It was night, but Chick lay awake staring at the lights of the Cage through a hole in the roof. His wife lay in ragged sleep beside him, her lips already ashen. It would only be a few more days. Her breath came in shallow gasps, but for now, she slept. He tenderly touched her cheek, and the coolness of her skin startled him. She stirred under his touch, but he didn't withdraw his hand. "Lily, " he whispered. He knew she wouldn't wake, he only wanted to hear the sound of her name as it broke the hot night air. He pretended they were still a family. He pretended that their son was still asleep beside them. He pretended she whispered back, "Go to sleep, Chick." Dutifully, he tried to obey, inhaling thick heat. It was
Interesting opening, though the language can pop off the page a bit more.
quote: It was night, but Chick lay awake staring at the lights of the Cage through a hole in the roof.
'It was night' is a passive and uninteresting way to begin the story. If it's night, let us know through an active description, though I'm more interested in what Chick is seeing of this Cage in the first line.
There's also a repetition of words: 'Chick lay, wife lay', 'ragged sleep, she slept', 'tenderly touched, stirred under his touch', 'he pretended, he pretended, he pretended'.
Overall, though, the opening has its moments, and I'd read on a little further before deciding to continue or stop.
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I think you've got a good dynamic scene here and some great tension. It's very engaging: time is running out for Chick and Lily. It's obvious they've suffered much already and unclear if they will survive much longer.
A few things stood out to me: I think you use commas a little excessively. A good portion of them don't seem necessary. Also, as Denevius pointed out, the repetition is distracting, especially "he pretended." I understand you may be trying to make a point, but I don't think it carries over. I think it would have a lot more punch as one sentence with only one "he pretended" in it.
I am a little unclear about where they are. In a building in a large cage in a graveyard? Or does Cage being capitalized mean it is something else? Up to you whether that needs to be clarified yet.
Perhaps making the language a bit more poetic would add to the drama. Right now it is more stark and literal. All-in-all it's a good opening, I think just a few little fixes would make it shine.
And by the way, I love your name. Made me chuckle -A.L.
"He knew she wouldn't wake, he only wanted to hear the sound of her name as it broke the hot night air."
Nice line, but for which I'd not be drawn in.
I guess this is a dystopian story. If I'm going to read such I need to be drawn in by a character I like and a problem I get. Chick seems too passive to me to be interesting.
I'm not bothered about the "he pretended" repetitions; I think the repeats illustrate a state of mind, perhaps regretful, as one gets when sleep won't come. I was more bothered by the pretending, which not only seemed passive but - would one do that? I'd have been happier if he thought of fragments of what had gone wrong, this sickness that's coming.
I could not put Cage and graves into a picture. Cage lost so I see them in a cemetery at the moment. Presumably Cage matters so I'd suggest giving it some form - what does he see, in addition to the graves?
Actually it helps quite a bit. I recognize now that I am starting this story in the wrong place. This purposefully jumps back and forth between action and aftermath. For some reason, I wanted to start with my characters lying down and dying instead of in action. Ok, Great. Well that was easy. Sounds ridiculously simple when I say it (write it) out loud. Rewrite time!
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Though self-realized this fragment is static, perhaps a less than ideal start time, place, and situation, I'll comment anyway. A stuck-in-the-bathtub, woe-is-me, navel contemplation scene. A strength is the emotional texture, though self-pity is among the least appealing emotions. Another strength is the close distance of the fragment, perhaps under-distanced--too close too soon, before reader interest stimulation develops, both empathy or sympathy and curiosity development.
Emotional depth and close distance are challenges for writers; however, here conflicted by shortcomings. Though the distance is close, the distance is also held open by a few bumps caused by low clarity and strength and vague from narrator viewpoint glitches. Curious that the same features work at cross odds with each other. I sense a writing breakthrough in the near future.
Chick and wife are at death's door inside the Cage.
Capital case signals the Cage is a formal space, not clear what kind of space, a kind of captive location. Of the three narrative feature essentials, event, setting, and character development, the event is least clear and most important for appeal development. Readers most easily associate first with events, settings second, characters third. Chick and wife are at death's door. Why? at least, if not also when, what, and how. Who development is well begun. Where is cued up though unclear.
The setting features are less clear than ideal.
Character development is well begun.
Starting sentences with pronoun "it" is problematic. The use is a syntax expletive, a nonsensical sentence subject that relies on later context to provide the pronoun's meaning. "It" is a proximity pronoun that conventionally references an antecedent subject. Each of the three reference a vague or nonexistent subject--confusion as to meaning. The fourth instance of "it" is also problematic, though with a clear antecedent subject. "It" as a best practice should draw extra attention as to whether a use is clear and artful or whether a stronger and clearer sentence subject is needed.
First sentence, second clause starts with a conjunction--contrast conjunction "but." "But" is problematic for most writing of any kind. Widely considered too informal and inappropriate in most social conversation, the word also should be reconsidered. A test for contrast conjunctions' suitability is whether a substitute is stronger and clearer: though, although, and however, for examples. Their use would make the opening sentence too formal.
Those conjunctions are common in argumentation as connectors between contrasted ideas. In any event, for prose, the stall, if not stop, of contrast conjunctions are troublesome, especially for opening sentences. Another test eliminates contrast conjunctions, Does the meaning change if the word is deleted? No. The flow is smoother, the meaning stronger and clearer without "but." The contradiction signal of "but" also injudiciously and untimely tells readers the clause to follow changes direction. That puts the emphasis at the clause start, rather than at the sentence end.
Journalism and formal writing both place emphasis up front as conventional preferences. Prose favors middle or end emphasis.
Note, three instances of "but" in the fragment.
Likewise: "He tenderly touched her cheek, and the coolness of her skin startled him." The "and" conjunction joins two disimilar ideas. Separate sentences are warranted.
Note that the comma antecendent to conjunction word "but" is misplaced here: "Her breath came in shallow gasps, but for now, she slept." //Her breath came in shallow gasps but, for now, she slept.// Conjunctions that join two serial items do not take comma separation. They may take a semicolon if the two clauses are complete sentences. The parenthetical aside, interior sentence dependent phrase (or clauses) "for now" does take comma separation.
Semicolon join: //Her breath came in shallow gasps; but, for now, she slept.// Note how jumpy appropriate puncuation is, though. Separate sentence examples: //Her breath came in shallow gasps. For now, she slept.// //Her breath came in shallow gasps. She slept for now.//
"'Lily, '" he whispered," extra space. Also, "whispered" tells the speech's texture. If he, she, it, or a name "said" as attribution doesn't do the speaker identification work, the tag is an overt narrator tell. Which opens distance. Said-tags are aural action attributions on their own; however, if the speech manner is important, such as whispered, action attributions benefit from further development. For example, //"Lily." He wanted to hear her name whispered on the hot night air. He knew she wouldn't wake.// Strongest emphasis at the end.
That also eliminates the "as" conjunction. "As" is a correlation conjunction faultily used as a coordination conjunction in that sentence. Other problematic word "only" also eliminated. Superlatives like "only" are often empty emotional terms.
"He pretended they were still a family. He pretended that their son was still asleep beside them. He pretended she whispered back,"
Repetition, in this case anaphora, is a rhetorical scheme, potentially poetic. Repetition needs substitution for empahsis purposes. In this case, each sentence's object is different. Repetition also needs amplification--escalated emphasis. The emphasis is in the middle sentence and tapers off in the third. The writing instincts are strong; the rhetoric's emphasis arc essential a little under-developed, though.
The "that" of the second sentence is unnecessary and too formal for the stream-of-consciousness aesthetic of the fragment overall, also noted above for "though," "although," or "however" formality.
"He pretended she whispered back, "'Go to sleep, Chick.'" The action attribution tag part is a separate sentence or clause. Either a period or colon is warranted instead of the comma after "back." A colon is the prescriptive punctuation convention. A dash may substitute instead and be more artful, signal the speech is imagined, unreal.
The "back" is also problematic from its vagueness. Left out doesn't change the meaning or emphasis. //He pretended she whispered--"Go to sleep, Chick."//
"Dutifully, he tried to obey, inhaling thick heat." Sentence adverb "Dutifully" is an emotionally empty adverb. Adverbs and adjectives and other modifiers' prose function is emotional commentary, if verbs by themselves do not do the work. This use is a tautology anyway. "tried to obey" expresses the same emotional texture as dutifully. The intent is to show Chick wants sleep but is too restless to sleep. Stronger and clearer expression would show his struggle in about the same economy of words.
Also, infintive tense "to obey" after "tried" is more or less a narrator tell, a summary of a protracted struggle. Chick's internal sleep struggle could be stronger signaled, for example, by an imitation method. More anon.
One single use of a pesky -ing word "inhaling." Three tenses in the sentence: "tried," simple past; "to obey," infinitive; and "inhaling," present participle. The sentence's overall emphasis arc is front loaded and diminishes to nothing at the end. Tension development for openings ideally builds sentence arc empahsis. A tested example exhibits that arc. //Inhaling thick heat, dutifully, he tried to obey.//
However, still an unnecessary -ing word, also a tense consistency concern. "Tried to obey" and "inhaling" are serial actions and best practice ought be the same tense.
Also, "he" is the subject for eight sentence and clause sequences in a row. Best practice alters syntax so that other subjects give variety.
For example. //Air thick, damp, heavy with heat kept him awake.//
Interesting for me, is how, overall, the fragment's strengths and shortcomings clash, net doesn't work for me. Though the several opening essentials are given: emotional disequilibrium, a problem wanting satisfaction, and event, setting, and character development begun, the more apparent shortcomings are a lack of meaning texture and what and how Chick will struggle with the problem of importance, presumably keep his wife and himself alive.
quote:Originally posted by Dirk Hairychest: Actually it helps quite a bit. I recognize now that I am starting this story in the wrong place. This purposefully jumps back and forth between action and aftermath. For some reason, I wanted to start with my characters lying down and dying instead of in action. Ok, Great. Well that was easy. Sounds ridiculously simple when I say it (write it) out loud. Rewrite time!
If it makes you feel any better I was trying to revive an old short story idea yesterday, couldn't make it work without doing the whole thing with flashbacks and infodumps. It had a great hook, I thought - but was starting in the wrong place, darn it.