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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Death of a Songbird, 1700 words

Author Topic: Death of a Songbird, 1700 words
Member # 9687

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I would appreciate feedback on my first 13 lines. Thank you in advance!

Ruben Glass, PhD. It did have a nice ring to it, but was it really worth the mosquitoes? The sheeting rain? The overflowing latrines? The grad student was aware, long before the agreeing to spend a semester on site in Central America, what he should expect there. But the knowledge had been an academic thing, a distant concept, as meaningless and “1500 meters” or “35 degrees Celsius.” He tried not to swat the insects. But knowledge is species a kingdom apart from experience.
“How do you manage?” Ruben had asked Sleeping-jaguar, flailing at the insects, during his first week in the field. Sleeping-jaguar did not explain insects to the American. What could he say? He could, however, explain his unusual name: it was something of fate’s prank. Most of the people in his village had two names, one in Spanish and the other in Kekchi...

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Member # 9669

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You have an interesting set-up here. I don't have many comments, but your thirteen lines seem to mostly flow well.

I had trouble with "Ruben had asked Sleeping-jaguar, flailing at the insects, during his first week in the field"

- "during his first week in the field" - seems out of place and troubles me, just a little. I don't know what I would do to fix that. I am just letting you know so that you are aware of my reaction to that.

- "as meaningless and" - I think you mean "as", not "and"

- "The grad student was aware, long before the agreeing to spend etc..." - I think you mean either "long before the agreement" or "long before agreeing". One of those two would work. The way you have it doesn't look quite right.

Anyway, Ruben Glass and Sleeping-Jaguar seem like a couple of characters I would like to know better, so I would definitely read on. I especially liked the way you set this up, from the start.

Good job, and good luck.

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Member # 9148

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Decided to get to this one a lot sooner than I did the last three I critted.

C@R3Y has already mentioned most of the nitpicks but I would add the "But knowledge" sentence. Seems like there is a word missing or the a between species and kingdom should be in front of species even though kingdom might be still the wrong word to us in that sentence.

And I would add that the "The Grad student" sentence seems a bit complicated for a first paragraph. Usually shorter and to the point sentences work better there.

Over all though I think it does get the point across, has some nice descriptions. You get a feel for what Ruben is going through. Normally I would say something about you need a hint of the problem that comes up but the fact that he is in Central America on what is probably a dig and dealing with a native who fate plays funny tricks with probably is hint enough.

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Member # 9725

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Hey there.

C@RY3 and LDWriter2 have pretty much said it. I liked your PhD opening line. I'd suggest 'the grad student had been [made] aware' instead of the awkward 'was aware' for tense.

The 'But knowledge' sentence bothered me too, mostly because 'species' is not a verb. Quick workarounds could be 'knowledge is a species [that is] a kingdom apart from existence', or 'knowledge is species and kingdom apart experience', but these still seem like long-winded ways of saying 'knowledge and experience are kingdoms apart'.

Otherwise, I think the prose works pretty well. You've got two hooks, 'why is Ruben in Central America', and 'who is Sleeping-jaguar?', and for that I'd read on. I'd need these elements to be developed pretty soon, though - you've got enough here to pique my interest, so far, but not necessarily enough to sustain it until the end.

Hope this helps,

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Member # 7977

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I'd shift "The grad student" to just "Ruben." I got right away that it was a graduate student striving for his PhD. There were a few typos, but I'm interested in what happens next.

There is one other issue though. As much as I hate PoV nitpicking, I feel like there is a rather severe one here. In the first two sentences I think we're seeing this through Ruben's mind, particularly since you mention how he was aware of what he'd run into, and contrast academic knowledge of the facts of life in C.America with real experience of it. You also mention that he tried not to swat the bugs. All these things make me think we're in his head, but then....

Sleeping-jaguar did not explain insects to the American. What could he say?
The first sentence there is a statement of fact, fine from any PoV. The second sentence, though, sounds like a rhetorical question in the mind of the PoV character... but it's clearly in the mind of Sleeping-jaguar. If this is a narration of the long-ago past in Ruben's mind, and now he knows to ask "what could he say?" in hindsight, this sort of thing might be fine later in the book, but not in the first 13. So far, I think Ruben is still ignorant of most of the culture (he's still swatting at bugs a few words earlier).
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