John scrubbed up to his elbows with antiseptic soap. He'd tried to wash the red stains from his shirt and pants but ended up making them wet and himself cold. He rinsed his hands and looked at the fading red that covered them. He scrubbed up to his elbows with antiseptic soap. He looked at his prune fingers and the flecks of blood under the nails. He reached for the soap. His hand hesitated under the dispenser. He grabbed a handful of paper towels and sopped up the wet mess he'd made of himself then walked out of the washroom. He sat back down among the the coughing and bleeding to await news of his wife.
Messy 1st Draft:
He slipped the ring on her finger. The crowd erupted in a great roar as bat cracked against ball, sending it past the outfield landing softly with the other bouquets. The little girl bowed among the flowers. She hurried off the stage, beaming under the praise of the audience then sat down and clicked her seatbelt into place. “I'm damn proud of you.” “Thank's, Dad.” He gunned the engine down the highway. “It'll be okay. It'll be okay.” He heard moans from the passenger seat over the roar of the pavement. He kept his eyes on the road while he reached over and rubbed her belly. His hand felt sticky. She laughed. “You're not supposed to dip your hand in it, silly!
Personally, I'm not a fan of narrative withholding, and your opening relies on that technique quite a bit. I can't help but think that if you stated more clearly what's going, you'd do more to draw readers in.
At the moment, I can't tell how many characters are on the page, and it doesn't help that there are no names in these first lines. But first, there is the 'He':
quote:He slipped the ring on her finger.
Then, there is the crowd:
quote: The crowd erupted in a great roar
When I first read it, I thought the crowd was roaring because of the initial action of the He putting the ring on the Her finger. But actually, I *think* they're listening to/watching a baseball game, though there's no description of what type of device is projecting the game to them.
Then there's a little girl, which as I read it again, makes me think that this is some type of play.
Yeah, actually, I have no real clue what's going on. Again, some people like narrative withholding, but I prefer not to enter into prose with the sense that the writer is purposely leaving out information with the specific intention of confusing me.
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I'm going to be honest; I have no idea what is happening in this passage. Each new detail that is introduced feels completely disconnected from everything that came before, like every sentence is from a different setting, different people, different story. If that's what you're going for, I don't know why you're doing that to me at this point. It seems like you're creating a huge barrier to entry to this story. If that's not what you're going for, this passage needs a lot of smoothing out to make it make sense.
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Thank you for the feedback. This is just what I needed to hear.
I'm trying to evoke a dreamlike confusion, maybe a psychotic break. The problem is that I'm so close to the story that I'm unconsciously filling in gaps. I'm having trouble figuring out how the audience will respond (until now).
I'm going to rewrite it to slow down the transitions and make them more clear. Maybe I can speed them up and confuse things later as the reader's more comfortable with the story.
Will the reader accept that?
With regard to withholding information: I just don't feel like I need to put in much. I think maybe it feels like I'm withholding a lot do to the strange transitions.
I too could not understand what's going on. That's ok provided something draws me in. As a reader I would not accept being confused part way through a story unless it was clearly the confusion of a character, and a sense of withholding would not be satisfying. It seems to me that the strange transitions rely upon shifting the POV, which I would suggest is a mistake. I think you need to put in enough for the reader to understand characters and their motivation I think.
Also opening with a dream is a cliché which I think I've seen too often
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A chaotic, segued event sequence of good old traditional apple pie values: wedding engagement, child's recital, mother in labor, chocolate fondue? If they were ordered chronoogically, the events would be a degree more accesssible and still be chaotic. Forward or backward time? Backward, for example: recital, labor, engagement, restaurant, ballgame.
Thirteen lines ends at "silly!" by the way.
Artless withholding, at one extreme, deviously holds readers in ignorance. Bolshevik Revolution jokes withhold intents and meanings and actions and outcomes from auditors so the jokes are at auditors' expense. They and artless withholding make auditors feel foolish and dumb.
Artful implication, at another extreme, implies intent and meaning through a use of signals that are freighted with meaning. The signals and implications can be inaccessible, though, if accessible, readers delight in them from feeling wise and smart.
Artful dramatic irony, at another extreme, reveals knowledge unknown by one or more parties though known by at least one party. Literature's dramatic irony -- the knowledgable party is readers. Readers also obtain delight from dramatic irony, if accessible, from feeling wise and smart.
This start fragment tends toward artless withholding and Bolshevik Revolution joke intents, attempts less than ideally accessible implications of chaotic and confused events, misses dramatic irony altogether.
Human minds make order out of chaos. An unfocused look at a crystal ball sees patterns among random occlusions within the glass: air bubbles, refraction boundaries, reflections from projections onto the surface, color gradients, impurities, and imperfections without which a crystal ball is just an optically pure piece of glass. Likewise, most any chaotic view, sound, touch, smell, taste, emotion may have a perceivable, if subjective, order among the randomness. This is a human survival instinct trait. Danger or safety, consumable or waste, likeable or unlikeable.
This start fragment's intent and meaning are inaccessible because the events come from a disembodied observer persona's perceptions and lacks personal-subjective meaning-making emotional attitude reaction to the perceptions. If a clear and strong persona, an attitude holder, either narrator or the viewpoint agonist of the scene, or both, was developed and expressed emotional attitude commentary, the fragment would develop an accessibility anchor for readers among the chaos. Readers would then feel they participate in the chaos, feel the chaos, and feel wise and smart.
The event's settings are an accessibilty locus for that viewpoint anchor development. Develop a place where the engagement ritual happens, a specific place with expressed emotional contexture. Likewise the ballgame ritual, the recital ritual, the automobile on the way to a birth center ritual, the restaurant fondue ritual.
This fragment has rudimentary events, little setting development, and less yet character development. Idea or theme is nowhere to be found.
Though the potentials for commentary expressed about traditional apple pie values juxtaposed as a Postmodern challenge to tradition are promising,
Each of these little moments are interesting, but without something to connect them, they hold no lasting meaning. Are they moments in time focused around one person? If so, who? I think a name is warranted. Or is it someone from the outside looking into the experiences of other people, all happening simultaneously? If so, we need to know this. Without some connecting thread, some explanation, it all gets lost in the indecipherable buzz of static. I expect there comes an explanation later, but I wouldn't count on the reader to follow this intro long enough to get there.
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I just read the 13 lines topic and will use it as a future reference.
I have rewritten the beginning and will post the 13 lines in a reply (once I get to my machine at home).
The most informative parts of your criticisms are those where you imagine something quite different from my own imaginings. It just goes to show how close I am to the story. Come to think of it, it shows how terrible I've been at expressing what I think I'm expressing. If it weren't so fun, I'd be heartbroken.
Rewritten 13 lines. I tightened my writing to cram more into those 13. There's a bit that still bothers me, but I would rather see if other folk see the same things I do before I mention them. I appreciate the fact that you've taken the time to share your impressions with me.
The man followed the paramedics into the ambulance and got pushed toward the front of the cabin. He knelt by the woman trussed up in the gurney and whispered in her ear, “It's okay.” He heard her moans over the shouting of the people around him and the roar of the engine. Everything clanked and clattered as the ambulance bounced along the road. The doors opened and the paramedics moved in lock-step to hurry the gurney out. The man stumbled out of the vehicle and followed it into the waiting hospital. The walls were white, the lights blinded him. He breathed antiseptic soaps and urine. The din washed all sense from him. Strong arms held him as he watched a blood soaked dress wheeled out of sight. He almost fought. Instead, he fell into those arms and sobbed.
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The revision's scene development is stronger and clearer physically, the overt action. The intent and meaning, the covert action, are still on the inaccessible side. Foremost, for me, a shortfall is what's going on personally is on the bland, everyday side. Though an ambulance ride for some kind of traumatic event is personal and, hopefully, uncommon for most people, the action is more or less generic.
If the hospital walls are white, that dates the setting's time to pre-'60s era institutions. Most hospital emergency room entrances and lobbies' walls are painted muted, soothing colors anymore.
Also, the olfactory description as antiseptic soaps and urine are, to me, obvious markers the writer has limited experience with hospitals and ERs. The ER and hospital odors I note regardless of time and place are insulin's coppery tang, used to descrbe blood smells and tastes, and a neutral floral-woody masking scent, like jasmine and sandalwood. Only one hospital I've visited has smelled of strong antiseptics and urine, feces and blood too. That was a Veteran's Administration hospital ward for traumatic-injury amputees.
Likewise, acquaintances who've worked at field hospital trauma units report similar smells of bodily excretions and leaked fluids and solids, and vain attempts to mask strong, unpleasant odors. Antiseptics and the like, likewise, are rarely strong smells anymore; they are purpose-made to be as odorless as practical or pleasantly scented. Though the setting of the fragment doesn't appear to be a field hospital trauma unit or amputee clinic.
Hedging words like "almost" blunt or defuse a dramatic action opportunity. Did or didn't, no almost, is a firm assertion suitable for prose purposes. He did struggle. After which he fell into those arms and sobbed. A fight and flight response is a natural and necessary human response to a traumatic crisis.
Generally, personal attitude toward the events of substance for the fragment is missing. The agonist notes external sensations, though does not personally, emotionally respond to them. Emotional responses are the meaning-making criteria, the meat and potatoes, so to speak, for prose.
Also, for clarity, strength, and meaning-making purposes and functions, a moral human condition crisis and struggle is an imperative. I have little or no idea what that crisis is and no clue offered by the fragment. Such a crisis develops out of wants or problems wanting satisfaction -- the core feature of prose; that is, a dramatic complication.
This agonist is confronted by a traumatic situation, which is a problem wanting satisfaction. However, he expresses no personal bearing on the matter about what he wants and those wants and problems' forces in opposition (contentions, clashes, contests), stakes in opposition, and outcomes in opposition.
That feature should be cued up at least from subtle hints as a personal fatal vice-noble virtue clash. For example, wrath-patience, greed-charity, gluttony-temperance, pride-humility, sloth-diligence, envy-kindness, lust-chastity. That is the spectrum of moral human condition crises and their struggles. The noble virtues of the fragment are vague; the fatal vices in contention with the noble virtues, which would clarify and strengthen the virtues' meanings and develop characterization of the characters, are nowhere to be found.
This fragment revision is, to me, also as rushed as the first version, signaled, to me, by the above shortfalls. In order to "hook" readers, those criteria as a best practice should be met, especially personal attitude and personal moral crisis clash, from the first word of a title though to and until a bittersweet end.
The third draft still to me withholds and rushes. A signal of reconsideration is the sentences are all identical simple sentence syntax: subject (subjective character), predicate, object. Also, the narrator mediates the action, tells what John does.
Consider how John intimately experiences this scene. A look at the first sentence illustrates: "John scrubbed up to his elbows with antiseptic soap." The scrub action is within John's perception though the action is bland and generic. First, the cause is missing. John is bloody why? That's withheld. John knows why he's bloody. A metalepsis might serve. //Dried crimson gore turned burgundy stained his arms, shirt, and pants -- Sarah's blood.// Note that the subject phrase is the stain actor, not John or Sarah.
A viewpoint character placed in sentence object position introduces the character's name for readers' benefit and slips the name in after an event of substance, causal in this case, which partly estranges the narrator in favor of viewpoint character perception. A next or subsequent sentence could, should artfully introduce John's name. Not to mention, the viewpoint subject in object position, not passive voice, though, is an artful stream-of-consciousness method.
The phrase after the dash is an interjection. Interjections are also a stream-of-consciousness method. The metalepsis is from the color selections crimson and burgundy associated with fabric and wine stretched to encompass gore and blood. Scarlet is the color usually, naturally associated with fresh blood, strawberry jam with dried gore and blood.
The more important feature, though, is a causal event that happens to John. Causality is cause and effect: cause precedes effect. John washing is an effect. Plot, first, middle, end, and foremost is a causal sequence of natural and necessary or probable events. An artful first cause in chronological sequence is how the blood came to be on John. That's withheld.
Most important what's withheld is John's complication, his want and problem forces in opposition. The wife bleeds onto John why? A trauma? Naturally and necessarily. What caused the wife to bleed? That might be the first cause. A prior cause might be an event John caused that, in turn, caused the wife to bleed. A causal, antagonal, tensional want or problem of John's ought best practice be the first cause. What's the first causal event from which the narrative unfolds to its bitter end?
Bitter end is a nautical term for the loose, and apt to get out-of-hand, end of a working rope.
The third draft is certainly more focused and easy to follow than the first. The sentence structure could use a little spicing-up. Right now it just feels like a list of actions John did. Feels like "Jane ran. Jane hopped the fence. Jane sat down." He seems almost mechanical, unthinking in these actions.
I'm left with many unanswered questions. Why does he have blood on his hands? Why does his hand hesitate under the dispenser? Is John sad, anxious, angry? These are things I'd like to know.
And the actions John does do not seem particularly unique. I suppose anyone, having blood on their hands, would wash them off with soap in a similar manner. Add characteristic actions to show the kind of person John is, what he is experiencing in the moment. He might stop what he is doing, sigh, rest his elbows on the table and place his head in his hands. Or he could slam his hand down on the soap dispenser, spilling too much out but not really caring. Or he could scratch nervously at the back of his neck. Think of things that would give the reader insight into John's head. Have John do things only John would do in that particular way.
extrinsic: Your critique's packed as usual. I'll be combing through it for a good while. I really wanted to keep the prose simple, maybe let the reader fill in what might be going on at first. Not all that artful on my part, though.
Lamberguesa: The "subject verb object" monotony is something that happens a lot depending on my writing mood. I almost can't help it. I wanted to show a kind of repetitive monotony, but I think it really doesn't work so well.
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