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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Cat's Paw, DF - 4700 w.

   
Author Topic: Cat's Paw, DF - 4700 w.
T. Griffin
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Dark/Dystopian Fantasy. Would love feedback on first 13, and if anyone wants to keep reading, please let me know. About 4700 words.

***
(Version 1)
I squat in the throat of the sewer and wait for the rats to pass. They pace at the tunnelís mouth, sniffing hungrily, but even with their keen noses they cannot sense me--I am covered to head to toe in the brown muck, a smell they are all too familiar with. Still, I am careful to hold my breath. Their hearing is sharp, sharper than mine, and they have another with them.
He is a boy no older than ten. They never are, the King Ratís servants. So small, so frail--I could best any of them easily, if not for the monsters they command. The rats grow so large down here, they could swallow me whole and not choke as I passed kicking and thrashing down their gullets. Fortunately for me, they donít eat humans but once a year, during the Tribute.
Unfortunately, that time is now.

(Version 2)
I squat in the throat of the storm drain and wait for the rats to make their pass. They pace at the tunnelís mouth, sniffing hungrily, but I am invisible to them, covered to head to toe in the brown muck. The stench masking my scent, but still, I am careful to hold my breath. Their hearing is sharp, sharper than mine, and they have another with them.
His torch burns low, but I can see heís just a boy, no older than ten--they never are, the King Ratís servants. Fierce but small--I could best any of them easily, if not for the monsters they command. The rats grow so large down here, they could swallow me whole and not choke as I passed thrashing down their gullets. They only hunt humans but once a year, during the Tribute, but that time is now, and this year I refuse to run.

[ May 14, 2015, 05:28 PM: Message edited by: T. Griffin ]

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Denevius
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The last two lines are contradictory. If the time the rats eat humans is now, why would the narrator first think it's fortunate if he/she is there at that moment?

Other than that, the prose is a bit overwrought and takes a long time to get to a point. I think a better first sentence would be, "The time is now." And then you launch into the immediate events of the story. Avoid as much backstory as possible.

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telflonmail
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Sewers don't have throats, at least not in any place I know.

It felt like the 2nd paragraph was shifting from 1st person to 3rd person. Then I lost interest at King Ratís servants.

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wetwilly
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Other than a few word-level nitpicks, I like this. You've got my attention, and I want to read more. The rat king with child servants is what got my attention.

I apologize for being contrary, but I disagree with the above crits. I had a different experience reading this than these folks did.

I think the fortunately/unfortunately juxtaposition works, sort of "here's the good news, and here's the bad news." To make that stronger, I think keep the two phrases parallel. "Fortunately for me...Unfortunately for me..."

I actually also like the throat of the sewer as metaphorical description. The sewer may swallow you, therefore it has a throat.

I'll read the rest.

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T. Griffin
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To all three of you--thank you for the feedback.

Denevius: Point taken on the contradiction. Tried to address this in Version 2, posted above. I'd love to know if that works better for you.

Telflonmail: Point also taken about the anatomy of sewers. Were you looking for more precise language, i.e. storm drain vs. sewer? I tried to address this as well in Version 2.

wetwilly: I've adjusted the opening in Version 2 based on the others' critiques, but if you'd still like it, I'd be happy to pass it along.

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wetwilly
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Send it on.
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telflonmail
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IMHO, Version 2 is better and doesn't give the feeling that the 2nd paragraph was shifting from 1st person to 3rd person.

The 1st sentence is too wordy and doesn't convey the action as best it could. I would change "and wait" to "waiting" and edit out "make their" which is implied.

Why is he careful to hold his breath? Is is due to the stench or the noise?

The last sentence of the 1st paragraph has two different ideas that don't go together. I don't feel you need to bring in the sense of hearing at this time. "... have another with them." is too vague - we need to be shocked that it is a human child.

I can sense in the 2nd paragraph what you are tring to set up intelligent rats with clan hierarchy and rituals. You need to keep the action going while enlightening us with this world.

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Grumpy old guy
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Apart from the first and last sentences in version two, and for most of version one, this is all writer's tell. A trap easily fallen into when writing first person--I know it only too well.

In thinking about version two, I'd go so far as to can everything but the first and last sentences:

I squat in the throat of the storm drain and wait for the rats to make their pass. They only hunt humans but once a year, during the Tribute, but that time is now, and this year I refuse to run.

This, IMHO, gives the reader a sense of the character who is telling the story. It also hints at the dramatic complication to come while introducing an imminent danger--being discovered.

All of the rest of this information you've told us can be shown to us as the story unfolds.

In my opinion, when telling a story with a first person narrator, it is essential for the reader to get a sense of who this character is that they are going to be spending so much time with. And, later as the story develops more meat, the writer can then reveal the 'nature' of the character, the milieu, and the dramatic want. What does this, as yet nameless, character want?

Phil.

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T. Griffin
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Phil: Initially I wanted to dismiss that suggestion. Then I realized it was genius. Not sure if I'll part with everything else just yet, but I'll definitely at least test it out. Thank you.

telflonmail: Thank you again. I'm glad Ver. 2 worked better for you. I'll keep at it.

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telflonmail
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I agree with Grumpy that the writer is telling us the world order along with explanations ("...but once a year...") translating into our perception. I feel everything after the 1st sentence to be a world building outline too early to dispense and in such concentration.

The "...throat ...mouth " is cute but distracting.

What do we know about the 1st person protagonist? What feeling does he/she/it have? Why does he/she/it state the obvious (and without any emotion)? What makes him/her/it an expert on the rats but is now in this situation?

Based on what you provided this would be my attempt at a 2nd sentence (which may be completely wrong on the actual story):

My fur is coated in brown muck from the sewer hopefully camouflaging sight and smell.

Please, feel free to ignore why opinion. It's hard for someone to know what to expect from two paragraphs, but IMHO we need to know more about the main character and how he/she/it feels.

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extrinsic
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A being, probably human, hides from rats in a sewer. The rats hunt and eat humans. Presumably, the human is part of a ritual where humans are made to run a rat sewer maze. Kind of a Hunger Games scenario.

For me, the event sequence holds promise, though why humans are made to participate in this ritual is warranted soon if not immediately.

The writing structure to me is also a little too much narrator mediation -- the first person narrator tells the action too directly to readers, as if the narrator is present with readers and not in the moment and at the place and situation of the action.

The first sentence, for example, "I squat in the throat of the sewer and wait for the rats to pass." First, static voice: the action is a state of being or stasis statement or static, ongoing, nonfinite time span action, not a process statement. For illustration, adjustment to a process statement: // Rats pass through the sewer's throat where I hide, squatted inside a break of the wall.//

Note that the second version contains five contrast conjunction "buts." None are necessary. Removing and adjusting the sentences and clauses they are in smooths fluency and flow and does not change meaning.

Stray word: "covered [to] head to toe".

The idea of a rat maze hunt of humans, to me, has merit, a rat-race maze comparable to the idiom of everyday human life rat mazes and rat races. Hilarious and sublime possibilities. Though, again, for me, I'd need a clue soon or immediately how this short story is different from Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games or maybe Richard Bach's (Stephen King) Running Man.

The idea is a strength; the quantity and quality of narrator tell a shortfall for me. I would not read on.

[ May 19, 2015, 09:19 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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Phil nailed this critique. Avoid the temptation to brief readers under the guise of something else. That especially sticks out if you read a lot of openings.

You're going to have to work harder to get the creepy feeling you're going for. A dark, rat-infested sewer might seem like a no-brainer to get an eww-ick reaction, but remember it seems obvious to a *lot* of writers, and there's no degree of ratcheting up that myriad others haven't tried before you. True horror is a very tricky thing to pull off. You can't do it (in my opinion) by dropping a character right off the bat in a any amount of discomfort our yuckiness. It takes real finesse.

So rather than piling it on thick, try for something a little more elegant.

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T. Griffin
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Thank you all again for the comments. There's a lot of good stuff here I'll try to use.
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