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Author Topic: The death of Mr. Tempos
Devnal
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Hi,
This is a short fiction - guess a mystery piece - i just started last week, just looking on comments on the first 13. Is the hook too noticeable, do you think it needs to be a little more hidden, or maybe even described? I had a seperate beginning but It felt a bit wordy. Or is there too little going on here to really hook someone.

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The Friday Jonathan Tempos died had trudged along at a mundane pace he had never become used to over the years as a teacher. At 4:15 he sat at his desk, tapping a red pen thoughtfully against his temple as he skimmed a student report. He had a hard time stopping his gaze from crawling up the page and over the rim of his glasses to the large white clock over the class room door where minutes passed at a slow suffocating speed. He dropped the paper on the top a pile on his desk and went and opened a window.
The inviting summer day, blocked kindly out by the pane of glass before, now rushed in to fill the empty room with life. The smells of barbequing wafted in from the yards of the fenced houses at the perimeter of the school grounds. In the distance,

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited June 10, 2008).]


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Jon Ruyle
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I like the first line. Also, you do a compelling job of showing how boring his day is and how difficult it is to be inside grading papers on a spring day.

On first reading I read the mundane pace he had "never become used to" to mean he had never before experienced the mundane pace, but on second reading, what I believe is your intended meaning (he was often bored but never got used to it), seemed the obvious reading.


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snapper
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The writing is solid. I wanted to knock it but I couldn't. Let me explain.
I agree that the first line is the hook. The fact that he dies captures my intertest. However, you did such a good job on showing how mundane his day was that it made your opening mundane. By the time I got to the last line I forgot he died.
I don't know how to tell you fix it, or even if it needs fixed. the writing is clean enough that I would continue to read but if it stayed at this same tone I may give up soon.
In short, I hope the excitement goes up a notch in the next couple of paragraphs.

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annepin
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The first line was a bit unwieldy for me. I like that you start with the day Jonathan Tempos died. Part of it is the tense you chose, which you quickly switch out of, so maybe just start off with perfect past?

The writing is smooth, but it's a bit thick of description. By the end of the first paragraph I'm ready to learn more about Mr. Tempos, why, for instance, if he hasn't gotten used to the school schedule he's still a teacher and hasn't sought out some other profession. And yet the second paragraph promises nothing but more description, even at the end. I might turn the page just to see where this is going (the opening hook and image is what draws me in) but if the third paragraph has still more of the same I'll probably lose interest.


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Devnal
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Thanks guys,

I felt exactly the sameway snapper, I liked what i had to a certain extent but wasnt sure how to fix it. Annepin - I noticed the lacking of the first sentence after rereading. I'm still kind of stumbing on it myself, but Im not sure how else to clean it up. here is a revision which I'm quite a bit happier with.

I'm trying to convey the dull day to day routine Jon is feeling and his buried want to break away. He sees wonderful things around him ( the summer day outside almost beckoning him) but he has always seen these things as out of his reach. Until today offers an opportunity. Maybe this is too much to convey in the first thirteen - therefore ive done a bit of a revision


Still looking for comments, anyone think this works better? thanks!

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The Friday Jonathan Tempos died had trudged along with the same mundane pace of every other weekday. It was a life Jon had reluctantly grown accustomed to in his five years of teaching. He loathed the job, but there were bills to be paid when you developed a family and a gambling habit in community college.
At 4:15, fifteen minutes after classes had been dismissed - and exactly 8 hours before a Late 80ís Marquis would barrel into his legs and send him soaring face first through a windshield - Jon sat at his desk tapping a red pen thoughtfully against his temple as he skimmed a student report. His gaze kept crawling up the page and over the rim of his glasses to the large white clock over the class room door. The seconds passed in jerky muted ticks. Finally, He let the paper drop from his hands and flutter down to join it's comrades that littered his desk.


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alittleofeverything
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The revision is definitely an improvement. I like how you give us a little more detail on your character's death partway down the page to keep us interested. The only criticism I have is that the last sentence feels awkward, like maybe you're trying to cram two sentences' worth of information into one sentence.

When you finish it, are you going to be looking for people to critique? I'd love to read more.


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extrinsic
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This is offered for your consideration during revisions. Please take no offense from the volume or directness of my comments.

I wonder if opening a story in a summary flashback is the ideal way to start this story. It's working okay, although I'm not comfortable with a story that opens in the pluperfect tense. Too many stories begun in that tense end up with an annoying surplus of the word had,. If I were skimming this story, after the third had in the first thirteen lines, I'd put it aside.

Nevertheless, judicious use of pluperfect tense works well in summary flashback, although opening a story in a pluperfect tense is a challenging one to maintain and might lead to ever more awkwardly complex plupluperfect tenses later on. (An example of a plupluperfect construct, Had to have had a premonition, yikes!) Consider recasting into present past. The other time contexts of the existing pluperfect phrases provide effective time management so it wouldn't change the meaning. For example. [The >Friday< Jonathan Tempos died trudged along] [Jon reluctantly grew accustomed to in his >five years< of teaching] [>after< classes were dismissed]

[mundane] has two diametrically opposite meanings; the earthly realm as opposed to the metaphysical one, or dull. Consider a more precise adjective, like droll, boring, tedious, etc.

[every other weekday] every other day is an idiom for skipping a day between days. I read the phrase to mean Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Consider recasting to something like 'every workday.'

[He loathed the job, but there were bills to be paid when you developed a family and a gambling habit in community college] that sentence is heavily freighted with context, loathed job, the onus of bill paying, a burdensome family, a demanding gambling habit, a community college education. I suggest recasting into separate sentences.

[there were bills to be paid] passive and infinitive future perfect verb construction, unnecessary tense shift. 'there were bills to pay'

[when you developed] is a marked change in tenor and a change in person from third to second. I suggest simplifying or recasting the sentence. Developing a gambling habit is a common idiom, but developing a family is awkward and emotionless. The family and the gambling habit are burdens. Community college is not necessarily a burden; however, an associate's degree doesn't typically qualify a person to teach.

[At 4:15, fifteen minutes after classes had been dismissed - and exactly 8 hours] three exactly precise time marks are redundant, consider simplifying. I'd at least recommend omitting the [and] and replacing the dashed interruption with a comma. Exactly is a superfluous adverb.

The prefered punctuation style in fiction writing for a dashed interruption is two hypens with no spaces. 'word--word' However, the narrative didn't change direction or interrupt a thought or dialogue. The phrase set off by the dashes is an appositive clause. A dash is not indicated in these instances. Commas are the prefered punctuation for setting off appositive clauses. 'At 4:15, fifteen minutes after classes had been dismissed, exactly 8 hours'

[Late '80s Marquis] sentence case 'late' unless part of proper noun. The context confused me. I didn't know whether it was a late model Marquis or later year in the '80s Marquis. ['80s] is a time reference for the story's milieu. Late model means recent. If the Marquis is 30-years-old, I'd want to know when it's first mentioned.

[would barrel] unnecessay tense change to future perfect. The word [before] already makes the time transition smoothly. Consider 'barreled'.

[sat at his desk tapping a red pen thoughtfully against his temple] consider whether sat at his desk is necessary. 'Jon tapped a red pen against his temple' eliminates the gerund verb and conveys static but dramatic meaning. [sat] is passive and non-dramatic action.

[thoughtfully] is a superfluous adverb. If the word is needed, the sentence flow would be smoother if it wasn't separated from its verb. 'Jon thoughtfully tapped the red pen against his temple.' Tapping a writing implement against a temple is a simple but complete scene-building line showing contemplation. [thoughtfully] tells the reader what the action means, as such it's exposition.

[as he skimmed a student report] [as] is not typically a proper conjunction. 'while' is prefered for simultaneous actions. For that matter, I suggest beginning a new sentence to do away with the awkward conjunction altogether. Tapping his temple and skimming the report appear to occur simultaneously when they're joined in a sentence; however, separating them would show them as the separate actions I feel they are. He's making a gradual shift in focus. He's going from absentminded thinking to passive involvement.

[student report] the context indicates a possessive case 'student's report'

[His gaze kept crawling up the page and over the rim] gerund construct that implies repeated action. I think it would be more dramatic and robust if it happened once and would then lead directly to Jon's single fixation on the clock. 'gaze crawled'

[rim of his glasses] number agreement between objects, 'rims'

[class room] compound word 'classroom'

[The seconds passed in jerky muted ticks] is a beautiful line, but a little metaphorically awkward. The clock's second hand is what jerkily, mutely ticks. And a comma separates noncoordinate adjectives. 'The second hand ticked in jerky, muted steps.' or some such.

[door. . Finally, He let the paper drop from his hands and flutter down to join it's comrades that littered his desk]

Extra period and space after [door.]

[Finally,] when this word begin a sentence it's a sentence adverb, a dangling modifier, or a discourse marker in dialogue, examples of common discourse markers are; like, well, now, okay, etc. Like with most sentence adverbs, dangling modifiers, and discourse markers, I think finally is superfluous. And finally makes me think the writer is telling me the story is about to begin. Consider omitting.

[He let the paper drop from his hands and flutter...] consider simplifying. The only action Jon did is drop the paper. He didn't let it flutter or join its comrades. The paper did that on its own. [his desk] his is an unnecesary pronoun, especially among two others in the same sentence. 'He dropped the paper. It fluttered onto the pile of reports that littered the desk.'


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Unwritten
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I started to dish out some advice and realized I was probably just repeating the things other people have said.

The important thing is that I think it's very interesting, and I would definately read on. In my humble opinion, all you really need to do is streamline a few sentences. It would look something like this:

The Friday Jonathan Tempos died trudged along at the same mundane pace as every other school day. At 4:15, exactly 8 hours before a Late 80ís Marquis would barrel into his legs and send him soaring face first through a windshield, Jon was tapping a red pen thoughtfully against his temple as he skimmed a student report. His gaze kept crawling up the page to the large white clock over the class room door. The seconds passed in jerky muted ticks. Finally, He let the paper drop from his hands and flutter down.

The inviting summer day rushed in to fill the empty room with life. The smells of barbequing wafted in from the yards of the fenced houses at the perimeter of the school grounds. In the distance,


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snapper
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Okay Denval,

I liked the first version better. At least that one had my interest to keep reading and trust the pace is going to pick up soon. This one I might bail on. Let me show you why.

quote:
The Friday Jonathan Tempos died had trudged along with the same mundane pace of every other weekday. It was a life Jon had reluctantly grown accustomed to in his five years of teaching. He loathed the job, but there were bills to be paid when you developed a family and a gambling habit in community college.

This first paragraph is an info-dump. I think you could work this in as the story went along. This mini-bio does not grab me.


quote:
At 4:15, fifteen minutes after classes had been dismissed - and exactly 8 hours before a Late 80ís Marquis would barrel into his legs and send him soaring face first through a windshield

You better have a very good reason for throwing this info out. Being told the outcome of a story in the first paragraph is no good way to hook a reader.

quote:
- Jon sat at his desk tapping a red pen thoughtfully against his temple as he skimmed a student report. His gaze kept crawling up the page and over the rim of his glasses to the large white clock over the class room door. The seconds passed in jerky muted ticks. Finally, He let the paper drop from his hands and flutter down to join it's comrades that littered his desk.

This part is a left turn from where you started. Honestly, I would prefer you drop everything before this and started your tale with this. Not exciting, but it reads like a proper opening. There is something alluring about a mans ordinary life.
Good Luck!


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annepin
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I tend to agree in that telling us how he's going to die in the beginning doesn't work, as written. It makes me think okay, why would I keep reading if I know how he's going to die? It might work if you give us something else that's interesting to hold on to. Something to hint at his journey before death, or suggesting that his death will be unusual in some way. Otherwise we have a guy with a boring life about to get killed, which isn't a very compelling story. This is doubly important if this is supposed to be a mystery piece. Well, i guess I should ask, do you mean "mystery piece" as in a whodunnit? Or as in "what the heck is happening?" But if you want it to fly as a mystery piece, either way, I think you need to suggest the mystery right off the bat.
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Devnal
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Thanks for the input folks;
I actually wasn't planning on having Mr. Tempos' death BE the story; The story is following characters surrounding his death; Family members, students, a friend, etc. And the reason he was killed, and if there was any consequences because of it.

i think this justifies any comments I make about his death in the first 13.....? I realize the story needs to shift within the next couple of paragraphs.

I feel like thirteen is a bit restricting, maybe i should just include a little more detail ABOUT the thirteen.

Thanks for the detailed analysis extrinsic, much appreciated.


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snapper
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quote:
I actually wasn't planning on having Mr. Tempos' death BE the story; The story is following characters surrounding his death; Family members, students, a friend, etc. And the reason he was killed, and if there was any consequences because of it.

Than why have that perspective at all? If the tale is about how the people of his life are affected by his death than I suggest writing the story not from his POV.

Yes, I agree that 13 lines can be restrictive. In fact you should weigh what is said on here accordingly. We cannot possibly know what you have planned from here on in. However, if you are looking for a hook and if the story is about how everyone else is affected by his death, why not start the tale with his death? Witnessing the end of someone as a begining of a tale sounds like a great hook to me. A good hook would do it from his POV in the last moments of your title characters life.

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited June 12, 2008).]


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