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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » The Hiding Man - 6k words

   
Author Topic: The Hiding Man - 6k words
alliedfive
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This is a weird one (for me) that has a very subtle fantasy element, and was written in only two sittings. Would anyone like to read it?

Also, any comments on the 1st thirteen are appreciated, as I feel they have a pretty weak hook. The story in general takes awhile to get going.

1st Thirteen:

Once, I was awake for fifteen years. In all that time, only twice did anyone lay eyes on me.

It seemed like garden-variety insomnia at first. I tried warm milk, drugs, counting sheep, not thinking about sleep, thinking about sleep, more drugs. Nothing worked.

After an entire week without sleep, I started religiously checking my pulse, blood pressure, temperature. I weighed myself three times a day, checked my color, my pupils, my breathing. I stayed home from work, sure that I needed it. A person needs sleep, after all, or they will die.

Sometime during second week, I noticed that I wasnt tired anymore. In fact, my mind was clearer than it had been in years.

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Denevius
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That very first line could be gold if it wasn't passive. The second line is a nice followup to deepen the mystery, but the 'only' in it weakens the sentence.

I'll admit, though, that everything after that isn't very interesting. It's all backstory, and all telling. I think if the story takes a while to get going, you should cut to where readers said it began to get interesting, and maybe rework the other stuff in later.

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extrinsic
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I think, Denevius, that what you mean by passive might be mistaken for meaning passive voice. Passive voice is a conventional syntax inversion that places a sentence object in subject position and a sentence subject in object position. The doer or actor of the action is in active voice a sentence subject and an object is the person or thing acted upon.

For example: The ball was thrown by Gertrude. That's passive voice; note the preposition "by." Gertrude threw the ball. That's active voice.

However, to be verbs can feel static when a perhaps more dynamic verb may be stonger and clearer.

Let's look at the opening sentence. Is "Once, I was awake for fifteen years." active or passive voice? "Was awake for" has the "was" to be verb and "awake" close to predicate position and preposition "for," which are all signals of a passive voice. However, the sentence and verb "was" express a state of being, which is what to be verbs express in active voice, and states of being tend to be static. Fifteen years without sleep is in and of itself very static to me, though I think I'd also be on the manic side.

"I," the narrator, is the subject of being "once," "awake for fifteen years." Active voice but static from the verb "was" being a state of being that might be expressed more strongly and clearly.

Also, "awake" is an adjective modifying "I" "for fifteen years" in that usage and part of the object, though conventionally "awake" may be a verb.

Let's try looking at the sentence from another perspective to test its active or passive voice status. Once, I was kept awake for fifteen years. Passive voice, from "kept" being the main verb and no subject doer of being kept awake given, though a doer is implied. Once, I stayed awake for fifteen years. Active voice from the main verb "stayed" being an action that "I" did. "Stayed" clarifies the action and the doer and is stronger, more dynamic a verb than "was."

The opening does feel to me like backstory, a summary and explanation narration preface the narrator gives before getting to the main action. Context and texture development might instead begin in the "now" moment for stronger and clearer appeal. Beginning with not being able to sleep in the moment of its realization would depict the event unfolding in a setting, say, a bedroom, and portray the sensations the narrator directly experiences: sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes, and emotional reactions to them in actions, speech, and thoughts.

If another "now" after struggling with and coming to cope with not sleeping is where and when this action opens, the opening might begin in its setting and sensations and reactions to those stimuli.

[ August 29, 2013, 01:58 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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Passive in the sense that it's not active.

To say he was once awake for fifteen years sounds passive to me. However, to have the character, for instance, sitting in front of a calendar marking a day, then thinking/saying to himself, "Fifteen years." Rubbing bloodshot eyes. "Fifteen years. Awake."

And then on to the next paragraph.

To me, that would be active.

This isn't my attempt to rewrite the narrative, just to further explain what I meant by passive.

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extrinsic
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I see. Passive and active action are easily confused with passive and active voice. That's why I use the terms static and dynamic action and creative writing voices to distinguish them from grammatical voices.

I also see another area that relates to narrative distance. The backstory feels like it could be expressed anywhere, anywhen; like a disembodied narrator invisibly lecturing from a darkened stage to an unknown audience. Hence, the narrative distance is wide open from being mostly in narrator voice and viewpoint and not very much in character voice and viewpoint in the time, place, situation (setting), sensations, and reactions of the moment of the action.

[ August 29, 2013, 01:09 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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Right, and I have a feeling that the place where the narrative picks up is when we're more in the present moment of the character. That's may also be where we discover what the character wants. If I'm right, I'd think that that's where the story should probably start, and this backstory of the first 13 can be worked in later and/or in an active way.

If it's only 6000 words, a build up to the present moment probably isn't necessary.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Denevius, the problem with "passive" is that it is a very definitely defined grammatical term, and using it to refer to "not active" in this way can be confusing, partly because "active" as opposed to "passive" is also a defined grammatical term.

That's why extrinsic (and I, for that matter) prefer to use "static" and "dynamic" for the kinds of problems you are using "passive" and "active" for. Avoiding confusion with already defined grammatical terms can only help clarify what we are trying to say to help others with their writing.

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Denevius
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Ah. The thing is, though, that before this exchange, I've never had anyone be confused by what I meant, and I tend to critique a lot; also, many others have used the terms 'active' and 'passive' in critiques to mean what I'm getting at. To be honest, I actually don't often hear it referred to as 'static' or 'dynamic'; and before today, if someone had simply used these words for 'passive' or 'active', I would have been confused as to what they meant.

But now I know, and that's cool, and if someone used those terms, I would understand what they were driving at. I will note, however, that the person I was responding to didn't exactly seem to need clarification. If I confused you, Alliefive, I apologize.

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alliedfive
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quote:
If I confused you, Alliefive, I apologize.
No confusion, Denevius. That sentence is a clunker. Some other things I considered:

Once, I stayed awake for fifteen years.
I once stayed awake for fifteen years.
I stayed awake for fifteen years.
I once didn't sleep for fifteen years.

The problem with the statement itself is that it relates something that "didn't happen". Staying awake is a very passive/static thing. It's not sleeping. This whole frame at the beginning may end up on the cutting room floor, but I felt like I should explain how he ended up not sleeping for all that time.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by alliedfive:
I felt like I should explain how he ended up not sleeping for all that time.

Aye, there's the rub. Narrator explanations can be problematic when they lack context and texture that make them matter in the moment. Context answers who, when, and where questions; texture answers what, why, and how questions. One method for making an explanation matter in the moment is by satisfying another character's curiosity. That would be dialogue, though artless dialogue used for explanation can be as static as narrator tell lecturing.

If I were to portray the context and texture of a sleepless fifteen years, I'd open with the first sleep and express relief, for example, if that's the intended emtional response, about in the moment depiction of finally sleeping again. That I think would raise suspense (curiosity) about why I had been sleepless for fiteen years and make an explanation matter. I wouldn't go into exhaustive detail in an explanation block. I'd delay explaining fully in order to prolong curiosity. I'd give a few clues that satisfy curiosity for the moment and continue to develop the explanation as the action unfolds until curiosity was fully satisfied.

Why is sleeplessness important to begin with? The title "The Hiding Man" and the opening as it is imply that sleeplessness and hiding connect to each other. I see a man hiding, stuck in a proverbial bathtub contemplating his navel, and sleepless as representing a dissociative withdrawal from social culture driving a want to socially reconnect. That's heavily on the intangible side of the ledger and probably not as accessible and appealing as might be desired. Tangible features are accessible, appeal, and drive tension more, including tangible setting features: persons and things that are seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, and emotionally felt and reacted to.

In that regard, I suggest considering writing an opening scene in the now moment of the external and tangible features the narrator/protagonist experiences and reacts to as they unfold, instead of a meditative, reflexive, and reflective prefatory explanation.

[ August 29, 2013, 01:20 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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jayazman
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What if you started with a more immediate statement, like
"I have been awake for fifteen years now."
?

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Merlion-Emrys
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If you are still wanting readers for this I'd be interested in a crit exchange.
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pidream
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1.The first sentence read a little awkwardly, but I think, if you place a pause in there it will be ok. I would flop the work order in the second sentence and change the tense.

Once (. . .) I was awake for fifteen years. (Only twice, in all that time, had) anyone laid eyes on me.

2.Add (a) before garden to make it correct. The second sentence has way too many clauses. Consider breaking them, or not repeating what you have already told me. Possibly delete- thinking about sleep, more drugs.

It seemed like (a) garden-variety insomnia at first. I tried warm milk, drugs, counting sheep, (and) not thinking about sleep, thinking about sleep, more drugs. Nothing worked.

3.The second clause of the sentence has is a clich phrase (religiously). Id consider using another word. There should a conjunction before the last clause in the sentence, IMHO.

I think you could drop the second sentence altogether, as it just a re-telling of the first in different words. I get it, he is monitoring his health.

I think, you could drop the second clause of the third sentence (sure that I needed it), as you tell me, basically, the same thing in the next sentence. The re-telling does nothing to move the story forward.

After an entire week without sleep, I started religiously checking my pulse, blood pressure, (and) temperature. I weighed myself three times a day, checked my color, my pupils, my breathing. I stayed home from work, sure that I needed it. A person needs sleep, after all, or they will die.

4.Add (the) before second, to make the sentence complete. Id consider placing a coma after- I noticed, and deleting that, as it flows better for me. The last sentence is a little passive and Id consider re-writing it. Maybe- My thoughts and senses were sharper than ever.

Sometime during (the) second week, I noticed, (Delete- that) I wasnt tired anymore. In fact, my mind was clearer than it had been in years.

The biggest problem, for me, was the seeming lack of concern the character has for what is going on. It feels like the character is just ho-hum, this is how it is. Im interested but there is no energy to draw me in further, I think it needs a hint of alarm to hook me.
Good luck,
Stephen

[ October 31, 2013, 09:46 PM: Message edited by: pidream ]

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