the audience's demand for personal, intimate experience shows.

Hawthorne at least threads the needle of robust drama into apt early American New England period language among sharp and dark personal satire commentary. Again, though, anymore, readers favor the personal, intimate drama more than an authentic period voice, literate or hypoliterate or otherwise.

What's left for a present-day writer of period narratives is a judicious sampler of voices from the past. No "What per chance ho, Goody Brown?" dialogue, nor contemporary slang "What's up, Dude?" more so the flavors and directness of "This day be pleasant to you, Good Woman Brown?" Dialogue anyway, and more or less inert and sparse yet vivid and lively, relevant, immediate, personal, intimate sensation descriptions. Plus, of course, satire entertainments, Literature's true social function across the opus.

[ September 10, 2018, 10:44 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Zaquesquatch72 (Member # 10998) on :
I appreciate your last couple of paragraphs and will think on how I might approach narrative voice in my story. I did find that later in the piece, as I got some flow going, the language became more like what you describe.
This one will go back to the wood shed.
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
When you read this opening it makes perfect sense. But as you read it you know where we are, who we are, and what's going on. The reader knows only what the words suggest to them, based on their background, not your intent. Look at it from a reader's viewpoint:

Many years we had in Exeter with small trouble from the Indians,
Someone we know nothing about, who lives at an unknown time, is talking about an unknown place, for unknown reasons. Making it worse, there's not a trace of emotion in the voice the reader "hears."

Given that, why would I the reader, want to know more? As stated, I'm not on the scene, as a character, watching the story unfold. Instead, I'm getting a summation I've not been made to want, from someone I don't know.
yet since the savage known as King Philip had agitated his people to revolt and war against the English, none were truly safe.
Given that we have no clue as to where we are in time and space, are the "Indians" natives of India or some part of North or South America? No way to tell. Nor does it make sense that either would have a king with an European name.

So, while you go charging on to recite the next but of data, fully informed as to what it means, the reader is saying, "Wait! Where the hell are we?"

This opening, if told as a verbal story, would be more clear because the audience would have access to your voice, your gestures, your body-language and expressions—your performance.

It's not that a matter of how well you're writing, it's that you're using the skills of verbal storytelling in a medium that supports neither sound nor imagery. Nor does it matter if you clarify later, for two reasons. First, the reader will not wait, and second, because you cannot retroactively remove confusion.

Our medium, like any other, mandates, and precludes, certain approaches. And since that methodology is part of a professional knowledge-set, rather than the general skills given us in our school days, you have a problem: In school we're given the impression that writing is writing. And since we've learned to write, we assume we need no more. But like screen-writing, and journalism, there are tricks of the trade and specialized knowledge needed in order to practice our profession. After all, if we want our readers to find our writing as entertaining as that of the pros they've been reading since they entered school doesn't it make sense that we need to know what the pros do?

So it's not a matter of talent, or doing something "wrong." it's about expanding your writing skills to include those of the fiction-writer. And while it takes time to master them, and make them automatic, they're no harder to learn than the nonfiction skills we're given in school. And, they're well worth the learning. So some hours spent in the fiction-writing section of the local library would be well spent, and yield rich dividends.

And as a personal recommendation, look for the names Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, or Debra Dixon on the cover, there, or at an online bookseller. They're gold.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.
Posted by Zaquesquatch72 (Member # 10998) on :
Thanks for the suggestions. I know that it’s greatly about craft. Part of the reason I am here. This piece actually opens with a note explaining the where and when of the ostensibly “found” document, which at least gives some context but I didn’t include due to 13 lines limitation. I also cut a fair amount to trim down to just that many lines. It may partly be the case that my edit was not done well or that the original material just won’t lend itself to trimming very well. I will think on how I can approach the piece from other angles.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
For whatever it may be worth, I have heard of a King Philip who may be the one referred to in your fragment - he's part of about 100 years of North American history that tends to get skipped over in US history classes (they seem to go from the Pilgrims to the Boston Tea Party with only cursory mention of what went on between).

So, in view of that omission in grade school educations, if that is the correct King Philip, you may want to provide a bit more back story.

The 13 lines does not need to include everything you think you need to tell the reader. It just needs to have something that will interest readers and make them care enough to keep reading.
Posted by Zaquesquatch72 (Member # 10998) on :
Thanks for the suggestions. I know that it’s greatly about craft. Part of the reason I am here. This piece actually opens with a note explaining the where and when of the ostensibly “found” document, which at least gives some context but I didn’t include due to 13 lines limitation. I also cut a fair amount to trim down to just that many lines. It may partly be the case that my edit was not done well or that the original material just won’t lend itself to trimming very well. I will think on how I can approach the piece from other angles.
Posted by Zaquesquatch72 (Member # 10998) on :
It may be my New England heritage that made me more aware of King Phillips war (highest number of deaths on US soil I believe). His name was Metacom.
I appreciate the advice.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
For craft, greater scene mode emphasis than summary tell mode all on its own can engage readers, at least not alienate readers. Yet the period's narratives often emphasized or exclusively used tell mode. Tell mode is a present-day default story method and about all that was known or practiced back when, based upon Biblical narratives were every Westerner's examples from which to draw methods. Today, that's about all that's taught and learned in assembly-line grade and high schools, too.

Back story often is invariably tell. Few writers master its scene mode show. Show and tell, not show, don't tell. Those are distinguishable though indivisible -- a broad-brush approach for how to gentle toward scene-mode mischief mastery. A basic and generic guidance for scene mode mastery is an inside looks outward perspective from an individual's immediate now-moment personal experiences rather than an outside looks in aftermath summary from an afar narrator perspective.

That latter is one of forty-two narrative points of view charted in Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction, page 133, the detached narrative point of view. Knight rejects seven types and misses the conventions of the one most common present-day novel type: close distance, inside looks outward and inward, selective omniscient access to several personas' sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Next-most common for novels and most common for short fiction is third-person close distance omniscience limited to one persona's personal sensation, thought, and emotion experiences. Though most common, those types also appeal most to present-day mass-culture readers overall.

However, the psychic access facet of non-god like access to personas' thoughts was unthinkable for the period due to satanic associations of mind reading. First-person real writer-narrator personal reports instead, like William Bradford's compositions.

A prelude method that asserts the truth of a fictional matter for a "found document" (False Document, a literary device) is Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, 1898, the main action of the found document itself nested within a frame story, and first-person reports on both accounts. Alas, although a Realism departure, James' nonetheless retains earlier eras' tell mode emphasis, even though first-person subjective narrative point of view scene mode. A British Gothic psychological horror story, though, and a satanic panic story, similar to what this story's general New England Gothic bases are.

[ September 14, 2018, 01:17 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
This piece actually opens with a note explaining the where and when of the ostensibly “found” document, which at least gives some context but I didn’t include due to 13 lines limitation.
Think about why you read fiction. Isn't entertainment at the top of the list?

When your reader opens to page one you have about three pages to convert casual curiosity, which will fade, line-by-line, to active interest.

Being made to study history in order to understand the story is an interest killer. And a story that begins with, "These pages were found in an..." has been so over-used that it will usually get a rejection there and then.

Your reader expects the story to begin in the first paragraph, and take place in real-time—usually in the moment the protagonist calls "now." Providing overview/synopsis reads with all the excitement of history, or a report.

So drop a body through the overhead. Set the house of fire. Begin with the battle in progress and the protagonist trying to stay alive.

A narrator wearing makeup and costume, pretending to be the protagonist at some time after the story takes place may use first person pronouns, but it is not a first person viewpoint because the narrator lives at a different time from the person experiencing the story and can only talk about the events, not experience them. So, in effect, you are standing between the reader and the character, blocking the view.

Compare the emotional content of "On the 3rd of March 1677 they came upon us, the Indians, and in great number," and:

"My God," Stanley called from the window. "I was right. It was a shot, and I can see smoke to the south. We're under attack!"

Story isn't talked abut, or explained. It happens. And it happens in a way that gives the reader an emotional, not an informational connection to the action.

Think back to the novels you read that were so intense that you literally had to stop reading to catch your breath. That's what you want to give your reader. Involve, don't inform. Were you writing a ghost story your reader isn't seeking to know that the protagonist knows terror. They want you to terrorize them, and make them afraid to turn out the lights.

In short, they want to be made to care. But...did they teach us how to do that during our school years? Did they talk about the short-term scene-goal and what it does for us? Did your teachers go over the structure of a scene on the page, and how it differs from one in film or on stage? Mine didn't. Nor did they mention that most scenes end in disaster for the protagonist. So will we include them in our writing? Probably not.

See the problem? It's not one of talent or good/bad writing. It's one that Mark Twain defined with, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

The nonfiction writing skills our school years give us are like a sturdy cart horse, useful but mundane. The tricks of fiction, however, exchange that animal for Pegasus, and give our writing wings. And mounted on a flying beast who knows how far you may go?

So dig into the unique skill-set and tricks of the trade of the fiction-writing profession. With a book like Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer, or Debra Dixon's, GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict you'll spend a lot of time slapping your own forehead and saying, "Why didn't I see that for myself."

Hope this helps
Posted by Zaquesquatch72 (Member # 10998) on :

Thanks so much for the insights.. Your explanation was very clear and well put.
I will certainly look for the books you recommended. I am just starting on the fiction writing path and I do know that an initial focus on craft is what I need to devote a good portion of my time to. Up to the piece in question, I had done almost exclusively academic writing and you are right about not being taught the tricks of the trade.

I will make a go at revising the start of this piece and will post it again at some point after I do so.

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