this is the first 13 of my WIP. wondering if it hooks. The story is just under 5000 words. I welcome any input. thanks in advance.
Take 1: I've found that I can adapt to any environment given the time, but thirty-thousand feet might have been a stretch. The wind at this altitude had left me somewhere between frozen solid and, crumbling dry. I looked at my tired hands, both cramped and numb at once. I begged them to hold on a little longer. My olive-brown skin, which was once moist and supple, now chapped, cracked like a close look at a dry lake-bed. My coarse black hair was a vibrating blur, battered by the wind as it passed over the wings. I'd spent the better part of the last two years negotiating the damp and dark underbelly of the human civilization, wading through the seeping dregs of petroleum grime and dirty diapers. Low and Wet. Dirty wet.
Take 2: Better?
I've found that I can adapt to any environment given the time, but thirty-thousand feet might have been a stretch. Wind at this altitude had left me frozen, chapped and cracked like a close look at a dry lake-bed. My arms burned and skin rippled, stretched and battered by the wind blasting over the wing. Tired hands, cramped and numb, locked in a contorted grip to ragged fringes of torn aircraft aluminum. I begged them to hold on a little longer. Every rivet and seam dug into skin, bored between ribs, transferred cold metal vibration to the deepest nerve and bone. Misery, was an understatement. My first flight was sure to be my last. I'd spent the better part of the last two years negotiating
Intriguing. I like the sentiment of the opening sentence, but I found the certainty of the first phrase was undone by the second phrase. This is a characterisation issue, making me wonder why I would feel sympathy for a super human. To me, swapping the certainties around would create a more sympathetic character (e.g. I've found that I can adapt to most environments given the time, but thirty-thousand feet really was a stretch.)
"... left me somewhere between..." is a little vague. Find a stronger comparator.
"I looked at my tired hands, both cramped and numb at once." Does "both" refer to the hands or the adjectives? Likewise, does cramped indicate an action or a state of being? This is a little ambiguous.
"I begged them to hold on a little longer." I like this sentence. To this point, I was enjoying this, despite the above suggestions.
However, the remainder left me a bit nonplussed. Personally, I dislike obvious references to personal coloration (olive-brown skin, coarse black hair), particularly if they lead the sentence. Unless they help move the story on, they feel like the author is forcing the imagination, rather than painting an image. This is particularly true when written in first person, because people rarely notice such things about themselves in the middle of such situations. What they would notice is the dried and cracked state of the skin, and subsequently any change in skin color, and the vibrating battering by the wind.
I also thought he was mountain climbing until I recognized the word "wings" on my second or third reading. If he was flying (as opposed to, say, being an angel, dragon etc.) then this needs to be put front and center.
The final three sentences are not so much problems structurally. But emotionally, they did turn me off. They were out of the blue, with little context, moved the opening from one where potential survival was at risk to one that felt down and out. This may be a personal taste issue - I am not sure of your market. So, whatever hook had been developed by the jeopardy outlined earlier, now feels like "Oh, were now starting at a different place? Well, why didn't we start where it should start."
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Edited out for length, the stronger interest part of being strapped willingly, unwittingly, or unwillingly to a winged creature is to me the lead for this opening.
The start as is is too self-involved for me. Concerns about complexion pale in comparison to being strapped to a large bird, if strapped she, he, or it is.
Natural reaction to being strapped to a soaring bird would trump degraded complexion and health state, which can or should be incorprated in drabs later. Besides, worries about dry skin when soaring strapped to a bird challenges willing suspension of disbelief.
Strapped to a bird unwillingly strongly arouses curiosity, perhaps emotional interest, for empathy or sympathy development, for appeals' sakes, an event of substance for an opening, and one that sets up and introduces strong emotional disequilbrium, a dramatic conflict's stakes, maybe outcomes in contention, and dramatic complication, a problem with inherent wants for sure.
As is, the fragment implies the agonist wants only a bottle of moisturizing lotion. Set against moist and supple hands when living on the ground amid "petroleum grime and dirty diapers" evokes a powerful visceral image; however, that implies the hands were moistened because of those exposures, perhaps too grotesque for an opening.
Self-involved emphasis openings, maybe at any point in a narrative, come across as whining "woe is me." Self-pity parties blunt or spoil any other appeals.
Stream-of-consciousness first-person narratives use informal grammars to defuse self-involvement, place "I," "me," "my," etc., pronouns in sentence object position or leave them out. This rhetorical style method of putting the self lower in animacy stature then suggests and guides composition.
For example, first sentence: "I've found that I can adapt to any environment given the time, but thirty-thousand feet might have been a stretch."
The topic ideas of substance there are the event and setting details, thirty-thousand feet and adaptation to environment. //Life at thirty-thousand feet stretched my (or human--if a human--if not: a people's name, say, Angeron, for example) ability to adapt to any environment.//
That emphasis on event and setting over character defuses self-involvement, eliminates the clunky "yes, but" construction's vagueness and speed bump disturbance of reading flow.
Likewise, the next sentence: "The wind at this altitude had left me somewhere between frozen solid and, crumbling dry." First, extraneous comma, "and," "The" is a definite article, unwarranted for a noncounted noun like "wind." Also, modifiers set up the contexture to come. Arid, for example, or dry, cold. //Dry wind at this cold altitude froze digits and dehydrated skin.//
Once a few event and setting details are given, then the first-person agonist can be introduced, if not artfully introduced before. Though not by a sensation tell use the agonist cannot possibly observe: "I _looked_ at my tired hands, both cramped and numb at once." How can the agonist see the self look? Cannot. //My tired hands, cramped and numb--I begged them to hold tight onto the bird.//
Film folk call that self observes self phenomena "crosses the line" of the fourth wall, looks sequentially back and forth and back and forth from inside and outside and outside and inside a scene's reality imitation; crosses the invisible observer line of readers' perspective, in the case of written word. The agonist first looks inward toward the self, then looks outward from within the self, crosses the line.
Another self-involvement example for illustration: "My coarse black hair was a vibrating blur, battered by the wind as it passed over the wings." //Wind flow past the creature's wings battered my coarse hair, vibrated it to a blur.//
Pesky "as," correlation conjunction used as a coordination conjunction. eliminated; pesky -ing word eliminated, self-involvement defused.
Other definite article faults: "I'd spent the better part of the last two years negotiating the damp and dark underbelly of _the_ human civilization, wading through _the_ seeping dregs of petroleum grime and dirty diapers."
"The" is an adjective that modifies single count nouns in definite contexts. Other grammar principles advise article usage; for one, use indefinite article "a" for first mention of a single count noun when an indefinite subject. //waded through a landfill seep of petroleum grime and dirty diaper dregs.//
Though the verb sequence, past perfect "I'd spent," present participle "navigating," present participle "wading," follows grammar principles, elimination of all possible -ing words defuses their ring-rhyme dissonance.
Recast for illustration, defused self-involvement, and pesky -ing word elimination: //The better part of the last two years I navigated human civilization's damp and dark underbelly, waded through a landfill seep of petroleum grime and dirty diaper dregs.//
The opening as is implies the agonist wants out of the problematic situation she, he, or it is in. For dramatic complication introduction development purposes, that's artful. Emotional equilibrium is upset: That's artful. A routine with an interruption imminent is implied: That's artful. However, for me, the trapped-by-a-bird-in-flight situation development is artlessly withheld, plus, excess agonist self-involvement, awkward, artless grammar, and pesky -ing words spoil the effect.
Mostly the rewrite strengthens the mechanics somewhat, clarifies a little the grammar style. The addition of the aircraft details strengthens and clarifies the setting situation and complication substantively.
I think more artful language instead of common, everyday slang could enhance the prose more. A millions of writers horde uses the same worn slang language. Spend a month or so sampling authonomy's selections, the slang monotony soon will become apparent.
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My predilections run toward 3rd person, so keep that in mind. I wonder if this would be easier to digest if this was 3rd person. For all of the sensory details, I can't see what is going on. I have no sense of why this guy (or gal) is so high up on the outside of a plane. I have no sense of time (beginning of flight to present or beyond is a big chunk). Some details are hard to front end with first person. But some of the details provided have confuse me. For example, "locked in a contorted grip to ragged...." Is "to" the right word there? With "Every rivet and seam dug into skin, bored between ribs..." I'm wondering if the narrator is moving around or if "every" is really the word needed. Going between the two versions, You mention "the human civilization" which implies the narrator isn't human or at least that more than one civilization exists. So is this steampunk, sci-fi, or a misplaced article?
Posts: 823 | Registered: May 2009
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Thank you for the comments on this piece. Truly valuable input.
babooher- after reading your comment: "locked in a contorted grip to ragged...." Is "to" the right word there?" I have decided to replace the "to" with "onto." I think makes more sense. thank you for that.
I have added "Beneath my body, rivet and seam dug into skin, bored between ribs..." Works better IMO. again thanks.
My goals for this opening were to establish a glimpse of character tone, setting and the physical conflict of the characters uncomfortable situation. The first half of the story covers the who, why, when that landed the character in the situation described in the opening 13 lines.
This story is my first whack at 1st person narrative. I generally work in 3rd limited. the process has been educational, to say the least.
As far as genre goes, I think it fits loosely within "urban fantasy." Although, magic is not present in the story. the setting is modern and the view point character is not human.
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