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Author Topic: Dying Man Revisits Life
Kilgore__Trout
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I'm just looking for general feedback. This is likely going to be the opener for a series of interconnected short stories about family strife. I got the idea from my grandfather who died with a computer full of stories that he'd been writing for years and even retired early to further pursue, but left them all locked behind passwords and irretrievable. The framework and the stories themselves are all fictional speculation regarding the reason behind letting the stories die, and the types of stories that were contained in the files.

The most likely reason in reality is that he just thought that they weren't any good, but that doesn't make for a good story.

First 13 lines:
_____________________________________________________________

James sat hunched on the old wooden office chair, now furbished with two bed pillows to prevent his bones from pinching his remaining flesh against the hard oak of the chair. An outdated AT&T computer sat on the table before him, with the monitor that required a tint screen film cover to prevent an irritating excessive glare that James couldn’t bear. The expensive yet now worthless machine contained the sum total of synthetic creative efforts of James’ life.

The moment he switched the computer on, he knew it would be the last time he would gaze at the 16-bit display, and read the otherwise unread and unknown words that mirrored his backward life, but failed to invert its representation. He also “knew” it would be the last time on the last two occasions, but he

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited June 26, 2006).]


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Ray
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Genre, word count, do you want readers for just this or the whole thing?

My only problem with this is the pacing. The first paragraph is really slow, but the second one is a better starting point, mostly because something happens. The first is just setting, the second, I discover that the man is about to die. That's something to engage my attention.

My nit is that you say "last" twice in the second sentence. Kinda redundant.


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Kilgore__Trout
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I think the genre is just general fiction. It won't be set in an alternate universe or anything. I actually only have about a page written so far, so maybe this post is a little premature. I'm just looking for feedback on the first 13 lines.

Good point on the word choice, I should use "previous" instead of "last" where possible. Using the same word in a sentence is especially annoying when there are different connotations.


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EvoL
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The story behind the story is interesting. I hope you continue to write and maybe one day get a hacker or just a computer technician to retrieve the stories your grandpa wrote. Heck, maybe you could even incorporate that into the plot of this story. Who knows? Either way, I'd read more, but thats just because I like the story behind it.
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Smutchy
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I agree that the story about your grandfather is intriguing. It's cool when real life events inspire fiction.

OK, I had difficulty getting through this. All of the sentences seem rather long and maybe crammed with too much information. Like James's digestive system, my brain was in revolt trying to assimilate the details that came hard and heavy. Ease me into the setting and description and I can follow along. Too much at once and I am overwhelmed. If you can mix it up a little, great.

The first thing that caught my interest is "he knew it would be the last time." Maybe here is a good place to begin. If you can avoid using "last" again and again, then so much the better. There are other words which will suffice, like "final" for instance. It's a bit redundant that second paragraph, and so is "sum total." Either word will work alone. When you edit this, look for ways for reducing redundancy wherever possible.

My last point is that James is entirely bereft of any emotion in the piece. How does he feel? What is he thinking? I think the goal here should be to help us understand James's state of mind. If you can do that, then it may be enough to keep me reading on.


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MarkJCherry
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Three things...

One. In my opinion, you could do without the first paragraph. While it sets the scene, it fails to set the pace. You seem to set a pretty nice pace(I liked it) with the second paragraph. I don't know which you're going for, and I feel like I'm on a roller coaster reading through it. I would suggest starting with what he's doing, transitioning into what he's thinking, and maybe introduce some of the details in his thoughts. When I read that he flicked on the computer, and it had the 16 bit display, I can already picture an out-dated, probably dusty and somewhat battered, computer.

Two. "The expensive yet now worthless machine contained the sum total of synthetic creative efforts of James’ life." This gave my brain a tumble. Now, I have little room to talk, I can be just as confusing on my own, but...I might suggest rewriting it as so: "The expensive, though now worthless, machine contained the total of the creative efforts of James' life." - I know it's a rough draft, and I'd read on actually, even though I'm not a fan of modern-day setting fiction.

Three. If you want, I can try and break the password on those files. Send me an IM, I'll put the information below, or send me an email.

And the inspiration is very interesting.

That's me, Mark.

AIM: Alone n teh Dark
YIM: thefateweaver
MSN: l5r@fateweaver.net
Email: mark.cherry@siemens.com


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wbriggs
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I get that he's about to die and knows it. It's interesting. So why not give us more about that? I don't care as much about the computer screen as I do why he's dying. Tell us about that!
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Sara Genge
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Modifier overload: cut the excessive glare thing. If it's a "glare" we know already that it's excessive, specially if it bothers the guy. That was an example, you can clip most of the adjectives out, they slow down the reading.
Those two paragraphs were slow. The phrasing was akward.
Inconsistency: a. not only does he know it's the last time he's doing this (you're witholding info here) but it was also the last time the last two times he did it. No matter what you're talking about, and I imagine it's shutting his stories behind indecipherable passwords, nobody can do the exact same thing three last times.
b. If he's really eating his last meals these days, I doubt he enjoyes them much. Taste is about one of the first things to go in elderly sick people. Many elderly healthy people don't have great taste buds anyway.

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Kilgore__Trout
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Thanks for the feedback.

I agree that the first paragraph is just too weak, and says too little to start off with. I can establish a setting after I give the reader some insight into the character and his situation. I've rewritten it. The two paragraphs above can probably be worked in and edited a little later.

____________________________________________________________

The room became lighter as a flash of dizziness enfolded James. A constant pain, momentarily amplified, gripped and tore at his abdomen with ruthless precision. His eyes watered. The pain and the light-headedness subsided but the tears continued. They were not due to pain, but to an overwhelming joy, the same tears that betrayed his masculine demeanor for the birth of his first son, Clyde. James had learned from his weakness and managed to stay dry-eyed for the births of Clyde’s siblings.

With one foot slipping from life and the other sinking into death, James had begun to catch brief glimpses of life from the eyes of a dead man. Separate from time and space, he could see the beauty of life in its entirety and all of the connections that make it possible, like someone who had his nose pressed

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited June 26, 2006).]


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Louiseoneal
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The second paragraph of your revision reads like it wants to be your opener.


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HSO
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quote:
I can establish a setting after I give the reader some insight into the character and his situation.

Well, you can do that, sure. But it seems to me that you inadvertently started with a hint of setting in that very sentence with "The room..." Subsequently failing to develop what kind of room it is leads me to not care.

Oh, please--that's stupid, HSO. Who cares what room it is?

Well, I care. I want to know where this guy is--precisely. I want to know what he's doing (and I don't); and I want a damn good reason to read on (which, I don't have). This is false tension by way of causing inexplicable grief and joy to the main character for no discernable reason.

Aren't you being a bit harsh and unfair, HSO?

No, class. No, I'm certainly not. This is as fair as I get. Wanna know what's harsh and unfair? I'm sorry for the digression, by the way. It's life. Life isn't fair at all. We could all have a better life if every politician suddenly and mysteriously dropped dead (that's a hint, O omnipotent One). But we make do with what we get...

Okay, seriously now. I won't care about this character's pain until I understand the character first. Starting immediately with a character in pain doesn't build sympathy, it doesn't explain anything about who the character is, or where he comes from, or his status among his fellow citizens. It's just some cat in pain.

When I go to work, I'm in real physical pain most every day. And I can assure you, nobody there cares that I am. I could lose an eye and arm on the job, and the most I'd hope to get from my coworkers is: "Oh, terribly sorry, but could you mind not bleeding on me; the first aid kit is over there." Maybe that's because I'm not very good with people. But if any of the morons I work with actually got to know me, I'd probably get a little sympathy.

Tell us about your character so we'll care. Really.

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited June 25, 2006).]


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Ray
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The setting wasn't the problem in the first version, it was that you didn't say quick enough that the character was dying. And you've got the same problem in this one. Now we know that the man is suffering, but again, I don't know for sure that he's dying until the second paragraph.

What's happening now is that all these things are happening to a character that you haven't let me care about yet. I had more trouble reading this version than I did the last one.


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Woodie
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The inspiration for this story is great--it's what hooked me, and I think you need to convey more of that into the first thirteen. An old man dying is commonplace. An old man encrypting his own writing so no will ever be able to read it after he dies is interesting--I immediately want to know what he wrote. That is what sparked your imagination in the first place and that is what is going to intrigue your readers.
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Survivor
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The wording problems have been noted, I'll just add that these include definite syntax issues as well.
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MarkJCherry
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A thought that came to me:

What interested a lot of us, it seems, is the back story you gave us before we even read the first 13. Woodie even suggests conveying that backstory in the opening, to catch the reader. This is what sparked my idea.

What about taking YOUR POV? I couldn't tell you exactly how to put it, it's your story after all, but perhaps opening basically how you opened your post - telling the reader about the writings, and then the story is a recounting of what you[the narrator] learned.

It's early, I hope that makes sense.


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MaryRobinette
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What would happen if you took the first sentence of the second paragraph and moved it to the opening? Now mind, I didn't have a problem with not knowing that James was dying until I went back and read your post about what inspired you. Without that, in the first version, I was comfortable knowing that a) James was old b) that he was not well-off c) that he expected something bad to happen.

But I also thought it was because of turning the computer on.

The second version was less interesting for me. As others have stated, I didn't know why I should care that he was in pain. It was sort of like coming into a fight scene without knowing who is fighting or why. The second paragraph is then more distant than the first, which pushes me farther out of the story.

Make sense?


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kings_falcon
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Do you want contact information for someone can get around those passwords? I know someone who can. That's his day job.


I liked the suggestion about telling this from the * ahm * fictitious grandson's POV. Sort of a Big Fish feel. Grandson discovers grandpa's computer is locked when he is clearing out the house post funeral. He happens to know someone like my handy dandy friend whose job it is to reverse engineer everything. Friend gains access into files. Grandson tries to understand Grandfather through the writings.

The problem you may have with the way you've started is Grandpa is presumably about to succumb to whatever is kiling him. Then where do you go?

[This message has been edited by kings_falcon (edited June 28, 2006).]


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MarkJCherry
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By the way,

My offer still stands to break past those pws. I'm not a pro, it's not my day job, so you might want to go with the other guy. I got an IM from someone I don't know, I wasn't around, and they haven't tried to reach me since -

anyway, my new email address is depricated@nerdshack.com, I let my old domain die.


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Kilgore__Trout
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He died about 8 years ago, and the computer and files are long gone. I'm pretty sure he didn't want them read, because he had at least a good 6 months to remove the firewalls but didn't. There were a few dark secrets that died with him. The only other people that would have known have lost their minds. I don't think I could write about the real stories (if I knew them) without it sending a few people with questionable sanity over the edge. I'm thinking that I'll even have to wait a long time before attempting to publish, just in case my stories are close to the truth.


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MarkJCherry
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Fair nuff!
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oliverhouse
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I agree with much of the criticism so far.

I'd also add that your original used straightforward language and specific details, while your revision became flowery. Getting more into James's head doesn't necessarily mean using flowery language; in fact, depending on James's character, it could mean the opposite.

Personally, I liked the first paragraph of the original. I got a very precise feel for the room James was in, and a bit of James himself. I agree that it doesn't belong where you put it, though, so maybe you could use some of those details -- the double-pillowed chair, for example, or the AT&T computer (who has one of those these days?) -- as you develop the main thread.

Regards,
Oliver


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