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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Masks of Men (SF-7k) *mature*

   
Author Topic: Masks of Men (SF-7k) *mature*
Bent Tree
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Warning of Explicit Content:

strong sexual content


Cutting my teeth on a new style. Looking for any feedback.

Does this revision work better?


Revised Version:


Men of our people wear masks when they dance. Masks allow them to pretend. Wearing the dead flesh of gorillas lets them be what they fear and what they have conquered. Through dry eye sockets of a once proud lion, do they feel the might of the great hunter? Do they see me as prey to be captured or a mate to be mounted? What do they learn of themselves?

I am lost in the rhythm of the drummers, in my own stirrings. I am dumbed by the warmth and wetness between my legs, by the sensitivity of my nipples. They feel cold upon my bare brown breasts, warmed by sun on my skin and blood from within. I have not yet been mated. I want it so much. My heart beat matches the drumming.My body feels very warm. I look upon the intensity of the dancers. Their sleek brown bodies glistening sweat in the sun.


Primary Version

Men of our people wear masks when they dance. Masks allow us to pretend. Wearing the dead flesh of gorillas lets us be what we fear and what we have conquered. Through the eyes of dry sockets of a once proud lion, do they feel the might of the great hunter. Do they see me as prey to be captured or a mate to be mounted? What do they pretend as they dance? What do they see? What do they learn of themselves?

I am lost in the rhythm of the drummers, in my own stirrings. I am dumbed by the warmth and wetness between my legs, by the sensitivity of my nipples. They feel cold upon my bare brown breast, warm with sun and my blood. I use words my people do not share. They are words given to me by the enlightened ones, the beings here among us, between us and those from the stars.

[ February 10, 2015, 04:50 PM: Message edited by: Bent Tree ]

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wetwilly
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The first paragraph grabbed my interest. It was the dead flesh on their faces that did it. Cool description. I did have a moment of confusion because at first, in my head, I was experiencing this through the consciousness of a dude in a mask, then had to reimagine it when I realized I had gotten it wrong and my viewpoint character was a woman watching from the sidelines. Solid opening paragraph.

Then the second paragraph lost me. It wasn't the sexual content--I'm fine with that. It was those last couple lines. I have no idea what they're about. Not in a good "I'm curious" way, but in a "what the hell is that supposed to mean?" way. Seems totally disconnected from the previous info.

Solid opening for me, especially the masks, but those last 2 lines derailed me.

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Grumpy old guy
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The prose doesn't work for me; I kept falling out of the story as I struggled with its construction and tempo.

And, I am always wary of first person POV, the reliability of the narrator and their voice should be dealt with first.

Having said that, I have written in the first person, but, by the end of the very first paragraph my readers knew just how reliable this laconic larrikin was; fairly, but with a penchant for the absurd.

Phil.

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Jennica Dotson
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Honestly, I agree pretty much with everything wetwilly said.

I liked the first paragraph a lot. Intriguing details and descriptions. I'd like to read more. But then those last two lines really confused me, and, as wetwilly says, not in the "I'm curious" way but in the "what is the author trying to say here?" way.

The one thing I would recommend is either making it clearer from the very first sentence that your character is a female and NOT one of the men wearing a mask, or change the pronouns in the second and third sentences from "we/us" to "they/them." A bit confusing otherwise.

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Jennica Dotson
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Also, genuinely no offense meant to Grumpy old guy, but that isn't my experience or feeling in regards to 1st person POV, and I kind of wonder how many people share it.

I don't need to know right away how reliable my narrator is, nor do I expect to. If they are unreliable in some way, I expect to find that out as I go. Not everything has to be made clear to me from the first second. That would take away some of the mystery and enjoyment for me.

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Grumpy old guy
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No offense taken.

Phil.

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Bent Tree
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Good catch! I suppose those lines really have no place in that paragraph, huh. Thanks all.

Is there really any confusion the gender of the MC?

Oh, I see... replacing us with them, having a degree of separation. That makes sense. Thanks

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Bent Tree
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I was curious about my line "Warm with sun and my blood"

is this read as, the sun on my skin and the blood within?

I thought it might sound as though she has smeared blood all over her

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Jennica Dotson
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Phil: Thanks [Smile] Cheers.

Bent Tree: I initially assumed that the narrator was one of the men in masks, due to the first line, and then the following, which said "Masks allow US to pretend."

And actually, yes, that line did confuse me a little, but the impression I got was indeed that she had blood smeared on her.

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extrinsic
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A linguistically enhanced tribe member participates in, observes, and comments upon an animism mask-dance ritual -- language and cognitive aptitude enhanced by alien visitations.

Emotional disequilibrium is well-begun, initially upset by the animism masks, totems made from the animals, further upset by introduction of the outsider visitations by and upon the narrator-agonist. Also a pendent routine, in medias res, previously interrupted, is about to erupt. Furthermore, introduction of a dramatic complication's problems and wants oriented upon implications from the congruent alien visitation and tribal innocence; that is, that the aliens visited the narrator and visited upon her language gifts exceptional and naturally and necessarily, probably, problematic to her and her people. Exquisite complication implications.

This is a visitation-type scene which signals an event of significance -- alien visitation is inherently antagonal, causal, and tensional, pivotal in a dramatic manner to the action to come yet doesn't telegraph the action to come, leaves puzzles mysterious and mystic for unfolding later. Also, visitation is an idea introduction, and both the paleo- or neolithic era culture, maybe earlier or later milieus, though pre-"modern" technology and culture, and in an alien culture contact tableau is a magnificent milieu introduction.

Character development-wise, initial first-person narrator-agonist character introductions evolves from the events of the mask dance ritual and personal commentary on it. Also, character introductions are well-begun,

For me, the above enumeration of the fragment's features represents a whole start fragment's essential introductions: curiosity arousal, emotional investment triggered, introductions of idea, event, setting, and character development, and milieu; further, antagonism, causation, and tension introductions. Plus, deft and proficient use of concrete and mostly relate-able motifs of idea, event, setting, character, and action. Appealingly outstanding fragment overall.

A few considerations keep me from feeling this opening is entire and complete. The transition from first-person plural to singular is abrupt, maybe too abrupt for an opening's functions, unless a rhetorical purpose for the transition develops. Like, an external force compels a disruption. As is, the transition shows a hand on the tiller taking a moment to describe the narrator-agonist's physical appearance, like a mirror's reflection. However, the usual concerns with character self-description are defused by a natural, reasonable, and logical self-assessment, though perhaps not timely and relevant at the immediate moment.

A transition craft consideration might artfully delay the physical description, or maybe use a specific event, setting, or character cause to turn the narrator's attention on herself, or develop the jump transition instead into a seamless transition through a pre-positioned step or two, for examples.

The title and the first word, "Men," sets up an expectation this fragment is about a males' mask dance. Then the perspective appears to be of a co-ed dance ritual, then appears to be from a female participant viewpoint and the "we" are women, then is confirmed as a single female's viewpoint. Progressive flow is appealing, though, if confused, defuses reader effect. I believe confusion about personae's sexual identity diminishes reader effect.

"Men" in the not too distant past was taken as a sex-neutral designation encompassing both sexes; I don't think the customs of that assumption hold today. Another label may be apropos, say, a qualifier of the dancers as respected ritual performers distinguished from the tribe, like spirit warriors or mystic hunters or the like or similar, god worshippers, I don't know. I think sex-neutral terms, like human or adults, would be too sophisticated as a narrative title or first word for the fragment's situations and circumstances.

The first sentence's generic "masks" could be enhanced by specifying with a descriptive term, dead animal masks, for example, or, I don't know, dead animal faces, too, or, again, similar.

If these two above specificity considerations are employed, the scene's reality imitation depth strengthens, causes stronger reader effect, and prepares for and smooths the transitions of viewpoint to come and, perhaps, obviates some of the following word count so that stronger development of the ritual and alien visitation mythology and their causal agency fit into thirteen lines. In other words, slower motif development and faster dramatic action, resulting in stronger appeal.

These rhetorical questions are, for me, too numerous and in rapid sequence for ideal effect, for one.

"Through the eyes of dry sockets of a once proud lion, do they feel the might of the great hunter. Do they see me as prey to be captured or a mate to be mounted? What do they pretend as they dance? What do they see? What do they learn of themselves?"

First, perhaps the first question warrants a question mark? Question marks for rhetorical question terminal punctuation are discretionary, though conventional for who I estimate the target audience for this narrative is.

Also, instead of escalating effect, the rhetorical questions diminish in emotional effect as they unfold. Formal composition and journalism reporting conventions encourage placing the most important details first and then follow with diminishing importance in greater information detail. Prose conventions generally encourage the reverse organization founded more on escalating emotional effect than information detail. If those rhetorical questions' sequence were reversed, the emotional effect would be stronger.

The third through fifth rhetorical questions are, to me, too generically philosophical and sophisticated for the circumstances, though, contrarily, they further develop the first-person narrator's character. She's gifted with enhanced language aptitude; enhanced cognitive skills accompany enhanced language skills. However -- bear with me, please, for yet another self-contradiction -- the degree of her cognitive aptitude implies she's had a long time to adjust to her enhancements. She's been among the visitors for some time and maybe away from her tribe for at least as long. The fragment, though, implies the visitations were instantaneous.

The third through fifth rhetorical questions, for me, would also become more relevant and exhibit less cognitive aptitude if, instead of third-person sentence subjects, they were first-person plural, in keeping with the paragraph's overall grammatical person.

This sentence, to me, stands away from the fragment, feels like a hand on the tiller again: "I use words my people do not share." It is another abrupt transition that I feel could be smoother through a pre-positioned transition step or two. Again, a trigger cause would smooth out the sentence's transition abruptness.

First-person singular and plural and present tense are individually the more challenging of prose's narrative point of view conventions, let alone combined, second-person notwithstanding. This fragment, however manages the challenges of immediate and personal grammatical person and tense subjectivity-objectivity in a greater proportion of strengths to shortfalls. Again, outstanding.

I would read on. I'd also consider accepting this narrative for publication preparation, a rare qualification from me, with a few adjustments based upon strengthening the creative vision for best reader effect in whole and in minutia: from editorial guidance if amenable.

[ February 10, 2015, 02:01 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Bent Tree
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Thank you, Jenica for your clarification and comments.

Thank you Extrinsic for you well-thought and insightful message. I gained some valuable insight.

I hope the revision addresses all the concerns I felt I needed to change based on comments and self-evalutaion. I look forward to hearing opinions.

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Bent Tree
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quote:
I would read on. I'd also consider accepting this narrative for publication preparation, a rare qualification from me, with a few adjustments based upon strengthening the creative vision for best reader effect in whole and in minutia: from editorial guidance if amenable.
Also, for the record, I felt giddy as a school girl when I read this. Thanks. That compliment warms me.
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Bent Tree
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For the sake of clarity, Phil, do you find the narrator voice honest? I was unable to determine if you thought that it wasn't or if it was something you always look for.

This is very important to me, that is the reliability of the voice.

Any comments on this would be highly regarded.

I was also curious if this served to remedy the problem with tempo, you mentioned, Phil. If not I would appreciate any more detail you can give about that observation.

Once it was pointed out about the conflicting or separate ideas within the second paragraph I instantly recognized it as a poor paragraph design. I suppose it could speak to voice, But this advanced primitive girl does have the privilege of a poorly skilled editor in her corner, so I can try to help her with that.

Thanks again for all your comments

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Grumpy old guy
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Yes, Bent Tree, I trust the narrator. Also, your second version clears up the initial confusion I was feeling. One question: Why have you opened with: Men of our people . . .?

I am simply wondering why you didn't begin with: Men of my people . . .?

Phil.

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Bent Tree
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Good question. I'll think on that for a minute. Thanks for the clarity and your feedback. I appreciate it.
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Bent Tree
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I think it has to do with her audience, Phil. She is indeed narrating it to young women of her people that she wishes to convey the theme and lesson to. So i feel it is the best choice to convey the theme.

Made me think. That is good. Thanks again.

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wetwilly
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I think the revised version is much better. I would keep reading, no doubt.
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Grumpy old guy
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Ah, Bent Tree, that explains it. I was unaware that she was in, for want of a better term, teacher mode.

Phil.

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