This is topic Thiranos: Born of Fire in forum Fragments and Feedback for Books at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
This is the first 13 lines of my completed 75,000 word new adult manuscript. I need feedback on how to make the beginning more gripping. I also would like some people to beta read it for me or help edit. This is 13 lines based on how it is set up in my Word document (so I hope its acceptable!) Thank you!

The wind shifted. The new current brought wisps of an ever familiar scent to the young predator that lay in waiting. She tasted the air allowing the scent to wash into the back of her throat and remain there, allowing her to retain the identifying mark she knew all too well. Her eyes scanned the area from her perch behind the statue. Flitting this way and that, she filtered through the others of her prey’s species. Meaningless, they only meant to serve as a distraction to her as she sought the one on which she impatiently waited.

And she saw him. His backpack slung haphazardly over his shoulder, he strode heavily towards her on the sidewalk, cracked with years of the comings and goings of region’s residents. Although slender and tall, almost a head taller than

[ February 03, 2017, 12:26 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
to the young predator that lay in waiting.
Is she's intelligent, it's "who lay in waiting." In general, things and animals are "that," people are "who."

That aside, why not name her? If she's our protagonist and our POV character, shouldn't we be on a first name basis?
allowing her to retain the identifying mark she knew all too well.
Why go into all that detail when it's meaningless, as yet, to the reader? She might know all to well, but the reader doesn't. And anything for which the reader doesn't have context may slow the narrative to no gain in reader enjoyment. And by expressing it this way, you place yourself as the focus, telling the reader what you visualize happening rather than making the reader experience it as her.

The problem with the narrator being center stage is that while you can tell us how she might speak a line, we have no idea of how the narrator speaks their line when telling the story aloud. Then, the emotion you place into it makes a great deal of difference in how the reader perceives the action. But since you can't place a tag on the narrator's lines telling the reader you spoke a line forcefully, or in a whisper, the emotion the performance might add is missing. Have the computer read the lines aloud and you'll hear it.
Her eyes scanned the area from her perch behind the statue.
This line is a perfect example of what I mean. As an outside observer you tell the reader what you see. But what good does it do a reader to know that someone we know nothing about, who is in an unknown place, for unknown reason, behind a statue of some kind, is looking around? Why waste time telling the reader that, when you could tell the reader what she sees? Isn't her looking around inherent to that? Do we care what kind of hiding place she chose, at this point?

And in any case, since she apparently doesn't notice anything of significance, why do I, as a reader, care that she looks around? It's as meaningful to the scene as had you reported that she scratched her ear or farted.
Flitting this way and that, she filtered through the others of her prey’s species
Because you're in the position of telling the story, and do that from a position of knowledge, this line is meaningful as you read it. But the reader doesn't yet know where we are in time and space. They don't know what's going on. And, they don't know whose skin we wear. Given that, what can "her prey's species" mean to your reader?

Without context the words have no meaning. And given that your goal is to entertain the reader, you're placing yourself at a disadvantage by using an outside-in approach.

I may have seemed cruel, but nothing I've said has to do with good or bad writing, your talent and potential, or the story. It's purely about the writing techniques of fiction that no one in our schoolday years mentioned as existing. There, they teach us to use an outside in approach because it's central to nonfiction writing, which our future employers want us to have. But its goal is to inform the reader, so it's author-centric and fact based. But fiction's goal is to entertain by triggering emotional responses within the reader. They don't want to know the protagonist is in love. They want you to make them fall in love, for the same reasons the protagonist does.

And that's a damn tough job. We must make someone we will never meet, who is probably of a different age group, cultural area, background, and even gender, laugh, cry, respond with anger and more, only by the choice and placement of our words.

Can we do it with what we learned in English class, or even an undergrad semester in a CW class? Hell no. Our medium differs from others and so has its own set of imperatives and restrictions, which we must know if we're to write to best advantage.

They're not all that hard to learn, but without them we're in the position that Mark Twain commented on 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.” So putting some time aside to dig into those tricks-of-the-trade would seem to be well worth the time.

Sorry to have hit you with all this, but I think, once you add a few tricks the publishers will smile on, and get them running smoothly, you'll wonder why you didn't see them for yourself.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
A predator waits in ambush for prey, selects one.

The sense of smell use is a standout of the fragment, an uncommon inspiration and potentially potent if deftly managed. I don't think it is as artfully developed in the fragment as best practice asks. The olfactory sensations are paraphrased instead of verbatim described, so to speak, or, they are told in a summary and explanation paraphrase manner.

Close narrative distance is potentially strong from verbatim sensory description, in the immediate now moment and received reflection of sensation by a narrator, who drops away somewhat and a narrative becomes the viewpoint agonist's direct report of present sense impressions. The event, the setting's time, place, and situation, and characters become the portrait's experience for readers, not filtered through a narrator's experience from a remote distance. But for the paraphrased descriptions . . .

One sensation paraphrase example from the fragment unpacked: "The new current brought wisps of an ever familiar scent to the young predator that lay in waiting."

What scent? Why is it "ever familiar"? The adverb "ever" an emotionally empty modifier. The position of the viewpoint persona in the second clause position is a strong instinct for secondary emphasis priority arts though creates an artless "that" conjunction and preposition-spliced run-on sentence. Meantime, distracts from verbatim scent description delivery. How does the scent smell? Is a simile warranted, like the smell of death's decayed flesh? Or a direct scent, say, of man musk and sweat, or of scorched garlic and stale paper ashes? Or a metaphor, the tender meat scent of clean refuse -- another hunter's displeasure, this hunter's pleasure? (Metalepsis)?

Poetic prose equipment entails, not rhyme or rhythm, per se, maybe does involve accentual emphasis, rather, trope and scheme rhetoric that express more than at first meets the eye and no less inferable at the reading moment, through an economy of words.

And what kind of predator creature is this? The sense I get is a feline. Oh no, I'm distracted by the thought this is a house kitty who plays at the stalk and will be disappointed the stalk is pretend, after investment in and anticipation of a genuine hunt of violent intents. Or is the hunter less interested in meat and more interested in some other perhaps intangible want, say the prey's soul? I don't know; I'm so what? Why should I care? Oh yeah? like I cannot believe. (Willing suspension of disbelief spoiled.) And huh? confused about what the substantive action of the moment is.

The word "current" of the second sentence is apt though sets up a promise of liquid fluidity descriptions for the air movement sensation. "The wind shifted." is bland in that sense, and sensorily and emotionally empty.

Perhaps a tidal metaphor, or similar trope, would connect the sentences, paragraphs, and fragment together and imply sensations and their essential close, private, and strong emotional meaning, plus imply a time elapsed, as though a longer time passed, as time passes through events, settings, and characters and takes a toll, and as hunters wait for the opportune moment when an air is favorable.

For illustration:

//Idle breezes ebbed and flowed. The young predator lay for ambush within a silent eddy. Soft gusts washed up prey aromas. The flood streamed clean, tender meat scents. She drank the blood, fresh sweat, and salt airs of him. . . .//

Extended metaphor, mostly robust and dynamic metaphoric verbs, is the poetic equipment therein, some alliteration and consonance, too, "S" word sounds that emulate soft breezes and gusts' sounds onomatopoeia-like.

(The Muse forbids poets' use of the four-letter word for air movement, by the way. Not a hard and fast must abide law, per se, only that the word is an easy first resort. The Muse's edict means consider more artful poetic equipment.)

This is a run-on, too: "She tasted the air[,] allowing the scent to wash into the back of her throat and remain there, allowing her to retain the identifying mark she knew all too well." Plus, likewise, a punctuation error, missing comma, redundant "allowing" use and -ing ring rhyme, and -- well, bland emotionally. The terms "to retain" and "remain" are poor word choices for emotional sensation expression purposes, (emotional feeling, the sixth and foremost human sensation essential for artful prose). And the sentence's tense shifts are wild and untamed: past, present progressive, infinitive, simple present, present progressive, infinitive, and past tense.

"New adult," or, more apt, early adult, in congruence with middle adult and late adult prose marketplace categories, entails distinct conventions from the others, includes young adult's separate convention distinctions, the prior age phase. Those two conventions are, significant independence from family and guardian supervision and, more so, an age when youths are most prone to free exploration and experimentation development of independent identity and not as bound by full adulthood self-responsibility's demands. Free to the point of utter abandon youthful indiscretion and nonetheless restrained by social conventions and held fully accountable and adult consequences for egregious misconduct are hallmarks of early adult literature. The age is of free, independent trial and error, and responsible behavior learning from those, mindful adult consequences will ensue for misconduct.

I see no clue or cue for early adult in the fragment. I anticipate little to none will arise, due to an oversight of early adult implication criteria. How does a hunt express or imply early adult? That question could be answered in the fragment's action by a self-error, a first prey missed, for example, due to an unfavorable breeze, unknown to the hunter at the moment yet obvious to readers. The choice of the ambush location could be smart, spoiled by a wayward and unanticipated breeze. That failure, too, would develop tension's emotionally charged empathy or sympathy and suspense curiosity essentials. Meantime, the hunter next waits for a favorable breeze and suitable target. Perhaps a second, less faulty failure next, before a success?

I believe the start as is rushes toward and forces an unnatural and premature success. Plus, the potential for a too easy hunt treads into writer surrogate territory, when a writer's want-problem contest action intrudes and is of a too self-idealized and self-efficacious type and is not an early adult agonist's natural state of want-problem contest satisfaction competence. Trial and error failures at first most develop tension's emotional and curiosity appeals and all but demand escalated efforts and a succession of consequent failures at first.

The novel's title I cannot connect to the fragment's action. The title, though, is an almost apt expression of an early adult experience. Some more or different yet similar and relatable context and texture development are indicated. Thiranos: Born of Fire, maybe the shortfall is the word "Thiranos"? Not sure if that's a persona or a place. Its word origins are vague, perhaps Greek, Latin, or Spanish, and little connections to contemporary or classic meaning from which to infer meaning. Maybe a remote connection to theranostics: generically, personalized medicine; specifically, in-vitro fertility medicine. "Born of Fire," uses an apt metaphor of birth, or rebirth as such, to mean by self-trial and error's fires is an early adult newly forged and matured into a full adult.

The early adult category is grossly underrepresented in publication and, overall, literature cultures, for that reason, I applaud the effort and decision, if only full, true early adult conventions were realized . . .

More shortfalls, what doesn't work for me, than strengths, what does work for me, in the fragment leave me not reading on as an engaged reader.

[ February 05, 2017, 01:26 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
Hi guys, thanks for the critique. I have revised the section I posted and posted the new version below. Let me know what you think of the revision!

Makenna felt the breeze brush the hair across her face, tickling her ears as she listen carefully to the whirlwind of sounds around her. Dozens of new voices infiltrated her eardrums, bombarding her mind with a cacophony of endless chatter. Even the birds, hidden in the shadows of the trees chittered with the same excitement that pervaded the tones of their human counterparts. Makenna filtered through the dissonance, her focus never wavering as she listened for the unique music of her prey.

Likewise, the zephyr brought wisps of an eternally familiar scent to the young predator as she patiently waited to rendezvous with her quarry. She tasted the air allowing the scent to wash into the back of her throat and remain there. The

[ February 08, 2017, 12:27 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
Makenna felt the breeze brush the hair across her face, tickling her ears as she listen carefully to the whirlwind of sounds around her.
It’s too passive. You, the narrator are talking about her, from your viewpoint, and it’s you noticing things not her. In her viewpoint only one thing matters, the voice of the one she’s chosen as her prey. So for her, the hair is an annoyance, casually brushed aside, and mentioned only as scene setting. In that vein, is there a reason to mention that she’s “carefully” listening? Isn’t everyone careful when they’re listening for something?

And what can a “whirlwind” of sound mean to a reader who doesn’t yet know where we are, what’s going on, and whose skin we’re wearing? Yes, you clarify, but confusion can’t be retroactively erased, so why not supply ongoing context to keep the reader centered on your self-guiding trail as-they-read?

In general, it seems to me that you’re trying to “dress up” the reading and make it exciting by externally applied pizzazz. So she doesn’t just hear conversation, it’s “voices infiltrated her eardrums.” Have you ever had voices infiltrate your eardrums? Such devices slow the narrative for a reader who’s waiting for something to happen.

I think the problem is that if you don’t recognize a given writing problem as a problem it matters not at all how many times you edit, or try to restate, using the same tools that created the problem. Not only will it not be resolved, your frustration will grow and your confidence will slip—all without needing to, if you would address the underlying cause. After all, no matter how hard you work to solve the wrong problem, the effort is wasted.

Try this: Read this article, on one method of presenting a strong character-viewpoint. Chew on it for a while, till it makes sense. Then try redoing a section of prose using it to see the effect. Yes, it’s a rote method, but to learn the waltz you begin with the box step. And once you understand how that approach forces you to think like the protagonist, and how that helps, you can build on the basics and dance.

If, after you play with the technique for a time, it seems like it’s worth pursuing, you may want to pick up the book the article was based on. It’s filled with such things.

Hope this helps.
Posted by H Reinhold (Member # 10553) on :
Hi Michelle. Sorry I didn't get around to responding to the first version. Here are some quick thoughts on the second.

Like Jay, I found that several things in this opening slowed down my reading experience. I find I am much more often hooked by striking, fast-moving opening scenes--not necessarily action scenes, but ones with a clear, decisive voice and fast movement from one idea to another. I found your opening a bit convoluted, and had to read each sentence slowly to get the sense of it--this is turn disengaged me from my reading process. Experimenting with a few shorter, clearer sentences might help. A practice I've found useful is to challenge myself to express the same idea in half the words--of course, it's not always possible, but the exercise forces me to be ruthless about trying to cut out anything that's not essential to my scene.

Another thing I found difficult in this opening was the fact that many things seemed quite abstract. I couldn't put them together easily to visualise or feel the scene. For example, I didn't get a sense of what the voices were like (all the same? human? male, female? happy, angry?), or the birds, or the trees, or where Makenna herself is. I have no sense of the time of day, the temperature, the location (other than that there are trees), or of how many people are present. All this meant that I had real difficulty putting myself into the scene and caring about the outcome.

The situation/idea--main character listening to find her selected pray from among humans--I might well find engaging, but at the moment, I can't picture it. Where is Makenna? The birds are hidden, but is she? Why is she listening rather than looking? What are the humans doing? Why is the event taking place at this particular moment and not another? All these things are still vague to me, and prevent me from engaging with the story.

Another thing that I look for when reading a story opening is strong emotion, or some quirk to connect me to the main character and arouse my sympathy for them and their quest/task/struggle. I'm afraid Makenna's emotion didn't come through to me here. I also didn't get a sense of her personality. I think cutting out just one line of description and trying to use that extra space to show the reader what's going on in her head might be a good idea.

One slightly more specific thing (although you may want to hold off thinking about this until you feel you've figured out the overall opening): the phrase "listen carefully" alongside "whirlwind", I find very disconnecting. If you're listening carefully, my sense is that you're in control of the sounds--at least, you're in control of how they reach your brain. You're not overwhelmed by them, but can filter through them, looking for certain strands that interest you. Indeed, I read later in the opening that Makenna's focus never wavers. Yet the word "whirlwind" (as well as "infiltrating", "bombarding", "cacophony") implies the exact opposite of this: Makenna is experiencing a harsh, confused swirl of out-of-control noises that overwhelm. So, reading, I am confused about Makenna's relationship to the sounds. If she's in control, why mention that it's such a cacophony? If it's such a cacophony, why doesn't it bother, or at least distract her?

As I said, usually it's an interesting setting, situation, or strong viewpoint character emotion that hooks me, and since I didn't feel I got any of these very clearly, I wouldn't at the moment read on engaged.

Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Second version works less for me than the first, more so doesn't work for me. Farther astray is a practical approach in writing to find a bull's-eye center if uncertain where the target lays. The shot group so far is somewhat left and low of an outer target ring, and farther left and lower outside the mark.

My self-absorbed expectations of a narrative matter not one iota; I'm one reader. I am, though, widely read and studied in the field. Which makes me a less than ideal reader audience. I read voraciously and most any genre of a broader-narrower categorization than, say, science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller, mystery, etc., like across age ranges, and types within and crossover mergers: invasion, hunt, quest, confinement, manners, edict, discovery, lyrical, philosophical, energetic, narrated and non-narrated, lecture, portrait, event anecdote, setting and milieu vignette, character sketch. So many types.

Plus, I've studied exhaustively narratology and dramatic theory texts, and most any topic as well.

Ergo, an ideal audience target can be inferred from what they read and engage with narrative-wise. Who is this novel's target audience? Early adult, says the preamble. What do they read that engages them? If fantasy, have at it; what specifically about fantasy, though, defines the explicit target audience?

What is the novel really about that is an exploration and motion portrait of a life-complication human condition relevant to early adults? Such that the audience can be narrowly defined as one reader's life and reading focus.

My sensibilities aside, novel-length narratives entail a dramatic event sequence, one and only one, though more than one side event action might parallel a main action for a novel.

A dramatic event sequence portrays a want-problem discovery, efforts to satisfy the want-problem, and an unequivocal, irrevocable want-problem satisfaction outcome, of a magnitude that suits a narrative's length, mindful that structure best practice is disguised so as not to telegraph the plot and outcome or appear formulaic.

The first part, discovery, asks for, if not insists upon, an Out-of-whack event. From "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction": "Out-of-whack event. In Aristotelian drama, the story concerns a character whose stable life is knocked out of whack by an external force. The remainder of the story concerns his attempts to put his life back into whack, and his success or failure. The out-of-whack event inaugurates the struggle.

"Commonly[,] the out-of-whack event occurs at the novel’s opening (e.g. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, Valentine Michael Smith is brought to Earth; or Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber, Corwin recovers his powers but not his memory). It may already be in the past (e.g. Silverberg, The Man in the Maze, the aliens tamper with Muller’s brain to broadcast evil emotions).

"If the out-of-whack event is delayed too long, the story seems to move slowly. 'Shoot the sheriff on page 1.' (CSFW: David Smith)"

Or in Hollywood parlance, "Cut to the chase," a term co-opted from printer culture. "Out-of-whack" event is also Jerome Stern's "Bear at the door" shape, from Writing Shapely Fiction, or more broadly, routine interrupted. An external force is not an Aristotlean drama's core out-of-whack event, though. The core of the type is a moral self-error due to an internal force, explicitly, a personal want.

I see several items in the Glossary that offer potent guidance for how to develop drama, many that specifically apply to this novel, its opening anyway -- all about what works and what doesn't work for narratives overall -- about this novel opening, too.

Alas, though, the Glossary only scratches at the edges of drama's true core essentials. Foremost among them is antagonism's causal want-problem persuasions which upset emotional equilibrium, for good or ill, for agonists and readers. Want-problem complication is Antagonal, is Causal, is Tensional -- is dramatic. Note the acronym of those drama essentials is ACT. Like Mom says, Stop antagonizing your sibling! He started it, she backtalks. They ACT up, show their wants and problems and their backside holes, Mom, too. And so on.

Between the Glossary, derived from Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop "common" what works and what doesn't work for a cadre of experienced writers and readers, and "Turkey City Lexicon", likewise from experienced writers and readers, both hosted at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), is a compact wealth of dramatic prose guidance condensed into a few pages, collected together from across narratology culture, ample though not the sum and substance of the whole, and a few misused terms. Well, those terms are the groups' truths to themselves, even if mistaken. The words are taken as they are known within that culture. "Trope," mistaken uses, for one, more like "topos" or "cliché" motifs, respectively.

I offer those articles for consideration, not as assignment. Hatrack only offers, doesn't assign work. The well is there for any who would drink.

Another exercise for consideration, part alluded to in the Glossary's "Film it" item, is location scouts. Scout locations that fit the events and settings of a narrative's milieu, experience them in person in real time, the time, place, and situation of a scene segment. Gameland is a potent place to experience a hunt, for example, off season so as not to run afoul of hunters. Or a retail mall, if that's the place; malls are opportune locations for character observations, like that they mall crawl to satisfy a want-problem.

In an absence of a suitable location scout, maps will serve, sketched or studied or both. Scene landscape drawings and sketches, too. This is event, setting, and character research for prose writers, when they have little or no personal experience of a dramatic circumstance from which to draw or cannot visit where an intended event setting's time, place, and situation is set.

Take notes, note light conditions, weather conditions, air movement, flora and fauna, behaviors and traits, note natural history circumstances, like soil conditions, wetness or dryness of the setting, age change and impacts upon a setting, like a wildfire that happened some time before, or flood, or human impacts, and how time runs through those, note anything of note. Note personal responses to the stimuli. Note which circumstances are most personally evocative.

An exercise for consideration -- not a mandated assignment imperative. Study of the Glossary and Lexicon and location scouts are apt for jump starts to full realization anyway, rather than wander "through a mirror, darkly." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

[ February 10, 2017, 12:33 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
Thanks for all of the help. I'm trying to really figure out how to apply what you guys are wanting to see in my first 13 lines. In layman's terms, I feel like you are wanting me to be more succinct and to the point. I'm struggling with the hook...
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Concise and to the point, can work. On the other hand, a guidance is to lavish attention on the literal and the figurative will follow. The now posted query contains a summary of the literal action for the novel. The figurative by definition is abstract and, ergo, elusive for writer and reader alike.

Commercial fiction compared to other fiction contains little to no extended abstract meaning. Yet figurative meaning differentiates similar countless stories told and retold across time without any major changes, and adds depth of meaning that amplifies appeals. Those repackaged though not re-purposed narratives are Thematically Redundant (see the Glossary). A potential thematic redundancy for this novel is an oft repeated story of undiscovered orphan royalty discovered, no matter how "royal" a persona actually is. Oliver Twist, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, Star Wars, The Matrix. Makenna is The One.

The query portrays a predator who is also prey. The other major thematic devices are a wanted shapeshifter scion of a demon lord and at college in the mundane realm.

"Hook" is a shorthand term for engage readers quickly. Not much else, and seriously shortchanged for how to do so. Many ways how possible. A key is dramatically engage the viewpoint agonist quickly and urgently in a life-changing event. This is the "hook" point gotten to as soon as practical. A life-changing problem to start with is often a best practice "hook" approach, rather than a want "hook," per se, maybe contemporaneous problem-want "hook" introduction.

Makenna's main problems described in the query are she's a canine-type shapeshifter and her demon lord grandfather _wants_ her home. Other personas' wants problematize a viewpoint agonist's life and offer tension appeals, from sympathy or empathy due to external forces that make a persona's life difficult. That's a less challenging and potentially more appealing to write start complication appeal than that Makenna is a shapeshifter and predator, which would naturally and necessarily follow next in sequence, a discovery and reversal due to the first discovery and reversal that she's hunted because she's a wanted scion of the demon lord.

First emergence of Makenna's canine features could come third in sequence and be more dramatic at third place than at first or second. That unequivocally confirms she's a scion of a demon lord, in spite of her _want_ for it to be not true and that Scotty insists is true, much to her dismay. Where Brady fits that sequence is as an expected routine of Makenna's normative life plan before her demon canine life intrudes.

I see a strong potential for the novel's abstract action suited to early adult cognitive aptitudes -- given two competing suitors of competing interests and an obstinate, possessive grandfather; however, that's a projection and potentially could usurp creative ownership, an absolute no-no for anyone other than a narrative's writer creator.

[ February 10, 2017, 04:01 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
What do you mean by "usurp creative ownership?" To my knowledge I haven't copied anyone's idea...
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
I mean a critic, editor, commenter, etc., responding to a work in progress must not usurp creative ownership of a writer's creative vision by imposing her or his creative vision on the writer's.
Posted by M.J. Larsen (Member # 10572) on :
It seems like a simple thing has been made complicated.
Just a few thoughts.

I thought Makenna was some type of animal or fowl to be perching. Then she is identified as a person.

How is smell important? Does the man with the backpack have an unpleasant odor or strong cologne?

I got lost in the sensory details - overpowering to me as well as your character.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
I find both of your opening versions meaningless. By this I mean there seems not to be any reason to start where you are starting: An unknown, non-human creature is hunting a specific human being in a crowd. Discounting all the over-wrought description about scent and sound, why is she hunting him?

It's more than just that single why: what sets this human apart from all the others, why is he so special to this unknown creature that she seeks him out and hunts him down, and why does she need him? All of these questions indicate to me that you have either started your story too late, or with the wrong viewpoint character.

For me, starting with this viewpoint character necessitates opening the story with a dramatic want the reader can relate to. What does she need a human for, and why this particular one? If, however, you started the story from the viewpoint of the prey (the human) all of these questions can be revealed as the narrative unfolds. Also, opening with the prey allows you to instil some tension and mystery, for example: I swear I saw something. Just now, out of the corner of my eye. Ah! It was just a shadow; a bike messenger weaving through the traffic, maybe. Wait! What's that sound?

Just a quick idea I hope might help. [Smile]

Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
Thanks for the additional comments! Keep them coming!

I'll admit, it's hard to include everything you all are suggesting in the first thirteen lines. Much of what you all are asking about is answered soon after the first thirteen lines. I don't want to reveal anything too soon, but I want to make the reader engaged to read on.

To try to get some help, I'll briefly explain the background of why I wrote this passage this way.

Basically, Makenna is waiting to meet her childhood friend, who happens to be going to the same college as her. They selected a point of rendezvous, but she wanted to jump out and surprise him. Because she likes to mess with him.

I wanted it to allude to the fact that she is a predator despite not knowing it yet. She has always had heightened senses and physical abilities (running, jumping, etc...) which she just thought were her unique talents. The sense of smell becomes important later because she find that is how she tracks demons and people. It's the way she sees the world, heavily relying on scent.

So, in all that, how am I supposed to make something like that appealing to the read but not quite reveal anything as of yet.

Would it be better to start out right off the bat her hunting a demon then go back and explain how it happened? She meets her first demon in the second chapter. The first chapter is just setting all of the characters up as well as the situation.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Need to introduce Makenna's routine about to be deeply interrupted and first Brady introduction fits a pretend-hunt scenario. However, the pretend hunt scenario, practice, actually, for later when real hunts arise, and a potent implication of events to come, best practice is given right up front as soon as practical, not withheld, so readers are clued in to what Makenna knows and intends beforehand. That could be a strong start place, so long as Makenna's motivations of the moment are clear up front. Little at stake at the moment, though. What then does Makenna have to gain and lose? What's at stake at the moment? That's essential, too.
Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
Extrinsic, I wrote the following before I read your post. Here's another draft of the beginning. It's a different approach that introduces the reader to a potential conflict.

Makenna was being watched. She was sure of it. The feeling had plagued her many times before, but despite nothing ever coming of the paranoia, she remained alert to her surroundings. Dozens of faces she did not recognize filed passed her as she took shelter behind the campus statue. Her eyes scanned the area, knowing she would see someone watching her from afar, but all she saw were fellow college freshmen, anxious and excited for their first day. If she had not promised her best friend a rendezvous at the college mascot statue, she would have run back to her dorm or to her uncle’s office to try to shake the feeling.

Her heart drummed in her chest, desperately wanting her friend to arrive. Thump. The hairs on her neck prickled. Thump. The

[ February 13, 2017, 12:20 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Please read "How to tell if it's exactly 13 lines"
Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
Thank you, Kathleen! That helps me out a lot!
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
The newer version, more so than earlier ones, develops complication appeals, which is want-problem motivation, somewhat develops stakes, too, which is congruent to complication. Stakes is conflict, in narrative terms, and a matter of polar opposite forces in contention, whether personas; like hero and villain, or abstract forces, like life and death, related to outcomes.

A few run-on sentences spoil the dramatic effect of the latest version. Conjunctions and comma splices, or other interstitial punctuation marks, plus prepositions, too, mark run-on sentences. Not terminal punctuation, though, periods and such.

This is filibuster expression -- run-on sentences, what, filibuster readers? Hold readers captive by run-on sentences and little else? Politicians and spewing-head gossip news talk shows use the filibuster to bogart the floor, not allow interruption. Not an appealing effect to filibuster readers.

This is filibuster: "The feeling had plagued her many times before, _but_ despite nothing ever coming of the paranoia, she remained alert to her surroundings." Not filibuster: //The _feeling_ had plagued her many times before. Despite _nothing_ ever _coming_ of the paranoia, she remained alert to her _surroundings_. Four unnecessary -ing words, though, five more in the fragment's rest, nine altogether, accumulates an ear-ring-rhyme nuisance. Consider a recast for each and all -ings.

The first sentence is unnecessary passive voice. "Makenna was being watched." [by someone or someones unknown] Passive voice for an opening sentence -- much movement headway spoiled at the outset that then asks for timely redemption. Plus, a passive voice first sentence signals passive voice arts considerations and distractions are likely untamed throughout. Consider a recast.

"Dozens of faces she did not recognize filed passed" Unnecessarily wordy and bland paraphrase, plus, a misspelled word, homonym error, "passed". The faces are of strangers, right? //Strangers filed _past_.// More verbatim and far less wordy, could be more vivid-verbatim visual show, though.

Reconsider every conjunction and serial list, like each "as" and "but" and compound sentence serial lists like "Her eyes scanned the area, knowing she would see someone watching her from afar, _but_ all she saw were fellow college freshmen, anxious and excited for their first day." Another filibuster sentence.

Plus, that's filtered through an unnecessary extra lens. "She scanned," "knowing she," and "but all she saw". Those paraphrase (summarize) visual or other sensations through a writer's lens. Visual items' verbatim descriptions are best practice vivid and lively, shown. Readers can infer those are Makenna's visual sensations on their bare visual, vivid, personal description basis without a writer intrusion: she saw, etc.

Reconsider empty, emotionally dead adverbs, too. "_all_ she saw," "desperately".

Also paraphrased, "college mascot statue," when a verbatim description is stronger craft and appeal. What's the most verbatim "telling detail" about the statue to Makenna? A thematically relevant detail might be, say, a notable person's bronze monument, the bronze tarnished and the patina stained, haphazard.

Consider a statue that appeals to and rewards close and informed readers, yet as well expresses a verbatim detail from which all readers can infer meaning. TSU's mascot is the tiger, for example. That could also show, for example, the setting is near the stadium, or the commons or quad if other. I don't know. What statue detail stands out for whatever university milieu this is, real-world or fictional, to Makenna?

I'm more inclined to read on as an engaged reader for the latest version, not quite "hooked" enough yet, though.

[ February 13, 2017, 02:40 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
Thank you, extrinsic! I'll look at what you have suggested and see how I can improve.

On another note, I posted a revised query. I'd appreciate it if you'd look at that as well.
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
Much of what you all are asking about is answered soon after the first thirteen lines.
That's too late because you can't retroactively remove the reader's "Huh?" And that's where they stop reading. Far better to supply the needed context along with the words, preferably in context so they don't notice.

Strip out everything that doesn't matter to her in the moment she calls now. Drop backstory, gossip, and explanations from the author. You're trying to hook the reader here, not inform them.
I'll briefly explain the background of why I wrote this passage this way.
That's intent. And the moment you give your words to someone else, you, your intent, and everything but what the words suggest to your reader becomes irrelevant.Remember, when they put the book back on ther shelf you're not there to explain.

I wanted it to allude to the fact that she is a predator despite not knowing it yet.

If it matters to the plot let the reader learn it the way they would in a film, when it matters to the action.

If the man knows of her abilities she might say, "I knew you were coming. No one else smells like you." And that would give in context reason to mention it. But if he doesn't, take the approach that if she's not actively noticing and responding it doesn't matter to her. And if it doesn't, it doesn't matter to the reader, either.
Hope this helps.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
For me, your latest effort is much improved. I have setting and place, and I know that the main character is human (at least now), and is waiting, not hunting. However, I find the fragments inherent shortcoming is that it still lacks a tight focus. Trying to do too much is even worse than not doing enough.

Setting and place could easily be dispensed with in a single sentence. An example, for demonstration purposes only, might be: Makenna waited behind the statue they had agreed to meet at on this first day of their freshmen year. From there you can now tightly focus in on one of Makenna's otherworldly attributes.

For instance, the sense, or feeling that we are being watched is called a sixth sense; meaning it is beyond what we would call a real sense. In Makenna's case this is a real sense, just like the senses of taste and smell. This is the time to introduce at least one aspect of her heightened real senses, and I would suggest it be her sense of smell. You say this is an important aspect of her 'persona' later on, so introducing it first subconsciously sets its importance priority higher than any other in the mind of the reader. Something like this might set the scene: Makenna sniffed the air as if she thought it could reveal who was watching her.


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