So, after taking a break from work, I jotted down a rough opening to an idea that sprouted in my head. Besides the simplistic vocabulary and multiple grammar issues, are there any other things that could/should/need to be improved upon?
Serino Givana was a dead man, plain and simple. No one in their right mind would try to steal from The Salesman. The rules were clear to everyone in the city. Everyone worked with The Salesman. Everyone paid The Salesman. Everyone obeyed The Salesman. No one stole from The Salesman. And yet Serino just did exactly that: he took something from The Salesman that wasn't his. He didn't steal any of The Salesman's money. For such a minor offense such as that, The Salesman probably wouldn’t even notice. Serino didn't steal any of the day-to-day information that passes through The Salesman's ears. If that were the case, Serino would have been beaten and forgiven. No, Serino stole something far more dangerous and unforgivable, a pair of words that could turn the whole world around.
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Despite being a relatively cliché opening, with my reader’s hat on, I liked it. My biggest concern is with the name: The Salesman. Such a name may work on the screen or the stage, but in print? With my typesetter’s hat on, just ‘look’ at how it sits there on the page like a big lump.
With my writer’s hat on, my next issue is with the last six words: “ . . . could turn the whole world around.” Could? Will it, or won’t it? Turn the whole world around? Far too vague. Will it change the world forever, or won’t it?
Let’s take a look at the opening with my editor’s hat on. The viewpoint character is a disembodied narrator setting the scene for what is about to unfold. An expositional opening to the story introducing two main characters and a major dramatic complication. My question is: Will the story remain with the same viewpoint character, the narrator, or will it shift to one or more of the main characters?
My next comment regards literary aesthetics. This opening has quite a long narrative distance; the reader is far removed from the characters, the complication and the story. This is also a major failing I find in myself at the moment and I am working to find a satisfactory solution to it. Thanks to some comments by extrinsic that got my fuzzy grey matter rolling around, may I suggest a more immediate style of opening. Perhaps something like this:
Serino Givana shuddered; he was as dead as a man could get without actually dying. What was he thinking, taking something from The Salesman. And not just something trivial like money or . . .
Get us into the head of a character, that’s what modern readers want—apparently.
A narrator summarizes the action to follow, of Givana's complication; that is, he "stole," presumably, what, eavesdropped speech or a written message that contains two priceless words?
The language of the fragment is what is known as the "Grand Style" common to orators of old, and politicians, preachers, and public speakers now. The narrator -- or orator -- uses rhetorical schemes to build emphasis toward a periodic idea. Use of repetition, substitution, and amplification is a common oratory feature. Not to say a scheme that is common and therefore tired, that the method used in written word emulates oratory techniques.
The fragment's organization progresses artfully from preparation, through a somewhat clumsy yet artfully delayed suspension, to a firm resolution; in other words, the fragment contains a completed tension arc. That is a noteworthy artful arc.
The tension building types are all present: mystery and curiosity, conflict and uncertainty, and, the more pleasurable cluster, tension and anticipation (Rust Hills Writing in General).
However, a few clumsy and a few aesthetic shortfalls keep me from the degree of reading immersion I favor from an opening. The fragment is close to the mark for an oratory narrator, though, even if a narrator lecture sets up the theme and meaning of the whole -- artful in itself for delivering what openings most need to express. Plus, the fragment entails introduction of a complication, establishes a life and death conflict, implies a greed moral contention, has an emotional disequilibrium, and a routine interruption segment that as well establishes the routine as backdrop. The moment of action start is set up though not yet set in motion, due to the narrator lecture. The fragment does much of an opening's necessary work.
Narrator lecture is by default indirect discourse, a paraphrased summary, rather than direct discourse, which is a more or less verbatim dramatic action account from a close distance of a viewpoint agonist's received reflections. Grumpy old guy notes "modern" readers prefer the latter. The former is a traditional custom dated back to the early days of expression; that is, oration -- before written writing. The two meta-methods do overlap to a degree, though their distinctions are more numerous.
A closer look at the fragment's mechanical parts and their aesthetic effects will serve to appreciate their somewhat clumsy nature. Grumpy old guy also notes how flat on the page "Salesman" is, and its repetition is also non-transformative in needed substitution and amplification transformation for the scheme. Repetition as used in the Grand Style, uses substitution that escalates through amplification. In the oratory method, those aspects benefit from vocal intonation and gestural emphasis, without adjustments to the words' content or organization themselves. Narrative, however, is only words, no vocal intonation possible, though could be implied. Gestural language -- impossible for a narrator to see the self gesture.
In short, an escalated modification by substitution and amplification of "Salesman" is warranted, that expresses attitude: emotional commentary. The narrator's attitude. Many synonymous words accompany "salesman." Many possible hyponyms, too. Clerk, dealer, barker, busker, for examples. Though they are as emotionally vague and flat as "salesman." That then suggests a strategy of value: modifiers -- adjectives and adverbs. The function of modifiers is they express strong and clear emotional commentary. Use emotionally charged adjectives and adverbs to modify "salesman" and synonymous terms. A light touch is a best advised practice, though that builds emphasis along with the suspension content, toward the resolution, for an emotional and pleasurable arc.
The fluency of the fragment, to mean the pace and flow, is fluent, moves forward, though no action movement. The language, though somewhat flat, suits a narrator's literate oration. A small piece of metalepsis language -- somewhat idiomatic -- that suits the milieu, as it were, would go a long way to start setting introductions; say, the somewhat trite phrases, like "plain and simple," modified for stronger liveliness and vividness. Consider a synonymous though fresh expression instead -- not "hard and fast," though, also trite. //all but did and done,// for example, is in the ballpark's grandstands. That is the first sentence, after all; and "was a dead man" asks for some amplification to liven and brighten it up.
I generally shy from any use of "but" in prose uses. The conjunction uses especially. However, "all but" is an adverb phrase and easily understood and more artful, maybe more appealing than "very nearly" or "almost," the meaning of the phrase. More appealing because "all but did and done" is a contemporary and still lively idiom that suits a type of milieu; say, a community's soft or black market economy underworld!?
I might turn the page, my curiosity aroused, though more so to see if, when the action movement starts, the story might then engage me, and to explore the craft techniques demonstrated; in other words, as an engaged writer, not engaged as a reader.
To be honest, I'm quite surprised at how this turned out, as it is something I wrote when I was exhausted and stressed. Maybe I should write more during these times?
Thank you Grumpy old guy and extrinsic for the comments and critiques. Definitely going to try to smooth out some of the clumsy parts. Originally, there was/were going to be another sentence or two describing Givana as a character, but perhaps I should cut those out.
After reading through again, I agree about the Salesman name issue. It is a bit clunky and neutral in tone. I'm still trying to figure out whether the Salesman title should be the common name that everyone knows, while other more discriminatory/positive names are used by differing people who have different feelings for the Salesman. However, I'm also worried about throwing in too many names to describe a single person.
I still need to finish writing the story out in its entirety, so the style may change a bit. Any tips on how to keep consistent style when writing with extended breaks in-between?
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The narrative voice does breed distance from the viewpoint character, but I'm interested nonetheless. The opening lines do a good job of building suspense and intrigue.
As for keeping the same style of voice while writing with extended breaks, my advice would be to read over the last scene you wrote as the first step of picking the story up anew.
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I was intrigued by it, although I agree that it did read a little more like a cover-blurb than an opening paragraph.
My decision to read on would have been governed by whether I was at Barnes and Noble, waiting for someone else to finish something or whether I was working on getting something done. If that makes any sense.
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