Would like some feedback on this 3000 word story. I would happy to exchange a critique on a story of 5,000 words or less. Opening:
Grime-mottled white and black cables snaked along the floor, under and over tables and chairs. Tiny green and red lights blinked like hidden gems in the holes of dark black boxes. Strings of dust clung and quivered from the grills of equipment fans that belched out warm air into the dank basement room. Flash drives lay scattered on the table like husks of dead silver beetles. They skittered on occasion as the table vibrated under the tapping of fingers, the bumping of knees, and the whirling of mouse on mouse pad. “The ultimate crypto-paradox is whether the world’s most powerful computer can create a code that it cannot itself crack.” Razzboy was unsure if that thought was originally his own. It first flittered in the back of his mind months ago when he and Gordo
The visual sensation opening works for me in developing the illusion of reality. I don't, though, feel as participatory in the mystique as I think this opening could develop. The ride is a little too bumpy for me and without a seat [edit: shoulder] to ride on, so to speak.
The first five sentences describe visual sensations with little attitude commentary. Like, what does this setting emotionally mean to the protagonist, who isn't introduced until the next to last sentence. Also, the first four sentences' syntax are closely similar. Use of modifiers joined by conjunctions is in doublets: "white and black cables," "under and over tables and chairs," "Tiny green and red lights," and "dust clung and quivered."
This wordiness clutters the descriptions in a way that they are challenging to follow, as well as a lack of what they mean personally to Razzboy. Here I feel the issue is this feels like narrator voice, or writer voice, when I feel the intent is to introduce character voice. Narrative distance is open here. Openings I feel are stronger when they develop character voice.
Two lackluster similes as well: "like hidden gems" and "like husks of dead silver beetles." They feel lackluster to me from not having emotional meaning for Razzboy. A method that might add spice to both is use of creative punctuation that would change them to metaphors using broken thought stream-of-consciousness's unconventional mechanical style, from Razzboy's perspective.
I would also suggest an additional modifier that signals Razzboy sees these visuals and emotionally reacts to them. Then he's present along with these items. For example, solely to illustrate: "Tiny green and red lights blinked like hidden gems in the holes of dark black boxes." //Garish-colored LED lights glistened from black console boxes--a nightmare gemstone field glaring evil eyes under dim lights.//
"Dark" and "black" is a tautology. Though repetition can be artful when used for emphasis, or emotional amplification, like through overstatement or irony.
This sentence is wordy: "They skittered on occasion as the table vibrated under the tapping of fingers, the bumping of knees, and the whirling of mouse on mouse pad." "On" and "of" are the standouts there, and "as" used as a conjunction joining separate ideas that could be more strong and clear if set off from each other.
"On occasion" is too dependent a parenthetical phrase aside to leave without comma brackets, I feel.
"The tapping of fingers, the bumping of knees, and the whirling of mouse on mouse pad" feels too definite yet insignificant timewise from ongoing and indefinite time span and hence verbose to me, as well as in present progressive tense, where past tense and simplified syntax I feel are indicated for strong and smooth flow and pace of the otherwise artful triplet.
For example: //Fingers stabbed keystrokes, knees bumped table legs, mouses scraped across mouse pads. The beetle drives maniacally skittered about their spots from the table vibrations.//
The sentence bracketed with quote marks signals speech. The next sentence declares that it's a thought instead. That's a bumpy piece. Makes me suspect all thoughts will be bracketed with quote marks and I won't timely know them from speech.
The thought sentence doesn't connect to the preceding context. The thought's idea does not connect to the paragraph's idea. Either a smoother transition or a paragraph break signaling a transition is indicated.
That Razzboy is unsure if the thought was his originally I think needs more development before the flashback or recollection setup starts.
The flashback is itself I feel anachronous. Going into backstory before the scene's meaning is fully developed leaves the scene's context and texture I feel unimportant because it's underdeveloped. Perhaps this opening opens at an inopportune moment. Maybe the opening should begin in a prior or later, more meaningful moment.
Voice to me is the main shortcoming for this opening. I feel as though the intent is to develop a close character viewpoint voice, but narrator and to a degree writer viewpoint voices stand out.
Craft doesn't quite work for me. I don't see full realization of the scene developing before moving into backstory. Also, though Razzboy's thought about whether a computer can create a code it can't decipher is a want with inherent problems, it is couched as a puzzle, a parlor game conundrum akin to "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" A puzzle-conundrum does not in and off itself cause complications. Consider how it complicates Razzboy's life.
Audience appeal doesn't stand out for me, due to the above voice and craft shortcomings.
Mechanical style is more or less above average in basic principles but has shortcomings in larger scale principles like syntax variation, fully developed content, and idea organization.
This opening of Razzboy's want, maybe problem, wanting satisfaction has potentials but I don't see them standing out strongly and clearly in an appealing manner.
Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever had any opening I’ve posted reviewed this thoroughly before. And one that I happen to mostly agree with.
For your ironic name, You pack quite a good amount of analysis.
The repetition of syntax in the first four bothered me a little. I should have changed it as things that bother me a little now tend to bother me a lot later.
> "On occasion" is too dependent a parenthetical phrase aside to leave without comma brackets, I feel.
You are 100% right. I have cut >on occasion<, and as you indicated, the sentence is too wordy.
> The sentence bracketed with quote marks signals speech. The next sentence declares that it's a thought instead. That's a bumpy piece. Makes me suspect all thoughts will be bracketed with quote marks and I won't timely know them from speech.
The only thought bracketed in the entire story happens to be that one. Once the story gets going it will become clear why. I offer the clue that Razzboy is not sure if the thought is his own.
> The thought sentence doesn't connect to the preceding context. The thought's idea does not connect to the paragraph's idea. Either a smoother transition or a paragraph break signaling a transition is indicated.
I did indent the thought, but when you paste stuff in this forum it does it’s own formatting. You are right in that there is no connection to the scene description. I feel exposed as the playwright I mostly am. I have written dozens of plays, but less than a dozen short stories. In playwriting the scene is described first, then characters, then the dialogue begins. That is essentially what I did here, set the stage without worrying if what came later would match as I figured all would be revealed later in the story, but that does not make for a good hook.
> This opening of Razzboy's want, maybe problem, wanting satisfaction has potentials but I don't see them standing out strongly and clearly in an appealing manner.
I could have written this story with Gordo as the main character, What Gordo wants drives this story, and the need of Razzboy is after is not clear until later, but Razzboy is by far the more sympathetic character.
> Mechanical style is more or less above average in basic principles but has shortcomings in larger scale principles like syntax variation, fully developed content, and idea organization.
Ouch, but you are right. I felt uncomfortable about that syntax and yes this isn’t organized optimally for a catchy opening, I presume what you mean by developed content is that you think the clumpy scene description doesn’t blend in with the main character voice. My lure had a lot of visual splash, but not enough of a hook.
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Online formating standards are different from print. Wordprocessor tabbed indents don't directly translate into BB or HTML source code, unfortunately. When I want to emulate print paragraph indent formating on bulletin boards, I use a few em spaces that do display, though as blanks. I have a clip and paste file of many unconventional character glyphs, the acute accent e of cliché, em dash, and em space among them. This paragraph is indented with three em spaces.
"extrinsic" is a term I adapted from the dictionary definition of Alfred Hitchcock's term MacGuffin. A feature lacking an intrinsic purpose that serves to set and keep a plot in motion. Intrinsic is the antonym of extrinsic: meaning "not part of or belonging to a thing; originating from or on the outside" (Webster's 11th Collegiate). This is me, my standing to the publishing culture as a freelancer: writer, editor, publisher, critic, etc.
I believe content development and organization derives from the so-called "hook," which to me is setup that cues readers into a focal character's dramatic complication: an intrinsic, appreciable want or problem wanting satisfaction that drives a narrative's plot from opening to ending.
The visual descriptions of this short story opening have potentials for delivering that complication setup, if they clearly express a focal character's emotional attitude toward the portrayed visual sensations. I use a basic formula for this: a visual or other stimulating sensation is a cause for a reaction effect to the stimuli. Cause and effect, action and reaction, stimuli and response, etc.
However, prose's perhaps at times distinction from script writing alloys cause and effect into at times contemporaneous expression. Sensations' meanings are strongly and clearly expressed when modifying terms express emotional attitudes. The red sun set doesn't express emotional attitude meaning. The angry red sun set does. One emotional word added does a lot of heavy lifting in that regard. Whereas for script writing, the actors themselves often provide the emotional meaning for dialogue, for sensory stimuli, for actions, for scenes, for the parts and parcels.
Also, yes, the visual descriptions as they are don't for me connect to the main character voice. Several methods accomplish that connection. The emotional attitude commentary I describe above is one. Another is use of personal, informal language, sometimes awkward diction but sublimely evocative. A chiid's description of crying as stupid tears is an example (from Seymour Chatman's Story and Discourse, a rigorous discussion of writing voice).
Similarly, another method uses grammatically awkward yet sublimely evocative syntax. Sentence fragments used as interjections, of the exclamation overstatement or understatement varieties, inverted syntax, absent otherwise but implied grammatical parts like articles, verbs, nouns, number agreement conflicts, etc.
Or instead of or also, overstatement (emphasis) in the form of ample joining using conjunction splices in a stream-of-consciousness method. Triplets take this form. "I came; I saw; I conquered." A tricolon. The synchrisis opening of Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities is a long stream-of-consciousness passage. "It was the best of times . . ." Though the narrator's voice.
Another is artful punctuation deployment: the em dash for broken or faltering thought, semicolons and colons signaling joins, instead of lackluster comma and conjunction splices. Noah Lukeman's A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation is a comprehensive text on creative writing punctuation.
These above methods and others, many others, when artfully, timely, judiciously, appealingly deployed develop connections between content and character voice.
I see the irony. Irony to me means intent and meaning at cross odds with each other yet expressing a meaningful underlying truth, like paradox.
My outsider status relative to traditional publishing culture and the at times adversarial seeming function editors, publishers, and critics serve within the culture leaves me at least on the periphery. Yet when I can be of service to fellow sojourners on the Poet's Journey, I learn as well as find satisfaction from contributing, no matter how limited, and these persuade me I feel as though I am belonged on the inside.
Sometimes I wonder if my Hatrack involvement discourages struggling writers, perceived as perhaps at times overtreatment. One of my earliest online workshop responses was criticized for being thrice longer than the portion critiqued. That was all the criticism was, as if that's a fault!?
Anyway, critique is a dynamic conversation when writer and commenter are on the same wavelength and openminded, especially when the principles discussed are within each's grasp. You're there. Wishes for best outcomes with this narrative and your creative endeavours. Thank you for the kind compliments.
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quote:Originally posted by extrinsic: One of my earliest online workshop responses was criticized for being thrice longer than the portion critiqued. That was all the criticism was, as if that's a fault!?
Perhaps your feedback was perceived as an "embarrassment of riches" and thereby overwhelming.
For my part, I have a great appreciation for the time and effort you put into your feedback, extrinsic, and I hope others realize the value of what you offer. Even if they don't agree with your accessments, you provide much to think about and to learn from.
Also, it is to be hoped that the example you set of putting in that much time and effort, according to my "it's better to give than receive when it comes to feedback" theory, will encourage others to put forth extra effort as well. The benefits I believe they will receive may far outweigh the time expended.
So thank you from me at the very least.
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Though I'd like to claim my Hatrack participation is purely altruistic, it's not. Returns from my efforts have been and continue to be richly rewarding.
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It warms the cockles of my heart when I hear that someone has received some kind of benefit from their participation in the Hatrack River Writers Workshop forum.
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