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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » 13 lines - Dark Fantasy/Horror WIP

   
Author Topic: 13 lines - Dark Fantasy/Horror WIP
priscillabgoo
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Sartre suggested that hell is other people, I think he was right.

They found me huddled in a tight corner at the end of a tunnel - bruised, battered and groggy. My hair was filthy and matted; brownish red streaks smeared most of my almost nude body. I remember hands and the flow of soft words, before something thick and warm was draped around my small, thin frame. Eventually the hands lifted me up, carrying me toward the way out. I shied away from the bright light streaming through the opening that gaped in the distance. I dwelled in cool shadows; the warm caress of the sun felt too strange. Gentle murmurs cocooned me again, lulling me into a three-day sleep.


This is about a girl who is rescued from a serial murderer. The girl has psychic powers which the killer wanted to harness for his work. When she starts having urges to do the things she saw during her time with him, she comes up with a unique solution.

[This message has been edited by priscillabgoo (edited February 12, 2007).]


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Sara Genge
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Watch those adjectives. I'd read on
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tnwilz
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I like story openings that drop you straight into a scene. Some try to require that everthing be obvious in the first 13 lines. Well you can tell by the number of "hey, that was perfect" replies here that it's pretty much impossible.

What can I say that would be helpful? You need to tighten up your writing otherwise editing will be an endless nightmare. Get it as close as you can first draft. For example, you jump between past and present tense. If it's a memory then it would be "carried" instead of "carrying." Thats something you would pick up in editing but don't leave too much of it or you'll stop enjoying yourself. I didn't like the word groggy its a little too light for the situation and clumsy in the sentence. Like poetry I think you have to throw words around until the atmosphere you imagine flows smoothly. "most of my almost" ehh! Read it aloud and if it sounds a little like it trips on itself then change it up a bit. There is a lot of poetry in good writing.

This is a good idea and I would read on.

[This message has been edited by tnwilz (edited February 11, 2007).]

[This message has been edited by tnwilz (edited February 11, 2007).]

[This message has been edited by tnwilz (edited February 11, 2007).]


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rickfisher
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It's probably a bad idea to tell us what the story is about. It should be in the story, not in a comment before it. For what it's worth, I made sure NOT to read what it was about until after I'd read the thirteen lines and decided on my comments.

First line is a comma-splice; use a period.

The first two sentences of the next paragraph, while written in first person, sound almost like they're from another POV altogether--describing how she looked, and the shape she was in. After that, it mostly sticks to her POV, except for "my small, thin frame," which again sounds like an outsider's description. But even in that part, you're really removed from the events, emphasizing the bits "she" remembers. If you put it in the moment, you might get across her current feelings of terror and confusion much more effectively.

I don't understand how she can shy away from the sunlight if she's actually being carried, though of course she can squint and turn her head.

An em-dash in manuscript format should be two hyphens with no surrounding spaces (i.e.: ". . . of a tunnel--bruised, battered . . .").

Oh, and using "carrying" doesn't indicate any sort of present tense here, although it implies that the carrying and the lifting took place simultaneously. Because of that, "and carried" would be better.

Now: if I had read ONLY the second paragraph, I would have had little doubt that she was some sort of kidnapping victim. I had that idea anyway, but with the first line, coupled with "I dwelled in cool shadows," I began to think that she was a member of some sort of underground dwelling, not-quite-human, solitary species. Of course, your little intro clarifies that; but readers won't have access to any little intros unless they're part of the story.


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wbriggs
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I liked this till narrator remembered hands and flow of soft words, and I didn't know whose hands or what the words were. On the second reading I got that this wasn't a flashback, but something happening at that moment. Drop "I remember" and I wouldn't be confused. That'll help.

"I dwelled in the cool shadows" also gave me a time problem: the first time, I thought it *wasn't* a flashback, but now I realize it was.

I would like some hint that MC doesn't remember what happened to him or her, or else that it was too horrible to remember, or some such.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited February 12, 2007).]


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tnwilz
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May I beg to differ.

I think the writing clearly indicates past tense.

"They found me," instead of "find."

"My hair was filthy and matted," notice "was" not "is."

"red streaks smeared," not smear.

"I remember hands," notice "remember"!!!

"something thick and warm was draped," again with "was" not "is."

"Eventually the hands lifted me up." "Eventually" and "lifted" here. If it was present tense you would skip the word eventually and just say "The hands lift me up." This is why I said the next word, "carrying" didn't fit as well as carried.

"I shied away from the bright light." Notice "shied" instead of "shy."

"I dwelled in cool shadows; the warm caress of the sun felt too strange." Here we have "dwelled" and "felt" as opposed to "dwell" and "feels."

"Gentle murmurs cocooned me again, lulling me into a three-day sleep." This whole sentence is past tense in its net affect. Were it present tense the writer would not reveal the fact that the sleep was three days until at least the next sentence. The word "Lulling" is used here which is more present than past so I would use "lulled." It just fits a little better.

Mixing present tense words with past tense words is a common and easy to make mistake. I do it all the time making editing tedious and annoying, hence my advice on this piece.


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oliverhouse
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Tnwilz, I beg to differ with your difference. The opening line (which is a comma splice, by the way, and I would break it into two sentences) is in the present tense, but since it doesn't contain an event it doesn't matter. The story itself, as the narrator starts speaking about events, is in first-person past tense. Since stories generally don't start with flashbacks (or, if they do and they're well-written, it's made clear that the flashbacks are in fact flashbacks and not just past tense), it implies to the reader that the verbs in past tense refer to the story "now".

"I remember" was ambiguous for me; it could mean that the events are taking place in the story past, or that the narrator is acknowledging the use of summary to create a blurred image of these events even though they'll be presented chronologically. I didn't have a particular problem with that ambiguity, and after reading this excerpt I would say that we're about to hear the story from this point forward, chronologically.

Briggs may be right, though, that there's a little too much ambiguity. There's no real reason that the "something" that's thick and warm can't be blankets. She knows that there's a Bad Guy who is or has been around, but she feels no fear? If she doesn't feel fear, does she feel relief? Or is she just utterly numb? I get the sense that she was numb; I guess that if that's what you're going for, it worked for me.

"I dwelled in cool shadows" is apparently a flashback, however brief; I would say "I had dwelled" instead.

I would keep reading.

From a Hatrack procedure standpoint, I suggest that you tell us what the story's about after the 13 lines, because I got enough context from the words "rescued from a serial murderer" to know what the first image was. Your reader may not have that advantage.


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wbriggs
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The difference is between past and past perfect -- or, more practically, between the time of the scene and earlier times.
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priscillabgoo
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Sartre suggested that hell is other people. I think he was right.

They found me huddled in a tight corner at the end of a tunnel--bruised, battered and dazed. My hair was filthy and matted; brownish red streaks smeared most of my semi-nude body. Gentle hands brushed over me. Soft words flowed, before something thick and warm was draped around my shivering frame. Eventually the hands lifted me up and carried me toward the entrance. I hid from the bright light that streamed through the opening which gaped in the distance. I dwelled in cool shadows; the warm caress of the sun felt _strange_. Gentle murmurs cocooned me again, and I was lulled into a three-day sleep.

Thank you for the feedback so far. Some of the abstractness gets explained in the very next line. After thinking about it, I decided not to make the first section more concrete. I did fix the verb tenses, although I really miss the adverbs

When I get to the point where there is a beginning middle and end on paper, as opposed to my beady brain, I'll ask for readers.

[This message has been edited by priscillabgoo (edited February 12, 2007).]


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rickfisher
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I like this . . . better. It's more consistent without the "memory" aspect.

If it were in third person, I could take the first two sentences as being in more or less full omniscient, then tightening into 3PLO after that. But I simply can't see the first two sentences (especially the second) (and, later, "my shivering frame") as part of a first person account, unless they took movies of it, she watches it later, and that's what she's describing.

I don't mind the abstractness too much, although I'd just as soon you said the "something warm and soft" was a blanket, unless it's NOT. Also, I agree about the "I dwelled"; I wouldn't actually call it a flashback, but it does refer to an action or condition preceding the current action, and should therefore be in the past perfect: "I had dwelled".

Since you mention fixing the verb tenses, I'll see if I can get this straight. Apparently I wasn't clear in my last post, since tnwilz thought I was saying the passage as a whole was (or gave some indication of being) in present (or at least not in past) tense. To the contrary, I was only saying that "carrying" did NOT indicate PRESENT tense. "Carrying" (and the "ing" form of verbs generally) is the present participle, not the present tense. Present participles are used in the progressive tenses, such as "I was carrying my little sister around the park when the first bombs fell on Albuquerque," which are used to indicate action at the same time as another action. If the other action is in the past, the progressive action should be, as well. It is also used in participial phrases, such as, "While carrying elephant tusks to the poachers", or "The man carrying the heaviest load". In these cases, no tense is implied at all. The ONLY way to determine the time of the action is by the tense of the rest of the sentence. You were using "carrying" in a participial phrase (acting as an adjective, modifying "hands"). It did indicate simultaneity, so I'm glad you changed it--but it wasn't a tense change. (Finally, for the sake of completeness, the present participle can be a gerund, where it's used as a noun: "Carrying pianos across the Sahara is not one of my favorite activities." Obviously, nouns have no tense.)

[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited February 13, 2007).]


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priscillabgoo
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This isn't a flashback. The narrator is recounting what she remembers and what she has been told like it's all one story. That gets pointed out to her in the very next line. The fact that she can't always separate what she has experienced from what she has been told is important to the plot.

[This message has been edited by priscillabgoo (edited February 18, 2007).]


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Sara Genge
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I liked this intro better and I didn't miss any adverbs. It was clean cool and resonated with me. Good job.
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tnwilz
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It is compelling and I would read on to find out what happened to her and how she survived.
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priscillabgoo
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“They found me huddled in a tight corner at the end of a tunnel - bruised, battered and confused. My hair was filthy and matted; brownish red streaks smeared most of my semi-nude body. There were hands and the flow of soft words, before something thick and warm was draped around my small, tired frame. Eventually the hands lifted me up, and carried me toward the way out. I shied away from the bright light that streamed through the opening which gaped in the distance. I had dwelled in cool shadows; the warm caress of the sun felt too strange. Gentle murmurs cocooned me again, and lulled me into a three-day sleep…. Is that what you wanted to hear?” I ask.

“It’s not about what I want to hear, Sarah. I think you just

I've cleaned things up per your suggestions. Thank you, everyone! I've also got a rough first draft together. If anyone is interested in reading it, it's just under 2000 words.


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rickfisher
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This makes a lot more sense to me. I don't usually like starting right out with dialogue, but it could work in this case because Sarah is, herself, telling a story.

My biggest problem right now is that it doesn't sound like something spoken. It's too "writerly".

I'll take a look at the whole thing, but it may be a week (or even two) before I can get back to you on it.


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oliverhouse
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The "I ask" needs to come a lot sooner, I think. I want to know that this is a quote, and that it's in the first person.

“They found me huddled in a tight corner at the end of a tunnel," I said, "bruised, battered and confused...."

I agree that it sounds a bit "writerly". That will work if Sarah is generally articulate -- and not everyone else is. If everyone sounds writerly, then it sounds like the author coming through. If only Sarah sounds writerly, but others aren't, then it's just Sarah's voice.

I like the opener and I'll read, but I still owe Sara another crit, so it'll take a little time.


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RMatthewWare
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You've probably heard enough suggestions that the next one will make you scream, but I'm not close enough to hear it

Perhaps you should put your scene in the present. Show us how it happens. Your MC won't be coherent and won't know what she looks like, but we can be told what she looks like by the other characters in the scene. Your POV can feel groggy and beaten, the person lifting her can say, 'wow, her hair is matted'. (Yeah, my version is much more lame, but you get the point). It would help me understand the scene better. The flashback/retelling is a little confusing. And I have difficulties when something is written in the first-person. I've never been huddled, semi-nude in an alley. But then, it's your story, so do what feels better to you.

Matt


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Survivor
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You indicate "attitude" with the "Is that what you wanted" bit, but the text doesn't carry that feel.
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priscillabgoo
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You're right about the anger Survivor, at the moment the character is trying to hide it, but it slips out by the end of the scene. The point of the opening, which may not be working, is to have Sarah tell the story in a way that is distanced from the events. It's not personal or emotional for the speaker, but she knows it's suppose to be.

She doesn't remember at all, Matt. Nothing about it is personal. It's just the answer she has come up with.

[This message has been edited by priscillabgoo (edited February 21, 2007).]


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RMatthewWare
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If she doesn't remember what happened, then how has she come up with all of this? It has to come from somewhere. Her explanation of events seems pretty specific for her not too remember.

If you are writing the story from the perspective of 'she doesn't know what happened', then I think you're hitting it from the right angle. If she doesn't know what's going on, then we don't either. I'd probably have to read more to get it, but the idea does intrigue me.

Matt


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