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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Power

   
Author Topic: Power
Rick Norwood
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I wrote this story shortly before I first came to Hatrack River. It's been rejected by F&SF, Asimov's, and Interzone, and I don't know where to send it next. Comments and critiques are welcome. Here's the first 13.

Immanuel Schmidt became all-powerful in the end, but he was born like any mortal, into a state of utter helplessness and dependence. His earliest memories, before he gained total recall, were of hunger pains, screaming, and a vague cloudy shape that he came to think of as Mother. He remembered, an overlay of many individual memories, a bottle, which he eagerly sucked until it fell out of his mouth. He began to scream and the Mother shape loomed into view, made loud noises and a blur of movement that stung his cheek. More screams, more hunger.
His first exercise is self control consisted of lying still, keeping absolutely motionless except for his sucking cheeks, to delay as long as possible the moment when the bottle fell out of his mouth.


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Grijalva
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I personally disliked this, because of the first line where you write, "Immanuel Schmidt became all-powerful in the end, but he was born like any mortal."

Why tell me this? Why not let the reader find out for himself, and make his own judgements? This is spoiling the story for me.

I feel its always better to just start the story. This first line leads you into telling the reader whats going on, instead of showing, and it feels like your constantly trying to break free of telling.


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lehollis
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The first line doesn't exactly bother me, but I think it could be stronger, somehow. I'm not sure how, myself.

A narrative foreshadowing in the first line isn't necessarily bad, to me. I think they work when you they show a contrast, a bit of the absurd. "Chuck Schmucker didn't know he'd kill thirteen world leaders when he sat down to eat his Rice Krispies--or sleep with all of their wives, but..."

(And I should note that I actually knew a man named Chuck Schmucker. He lives in Illinois, in a town famed for its population of 800 albino squirrels. There's a story in there, somewhere...)

quote:
He began to scream and the Mother shape loomed into view, made loud noises and a blur of movement that stung his cheek.

To me, this is a bit of a hook. It shows a mother who slaps an infant for crying. Doesn't sound like the most loving mother.

So its the character part that hooks me, but I'm looking for more than sucking on a bottle very soon. I know to know Immanuel currently.

into a state of utter helplessness and dependence

I think we get this part when we see he's an infant in the following lines. It could probably be trimmed--though it does show a contrast between omnipotence and helplessness.


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oliverhouse
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Rick, this didn't really grab me. He becomes "all-powerful" "in the end"? Well, then, whatever conflict he was in has already been resolved.

If there's a conflict in the story, you might start there. If you think his infancy is the right place to start, maybe you get past the other stuff and start with something like this:

quote:
[Immanuel Schmidt's] first exercise in self control consisted of lying still, keeping absolutely motionless except for his sucking cheeks, to delay as long as possible the moment when the bottle fell out of his mouth.

Now I've got a baby deliberately exercising self control. Very unusual, and although I'm not sure why it matters yet, I'm interested in (a) how he has that power, (b) how I, the reader, know it, and (c) why a poor baby has to exercise that level of self-control. I think that (b) implies you have to be careful with POV and narration, but you'd need to do that anyway.

I don't know. Maybe if we knew more about the story we'd be able to make better suggestions.


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JeffBarton
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There might be a negative, a squik, in the Mother's aggression, violence, or abuse of the baby. I ran into that recently with rape in a story. It can repel readers, and maybe editors, more strongly than the hook can hook them.

In general, I feel a little hooked by the "all-powerful" promise. That's your fantasy connection.

The rest of the first 13 is depressing. After "state of utter helplessness" everything else that happens preys on that helplessness.

I have difficulty believing the self control. That might be possible at 10-12 months, I think. You don't put any timeline in these 13 lines, so it sounds like an newborn is doing something consciously.


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oliverhouse
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quote:
I have difficulty believing the self control. That might be possible at 10-12 months, I think. You don't put any timeline in these 13 lines, so it sounds like an newborn is doing something consciously.
See how different advice can be? For me, that is the hook. It's not particularly believable, but neither was Paul Muad'Dib's sister Alia, either, and I ended up totally buying that. The all-powerful bit doesn't really move me at all.

[This message has been edited by oliverhouse (edited July 25, 2007).]


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franc li
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You can e-mail it to me. Let me know if you don't see my address in the link. I just changed it since my old one died in the month I started working.
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Matt Lust
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Rick,
As I see it, the single biggest problem with this story is that it doesn't tell me anything about anything.


Actually let me phrase that differently, it does a great job at describing things but it doesn't actually demonstrate how these things are important to the story.

I have character(s) but no reason to like them.

I would call this a starts to late beginning. I don't mind the description of birth but its a little out of place this early.

I'd rather have more reason to accept Immanuel Schmidt as a person I want to know more about before you present this part of the story.


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Rick Norwood
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Thanks for the comments. I can't really respond without "telling" about the story, which I naturally want to avoid. It is not a happy story. Every incident is about power/helplessness in one form or another, which is why I started with the hint of total power followed by the picture of total helplessness.

It is fundamentally a philosophical story -- maybe I should try the New Yorker. I've been rejected by them before.


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TaleSpinner
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For me the hook was the idea that the character had total recall. What would that be like, I wondered.

But while the idea of starting "with the hint of total power followed by the picture of total helplessness" is logical, philosophical maybe, the picture of total helplessness is unattractive, passive, and fails to draw me in. And the mother figure seems scary and I wonder if this will be a horror story (which I don't read).

For me the first 13 portends a long, plodding walk through the character's childhood, teens and adulthood before we learn about his (her?) power.

Maybe give some thought to the structure? Draw us in more with a sketch of today's power, how total recall feels right now(positive and negative), and then (perhaps with flashbacks, sorry if you don't like those) examine how the character beat the negative side of total recall and survived?

Just a thought,
Pat


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Rick Norwood
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I am in a flurry of submitting everything everywhere all the time. So, Power went off to the New Yorker. Did you know they accept on-line subs now?
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