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Author Topic: The Shield and Sword of the Party (working title)
wetwilly
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I submit, for your consideration, two different openings for a story I'm working on. These are first draft versions, so I know they're rough. I'm thinking more about the content of the openings than the execution at this point. I will certainly go back and clean up the language and those types of consideration. I'm curious about which one works better as a hook for you.

(Side note: the brackets indicate a phrase that says what I want it to say, but with wording I hate and will come back and reword later).

I don't have a completed draft to share yet. I'm sort of just in the mood to try to spark conversation. Any thoughts are welcome.

Number 1:

The State Security Service took Torsten Sommer out of his own house, with neither [pomp nor violence]. The doorbell rang, and there stood a short, pudgy man in a pinstripe suit and a bowler hat. Torsten would not even have recognized him as a Stasi officer right away, except for the two goons in gray military uniforms behind him and the one empty eye socket in his face.
The Stasi man smiled and bowed his head slightly in greeting. His smile showed mostly his upper gums. “Torsten Sommer? My name is Lieutenant Proktor. I would like you to come with me to headquarters so I can ask you a few questions.”
Torsten's heart fluttered. Somebody had denounced him to the Stasi. Who could it have been? He had always known this day might come, just like every other magic user in Berlin, but now that it was here, he wasn't ready for it.

Number 2:

The warm glow spilling from the door and windows of the tavern was the only light on an otherwise dark street. It lit up a dusting of snow on the ground and sharp, icy crystals darting down through the air. Torsten watched the tavern from across the street, huddled down into his parka against the cold. This place was a den of magic users, at least tonight. There were dozens of adroits in there, all gathered in one place.
Torsten's finder's hex tracked the use of magic, and it led him unequivocally to this spot. Nearly every adroit in East Berlin was inside.
And Torsten was leading the State Security Service, “the shield and sword of the party,” straight to them, and the Stasi was going to make them all disappear just like they had done to Herr Weichel, and like they had almost done to Torsten.

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Captain of my Sheep
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As far as first lines go, I like #1. It has conflict from the get-go even though I prefer to be told how something happened as opposed to how something didn't happen. I

I dislike setting description on the first lines unless it ends with a bang, like "...on the streets where the child with the knife sat." Or, description that is heavily filtered through your POV character so it's not just snow that falls, but snow that falls a bit like the character's dreams are falling apart. Right now, your setting description doesn't have any distinctive detail, or new spin on it: it's just snow, and a tavern in a dark street.

As a whole, I like #1 best, as well. I know who the Stasi were and I'm familiar with what they did, so this opening intrigues me. Magic being banned is par for the course in fantasy, but I've never seen it combined with the Stasi, and that makes me curious. It's a bit like urban fantasy in an alternate world, I presume?

I liked how you painted Proktor's appearance as kind of normal, or at the very least, as not obviously a Stasi officer. Generates a bit of paranoia in the reader, you never know who is "the bad guy" sort of thing.

I thought the MC's reaction to the Stasi on his doorstep was a bit mild, though. I don't know if you've seen videos of East Germans recalling Stasi visits, but the ones I saw had this palpable, stifling air of paranoia (justified), oppression and desperation. Torsten has a lot of thoughts about the men in front of him, but none of them conveyed a reaction that made me afraid for him. This could be because this is a first draft and you haven't had time to pick the best way to convey what you want.


Beginning #2 reads a bit clunky by the end, where the plot appears. It could be why I didn't like it as much as the other opening. MC uses a hex tracker to find the tavern where all the magic users are–a bit like sitting ducks, in my opinion–and for some reason, MC is going to lead the Stasi to them. He was almost killed by the Stasi at one point but somehow he lived to become a traitor. I'm not endeared by him.

Hope my ramblings help you, somehow. [Smile]

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babooher
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Not to be contrary, but who does #2 work for? This guy. I have nits for both of them, but overall I felt the descriptions in #1 seemed rushed.
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Disgruntled Peony
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Out of the two options, I prefer #1. It's probably the immediacy of the conflict; while option #2 is interesting, it doesn't grab me the same way. I'd go into more detail, but I have a head cold and the brain meats aren't at full capacity.
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Grumpy old guy
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I much prefer submission two. The reason is simple: the first version is another example of the current cliché fad of opening a story with conflict and action. The problem is where do you go from there? The accepted dramatic structure of stories begins with an inciting or initiating incident followed by steadily rising dramatic action to a climax. After the excitement of this opening, where will you go dramatically in the tension and excitement stakes, up or down? If it isn't up then you have a problem.

Submission two has intriguing possibilities for character, plot, and milieu development. Set the right atmospherics and I'm there, at Checkpoint Charlie, waiting for one of Smiley's people. And, don't forget, a lot of current readers will have no idea of what the Stasi was.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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If I was of a suspicious mind I'd think the two openings offered for distinguishment is a clever workaround of the thirteen-lines maximum criteria. The first portrays how Sommer came to be in Stasi employ. The second shows doing what the Stasi want him for. Episodic modules of a picaresque nature. Picaresque: episodic adventures of a roguish protagonist in vice and folly social settings.

I favor the second fragment because the routine interrupted is more imminent action about to break loose. The first is routine interrupted, too, though both rely heavily on Stasi's reputation known by some readers, to imply what's to come next for the first fragment at some indeterminate future time. Both, I feel could do with mythology development for the Stasi and that this group is especially interested in magic practitioners and how that matters to the Stasi. Not too far-fetched that magic, real or imagined or whatever paranormal, interests a totalitarian state apparatchik.

What, though, is the story really about? Coerced betrayal is cued up in the second, a vice of pride of self and indifference for others. An outcome telegraphed is the tables turn. The first, not too sure of anything, maybe victimism, done to. And the action of both, defeat of the apparatchik. Seems all external, tangible, superficial action.

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wetwilly
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Not trying to scam the system. Number 2 is my attempt to start the manuscript later in the story. I personally like #2 better, but I found myself going into a flashback of #1 within the first few pages, so maybe #1 is actually the right place to start.

Won't decide for sure until I get a draft done, probably. I'll write the whole story, then decide which parts make it into the manuscript.

My intention, at this point, is that the story is primarily about Torsten's inner struggle as he has to choose between sacrificing self and family and sacrificing innocent strangers to the stasi.

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Captain of my Sheep
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quote:
My intention, at this point, is that the story is primarily about Torsten's inner struggle as he has to choose between sacrificing self and family and sacrificing innocent strangers to the stasi.
In that case, let me say that #2 accomplishes that better than #1.

Good luck with your draft [Smile]

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Captain of my Sheep:
quote:
My intention, at this point, is that the story is primarily about Torsten's inner struggle as he has to choose between sacrificing self and family and sacrificing innocent strangers to the stasi.
In that case, let me say that #2 accomplishes that better than #1.

Good luck with your draft [Smile]

This, it is true. There's nothing wrong with a well-done flashback. It's just not a technique that should get overused.
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Grumpy old guy
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Flashback should be avoided if at all possible. There are other ways such information that is necessary to 'explain' what has gone before can be imparted to the reader: rumination, explanation, discovery.

A flashback is, as the name implies, taking the story backwards, not forwards.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by wetwilly:
My intention, at this point, is that the story is primarily about Torsten's inner struggle as he has to choose between sacrificing self and family and sacrificing innocent strangers to the stasi.

Stasi and Sommers contend is nonetheless external for being internalized. Not a few writers mistake interior anguish and discourse, even interior life, for internal conflict and complication. The Stasi are an external force that presses upon Sommers, from outside to inside, thus external conflict and complication, regardless of if the Stasi imperil him, his family, and innocents.

Internal conflict and complication broils internally and forces out from inside. However, convention-based genre anymore, including fantasy, often pays little attention to internal conflict, classic narratives excepted, like Tolkien's Rings saga. Bilbo and Frodo's internal conflicts and complications, and other pivotal characters', add appealing depths to the saga. Memorable, enduring science fiction, too, pits internal and external forces in opposition and at congruent effect.

Sommers is done to from outside forces of the Stasi. He takes little self-initiative at first. Fine, maybe later, and that's his character movement and transformation. From a weak, pitiable routine nature, he takes initiative, becomes strong. That then is a moral matrix of wrath-patience and sloth-diligence, perhaps pride-humility and envy-kindness as well.

Though done to can initiate initiative, an initiative caused by a problem, a complication's private want is grounds for and initiative for an action start. Sommers' personal want exposes him to the Stasi, for example, a potential best start, and he efforts to satisfy the want all along, then must sacrifice satisfaction of the want in order to save the day, his family, and some or all the innocents from the Stasi. That scenario is ripe for internal and external action.

Please consider a read and study of Orson Scott Card's Characters & Viewpoint Chapter 8, starts page 96, "What Should We feel About the Character?" and in particular sections "Characters We Love" and "Plan and Purpose, Hunger and Dreams" for insights about these above character-conflict considerations. Card doesn't distinguish between external and internal conflicts and their congruency, though he scratches deeply at the related ideas thereof and relates moral aptitude to tangible concepts of the chapter.

[ November 28, 2015, 10:24 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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wetwilly
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I now have a (very) rough draft of this story done. Not ready for readers until I polish this turd up a bit. Here is the first thirteen I am currently using, though. Smack it around, kick it a few times, and maybe it will come out stronger.

#

Torsten Sommer's finder hex lit up two shadowy figures across the street with the pleasant, rosy glow of a found object. They whispered with their heads together like they were conspiring about something. They were too far away for Torsten to hear what they were saying, and he couldn't make out any details about them in the dark, especially since only one of the eyes in his head was his own, but the hex never lied. They were adroits.

He stepped away from the street light. At this time of night, the street was mostly deserted, but he felt the need for extra caution. This spying business was totally foreign to him. And he wasn't proud of what he was doing.

Unfortunately, he didn't have a choice.

The two adroits stood in a tiny patch of grass between two brick apartment buildings, enclosed by a wrought iron fence...

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wetwilly
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Okay, folks. I've got this story ready for beta readers. Here is the opening as it stands now. Contemporary fantasy/alternate history, takes place in former East Germany during the eighties. Any takers?

***

Torsten Sommer's finder hex outlined two shadowy figures across the street with the pleasant, rosy glow of found objects. It was a foggy night, and the fog diffused the magical light into a blurry halo around the two people. They huddled across the street from Torsten, heads together in conspiratorial secrecy. Torsten couldn't hear what they were whispering, and he couldn't make out any details about them in the foggy darkness, especially since only one of the eyes in his head was functioning as his own, but the hex never lied. In fact, this time it had worked more potently than ever before.

Usually, he had to concentrate to feel the magic gently nudging his mind in the right direction, but this time, it was like something had rolled up its sleeves, grabbed him by his brain stem, and tugged him through the streets to find these two.

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Captain of my Sheep
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Heeeeeey, how come I never saw you'd posted another 1st 13? That's weird.

Anyway, I'm in! Send it my way. [Smile]

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extrinsic
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The 1/9 version expresses a closer distance, from more inside looking out, more from the agonist's perspective; however, the sense of urgency and peril of the earlier versions are gone.

Like a music mixing board, sixteen tracks and sixteen variables per track, this is sliders switched to opposite settings and the whole board changed, when one variable at a time moved a small increment for trial and error experiments is a best advised strategy -- or knowing what's off and adjustments accordingly.

An opening could have a sense of urgency and peril, a sensory delight, a curiosity arousement, a swift empathy or sympathy concern for an agonist's situation -- at least one or similar. I don't see one in the latest fragment. Rather I see a forced attempt to develop one of an emotional charge. The strongest emotion developed in the opening is of a neutral voyeuristic titillation that arouses a guilty reluctance to look in. Because Sommer is interested assumes readers are too. Readers need a reason to be interested, one, the reason known to Sommer in the now moment.

The forced features are signaled from empty repetitions: "pleasant, rosy," (pleasant and rosy are similar) "foggy night, and the fog diffused"; (fog is foggy and diffuses light) "two shadowy figures across the street" and "They huddled across the street," (tautology); "gently nudging" (nudges are gentle). Stand these on their edges in order to create incongruency. Pleasant, day-glow rosy light, for example. Or pleasant, pus yellow light, etc. Sharp nudges, etc.

The four opening words, "Torsten Sommer's finder hex," stretch attention span, bore right out of the gate. Long noun strings slow pace and bore reading. A principle of thumb is as few nouns in a row as possible. One, if possible, per phrase or clause or sentence. "Finder" is the noun of substance. Opening with a character's name is problematic, out of nowhere, here's Johnny, as if the name carries all the character development needed at the moment, a signal, actually, that character development will be short-shrifted. For that matter, the above about incongruent motif descriptions is a fertile opportunity for character development.

Verbs matter more than nouns or other parts of speech, robust, dynamic verbs, sensory stimuli verbs. "Outlined" is in the strong direction, though a stronger verb is possible, perhaps warranted, haloed, for example. Spotlighted, etc.

That first sentence is generally problematic: too long, too many parts, too many pieces to parts. The object phrases and two prepositions are like a long dress train on a bride and an extension added at the tail end so most of the train is still in the box at the foyer when the bride reaches the altar.

Note the sentence subject is four words, the predicate, one word; and the train wreck object, fourteen words, where a word count of ten is an ideal simple sentence. Simple to mean one subject phrase, one predicate phrase, one object phrase, as opposed to complex, compound, and complex-compound sentences. How many ideas can a sentence contain and still be vibrant? One. That sentence crams in seven ideas. Forced.

Unnecessary words that force empty emotion: "especially," "gently nudging," "In fact," "than ever before," "Usually," "but this time," and "was like something."

Several static voice phrases, too, unnecessary present participles: "were whispering," "was functioning," and "gently nudging." Two static past participles: "had worked" and "had rolled."

"Since" is a time function word -- adverb, conjunction, or preposition -- not a causality function word, like because, the appropriate word for the context.

"Something" and any some formation is a signal to be specific instead. The something of substance anyway is Sommer's magic, the "it" of the clause's subject. The prior "It" use, "It was a foggy," is a sentence subject expletive and unwarranted. Out pesky "its," "it's," "it is," and any empty pronouns.

These above drag a story opening down and disturb the reading spell. Because the distance is aligned to Sommer and close, these disruptions contaminate the close distance and show a writer's awkward hand on the keyboard. They open distance.

In all, the fragment, to me feels stronger from being more inside looking out, though defused by attributes that deter that gain. I would not read on.

[ January 09, 2016, 02:03 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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