Here are the first 13 lines of a 3700 word story that I have written. I would be interested in feedback on the beginning, and I would really appreciate it if someone would be willing to look at the whole thing.
Miriam lay back on the pillows. Her cheeks were grey and hollow, her eyes were dull, and her voice was nearly a whisper. “I don’t want to keep you from the observatory now, Brad. You’ve waited your whole life for this.” Brad shook his head. “I’ll have plenty of time to go there, dearest.” And not much time with you, he thought. “Ayan told me that she saw you on TV last night.” Ayan was a hospice chaplain. Brad had never found any comfort in her visits, but Miriam seemed to like her. “I was only on for a minute.” Somehow Miriam managed a smile. “Ayan said, ‘This must be so exciting for him, he’s been looking for extraterrestrials for so long and now he’s finally found them.’”
Posts: 18 | Registered: Apr 2014
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A bit of a melodramatic opening. Dialog is always tricky. We speak every day, but it's still hard to write realistic speech. I've always wondered why that is.
I've made this comment on several other openings, but this 13 simply feels like something I'll see on television. In real life, who phrases it like this: "You've waited your whole life for this"?
Something else that seems counter-intuitive is how seldom people who really know each other use each other names when talking to each other. Would Miriam say Brad's name in that first sentence? But then, it's also rare that terms of endearment work on the page: dearest, sweetheart, honey. These words written down in speech always kind of make me cringe. Firs of all, they're all cliched, unimaginative language. Secondly, it's like watching teens being lovey-dovey with each other. Usually no one wants to be exposed to that.
And last, I would think any conversation these people are having right now should probably begin with, "Oh crap, you found aliens!" Like, I get that Miriam is dying, but the implication I'm getting is that she's been dying for a while. Like, she has a terminal illness that didn't just happen. Whereas, again, aliens!
Event, setting, and character development begin in this opening fragment, emotional disequilibrium too to a degree. However, like Denevius, I feel this is a red-herring scene. The antagonizing event of consequence is revelation of extraterrestrials. How that event ties into Miriam's illness, what Brad personally wants most and problems opposing and antagonizing each feature: Miriam's illness, extraterrestrials, and Brad's personal moral crisis, is I feel absent and needed in this opening fragment, either directly or through implication.
The fragment's mechanical style management is generally strong, though somewhat static in use of verbs like "lay" and "shook," and mostly a pleasantry exchange conversation. And one glaring viewpoint glitch: "Ayan was a hospice chaplain." That sentence comes from neither characters' viewpoint, is narrator, if not writer, tell summary and explanation from far outside the scene's reality imitation.
Though the hospice sequence implies it has importance; for example, that extraterrestrial influence may cure Miriam, the implication requires more imagination effort to make that inference stretch than the fragment shows.
The moment when Brad makes the extraterrestrial discovery might be a stronger starting point. Then Miriam's health crisis can come in when it matters most to Brad, who I assume is the central agonist--protagonist.
Posts: 4379 | Registered: Jun 2008
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Short stories, particularly, must have every unnecessary word removed to the point of your becoming OCD about it. I recommend shortening your first three sentences to something like, “Miriam lay on pillows, her cheeks grey and hollow, her eyes dull, her voice a whisper.” A 30% reduction in words. Delete “that” in the third paragraph and “Somehow” in the last paragraph.
In fiction writing, the author provides the amount of description that is required and leaves the rest to the imagination of the reader. I believe the same applies to dialogue. You write only the required spoken words, and leave out words like, “um,” “well,” “finally,” and so on. The reader adds those word in, anyway.
Some extremely famous authors (Asimov, in my opinion) are very lousy with dialogue. I’ve heard that others are terrified of it. You seem to be at ease with dialogue. Perhaps you need to work on your description skills so dialogue and description are more balanced. I believe I’m in the same category as you. I fear that my dialogue dominates over my description. I must keep working on this until I’m proficient.
Posts: 92 | Registered: Dec 2013
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"Short stories, particularly, must have every unnecessary word removed to the point of your becoming OCD about it. I recommend shortening your first three sentences to something like, 'Miriam lay on pillows, her cheeks grey and hollow, her eyes dull, her voice a whisper.'"
I would go a step further and shorten it even more by cutting some of those descriptions to make it even shorter and punchier. There are 4 things described (cheeks grey, cheeks hollow, eyes, voice). Maybe 2 of those details would suffice, and the reader could fill in the rest with imagination. A matter of personal preference, of course.