This is topic Dog of the Dead - ~800 words in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
This is the beginning of a quick story I put together from a dream my wife had a few nights ago. I've had a few test readers, but I'm wondering what you all might think.
I saw the army of the dead last week and I ran in the opposite direction to get out of the city with only a minor incident, but they’d found a new source of food here by way of a handful of people cowering behind the walls of department stores and in the basements of these office buildings. Idiots, all of them. It was better to stay on the move than to settle in some concrete prison.

The horde had passed me by, with the exception of the occasional straggler that met their second death at the blade of my woodcutter’s axe, but the second wave consisted of the animals they’d turned during their destruction of my world. I nearly made it out of the city before one of them had found me, lost from the pack.

Teeth nipped at my heels, catching what was left of the cuff
This was 13 lines in my word processor. I apologize if it's too long for the forum's guidelines. (Edit - Durr... It wasn't in Courier... Sorry. it's been a while)

I'm looking for any kind of feedback you all would like to give: Grammar, spelling, story, word choice, etc.

[ January 09, 2019, 02:09 AM: Message edited by: Mecopitch ]
Posted by MerlionEmrys (Member # 11024) on :
You're first sentence is pretty long and the "with only a minor incident" part seems...tacked on.

I'm honestly not that great at dissecting first 13s, but if you want readers for the whole story, send it to me.
Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
Thanks Emrys. It is a long line, but it's my first attempt at something under 1000 words. I may have fallen into a sort of trap where I cram as much info into every second as I can.

I have a group of 10 readers who I routinely send things to, old friends and people I trust. In the unlikely event what I write is gold, they are people I can trust with it. But I do appreciate the offer. This one was more of an exercise than anything. First time writing much of anything in a few years.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An individual and the gods and society, sort of.

Revenant genre, the undead, zonbi, etc., generally uses motifs of a non-one-to-one correspondence between surface and subtext context and texture. As such, more often than otherwise, name exposition labels are incidental to descriptive emphasis and as well descriptive detail first. This, for example:

"I saw the army of the dead last week"

Both "army" and "dead" want descriptive detail first. "last week" also wants present now development in the present sense moment. A start line that starts from a previous now asks for a start to start that there and then.

In other words, this is a summary and explanation tell of a prior time that instead wants immediate, now, personal, private in-scene moment and dramatic movement from the then as now rather than a present-now diary-like entry that recounts a past time.

"minor incident, but" the comma and contradiction conjunction splice creates a run-on sentence, and is artless and dull.

Presumably, the "minor incident" is the encounter with the "turned" animal nips at heels that develops in the second paragraph, though set up in past perfect tense -- another signal the time progression reverses rather than moves forward. That event or strongest if the human dead encountered first might be a stronger when and where to start in the first place. The dead army and all leavened in among the subsequent event with the animal.

"turned" is another empty name exposition label and one that relies for meaning on other zonbi-revenant milieu context and texture media and writer familiarity with same. Descriptive detail is the stronger and broader access method.

"Teeth nipped at my heels, catching what was left of the cuff"

Uh, the standard tension relief delay segment of a shaggy dog story. The punchline of which a hearer is the butt of the joke: And pulled on my leg like I'm pulling yours.

Robust dramatic movement wants discovery revelation and consequent obstacle and reversal sequences therefrom, or vice versa, revelation-changed direction at least.

Meantime, descriptive detail and chronological sequence expand word count, However, the arts of narrative offer occasion for one thousand-word limitations.

An event emphasis narrative is a brief anecdote, a snapshot, so to speak, of an event sequence. This -- a danger at the door, or routine interrupted, story shape, plus, an in medias res structure. The crisis of note is a horde of zonbi human and animal wave threats. Event.

Melded together, the outcome conclusion is escape, sanctuary obtained, or life lost. Very little freshness appeal from such. Another destination is wanted for expression and appeal's sakes.

Subtext meaning? What's the narrative really about? A self-idealization daydream? Zonbi's current subtext is the otherwise live human masses, sleepwalkers through life, are fair game for big-game slaughter, perceived as mindless, soulless, possessed beings who are beneath social order considerations.

Possible subtexts then are satire commentary about trite zonbi culture constants that avoid what the appeals really are, mayhem and murder. Or another destination for a solitaire in a world of social hurt: no safe place, frontierism's escapes from civilization's sleepwalkers' slights and stings and brutal overlords' persistent demands, sanctuary obtained through removal from same, or acceptance of same and accommodations arranged in place.

Is sanctuary from zonbi actually extant? How? Only through mutual, shared, and reciprocal social participation. He finds or founds a fortress community? Or realizes community among zonbi? How, that's not already extant and as trite as all zonbi media? Focus around how events transform a focal agonist and how a focal agonist transforms circumstances? How zonbi influences and is influenced by life.

Will an end of stale, outworn end of zonbi narrative never emerge?

With a fresh and robust outcome destination in hand, tell, empty name exposition labels, word count, and trite motifs are gentled and tamed for best dramatic effect.

I would not read further as an engaged reader. most due to this reads more like a high school what I did on my summer vacation essay of a shaggy dog story than a dramatic anecdote.
Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
Hm. Word count is not an issue for me, as this was more of an exercise in putting a slice of a dream into words, but if I omitted a good portion of the opening...

"The dead found new source of food by way of the handful of people cowering behind the walls of department stores and in the basements of these office buildings."

Considering the genre is outplayed and nearly everyone understands what a generic Zombie apocalypse is.

Out of curiosity, is there a reason you spell it "Zonbi"?

[ January 10, 2019, 03:04 AM: Message edited by: Mecopitch ]
Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
Also Ex, could you articulate what you mean by "access method"? I'm afraid your eloquence might be lost on me.

I hoping using terms to which more readers could easily relate, "turned" being one of them, would allow the reader to comprehend my meaning, without coercing them to extrapolate connotation by language of a more flowery nature. Worse yet, I could further bore the reader with, "Who had already been bitten, infected, and reanimated by another creature of darkness." Why waste words when I can say, "turned"?

Trying to keep the story under 1000 words, I'd rather not waste time by explaining something generally understood. (sort of like I did in my first line, which could be fixed as in the post above)
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Originally posted by Mecopitch:
. . .as this was more of an exercise in putting a slice of a dream into words, . . ..
I get the feeling this is an exercise in--something. I’m just not sure what.

As for the submitted fragment itself: I must have seen, read or imagined such a scenario over a hundred times since I first played Resident Evil way back when. In the submitted fragment I find nothing new, in either phrasing, narration or scene setting. It’s all pretty derivative. The poor, dumb victims, soon to be consumed by a horde of ravenous meanies, keep making the same poor, dumb mistakes, every other poor, dumb soul does in every other incarnation of the zombie apocalypse franchise. Ad nauseam.

And the hero? He’s just as stupid as the poor, dumb victims that keep getting eaten but his native wits and lightening reflexes keep him dangling as a tasty morsel ahead of the pack to entice more zombies to search him/her out.

I’m not a zombie apocalypse kinda guy. It’s been done to death--pun intended. But if you had done something different--something exciting, something new then perhaps I might have been tempted to read a bit more.

Posted by WarrenB (Member # 10927) on :
Very short, random thought, sparked by Phil: the differentiator could be the relationship between the protagonist and the dog.

Twee 'boy-and-his-dog' narrative meets the zombie apocalypse (with undead dog, presumably). Could be fun, if done tongue-in-cheek? plus the usual emotional appeal (I like dogs).
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Here's a thought: The zombie apocalypse is here, the food has to eventually run out for the survivors. What do they eat then? Zombie stew and pan seared zombie steaks is my guess.

Just a--well, you get the idea. Soylent Green seemed to work, didn't it?

Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
lol! But... if you eat the zombie meat, wouldn't you get the zombie germs?
Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
And yup, Warren has the right of it, that is the differentiator. But I guess I'd need to establish that immediately, instead of around line 15 when it currently happens.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
English usage progressed from West Africa Bantu serpent dragon mythology nzúmbe to zonbi to zombi to zomby and zombies to zombie and zombies. I learned zonbi first, how the term entered English usage. And track zonbi mythopoeia from inception to present and into the future. Correlations between zonbi and human bondage and zonbi and agoraphobia are dear to my psyche. Zonbi is a nonnumbered, nongendered noun or adjective, and a label that wants no definite or indefinite article, per se.

The descriptive access method is an in-scene composition mode that receives unfiltered reflections from a focal insider looks outward and inward, chronologically or nonlinearly experiences and describes sensations and emotions direct and here and now, unfiltered, stage-front focal viewpoint agonist, rather than filtered through a narrator, real writer, implied writer, thought, or memory viewpoint.

Prose method flashcards:

For a mnemonic device, these are extant prose composition modes: Description, Introspection, Action, Narration, Emotion, Sensation, Summarization, Exposition, Conversation, Recollection, Explanation, Transition: DIANE'S SECRET.

Sensation, emotion, description, action, conversation, and introspection emphases, in that sequence of priority, as apt and practical as an occasion wants, emphasize in-scene, now moment, unfiltered, focal descriptive dramatic movement. Recollection is thought and memory filtered. Narrator or writer or both filters any of the above, though emphasizes narration, summarization, and explanation filters.

Further, three facets of drama, Antagonism, Causation, and Tension: ACT; and types of prose emphasis, Setting, Plot, Idea, Character, Event, Discourse: SPICED.

Together: DIANE'S SECRET SPICED ACT. Act up, act out, act on the sacred prose page.

Narrative types, per L. Rust Hills, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, Energetic, Philosophic, Lyric, and movement sequence segments, Preparation, Suspension, Resolution, related to tension entrainment through antagonism and causation development.

Types of dramatic movement per Aristotle, simple plot, complex plot. Complex plots entail the dramatic pivots readers crave, also known as plot twists, turns.

Story shape types, per Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction, Façade, Juggling, Iceberg, Last Lap, Trauma, Specimen, Gathering, A Day in the Life of, Onion, Journey, Visitation, Aha!, Bear at the Door, Snapshot, Blue Moon, Explosion.

Generic themes per Laura Patten, An Individual and -- Nature, Society, the Gods or Government, Human Relations, Growth and Initiation, Time, Death, Alienation.

Types of temporal starts, Ab Ovo, from the egg, In Medias Res, into the middle of things, and Ultimas Res, the end of things.

Might as well mention narrative distance, a measure of the degree of closeness between narrator filter and unfiltered viewpoint agonist here and now: detached, remote, middle distance, close, danger close. Danger close is of most personal, intimate, private reader appeal for most audiences. Which are any one of three of Damon Knights forty-plus narrative points of view, per Creating Short Fiction. Plus, of course, worth the while, our host Orson Scott Card's several descriptive mannerism prose composition guidance texts.
Harlan Ellison, The Chronicles of a Boy and His Dog, 1969, inspired the Disney motion picture A Boy and His Dog, 1975, Don Johnson male lead, macabre humor both, and sublime subtext about presumed self-privilege.

[ January 11, 2019, 01:06 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Are plants subject to zonbi contamination, too? Not done yet. Only mammals? No dulses, amoeba, fish, insect, reptile, or bird life? Bird life, yes, in Resident Evil. Imperishable foodstuffs are possible sources, canned and dried, yes. Much natural forage and game otherwise -- if a post-zonbi apocalypse survivor has the wherewithal.

Dulses, though prescriptively red algae, may be brown or blue, green, or blue-green, is Soylent Green, blue-green algae, spirulina, cultured on human remains, no default biological carryover, only toxic chemical and heavy metal contamination potentials. Peasant fare of old: dulses and pulses and oats and dairy; algae, legume, hardiest grain, and animal lactate, respectively, a rare piece of beef or pork fat and gristle or game ungulant or fowl or fish offal for actual, complete meat protein.

A legume, grain, algae, and dairy diet is actually nutritionally complete, though dreary dull. For ovo-lacto vegans, algae-based protein portion increase completes legume and grain partial proteins, substitutes for milk suckers' dairy whey and casein proteins' simpler, complete metabolic activity. Egg is a complete protein in and of itself, though incomplete nutrition. Raw aquatic animal foodstuffs, though, detract from nutrition as much as provide nutrition.
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
I saw the army of the dead last week and I ran in the opposite direction to get out of the city with only a minor incident, but they’d found a new source of food here by way of a handful of people cowering behind the walls of department stores and in the basements of these office buildings.
When you read this it works, because in reality, this is you transcribing yourself telling the story aloud. That can’t work because verbal storytelling is a performance art, where how you tell the story counts as much, perhaps more, than what you say. But none of that performance makes it to the page. You can tell us that a given person shouted or whispered a line, but you can’t make the reader know how the narrator speaks their lines. And given that this is all narration, that expressive voice you hear as you read is replaced, in the reader's mind, by a monotone, modified only by what the punctuation, and what the reader knows of the story, suggests. And making that worse, it’s not what the words suggest based on your intent, it’s based on the reader’s background and experience, which you can’t know.

As you read the words you cheat. You know where we are in time and space. The reader only knows what you make them know. You know what’s going on. And you know whose skin we wear. The reader knows none of that. So for you it works, and you fill in all the blanks, because for you the line is a pointer to images, people, story, and more, that lives in your mind.

For the reader? The line is a pointer to images, people, story, and more, that lives in your mind. See the problem? You’re trying to use the sticks of verbal storytelling in a medium that reproduces neither sound nor picture.

In short, you need to dig into the tricks and techniques of fiction-writing for our medium. Your local library’s fiction-writing department can be a huge help in that.

A subject also worth noting (and related to the above problem) is that a sentence, in general, has one subject. This fifty-eight word run-on is stuffed with subjects. There’s what was seen; what was done because of it; the result of the action vis-à-vis safety; a dissertation on zombie food-sources; and a list of places where they hunt.

The short version: Dig into the tricks of the profession. As Mark Twain observed: “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.”
Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
Jay, I must be a rare animal, in that I don't read anything in monotone. :-)
I can definitely see numerous subjects being an issue in one sentence. I think I was trying to get the world out of the way. I'm pretty sure I could start this at the last line of the 13 and establish the story. I'll be doing that shortly.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
I don't read in monotone either; I'm an actor, of sorts. Words on the page are like voices.

I coulda been a contender, every theatre company within 20kms wants me in their production. There's just one small problem, stage fright. Arrrgh!


Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
Phil, I'm terrible in front of a crowd. I can sing, play instruments, etc. Acting is something I can only do in front of a microphone, in a windowless studio, by myself.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
I hear voices, many from multitudes, imitate more than a few. However, mine own voice is so distinctive that blind submissions are declined, ineligible due to obviously me.

Always have butterflies at first for public performances, though well-attuned to accomplished public performance otherwise. Isn't life a performance, after all?
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
Jay, I must be a rare animal, in that I don't read anything in monotone.
Okay, try this:

"Sam, you truly are a bastard." Assume that's the first line of a novel. How did you read it? As deadly insult? As high praise? How about a doctor giving the result of a DNA test? All three of them work, in the proper situation, as do an infinite shades of nuance, based on the situation—which you can't know as you read it when presented that way. And that is exactly the situation your reader faces with the opening you presented. Someone they know nothing about is talking about something for which they context. Do you really believe that the words "army of the dead," has the same meaning to your reader—who just arrived—as for you, without having been given context?

When I read the six words I posted they are in precisely the tone my protagonist is speaking or hearing them in, because my intent for the line drives my understanding. But it cannot drive yours because intent does not, and can not, make it to the page.

The only thing that can place emotion into what we read is the emotion inherent to the words, the punctuation, what we know of the situation, and what the words suggest, based on our own personal background and preconceptions.

So while you may have "heard" emotion in the words I posted, it's what you assigned, based on your preconceptions, not what I intended. Only if I make you know the situation as the protagonist does can the emotion you "hear" be related to what the protagonist is feeling as the words are uttered. If the reader isn't feeling what the protagonist is feeling, as-the-words-are-read you're telling the reader about the story, second-hand, not showing them that story unfolding in real-time. Have your computer read your opening aloud to hear how different what the reader gets is from what you intend.

Only then, by making the reader share the adventure with the protagonist moment-by-moment, can you entertain that reader. Leave that out—tell them a story as an external reporter—and it's as boring as any other report.
Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
Jay, I'm not sure what you're getting at.

Much in the same way, "Sam, you truly are a bastard." reads a certain way to me, Army of the dead will read differently to each reader. For the purposes of this story, that's totally acceptable. But I think that'd be a good deal clearer if you were able to read on. But whereas the context that would follow "Sam, you truly are a bastard" might give more clues as to the character's meaning, the army of the dead is simply that, an army of the dead.

The purpose of the army of the dead being mentioned is to introduce the world, or what is left of it. It doesn't matter to the story what kind of army of the dead it is. Rage Zombies, 28 Days Zombies, World War Z, GoT, etc. Any of these types will serve the purpose.
Posted by Princesisto (Member # 11113) on :
1. The first sentence is too long and will turn off the reader. They want a short, sharp shock.

2. Start with taking down one soldier with the axe.

3. Second sentence should start "I had nearly made it ...".

4. This is the counterpoint to the usual problem of too much introduction. There is no introduction. Hand-to-hand combat with no idea why. Take down the first soldier but then somehow tell us why the protagonist is there. Give us an idea what the story is about.

[ February 25, 2019, 09:18 PM: Message edited by: Princesisto ]
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Are the numbered sentences part of the 13 lines or feedback on the story beginning?
Posted by Princesisto (Member # 11113) on :
Sorry, Kathleen, it had pieces of the original poster's text left in it. It's fixed up now.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Thank you, Princesisto.
Posted by Mandalore49 (Member # 11204) on :

I love the title. Since it seems to be about the dog, I do like the idea someone brought up of having the story be about the relationship between the man and the zombie dog. Either way - whether it is a cutesy, zany tale or a serious zombie thriller - I think it has potential.

Word limits are always difficult for me (if you haven't noticed from my posts). It's tough to condense, though I find that condensing the story helps me to recognize details that are more or less significant than others. It also makes me more aware of flow.

For me, the long sentences packed with information did not have a cohesive enough structure or subject to achieve a smooth flow. Thinking about authors that do long sentences well, for example: David Foster Wallace (in my opinion), the sentences in question always have a strong and steady subject. They revolve around a central idea, and though they might break off in tangents, they always find their way back to the original point. Your first couple of sentences contain a slew of details about multiple subjects. I forget what I'm reading halfway through and have to go back to re-read. While this isn't a deal-breaker, it definitely makes it a little hard to get into. This is, by the way, all being said with the recognition of this piece's status as an early draft.

Someone said something earlier in the thread about limiting the emotional/interpretive responses of the readers. That conversation sort of piqued my interest, and it reminded me of a bit of writing C. S. Lewis did about sentence structure and emphasis. He was talking about the process of transcribing his WWII radio shows into a literary format that would eventually become the books: On Christianity, The Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters. He noted that in early drafts of the books he had used italics to set apart words for emphasis, but found he did not like doing so as it seemed like a cheap fix to a more fundamental problem. In his mind, the reason the italics had to be employed was that the prose of speaking did not fit the prose style required for the page. So, in subsequent drafts, he re-wrote sections so that the order and selection of words would provide emphasis without the need for italics.

What I think I'm trying to get at through this probably incredibly confusing and probably irrelevant post is that at some deeper level (that I in no way profess to know anything about, personally), great writers find ways to restrict (or perhaps mold) their readers' experience so that, accounting for individual variation, the most accurate form of the writer's original intent is recognized and understood. And I do understand your argument that every reader will experience something in a different way, but I think that art - because it is a creation of the artist and in some way (I think) an argument from the artist about their interpretation of the world - it should contain some clear, intrinsic message or perspective that is collectively shared by readers of the work, regardless of their infinite differences in background and experience.

That's my two cents, anyway. I hope your drafts are going well and that you're having fun with this fun zombie epic [Smile]

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