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Author Topic: League of Corrections
wetwilly
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I know this is my second story in as many weeks. Hopefully, I'm not wearing out my welcome. I've just hit a prolific stretch, and while I was waiting for critiques on my last one to come back, I banged this one out. It's darkly humorous superhero SF, about 1800 words. Thoughts on the opening are welcome, as well as offers to read. As always, I'm happy to return the favor.

Specifically, for this opening, I wonder if Prita's awkward, bulky English works. She speaks English as a fairly recently learned second language, so she screws up the idioms and says things in generally awkward or unusual ways. My intention is to use that to comic effect, maybe even make her an endearing character with it. I wonder, though, if it just comes across as bad writing, like, "Holy crap, this writer can't string a cohesive sentence together." Your reaction to that would be welcome.

***

Prita Bannerjee had always received butterflies in her bowels before engaging fake villains during training sessions at Hero School, but that was nothing compared to how she felt before she fought her first real-world villain. She felt like she was going to upchuck right on the sidewalk at 7th and Vine as she watched her adversary at work.
Down the street, the villainous Psi blew the doors to the Global Bank inward with a purple psionic blast. He stood with one hand outstretched, fingers splayed apart, and the other in a fist at his side. He was African-American, tall and thin, wearing blue body armor that showed off his well-defined muscles and a blue mask over his head and eyes.
From inside the bank, alarm bells clanged and screaming people clamored and a swell of smoke poured out into the street.

***

Version 2 (Same section as version 1, but came out slightly over 13 lines. I think that's just because of added paragraph breaks. If that's not kosher, feel free to cut it down, KDW.)

Prita Bannerjee, also known as The Stinger, had always gotten nervous before fighting mock villains at Hero School, but that was nothing compared to how she felt before fighting her first real-world villain. She stood on the corner of Seventh and Vine and watched the villainous Psi blow the doors to the Global Bank inward with a purple psionic blast from his hand. This was no training exercise.
I am receiving butterflies in my bowels, she told her new team.
Down the street, Psi stood with one hand outstretched, fingers splayed apart, and the other in a fist at his side. He was African-American, tall and thin, wearing blue body armor that showed off his well-defined muscles and a blue mask over his head and eyes.
From inside the bank, alarm bells clanged and a swell of smoke poured out into the street. People screamed.

[ May 19, 2015, 11:47 PM: Message edited by: wetwilly ]

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JSchuler
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For your question: "butterflies in her bowels," assuming the 3rd person narration is in Prita's voice, was off-putting. If they're in your bowels (i.e. intestines), you aren't going to be upchucking. It will take the southern exit. Without something to clue me in that it's intentional, it just brought an unpleasant image to mind.

Although I get what you're saying (she was nervous in school and now, at the real thing, she's really nervous), I was still expecting some link between her nausea and the super villain's power. Blowing the door off a bank with a purple psionic blast doesn't do that for me (and what does a psionic blast look like compared to a regular blast?).

Being in the superhero genre, I am disappointed in the names. Psi seems more like a nickname, and Prita Bannerjee (I'm hoping) is the name of her alter ego, not the superhero that's facing Psi down. In my experience in the genre, a strong delineation between identities is assumed and exceptions justified.

"Screaming people clamored" Redundant. Screaming people clamor by definition. Malapropism for "clamber," perhaps, and over what? Also, the use of "and" to link the three features together does not do a good job at integrating them into a cohesive scene.

All in all, I don't see anything that makes this opening stand out. It's pretty standard fare. The mention of a Hero School is uncommon, but I get the impression that she's not in Hero School anymore, so I'm not expecting the story to be about it.

I'm not bored with your opening, but I'm not itching to turn the page, either. If this was a book, I'd give you some more room to play.

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Denevius
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The first two lines kept me at a distance. Beginning the story with backstory is risky, even if it only lasts half a sentence. Also, always try and eliminate feels, feel, and felt from your prose. Rewriting your sentences without these words makes the character more immediate in the mind of the readers.

Other than that, I'd definitely read on.

As for Prita speaking English as a second language, I don't think you pulled that off at all. I say this coming from a unique situation where I'm surrounded by people who use English as a second language. Not only Koreans, but now that I've been taking classes for half a year, people from all over the non-Engish speaking Western world.

Your prose is way, way too complete and fluent and natural to sound anything less than a native English speaker writing English.

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MattLeo
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I get what you're going for with the weird sounding analogy thing. I love the concept but I don't think it works in the opening paragraphs because we can't tell whether the verbal awkwardness belongs to the writer or the character.

I'd suggest starting more subtly before you go full "butterflies in the bowels".

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extrinsic
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After schooling for it, an English second language woman encounters a superpower villain. Presumably, the woman also has superpowers, or not, and is a kind of superpower watcher.

The premise holds promise, though for an opening, I'm not further engaged by the idea generally.

The first sentence's first two clauses entail a degree of suitably awkward ESL dialect: "always received" and "butterflies in her bowels" and "fake villains." Likewise, the word "upchuck." However, the grammar generally is of a native English speaker overall. A common signal of an ESL user is missing or erroneous article usage, also, verb-number agreement, as well as awkward diction and syntax, generally word seeking and the word settled upon is a simple one with broad application instead of exact meanings. In any case, a small leavening of several methods is a best practice, that signal a foreign flavor and do not dominate and stall reading ease and comprehension

The larger world views mentions of any organ anatomy below the stomach as unfit for polite conversation. Instead of groin, for example, or privates, bowels, etc., the stomach is referenced. An excited tingle in the stomach, for example, expresses sexual arousal. This practice is a staple matter for manners narratives and less so though still used in other narrative types and bowels are seldom mentioned except as viscera.

In other words, the degree of awkwardness with English falls short for me.

Also, I feel the start time is later than ideal. A stronger start time could be at the Hero school so that anticipation builds up to field work, at least, if not more appealing and ample, event, setting-milieu, and character development before the main action starts.

That raises the question of what this story is about. A counter superhero league? Or, perhaps more appealing for its freshness potentials, an agency that contains superpower villains, an enforcement force with otherwise natural-normal abilities? I favor the latter for its originality potentials.

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wetwilly
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Revised version posted above. The major change: I have relegated Prita's non-native English to her dialogue. I have distinguished between narration in "clean" English and Prita's dialogue in her non-native English.

I'm not going for "just learned English last week" with her, but she still doesn't get it quite right. Working on striking the balance between her incorrect English and readability.

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JSchuler
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I think ditching the ESL vibe from the narration is a good choice.

quote:
I am receiving butterflies in my bowels, she told her new team.
While the previous version came off as a poor choice of words, this does read as intentional. But it also reads as forced. I have no idea why a superhero would disclose that out of the blue.

What's worse, "her new team" indicates that she could be the leader, and leaders don't let on that they're nervous to their subordinates. It does bad things to morale.

I think you need a prompt from an authority figure. This is Stinger's first time in the field, hopefully Hero School has made sure there's an experienced superhero with her. Maybe let him notice Stinger's nervousness and ask about it. Otherwise, strongly consider killing that darling.

On that topic, I am now much more interested in the fact that she's with a team team than I am in Psi.

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Denevius
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I enjoyed the first version more.

quote:
I am receiving butterflies in my bowels, she told her new team.
Again, since I'm coming at this from a unique position, I think I'm just overanalyzing it. But when I read this, I think of how Koreans say they're hungry. The word 'I' isn't used very often in Korean. If a person is speaking, it's generally assumed that they're talking about themselves. Also, they tend to speak of body parts in first person.

It's quite strange.

So in Korean, for instance, the above sentence would sound more like, "Stomach (bowels) butterfly come".

I know you aren't trying to imitate Korean, but then I also think of my friend from Switzerland who begins almost every sentence with, "Let me say." So for him it would be,

"Let me say, I am receiving butterflies in my stomach." I'm pretty sure he wouldn't use the word 'bowels'. The 'wels' would be difficult for him to pronounce.

My Columbian friend, who curses quite a lot, would probably say, "My ****ing stomach, men (not man, as he always uses the plural word for man), feels like its ****ing gonna explode". If he'd heard the American expression about butterflies, he'd probably ask me about it before using it, as he wouldn't be quite so sure he's getting it right.

My French friend would speak with a lot of pauses and 'Ahs'. "Ah man...my stomach...here ah (pats stomach)...****ing butterflies". He'd probably have sweat stains in his arm pits.

My friend from Hong Kong who speaks English from the 90s. "Dude, there's buttahfries (she would totally mispronounce that word) here (hand on stomach)."

Most people are not going to overthink it, as they're perfectly happy with characters speaking English as a second language that's in no way similar to how actual people speak English as a second language. For me, though, all I see is a fluent English.

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Grumpy old guy
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Subtlety is the key. Far too often writers try and 'create' dialogue that is a character's second language and all usually fail dismally. Why? Because generally it is the sentence construction, and not the inappropriate use of words, that set them apart.

For me, the only notable merit in the film 2010 was the Russian astronaut who kept saying, "Piece of pie." Or, "Easy as cake."

Denevius' last point is on the money, most reader's won't care. However, if you really want to showcase that element, sit in a bistro in an ethnic neighborhood and listen to how people really talk.

Phil.

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wetwilly
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Jschuler: "On that topic, I am now much more interested in the fact that she's with a team team than I am in Psi."

Good news for me. The story is very much about her interaction with her team. Psi is just a catalyst for their interaction.

Agreed about the authority figure prompting her at the beginning. Thanks for that.

Denevius: I'm definitely still playing with the ESL dialogue, trying to nail it down. At some point I'll probably have to settle for most people not caring whether I nailed it exactly. I'll keep playing with it and hope for the best.

Phil: Thanks for bringing to my attention that awkward constructions are as important as awkward word choices.

I appreciate your thoughts, friends.

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Scot
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The 2nd opening is an improvement, and I would give the story more of a read, but that's more because I'm into superhero stuff rather than because the opening grabs me.

Since you mentioned that the team dynamics are more of the point, one option might be to put Prita's statement as the opening line, then give some of her teammates' responses.

That said, since it's such a short piece, I'd be glad to read the whole.

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wetwilly
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Sending, Scot. Thanks!
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