This is topic The Shaper's Song in forum Fragments and Feedback for Books at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by rabirch (Member # 9832) on :
This novel was started for NaNoWriMo last year, and I'm finally starting to get back into working on it. As it stands, it's about 54k written, and I'm trying to figure out how it ends.

In the meantime, I'm trying to give some attention to the beginning as well, because I wrote it in a giant rush without much focus on anything besides WORDS!!!

What I'm looking for here is whether this opening would be enough to encourage a reader to turn the page. Any other comments are, of course, welcome, but mostly I just need to know whether there's enough of an enticement to read a little further.



Miranda Ellison rested the back of her hand on her brother's forehead and frowned. "You're burning up, Andrew."

Andrew pulled the blanket up under his chin. "Tell me something I don't know." A reddish flush stood out on his pale cheeks and a glassy sheen filmed his blue eyes.

The digital clock on their cabin wall displayed 08:15 ship's time. The familiar hum of the Artemis' engines felt unusually loud. Miranda bit the side of her lip.

"You have to go if you're going to be on time for your training," Andrew said.

"I know, but I don't like leaving you here alone."

Andrew was only ten years old. She wouldn't want to leave him by himself even if his legs worked like everyone else's.
Posted by Disgruntled Peony (Member # 10416) on :
There are some minor suggestions I could make for the prose, but I like the overall pacing of the lines. You give a good feel for character and setting. There's also a starting conflict and/or sense of urgency right there in the opening (although, because this is a novel, I'm willing to bet that it's tangentially related at best to the main conflict of the story). I would read on.
Posted by rabirch (Member # 9832) on :
Very helpful, thank you, Peony!
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An elder sister attends an ill brother and an urgent appointment calls her away.

A stronger part of the fragment is that it includes event, setting, and character introductions, introduces a milieu, a minor complication, and a vague moral charge. Emotionally, though, the fragment is flat, and the action is static routine. The language is also of a routine everyday conversational manner; and, the action could be anywhere aboard any vessel. The intent might be a starship or an ocean freightliner or tramp steamer.

The larger shortfall for me is the narrative distance overall is remote, as if a verbatim summary of the sights and sounds of a film watched and reported by a disinterested and indifferent viewer.

If the narrative intent is that of a detached narrator, the narrator's personal attitude toward a subject or topic of the moment is crucial for engagement. That is the sixth and most important creative composition sensation: emotional feeling.

If the narrative intent is close distance to a viewpoint character, the character's personal attitude toward a subject or topic is crucial. The fragment straddles a fence between those two and expresses no attitude one way or the other.

Part of the language consideration for me is the sentences' syntax is similar and as if an uninvolved narrator report. For example, "Miranda Ellison rested the back of her hand on her brother's forehead and frowned." Remote report. Syntax: name, action, object acted upon object, and, in this case, an other action.

Grammatically correct on its surface, the "true subject" is other than the named subject actor. The matter is the sentence tells a visual and tactile sensation summary of four objects and two actions: Miranda, hand, brother, forehead; touch and frown. The next sentence, the dialogue line, gives the true subject of the sentence; that is, Andrew is fevered. For an opening sentence, the attitude intensity is low due to the straightforward report of the sensations that implies nothing out of which to imagine sensation.

A simple though complex protocol for reader engagement is, engage intellect, engage imagination, engage emotion, thus, engage readers. Implications that ask for intellect, imagination, and emotional engagement serve the engagement function. Plus "true subject" focuses on portrayed sensations, if a sensation is indicated. Opening sentences usually involve sensation, if not always -- foremost, emotional sensation engagement.

"True subject" is a complex grammatical principle that challenges writers. "True subject" is a matter of what a sentence's main idea really is, and likewise a paragraph, a subsection, section, scene segment, scene, chapter, a composition overall.

The above sentence describes an action though the true subject is a sensation, to me anyway. The intent is Miranda feels if Andrew has a fever. "Feels" is a tactile sensation. The sensation is personal to Miranda. Show would instead describe the tactile sensation from her interior perceptions. Or, the narrator would describe the personal-to-the-narrator emotional import of the moment.

Tactile sensations pose difficult show challenges, to compose and to read. Tactile sensations are lower sensation priority than visual and aural though more intimate and immediate than visual and aural sensation, except for vision, hearing, or both, challenged persons. Thus visual and aural appeal potentials. That visual, aural, tactile sensation order entails a sequence progression that suits a creative composition structure: first, visual; second, aural, third, tactile; fourth, olfactory; fifth, gustatory; sixth and most pivotal, emotional feeling. Plus sensation combination variations thereof. For example, visual, then tactile, then emotional feeling. Stronger appeals, though, come from if visual is simultaneously emotionally charged at the moment.

Not that that sensation sequence is imperative, rather that out-of-natural-sequence progressions are more challenging to write and read and such that they suit the purpose and intent of the moment.

Bluntly, that the fragment largely tells, to me, is due to a sensation and response sequence shortfall.

Another simultaneous sequence progression matter is tension building, and how: prepare, suspend, delay, build timely anticipation, and timely satisfy the complication of the immediate-now moment, and make some small progress toward satisfying an overall main complication. Then the next sequence restarts and builds upon prior sequences' drama: preparation, suspension and anticipation, and satisfaction.

At the start of a narrative raw draft composition, these above matters flow intuitively and oftentimes awkwardly. Rearrangement orders a sequence progression during revision phases. And once practiced in revision, informs the next raw draft composition -- writing skill growth progression.
The progression as written is, after she touches his forehead, Miranda sees Andrew is fever-flushed. Meanwhile, an urgent appointment calls Miranda away. This is all routine and, to me, out of a natural and dramatic sequence.

Visual sensations draw attention, draw, in this case, Miranda closer to Andrew. Oh no! His cheeks are beet red. (Preparation segment, visual sensation, emotional charge.) Is her poor brother sick? (Suspension, delay, anticipation, emotional response) She sits beside him on the berth bed, anxiously, touches his forehead. A fever burns in her brother. He's sick; he is in trouble. She has to go away immediately and, frustratingly, cannot give him the care and nurturing she wants to and he needs. She decides she could leave Andrew alone for the time she needs to be away. (Satisfaction of the moment, emotional response, though fever implies illness to be satisfied later, one way or the other, further suspension and anticipation.)

However, that sequence for the start does little to develop any complication introductions that the title might imply. The Shaper's Song. I've opened the novel submission, read the title and the first thirteen lines, and have no idea what the novel is about in any regard, its tangible complication nor its intangible complication -- the latter more crucial. Kinship affection is implicated and vague, that's all.

I would not read on. I would at this time send a form decline for the submission.

On a side note, writers submit and, frustratingly, receive back a form decline notice. These above comments are meant to, in my regard, address a few reasons for why a submission might be declined. That's my approach to critique; that is, provide thoughts for consideration that the marketplace does not, will not, and cannot.
Posted by rabirch (Member # 9832) on :
Lots of useful stuff, Extrinsic. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
As the opening for a novel this beginning feels rushed to me. We are thrown into a situation without knowing anything about the players or what's at stake (The fevered brow of the boy, perhaps?). Has this been going on for a while, has it just started, is it serious, where are they both going, why are they going there, what sort of ship are they on: Interplanetary Spaceship, FTL Starship, yacht, cruise liner sailing the ocean blue?

There, there's my two cents worth and it's different from all the others so far. Am I right or are they? Neither. We are expressing opinions based on our own preferences, likes, dislikes, and writing foibles; it is up to you to winnow out the chaff and decide what works for you. [Smile]

Posted by rabirch (Member # 9832) on :
Thanks, Phil. I appreciate the alternative perspective. [Smile]

Definitely agree that the kind of ship (generation ship, as it happens) is highly unclear. It's always a balancing act between having enough info and overstuffing the first 13. So difficult!
Posted by dmsimone (Member # 10502) on :
The thing that immediately hooked me was the very last sentence. I already knew Andrew was feverish but that last line revealed that Andrew is ten years old and possibly can't walk. This pulled at me because my son is nine so I instantly related to Miranda's predicament. I wondered if she was his mother? His sister?

There were some small grammatical things that stood out to my inexperienced eye, but otherwise I would 100% read more.
Posted by M.D. Nelson (Member # 10503) on :
Coming in late (as usual...) but I find the situation interesting. Why are they on a ship? Why can't the boy walk on his own? There are immediate questions and the promise of something to come.

I would probably read on for a few more pages, just to see how things progressed.

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