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Author Topic: Runs with deer
Alex B
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Grace laces up her boots and steps outside into the purple early morning. Dawn is twenty minutes away. Walking at this hour, when Seattle is near-deserted, has been therapeutic to Grace in the weeks since her suicide attempt. Her head hasnít been this clear in years. Her footfalls against the concrete and the asphalt, returning to her after bouncing off the homes and the businesses, are reassuring sounds.
At 10th and Madison, looking north, she sees an animal a block and a half off. At first, with the sun cresting the tops of the buildings behind her, Grace thinks itís a dog in the street, though it would have to be a large dog ó a greyhound, as its legs are long.
As Grace nears, the animalís shape solidifies. Itís not a dog.

[ September 26, 2015, 04:25 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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I'm listening to some show about Hunting and Wildlife officers and its in the present tense and it sounds a lot like this opening. I'm not a fan of either.

The mystery that's presented doesn't grab me, perhaps because the title indicates the answer. There appears to be no dramatic draw for me.

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First paragraph: a vivid and interesting setting description. The sensory details paint a vivid picture for me very quickly, and I'm wondering why Seattle is deserted. Is it actually deserted, or is it just that she got up before everyone else? My curiosity is piqued.

A large animal (I'm assuming a deer, based on the title) walking the city streets is an unusual and gripping image. My interest is piqued a little more. I find it odd that she can't ID the animal, though. I get the impression that she is familiar with the setting. If it is a deer, surely she can tell the difference between it and a dog. I mean, anyone can mistake it in the first instant, but still not recognizing whatever it is after examining it? Unless it's an animal she's never seen, it seems strange not to recognize it.

I like it. I like the sort of quiet, calm, mystery vibe of it. I would definitely be reading the rest of it right now if I had it.

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Alex B
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Thanks for this feedback. I don't have a lot of critical readers around me IRL and this is good input.
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Grumpy old guy
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While I am a constant proponent of introductions as openings for stories, the short story form has two particular constraints: Time and word count.

As far as time is concerned, this is from the reader's POV. They want to feel some immediacy of possible imminent conflict. Not action, mind you, but conflict; either between characters or a dramatic want denied or taken away.

Word count is another matter. Personally, I like languid openings that allow me to savour time, place, and character--but not in a short story. I recommend you look at Daemon Knight's book Creating Short Fiction. In that, he suggests that best practice is to introduce the dramatic complication (conflict), or the inciting incident (what started it all happening) as close to the first sentence as possible. For me, your opening reads a bit like a collection of random thoughts.

Just my opinion.


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A jogger starts an early morning exercise routine.

Narrative movement and setting movement timely begin. For me, though, the content is too direct to allow much reader imagination to fill in and join the story conversation. The gratuitous mention of the suicide attempt looms large, possibly too large, as an example of too direct a narrative portrait.

Setting features used as symbolism, emblemism, stronger yet, foreshadowing imply what a story start most needs: implied story movement, particularly character movement and what a story is really about in terms of a moral human condition, which that latter is prose exposition: the theme and meaning of a work, as of a writing, (Webster's).

The first line, for example, contains two potential setting symbolism motifs: boots and a purple dawn. Either or both could have significant thematic meaning, if emotionally charged. Boots could be Army boots, though not the usual jogger's footwear -- oddity or idiosyncracy predisposes toward emotional charge. What kind of boots?

Likewise, purple dawn, possibly an emotionally charged setting feature though without clarity or strength. Transitional daytimes like the between of dawn are liminal and are ideal foreshadowing features. Dawn says a new day begins and with all the fresh hope of a clean slate. That foreshadowing promises a happy outcome, perhaps telegraphs the ending, though. A purple dawn, without clear significance could be the start of a happy day. A red sky at morning, though, sailors take warning. A dawn red sky signals a storm front.

The suicide attempt is not automatically a gratuitous feature. Context and texture are warranted so that the motif is not just out of the wild blue yonder. All the motif does for me is say maybe that's where to start, and then runs with deer is the outcome. The motif is sentimentally melodramatic from being the sole feature that possibly moves the plot at this juncture. Besides, recovery from the suicide attempt is clearly well underway. Grace jogs regularly now -- a signal her recovery is well underway.

The setting details are fairly vivid and stand out to me as a strength, though too emotionally neutral for suitable story movement.

I would not read on due to those three areas enumerated above, lack of exposition development, too limited story and especially character movement, and gratuitous and melodramatic, untimely suicide motif.

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Disgruntled Peony
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The combination of third person and present tense threw me off at first, although I got over it quickly. I'm curious as to why you chose that combination, because it was definitely a conscious choice.

I noticed a lot of 'ing' suffixes in your thirteen lines; I recommend that you edit out as many of those as possible throughout the whole story, because it will improve the overall flow. I guard against 'ing' suffixes religiously in my prose; it's difficult at times, but worth the effort.

There's not anything else that actively bothers me with this opening, but I also wasn't actively grabbed. I might read on a bit further to see where things were going, but unless something grabbed my interest I wouldn't be in it for the long haul.

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I would like to know why walking alone is therapeutic for Grace, and why her head is clear. There don't have to be a lot of words. Perhaps just a sentence suggesting a reason. Otherwise the reader is tempted to think those descriptions are gimmicks to solicit sympathy. Without a hint of a reason there is a risk of Grace being 2D.
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