This is topic Commercial Fiction - No Title Yet in forum Fragments and Feedback for Books at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
I recently started this manuscript. I'm not sure how long this book will be yet. It's about a teenage girl struggling with many things other teens struggle with. I know it's cliché, but I'm writing this for personal reasons. If it goes farther than my computer, great. If not, I accomplished my goal.

I wanted to post it because I think it kind of does what everyone has been talking to me about. It expresses a scene, a character, and a problem. I just want to see what everyone thinks.

"I latched the window and jumped in bed as I heard a hallway door close. Despite having sneaked out in the middle of the night several times before, my heart beat furiously, angry at the adrenalin trying to escape my body. I threw the covers up over my head, cinching them tightly at neck so my deviant clothing would not be seen.

My breathing betrayed the peace I was supposed to have while sleeping. I did my best to calm it and succeeded in part. I hoped it would be enough.

The footsteps continued down the hallway. I knew what time he checked on my sisters and I. I had timed everything perfectly. Pretend to go to bed. Dress in dark clothing. Lay in bed until my parents went to bed at midnight. Sneak out the window..."
Posted by H Reinhold (Member # 10553) on :
Hi Michelle! I personally find this a much better start than the others, although I still have a few difficulties with it. I get much more of a sense of conflict here, and feel that a scene may be about to kick off, but I still find it difficult to connect to the main character. I feel the narrative voice is somewhat in conflict with the main character's supposed experience of the event. The reporting 'I' seems in control and distanced, while the character in the scene itself is (I assume) frightened and highly alert. The fact that the action seems to be filtered through a distanced narrator creates a further distance between me and the character in the story.

What makes me feel the narrator is at a distance? First, some events are reported out of order, implying that the narrator is not experiencing them just this moment, but rather looking back. Second, much of the fragment's language is pretty generic and lacks emotional charge. 'Deviant clothing' is presumably not a term that she would have used at this age, unless echoing a parent's judgement, so I assume she is using it ironically, from an older perspective. 'Dark clothing', I also find generic and without emotional tone. Any old, generic dark clothing? Or some specific items of clothing to which she has a personal attachment of some kind? Other generic descriptions might be things like 'window', 'bed', covers', footsteps', 'hallway', some of which are repeated several times. Put together, these words are not, to me, unique enough to imply any specific setting. The scene could be taking place in almost any house. I'd be more engaged if I saw some subtle indicators of this specific house's size, value, contents, style, location (rural/urban), or something--some character.

"I latched the window and jumped in bed as I heard a hallway door close."

This sentence initially confuses me. What is the actual order of events here? I guess: the main character hears the door close, then latches the window, then jumps into bed. Good practice is to mention the events in the same order in which the character experiences them, to reflect reality and for clarity. Yet the sentence as written presents them in a different order, and suggests to me that the main character is telling me her story at a distance. So, right from the beginning, I feel disconnected from her experience and can't share her anxiety.

Also, your use of 'as' implies that all these actions take place simultaneously--another distraction, for me. I find it hard to visualise what takes place at the same time. Latching the window and hearing the door close? Hearing the door close and jumping into bed? Again, if you think about the exact order in which your main character experiences the events in this scene, you might be able to turn this into a much stronger start. For example, I might expect (and be more inclined to believe) a start that portrays, in this order:

1) MC hears the door close
2) MC freezes in what she was doing (?climbing out of the window)
3) Internal moment of panic--some thoughts from the MC, could indicate whether this is a new conflict or one that has been going on for a time now
4) MC latches the window
5) MC jumps into bed

"Despite having sneaked out in the middle of the night several times before, my heart beat furiously, angry at the adrenalin trying to escape my body."

I believe usual practice when using participles in subclauses like this ('despite having sneaked out several times before') is that, unless specified to the contrary, their subject ought to match the subject in the sentence's main clause. The implication, therefore, seems to be that 'my heart' is the one that has sneaked out in the middle of the night. The thought might be clearer if you reshuffled the sentence somehow, or added the detail about having sneaked out before somewhere else in the opening.

I'm also a little confused at this point about whether she has been out already and is just coming back, or if she has been caught mid-way through an attempt to get out. At first, I guess it is the latter, because there's no trace of the memory of where she's been. The final paragraph of the fragment confirms this. However, I am then further confused by the fact that the MC, who knows her parents' routine so well, is caught out in the first paragraph. If she has 'timed everything perfectly', why so much stress? Why fuss with the window now, and not wait until it's safe to do so? This implied contradiction makes the scene a bit implausible for me.

"I threw the covers up over my head, cinching them tightly at neck so my deviant clothing would not be seen."

I think 'at the neck' would work better. And is the father looking in on her already? 'I hoped it would be enough' seems to imply that he is--and yet the footsteps continue down the hallway with no evident relief from the MC. Again, I feel disconnected from her experience.

"I knew what time he checked on my sisters and I."

In this sentence the MC is the direct object of the verb, so you should use 'me', rather than 'I'. Imagine exactly the same sentence without the sisters. That's the form of the personal pronoun you should use.

I would probably not read on, because I'm not convinced the narrative will offer an engaging read.

Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
Hi Hannah,

Thank you for the encouragement! I see what you are saying about generalizations. Honestly, I didn't really like the way I wrote these sentences. I simply couldn't figure out what was going on with them. You've made the clear to me now. I will see about rewriting them and posting another version here soon.

Thank you again for all of the great advice!
Posted by H Reinhold (Member # 10553) on :
Please do try a rewrite, and don't be discouraged! I hope my comments didn't come out too negatively.

I was just listening to one of Brandon Sanderson's BYU lectures (link here) and it struck me that it might offer another useful perspective on generalizations and the place of concrete vs abstract language. His discussion of what he calls the 'pyramid of abstraction' begins around seven and a half minutes in and lasts for fifteen minutes or so. Seems to be good advice, with some helpful examples.
Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
Thank, I'll try to listen to that when I get a chance!
Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
Alright, here is another rendition:

"I climbed through the window and latched it. As I started to take off my well-worn hoodie, I heard a door creak closed in the hallway. I froze. Dad had gotten up for his glass of milk early.

My heart pounded in my throat as I shrugged back on the jacket and hurriedly patted down my wind-blown hair. I shuffled underneath my bed sheets as quickly as I could, taking care to hold the covers tightly around my neck. Through the drumming of my pulse in my ears, I heard the door to my sister’s room scrap across the old Berber carpet. My room was next.

My breathing betrayed the appearance of peaceful sleep...."
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
How about a recap of "Pyramid of Abstraction" highlights for general edification? That topic is a Hatrack Utility Belt essential, that the more concrete a motif, the more it is sensible in terms of reader visualization, or other sensation. Not included, though, in the several online discussions around the Internet of water coolers is a concrete motif's other figurative aesthetics.

"It's a Wooden Leg First," Maud Casey's analysis of what Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People" says about a wooden leg. Amply physically detailed in the story, the prosthetic leg is an emotional as well as a physical crutch to aid an amputee's ambulation. The emotional crutch impedes, if not kills, social ambulation. Therein is the Pyramid of Abstraction's true value, vivid concrete motifs which entail objective correlatives' subtext relation and action, their abstractions.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Though different words from previous versions, two shortfalls, doesn't work for me, are common across the fragment versions.

One, filtered through unnecessary extra lenses, Most apparent in this sentence: "_I heard_ a door creak closed in the hallway." Agonist tells self to tell writer to tell narrator to tell reader extra lenses. First person's lens is singular or dual lenses, agonist tells readers directly, self-reflectedly narrates, or agonist tells self to tell readers.

Without the extra lens filter "I heard." //A door creaked closed in the hallway.// Other considerations there, too. How does the narrator-agonist know the door closes and not opens? Which door in the hallway? And is the apt preposition "from," not "in"? Matters of definiteness and indefiniteness, too, notable through the articles "a" and "the." //Dad's bedroom door creaked from the second-floor hallway.//

The other sentences of the latest fragment likewise contain extra lens filters of less obvious degrees.

Two, the drama of the scene's now moment is of low, if any, magnitude. Drama's definition is elusive and a challenge, to define as well as accomplish. Three aspects create drama: antagonism, causation, and tension. Antagonism entails motivations and stakes caused by sensations and experiences that arouse wants and problems. Causation causes antagonism. Tension is the emotional circumstances of events, their emotional causes and antagonisms and emotional response effects to those.

W questions who, when, where, what, why, and how pose drama, for evaluations of what matters now, matters now for a viewpoint agonist foremost. Why does this narrator sneak into her bedroom? for example. Implied, because she wants to return undiscovered that she left without permission. Why was she out in the first place? For what? What are her motivations, her wants and problems she seeks to satisfy from going out? Nor should those be easily satisfied early. They should be problems that escalate until a latter part of a narrative.

What's at stake, too? Sure, caught out or undiscovered, low magnitude stakes without a larger why she's out in the first place. Is the risk of sneaking out worth the reward? Nor ideally should the reward for being out come prematurely. She goes out, partially satisfies whatever, overall fails, must go out again later in order to fully satisfy the larger reward motivation. Meantime, she risks discovery, and either is or nearly is caught, convincingly suspected anyway. No easy full success at a start. More failure than success at first, that makes a want-problem all the more compelled want-problem satisfaction, all the more dramatic, all the more antagonally and causally and tensionally (emotionally) motivated.

In short, no preparation beforehand of the return home scene's drama such that the return matters now to the agonist, and is on the page, so readers are clued in about the scene's emotional meaning for the agonist personally. This shortfall's label is missed-the-page disease; content necessary for readers to engage misses translation from writer's thoughts to the page to readers cued and clued into the now moment's dramatic ramifications.

I would not read on as an engaged reader, the too many lens filters an easy cause for decline, and soon note little or no drama of which to speak.

[ March 01, 2017, 08:59 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Michelle M. (Member # 10639) on :
I see what you guys are saying now about the way it is written. I'll see about getting rid of some of those "I"'s and make it more personal so the reader can actually feel what is going on rather than be told.

Gosh, I wish I had see that sooner!
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Every writer struggles with the agonies of viewpoint perception and perspective. No easy way but the hard way offers growth. The easy way for visual fine arts, for example, single vanishing point perspective, is a geometric principle with less struggle in the way. Not so obviously geometric for prose.
Posted by Metta (Member # 10744) on :
Hi Michelle
Your writing 'Commercial Fiction' is interesting. It seemed to me that your main character felt frightened and I'd like to know more about that. What were the reasons for your main character to be planning an escape?

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