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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Pudge - a dark fantasy

   
Author Topic: Pudge - a dark fantasy
JBSkaggs
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Hi I am looking on comments fo this opening. I am not ready to release the remainder of the story yet for critique.

****

“If you must do this thing… this is the best I can give you,” Baron de la cemetery said. My amorphous self floated above the bloated corpse of a ugly little black man.

“Isn’t there anything better? She won’t believe that body is me! I was a white man. Remember?” I said. The dead body was a plump swollen dwarf with bulging shoulders and squat bow legs. Its face inflated to hideous distortion, the eyes pale eggs, and the lips sausages. “Hell how could I even fight with that damn thing!”

The Baron looked at me with deep sad eyes. “Frankie Collins, stray bodies are not easy to find, and your old one is being used I’m afraid. Of course you could try just haunting her. The dead really don’t have many options.”

I knew that alright. This body would not be available if not for Sprockets. That demented killer god-demon whatever. That bastard killed me and enslaved my body as a mindless zombie. I had found myself powerless to protect my family from Sprockets’ cruel tortures. When the Baron of the cemetery discovered my battles with Sprockets, he offered me a deal. A chance to have a body again!


[This message has been edited by JBSkaggs (edited February 10, 2005).]

[This message has been edited by JBSkaggs (edited February 10, 2005).]


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Christine
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I'm seeing potential here, logically, but emotionally I'ma fraid I'm not seeing anything. This should turn into a good story. We've got a guy whose body is possessed by a demon trying to buy another body to use, I'm thinking, to save his family. I like that. But this setup didn't hook me.

Now, for explanation. I think the trouble is telling instead of showing. You tell me that your POV chracter has an amorphous body. In the second paragraph you tell me in dialogue vaguely border in "As you know, Bob" that the protagonist had been white. You tell me about the dead body which is ok. But paragraph 3 launches into exposition.

So that's my take, anyway.


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HSO
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I'm biased, because my current work in progress is a short--possible novella--about a ghost who builds an army of ghosts to solve his problem and their problems...

So, I like this by default. There might be a bit of exposition in that dialogue, though. It's not offensive to me. And it's a good setup overall. I'd continue reading, sure.

I expect you'll get flak from those with PC leanings over end the first paragraph... You never know, people are overly sensitive these days... not suggesting you change it, tho'.


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Beth
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I agree with Christine - "My amorphous body" leapt right out at me, too.

Also I have serious Issues with "alright."

It does sound like it will be a fun story, though.


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Christine
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I spotted the potential for PC problems too, but I didn't know whether or not to mention it. It didn't bother *me* all that much, because I have a sense that you're going someplace entirely correct with this, but I have heard that when editors see something like this early on, with the potential to blow up in their face in a discriminatory kind of way, they shy away from it. Race relations are just so charged nowadays they'd rather not mess with it at all. (Chickens)
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Shi Magadan
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IMO the race sensitive remarks work well only if you want me to be unsympathetic towards your POV character. I already don't like him.

Also, he complains that Sprokets has enslaved his body, and yet, the POVC is about to do the same to this other body... seems hypocritical to me, and again, I can't sympathize.


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JBSkaggs
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Hmmm I wonder if I should make opening earliler in the story. Right before Sprockets kills him. I thought if I opened at the graveyard where his ghost is negotiating for a second chance that it would be a unique hook. But without the backstory this scene is emotionally flat.

As far as zombieism yes it is offensive. I am trying to work out the emotional weight of having to choose between his family and his personal morals and dislikes. The race issue is very important. He will have to convince his solid middle class white wife that he has become a homeless walking undead dwarf black man. How to present this is giving problems.


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Christine
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I thought that's what you were going with the black man, which is why I wasn't offended, but perhaps I can make a suggestion.

First, I think starting earlier is a great idea. Second, you can bring up the issue of race without being blatant about it. By having your protagonist notice and comment on the blackness, and especially by him calling himself white, you've made many readers think he's the racist, not his wife. BUT...if you let us know he's black in a less critical time and way it might work. Maybe he and his wife have met this black bum before. Maybe the very evening he gets possessed by this demon. Then, when he's complainng that his wife will never accept him, it's more like, "That's the bum she gave a $20 to last night!She's never going to believe that's me!" Then we know he's black because you described him before, but in a less emotionally-charged time and way, at a time when it was more of an observation than anything he particularly cared about.


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JohnSWalsh
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My first time here, hello all.

I like the idea and I also like that you bring race and gender into it right upfront--no need to pussyfoot. That forwardness makes me think this is not going to be a timid little tale but is going to be a good straightforward story.

I think your true opening is the description of the body, and expanding that to include the "spirit" watching it. I'm one of those who thinks opening with dialogue is opening yourself to a world of hurt--you need to establish the author's narrative voice before getting into the individual characters's voices.

So I'd suggest you describe the situation, which is interesting and not like describing a boring office or bedroom, which would not be an interesting opening. And then bring the problem up in the second paragraph, maybe using the opening paragraph AFTER you've described the situation we're in?

Hope this helps.


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Robyn_Hood
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Perhaps this is a cultural thing, but the white/black thing didn't bother me. I assumed the issue is: If I used to have a white body, it will be harder to convince people who I am if I look so completely different.

When I re-read the opening, the fact that the character refers to the body as "an ugly, little black man", it struck me a little sharper. Other than the "ugly" the reference does not seem derrogatory, but race relations are often sensitive. I figured part of the dwarf's physical description was because it was a dead and possibly decomposing already (swollen and distorted features...).

If Frankie was black and the corpse was white, would the issue be perceived the same?

I like the concept. I actually don't mind this as the starting point, but the last paragraph could use a little work to get rid of the "You know, Bob..." feel. For me, the rest of the opening makes sense and doesn't feel too telly.

Just a couple of pennies for the pot...


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JBSkaggs
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Thanks everyone this gives me what I needed.

JB Skaggs


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Shi Magadan
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You gotta be kidding me. No one is offended by the "sausage lips" is it really neccesary to make a caricature of the black guy?

I don't think it's necessary, and I think you could play on race relations in more subtle and interesting ways.


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JBSkaggs
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Sausage lips has nothing to do with race. The man has been dead for several days in the New Orleans sun his face and body has swelled up and bloated as mentioned ealier in the text. To see what I mean go look at a site like www.rotten.com. (Note I do not recomend eating anytime soon if you go to that site it really gross) The dwarf is not ugly because he is black he is ugly because he is squat, twisted, and bloated.
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Shi Magadan
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No, there's no mention of the body being bloated from prolonged exposure to the sun, nor do we know that the story takes place in New Orleans. You do mention that it is bloated, but I took that as a description of his "ugliness."

The fact remains that this reader was offended particularly by the "sausage lips" bit, and I would not read more.


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JBSkaggs
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Point taken. And I will clarify the story.


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Christine
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I'm going to do a couple of in-lines in ALL CAPS:

“If you must do this thing… this is the best I can give you,” Baron de la cemetery said. My amorphous self floated above the bloated corpse of a SHOULD BE AN ugly little black man. THIS IS FINE...COME STRAIGHT OUT AND TELL US THAT THERE'S AN UGLY LITTLE BLACK MAN, BLOATED AND DEAD. NO PROBLEM.

“Isn’t there anything better? She won’t believe that body is me!*** I was a white man. Remember?*** THIS IS PROBLEMATIC. THIS GOES BEYOND TELLING IT STRAIGHT TO THROWING IT IN MY FACE. WORSE, IT DOES IT AS AN "AS YOU KNOW, BOB." OF COURSE THE PERSON HE TALKS TO KNOWS HE WAS WHITE! fRANKLY, THE READER PROBABLY ASSUMED THAT, TOO ” I said. The dead body was a plump swollen dwarf with bulging shoulders and squat bow legs. Its face inflated to hideous distortion, the eyes pale eggs, and the lips sausages. I THINK THIS IS TOO MUCH FOR THE MOMENT. YOU GAVE US A SHORT DESCRIPTION IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH, BUT ONCE AGAIN YOU SEEM TO BE RUBBING IT IN...NOT HIS RACE, BUT HIS UGLINESS. I ASSUME HE'S GOING TO END UP INHABITING THIS BODY ANYWAY. PERHAPS THE DETAILS CAN WAIT UNTIL HE LOOKS AT HIMSELF IN A MIRROR? I DIDN'T LIKE THE SAUSAGE LIPS THING, EITHER, BUT I DON'T KNOW WHY. I THINK IT STIRS UP DISTURBING IMAGES. “Hell how could I even fight with that damn thing!”

The Baron looked at me with deep sad eyes. “Frankie Collins, stray bodies are not easy to find, and your old one is being used I’m afraid. Of course you could try just haunting her. The dead really don’t have many options.”

AND THEN, OF COURSE, THE INFO DUMP...
I knew that alright. This body would not be available if not for Sprockets. That demented killer god-demon whatever. That bastard killed me and enslaved my body as a mindless zombie. I had found myself powerless to protect my family from Sprockets’ cruel tortures. When the Baron of the cemetery discovered my battles with Sprockets, he offered me a deal. A chance to have a body again!

***************************

Those were my gut-level reactions to this, anyway. Hopefully that helps you a little more than vague generalities.


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JBSkaggs
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Ok I have gone back in time in the story and rewrote the opening right when Sprockets is about to show up. does this work better.

***

The summer sun glorified Mary-Ann Collins’ face as a light breeze toyed with her long hair. Frankie, her husband was fascinated and nostalgic as he watched his wife sipping her coffee in the little outdoor cafe. She cocked her head and smiled.

“What’s wrong do I have food in my teeth?” she said.

“Not at all. I was thinking how much I love you.”

Mary-Ann leaned forward, and rubbed her foot against his leg. “Is that so?”

“That’s so—“

“Sprockets coming for you!” Interrupted a misshapen, short, filthy street bum. Frankie was about to respond when the stench hit him, instinctively he covered his mouth. The bum was short less than four feet tall. A dwarf dressed in dirty rags, no shoes, and a red stained stocking cap. A garbage flecked afro poked out from the cap. The bum’s eyes bulged with intensity from dark unshaven face. A stench of rot and disease crawled from his mouth. “You better run nowse, cuz Sprockets iz comings for you! Frankie Collins youse been warned.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Frankie asked.

[This message has been edited by JBSkaggs (edited February 11, 2005).]


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Robyn_Hood
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Technically this opening is pretty good, but it didn't grab like the other one.

I liked the feel of walking in on a macabre, dark negotiation. It had a touch of dark humour and it got me.

This one feels light and fluffy and I have a hard time picturing it. And although I got a more or less clear description of the bum (even without you saying he was black), I couldn't quite picture him; not like I did with the original opening.

This is your story, but I just really liked that first opening. It needs a little work, but I liked it.


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Christine
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I think you need a comma here:

“What’s wrong, do I have food in my teeth?” she said.

Other than that, I had a prblem with the introduction of the bum. It was a jolt, but not a jolt in the way I think you meant it to be (ie a surprise to your main character). Rather, it almost felt like part of a different story.

In fact, I like the place you're starting in the second opening. It's much more clearly the beginning, the place where your protagnoist gets involved in the events, but the calm, fluffy bunny opening doesn't grab. Maybe you should start with the warning? Or start with the first time he catches sight of the bum....maybe the bum comes towards him out of no where and he stands and shields his wife (so we get a sense of setting and a sense of what was happening before the warning.) I'm just throwing things out there...feel free to ignore me.

But definitely, definitely, I like the fact that the second opening seems much more clearly to begin at the beginning.


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