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Author Topic: Going Actual
Rivka Willick
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I submitted this story to a couple magazines, the first one held it for 9 months, the second just a couple weeks. I put it away for a while and decided to try again. The format is a little different here. It goes between paragraphs and text messages. I'm not sure how to count the lines here for the text messages. If anyone would like to read the rest, please let me know how to do that.


Going Actual

Ken Bacterson agreed to an actual date in February but it took a couple months to set it up. Most of the East Coast states had started campaigns aggressively promoting actual dating because population stats for the contained population were plummeting. Virtual dating and virtual sex had of course been preferred and promoted heavily by both private and public interests and very few people wanted to acknowledge any negatives.

Sean : So are you doing it tonight?
Ken: Yeah
Sean : Time?
Ken: 7
Sean : an hour?

[ December 17, 2015, 12:10 AM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Captain of my Sheep
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Hi! [Smile]

My thoughts as I read are in bold.

Ken Bacterson agreed to an actual date in February but it took a couple months to set it up. Informed by the title I know "actual date" is not just an expression. This dude is going on a date with a live person which means virtual is the norm. I'm interested. I'm always up for the exploration of our virtual lives influence in our real lives. I keep reading. Most of the East Coast states had started campaigns aggressively promoting actual dating because population stats for the contained population Population is repeated, I don't like it. Must be an editing oversight. I keep reading because I like where this idea is going anyway. were plummeting. Virtual dating and virtual sex had of course been preferred and promoted heavily by both private and public interests and very few people wanted to acknowledge any negatives.This is a very, very distant 3rd point of view or an omniscient pov. I'm not sure. While the ideas in this paragraph are interesting, they're delivered in a voice that's a bit too bureaucratic. Still I'm going to keep reading because of the weird formatting I can see down below.

Sean : So are you doing it tonight?
Um. Wait. What is this? A chart room? Whatsapp? Telegram? I have a narration up top and now, without preamble I'm dropped into a chat-like conversation between the MC and a friend. I'm not bothered by the formatting–I just read a story formatted like this on Apex–but the lack of context does bother me. I wish there was a bridge between the first part, the narration, and this second part.
Ken: Yeah
Sean : Time?
Ken: 7
Sean : an hour?
Ken: Yeah
Sean : You flipping out?
Ken: Yeah, I guess Boring mundane "real life" conversation that can be perfectly cut in fiction. I'd cut to "Why are you going actual?" and lose the lines above it. As a reader, the reason why this dude going against what's consider normal interests me a great deal. Still does.
Sean : Why are you going actual?
Ken: I already told you. Meh. You can pretend, for the sake of cutting two lines that add nothing, that this is the first time your MC tells Sean why he's going actual.
Sean : Tell me again
Ken: My parents. They say it’s healthy for my age.
Sean : Government’s pushing them. I read about incentives.
Ken: Maybe. My mom came to my room three times this week.
Sean : For real?
Ken: Sat in my room and talked.I like this. Hints that there's little real contact in this version of our world.
Sean : You’re fried. No way out.
Ken: Gotta get ready. ttyl I gather this is where the conversation ends and there's more narration later, right?

I'm really interested in what the story is about, but the execution leaves me not too hooked.

I wonder why I just read this conversation when all the information contained inside it was said in the narration above, or it could be said in a scene, where we can actually (pun intended) experience what it means for your MC to go to an actual date. This is typical feedback that I have no idea if it falls under the "This is how I would have done it" category, or not. It is how I could have done it, but it's also an honest-to-goodness question, and also regurgitated writing advice from around a gazillion sources.

Or, alternatively, why the chatroom-like conversation didn't offer new information, or more exciting information. This is more the kind of feedback I think I want to give, insofar as I try to keep your original intent with this story intact, while also trying to give you feedback on which parts of the story were a bit iffy to me, as a reader.

[ December 16, 2015, 05:50 PM: Message edited by: Captain of my Sheep ]

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Grumpy old guy
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The opening paragraph isn't just narrator tell, it's writer's lecture. And no one likes to be lectured to. You are essentially saying to the reader: here is the world and this is how it works.

This is then followed by a conversation between two disembodied 'voices' with name tags attached which mean nothing to the reader. Essentially, each reader is asking themselves: who are these two people and why should I care?

Although the submission has been edited down to the appropriate length by kdw, there comes a little after the end what I think might be a good place to start this story--the conversation between Ken and his mother. It is at this point you can introduce the character, the milieu, and the complication: (possibly) a falling birthrate or a fear of personal interaction.

And, just as an added bonus, Captain of my Sheep is spot on about the mundane and boring 'text' exchange between Ken and Sean.

Phil.

[ December 17, 2015, 01:54 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Rivka Willick
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I flipped the two sections to fit into the 13 line format. I thought it might make things clearer, but maybe my first instinct was right. The story begins with a chat room. There are a few dumb lines because...well it's a chat. The first chat originally was followed by another chat (they read very fast) and then the slightly detached narrative. There's a third narrative format, warmer, less detachted when the dating begins.

In formal print the chat text could be formatted to look like a chat so no title or explanation would be needed. Any thoughts about which should come first? The chat or text.

Catain of the Sheep - question- showing that the friend doesn't remember or likes to repeat build's character and establishes a lyrical rhythm to their banter. What benefit do I gain from removing the lines? Do they get in the way for you or slow things down?

(btw-kids talk to their friends way more than their mom-starting with mom in text room -confusing and bad idea. We don't see any Actual Living until the first date. Mom spends most of her time texting like everybody else.)

[ December 17, 2015, 11:41 AM: Message edited by: Rivka Willick ]

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Captain of my Sheep
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quote:
question- showing that the friend doesn't remember or likes to repeat build's character and establishes a lyrical rhythm to their banter. What benefit do I gain from removing the lines? Do they get in the way for you or slow things down?
They aren't too interesting to me, as a reader. But it's just my opinion and let's be honest, I'm a very impatient reader.

If establishing a "lyrical rhythm to their banter" is important to you, and therefore to your story, don't take it out. I've just read the beginning and offered my reactions to it. I may not even be your target audience.

As for the formatting of the chatroom talk, I think a scene break should be enough, but I'm no expert. [Confused]

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Rivka Willick
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Captain- the chats get shorter as the story progresses. Do you have an opinion as to starting wth the chat or starting with the paragraph.

And- you are absolutely my target audience- you read and took time to respond. My profound thanks.

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Captain of my Sheep
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As much as I think the opening narrative is a bit dispassionate, it does the job of introducing a lot more information to a reader than the chat. My opinion is the chat works best with the context given by the opening, and not the other way around.

If you started with chat you could run the risk of an editor thinking your story might be all one huge chat conversation. (I'm sure it's been attempted, too. Who knows with what degree of success.)

If you don't know how to start maybe asking yourself what effect you want to create can help you decide.

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extrinsic
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A milieu where virtual intimacy is normative and in-person intimacy is shunned. Milieu emphasis.

The aesthetic distance of the fragment is remote, perhaps unintended, and fits the subject of a society where technology substitutes for personal interaction -- a dystopian idea. Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Robot milieu novel Solaria also explores the topic.

However, close distance I feel is wanted for drama's needs. Close to narrator or close to agonist's viewpoint -- or a god-like omniscient "writer." This fragment closes on neither, nor the god, and stalls in a disembodied limbo between those former two voices.

Electronic communication formats for use in prose have through now been sketchy and clumsy. A few adjustments are in the pipeline and reflect script composition, plus unique features of username construction, mode, and devices used.

For example, chatroom protocols result in unconventional given names and surnames or entirely non-name usernames. "Ken" is likely taken by a previously registered user; and many registration protocols require X-number of glyphs, eight, say: Ken09Mr, SeanMr2001. Also, medial capital case and initial lowercase are common now and often cutesy or clever: ken2Bonk, sextMEsean. Such a format signals online communication, only need be set up to signal this is a chatroom, social network, BulletinBoard, instant message, text message, e-mail chain communication, etc. Though an e-mail chain places more recent messages first and earlier ones last in sequence. The reversed timeline distortion is a marker of an e-mail chain, perhaps possible to use that feature creatively. Chatrooms also place recent first and earlier posts last, though some can be set first-to-last, last-to-first by user choice. Plus a number of acronym and emoticon glyphs used intertextually.

A script format of chatroom, etc., discussion labels each post as, say, ken2Bonk: text string. The colon is essential for this format and the one space after the colon. Also, a thought about whether a paragraph indent is wanted for print publication or digital facsimile, or block quote format, or flush left for chat posts and paragraph indent for other content.

A block quote format indents, customarily, an entire verbatim citation, usually of more than four lines, though for prose, briefer block quote indent can be used artfully to signal this is a verbatim citation. Those format selections are usually difficult to arrange for Hatrack and similar sites' posts, though they do artful handstands in print format.

To me, the first paragraph is organized awkwardly. A different sentence sequence I feel is indicated.

For example: //Virtual dating and virtual sex had of course been preferred and promoted heavily by both private and public interests and very few people wanted to acknowledge any negatives. Most of the East Coast states had started campaigns aggressively promoting actual dating because population stats for the contained population were plummeting. Ken Bacterson agreed to an actual date in February but it took a couple months to set it up.//

The first sentence above, though, is unnecessary passive voice. "Of course" used as a parenthetical aside is customarily bracketed with commas or other punctuation as warranted. Distinguishing "Most of the East Coast states" is a trivial and illogical superlative detail; all of society or another niche, say born after 2000!? is more natural and logical. I don't know that a couple months to set up an actual date is urgent enough a timeline for a short story's brevity.

The pleasantry exchange between Ken and Sean, likewise, consumes precious word count. Instead of a friendly chat, have them clash, even if they are BFFs. Sean could apply peer pressure and disagree with Ken's decision, privately want to talk Ken out of actual dating, for example, because he's afraid, as much as Ken is. That to me is the rhetorical situation; they are afraid.

Not to miss that such a generation and persons' age also is prone to toxic sarcasm, the so-called "ironically cool" disposition that mocks and ridicules what is not understood and frightens people. For an added layer of meaning, this story type seems to me ripe for portraying that sarcastic disposition as a companion of technological intimacy at the expense of personal intimacy.

I would not read on, mostly because too many awkwardnesses of the fragment challenge my willing suspension of disbelief.

[ December 18, 2015, 03:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Rivka Willick
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extrinsic- I like the idea of the name tags. It would deliver the idea of the electronic conversation- my only hesitation is that when I text I just use name. I haven't used a chat room in a long time. If I'm texting on the phone, Skype, or Google (which is what is really going on) just a name is used. I don't want to go backwards in time. I'll play with the names -maybe there is something in between. BTW if you hang out with people who text each other while sitting together at the table, you'll realize this is not that far from reality.
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extrinsic
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I don't "hang out"; I observe. What I've observed about texting could fill a library. The texts are only significant when they are part of the context and texture observed: who, when, where and what, why, how, respectively, "why" possibly most of all. Setups, profluent steps, and transitions are essential, too.

A well-crafted conversation scene contains more than the overt discourse, contains description, sensation, emotion, transition, action -- which is dramatic (antagonal, causal, tensional), not just physical -- perhaps thought, and the conversation.

A script contains the barest of scene details and emphasizes speech or its textual discourse equivalent. Actors under director direction provide the details and are, when performed, overt. Prose needs the context and texture details, the covert details in particular.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Rivka, dialog in fiction doesn't work if it is actual and "true to life" because actual talking is full of inanities and pauses and "em" and "er" and so forth.

Fiction requires that writers tightly filter what characters say so that the readers will not be bored out of their skulls by "how are you?" "fine, and you?" "okay, I guess" and so on.

The only reason you would ever include inanities or other "actual" speech in a fictional conversation would be to characterize the speaker, and you would do as little as possible for that characterization.

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