Thank you to everyone who has shared such helpful feedback on this scene. Your comments helped me re-focus the beginning on what I want as the central tension of the scene. Even though I'm making a longer story from the situation, this chance to see if the changes I'm making are the right changes is too good to pass up. So I appreciate your patience as I try to learn more of this craft.
Here's 13 lines again:
Alyonssa was an angel, listening quietly amid the tavern's noise as I told the story. Even when I dumped the new rapier onto the tabletop like scrap to donate at a blacksmith's shop, she merely raised an eyebrow, trusting me to explain. However when it came to the warlock his curse on me, she set her drink aside. The rapt attention in her blue eyes was like a sapphire she offered; I had to stop before my voice cracked. Eventually I could finish. "He claimed there was only one way to completely heal the cut. Since I had violated his love's resting place, I would have to use the sword to end the life of my beloved." She blinked, then said, "You're joking, right?" I wasn't expecting that. "Aly, you saw the bandages around my
I hope I'm doing this right. Methodology: I used the alphabet template and dragged the post window wide enough to fit a-m. Then I deleted the alphabeticals and pasted my excerpt into the same post window. It fit into place with the same ending point. (That's why I'm worried I made a mistake somehow.)
If I need to change my approach somehow, please let me know. Thanks.
Alyonssa was an angel, listening quietly amid the tavern's noise as I told the story. Even when I dumped the new rapier onto the tabletop like scrap to donate at a blacksmith's shop, she merely raised an eyebrow, trusting me to explain. However when it came to the warlock his curse on me, she set her drink aside. The rapt attention in her blue eyes was like a sapphire she offered; I had to stop before my voice cracked. Eventually I could finish. "He claimed there was only one way to completely heal the cut. Since I had violated his love's resting place, I would have to use the sword to end the life of my beloved." She blinked, then said, "You're joking, right?" I wasn't expecting that. "Aly, you saw the bandages around my...
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The latest fragment tames the thirteen lines limit. The fragment contains content substantively similar to prior fragments. For me, the stronger substance is the campy expression. The campiness implies a first-person narrator-viewpoint agonist personality of self-absorption. Dramatic enough, that; however, in terms of "hook" emotional equilibrium upset arts, the fragment, to me, falls short of an emotional upset full realization.
What? How? Which feature realizes a full emotional disequilibrium for the fragment? Urgency maybe, a surprise maybe, a self-contradiction maybe, maybe due to persona clash or at least a cue of a minor difference contention, here, between Alyonssa and the narrator.
Over the years of my composition study, I've found the more dramatic appeal scenes are between more or less allied personas who contend about minor differences: plans, opinions, wants, problems, values, beliefs, etc. The fragment offers three personas who could contend, some minor, some major.
The third persona of the fragment is offstage, the warlock, the villain-nemesis of the piece, ostensibly. Ergo, the only two in possible contention position are the narrator and Alyonssa. Of course, the narrator could be the villain of the piece, due to the two forces, as it were, of whatever compelled the narrator to disturb the warlock's love interest from her eternal rest, and the aspect of the curse requires the narrator to kill his own love interest with the rapier that disturbed the warlock's love interest's grave. And, ergo, Alyonssa is the fragment's contention target.
The open leg wound suggests some urgency. Alyonssa's reply, "You're joking, right?" suggests some position difference between her and the narrator. No surprises to speak of. Where those fall short for me is insufficient context (who, when, where) and texture (what, why, how) that realize full, timely support of their emotional disequilibrium potentials. The narrator's campy tone implies those matters are of no consequence. If the narrative controverted that those are of no consequence, that would hopelessly "hook" me.
This is subtext: Oh ho! More goes on here than meets the eye, is readily inferable at the immediate reading moment, simmers lower than a hard boil, and is about to let loose all volcanic heck and mayhem. And gets to it, timely, without delay. After all, this is a short-short fiction, though timely emotional disequilibrium is no less essential for longer and long prose.
What? How? Before me is the possibility Alyonssa is the narrator's "beloved," though unconfirmed to a satisfactory, timely realization. Does the narrator not know? Or, indeed, does the narrator not have a love interest at the moment and Alyonssa is his target choice? Or does the real writer artlessly withhold that essential piece? The middle one most appeals to me; that is, if the narrator intends Alyonssa for the love interest and here seduces her so he has an averred "beloved" for to kill.
The Petrarchan convention that overstates flattery of an unattainable love interest, nonetheless wooed, to me, suits that latter seduction potential and the story length, and fits the narrator's self-absorbed personality expressed by the campy, florid language of the fragment.
Also, a countdown urgency would note the open leg wound has a deadline, or a milestone moment anyway. Plus, Alyonssa could note she is wooed and is both flattered and suspicious. Her action attribution and dialogue line is where that latter could be implied.
In short, I feel the fragment rushes past several reader appeal potentials, and blunts each in turn. Which one to emphasize and lavish development on in thirteen lines first is a writer's decision, not an auditor's, not mine. Due to romance is a main complication, though, that would be my choice for first emphasis.
Instead of empty, overwrought, and pointless descriptions of the narrator's reflections of Alyonssa's physical appearance, expended development of who and what Alyonssa means to the narrator's intent I believe would fully realize the start's reader engagement essentials.
"_listening_ quietly" Unnecessary tense shift from simple past to present progressive. Maybe an unnecessary adverb, too, a "Tom Swifty" adverb. See the "Turkey City Lexicon" linked below.
"the tavern's noise _as_" Correlation conjunction used as coordination conjunction error -- a run-on sentence.
"an eyebrow, _trusting_" Unnecessary tense shift from main simple past to present progressive.
"However[,] when it came to the warlock[,] his" Missed, essential commas.
"sapphire she offered_;_" Punctuation error. The two clauses are complete and independent ideas; however, the two ideas are insufficiently related to warrant semicolon connection. One, the narrator's implied affection and nefarious designs for Alyonssa; two, that he quashes his emotional response to her beauty, truth, and goodness despite what he feels he must ask of her.
"Eventually[,] I could finish." Missed essential comma.
"She blinked, then said, 'You're joking, right?'" Is this suited to the milieu's language customs? The term "joke" to mean having someone on, as of a verbal prank, is a twentieth century coin, possible anachrony. Plus, an unnecessary tense shift. //You jest, right?// Each -ing word in the fragment is unnecessary and anachronous to the inferable milieu. "resting place" //eternal rest//, or //place of eternal rest// or similar effect.
Also, the use of a description to attribute speech, dialogue, itself should be enough attribution by itself, no need to add a "said" attribution tag. The action tag and quotation marks enough to attribute inferable context.
However, "She blinked" is an empty description. No per se emotional cue from which to infer what Alyonssa signals by design or inferable happenstance to the narrator she feels at the moment. And again, an eyes have it description after the "saphire" eyes allusion, plus, "raised eyebrow" earlier, invariant variety, eyes only, vague emotional signals.
Plus, a missed opportunity there to introduce the narrator's name in the dialogue line. //Oh, D'Artagnan, my fair-weather friend, you would have me for your dearest fool?// That is non sequitur (does not follow, is other than what the narrator-agonist intends and expects, is Alyonssa's personal difference opinion intimately expressed) and squabble dialogue (flirtatious and contentious), artful methods, even if I do say so. Contentious echo and contentious question and answer dialogue are two other artful dialogue methods. Plus others, all someway inferable irony.
That above missed name opportunity also raises another shortfall; when and where is the milieu's time, place, and situation for which persons carry rapiers in public? Rapier's are personal duel weapons, somewhat for display of defensive menace that keeps away unarmed, mischievous persons, and somewhat display phallic prowess. The duel era is late-to-post colonial, late seventeenth through early nineteenth century and mostly in France. Does that this start takes place in a generic tavern develop milieu detail enough? Not for me, though the rapier implies more than meets the mind's eye.
"I wasn't expecting that." Huh, another modern idiom and also an unnecessary tense shift. //I did not expect that.// "That" what? There, the idiom is an impersonal proximity pronoun used to shorthand refer to an antecedent sentence subject. The denotative "that" use is for physical proximity relation, this here and _that_ there, and asks for the comparative this-that relationship for the idiom usage. That Alyonssa thinks the narrator pranks her? What's the implied "this"? "She blinked"? The must end the life of the beloved to lift the curse?
"'Aly, you saw the bandages around my... " An As You Know, Bob, dialogue tell.
"A pernicious form of info-dump through dialogue, in which characters tell each other things they already know, for the sake of getting the reader up-to-speed. This very common technique is also known as 'Rod and Don dialogue' (attr. Damon Knight) or 'maid and butler dialogue' (attr Algis Budrys)."
This As You Know, Bob, dialogue doubles back to the past. Alyonssa already knows about the leg wound. The writer intent is to raise the leg wound's existence for readers' benefit only. Instead, could be for forward time movement, more artful, an expression that time is of the urgent essence, the countdown deadline, and subtly imply Alyonssa is the target of the narrator's nefarious intent. //Aly, I have but an hour to sate the rapier's bloodlust. . . . // Or of similar effects. Nonetheless, such that urgency, surprise, and minor personas' differences raise tension that will right soon come to a timely head.
So far, only the campy language interests me, surprises me that here is a heel whom time wounds, "time wounds all heels: time heals all wounds," and I expect will receive due poetic justice or redeem himself someway soon. Like, for what, that he selfishly disturbed the warlock's love interest's grave? For what self-absorbed purpose? He did. Why? Did he probe the grave with the rapier? Why? Or how? By accident, the sword pierced the ground there? Might he have dueled with the warlock and the sword slipped from his hand into the grave soil? Or did he intend to see if the grave held a coffin so he could rob the grave of some valuable or magic object? Maybe both. For what and why?
I am still less inclined to read on as an engaged reader and somewhat less inclined to read on as an auditor-editor only. For the latter, substantive revision works for me, though the former is more my interest, that is, immersion into the all important reader dream spell. Emotional disequilibrium escalation from the outset works that spell magic.
extrinsic, thanks for writing up such a thorough and helpful analysis! I appreciate it, even though I'm a little disheartened to realize I live so far inside Turkey City limits.
"Emotional disequilibrium" is a phrase I'm thinking of tattooing on my forearm as a reminder. Is there any source you can point me to for more insight about that?
Great idea about the countdown urgency. However, one sentence (among others) that I didn't quite understand was: "If the narrative controverted that those are of no consequence, that would hopelessly "hook" me." If you have a moment, could you tell me more of what you meant there? (Yes, the dangling-carrot of hooking someone's interest will steer my attention w/o fail.)
About ye olde English phrasings though, I want to start an argument that I hope you can finish --- Wording suited to the "milieu's language customs" comes across to us as more/less exotic. However, to character's inside that milieu, there would be nothing exotic about it. Therefore, plain, contemporary English conveys the character's experience of the conversation more accurately.
Hi Scot, I've been meaning to comment again. Also interested in the question of milieu's language customs you brought up.
On the fragment itself: For me, the opening doesn't seem to have changed too much, although I do find it clearer now. Some of the phrasing still seems to introduce too much distance between me and the story. For example, the narrator seems to spend a lot of time telling me second-hand what's happening--he tells me that he's telling Alyonssa a story, that she reacts differently at different points, that he becomes anxious. I feel as though I'm watching a silent movie. There's no dialogue, no 'in the now'. That said, I'm not a fan of opening straight with dialogue, either. But is there a way to show what's happening more immediately, rather than rely on the narrator telling us from this distance?
Plus, if the story your MC is telling is important to the plot, why don't we hear it? Perhaps not here, not in full, not in 'As You Know, Bob' dialogue, but at least in summary, or echoing in his head as he recounts the story. For example, instead of 'the story', why not 'the story of my latest grave-robbing adventures', or whatever it is. I'd like to know of his cut, too, before it's mentioned in the dialogue. Perhaps his leg is throbbing with pain, distracting him from the tale? Is he drinking to numb the pain? Or perhaps Alyonssa keeps staring at it, is even repulsed by it? It seems to me that there are a lot of possibilities to make the wound a source of 'emotional disequilibrium', alongside the question of having to kill his beloved. As extrinsic suggests, a countdown/deadline would give a lot of focus.
One of the biggest jolts for me, reading your new opening, was the first phrase: "Alyonssa was an angel". As Kathleen said in another thread, we should be careful with metaphors in speculative fiction. Why?
quote:Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury: OSC talks about metaphors in speculative fiction is his book on writing science fiction and fantasy, and how what would be figurative prose in mundane fiction may actually be literal in speculative fiction. Those who read speculative fiction are open to such possibilities, and writers who write it need to be careful not to confuse such readers.
For me, there's an ambiguity here: Might Alyonssa really be an angelic being? It's stated so plainly, and before I have had a chance to get to know the narrative voice, that this literal meaning is the one I initially grasp at. Of course, the rest of the opening partly resolves all this, but even so, the uncertainty lingers as a strange aftertaste.
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A cursory glance across the bookshelves of my composition texts evinces most every one has some indexed item and content about emotional texture. The source, though, for me, for appreciation of emotional disequilibrium is Gustav Freytag's Technique of the Drama. The central, focused topic is tension, a dramatic axis perpendicular to causation. Tension is that which speaks to reader sympathy or empathy and suspense curiosity aroused due to agonist emotional disequilibrium.
Freytag does not contain the term "equilibrium" nor its variants, none related to emotion, per se, one instance, though thirty plus instances of "emotion" and each which speaks to emotional unsettlement. Antagonism, the third dramatic axis, perpendicular to causation and tension axes, is all about want-problem complication-conflict motivations due to tensional-causal influences.
Seymor Chatman, Story and Discourse and Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction also speak to emotional disequilibrium, and L. Rust Hills, Orson Scott Card, Damon Knight, Percy Lubbock, Aristotle, of course, ad infinitum, none use the explicit term. It is a coin per moi, a shorthand term for the broad scope of tension's methods and intended reader effects. Give readers reason to care, to engage -- unsettle equilibrium and escalate emotional disequilibrium.
"'If the narrative controverted that those are of no consequence, that would hopelessly "hook" me.' If you have a moment, could you tell me more of what you meant there? (Yes, the dangling-carrot of hooking someone's interest will steer my attention w/o fail.)"
If the narrator-agonist doth express overmuch that the rapier and warlock and open leg wound matters of the start are of no consequence and the narrative implied those are rather of substantial consequence to the narrator-agonist, he conceals that from Alyonssa for no noble reason. Inferably then, he intends her consequential, wicked harm. They contend then -- drama is contest. I would be hopelessly "hooked." Other shortfalls, though, could jeopardize my engagement, possibly fatally.
Within that above is the crux of satire; a narrative that reveals human social and moral vice and folly. Most narratives are satire, regardless whether humorous or otherwise or both. Satire also in some explicit or implicit manner expresses some kind of focused maxim, or message, as it were. Satire method, moral, and message are crucial though intangible, abstract, congruent actions to an otherwise superficial narrative's oft repeated across the opus tangible, concrete action. That is subtext depth that expands reader appeal and audience numbers.
A maxim for the above, already stated, for example, Time heals all wounds; time wounds all heels. The polar opposites there leave outcome in doubt, neither preach nor lecture to readers, and on its own discovers a moral truth for one individual who warrants that maturation tableau or else. Plus, within that maxim duality is the crux of internal contention and irony overall: congruent opposites of intent and actuality. Does this narrator-agonist intend Alyonssa to be his love interest and, hence, the victim of his phallic rapier? Or will he discover the errors of his own fault in time? Deep irony potentials therein, and satire.
"Wording suited to the 'milieu's language customs' comes across to us as more/less exotic. However, to character's inside that milieu, there would be nothing exotic about it. Therefore, plain, contemporary English conveys the character's experience of the conversation more accurately."
My difference is less diction per se, though problematic if language coins from contemporary expression and contemporary everyday conversation idioms call undue attention to their anachrony, more so syntax and most so poetic equipment suited to an era and milieu, and situation. Present participle -ings are a relatively contemporary idiom of idiot, naive, improvisational speech television news gossip shows for the purpose of selfish, filibustered broadcast time. Readers who are filibustered soon if not sooner disengage.
Static voice is another common feature of the contemporary, everyday conversation and news gossip idiolect. Usually, static voice entails an auxiliary to be verb and an -ing participle and wordiness and a sordid sort of stasis. Stasis is the death of story movement; it is a fixed for a time, indefinite passage of time in a static state of being. For examples. "'You're joking,'" and "I wasn't expecting that."
Not contemporary English in any case, rather a vulgate idiom custom common to informal expression in casual, everyday, improvisational circumstances anymore of semi-literate convenient, effortless self-gratification speech habits; it is the idiom bilge washes of careless, thoughtless expression.
I do not mean that contemporary expression is anachrony in another milieu, per se. I do mean that a savvy idiolect suits the subject matter, and each the other, and the opportune occasion (appeals of kairos), and the target audience's sensibilities -- decorum in the rhetorical sense. Plain expression, a degree poetically equipped, by itself is timeless, not over-ornamented with an era's or anachrony's vulgate expression idioms.
The challenge of language decorum, the way I see it for prose, is to be of both a familiar and an exotic conversational mien that calls no undue attention to either and is of apt emphasis and poetic equipment. In short, fluid, concise, and nondisruptive, of a reading and comprehension ease that demonstrates effective communication aptitudes, contrasted to television gossip bobble-head polybabble. Yuck-yuck-yuck, bobbed up and down head movements and chuckles, and uh-huh, yeah, and you know, like, listen to Me though I have little, if any, substantive point for discussion. See, I like the sound of My voice over all others'. Polybabblers' grates.
quote:Originally posted by Scot: Alyonssa was an angel, listening quietly amid the tavern's noise as I told the story. Even when I dumped the new rapier onto the tabletop like scrap to donate at a blacksmith's shop, she merely raised an eyebrow, trusting me to explain. However when it came to the warlock his curse on me, she set her drink aside. The rapt attention in her blue eyes was like a sapphire she offered; I had to stop before my voice cracked. Eventually I could finish. "He claimed there was only one way to completely heal the cut. Since I had violated his love's resting place, I would have to use the sword to end the life of my beloved." She blinked, then said, "You're joking, right?" I wasn't expecting that. "Aly, you saw the bandages around my
You lost some words to editing in the third sentence. (Don't worry, it happens to everyone sooner or later.)
The fourth sentence reads awkwardly to me; you might want to trim it down a bit or rephrase.
There's still a part of me that very much feels like this story is beginning too late, that I'd either like to hear the whole of the story or see it happen. The summary of a summary doesn't really grab me at all as a reader. I think there's potential here, but it might do you well to let the story expand and breathe.
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Thank you so much for this feedback. I wish I had the means to pay y'all for such helpful reflections back on what I'm trying to do. Reinhold - thanks for pointing out that a life-changing injury would change the way his life happens. extrinsic - thanks for scouring clean my awareness of the idiolect I've been taking for granted. Peony - you cut straight to the story heart; this scene is halfway through events (which I thought would be a good strategy for flash fiction).
Living and learning. <Dang it! Those darn -ing words again.> I hope the next shot at this tale will be dialed in better.
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Oh where, or when, to begin. In medias res: in the middle of things? Ab ovo: from the egg? An allusion to Homer's Iliad, in which Leda's twin eggs of Helen and Clytmnestra quickened by Zeus are the ab ovo without which the consequent Trojan War would not have ensued. Wrong, by the way. Agamemnon wanted Troy plundered regardless. If not he, some Persian or other Greek would have.
Or ab initio, from the start? Horace's Ars Poetica describes in medias res and ab ovo, that the ideal epic poem begins at some time in the middle, not from the egg.
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," Project Gutenberg, at 2,300 words, begins at the end, ab finis. The story is the denouement act of an action of a lifetime, which could otherwise start ab initio or in media res. Denouement "1: the final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work 2: the outcome of a complex sequence of events" (Webster's).
Answers mechanical, none detail per se aesthetical principles or considerations of when to start. Poe asserts as close to the end as practical is a best practice, among others, Henry James, for one. Contained in the above denouement definition is a strategy, if not the strategy. If a denouement part is a complication's outcome, a start part is the complication's introduction. A middle, ergo, is complication satisfaction efforts.
Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants," PDF, is entirely in medias res, starts, middles, and ends in the middle of things, ends at an open-ended end.
Amontillado dispenses with its complication antagonism-causation introduction from the first sentence, "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."
Insult added upon injury incites Montresor's villainy, never a Fortunato injury nor insult trespass named, told, or shown. The story portrays the wicked seduction of Fortunato and the outcome of a lifetime of perceived trespasses and slights. The injuries and insult are implied and not shown nor stated for reader evaluation purposes, only that those are relateable for readers, we who also suffer "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (our misfortunes' dues paid for others' fortunes gained) (Shakespeare Hamlet), the barrage of unmerited misfortunes for people like us and of our trivial self-errors, misfortunes meted at capricious whim from all and sundry.
So to start, start as close to the end as practical, mindful most to start with complication introductions: want-problem incitement at a suitable magnitude of stakes risk (conflict). Montresor's complication want: coldblooded revenge; its problem incitement, a lifetime of injury, further complicated by a last insult and need, self-want really, for surreptitious revenge tactics to redress injury and insult. Life or death is Amontillado's risk stakes for Fortunato; premature or timely delayed discovery is Montresor's risk stakes.
Note, too, the proverbial maxims entailed therein: stated direct, "added insult to injury," the traditional sequence; and implied, "revenge is a dish best served cold." "In cold blood," means with malice and aforethought.