This is topic Ascent of a Man in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
It’s been a while but let’s see how it goes. I’m expecting extrinsic to spot a slew of grammatical and punctuation errors, but hey, I really enjoy having my face rubbed in my own shortcomings. What I’m most interested in is the narrative transition from long to short. Basically, is it too abrupt?

There won’t be a second version of this, so get your pound of flesh while you can. Right now I’m happy with the length but, once more of the story is written, I will probably want to shorten this intro and give it more ‘punch’.

Thanks in advance for any and all feedback.


On a Wednesday morning in April Jonas Hobb died while waiting to cross East Twenty-third Street. He didn’t notice this abrupt change in his circumstances.

As Jonas stood in the spring sunlight trying to remember--something, a child ran right through him; dead centre. There was no impact, just a roiling in his guts like motion sickness. He wanted to vomit. “What the hell?”

He shook his head and focused on his surroundings: the gathering crowd, the wailing of distant sirens getting closer and a body on the pavement. Trying to get a better view he pushed against someone but his arm passed right through them. He looked at his hands, pinched his sleeve then slapped his right cheek--it stung. “What’s going on?” he thought. His focus was drawn back to the crowd as they parted for the paramedics. He got a good look at the face of the body lying on

[ December 25, 2018, 07:23 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
Posted by MerlionEmrys (Member # 11024) on :
Pretty good. You've definitely got your genre elements front and center and I like the humorous statement that he didn't notice the change in circumstances.

I could be totally wrong about this, but I feel like there should be a dash on both sides of "something."


He wanted to vomit. “What the hell?”
For some reason this feels...kinda tacked on maybe? I feel like you could cut it.


“What’s going on?” he thought.
Personally, I'd maybe use italics for a thought rather than quotes. Or since you're so deep in his POV, you may not really need anything, just make his wondering part of the narration.

Overall I like it though.

Edited to add: If you're interested in readers, I'd be more than happy to read. I'm more of a whole story than a fragment guy anyway.

[ December 25, 2018, 02:58 PM: Message edited by: MerlionEmrys ]
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An individual and apotheosis.

A common shortfall for out of body narrative experiences is a lack of a believable mechanism development. The fragment defuses that through apt leisure attention lavished on its initial onset unawareness and consequent self-discovery progress. A true and valid, believable discovery and reversal peripeteia and anagnorisis portrayal mechanism that suits conventional beliefs. Nice.

The fragment intimates initial completed discovery and reversal, an incitement of proactive action, will soon transpire and is itself an apt sequence progression that intimates further discovery and reversal progression onward and evokes curiosity, though lacks adequate empathy development. Instead, the opposite appeal evolves, of an urge for the agonist to reach a less than ideal destination or, of most appeal, an utter unexpected though inevitable surprise destination. Nice.

"we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way--
in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.)

Direct the other way, or, for greatest appeal, an altogether unexpected journey and final destination, after the proverbial sorter interview? Somewhat a Faustian, Dantean, Odyssean, Heraclean journey through the several over-, mortal, limbo, and underworld realms. The fragment setup leaves a final destination untelegraphed yet promises one unequivocal and irrevocable after a contentious personal journey of self-discovery. Nice.

One missed, to me, facet would strengthen the fragment's appeal, an irony introduction of some type set up that pre-positions an inevitable surprise pivot or, actually, pivots for later. Say, for an apotheosis end that reflects a proverb: better a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a wide ocean; or better to rule in Hades than be a minion serf of Olympus.

Both and more!? Or one that is a triple rather than a dual conflict contest concept? Say, an extension of the conflict of better to beg forgiveness afterward than ask permission up front; no, really, deny and refuse all along, never give up, never surrender. Which then suggests a final apotheosis destination outside of mortal, Olympian, Hadean, and Purgatory realms. A Sisyphean labor destination? That would be exceptional freshness.

Say an ironic paradox of this sort?

"An apparently contradictory statement that contains a measure of truth.

"Art is a form of lying in order to tell the truth — Pablo Picasso" (Gideon Burton, Silva Rhetoricae,

An introduction of similar in the fragment might entail a contradictory self-lie that is self-evident on its face.

Yeah, punctuation, grammar, direct thought distinction method mistakes throughout, missed commas, unconventional thought cite markers, excess trite -ings, unnecessary and trite conjunctions, and conjunction errors that confuse causation. Stronger, clearer, more robust expression would tame those and allow more dynamic, robust, and dramatic content in those places, perhaps space for the above irony introduction.

Somewhat engaged to a greater degree than my usual for fragments and more than a few published first pages, I might could read further as a somewhat engaged reader.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Originally posted by MerlionEmrys:
He wanted to vomit. “What the hell?”
For some reason this feels...kinda tacked on, maybe? I feel like you could cut it.
Cut which? The whole lot, the, “He wanted to vomit.” Or the “What the hell?” Just curious.

Personally, I’d maybe use italics for a thought rather than quotes.
My long standing practice, way back when I was actually writing, was not to format any text in any manner except for telepathic communication. Only then would I use italics.

Originally posted by extrinsic:
”. . .direct thought distinction method mistakes . . . unconventional thought cite markers . . .”
Okay, I’ll bite. It’s been a real long time since I actually employed the mechanics of writing prose. I’ve thought about how to create starts and tension etc, but not practised the actual mechanics of writing. Oh, how rusty we get.

So, I ask you to enlighten me. What do you mean? In times past, reading some of my own prose, I never used any formatting for direct character thought. No quotation marks, no italics. Even no, he/she thought attribution. So, what are you talking about. This is a long standing conundrum for a lot of writers.

BTW, I’m glad I piqued your interest. And, yes, there is a sort of Sisyphean labour cost to Jonas’ possible redemption.

Posted by MerlionEmrys (Member # 11024) on :
Cut which? The whole lot, the, “He wanted to vomit.” Or the “What the hell?” Just curious.
All of it.

My long standing practice, way back when I was actually writing, was not to format any text in any manner except for telepathic communication. Only then would I use italics.
This is such a funny sentence it should really be part of a story. How many people can say they reserve italics for telepathic communication?

Speculative fiction writers for the win.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Thought distinction is, indeed, a challenge, speech formats, too, for that matter.

Category basics entail direct (verbatim) and indirect (paraphrase) discourse and free, tagged, or implied discourse attribution, plus speech, usually quote mark bracketed, Cormac McCarthy and Brad Land aptly excepted, and thought distinctions, and a subtler, sublime distinction between degrees of volitional and instinctive and nonvolitional -- stream-of-consciousness grammars, that is.

Methods for each span a greater gamut than current standard conventions entail; for many situations, standard though apt, artful punctuation does part of magic's mischief thereof, plus, omitted articles, particles, pronouns, and proper nouns or nonconventional diction and syntax: semicolons and colons, the "dash of style," ellipsis points, interobangs, sentence fragment terminal punctuation variants, and block quote distinctions.

Several conventional methods of greater appeal than usual happenstance attribution, due to apt attribution type and placement, for examples:

Tagged thought, verbatim:

Oh, she thought, not him again.
Basic BS from the certain people, he thought, who always interrupt wet nightmares and ruin pipe dreams.
It recalled the last rat stalk rodeo, how that it failed.

Tagged speech, verbatim:

"Yeah, no," he said, "not my fault this time."

Tagged speech, paraphrase:

She repeated how hooligans vandalized her gardens.
He let slip the plans for castle wall sieges and sorties out upon the salted earth.

Implied free thought, verbatim,

Broken branches, crushed grass, bloody paw prints, the game was afoot. (Insider sensation stimuli of external mien and thought response.)

Implied free thought, paraphrase, action:

Long strides devoured leagues and wearied laggart followers, aware deadfalls teemed the king's woods.

Implied free speech, verbatim, action:

Banyon halted. "Take ten." Squad Delta laid the brass cannon onto fragile sand.

Implied free speech, paraphrased action:

"My turn to buy." Geoffrey brought the ale. "Maria, yours to act the drunk bumbler."

Dash, ellipsis points, and interobang thought and speech distinction, colon optional for the dash though often too formal for prose except to introduce an appositive serial list, verbatim thought, implied:

Brown and rainbow shone from cave walls and ceilings -- rich nitre for precious gunpowder. Now sulfur . . . deeper into the dead volcano's warrens!?

Dash for interruption, self or others, distinct direction change of thought or speech process (non sequitur); ellipsis points for self-broken and congruent thought or speech.

Interobang is uncommon for prose, so far, though an apt terminal punctuation thought and speech signal for brief clause fragments or sentences, exclamation, more common for script, rare for poetry, a signal of doubt, for ironic exclamation rhetorical questions.

Figure, aporia, one of nine distinct rhetorical question types: "Deliberating with oneself as though in doubt over some matter; asking oneself (or rhetorically asking one's hearers) what is the best or appropriate way to approach something." (Gideon Burton, Silva Rhetoricae,

Lengthier thought, formatted block quote, four or more lines block indented, implied, verbatim -- direct, a soliloquy:
Would such a brash pine deny gravity, that it sticks the sky and 
leans a fouled grove, for it would say no and want no more
torment from mortal and axe, and let no earth touch or soil,
labor of its fell already spent and no more the work, as if
half dozen more trees must fall for its royal self's glory.
No, this mortal will not take slight refusal from the thing.

The above entail a broad gamut of apt and readily inferable discourse distinction and attribution methods. Much more are suitable, apt, and derivable therefrom.

Italics format for thoughts!? No and yes, common to fantasy and fan and slash fiction in particular. Though italics for individual word or brief term thought and speech exclamation and vocal intonation -- nonvocal thought intonation, too, of course, emphasis anymore across the genres is common enough and nondisruptive, per se. Timeliness and judiciousness leavens a test, consideration, that is, for all the above.

[ December 25, 2018, 08:09 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Thanks. Food for thought, indeed. BTW, Jonas' labours are more likely to be Huculean, rather than Sysophean.

Posted by MerlionEmrys (Member # 11024) on :
Oh yes, I almost forgot Grumpy, you get points for using the term "Sisyphean."
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Heraclean-Herculean? Sisyphean, if given a non-telegraph cue of it at the outset, would hopelessly engage me. The gods' retribution for mortal pride's hubris.

No points awarded per moi, I guess, for "Sisyphean," due to such dusty old bones Greek mythology awareness is expected!?

[ December 25, 2018, 08:12 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by MerlionEmrys (Member # 11024) on :
Most people have no idea what "Sisyphean" means.

I don't mean most people here, I mean most people in the world. Most people don't even get a reference to pomegranates being related to the story of Hades and Persephone.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
I am not most people. I am but one individual writer and broad and deep, voracious, omnivorous reader.

The original pomegranate myth names "Pluto," brother of Zeus and Poseidon, and indicates earlier creation, anglo Plutōn, transliteration of Πλούτων; later era Greek mythology names Hades for the underworld and its godly immortal male ruler. Daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Persephone, of course, becomes Hades' godly immortal female ruler and spouse, albeit abducted and manipulated for the purpose, due to she ate the food of the dead: pomegranate seeds.

[ December 25, 2018, 09:33 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
On a Wednesday morning in April Jonas Hobb died while waiting to cross East Twenty-third Street. He didn’t notice this abrupt change in his circumstances.
I favor a small change: On a Wednesday morning in April Jonas Hobb died while waiting to cross East Twenty-third Street, though he didn’t notice this change in circumstances.

The original is the narrator explaining what happened to the reader, with two independent declarative sentences. The change was made to make the narrator more transparent and in service of the protagonist. To do that I combined the thought for smoother transaction, and rephrased to eliminate that second “he” which can only be the storyteller explaining. I dropped “abrupt,” because death is always abrupt, and removing a word, even one in twenty-five, speeds the read a bit for greater impact.

Your mileage may differ.
As Jonas stood in the spring sunlight trying to remember--something
Drop the M-dash and “something.” He may notice something wrong, and think about that, but you always have an objective when trying to remember, so without it it makes no sense to a reader. I’d drop the reaction to dying that you say he didn’t have, and combine the opening with the next line to yield: As Jonas stood in the spring sunlight a child ran through him. You might have him looking at the sky, or patiently waiting, but do we care how accurately she ran through him? No.

But there’s another problem, from a reader’s viewpoint. If he died, his body is right there there, and would have tripped the child. More than that, the kid would notice. Have him die on the way there and not notice. Then, he can stop at the corner for the light.
There was no impact, just a roiling in his guts like motion sickness. He wanted to vomit. “What the hell?”
You just said it feels like motion sickness, do you really have to explain that the condition makes you nauseous? Drop the part I italicized.

I’d also smooth the entry to the dialog. You’ve reported that the child ran through, and that it made him ill, but not if he noticed the child. So suppose we connect the dialog to the event with something like, There was no impact, just a roiling in his guts like motion sickness, and a blurted, “What the hell?”
He shook his head and focused on his surroundings:
I can’t buy this. A child just ran through him. And his response is to look around and catalogue what's going on? He doesn’t look for the kid? He doesn’t wonder if he was seeing things—doesn't wonder if she’s a ghost, since he doesn’t suspect he’s dead? Doesn’t look around to see if anyone else noticed, or had her run through them?

It appears that you’re constructing the story, focusing on plot events, and assigning actions and dialog in service of that. But if you do that, everyone will act because you say they must, not because the situation, as they see it, motivates them to act. So, they’ll be smart when the plot needs smart and dumb when that’s called for.

But it’s his story. And to be real, he needs to act according to his interpretation of what happens, modified by his resources and necessities. A real person in that situation is not going to cooperate with the plot and ignore their reaction of, “What the hell…did that kid just pass through me? Did that really just happen? He may feel queasy in the gut, but his focus will be on the kid, and if he is or is seeing what he thought he did. And fair is fair. It is his story, so let him react as the situation, not the plot, dictates.
Posted by WarrenB (Member # 10927) on :
Hi Phil. I haven't commented on anything here in months -- and was never very adept --but here goes.

I'm not going to address the punctuation issues, etc. -- or really comment on style at all. I think the death (or near-death, as the case may be) is well done. It convinces me.

My immediate reaction to the whole piece was, 'I have seen this movie before...' The out-of-body/astral projection device feels familiar. It's well executed, but doesn't grab me enough to make me want to read on. I am most often hooked by: a) fascination with character; b) novel (to me) premise or setting; or c) (occasionally) beauty of imagery/language.

In this case, I wonder if this is scene 2. If I knew a bit more about Jonas first -- through some kind of introductory section -- I might be inclined to go with the out-of-body trope whether or not I find it interesting in itself... So, somewhat uncharacteristically for Hatrack, I'd like the drama of the death to come after some more minor conflict/episode that tells me something about who Jonas is.

I do like his name BTW -- a nice Victorian feel. And, Hobb could foreshadow something a bit devilish.

Happy Boxing Day to one and all! On this side of the world, the family marathon continues. <Sigh.> Once more into the breach, and all that jazz.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
I hear where you’re coming from, Jay, and, if this opening were a ‘normal’ linear narrative structure they would be valid ones. There are, however, artistic decisions I have taken which move this out of that realm.

Take the opening two sentences. They are deliberately ‘outside’ the narrative which follows. They are written in the vein of ‘The Chorus from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Their sole task is to set the scene within which what happens unfolds. The only other way I could have ‘explained’ the setting was to either begin with him dead, or ‘show’ him dying without realising it. The last being a tall order for anyone, I’d guess.

To begin, Jonas’ shade is not standing over his own corpse; he is a small distance away. Also, Jonas is in a dissociative state; events do not apparently unfold in a linear manner, they jump the cognitive gaps from one moment of awareness to the next as his mind tries to make sense of a reality that doesn’t make sense.

Take the child, for instance. Most people would wonder why I didn’t specify a boy or a girl. I didn’t because Jonas didn’t notice, and he didn’t notice where they went to after they ran ‘through’ him. He wasn’t interested, he was trying to orient himself in an environment which wasn’t making a whole lot of sense to him. But why didn’t I ‘explain that within the narrative? Because the reader doesn’t need to know that. They only need to know it happened and then it was dismissed from the character’s awareness because there is no follow-up. Also, the nausea I have experienced usually has levels ranging from a little bit queasy to, I think I‘m going to be sick to, quick, get me a bucket!

Disjointed confusion is the underlying theme to this scene.

If this scene doesn’t rock your boat, the following one, where Jonas transitions from ‘here’ to Hell, will really bug you. Call it a form of time dilation. The transition is instantaneous on one level of Jonas’ perception but, on another, he’s had time to do a full accounting of his life trying to understand why he’s now a Damned Soul.

Again, I appreciate your thoughts and input. However, in this instance, I’m happy with most of what I’ve written so far.

WarrenB, under normal circumstances I would agree with you, some character set-up is desirable. In this case, however, the character is dead, and who he might have been before is irrelevant. Who he is, now that he's dead, will unfold as he, himself, works that out. You're on that journey of discovery with him. Buckle up, it could be a bumpy ride.


[ December 26, 2018, 02:22 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
Posted by WarrenB (Member # 10927) on :
Hmmm. Now I'm intrigued... Would be keen to read the whole thing once it's done.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
That could be a couple of months, WarrenB, this is only the preliminary draft, not even a first one. I am working out pacing, and what to reveal and when, and how much.

Lots of work yet.

Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
A consideration of the below for stronger, clearer, more robust expression:

Grumpy old guy posted:
"There was no impact, just a roiling in his guts like motion sickness. He wanted to vomit."

An insider internal visceral sensation though healthcare providers consider that description a subjective symptom, subject to wide variance of degree and validity question and challenge, and immeasurable objectively. If emesis attends, that's an objective symptom, and of an objectively measurable intensity: slight, mild, copious, projectile vomit.

In other words that is a visual, at least, sensation, maybe aural and olfactoral, too. The visual and aural sensations are recordable, say, for motion picture purposes.

From "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction," edited by Clarion workshops' David Smith, SFWA hosted.

"Film it. A self-test of critiquing. To judge a scene or chapter, mentally convert it into a movie or screenplay. This effectively subtracts all narration and exposition and leaves only description, [sensation, emotion,] dialog, and action. Things which shrink dramatically when filmed are heavy on telling, light on showing. (CSFW: Steve Popkes)"

"There was no impact, just a roiling in his guts like motion sickness. He wanted to vomit."

Is tell heavy even if an insider received sensation reflection. Show appeals develop vivid and lively external sensations for best reader effect and "visualization," as part of, in addition to, or instead of a summary and explanation tell. Say Jonas does throw up a little. A sparkly, sick mucous-yellow smoke? Rainbow Styrofoam confetti vapor? Mini fireworks display launched from the mouth? Visually tangible, maybe aural, too, external, cinematic, internally perceived yet more visceral reader effect, even if an abstract representation of a subjective, internal sensation, that a motion picture could represent.

[ December 27, 2018, 04:21 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Perhaps this: His guts roiled. Acid burned the back of his throat, and he gagged as bile filled his nasal cavity. Eyes watering, he sneezed, then coughed up the sour liquid.

A lot of word investment for a visceral 'real' experience. Is it worth the expenditure?

The real issue is this; this is Jonas' soul experiencing 'phantom' body reactions and symptoms. How much is real?


[ December 27, 2018, 06:54 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
I love how you didn't waste any time in getting to the premise, world, and rules of your universe.

In reaction to how he might "feel" phantom body reactions, his being confused as to why he doesn't throw up might be in order?

I'd most likely keep reading.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
You almost mirror Jay Greenstein's observation. I initially dismissed the idea, but came back to it. The thing is this; of the ten or so sentences describing Jonas' experience of death, I only intend to keep two or three. The story is about what he does after he's dead, not how he experiences it per see.

But thanks for the input. Every little bit influences to some degree the evolution of a story.

Posted by Mandalore49 (Member # 11204) on :

I hope it's okay I called you "Phil" and not "GrumpyOldGuy," though if you would prefer the latter, please let me know. Narrative-wise and prose-wise, your story captivated me. I did hesitate at the em-dash, and I think someone else (extrinsic, maybe) mentioned that it seemed a little awkward. While I realize the whole point of the em-dash is to hesitate, it was more out of visual confusion than from pacing within the story. My suggestion would either be to use a word or two in place of the dash or to add another sentence sort of clarifying the surprise. I understand, however, that doing so could very well break your narrative flow, and at this point you've probably already written the thing because I have joined this party quite late in the game.

Story-wise, in general, I have to agree with WarrenB. The first thought I had when I read this introduction was "I've definitely seen/read this before." The movie Ghostown (would recommend, btw) definitely came to mind. While I realize that most of fiction repeats itself and there are no original stories (and your narrative plans do not include setting up anything about the protagonist's life before this scene), I still feel like there needs to be some aspect of this scene that helps to adjust the tone so that it hooks me rather than feeling vaguely comfortable and familiar. The dark tale of damnation that you promised in your comments (which I would very much like to read, btw) just didn't come through for me. If I read this in an anthology, I would probably keep going, but I might scan-read for a bit to stay on the safe side. I guess my advice (for the very little it is worth) is to consider adding some kind of dark-ish detail that hints at the terrible things that may come to pass. What that detail might be, I have no idea. Maybe a song on the radio, maybe a figure seen out of the corner of the eye, maybe a weird thought that enters the protagonist's mind. Anyway, that's my two cents. Thanks for the compelling read!

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