If any critique or pointers could be offered on this sample opening, it would be appreciated. : I look out over the tortured expanse and I wonder: What was it like, before? Were people happy, then? Were their lives meaningful? More fulfilling? Did they have purpose, sufficient to transcend mere survival from one sunrise to the next? Great escarpments--the old, decaying vestiges of a forsaken age--sprawl out over the horizon. Exposed girders extend from their crumbling concrete shells--warped and oxidized, they bite at the tempestuous sky like so many ragged teeth. I gaze down into the vacancy of that place--that city-turned-mausoleum--and it makes me self-conscious. It makes me cringe; much like stumbling over an unmarked grave. But I imagine that I can see children playing amidst the ruin, capering upon the fractured streets. I can almost hear the echoes of their laughter. Specters of the past.
-------Totally different approach (expletives censored):
The world came to a rather unexpected end.
It happened on a Tuesday, in October, when the dead leaves were being piled up along the curbs on the side streets. People on the main roads were putting up Halloween decorations to get their participation grade in society.
I wasn't there, though. I was on the other side of town. The dark, seedy sections where hobos peed on the old baked brick façades in the alleyways and trash collectors seemed to take the day off more often than not. I was there because I was strung out and looking for a fix.
Let me be the first one to tell you that anything you inject directly into your bloodstream is a bad idea. Even whiskey--I've never tried it, but I've heard of people doing it. Seems to me like it'd kill you, dead. I don't know. People do some crazy ****. I mean, take me for example.
But this **** that I was looking for wasn't heroine, or any of the usual suspects. This was something new. This ***** had gotten me hooked on it a couple weeks before.
I was sleeping with her of course, and not just because she was easy.
I am always wary of a narrative the opens with the use of the perpendicular pronoun (as mentioned in the BBC TV show Yes, Minister), it usually heralds a cliche opening along the lines of:
I looked out over . . .
I woke up . . .
I ducked as the proton beam sizzled over my head . . .
I am also wary of a narrative written in the first person, not only is it a rather limiting narrative POV, the reader only gets to see the world through the protagonists eyes, the protagonist also invariably ends up being a wish-list of all the attributes the writer wishes they had, making for a usually uninteresting figure.
Now, as for your opening in particular, I'd delete the first paragraph. Asking rhetorical questions of your readers is not a best practice at any time, particularly an opening. It's also unnecessary, in my opinion.
I consider, given what you are writing about, that the second paragraph could make a much stronger opening; getting the readers immediately immersed in the dystopian world you are creating.
Finally, in my opinion, I would change the tense from present into past.
The opening does little to draw me in as a reader. The first several lines lack concrete content. I don't know what's 'tortured' about the landscape. And like the narrator, I have no idea what happened before; and unlike the narrator, I have no idea what's happening now since I've just walked into the story. 'Happy', 'Meaningful', 'Fulfilling' are all words that mean a myriad of things to a myriad of people. The rhetorical asking of them in this opening does more to make me roll my eyes than contemplate the lives of these past people.
You don't state how long this piece is, or even if it's finished. However, I suggest starting somewhere else, perhaps where the narrator is interacting with another character. Writing an engaging opening scene of just one character observing is really difficult, and in this case, not successfully pulled off.
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I don't think that the first paragraph is strong enough to be an opening. However I really like your prose itself, so I'd want to read more. Still, I'd recommend either starting at the second paragraph (you can delete the first paragraph or even just save it for later) or starting somewhere else entirely, in a more active scene. There's always time later for the protagonist to submerge themselves in reverie, but the reader is a lot more likely to care if you've already grabbed their interest with action. At least in my experience.
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The fragment starts up close and personal, from the inside looking out, strong interior-ness, a method I favor. However, the content is largely empty of significance, generic, actually, and vague for its generic-ness.
The "Perpendicular Pronoun" Grumpy old guy notes exhibits, for me, a bit too up close and personal, what William Bullough, 1912, an art philosopher, labels under-distanced "Aesthetic Distance." The consideration is whether the first-person narrator mediates the action from a secondhand step removed. Like Grumpy old guy notes: "I looked . . ." Static voice from a to see verb describes an action that is nonfinite a time span and an action that misses the real sense of the scene; a state-of-being to be-like expression, and the verb "looked" gets in the way of painting the picture of what's seen for readers. In other words, a summary, an indirect discourse "tell."
Consider each sentence as an expression of stimuli received and reflected by the narrator in all of each's emotional and sensory glory. "The tortured expanse"? What, a plain of desolated structures? Detail -- strong, clear, and emotional -- shows the setting's sensations. The "I" becomes secondary to the vista's topical sensations: visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and, most essentially, emotional.
One detail stands out for me in the fragment, "the city-turned mausoleum." I don't know, though, if that's a metaphor or an objective detail. Is the city indeed a purpose-made, above-ground burial monument? Or is the city metaphorically a mausoleum unintentionally created by wanton mayhem? I favor the objective former detail with a shade of metaphorical implication the city was made a mausoleum by mayhem's design.
The tortured expanse was a reflection of my soul. Escarpments--vestiges of a forsaken age--sprawled out over the horizon. Exposed girders extended from their crumbling concrete shells--warped and oxidized, they bit at the tempestuous sky like so many ragged teeth.
As I gazed down from the precipice, gusts billowed about me, tugging at the folds of my weather-beaten duster, and I shivered. But not from the wind. It was the utter vacancy of that place that affected me. Some macabre fascination had taken hold. It was as if I were mesmerized, unable to avert my eyes before the profound emptiness could worm its way inside my mind.
I imagined that I could see children playing amidst the rubble.
Well, for a start, the first 13 lines ends at . . ., chasing one another,.
Is it an improvement? Well, that depends on what you are trying to do. As an exercise in writing I'd be certain that extrinsic will find all manner of grammatical issues, me, not so many; I'm a grammarian's nightmare.
Is it evocative, does it paint a picture, does it put me firmly in that milieu? Yes. But, would I want to read more? I'd probably give you to the end of the first page to entice me to turn it; but by the end of page two I'd have made up my mind. Unless you can grab me with something of character, dramatic complication (unsatisfied want), or an enticing question, I'd probably pass on this.
It always helps me when creating a scene to start by asking myself what the scene has to do for the story, then I see how I can create as much interest as possible inside the scene while it is doing its job.
The revision to me duplicates shortfalls of the first version that don't work for me. Still a strong internal emotional attitude though generic descriptions, too self-involved a first-person narrator, too angst-y ennui navel contemplation, the external stimuli features secondary to the emotional reactions; in short, to me, misplaced causality emphasis emphasizing effect at the expense of cause development. The character pauses for a pity party and the causal action doesn't start forward motion.
Note also, "gazed" is another form of to see verb that statically expresses an ongoing, nonfinite to be action and not the bald visual and causal sensations themselves. Misplaced causal emphasis, to me, also.
The first paragraph is stronger and clearer scene development, after the first sentence. The first sentence is a precedent summary tautology of the paragraph's expression. The sentence could be excised and make the paragraph stronger, Although, the intent is to introduce the first person narrative point of view.
Again, consider the narrator-first person agonist as secondary to the external stimuli. A method for managing that is to use the external stimuli as sentence and paragraph subjects and, as needed, the first person agonist as object upon whom the verbs act. The first sentence does exactly that, though expresses in summary the paragraph's stimuli remainder.
Rearrangement illustrates: //Escarpments, vestiges of a forsaken age, sprawled out over the horizon. The ruined expanse reflected my tortured soul.// Though I'd advise more specific and accessible and selected diction and syntax emphasis: "escarpments," "vestiges," "sprawled out," "expanse," sophisticated words which clutter the main idea and draw undue attention away from what the main idea is: a broken city landscape that reflects the narrator-agonist's emotional state.
Still, no action to speak of, static state-of-being stasis: a stuck-in-a-bathtub navel contemplation scene. Such scenes are the summary features of the scene then summary method; in other words, cause then effect and this fragment an effect summary.
A prior cause scene action is warranted. Cause is easiest realized as a complication; that is, a want and problem wanting satisfaction. What does the narrator-agonist want and what problems oppose that want satisfaction at the moment before he's come to take a gander -- to see -- at the ruined city? That's a scene that this summary would then best practice follow.
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I feel the writing is pretty good. I am not into the theme however. I cant't say it is hackneyed. Well, let me say that a published author might be able to pull this off, but as a fledgling, I would definitely not risk it.
I think it needs more character development. We are all philosophers, so I can find empathy, but there is no tension. I don't feel I want to jump into this sympathetic view when I have my own right here, if that makes any sense. Give us some stakes.
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Oh, for all you guys new and kinda new. Please include revisions in the first post so They are seen. I and many don't read others comments before I review as to not taint the water so-to-speak. I totally didn't see your revision.
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