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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Subway Hero 2.0 - 1.8 k words

   
Author Topic: Subway Hero 2.0 - 1.8 k words
Theo Gerken
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This is a science-fiction short story. The story is 1800 words. It's based on, and inspired by, a real event. If you only read the beginning you might not get anything out of reading about it, but if you read the whole thing you definately will. Link:

New York Post Real Incident

If you feel like reading the whole story I'd be happy to email it to you. Cheers!

<=============================>


New York City, Pennsylvania Station.
October 10, 2028.
2:08 p.m.

Fleg stood at the very end of the subway wagon. Stuck between the wall and a man who was staring him down.

Fleg did not know this man. The man looked like a meth addict; skinny, white, dirty, worn clothes, unshaved. He had a knife in his hand. There was blood on the knife.
Who else did this mother****er stab? Fleg thought.

Fleg had that prickly sensation at the back of his skull. He always felt it when some **** was going down. He squared his feet, bent his knees and raised his hands.
"You're going to die," the man said, stepping forward and swinging the knife at Fleg's face.

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James Riser
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The fragment does well to create tension. This is a good inciting event.

Feel free to send me the story and I'll give it a read this weekend if that's fine.

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Theo Gerken
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@James Riser ok thanks. Emailed the story to you in PDF format. Looking forward for your input!
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jerich100
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Should the first two sentences be one sentence?

Subway wagon? [Smile] Are they called wagons or cars?

I'd like a brief--even if one word--description of the wall. Something to wet the appetite. Something to get the mind going.

I like the second paragraph, but could you delete the reference to "meth addict". How does Fleg know what a meth addict looks like? And even if Fleg is correct, in my opinion the words trivializes the scene. Why not let the reader decide? He/she may come up with something more terrifying.

Would it be "Who else..." or would it just be "Who..."? "Else" implies a 2nd person stabbed.

Wouldn't Fleg at least wonder where the body is?

Why would the man want to kill Fleg? I realize the story is just starting, but shouldn't there be something, some hint, some brief spark of presumed cause for the man's actions? Even if the man saw Fleg's watch, anything get the reader to hook onto. You don't want the reader to think the scene is trivialized.

Even if the man had no reason, wouldn't Fleg be thinking, "Why me?"

Fleg seems to be an angry person. This is okay, of course, but shouldn't the reader have a reason why Fleg is so "on edge"? Is anyone else around? Does Fleg notice others who are ignoring his plight? That might feed his bitterness.

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extrinsic
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Openings serve to entice readers to read on. This is the principle behind Hatrack's Thirteen Lines Fragments. I read the news report. I pass on reading the rest of "Subway Hero 2.0" at this time though.

This opening feels raw draft to me. It's one step removed from its source inspiration, the news report. The language is awkward, as is to be anticipated for English second language speakers, readers, and writers, though Swedish native language folk are generally less awkward with English than native Romance language users.

I see two macro areas that don't work for me. One, that this scene is in medias res. I feel this opens later than this scene's context and texture development ask for: context and texture, who, when, where; what, why, how. jerich100 touches upon a question related to this: why does this attacker confront Fleg? The news report satisfies that question and a more substantial one for me: what, why, and how the victim is a subway hero.

An earlier opening moment I think is indicated, so that both questions lead up to the attacker assaulting Fleg and Fleg prevailing. By the way, related to this, the title I think gives away too much of the plot. The title says Fleg wins this confrontation. My curiosity and caring for Fleg are defused from the title onward.

The second large area that doesn't work for me is the setting development, though character development too. This is an event scene, which is one of the three principle features for scene and story development. Setting and character development, though, is for me underrealized. Full realization of the scene realizes all three areas so that readers feel as if they are bystanders or participants in the action.

This is the magical development of the illusion of reality, a participation mystique spell. Concrete character and setting features accomplish the spell. These features develop through character thoughts, perceptions of sensory details, like visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and the most important, prose's sixth sense of emotional feeling, and a character's emotional, physical action, spoken, and thought reactions to them. Fleg's observations of the assailant serve this sensory function to a minor degree.

Developing the illusion of reality demands describing specific "telling detail" features of the time, place, and situation (setting) that authenticate the narrative, make it seem real or at least real for the character, narrator, and writer.

I've traveled New York City's subways. They are sensory cacaphonies. Sensory features that distinguish New York's subways from any other city's subway, metro, underground, tube, whatever name, are crucial and beneficial for developing an illusion of reality and authenticating a narrative. I can easily imagine the writer of this opening has limited, if any, New York subway experience. My willing suspension of disbelief evaporates. I then wonder why this news-report inspired story feels more like long distance journalism than up close and personal fully dramatized fiction.

A strength of this opening that stands out for me is that this fragment is obviously and unquestionably portrayed from Fleg's perspective, That is artfully managed. How the fragment manages that is at times through the awkward English second language diction, terms like "subway wagon" from the first sentence. That one shows that Fleg is not a native of the U.S. and that it is from his thought, his internal world.

The second sentence is a sentence fragment of the interjection type, an understated exclamation given as a thought. Those two first sentences strongly and clearly develop the narrative voice and narrative point of view as Fleg's.

"Fleg did not know this man." Breaks the illusion of reality, Fleg's reality, spell. That sentence is narrator voice, pulling back from inside Fleg's thoughts to a distant point outside the scene, outside the story. The sentence almost works as Fleg's thought. "This" used as an awkwardly positioned pronoun referent, common to English second language speakers, feels as though it is from Fleg's thoughts. Naming him is the culprit. This example stays inside Fleg's thoughts: //He didn't know the man.// That's a native English speaker's diction and syntax. This is an English second language example: //He did not know this man.//

Use of words that signal simile are cause for careful evaluation, "like," for example, "looks like a meth addict." jerich100 also raises this point. The clause is a narrator tell, summarizing what for Fleg is a conclusion after the fact of his observation of the man as unkempt. The effect illogically follows the cause. Causal-logically, Fleg must first observe the clues to the man's character before he can determine the man's character. //Skinny, white, dirty, worn clothes, unshaved, the man looked like a meth addict.// That syntax is causal-logical and structured to resemble thought. However, the singular, conclusive visible meth addict cue is ugly scabs and sores on the face. Meth addicts subconsciously scratch wounds into their faces.

"He had a knife in his hand." Static voice and wordy, when a more robust verb and syntax are indicated for this emphatic moment, for example: //He held a bloody knife.// I'd also suggest a stronger description of the knife. Is it a short, folding knife? A stilleto? A long serrated blade? A combat knife? A cleaver-like blade? A Bowie knife? Emphasize the knife's menance as Fleg perceives it.

Do the foul-language words Fleg thinks characterize Fleg? They feel gratuitous, overly melodramatic, and out of nowhere--Fleg's underrdeveloped character---to me and therefore unsupported. They jar and disrupt the flow and pace.

Italicizing Fleg's direct thought to me also seems superfluous. The viewpoint is already inside Fleg's internal world. The sentence and its thought tag come from narrator perception. Thought expression conventions of this tagged type are not conventionally italicized. Free direct thought maybe, though as a reader I'm already inside Fleg's thoughts.

In all, the fragment's strengths for me orient around the close narrative and aesthetic distance to Kleg's immediate viewpoint perceptions and thoughts. This is close to the essential illusion of reality spell very much preferred by readers. Only awkward shortcomings block that spell developing.

I think the choice of the protagonist's name is sublime. The surname Fleg means judge according to name meaning references. Exquisite. Maybe that meaning could be developed in the story so readers know, like if the beginning started earlier in time and Fleg is compelled to reveal it at a time when he's loosing his calm because no one, no law man, is doing anything about the assailant's rampage on the train. Fleg: Enforcer, judge, jury, and executioner. Maybe he has that sense of himself internally, as a thought reaction to, say, a television or radio broadcast report of the assailant's violent spree prior in time to his boarding the train.

The date in the dateline says 2028. Futuristic, okay. A convention principle for fantastical fiction is to introduce or cue up clearly in the first hundred or so words the nature of a fantastical feature. I don't feel the date itself is enough. I do surmise one later on, something fantastical related to how Fleg subdues the assailant.

I'm left with wondering three possibilities, questions actually, that I think the fragment raises: one, if Fleg might be Swedish, since the diction and syntax are awkward, at times artfully, at times clumsily; two, if this story might be stronger written about a Stockholm metro train ride, from stronger familiarity with the setting; three, my main one, if this moment is the strongest and clearest starting point for the story's introductions.

[ February 11, 2014, 03:45 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Jared W. Cooper
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The first thing that stood out to me reading these lines?

Almost every sentence there could be the first sentence of the story, and I'm not sure which one would be the strongest, but by seeing the "weakest" of those, I think you could find out which lines to cut.

All together, these lines seem to highlight the same scenario and paint a similar picture. By which I mean, if you remove them, the tension and setting remain unchanged. If the story began with the last line, I might be able to intuit the other details provided, with exception of what year it is, but that can be intuited later on.

As a hook? Maybe it works too well. My only problem is that, as I said, all of the lines are too similar to build one big hook; it's more like the same hook, being enforced. But I'm a minimalist at heart, so who knows!

Email me the story, please. I'd like to see where you go with it.

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Denevius
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There are several sentence constructions present here that keep me away from becoming one with the story.

quote:
Fleg stood at the very end of the subway wagon.
As a reader just entering the story, this sentence is loaded with unanswered questions. Who's Fleg? What subway wagon? What's a subway wagon? The first thing I thought was the sandwich shop, Subway. But that can't be right. It took me a while to realize, ah, like the mass transit compartment. That also cleared up "the very end".

However, having to do all of that with just the first line when the first line isn't really all that significant is a lot to ask for from a reader.

quote:
Stuck between the wall and a man who was staring him down.
More questions. Is he on the train? If so, what wall is he between? And now, who is this man staring him down? And considering I still don't know who Fleg is, I'm still only left with unanswered questions considering nothing significant has yet unfolded in the narrative.

quote:
Fleg did not know this man.
That makes two of us. I feel like so far the prose is a basic sketch of a scene that needs further development. Kind of like something someone jots down on napkins.

quote:
Fleg had that prickly sensation at the back of his skull. He always felt it when some **** was going down.
The first thing that came to mind was Spider-man's spidey sense, which I'm pretty sure you don't want. Overall, though, this could be an interesting scene, though maybe it shouldn't be an opening scene. It seems to begin in mid-thought, and definitely in mid-action, without bothering with any essential world-building.
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Theo Gerken
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Ok. Thanks for all the comments. I agree the beginning is awkward but I don't think its terribly bad.

I rewrote it completely. Read this and say if its bad/good/better/worse.

<=============================>

New York City, Pennsylvania Station.
October 10, 2028.
2:08 p.m.

Fleg sat down. The train started moving. He put his right hand back in the pocket. Two knuckles were damaged and getting larger.
Maybe I should start using palm strikes Bas Rutten style, Fleg thought.

The job had gone well. Go there, intimidate, do some damage, go home. Escalate it they didn't pay. It wasn't exactly rocket science.

There was a lot of people on the train. Fleg wondered why, but mostly he just wanted to go home and eat lunch. Fleg thought about his home made, richly buttered egg and bacon sandwich. With a little bit of strong mustard and a piece of lettuce on top. It was heaven on earth. Fleg closed his eyes.

*the knife attack comes here*

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Denevius
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This is a little clearer, but you might want to watch out for shorthand when you're writing. Take your first line:

quote:
Fleg sat down.
Sat down where and on what? And spatially, where is he right now?

quote:
The train started moving.
Did he sit down and is now watching a train move? Is he on the train?

quote:
There was a lot of people on the train.
How do they look? How does the train look in the year 2028? I *suppose* we're in the western world, though there's no indication to locale.

You do describe some things well, however. The two knuckles does a good job of implying what he's been up to without specifying, which is a nice bit of writing. I think you spend a little too much time on the description of the sandwich considering that can't hardly be more important to the plot as Who, What, Where, and Why that's currently shirked in the narrative. But as descriptions go, it's done well. Just a bit too detailed for food that it seems like he's not going to be eating anyway.

And the knife attack comes on a crowded train? This is why further descriptions would help, because exactly how crowded is this train?

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Denevius
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Ah, well, maybe the sandwich is important to the plot. I forgot this is based on something about Subway.
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Theo Gerken
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I rewrote it quite a bit.

<====================>

Subway Hero 2.0

Part 1

New York City, Pennsylvania Station.
October 10, 2028.
2:08 p.m.

Fleg stepped onto the train, found a seat, sat down. About half the seats were taken. Fleg barely noticed, everything was grey to him, he just wanted to go home.

The train started moving. He put his right hand back in the pocket. Two knuckles were damaged and getting larger.
Maybe I should start using palm strikes Bas Rutten style, Fleg thought.

The job had gone well. Go there, intimidate, do some damage, go home. Escalate if they didn't pay. It wasn't exactly rocket science.

But it was hard work. Unpredictable. Fleg had been shot at, stabbed, beaten over the back of the head with a steel pipe – it was a dangerous job. He came close to dying once, but he never saw no light.

[ February 13, 2014, 10:10 AM: Message edited by: Theo Gerken ]

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