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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Tromp an l'oeil (Deceives the eye)

Author Topic: Tromp an l'oeil (Deceives the eye)
JB Reese
Member # 9552

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Tromp an l’oeil, (deceives the eye). An Artistic term that applies to Ruth Ester Harroldton, beginning with her name, then what she knew as her life disappears into the abyss of cold war intrigue. The 800 plus pages of unedited manuscript begins behind the E. German“Wall” during the last months of the cold war. 13 lines of chapter one.

Leigh’s eyes fall upon an odd shape orange blur as it shimmers on the mirror of the dressing table. Worry and concern moves her from the bed to her prize procession. As she gets closer, she realizes the blur is a reflection from the bedroom window. She looks out the window in the direction of the school. The top floor windows of the school are alive with lights, which surprises her. Her voice cracks as she calls out in a stutter-step tone.
Without opening his eyes, he reaches over to her side of the bed; he feels a cool spot where she should be. He lifts up his head and sees she at the window.
“What in God’s name are you doing up in the middle of the night, woman?”
She hears the sound of his voice, but his words never reach her ears. Her trembling finger points toward the school as she calls out,
“Lights at the School!”
Horst throws back the covers, in two steps he is at her side with his arm around her waist to comfort her.
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited June 28, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by JB Reese (edited June 29, 2011).]

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Hi JB,

This isn't bad, I like how you introduce the characters and conflict upfront, and the description of Horst's body pulling apart like ground meat is effectively disturbing.

The keyword for improvement in this piece, IMO, would be 'immediacy'. I felt a certain distance from the story, as if I'm being held at arm's length by it. Let's try to identify what causes this effect more closely:


At first light, Leigh and Karl Schmidt make their way to the cattle gate where they find Horst’s body wedged between the bottom boards of the gate and the ground.

You will often hear new writers advised to 'show and not tell'. This relates to immediacy because when you show events as they happen from the point of view of a specific character, the reader is allowed to inhabit the mind of that character and experience the things as they happen.

The way the above sentence is written, it is almost as if Leigh and Karl knew they'd find Horst wedged in the gate. But did they? The author certainly knew, and the author shows his hands by constructing the story in a way that makes the characters seem like puppets being controlled by strings.

Instead, take your time with this scene, there is a power to it if you let it unfold naturally. Why do Leigh and Karl go to the gate in the first place? Were they expecting to meet the informant there and get some information from him? The conflict between their expectations and the reality of what they find waiting for them would make an excellent source of tension for your story.

Karl is a distraught as Leigh.

How is he distraught? Does he cry? Does he look away? Does he fight back the tears? Show us his emotions. It sounds like he is more seasoned than Leigh, so perhaps show us his emotions and his containment of them. Did he know Horst? Karl's relationship with both Horst and Leigh will inform his reaction in this scene. Does he want to be strong and comfort Leigh, or was Horst such a good friend that he can't possibly contain his grief?

In any case, I think the underpinnings of a compelling story are here, and it will be just a matter of refining your technique.

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JB Reese
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Love what you have pointed out, and I have been toying with it some (local jargon) but, the 13 line limitation makes it difficult to cover all the bases. I believe, after having posting it, that this may well be the last 13 lines to my chapter one introduction. This a start for chapter one, not the beginning of the story, I'm going to post the first 13 lines of what I have in mind, and let see If I can't bring a better start to the beginning of the story. And by golly, I sure do appreciate the input. I'm feedback starve, at least from those who I don't know. Ernie
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I didn't comment on the first one you had even though I read it.

From your introduction I thought this might belong in the novel forum but looks like I was wrong, the story must be short enough after all. Kathleen would have said something I think.

But this opening is good. You introduce the MC(s), a good description and you have a mystery. But I think the word "moves" isn't the right tense. Or are you going for 2nd person? Even with the many stories and novels I have read, I have read very few second person. So I'm not a good judge.

But if not and I'm totally off the wall here than I believe you should change some of those tenses, to me they distances the reader.

ButAndher name and getting involved with the Cold War? Not sure if that involvement is by accident or on purpose but I can read the whole thing to find out.

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OK, I'm confused here.

Firstly, I've always seen the term as "trompe l'oeil", not "trompe an l'oeil". Second, what is this about Ruth Esther Harroldton and an 800-page manuscript? Is that telling us that this opening is from a novel? If so 9and a quick googling indicates you have at least 7 chapters up on the web alredy...), wrong section.

The narration is very matter-of-fact, although you tell us that "worry and concern move her" I didn't really feel her worry or concern. I think this is because there's no POV here; it becomes clear when you say Horst "feels a cool spot" that you are describing the action but not involved in the characters.

I was puzzled by "She hears the sound of his voice, but his words never reach her ears". Um, that doesn't make sense. I assume you are trying to tell us that she's not really listening to him because her focus is elsewhere.

I'm afraid I wouldn't read on.

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