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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Naught But a Poor Beggar

   
Author Topic: Naught But a Poor Beggar
Shendülféa
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The exerpt below is from one of my novels (the title of this topic is not the title of the novel, however). This novel is unfinished and is a prequel to my finished novel, which might help to explain first sentence of the third paragraph. I just need some thoughts on these first few lines.

quote:
He was seven years old when he first encountered royalty and it was an experience that would soon change his life forever—but we shall get to that in a moment.

His name was Äldehn, but that was not his true name. His real name has long since been forgotten; Äldehn was the name the fé’aries gave to him. It meant “stray” for he—but that is getting ahead of ourselves. At any rate, the only clue we have as to his real name is that it meant “the Wizard is King” in the tongue of the humans.

He was the blue-eyed, dark-haired ancestor of one of the most renowned heroes of Amethyria (who does not come into this tale but another). Now Äldehn was a poor peasant, mind you, living in one of the largest cities of the Westyr Desert and that was Bengdor. He lived in a small mud-brick house typical of those in his caste. It was only one story tall, but half of it lay sunken into the desert ground so as to keep it more cool during the day. It had but two rooms, one for eating in and one for sleeping in. And it was never clean for his mother was always much too busy begging for food or work to ever worry about it; and his father…well…that was the tragedy of Äldehn’s life so far. His father had died long ago of a terrible mysterious disease when he, meaning Äldehn, was only four years old. Äldehn had never truly known what had happened to his father save what his mother had always told him and that was his father had been taken away. Of course, Äldehn never knew where his father had been taken to or why, but he never questioned his mother.




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Jaina
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Hi, Shendülféa! Happy Easter!

All right, here's my thoughts:

INFO DUMP! We care about the encounter with royalty, since that will change his life forever. We don't care enough about him yet to care about his real name versus his fé’arish name, or about what his real name meant, or whatever. And a kid whose father died of mysterious causes when he was little is not unusual. Heck, my grandma's dad died when she was four. I won't be interested in this kid's past until I know him better.

All the little narrator insertions are kind of distracting and frustrating. Every time you say "but that's another story" or "but we'll get to that later," my first question is, "Well, then, why did you bring it up here? Why didn't you wait until later, when that information is relevant, to tell me?" I understand what you're going for--a storyteller feel kind of like in Hart's Hope--but this isn't the best way to accomplish that. Directly adressing the reader on occasion is all right, but make sure it's with something that's immediately relevant.

So, basically, your hook needs to be the bit about the royalty, not about his dad. That's what I'm interested in as a reader, and that's what you have to snare me with. Later, after we care about him, you can tell us the rest about his dad and whatnot, and then it will make sense and we'll care.

Good luck!


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Shendülféa
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Just so everyone knows: I am perfectly aware this is an info dump. However, there's a legitmate reason for it and that is that I'm trying to, as Jaina said, go for a storyteller-type style. I have seen this done successfully in other stories, specifically The Hobbit. I know it can be done and still be interesting.
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Beth
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You risk losing a lot of readers, though, like me - right away I can tell that this is not the kind of story I want to spend long reading. I don't like coy and intrusive narrators in fiction - some people do, I guess.


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Shendülféa
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Oy.

I suppose the question I should be asking is: Can I get away with an info dump at the beginning if I do it differently? All the info I have to present with the exception of a few bits that I could concievably leave out, are essential to the story and the overall symbolic importance of its theme. Anywhere I put it, it's going to be an info dump, but I thought it best to put it at the beginning so as not to slow the pace of the story later on. Any thoughts?


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Survivor
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Perhaps if you revealed a bit more about the narrator, not necessarily explicitly. I alreadly like this more than the usual info-dump...but only for the first few lines. After you reveal that the narrator is probably not a human, and probably not speaking to a human audience, you don't reveal anything else of importance, and what you had revealed to that point wasn't quite enough to really grab my interest.

One thing that Beth said, about coy and intrusive narrators...it's basically the coyness that will lose you the most readers. An intrusive narrator that seems interesting in his, her, or its own right is something that most people will like right off, even if they don't know there's a narrator and just think that's the author speaking.

As to making an info-dump like this work, the key is to make us feel like we want to know the story that the narrator is telling, and the best way to do that is develop our interest in the narrator. Coy narrators are a big turn-off because we automatically (and correctly, as often as not) assume that once the narrator's little secret is revealed it will be something quite uninteresting...like everything else about the narrator. You need a narrator that can be genuine rather than coy. It's a bit easier if the narrator is likable, but that's not totally necessary.


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Beth
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merits of narrators aside - why do you have to do an infodump at all? Couldn't you just sort of sneak the necessary information in as its needed?

I am opposed to infodumps in general - there is almost always a more graceful way to work in the necessary information. But I think starting with one, no matter how entertaining, is a big turn-off. What I want to read is a story, not a chunk of exposition. Hook me on a story, and I *might* be willing to read through an infodump later; but if you start with the infodump I am not going to read past the first page.


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Survivor
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Ah, but the beauty of a good narrator is that the dreaded info-dump isn't an info-dump, it's just the way the narrator is telling the story. In that case, the important thing isn't that we become invested in the story but that we become invested in the narrator.

On the other hand, it's quite difficult to pull off a really good narrator. I don't favor narrators in my own stories and I don't recommend them to anyone that hasn't already commited to one, because a solid narrator takes more work than any other kind of character and then you have to deal with the problems of getting this interesting person to disgorge an interesting story as well. The situation is a bit different for certain kinds of semi-autobiographical fiction...but this isn't anything of that sort.


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Rocklover
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Hi Shen.
This is a novel, not a short story,correct? That means you have some room; you can take some time and develop your background.
I would like to see you take your first couple of paragraphs and write them out as full scenes.I would like to find out his name first hand as the fairies hold them in their arms and name him. That would make a beautiful and mysterious opening segment to the whole story.
Then I would like to see your character as a child, wide-eyed, watching royalty pass in all their splendor. I would like to feel his heart beat, to get inside his thoughts.
Then I want to see him return to his mud hut where I meet his mother and father. I want to be there when his father dies. I want to live it with him.
All this can be accomplished in one chapter. By the end of the chapter we know all the info dump stuff and we're sypathetic and engaged with the character.
My advice: take the time to write it out and make it happen for your reader.
Best wishes, Judith

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Shendülféa
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Thanks for all the advice. Just one note: it's "fé'aries" not "fairies." They're two different things, but that is something I explain later on. Also, the reason I can't do something like explain the fé'aries naming him is that they do not give him this name until after the events of the story has happened. My world has an entire history to it, much like Middle-earth. Äldehn had a different name at one point, but by the time his story was written down, it had long been forgotten and the fé'arish nickname (Äldehn) he'd been given stuck--for the fé'aries had written it into their songs of him, calling him "the stray one" rather than by his real name. That's the main trouble I have, I think: finding somewhere where I can explain that.
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Jaina
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Sorry, Shendülféa. I knew even as I wrote that crit that you'd go "Yeah, but it's supposed to be an infodump! I want it that way! Other people have gotten away with it!" Which is true.

But, as others have said, there are many other ways to get the information out there that not only develops the character, but does it in a way that we really care about him.

I especially like Judith's advice (in general, since you obviously can't do the bit about the fé'aries naming him)--since this is a novel, you can take the whole chapter (maybe make it a prologue of sorts?) to give us this information, and it would be a good hook and a good way to get the info.

The thing that nags me the most is your narrator. You can do a great job with narrators if you do them well. But you can totally destroy a story with them, too, if you don't do them well. Your narrator has potential, but I would focus on developing his character. After all, this is the character that the audience is going to be spending the most time with, and if they don't like the narrator, they won't like your story. But he has to be nearly invisible, or they'll get distracted by him. It's difficult, but I think you can do it. Just keep in mind that people are going to decide whether or not to read your story within the first few pages--often the first thirteen lines--which is why they have to have a strong hook.

Hope that helps. If you have questions or if you want me to read the first chapter (or the whole thing, if that's what you feel you need), you know where to find me!
Best,
Jaya


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Kolona
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I was confused about the father. If he died of an illness, mysterious or otherwise, that doesn't sound the same as having been taken away, which suggests he may still be alive.
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Rocklover
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How about a prologue, like Jaina suggests, but perhaps start with a strong, mystical narrator voice giving some background on your world? Maybe tell about the faeries history and end the prologue with the coming of one they call "the stray one."
I'd love to read more.
Please send it email.
Judith

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Shendülféa
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I'd love to send you more, Judith, but so far it's all handwritten except for the first six or so paragraphs. I've written three chapters to the story, but I haven't gotten around to typing them up yet. If you want, I can type them, but it might take awhile before I can get to that. I also have to revise somethings in it first.
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yanos
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If the fe'aries are not anything like fairies then my advice is to rename them. It may sound cool but almost every reader is going to think they are connected. The similarity is just too close. Of course if they are connected then ignore me
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Jaina
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Ouch, Shendülféa, that's how many books you've got to revise for the fairy/fe'arie thing? Yanos has a point, though. Maybe even changing one letter would help.

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Shendülféa
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Well actually, one of my characters even comments on it in another one of my books:
quote:
“She is nothing other than a fé’arie. Amazing creatures fé’aries are,” answered Sirus.
“A fairy?” asked Saavro leaning slightly forward in interest.
“No, Saavro, a fé’arie. Fairies are quite different from fé’aries and are quite rare as well. Fé’aries have far greater powers than fairies,” Sirus explained. “They specialise in healing and magic.”

I also have a whole history on why they are called fé'aries and it actually has to do with fairies. When humans had first entered Amethyria ages ago, they saw the fé'aries and were reminded of the fairies that lived in the lands from which they had come. The only difference was that the fé'aries were as tall as humans, unlike fairies and lacked fairy wings. Then when the humans saw their displays of magic, they feared them and began calling them "fearsome fairies," which through the years was shortened to "fear fairies" and finally to "fé'aries," a combination of the two words with an accent above the "e" to indicate that it has the same value as a long "a" and the apostraphe to indicate that the "e" and the "a" are not a diphthong.


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Jaina
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Okay, I think you explained that to me before. Makes more sense that way. But you might want to explain this earlier on, in the first book of the series, so your readers don't think you're cheating with the name instead of coming up with a logical history for your world.
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wbriggs
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I don't mind the cute narrator, per se. You might look at The Hobbit, which also had a touch of cute narrator. The narrator keeps starting to tell us things and then refusing to, and I found it frustrating, but if he were just being a little quirky, I'd be fine with it.

About the info dump: yes, it's your story, you get to do what you want. But I want in-the-moment narration, and the summary of his naming and his background didn't interest me. I'd rather get to know _him_ -- whether I like him, for example. Then I'll care about the fe'aries.

Some comments about names:
* If Aldehn and Alden are pronounced the same, I suggest Alden -- easier to read
* It would be possible to have another word organically developed for the fe'aries -- sort of like we have 2 words for the thing you go to the top floor in: "elevator" and "lift." If you picked another one, we wouldn't confuse them with fairies, or faeries (it's a word that already has multiple spellings, so fe'aries looks like another).


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Shendülféa
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Äldehn and Alden are pronounced similar, but a bit different. Because it's a fé'arish name, the umlaut represents a very airy sound and the "h" following the "e" signifies that it is pronounced as a short "e" rather than as a long "a" (as all other "e's" are pronounced in that language). I've got a whole set of pronunciation as well as grammar rules for that language. I originally had the name spelled "Alden," but as it is a fé'arish name, I had to make it look and sound like something that would have come from their language.

And about changing "fé'arie" to something else...hoo boy, that's going to be difficult. I've got manuscript after manuscript I'm going to have to go through and fix if I do that. Plus I can't come up with another name to call them. Nothing else I can think up right now really fits them. I'll work on it, though.

[This message has been edited by Shendülféa (edited March 29, 2005).]


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Proximus
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Hmm... It's nice, but I think that you should have a short introduction or a bit of action before you go into the info dump. It's kind of annoying to be given something to read and begin with all the information presented before you. Info dumps are good to give the reader a kick-start, but before you do, I'd suggest something to capture their attention and have them wanting to go on. My opinion.
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ScottMiller
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Heya Shendi.

I didn't think the fragment was at all bad; I liked it. I do have a suggestion (not for a change, but something you could use as a strategy later on).

If your narrator is going to be coy, make it part of his/her personality. Make the narrator a bit cranky about sharing, perhaps, or just the sort of person who would derive perverse enjoyment from deliberately making people wait. Go all the way with it, so it isn't just a mannerism.

After all, in The Hobbit, Tolkien was mostly likely doing that as part of reading it to his son Christopher, IIRC--and stories read aloud are very different than ones on the page. I think he probably liked the way it sounded and left it that way. And he was a man very in tune to the way things were spoken--the nature of words being his job, more or less.

Anyway, back to your story, I think that if you allowed the narrator to throw his/her personality around, it would end up lending your info dumps (which in this case seems necessary, and has to be fit in somewhere) a bit more character and color--they'd be structured the way they were because of the narrator's quirks, and not because that's the way they had to be. I don't know if I'm making any sense on this, but I hope it helps.

Edit: If you ever do want or need anyone else to crit, go ahead and send it along to me and I'll be happy to help if I can.

[This message has been edited by ScottMiller (edited March 29, 2005).]


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Shendülféa
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Cool. I don't think I've ever had this many people comment on my work. Thanks everyone! And for those of you who told me I should change "fé'arie" to something else, I came up with a new name (after half an hour of scribbling random words in a notebook): cé'ahnyn (pronounced "KAY-ah-nin"). That's the singular form, though. Plural would be cé'ahnei and the adjective form would be cé'ahni (pronounced "KAY-ah-nay" and "KAY-ah-nee" respectively).

And to those of you who'd be interesting in reading more, I still have to type it up as it's all handwritten right now. If you can wait a day or two, I should have it done. I'll only be sending the first chapter, though, because the second needs major revision work done and the third is still not finished (and thus, so isn't the rest of the book--although, I do have the entire thing outlined in detail).


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Shendülféa
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Here's a revised version of the first lines. I've tried to give the narrator more of a personality and make the info-dump sound less like an info-dump. Also, I realized that I had spent too much time talking about my character's father in the first version when really I had just written what I did to explain why he did not have a father. Later in the story, I don't even hardly mention him. My original intent while explaining that his father had died was to answer the question some readers may have: So where is his father? I never meant it to play a major part in the story, so I've tried to fix it. It's supposed to be no more than a mere observation than an integral part of the plot.

quote:
He was seven years old when he first encountered royalty and it was an experience that would soon change his life forever—but I shall get to that in a moment. First, you must learn some things about this fellow, for not long after he had his first royal encounter, these things were forgotten. I am the only one now who remembers them and thus, I am the only one who can reveal them to you, so you must listen carefully.

His name was Äldehn, but that was not his true name. His real name, along with much of the knowledge of his former life, has long since been forgotten; Äldehn was the name the cé’ahnei gave to him. It meant “stray” for he—but I am getting ahead of myself. At any rate, the only clue anyone has as to his real name is that it meant “the Wizard is King” in the Ancient tongue of the humans. Not even I am able to remember what this means.

He was the blue-eyed, dark-haired ancestor of one of the most renowned heroes of Amethyria (who does not come into this tale but another). Now Äldehn was a poor peasant, mind you, living in one of the largest cities of the Westyr Desert and that was Bengdor. Long before he lived in the palace of the king, he lived in a small mud-brick house typical of those who had only enough money to live from day to day. It was only one story tall, but half of it lay sunken into the desert ground so as to keep it more cool during the day. It had but two rooms, one for eating in and one for sleeping in. And it was never clean for his mother was always much too busy begging for food or work to ever worry about it; and his father…well…Äldehn did not have a father. He had died many years ago and thus, Äldehn hardly remembered he had even had one. To him, there was only his mother.


And I haven't gotten around to typing the rest of my first chapter up yet, so I might have to delay sending it for another day or so. And there's still so many things I have to revise before it's ready.

[This message has been edited by Shendülféa (edited March 31, 2005).]


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Jaina
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I like this much better! This narrator sounds like Grandpa's sitting down to tell me a story. I can almost see the old guy settling in a chair by the fireplace, grimacing as a twinge of pain shoots up his back--the arthritis is acting up again. But he ignores it. We're clamoring for a story, and he finally agrees. He clears his throat imperiously, and we settle around his feet, waiting for him to take us somewhere magical.

Beautiful!

A few minor nitpicks:

quote:
At any rate, the only clue anyone has as to his real name is that it meant “the Wizard is King” in the Ancient tongue of the humans. Not even I am able to remember what this means.

You just said what it means. What you don't remember is what it was.

quote:
And it was never clean for his mother was always much too busy begging for food or work to ever worry about it; and his father…well…Äldehn did not have a father.

A couple of things. It would flow better if you put a comma between "clean" and "for." Also, you could technically make this two sentences, like this:

quote:
And it was never clean for his mother was always much too busy begging for food or work to ever worry about it. As for his father…well…Äldehn did not have a father.

Other than that, I really like it. Your narrator has really come alive, the bit about his father isn't overemphasized but merely stated, and now I'm ready to learn what happened on the day he met the king. When you get the rest of this typed up, I'd love to see it.


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Rocklover
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I also like this much better, Shen. I like this narrator voice. This version makes me feel I can invest my time and will not be disappointed. I can trust that a good story is about to happen. It leaves me wanting more.
Yes! Good going!
Judith

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Keeley
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I liked the first one, but I like the second better.

Just so you know.


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