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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Terminal Point: Damnation

   
Author Topic: Terminal Point: Damnation
genevive42
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Version 1:

"Clear!" she called over coms. The soldiers in front of Chaya obediently dispersed in a pattern that left a slim firing line to the enemy. The fifth squad was well trained, if not enthusiastic. Soldiers didn't like protecting Throwers; there was too much chance they'd have to lay down their lives in sacrifice to their cybernetic superiors.

Chaya tried to make every loss count. Those that died around her died in glory and as a last resort, but that was still their place. With little more than a thought, the power for the plasma arc built in her body and flowed through the implants that lined her right arm, focusing the beam and shooting from her hand. The enemy soldiers in the arc's path gave their lives protecting their Verni overlord who thought he was so safe...

*************
Version 2:

Chaya swung her arm to aim through the slim opening between the soldiers. "Clear," she called over coms. The soldiers of squad five-niner-two obediently shifted, leaving her an open shot at the Verni overlord. Energy buzzed through her body, creating tiny shocks as it connected with the implants and traveled down her arms. The plasma arc shot from her right hand, destroying the remains of the Verni's shield. One of his soldiers sacrificed himself belatedly stepping into her weapon's path. A useless gesture, that shot had already done its job.

The Verni turned on her but the heat traveling through the implants on her left arm shot out in a roiling stream of yellow and orange flame. The Verni overlords always thought they were so safe in their full body armor. And it was true, her flames...

*********

[ January 11, 2014, 10:09 AM: Message edited by: genevive42 ]

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Denevius
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Interesting opening, though I had to read it several times to make sense of it. A couple of things threw me off.

At first, I thought 'Chaya' was a structure the soldiers were in front of. Took me a moment to realize that Chaya was the woman who yelled clear. Just curious, though, why begin the story with that pronoun?

quote:
With little more than a thought, the power for the plasma arc built in her body
This was really confusing, as at first I thought 'built' referred to an arc that had been *built* in her body, so I saw the word as past tense for something that had happened. So when I tried to make sense of the rest of the sentence:

quote:
and flowed through the implants that lined her right arm, focusing the beam and shooting from her hand.
I was like, what?

Then I realized that 'built' was a present action taking place, the growing of power in her body, and that the plasma arc wasn't a cybernetic structure in her body, but something building, like rage, or happiness.

So yeah, overall, not a bad opening, though I almost feel that the story would be more gripping told from one of the soldiers tasked with protecting a Thrower, instead of the Thrower itself. More risk, more internal conflict in characterization. It's hard to accept the fact that someone will sacrifice you for a greater goal. And right from the beginning the reader is caught up in whether the narrator lives or die.

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genevive42
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Thoughts on Version 2?
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History
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The risk in beginning a story in the midst of a battle (particularly when you only have 13 lines to share) is that the need to narrate the action does not leave time to provide enough of the setting, character(s), and the "why should we care" elements to keep the some readers reading--except perhaps for gamers. [Wink]

This has an old pulp science fiction Flash Gordon/Lensman space opera feel with the "Verni overlord" and ray power coming from her arm (which, as a physician, I couldn't sufficiently suspend my belief to accept, knowing the physiological impossibility of it and how such energies would destroy human tissues).

I also did not have a sense that the protagonist was in danger with (1) all the power she possesses and (2) in that she displays no sense of danger to herself.

Perhaps if more lines were permitted to develop this, but...no, this one did not gell as well with me as your other fine work.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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genevive42
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You're right, History, this is actually a bit of a slower start. I have a 7500 word cap, and knowing me, I'll use most of that space. However, if it makes any difference, this is the end of the battle and it doesn't go for much longer before I get into character interaction. I am showing this character at her peak because the story is about her fall. She also has been genetically modified to handle these implants.

I am in no way arguing with anything that anybody has said. I'm just filling you in on the things that you can't see in 13 lines, and some on my process.

I appreciate everyone's comments, as well as those that may still come. The story is in its infancy and I'm still feeling it out. Any input is welcome.

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Denevius
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quote:
I also did not have a sense that the protagonist was in danger with (1) all the power she possesses and (2) in that she displays no sense of danger to herself.
This is kind of what I was getting at when I said that it may be better told from a soldier's viewpoint. Chaya simply seems too powerful up front to feel any tension in the narrative. And the goal we see her trying to accomplish, destroying this overlord, doesn't seem to come at any particular risk to her.

Right now the opening is all plot, which is fine for the genre. But the plot isn't inspiring tension. Even if you switched the main action you're showing us and have the overlord shooting this plasma arc at Chaya, you might go a long way in producing dramatic conflict that's not there now.

Will she live (well, of course), but how?

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extrinsic
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What works for me most in either excerpt is the scenario of a combatant deploying her special skills. What doesn't work much for me is the openings happen too fast for developing the illusion of reality I believe the openings are trying for.

The openings feel to me like narrator voice externally mediating the events, characters, and settings' descriptions yet attempts some closeness to Chaya's viewpoint internally to the moment and place of the action. Diction and syntax adjustments toward a closer character voice method or stronger narrator voice attitude could adjust the voice decidedly one way or another.

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J Seth Rhinehart
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I'd be glad to read on if you want to send me the story.

You could really go with either option, but I prefer the second. I like the visceral way it conveys the weapon being an integrated part of her body. Sort of like explaining the kick of a rifle butt to someone who has never held a firearm. One thing you could look to relate, though, is Chaya's familiarity with the weapon platform. If she's an old hand, the plasma arc's discharge will be an almost unnoticed intimacy. Like a goodnight kiss from your wife of twenty years. If it's her first time, it might almost take her by surprise with its raw power. The same goes for her killing of the Verni. It seems like she should have some emotional reaction to the murder, even if it's just the satisfaction of a job well done.

One other thing. You might want to show why the soldiers protect her despite their reticence to do so. Are they more afraid of her than death? Are they controlled by programming or some mechanism? Is it dedication to the cause? If you're requiring that someone sacrifice their life for you, you better hope they're properly motivated.

Anyway, that's my first attempt at a critique. hope it wasn't overboard. Good luck.

-Seth

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genevive42
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Thanks Seth. For a first crit you're doing great. I'll probably finish the story soon and I'll take you up on your offer to read.

And thank you everyone for your comments. They've been very helpful.

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extrinsic
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The second version to me is stronger and clearer. Clarification is working. Clarification is a main function of revision.

One area I feel is lacking in the second opening. The passage portrays visual, aural, and tactile senstations. Perhaps olfactory and certainly gustatory development are not indicated in this portion, but I feel emotional feeling is. An emotional reaction character thought, Chaya's, added to the first paragraph would strengthen the illusion of reality appreciably, closing narrative distance and aesthetic distance for empathy's sake. Sentence fragments, even a single-word interjection (thought or speech exclamation) here or there, artfully, timely, and judiciously deployed would do this character expression magic.

"Squad five-niner-two" doesn't work for me. Squad level military units rarely have names or designations like that. Perhaps more development of why this squad is so named might be called for. When a squad does have an unconventional designation, its operational status is more specific than a number. Regiments are numeral designated, three digits. Brigades are ordinal numeral and specialty designated: 1st Armored Cavalry. Companies are code letter designated: Aplha, Bravo, Charlie. etc. Platoons are ordinal numeral designated as are squads. Traditionally and conventionally. When a squad is specifically named, the name is internal to the squad or its mission and has a nickname-like metonymy or synecdoche characteristic. "Death Squad," "Armbruster's Shield," "mortar squad," etc., "Chaya's Seven."

Definte article usage is typically not indicated for plural nouns. "between the soldiers," The soldiers of," "the implants," "The Verni overlords." For the most part, each definite article to me should be evaluated. Some I feel ask for more noun specificity; others I feel ask for a pronoun or a modifier that then supports a definite article.

"The slim opening" somewhat works for me, but "between the soldiers" doesn't. Portraying the soldiers' purpose as a shield or screen I think is the intent and an area for strengthening clarification and definiteness. The somewhat-doesn't-work-for-me aspect about "slim opening" is it's less clear than I think is called for. One, "opening" is also used as a gerund verb in other contexts; two, and has the "ing" ring disharmonius resonance with other "ings" and gerund verbs that readers subconsciously find distracting due to "ings" rhyming nature. A word like "gap" or such defuses both those diction hiccups. For that matter, gerunds and words with gerund formations also I feel call for discerning function evaluation.

"At the Verni overlord" works fine for me.

"The implants" doesn't work for me. Either more definte implant detail is called for or pronoun or noun definite detail, or both, to suit the nature of the definite article. That clause for that matter is on the vague side from the gerund "creating" and several particle words: "it" and "as" and that "the."

"creating tiny shocks as it connected with the implants" "Creating" doesn't to me describe how energy trails and leaks tiny shortcircuits along a conducting path. I feel the clause deserves its own sentence, obviating the gerund verb. Another issue with gerunds is they describe an ongoing action that continues until noted that it stops.

"As" is a conjuction word in that use. "As" is problematic when used to join descriptions of actions that probably aren't concurrent. Whether they are concurrent or not, fiction's pace and flow benefit from setting each and every idea into its own sentence. Or into parallel and coordinated triplets of concurrent or sequential actions or ideas.

"As" is also probably problematic from its uses as one of four or more parts of speech: adverb, conjunction, pronoun, and preposition particularly, and also a noun. Parts of speech that have multiple uses tend to create unwanted ambiguities.

On top of joining a second clause's action to the first action, a third clause tacks on at the sentence end, putting another action in concurrent position. A concurrent action triplet for ease of reading and understanding and appeal should use verbs in the same tense (verb parallelism, the three actions are otherwise grammatically coordinated--related). Past tense is the ideal, which creates an artful ambiguity of whether the triplet portrays concurrent or sequential actions.

"It" has a vague or awkward subject antecedent. By default, a pronoun like "it" references the immediately proximate preceding subject: Chaya's body, not the energy welling up in her body that I infer is meant.

That sentence is in the identical syntax as the following two: main independent clause, dependent gerund clause. That doesn't work for me.

A comma is indicated for the third of those sentences: "One of his soldiers sacrificed himself[,] belatedly stepping into her weapon's path." The second clause is a nonrestrictive dependent clause, which takes a comma.

"One of his soldiers" is wordy. I realize the intent is to distinguish the Verni's screen from Chaya's. But I feel the sentence subject could be stronger and clearer without the "one of."

Comma splice and dangling participle: "A useless gesture, that shot had already done its job." "A useless gesture" is a complete sentence fragment, of an interjection type, an independent exclamation actually, that almost poses as a character thought but leans more toward narrator voice.

A comma splice splices otherwise complete and comparatively parallel independent clauses to each other. Typically, a comma splice should instead be joined with a semicolon. Regardless, the fragment doesn't connect to the subject of the main clause, hence a dangling participle.

"always thought they were so safe" doesn't work for me. The superlative adverbs "always" and "so" express character voice properties, but they could as likely be narrator mediation comments, or even the widely deprecated intrusive writer voice. Without prior clear and strong indications of which voice the sentence comes from, I'm left with the writer's voice.

In all, I feel more revision clarification is called for. The meaning of the scene is clear, just its strength is blunted by quirky diction and syntax glitches.

Mechanical style: mostly doesn't work for me.
Craft: the dramatic complication I feel needs development.
Voice: I feel needs work distiguishing character and narrator voices.
Audience appeal: if what I infer from this opening is Chaya's in a desperate fight for her life, I have a little concern and curiosity, but since she's winning, this seems to be an end rather than a beginning, defusing my concern and curiosity.

[ January 25, 2014, 04:09 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
if what I infer from this opening is Chaya's in a desperate fight for her life, I have a little concern and curiosity, but since she's winning, this seems to be an end rather than a beginning, defusing my concern and curiosity.
I still think this is the crux of it. The writing is fine, I can see the actions, I know what's going on.

Perhaps this is just a matter of aesthetics. Others who have replied on this site are more than willing to hold off for a conflict to be introduced later. Of course, I can't help but wonder, in practice, how true that holds up, but either way.

For me, my attention wanes because I don't yet see why I should read on. You know, it would be something *if* her gear in her arms started to rev up, *then* short circuited. And then we're left with this image of her about to be hit by this other person's weapon. That would be like an "Oh s***!" moment.

But in this opening, she aims, she charges, she shoots, and there's no reason to believe she misses. Again, for those who say they're willing to wait, you're doing fine. Everything else works in my opinion. There's just not enough reason to read on, in my case.

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