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Author Topic: Learning to Speak Tiger
Member # 8714

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Set in 2045:

The monsoon raged overhead, pounding the heavy fortification tarps and creating a roar that had Nu convinced the city was under attack by a herd of elephants – when she was younger. With the most subtle flourish, part of her trademark style, she put the finishing touches on the calligraphy of the message. In this day of holograms and bio-comm chips, the most honorable way to convey important information was to use a human to write and deliver it. That was her. She was only thirteen, but she wanted to be the best in Hanoi; and this job just might do it. The recipient was the great business-master, Vinh Dong, and he was notorious for never sending human messengers; heck, he barely tolerated receiving them. If Nu could convince him otherwise…


Been a long time since I've been here. Just trying something out. If anyone wants to read when it's finished, let me know.

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There's a lot of good here. Things I like: the setting of Hanoi during a monsoon. Exotic locale (to me), inherent conflict and excitement in the monsoon. She seems to be a professional calligrapher in an age even more digital than ours: cool concept. I totally dig the concept, from what I can see of it in this excerpt.

Things that turned me off: the first sentence is confusing. I'm not sure how that last clause fits in to the sentence. Also, the paragraph just seems to move really fast. I know you're trying to introduce a lot of info about the premise, but it just seems like everything gets passed over and nothing really gets taken up. For example, the monsoon is mentioned, grabs my attention, then never gets mentioned again. This, of course, might only be an issue because this is limited to the first 13. For all I know, line 14 is a really killer bit with the monsoon, which would be fine with me.

I would continue reading, but I do feel like this intro could be tightened up a bit. It's pretty good, but I don't think any of us want to settle for pretty good.

Let me know when you're ready for readers. If I have time then, I'd like to read it.

Edited to add: Cool title, by the way.

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A young woman prepares a handwritten message for delivery in an age of electronic messaging.

The ideas of this are inspired and include a directly stated complication want and problem to satisfy. The thoughts "Learning to Speak Tiger" evoke are also inspired.

Shortfalls for me: Nu is by herself -- no one or thing to clash with, the typhoon is already fully arrived, strained allusion to elephants, Vietnamese calligraphy is today and for the foreseeable future romanized, unlike the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese arts, abrupt and rushed movement through motifs that warrant development in the now moment.

By herself, the complication is at a distant remove from immediate now action -- no sense of urgency or conflict. Motivations are given, stakes undeveloped. Success or failure, more or less, is all. Consider raising the stakes. Consequences of success and failure. A messenger scene seems apropos. The person who arranges the message sent to Vinh Dong could then say Vinh Dong is as likely to kill the messenger as let her live, perhaps ironically and Nu laughs at the joke because she knows there's a grain of truth behind it. Why not use that proverb to some such artful effect?

The typhoon fully arrived, weather motifs serve two prose functions; one, they are the conflict and complication of a narrative; or two, they are foreshadowing motifs. This story doesn't seem to be about the weather, is about an individual's want for revenue and some small amount of fame. Therefore, the typhoon is a foreshadowing motif at best. That the typhoon is already fully arrived and Nu goes about her routine unaffected defuses the foreshadowing potentials. She notices and ignores the storm. Pendent landfall is far more a tension engine, the motif of an approaching typhoon is a preparation segment. That it approaches is also a suspension tension driver. The storm's full arrival then is a relief or resolution segment. These former spaced out in time and portrayal to show time's passage and to use their tension flow, plus, that stormy weather to come symbolizes stormy action to come.

Also, consider naming the typhoon in order to eliminate the weak use of the "The" adjective for the first word. Something ominous or ironic perhaps. Typhoon Lilith (first and evil wife of Adam), or Glenda (Vietnamese name Rammasun)? The good witch from Oz?

"the heavy fortification tarps" Tarps as heavy fortification seems at odds. Heavy tarps above a fortification makes some sense. Tarps that are heavy fortifications makes no sense, and less so in a typhoon. They are kites and sails to be torn and blown away. Perhaps the intent is the tarps are uselessly meant to fortify against the typhoon's rainfall? Then a verb substitute for the noun-as-adjective "fortification" consideration arises.

A few elephants live in south Vietnam, none in the north nor Hanoi. Seems an odd allusion for a city denizen, where no elephants are part of everyday life, to make. A strained allusion the wrong way for me. The right way, could be allusion to another motif common from Hanoi city life. Say heavy freight trucks speeding along transnational motorways that buffet pedestrians. Or the elephant motif could be more developed, say, when and where Nu encountered an elephant attack. "when she was younger."

Vietnamese calligraphy uses mostly the contemporary Latin-based Quốc Ngữ. Not the traditional ideograms of China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Laos, etc., nor Vietnam's traditional Chinese character Chữ nôm. For readability by most anyone Vietnamese, Quốc Ngữ seems apropos of messages, albeit ceremonially ornamented calligraphy. This is personal, handwritten message ritual and contemporary and foreseeable for the 2045 Hanoi milieu -- the feature of the fragment that most appeals to me: handwritten, ornamented message rituals in a digital age. "Chữ nôm," and "Quốc Ngữ" are Vietnamese machine character Quốc Ngữ script.

"With the most . . ." paragraph break warranted prior to that sentence. Note also that a preposition starting a sentence is as deprecated as ending with one. Although the preposition subordinates the clause to the main clause, used verb-like, the preposition is static, where robust verbs are dynamic. The clause warrants a verb instead, preferably a robust verb, past participle, not a present participle -ing word.

In any case, a stronger description of her calligraphy technique could be more artful. "Flourish," "put," and "finishing touches" are more or less summary explanations, tells, of real scene imitation. I feel the latter are more warranted instead of the vague descriptions. Does she use brushes, bird quill pens, or manufactured stylus quill pens, or all the types? Also, what flourishes and finishing touches? Quốc Ngữ script's diacritic accent marks seem a logical choice.

Note, though, that such descriptive motifs and features must serve at least dual functions: their overt and tangible one of scene imitation; and at least their dramatic impetus, their antagonal, causal, and tensional influences of the dramatic action at hand, if not character and setting development.

Which is what dramatic action? Nu wants to be Hanoi's most famous calligrapher and the way is her craft of handwritten message rituals between individuals. Problem, the recipient of the message at hand doesn't do personal.

A noteworthy noble though moral human condition complication potential for "what the story is really about." She wants glory and fame and no small coin and the world into which she steps is fraught with personal peril, more than rejection and acceptance, life and death as well perhaps. The message she prepares could contain clues of nefarious business she is unaware of, for example, and the messenger must be killed. Shades of potential Arabian Nights' Scheherazade there. She might also have competitors who envy her access to famous, wealthy, and powerful individuals.

Consider Nu's role more of enhancement of personal interaction rituals ("Learning to Speak Tiger"?) for which she is both intermediary and instructor, as much as the calligraphy art. She subtly instructs Vinh Dong in the arcana of interpersonal interaction that digital technology destroys.

"heck, he barely tolerated . . ." "Heck" is a tame interjection for the emotional context and texture of a thirteen-year-old about to enter a tiger's lair and knows it. Consider a more suitable interjection, say, age-appropriate and attempted maturation apropos of the situation. The "tiger" motif holds promise in that regard. This is a situation where Vinh Dong's reputation, known to Nu, answers, is potential further development of Vinh Dong's character, too (hyperbole, for example): //the black-striped, ruthless feline// or some such to that effect.

Actually, I could read on to see if some of the title and fragment's promises develop.

[ December 31, 2015, 08:57 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Thanks for the comments.
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Captain of my Sheep
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Hi genevive42 [Smile]

It’s not everyday I read a story that starts with a monsoon. That interested me. Having the setting be in Vietnam is also a plus that will keep me reading.
The contrast between holograms and bio-comms against calligraphy intrigues me. Seems a bit like how we’re still sending out wedding invitations but no e-mail wedding invitations. I’d like to know what sort of message is it, too.

Basically, I agree with wetwilly on the pluses this fragment has.

The “when she was younger” part feels a bit out of place. I understood it makes a reference to what the character thought about monsoons when she was small but it doesn’t flow too well when I read it.

The “and this job just might do it” bit seems to introduce the conflict the story will be about. The job, I think, is to deliver the message to Vinh Dong, who doesn’t like receiving messages. Her job is to convince him to receive this message she’s writing, I think. That part could be clearer, I think. Does it really matter that Vinh Dong never sent human messengers if the objective of your main character is to get him to receive one? I think it’s more important to leave clear the dude hates receiving them, more than the fact that he rarely send them himself.

I’d love to read the whole thing if you’re still looking for readers.

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Member # 8714

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Hi Captain of my Sheep,

Thanks for your comments for the offer to read. The story will probably be finished in a week, or so. I'll send it to volunteers then.

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