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

   
Author Topic: Summer Snapshot
wise
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This is a 2800 word SF short story that I've submitted twice and been rejected twice. I changed it a lot after the first rejection, and a little after the second rejection. Here are the first 13. I'd love some feedback on the whole story to see if it's worth submitting again.
-------------------
Third Time's The Charm?
I stretched out the first paragraph and turned it into two paragraphs so it gives the narrator an excuse to slow down and tell her story. vThat should take care of the difference in pacing between the introduction and her memories. The third paragraph will start with the hot and sticky day when she was 11 years old, which is not included in this rendition. The last sentence sounds a little awkward to me, but I'm not sure what to do with it.

Third Try:
Harold, youíre a good son, but I know you wonít believe what Iím about to tell you, even if I am your mother. Iím old and you donít listen to half the things I say, but this is important. I wouldíve told you on Friday when youíre due to visit, but Ė well, just in case, Iím taping this, since my phone isnít working. Iíve kept a secret from you Ė from everyone Ė all my life. But I canít keep the secret anymore. Because today the aliens have returned.

I spotted them wandering around the back yard about ten minutes ago, but then they disappeared into the woods. I know what theyíre looking for. I remember it like it was yesterday, although I was only eleven that summer when I first learned of them.


-------
Thank you all for some great feedback. JoBird, I don't mind harsh. I prefer raw honesty and try to be as objective as I can about my writing, so thank you so much for your detailed suggestions. Hopefully this version will address many of your (and other's) concerns.

Second Try:
Harold, youíre a good son, but I know you wonít believe what Iím about to tell you, even if I am your mother. Iím old and you donít listen to half the things I say, but this is important. I wouldíve told you on Friday when youíre due to visit, but I may not get that chance. Thatís why Iím taping this. Iíve kept a secret from you Ė from everyone Ė all my life. But I canít keep the secret anymore. Because today the aliens have returned.
I learned about them the summer I turned eleven. It was a day like today Ė hot and sticky. Breathing was like gulping in algae instead of air, especially in the dense forest that backed up to the henhouse. You know I was an only child and had to explore on my own since the nearest neighbor was six miles away


First Try:
My name is Frances Taylor. Iím taping this for my children, grandchildren, and anyone else who might find and listen to it. I know Iím old and nobody pays much attention to us old folks anymore, mainly because I suppose they donít think we have anything worthwhile to say. However, I think youíll find my story interesting, maybe even useful. I wouldíve told you in person, but I may not get that chance.
It was summertime here in southwest Ohio. Warm, sticky, very green. Breathing was like inhaling algae, especially in the forest that backed up to the henhouse in our back yard. I was 11, old enough to be confident exploring the world on my own, young enough to enjoy the experience. Or maybe it was the other way around.

[ July 26, 2012, 10:54 PM: Message edited by: wise ]

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JoBird
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The intro doesn't work for me as it stands. My suggestions are below.

My main gripes:

1. It's slow.

-Pick up the pace. The audience knows he's old and slow; the story should, in my opinion, be a little faster (more energetic) to compensate.

2. It lacks personality.

-Or I should say that the main character lacks a compelling personality. Suggestion: jazz it up, play with an eccentricity, show us that Frances Taylor is unique in some way.

3. There's no SF element yet.

-Let the reader know it's SF earlier; in my opinion that would help.

4. It's too straight forward. And some of it strikes me as unnecessary -- a lot of it can be inferred through personality and subtext.

-Example of current version:
a. my name is blah,
b. this is for blah to listen to me,
c. nobody listens to me,
d. you'd like it,
e. we'll never meet,
f. brief grounding of scene,
g. nostalgic reflection

-Suggestion, work with a rearrangement:

a. nobody listens to me! (or) you'd like this!
b. enter scene,
c. give name,
d. SF element

quote:
My name is Frances Taylor.
I care what your name is, sure. But trick me with it, tease me a little. That's generally my preference.

Instead, you could hit us with some early recounted dialogue where his name is mentioned. And a point is made. For instance, maybe a buddy of his could have warned him that nobody cares what he has to say, and therein refer to him by name.

quote:
Iím taping this for my children, grandchildren, and anyone else who might find and listen to it.
So pretty much anybody. His motivation is to talk to anybody who will listen, but nobody's around to listen. It's a weak motivation right now. Nobody else wants to sit around listening to him -- why would I? This is reinforcing my desire to not want to read on.

quote:
I know Iím old and nobody pays much attention to us old folks anymore, mainly because I suppose they donít think we have anything worthwhile to say.
In my opinion, this doesn't add a lot.

I think there's room for more personality here. My suggestion: give this guy some interesting quirks that I can latch onto super fast.

quote:
However, I think youíll find my story interesting, maybe even useful.
Why not start with something a little more like that?

That being said, I personally don't like the "you'll" reference. The reason I don't like it is because the main character can't possibly know everyone who could potentially listen to his tape, so I feel a level of presumption there.

Regarding the absence of the SF element -- I think that would be fine in the opening thirteen if I had something to distract me, but I don't feel that I do.

quote:
I wouldíve told you in person, but I may not get that chance.
A line like that, in my opinion, works better if he's specifically referring to someone, his daughter, his son, his ex, whomever. The reason I feel that way is similar to what I mentioned above: he doesn't know everyone who could hear this, so it's unlikely that he would've chosen to tell them all in person.

Why wouldn't he get the chance? Just old age? That's my go-to answer. Or is there something more dastardly at work? If so, consider a full reveal here.

quote:
It was summertime here in southwest Ohio. Warm, sticky, very green.
I like the line.

quote:
Breathing was like inhaling algae, especially in the forest that backed up to the henhouse in our back yard.
Personal taste issue: breathing algae doesn't work for me as an image. It has to do with algae being a solid as opposed to a gas. There's a strength to the image all the same -- someone below mentioned "sucking in algae". That sounded like a good suggestion; it keeps the strength of the image.

The scene is starting to get some grounding, but it has taken a while to do it. And the grounding reinforces a slow pace, a lackadaisical lifestyle -- the old farm.

quote:
I was 11, old enough to be confident exploring the world on my own, young enough to enjoy the experience.
Frances is an old man now. Has he never told this story before? His children haven't heard him go on about being eleven? It doesn't feel congruent to me.

quote:
Or maybe it was the other way around.
This line isn't giving me the punch of wisdom that I feel like it's designed to. I suggest playing with it, or losing it altogether.

[ July 24, 2012, 04:33 PM: Message edited by: JoBird ]

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rcmann
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This is the kind of opening that would be appropriate for a novel. A slow buildup is fine when you have unlimited room. For a short story, you have very little room and even less time.

Something like, maybe, "It was steaming hot that year in SW Ohio. Trying to breathe in the forest out back was like sucking down algae."

You don't have to start with telling the reader that he's an old man recalling the past. Maybe you don't have to tell the reader at all. But if it's necessary to let them know that he's an old man, remembering long ago, you can work it in a bit at a time.

Short story writing is like fast food cooking. You slap on a meat patty, squirt on some condiments, close the bun, you're done. A novel starts with the stock, then you add spices, and meat chunks, and vegetables, and let it simmer for hours while the stew gets thicker and tastier. But that won't work in a short story. The reader will starve to death. In fact, they won't wait for supper. they will get up and leave.

Start with the story, then sprinkle in background for seasoning.

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Tiergan
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Yeah it was a slow start, but it read fine, much like an old man might speak wandering on.

My concern is it was a static start. Nothing really happened. My suggestion would be to to start with some form of movement, I have changed my word rom action to movement as people think action means violent action. But any kind of movement can set a scene.

You could even have him, shuffle across the room, and set the recorder and fall back into his chair. "My name is... "

Good Luck

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MartinV
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I love it. Of course I mostly read and write novels but the first paragraph really captured my interest.
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skadder
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I think start at "It was summertime...".
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MartinV
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I like version 1 better.
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pdblake
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I liked this. It drew me in and I want to know her story.

One nit pick. A henhouse butted up against dense forest? I keep chickens and there is no way I'd put a henhouse close to dense foliage. You need a clearing so you can see the foxes coming (and whatever other predators abound in your particular part of the world). Dead hens lay no eggs:)

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skadder
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Dead hens lay no eggs...

But what if they did?

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skadder
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I prefer the second one.
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wise
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Oops, sorry chickens! I'll change it to a barn.

Skadder: That's for another story, another day! LOL

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mayflower988
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The second paragraph didn't really work for me. The first paragraph sounds more urgent, like she doesn't have much time left. But in the second, it's like she stopped to set the scene. I just think that it would make more sense if the character's focused on telling her son the important secret, and then you as the author can sneak description into her urgent message. Especially considering this is a short story, it seems more fitting that Frances would feel compelled to stick to the important stuff. Hope that helps. I'm no professional author, just an amateur trying to finish my first book!
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wise
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Mayflower988 and Skadder, you are correct, the paragraphs don't mesh too well. That's because my first draft began with "It was summertime..." and the whole story was in first person told by the old woman. The ending I thought I liked was too weak, however. So then I added her son into the story. Now he shows up a few days after she completes the recording and the story seems more complete. But I had one story, then added to the beginning and end, and I don't think I kept the same feeling or pace consistent. Let me think on it some more and see if I can fix this!
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wise
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My third try is now up. Hopefully it solves the pacing problem. Thanks to all of you for your feedback!
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skadder
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*

[ July 27, 2012, 10:25 AM: Message edited by: skadder ]

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mikerancourt
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Regarding 3rd try's last sentence you don't like:

I know what theyíre looking for. The thing they hid 50 years ago.
The only time I was late feeding the chickens.

That's all I got. Hrmph.

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wise
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Thanks, mikerancourt. You got my brain working again. So here's the new second paragraph:

I spotted them wandering around the back yard about ten minutes ago, but then they disappeared into the trees. I know what theyíre looking for. I found it the summer I turned eleven. The summer I stopped playing in the woods.

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BoldWriter
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quote:
Iíve kept a secret from you Ė from everyone Ė all my life. But I canít keep the secret anymore. Because today the aliens have returned.

I spotted them wandering around the back yard about ten minutes ago, but then they disappeared into the trees. I know what theyíre looking for. I found it the summer I turned eleven. The summer I stopped playing in the woods.

I love the new second paragraph, however when you now couple it with the last bit of the first paragraph, a pattern emerges. It sounds overly dramatic. I felt like I should have heard an ominous 'dun-dun-DUN' after both parts.

I'm going to qualify my statement because I'm not sure I'm right, but I think it's because of the structure. It's like:

I know something.
Yup, I really do.
It's something neat.

Three veiled hints in a row. It feels a bit like I'm being strung along, and that isn't interesting to me.

That said, I think the second paragraph is very strong. It really makes me want to know what she found and why it made her not want to go back. I'd flip the page for that. If you found a way to re-write the last part of the first paragraph, it wouldn't sound so much like you're deliberatly keeping me in the dark.

Just an opinion.

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wise
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BoldWriter, you're definitely right. If I left out "The summer I stopped playing in the woods." do you think that would soften it a little? The next part would read:

It was a day like today Ė hot and sticky. Breathing was like gulping in algae instead of air, especially in the dense forest that backed up to the henhouse. You know I was an only child and had to explore on my own since the nearest neighbor was six miles away...

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mayflower988
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The first sentence bothers me:

"Harold, youíre a good son, but I know you wonít believe what Iím about to tell you, even if I am your mother."

Okay, what does being a good son have to do with believing her? He can still be a good son whether or not he believes her. Also, the phrase "even if I am your mother" is just redundant. I'd cut it. You've already told us he's her son...well, not necessarily. Okay, well, just know that was my first thought upon reading it. And carry on. :)

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