This is topic Shards of Ailanthus in forum Fragments and Feedback for Books at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Delgreco (Member # 10607) on :
Currently about 20k words into what will likely be an 80k or so word fantasy novel. The following fragment is my current first 13 lines. Any feedback is welcome. I'm particularly uncertain about the usage of sound effect type one-liners (the Slurp in the fragment below) and their general acceptance.

The leafy trees across the lake seemed a diffusion of the reflected sunset's brilliant hues; really far too nice an evening to drown. Slurp. Pem stepped further into the muck near the water's edge. The whatever-it-was still called to her—a headaches rhythmic throb from the depths of the lake. She flexed fingers raw from her bare-handed efforts two days earlier. This time you're mine. She plunged her shovel into the mud. Can't lose you thrashing about; Pressa will have a fit if I lose metal.

She spread her arms and fell forward. Chill water engulfed her. She blew out her air and sank; bubbles tickled across her bare chest. Her lungs implored her to breathe. You're only getting fish air. They begged regardless. Have it your way. The earthy tang of the lake hit her tongue, then she convulsed.
Posted by Jack Albany (Member # 10698) on :
I like it--but.

Too rushed, too rushed; and that first sentence is trying so hard to be artistic and ‘atmospheric’ that it falls flat on its face. For me, I would open firmly in Pem’s viewpoint; in this instance the first sentence is ambiguous in assignment. For demonstration purposes only, I would have started with something like this:

Pem stepped into the placid waters of the lake, mud oozing between her toes as she sank ankle deep into its sticky embrace. Looking to the far bank, the last brilliant hues of the spring sunset painted the surface ripples red and gold. It really is too nice an evening to drown myself, she thought as she took another step into deeper water. . . .

Just a poor example, quickly cobbled together, but it illustrates my point--I think.

My other concerns are with the use of the ‘word’ Slurp and the phrase “Can't lose you thrashing about; Pressa will have a fit if I lose metal.”

Mud doesn’t ‘slurp’ in my opinion when you take your foot out of it, the sound is essentially indescribable, so don’t try and describe it. Simply refer to it by allusion or metaphor. Now, why will Pressa chuck a wobbly if Pem looses metal? Is it rare, or forbidden? In mythology weapons made of iron, particularly cold iron, are the only things that can vanquish a demon. If the reader needs to know this now, then give more explanation so they know what’s going on and why, or else leave it out at the moment and introduce it later--if it’s important.

As I said, I like the concept but the execution fails for me. Hope this helps. Oh, BTW, I keep wanting to call Pem, Prem or Prim, that could be a problem; Prem is a recurring Bollywood character and Prim is Katniss' sister from Hunger Games.

[ November 08, 2017, 06:35 AM: Message edited by: Jack Albany ]
Posted by Delgreco (Member # 10607) on :
Thanks for your feedback Jack.

completely agree with you about the first sentence. I thought about changing it, even worked up a change, but thought I would post the original start to see what others thought first.

Agree with the rushed feeling as well. I think it likely that she doesn't actually need to drown on the first page.

In regards to the slurp, in your example you have changed it from an audible description to a physical one. I'm hoping you can elaborate. I have not used such italicized descriptors for sound in my writing anywhere else but in this fragment, though I am curious about it. I have noticed that some authors use such descriptions while others never do. It seems to me that your reasoning
Mud doesn’t ‘slurp’ in my opinion when you take your foot out of it, the sound is essentially indescribable, so don’t try and describe it. Simply refer to it by allusion or metaphor.
would indicate that all such descriptions of sound would be subjective, equally indescribable, and should not be used. Would you say that is accurate of your opinion on the matter of all such descriptions?

Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
An individual contemplates an aquatic task then surrenders to the water's summons.

The novel title appears on first blush to be an apt implication of a fantasy milieu, though "Ailanthus" is a real-world tree genus, common name Tree of Heaven, described variously as a popular ornamental, an invasive species, and the host feedstock for -- well, ailanthus silk worms, who produce a more durable and cheaper, less attractive silk fiber than mulberry silk worms do. The leaves shimmer in sunlight and breezes, hence seen as glass or mirror-like "Shards." Shards of Ailanthus as well resembles somewhat a similar compressed paradox, or oxymoron: Walt Whitman's omnibus Leaves of Grass. Grass foliage is "blades."

Leaves as shards is similar and entails, as do all artful oxymorons, a greater truth underlay between two opposites of a congruent contradiction. Some of those potentials in the title and time enough in any narrative for full realization development. The once-and-done first clause description of the trees, though, is shy of a first description's relevance completeness. Pretty visual sensation, though little, if any, connection to the last part of the sentence nor any immediate or eventual connection to the trees' influences on the action or the agonist character or what the narrative is really and truly about.

Which the latter is what? First, Pem worries about losing metal, the spade head, presumably, then surrenders to an unknown source's summons to drown herself. The metal loss motif concerns a diligence-sloth virtue-vice. Suicide could be a host of possibilities, not clear which. Because of headaches' torments? What happened to the metal loss worry? Why care about metal loss if she will just end herself? The two segments are disjointed.

What, too, is the aquatic task? Why does Pem dig in the muck?

"Slurp" is a gustation sensation, that is, "Onomatopoeia" (at least the mechanics thereof, not the aesthetics, LiteraryDevices). "Slurp" usually is a sound that accompanies a pleasant liquid-like foodstuff intake and entails pleasant tactile as well as aural and gustatoral sensations. If the slurp is a pleasant association, more development of such is warranted. Otherwise, mud sensory associations usually entail unpleasant sensations and responses. Like flatulence does. Plus, ailanthus blooms emit an ill smell, as do aquatic sediments from decomposed detritus contained therein.

None of the above might be intended for the novel; given here to show descriptively that sensory motifs of a narrative can be rich with influential, life-affecting details that enhance reality imitation, that show a milieu's beauties and warts, that set up what a narrative is actually about (one of setting details' prose functions), that propel dramatic movement, that engage readers hopelessly.

The title most of all holds appeal potentials for me.

As is, the fragment leaves me less than inclined to read further. I would not read on, due, in the main, to the fragment rushes and forces, or skips altogether, apt dramatic movement criteria in order to get to the drowning scene's introductions. I'm left with our host Orson Scott Card's three seminal reader questions in crisis: So what; Why should I care? Oh yeah; is this for real? Huh; what's happening?

(Ample detailed explanation about these questions in Card's texts about creative writing, and across the Internet. One, though that does not attribute the concepts to Card, for shame, is especially detailed and focused and online: "Character: Three Questions Every Reader Asks," though the Three Questions are about events and settings, and complication, conflict, and tone, too, not solely about character development.)

Fantasy onomatopoeia are often italicized and as well occasionally exclamation mark punctuated for emotional emphasis' sake, an interjection part of speech, and sentence fragment: Slurp!

[ November 11, 2017, 10:29 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Jack Albany (Member # 10698) on :
Personally, I'd never try and convert a sound into a word unless it was in dialogue, "Jack fell flat on his face in the mud--sounded like a wet ker-splat!" An example of the sorts of problem you can get into doing such a thing is your use of the word 'Slurp'. To me, you slurp a drink, you don't slurp a foot coming out of the mud--that sounds more like a wet, sloppy kiss.

I can't remember ever reading a story where the author did what you're talking about. But that just might be my taste in stories.

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