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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » The Broken Dollhouse (Working Title): Contemporary Fantasy/Horror, ~7,000 words

   
Author Topic: The Broken Dollhouse (Working Title): Contemporary Fantasy/Horror, ~7,000 words
Disgruntled Peony
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Take #1:

Sunset cast vibrant red and orange hues on the faded wallpaper of Kurt Merridan's bedroom, a hideous contrast with the dirty blue shag carpet he knelt on. He had been cleaning for over an hour, picking up remnants of the dollhouse his father had smashed and subsequently ground into the floor. The bigger pieces had already been relocated to a plastic trash can, but numerous shards and slivers had tangled themselves with the carpet in a gnarled mass that no vacuum cleaner could safely decipher.
Kurt hissed as he snagged his index finger on a particularly jagged splinter. A drop of crimson spattered one of the dollhouse windows as he pulled the scrap of wood out of his wound. He caught hints of movement behind him in the glass as he sucked his finger clean. He whirled around, fearful that

Take #2:

Raised voices reverberated through the walls of Kurt and Wade's shared bedroom. A door slammed in the hall. Kurt unlatched the bedroom door and cracked it open in time to catch the end of Dad's tirade. “He was playing with dolls. No son of mine plays with dolls!”
Mom's retort was swift and indignant. “So he can't play with dolls but he can play with action figures?”
“There's a difference, Lucia!”
“What is it? What the hell is it, Arthur? Because it all seems like the same kind of thing to me.”
“Action figures are for boys. Dolls are for girls! I'm starting to think your boy's gone queer on us.”
“He's your son too.”

[ December 08, 2015, 04:13 PM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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extrinsic
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An individual cleans up the aftermath of his father's violent dollhouse destruction.

A strength of the fragment implies the dollhouse and its destruction are important at the moment and will be more important later: foreshadowing, pre-positioning, Chekhov's gun.

Several large to me shortfalls stand out: an aftermath scene segment skips past a scene of substance; that is, the development of the dollhouse's relevance, Kurt and Dad's relationships to the dollhouse, not clear if the dollhouse is Kurt's or Dad's or someone else's, why Dad destroyed the dollhouse, and why Kurt cleans up. I infer the dollhouse is Kurt's, though why and other context and texture are less inferrable. This fragment to me clearly starts later than is ideal. If Kurt's relationship to the dollhouse came first -- pride, joy, satisfaction, though secretive, then Dad caught Kurt "playing with a dollhouse" and "made a scene stink" about it, then angrily destroyed it, that to me is an artful sequence.

The fragment's scene as is is nondramatic and emotionally neutral. Clash of individuals and passions is a basis for dramatic scenes. Kurt is alone and ruminates indirectly about the mess, not about what the dollhouse and its destruction mean to him.

The descriptions are also emotionally neutral. For example, the first sentence uses bland description of a potentially meaningful setting feature. In particular, "cast vibrant red and orange hues on the faded wallpaper". If that used Sunset cast fiery rays onto dingy charcoal wallpaper, or similar, the setting motif would reflect a mood and the previous violence dying down. And by all means then lead into Kurt expressing an attitude about Dad's wanton violence. The fragment, though, to me, would still start later than an ideal opening time. Dad's discovery of Kurt's dollhouse at least is a starting time, if not Kurt's concealment and anxiety about the dollhouse and his father.

That time and opportunity to develop story, character, emotion, time, tension, and plot movement are missed, I feel, in a rush to get to a next scene sequence of a furtive mysterious individual who will carry Kurt to adventure. Of course, a young adult story needs to isolate a young agonist from family guardianship. Yet as much as a quarter of word count can be used to get to that pivot.

The rest of the first paragraph switches tense to past perfect "had" predicates -- four of them. That to me is a clear signal the fragment starts at a later time than ideal. Each past perfect predicate recedes further in time and into backstory summary and explanation that recaps a prior scene and a confused timeline. First, Dad discovers the dollhouse, gets mad, destroys the dollhouse, then Kurt cleans up. Though cleaning up I imagine would be the last thought he would have after anger at Dad, cooling off, and cleanup then a resignation.

Cleanup is not necessary to the direction I infer the story turns after the fragment. The splinter puncture and the furtive individual seen in the glass shard's reflection are pivotal events I imagine. A stepped process from a dollhouse fragment draws blood and initiates a transition into a fantastical adventure.

The word "hideous" tells what the contrast between the fiery sunlight and dull blue carpet mean to Kurt. Attitude development would show the hideous contrast. Also, the word used as a sentence fragment //Hideous.// becomes a stream-of-consciousness thought. The hideous contrast still needs emotional attitude development beforehand.

"dirty blue shag carpet" either takes a hyphen or a comma between "dirty" and "blue". //dirty-blue// is the carpet's native color, or //dirty, [and] blue// is the carpet's present condition.

The second paragraph contains three "as" used as coordination conjunctions that create fused or run-on sentences. In none of their uses are the separate actions simultaneous. They are sequential and invert natural sequences.

"Kurt hissed as he snagged his index finger on a particularly jagged splinter." The splinter snags his finger then he hisses a quick moment later.

"A drop of crimson spattered one of the dollhouse windows as he pulled the scrap of wood out of his wound." He pulls out the scrap first then the blood drop spatters.

"He caught hints of movement behind him in the glass as he sucked his finger clean." Those two actions could be simultaneous or sequential. Clarity requires separation. The proper time coordination conjunction is while.

"As" might be used as a coordination conjunction in addition to its proper correlation function. Correlation and coordination are distinct functions, though. Correlation for simile, for example, to co-relate ideas, not per se coordinate non-simultaneous actions.

However, alas, "as" use for coordination has become routine for composing compound sentences that jam actions into confused causality. Three in short sequence calls undue attention to each and the awkward grammar overall.

Another strength possible -- what a young male individual does with a dollhouse arouses a mite of curiosity, though without Kurt's attitude toward the dollhouse to provide guidance of what the dollhouse means, to him, and to the story, that potential tension driver doesn't emerge.

I would not read on. The emotionally neutral sunset light on the wallpaper slowed me down like a speed bump. The first "had" changed me from reader reading to editor reading.

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babooher
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I rarely think starting earlier is the solution. However, it can't hurt to try. You can always cut the excess away later. As it is now, I don't know why Kurt had a dollhouse nor why his father destroyed it. So, maybe backing up would be good, but I wouldn't say it is a must as that information could be revealed later.

What do you mean by dollhouse? A miniature house like the traditional (and somewhat feminine) toy? My boys had one of those as well as a more masculine miniature castle. Technically, I think the Castle Grayskull play set I had as a child could be called a dollhouse. Maybe a more concrete description of the pieces might provide a clue. Maybe I'm being picky.

If you'd like me to look it over, I'm game.

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Disgruntled Peony
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Well, at least I got the foreshadowing bit right. Ahh well.

The dollhouse is not actually Kurt's (Kurt's younger brother brought it down from the attic; the protection of said younger brother is a recurring theme in the story). I will certainly grant you that as the fragment currently stands, the ownership and complications therein are unclear (the younger brother currently makes his first appearance in the line after the first thirteen, which is unfortunate).

I'll try to clarify things and fix the pacing of the beginning in the next draft. Hell, I may write a whole new opening scene. Finding the right balance for this story has been difficult from the start, but I think it'll be worth it when I finally get it right.

quote:
Originally posted by babooher:
What do you mean by dollhouse? A miniature house like the traditional (and somewhat feminine) toy? My boys had one of those as well as a more masculine miniature castle. Technically, I think the Castle Grayskull play set I had as a child could be called a dollhouse. Maybe a more concrete description of the pieces might provide a clue. Maybe I'm being picky.

If you'd like me to look it over, I'm game.

The miniature house is closest. I meant to clarify that in the text, I swear. [Roll Eyes] If I cut back to an earlier scene, and I'm honestly starting to think I should, the dollhouse will get a more detailed description.

That would be much appreciated! I'll send it your way shortly.

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Grumpy old guy
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As a reader, there is nothing in these opening few lines that throws me out of the reading experience. In fact, there are a number of questions raised that pique my interest: There was an argument that resulted in the doll house being smashed then ground into the carpet by the father: Why? There is a doll house in a young man's room: Why? All-in-all a promising start and I would continue reading on; for a while at least.

As a writer and critic however, I do have a structural issue: Beginning after a moment of character conflict. The story opens on the aftermath of a conflict between the main character and his father; a violent conflict by the sounds of it. Why start the story after that, after all it would satisfy the requirements of an inciting incident I would think. Is the reason the story opens after the conflict because that fight has nothing to do with the real story?

As you can see, it is my opinion that either you have missed a great opportunity to develop character and story through conflict, or the conflict alluded to has nothing to do with the dramatic problem about to confront Kurt. If the latter is the case, the opening as it stands is a red herring that will annoy readers.

The other issue I have is your use of simile. IMHO, simile should be used very sparingly and only for specific effect and not to show how clever you are [Smile] --just my judgement.

Hope this helps.

Phil.

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wetwilly
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I have a question for Phil; what simile? I don't see any simile in this opening. What use of simile is your comment referring to?

I'm asking because it seems you see and/or understand something I don't, and I sense a chance to be instructed and expand my understanding.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
As you can see, it is my opinion that either you have missed a great opportunity to develop character and story through conflict, or the conflict alluded to has nothing to do with the dramatic problem about to confront Kurt. If the latter is the case, the opening as it stands is a red herring that will annoy readers.

The reason I started it here was to pique the reader's curiosity. I wanted them asking why so they'd continue reading. Over the course of the first scene Kurt and his brother talk about what happened with the dollhouse while their parents fight about it outside. While the dollhouse and its destruction is highly important to the story, it essentially acts as the stepping stone to a much larger inciting incident.

I'm actually curious about the simile myself. I didn't realize I'd done anything like that. What are you referring to, specifically?

If it's basically that the prose is too flowery, I intend to try and fix that in my next draft. I have a habit of accidentally doing that in my early drafts due to the encouragement of a well-meaning English professor during my college days. (I prefer simplicity to complication, honestly, but she encouraged purple prose. That was the way to get an A and I wanted that A, damnit. Never had anywhere near as bad a problem with it before her class.)

Edit: Thinking on things, the dollhouse actually does a lot in the first scene to cement the characterization of the focal characters, because each of them reacts to it differently.

[ November 01, 2015, 10:44 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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extrinsic
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I don't see a simile either. Use of "as" is a simile signal though. A splinter stuck into Kurt's pinky _as_ a broadsword -- drew a feral hiss from his tongue.

To me, another reason to be judicious for "as" conjunction use, coordination and correlation, that it might signal simile and confuse or at least stall readers when not actually a figurative allusion.

Nor do I see overly purple prose. Emotionally empty description I do see, as noted above, that comes across as forced, which is a common shortfall of purple prose: ornamented and forced, unnatural. Natural prose expresses an emotional attitude about a topic, subject, or theme, generally known _as_ "tone" ("as" correlation use). Interpreting an emotional attitude of ornamented prose consumes reader attention and, when artfully managed, overlooks and defuses purpleness's undue call for attention.

[ November 01, 2015, 11:10 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Nor do I see overly purple prose. Emotionally empty description I do see, as noted above, that comes across as forced, which is a common shortfall of purple prose: ornamented and forced, unnatural.

I can assure you, I caught your stance there from the beginning. It was hard not to; you wrote me an essay about it. The main reason I didn't address that specifically in my comments is because of how very much there was to respond to. It got pretty overwhelming. I can assure you, I intend on refining the prose in the next draft.
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extrinsic
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Emotional attitude expression is a top and common writer challenge. Owed probably to social persuasion humans ought to be respectful in all settings, struggling prose often resembles real life in that regard.

Because of emotional attitude's challenges, a discussion of methods, difficulties, placements, and revision strategies is probably a useful Hatrack writing discussion topic, one which I am prone to carry on at length about, partially in hopes of others' contributions so that I might expand and tighten my grasp of the topic.

On another note, prose is a practical and safe, if vicarious, venue to act out, "make a scene," let loose the frustrations of life -- wrath responses, for one, as well as every vice: greed, gluttony, pride, sloth, lust, envy, and their attendant antagonal causes and virtues as both noble and ignoble morals.

I do tend to overtreat to a degree, rather than express indifference, because I use overtreatment to emphasize areas I see common to struggling writers generally, and individual narrative fragments too. Emphasis: proportioned, judicious, timely; a foundation function and support reason for many, if not all, writing methods, devices, and topics. Emotional attitude emphasis being one.

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Grumpy old guy
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Perhaps it isn't a simile in the formal context, but this: gnarled mass that no vacuum cleaner could safely decipher. acts as a simile for me because it uses a figure of speech to directly express a resemblance of one thing to another: to wit--a gnarled mass no vacuum cleaner could decipher. The phrase in it's entirety is a simile as are the individual italicised words.

I think. [Smile]

On another note, this: Over the course of the first scene Kurt and his brother talk about what happened with the dollhouse while their parents fight about it outside is essentially tell through dialogue rather than show through conflict and movement. A weaker choice in my opinion; a bit like, "As you know, Ted. . ."

Phil.

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wcoditwgth
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I'm personally intrigued by the language used to describe Kurt's actions. The "hissing," his reaction to suck on his finger, and the last sentence remind me of a wounded animal. Does the rest of his personality reflect this type of behavior (as in, if cornered, will he lash out)? He doesn't seem to be the type to freeze in danger, but more of a fighter.

I'd need to read the next couple of sentences to see whether I'd continue, as I can't see where the story is going. As of now, I am on the borderline.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Perhaps it isn't a simile in the formal context, but this: gnarled mass that no vacuum cleaner could safely decipher. acts as a simile for me because it uses a figure of speech to directly express a resemblance of one thing to another: to wit--a gnarled mass no vacuum cleaner could decipher. The phrase in it's entirety is a simile as are the individual italicised words.

I think. [Smile]

On another note, this: Over the course of the first scene Kurt and his brother talk about what happened with the dollhouse while their parents fight about it outside is essentially tell through dialogue rather than show through conflict and movement. A weaker choice in my opinion; a bit like, "As you know, Ted. . ."

Phil.

Okay, so it's the vacuum cleaner thing. One of my beta readers said something similar (after I'd already posted it here, but before this).

I can understand how it sounds like telling rather than showing when I sum it up like that, but I'll have to read the scene over again to be sure. What I intended to do was show the characters' relationships and conflicts with the dollhouse as a framework, and provide foreshadowing for the weirdness to come later. Whether or not I succeeded is another matter, which I will attempt to determine if/when I get ahead enough on NaNo to take a day for other projects.

quote:
Originally posted by wcoditwgth:
I'm personally intrigued by the language used to describe Kurt's actions. The "hissing," his reaction to suck on his finger, and the last sentence remind me of a wounded animal. Does the rest of his personality reflect this type of behavior (as in, if cornered, will he lash out)? He doesn't seem to be the type to freeze in danger, but more of a fighter.

I'd need to read the next couple of sentences to see whether I'd continue, as I can't see where the story is going. As of now, I am on the borderline.

That's an interesting observation on Kurt's character, and your insights were pretty close to the mark. Hopefully, the next draft hooks your interest better.
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extrinsic
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The vacuum-decipher trope is a metalepsis. Simile allusively compares through use of a subjunctive mood. Simile signals include "like," "as" correlation-comparison conjunctions, and words like "compare" and "than." Plus also syntax, mostly helper verbs, that imply comparison. Jayel _does become_ quite the thief weasel when in a Halloween costume and mask.

Metalepsis, defined at Wikiepedia: "is a figure of speech in which a word or a phrase from figurative speech is used in a new context." The article's example: "I've got to catch the worm tomorrow." In other words, get an early start. The transformed context base figure of speech is the proverb, "The early bird gets the worm." Which is a dual metaphor: early bird-diligent individual and worm-reward.

The above example is a situational metalepsis, like any figure, could also be an extended figure spanning a longer segment or whole. The Wiki example is of a theater play's action that takes place in a theater. In and of itself, the figurative setting is not metalepsis. A customary figurative boundary must be transformed to the point of transgression upon the original trope, or topos in the case of a theater play about a theater setting.

An example of such is an actor directly addressing the audience present, a Fourth-wall violation, the actor out of character is the boundary transgression. Or likewise, a narrator or implied or real writer, in the case of prose, directly addresses implied or real readers. Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, an example of extended metalepsis.

Some critics disparage metalepsis, possibly in part because the rhetorical figure often invokes other tropes: metaphor, simile, metonymy, and synecdoche, particularly, and in part because who needs yet another figure of speech to learn and be alert to. Why? Becasuse metalepsis serves a rhetorical function, and is artful, one, and heck and libel, for cripe's sake, writers and speakers use the figure, now and back through to before the ancient Greeks enumerated the many figurative ways of speech.

Note that William Gibson's opening line from Neuromancer uses metalepsis: "The sky was the color of television -- a dead channel." Television for sky transgresses a boundary. The novel itself is an example of extended metalepsis: cyberspace transgresses into the fictional real world of the novel.

Vacuum cleaner and decipher transgresses the boundary between cleanup appliances, which further blur order in the process of restoring order, and codes and ciphers, which as well distort order for a purpose of managing order, and deciphering restores distorted order.

I would, though, develop more the motif of distorted order to achieve order, so that the meaning is signaled and clear and accessible and relevant at the moment and for later. Motifs best practice are at least emblematic, fixed now and later, if not symbolic, subject to transformation's substitution and amplification rhetoric schemes when repeated later.

Edited: When a writer intentionally uses metalepsis and appreciates both structural and aesthetic attributes, metalepsis could or does develop reader-narrative-writer rapport, as do irony and other tropes.

[ November 02, 2015, 04:47 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I had thought that the vacuum thing might have been a metalepsis as well; which prompted a number of ideas: As hot as a cat on a tin roof being one of them.

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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In the light of some of the responses Disgruntled Peony has made I feel I want to add to my initial critique.

First, precision of language. In my initial critique I said that one of the things that intrigued me about the opening was the fact there was a dollhouse (sic) in a boy's room. Only it isn't a doll's house, it is either a toy building or a model building, and yes, these are specific distinctions too: one implies cheap tat, the other, some level of effort and craftsmanship.

The problem with this specific lack of precision is that I would enter the story believing one situation (a girl's doll's house in a boy's room) and then find out at a later time that the writer had misled me. I am not saying that you, Disgruntled Peony, deliberately set out to mislead me, only that, because of your inadvertent use of a word with connotations you didn’t intend, as a reader I would feel you had.

The next instance that ruins the effect is the use of the word decipher with regard to the actions of a vacuum cleaner. Knots, tangles, and messes are not usually deciphered unless you are using a deliberate simile, not the accidental one I alluded to in my earlier crit. There are a myriad of other words, depending on context and nuance, that are available to you, but by using decipher you leave readers going, “Huh?!?”

The deliberation, precision, and specificity with which we choose the words we use, and how we use those words, is vitally important in constructing prose. One misstep will mean the reader assumes one thing when the writer intends another. This annoys readers no end. And this precision is most important in the short story form were words most times must do double duty.

Now, I want to argue the case for starting the story with the destruction of the toy house. Here you have a crucible; a closed environment (Kurt's room) where once a character enters they cannot leave until the issues (the current dramatic conflict that results in the destruction of the toy) have been resolved. It is within the crucible that character and motivations are revealed through strife and conflict.

Within this crucible you can show me how, and why, Kurt's father destroys the toy house, you can show me Kurt stepping in to defend his brother (and the fact he has always done so), you can show me the mother's reaction (for or against). In essence, you can show me every trait of every character within a single scene in a single room. If you can't pique my interest with a compelling, vibrant, and confrontational scene like that—well, enough said. [Smile]

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
I had thought that the vacuum thing might have been a metalepsis as well; which prompted a number of ideas: As hot as a cat on a tin roof being one of them.

Phil.

Simile more like. The two "as" signal simile and the simile compares "hot" to "a cat on a tin roof." A kernel criteria of metalepsis is a figurative boundary transgression.

For example, as hot as a fiddler on a tin roof, transgresses upon the play and film Fiddler on the Roof. That metalepsis could mean passionately hot, unattainable love. Context would prove that out or another meaning, like frustration toward social stratification customs.

To mean hot temperature and transgress upon a figurative expression, using a cat and a tin roof? Hotter than a curious cat on a scorching tin roof. That saying transgresses upon the figurative proverb "Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction brought it back." The metalepsis is also a simile. Note "than" compares and is a simile signal.

To mean hot tempered and transgress upon a figurative expression, using a cat and a tin roof? Meaner _than_ a cooked cat on a tin chicken coop roof. Also simile, that transgresses upon figurative folk gossip expressions: Chinese takeaway substitutes cat meat for chicken, (probably not true), implies cowardly meanness; the legend of the microwaved pet -- cat, dog, gerbil, parakeet, (likewise, probably not true), implies foolhardiness. Again, context would prove out intended meaning.

Context development, for me, is a substantive matter for using vacuum cleaning and decipering for a metalepsis or any trope.

By the way, Grumpy old guy's next-most post above enumerates my reasons as well why I feel the dollhouse clash scene is a livelier, more compelling, stronger start.

[ November 05, 2015, 01:46 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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The way I see the dollhouse in my head it is a girl's dollhouse, but it's an old-style one, hand-made--something a lot of love and attention to detail went into, back in the day.

My biggest difficulty with a new opening scene is in trying to figure out how to introduce the fantasy elements, because I wanted them to show up scene one and they already ended up emerging more slowly than I liked. If I start the story with an earlier scene it may take even longer for those to crop up. I'm starting to get some ideas for how to work them in earlier, but everything is still nebulous or half-formed at this point.

The other difficulty is that with the way I originally envisioned things in my head, Kurt walked in during the middle of the destruction scene (he'd been held late at school for detention). While that certainly isn't a bad way to open the story, I'm not sure how it will affect the pacing of the tale as a whole. With the original first scene I was trying for a slow build of tension that led to an explosion--an in media res opening, the eye of the storm.

Those concerns aside, I do agree that adding the earlier scene may well be for the better. It's just a scary thought at this point because I don't know how it will all work out. If/when I manage to get ahead on NaNo, I intend to draft the clash out and see how things flow. I can always change later scenes to reflect the pacing alterations, if it works.

Actually, just typing all of this out may have given me an idea for how to straighten everything out. It's still going to be a hell of a time figuring out the new first thirteen lines, but I've got plenty of time to work on that.

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Grumpy old guy
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I'm glad yo took my crit in the manner I intended. I was worried I had come on a bit strong. [Smile]

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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No worries. I know the story still needs work; that's why I brought it here. I still feel relatively green about this whole writing thing; it's only been about four months since I started writing regularly again.

I've got a lot of potential, I think (or hope). I'm good at writing dialogue and I've generally got a strong feel for characterization. What seems to be proving most difficult for me thus far is story pacing/structure and getting my prose to flow properly.

In time, I should be able to develop and/or redevelop the right instincts and skillset to get that sort of thing right on the first or second try. In the meantime, I'll just have to struggle with my stories until I get them right.

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extrinsic
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You do have great writing potential. On the one hand, your creative instincts are keen; the other hand, I don't know, what, less keen about prose's distinctions from other composition media and forms? And backdrop to both, an every-individual's drive for uniqueness and acceptance in a world of random, dreary sameness and alienation. Pardon my momentary lapses into Naturalism's pessimism. Hope! the eternal fount of humanity's catharsis and Romanticism.
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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
...[on] the other hand, I don't know, what, less keen about prose's distinctions from other composition media and forms?

It wouldn't surprise me one bit, honestly. [Roll Eyes] In my late teens and twenties I knew I wanted to write but couldn't decide on one specific format. I have seriously wanted to write novels, short stories, plays, screenplays and graphic novels at various points in my life. I've done research into all five writing styles/formats, and have found that many of them overlap in weird and interesting ways. In any case, I wouldn't be surprised if wires get crossed during my writing process sometimes.

I also have a very visual mindset, but don't always have an easy time conveying that onto the page. Sometimes I see things so clearly in my head that I just plain forget to describe them on paper. Other times I over-describe in an effort to compensate for that non-descriptive tendency.

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Grumpy old guy
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I never wanted to write, but by some bizarre mischance that ruined my life and the drugs and hormones that redeemed it, I became possessed by some writing daemon and now I cannot function if I cannot write.

Not that I've done much writing lately--just can't be bothered. Which, thankfully, is different to not being able to write.

quote:
I have seriously wanted to write novels, short stories, plays, screenplays and graphic novels at various points in my life.
So, you want to tell stories. Great! But there is more to telling a compelling story than just having a story. There are all those pesky structural things like, well, structure, both narrative and dramatic (not the same thing), then there are the pesky human foibles like, love, hate, envy, avarice, revenge, and other motivations and complications that describe and define what it is to be human. And a whole lot of other stuff that could fill pages and bore to tears.

Do I have any advice? Well, find out what you don't know and then learn about it. That's what I did and now I can, when I can be bothered, write any story I want to about any subject that takes my fancy and I can be confident it will be well structured, well written, and they will move you to tears. I prefer to write about tragedy; both heroic and tragic.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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I'm still working on this mess (which will be retitled at some point, once I land something that sticks). I do, however, feel that the first half of the story is decently set and am wondering if the new first thirteen lines do a better job of catching reader attention than my last attempt.


Raised voices reverberated through the walls of Kurt and Wade's shared bedroom. A door slammed in the hall. Kurt unlatched the bedroom door and cracked it open in time to catch the end of Dad's tirade. “He was playing with dolls. No son of mine plays with dolls!”
Mom's retort was swift and indignant. “So he can't play with dolls but he can play with action figures?”
“There's a difference, Lucia!”
“What is it? What the hell is it, Arthur? Because it all seems like the same kind of thing to me.”
“Action figures are for boys. Dolls are for girls! I'm starting to think your boy's gone queer on us.”
“He's your son too.”

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Captain of my Sheep
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I like this opening, but I'd cut: "Raised voices reverberated through the walls of Kurt and Wade's shared bedroom."

Two reasons:
1. It's not a powerful first sentence. I've read it before, too. (My opinion, of course.)
2. I don't need to know "voices reverberated through the walls", plus two children names. I will care about Kurt only, at the beginning, because you don't mention Wade a second time. I don't think it matters who their parents are talking about yet. I think it matters to firmly established Kurt as the POV character.

A door slamming followed by the image of Kurt peeking through a door is strong. Textbook motivation-reaction unit. Also, it works that the sentence that contains the slamming is much shorter than the one that follows it. I don't know what that's called but I know sentence length in this case helps.

I'm liking this opening a lot more. [Smile]

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extrinsic
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The latest version has a more immediate in-scene nature. The distance is more open, though, than I think is intended. This feels like it wants to be Kurt's viewpoint, from inside looking out, though is outside looking in, narrator perspective.

Part of why is the diction and to a degree syntax is on the sophisticated side for a youth living at home with a sibling in one bedroom: "Raised voices," "reverberated," "Kurt and Wade's shared," "unlatched," "tirade," "retort was swift and indignant". Next to the dialogue's everyday nature, these are of an educated layer probably beyond the humble family's everyday discourse modes.

Also, somewhat craft is of consideration. The start's first two lines is largely a remote description of setting details, a dialogue line next, one action tag, then all dialogue. For that, this is kind of a pump prime then dialogue -- a skeleton upon which to grow flesh. Closer distance, from Kurt's viewpoint and voice could express this information as he reflectively receives it and melded description, sensation, emotion, thought, and dialogue. Include stream-of-consciousness's free association grammars, too, that are in Kurt's voice.

Just a taste for illustration: "Raised voices reverberated through the walls of Kurt and Wade's shared bedroom."

//Mom and Dad, _again_, Kurt thought. _Angry yells_ came from the den[?] through walls to the bedroom he and Wade _split_.//

"Catch" is one word of the whole, though, that seems age and situation appropriate for Kurt.

Also, each dialogue line merits Kurt's reaction commentary, an emotional reaction, a thought -- a dissent unspoken about Dad's "tirade." Other details, too, mid sentence or mid speech or mid description, or antecedent or subsequent. Three positions for stories, acts, scenes, paragraphs, sentences, and segment sequences: preparation (antecedent), suspension (amid [between), and resolution (subsequent).

For example, "'He was playing with dolls.' [Not doggone dolls, Kurt thought, dollhouse, and not playing -- made (repaired, restored for a pixie homesteader, prepared for a show, practiced for a stop-action film?)] 'No son of mine plays with dolls!'" [He pictured the vein under Dad's eye that spat blood and puss, like, when his temper boiled.]

//Mom sassed smart right back and mad. 'So no dolls but action figures are macho okay?'"//

Plus, how to introduce a fantasy feature within thirteen lines? I don't know what motif of fantasy this could be. Urban-contemporary fantasy-horror. Some gore like above, a vein that spat blood and puss? Or another insertion point or motif?

And so on. The latest is a stronger start to me, though could do with more context and texture, as above or its like, I feel, for capturing reader attention.

[ December 09, 2015, 04:50 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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I tested out cutting the first sentence, and it did indeed bring more punch to the scene. I'll probably add more interjections from Kurt's point of view, too; the current lines do look more bare than I'd like in retrospect. Much thanks!

I actually made a lot more progress than expected yesterday. The last two major problems (which I've been trying to solve for weeks) dissolved with surprisingly minor tweaks and additions. Once I actually tackled them head on, it took all of about two hours of work. [Eek!] Not that I'm complaining. (I probably couldn't have done it so quickly with all the pre-writing thought, either.) Now I just need to go through and make one final push so I can be done with this for awhile.

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wetwilly
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I like the new version. I think the original opening put undue emphasis on the dollhouse. This version places the emphasis on Mom and Dad's fight. My one suggestion is, some stage directions accompanying the dialogue might help bring it to life: a scowl here, a raised fist there, he glared at her, huffing through his nose like a thoroughbred, etc. A couple choice actions could really help bring this dialogue to vivid life.
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Grumpy old guy
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And I disagree with wetwilly. [Smile] Good dialogue stands on its own without embellishment. Particularity of setting assists, but the words, and the punctuation of those words, is all that is required in good writing.

The second version has more passion and room for finessing nuance of character and conflict. Yes, killing th first sentence much improves the prose and closes the psychic distance.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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If Kurt was a participant in the argument, he'd speak fast and furious. The dialogue would be short lines and come in quick succession, entail less action and other sensation description.

Because he's an observer, though, and only hears the argument muted through walls and the cracked door and has no clear view, one, he can't fully see Mom and Dad; two, the scene is ripe for introspection; three, aural and emotional sensations could predominate along with the introspective situation. Those factors limit the types of non-dialogue composition modes: visual, limited; aural, a dominant; tactile, limited; olfactory, limited; gustatory, limited; emotional, intangible though central and most predominant. The situation might have a degree of routine about it though is highly emotional.

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wetwilly
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Hey, Disgruntled One, have you heard of Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores? They're a new sf/f market, and they're interested in myths and fairy tales. Might be a good fit for this story.
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Disgruntled Peony
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I shall look into it! Much thanks. [Smile]
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Grumpy old guy
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On reflection, I do not like openings that begin with disembodied voices—no context and no setting. My preference would be to set up the ensuing conflict in detail and foreshadow the argument to come. This can easily be accomplished from within Kurt's POV with the sounds of heavy footsteps, slammed doors, breaking wood (the dolls house) and vibrations through the floors and walls—again, heavy footsteps, objects, palms or fists striking the wall of the adjoining room, and so on. I'm sure you get the picture.

I would take this as an opportunity to develop Kurt's character as well as his opinion of his parents antics.

Phil.

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