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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Untitled Science Fiction Short Story

   
Author Topic: Untitled Science Fiction Short Story
Kathy_K
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Hello all! Here are the opening lines of a short social science fiction story that I'm working on. The protagonist is Donna Cramer. The POV is third person limited. I welcome all constructive feedback. Thank you in advance.

____
The 9:30 morning train slid up to the landing platform and came to a stop on its magnetic track outside the main entrance of BioDome38. Mrs. Cramer watched who she assumed to be the Simm’s family step from the third car and merge with the stream of commuters bustling along beneath the platform’s weather awning. Beside her, a young boy fidgeted and glowered inhospitably. She sighed. In the time between his tenth and eleventh birthday, Mrs. Cramer’s son had begun the unfortunate but unavoidable process of shedding his childhood. Before her very eyes he was morphing slowly into a sarcastic and moody pre-teen. Thank goodness she and her husband had had the good sense to limit themselves to just the one.

“Here.” She thrust the welcome basket of gift cards and nicknacks into Jack’s arms in an attempt to stop him from jittering in place like a live wire.

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Turbulent Flow
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Please bear in mind that I'm new myself to writing fiction. With any luck, my comments will be at least mildly useful to you. [Smile]

First, I suspect that your [second] opening sentence would work better if split up into distinct ideas, each one of which can splatter its own payload of color into the story. I'll clarify the idea with a bit of my own prose. I'm wired that way. ^^;

Original sentence:

"Peering into the window while being pelted by rain, Mary suspected that the price of the beautiful new dress in the store display would be beyond her puny means as an employee at a call center."

Revised passage:

"Mary peered into the store window as rain pelted her. The dress behind the glass was beautiful, but her pay from the call center was puny. She suspected the price would be beyond her means."

Notice how each sentence in the revised version is easier to digest while still conveying the desired ideas. My years of part-time work as a freelance writer at low-paid content mills might not be directly germane to fiction writing, but they've taught me a lot about brevity and clarity.

I think keeping your sentences shorter whenever possible will make reading easier for your audience. Simplifying like this also makes it easier for you to polish individual sentences without the additional burden of wrestling with multiple ideas. Does that make sense?

Second, the young boy is already exhibiting an inhospitable demeanor by glowering. I think you can drop the word "inhospitably" from that sentence without losing anything.

Third, I must say that I rather enjoyed the subsequent three sentences. "Shedding his childhood" and "morphing slowly," indeed! I'm reluctant to criticize this passage.

Still, is it possible to simplify the second sentence of the trio? I'd be hard pressed to pinpoint what bothers me about "In the time between his tenth and eleventh birthday, ...." Is there another way to express this concept? Could his age be integrated into an existing sentence? Might it be even given its own sentence as part of your characterization? The existing wording strikes me as verbose and distracting. I'm sorry I couldn't be more specific. -_-

Anyways, I'm glad to be able to exhibit sheer happiness over the last sentence. I'm tempted myself to jitter in place like a live wire! The only caveat I'd offer is that the welcome basket seems to have popped out of thin air. Should it have been mentioned earlier, even in passing, before Donna Cramer suddenly thrusts it? :^)

quote:
“Here.” She thrust the welcome basket of gift cards and nicknacks into Jack’s arms in an attempt to stop him from jittering in place like a live wire.
[Edited to correct an unintentional error in confusing the first sentence with the second sentence.]

[ May 09, 2017, 04:06 PM: Message edited by: Turbulent Flow ]

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extrinsic
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An individual observes a train's arrival.

No idea or cue or clue what this story is about. Could this be a Mrs. Brown narrative, per Ursula K. Le Guin? "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown," The Language of the Night (Google Books).

In any case, the fragment's shortfalls of motivation, stakes, and emotional disequilibrium developments leave me unable to read on as an engaged reader, a Mrs. Brown story or not.

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Kathy_K
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
An individual observes a train's arrival.

No idea or cue or clue what this story is about. Could this be a Mrs. Brown narrative, per Ursula K. Le Guin? "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown," The Language of the Night (Google Books).

In any case, the fragment's shortfalls of motivation, stakes, and emotional disequilibrium developments leave me unable to read on as an engaged reader, a Mrs. Brown story or not.

Sorry for being thick-headed, but could you elaborate on what you mean by emotional disequilibrium? Thank you.
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extrinsic
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Any emotive circumstance responsive to and due to motivations and stakes.

For example, what does Mrs. Cramer want and why? About all she wants at present are Jack's good behavior and to meet the Simms family. Low magnitude complications and likewise of low, if any, emotional transformation: routine -- when routine interrupted is a crux of drama, how an individual's routine existence takes a concrete block to the face and hollers wake up! life is now an emotional roller coaster of perils and problems that shatter identity and provoke efforts to end those antagonisms and causations.

Readers and narratives pre-start at a state of emotional equilibrium, starts upset emotional equilibrium, middles struggle to and fail to restore emotional equilibrium, and outcome ends restore emotional equilibrium to a new normal. How? By implied or declared want-problem motivations and oppositional stakes' perils of a suitable magnitude.

A question, or several, related to our host Orson Scott Card's three reader interests, So what? Oh yeah? and Huh? -- Why should I care? Why should I believe this? And what happens here that matters privately and publicly? What is Cramer's private want that is problem, too? And why? And hard to satisfy suited to the story length? The overall question is what complicates Cramer's life in a life defining way at the outset? These motivation and conflict matters drive emotional disequilibrium. The three in distinguishable though indivisible concert invoke dramatic movement. Motivations, stakes, and emotional disequilibrium overcome So what? Oh yeah? and Huh?

Say Cramer wants, what, Mrs. Simms to like her? Bland. Or she wants the Simms to live in her tenement rental? What does Cramer want from the Simms? I don't know and cannot project from what's given what Cramer wants and why, that is at root the dramatic engine of the narrative, any narrative. Dramatic movement begins from want-problem motivation development and with stakes' conflict that evoke emotional disequilibrium, and each of those every-which-a-way at each the other like a carton of angry and voracious bluejays that contest for a scrap of bread.

[ May 09, 2017, 12:08 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathy_K
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That is extremely helpful. Gives me much to contemplate. It is now clear to me that I've started the story in the wrong place. Thank you! [Smile]

The arrival of the Simms family is the catalyst for conflict between mother and son as their value systems diverge.

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Turbulent Flow
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Ah, I think I understand what you're saying, extrinsic.

"Susan glared at the Merrills, who were disembarking from a city bus. She imagined them freezing in terror just before a large truck hit them. She reveled in the thought of a bloody mess."

"Susan gazed sadly at the Merrills as they disembarked from the city bus. They looked so happy. She wanted to join them, but they were a clannish lot, almost frighteningly devoted to each other."

Whether negative or positive, you want to see the feelings Mrs. Cramer has about her objects of attention, be they people, buildings, or home appliances. These feelings should presumably be striking and not unremarkable reflections of the humdrum emotions of ordinary people who teem in the world's towns, villages, and cities.

I've learned quite a bit from this thread already. If you don't mind my saying so, that's a vivid image you used, too!

quote:
[...] a carton of angry and voracious bluejays that contest for a scrap of bread.

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extrinsic
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Yes, though mind the static voice "tells," -ing and -ly words, and "as" correlation conjunction used as a coordination conjunction to join separate ideas.

"Susan glared," for example, is static and tell. She cannot see herself glare; thus, narrator tell that summarizes and explains a complex stimulus and response -- emotionally charged situation. Static voice of the third degree depicts a persona in a stasis state of being for an indefinite time span.

"were disembarking" is static voice of the second degree. The predicate is active voice -- the Merrills do the action of the verb disembark. However, the elapsed time span is indefinite, a stasis episode.

Static voice of the first degree is also passive voice: The Merrills were abruptly ushered off the bus by a burlesque yack hole. Or: were got to usher off the bus by . . . or: were ushering off the bus by . . . or: had been ushered off the bus by . . . or: are, am, is, etc., auxiliary to be verbs generally.

-ing and -ly words are self-evident, and often convenient habits when expression asks for more lively, vivid, robust show language, which entails likewise vivid, robust, lively sensory stimuli and response (emotionally responsive).

"as" for a coordination conjunction that creates a run-on sentence is a common, everyday idiolect usage. Artful prose uses the term for appositive and correlative modification. Conjunctions also often create non-simultaneous sequences; for example, "Susan gazed sadly at the Merrills _as_ they disembarked from the city bus." The Merrills disembark; then and only then can Susan see them to gaze sadly at them. Conjunctions also splice together independent clauses that otherwise stand alone as separate sentences.

"As" appositive-correlative usage: Broke from bust to backside, the opioid tramp Leary took work as [preposition case] a day laborer, _as_ all he had left from last resorts [appositive correlation]. A narrator tell, though, and static voice. Shown and dynamic voice would consume about ten times more words and entail Leary's interaction with others at the day laborer pickup spot.

[ May 09, 2017, 10:17 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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H Reinhold
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I'm no expert, but simply because it's something I'm trying to get my head around, and see others struggle with, I'll attempt to give an example of how to avoid 'static tells' as in the post above:

quote:
"Susan glared at the Merrills, who were disembarking from a city bus. She imagined them freezing in terror just before a large truck hit them. She reveled in the thought of a bloody mess."

"Susan gazed sadly at the Merrills as they disembarked from the city bus. They looked so happy. She wanted to join them, but they were a clannish lot, almost frighteningly devoted to each other."

This, to my mind, is pretty much all tell: 'she glared', 'she imagined', 'she reveled', 'she gazed sadly', 'they looked', 'she wanted', 'they were'. From what I have gathered from reading posts by extrinsic and others over the last few months, it seems that in order to portray realistic, vivid character emotion, the language itself (primarily verbs and nouns) need to be coloured with the emotion. Someone will see, interpret, experience an event in a completely different way depending on what emotion they are feeling. The aim is to stay inside the viewpoint character's head so closely that we can tell their emotion simply by noting the words they use to describe what happens around them.

And more than this, I think, we want to feel the feelings Mrs Cramer has, not bluntly be told about them. A couple of totally hypothetical and raw attempts to show what I mean, continuing with the previous examples for continuity:

"Susan waited for the Merrills to arrive. Finally they blundered out of a city bus, overladen with squashed packages and crumpled children. The two smallest threw themselves with glee into a line of old ladies, and escaped a slap with a handbag. Mrs Merrill barked at both parties. She scrambled in a paper bag for something, shed sweet wrappers onto the pavement, and emerged victorious with a scrap of paper. Their address. Clearly she had forgotten Susan would be there. At last the children crawled back into the shadow of Mrs Merrill's uncertain figure, and the family swarmed across the street. Too bad the road was empty. The sight of a large truck at full speed--and the inevitable chaos of broken limbs--would have been most welcome."

The same, but with different verbs and nouns, for a different emotion:

"Susan waited for the Merrills to arrive. Finally they emerged from a bus armed with suitcases. The children's colourful and patched clothes seemed to hail from another, simpler age. The two smallest boys dashed across the pavement into freedom, oblivious to the glares of the old ladies in the neighboring queue, and Mrs Merrill smiled. She coaxed them back to herself and dived a hand into her bag. Out came a folded note: the address. In all the rush, she must have forgotten that Susan had said she'd meet them. The children flocked about their mother, chattering, faces bright from the cold air. Mrs Merrill put out her arms as though to shelter them, and they walked as one across the empty street. Susan hesitated. She would never belong to such a family."

The events haven't changed. But Susan's vision, even experience, of the events has certainly changed: in the first example, she is critical, and sees everything through a negative lens; in the second, she is forgiving and wistful. (At least, I hope I've made it so.) Does this work more effectively than simply telling the reader what Susan thinks of them? I think it does. Although obviously writing like this requires more words.

Sorry for wandering slightly off-topic. Analysis of original fragment to come separately.

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extrinsic
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The concept is valid and on track. A few sentences contained in the illustrations are still static tell, like "Susan waited . . . " Though, by itself, that sentence syntax is a freebie viewpoint glitch, maybe. Some readers spot all viewpoint glitches all the time; some spot some glitches some of the time; some spot none at anytime.

And a caveat, the narrative point of view herein responders exhort and a preferred NPoV for fantastical fiction is third-person limited and close -- narrator received reflections from one viewpoint persona's inside-looks-out and looks-within-the-self perceptions, sensations, thoughts, and emotions. That is one of forty-two NPoVs possible, a dozen of which are widely deprecated though appeal to respective niches. Long fiction might, too, range across a several NPoV grouping, with seamless transitions between main and auxiliary NPoVs and few, if any, viewpoint glitches that call undue and untimely attention to themselves, and less so variant NPoVs for short fiction.

[ May 10, 2017, 02:41 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathy_K
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"The aim is to stay inside the viewpoint character's head so closely that we can tell their emotion simply by noting the words they use to describe what happens around them.

And more than this, I think, we want to feel the feelings Mrs Cramer has, not bluntly be told about them. "

To continue this conversation, my question is this: do we always want to place the narrative distance closely inside the characters' heads? Especially with the third person POV, isn't manipulating psychic distance a valid technique for influencing reader experience/emotion/engagement? In third person, there is an outside narrator. Yes, sometimes the goal is to have that narrator be nearly invisible, but not always (or so I thought).

A question more specific to the 13 lines I posted: where in that excerpt am I "telling" readers how Mrs. Cramer is feeling? That's not a defensive question, by the way. I've read through it and I am not finding examples where I'm telling you what she's feeling. Now, I'm fully willing to admit that I an untrained writer, novice in my skill level, but I *thought* I was suggesting an emotional state rather than outright telling about her emotional state. Where did I fail?

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H Reinhold
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathy_K:
To continue this conversation, my question is this: do we always want to place the narrative distance closely inside the characters' heads? Especially with the third person POV, isn't manipulating psychic distance a valid technique for influencing reader experience/emotion/engagement? In third person, there is an outside narrator. Yes, sometimes the goal is to have that narrator be nearly invisible, but not always (or so I thought).

Yes, you're right, and I think that's what extrinsic is saying. Discussion here often circles back to third person limited close because that's what many readers seem to prefer, and is one of the more currently successful narrative POVs. I'm afraid I tend to assume, from hints in stories or story opening fragments, that writers are aiming for this viewpoint, and so a lot of my suggestions have to do with things that jolt me out of that viewpoint. However, it could just as easily be that the writer intends for another. I certainly need to keep studying.

I'll get to your question in a minute. First, my analysis of your 13 lines. Sorry I'm late to the party with this again, but glad to see that you are already rethinking where to open the story. I hope my analysis will still help somehow. I haven't read the previous responses in much detail, so sorry for any repetitions.

I find the opening line a little clunky--too many prepositions, I think. Otherwise it's fine, as long, I think, as the main character is introduced in the next sentence. I found this section of that second sentence confusing: 'Mrs. Cramer watched who she assumed to be". Something about it doesn't entirely 'click' for me, although the rest of the sentence seemed fine (except 'Simm's' should, I think, be 'Simms', without apostrophe). I agree that 'inhospitably' in the next line is superflous.

Are we going to call her 'Mrs Cramer' throughout? It strikes me as odd that we get to see her direct thoughts ('Thank goodness', etc), yet not her first name. Does she really think of herself as 'Mrs Cramer'? And does she really think of her husband as 'her husband', not as 'John' or 'Mike' or whatever? And why wouldn't she call her son by his name? I think from the context the husband and son's relationships to her will be clear enough. Likewise, I've just noticed, you introduce the son as 'a young boy', rather than as her son--again, it strikes me as a viewpoint glitch, a view from outside your main character, given that the following sentences place me inside her head.

I find the sentences from 'She sighed' onwards to be my least favourite in the fragment. They all seem (to me) like 'tells', filling in backstory that doesn't seem to have much to do with the scene set by the first few lines. I get the feeling that it might be better to show the reader that the son is changing, rather than to state it; likewise with the fact that she is glad she doesn't have more children. How? Well, one option, I think, could be to describe the son doing something illustrative of his 'moody and sarcastic' manner, and have Mrs Cramer think, e.g., 'A year ago he'd never have said/done that.' The reader can connect the dots: 'Aha! He's changing.' I think it's fine to fill in backstory, but the way you've presented it in this fragment leaves me with the feeling that you've skipped ahead into abstraction too quickly. I almost feel like I want to see point A (the son as a delightful child), compare it to point B (the moody pre-teen), and then come to my own conclusion, before (perhaps at a later point) some rationalisation from the viewpoint character on the matter.

The final paragraph, to me, is good. I like it. Only the sentence there might be a little too long--could you perhaps remove 'in place'? I'm not sure it's necessary, and the excess length detracts from what is otherwise a nice sentence.

Overall: Two main things would stop me from reading on here: I don't get much sense of interesting conflict or unique voice, and the sci-fi aspect hinted at in 'BioDome38' never reappears. There's no hook. Why is she meeting the Simms? At the moment, nothing about the fragment suggests I should care. And why should I care particularly about her pretty average moody son? What makes this story unique?

As to your question:

quote:
Originally posted by Kathy_K:
A question more specific to the 13 lines I posted: where in that excerpt am I "telling" readers how Mrs. Cramer is feeling? That's not a defensive question, by the way. I've read through it and I am not finding examples where I'm telling you what she's feeling. Now, I'm fully willing to admit that I an untrained writer, novice in my skill level, but I *thought* I was suggesting an emotional state rather than outright telling about her emotional state. Where did I fail?

You are not, to my mind, telling me what she's feeling at all. The description in the first half of the first paragraph is entirely neutral--fine, if that's how she feels about it, or if you don't want to show us her inner feelings about the place. What I find more problematic, as I said, is the second half of the first paragraph. The emotional touches are actually fine, I think--I get an indirect, vague sense of her observing the change in the son as if from a distance, knowing it is inevitable, and being slightly bored with it. (Although this, to me, raises other problems: if she's bored with it, so am I, the reader. If he's her only child, why is the transformation so mundane to her, and not a source of greater anxiety?) The problem with those sentences, I think, is rather in their blunt summary of the son's situation. To me, it's still telling--only backstory tell, rather than emotional tell.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathy_K:
"The aim is to stay inside the viewpoint character's head so closely that we can tell their emotion simply by noting the words they use to describe what happens around them.

And more than this, I think, we want to feel the feelings Mrs Cramer has, not bluntly be told about them. "

To continue this conversation, my question is this: do we always want to place the narrative distance closely inside the characters' heads? Especially with the third person POV, isn't manipulating psychic distance a valid technique for influencing reader experience/emotion/engagement? In third person, there is an outside narrator. Yes, sometimes the goal is to have that narrator be nearly invisible, but not always (or so I thought).

A question more specific to the 13 lines I posted: where in that excerpt am I "telling" readers how Mrs. Cramer is feeling? That's not a defensive question, by the way. I've read through it and I am not finding examples where I'm telling you what she's feeling. Now, I'm fully willing to admit that I an untrained writer, novice in my skill level, but I *thought* I was suggesting an emotional state rather than outright telling about her emotional state. Where did I fail?

Astute questions predicated upon valid principles. However, now the writer meets the double and more bind of prose arts: yes and no, maybe, maybe not, natural or unnatural, necessary or unnecessary? Binds cause cognitive dissonance, a cause, too, of writer's block, of which each wants for reconciliation.

Third-person limited, close narrative point of view is an offhand shorthand for what Seymour Chatman labels a "nonnarrated" narrative method cluster. What, how in all perfidy can a narrative be nonnarrated!?

Third person does indeed entail an external narrator; first-, second- and third-person limited close entail a mostly invisible narrator -- nonnarrated -- maybe at times an invisible bystander narrator, upon occasion, an inobtrusive presence as like a wisp of a ghost. The other narrator narrative personas, implied writer and real writer, less so a presence if at all. Writer intrusions are the most obtrusive viewpoint glitches. Exceptions prove the principle, though. Double bind!?

Kurt Vonnegut includes real writer, implied writer, narrator, and viewpoint agonist as a Vonnegut dramatis personae of the self, plus narrates to and about his viewpoint agonist alter ids Billy Pilgrim and Kilgore Trout in Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut dramatically possesses them as if an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god presence and dramatically confesses through them that he is not the god of them. The narrative methods therein are not to every reader's sensibilities and accessibilities, though the novel sold two million copies.

What's a writer to do to reconcile the manifold double binds of prose arts? Do that; don't do this, except do this and that when the design and intent warrants such. When does such warrant!? Enough conundrum and dissonance to deluge the world!

Accomplished writers navigate and negotiate double bind and dissonance reconciliations. Which helps writers who struggle heroically to overcome those not one crossed theta nor doted iota. How? Self-definition -- self-imposed rules. Define a set of rules that work for the writer and abide them rigorously. Experiment, explore, determine what works for readers, like from fragments posted here at Hatrack Feedback and Challenge forums. Or default to conventions extant across the genre canon of choice. And both!

To the more specific questions: This tells a vague emotion from a real writer intrusion, "She sighed." Sighs are nonvoluntary emotional expressions; usually, a viewpoint persona is unaware of those of the self. A deliberate sigh expressed by a viewpoint agonist -- hmm, a deceit that could be natural, if forced, and manipulative. Valid within suitable authentic context and texture wrap. Social beings do deceive others.

However, a sigh without contextural wrap is meaningless, could be a sigh of pleasure, pain, misery, disappointment, yada, one or more emotions expressed or implied simultaneously, contemporaneously, or sequentially. An otherwise emotional expression would obviate the sigh declaration altogether.

Cramer cannot, usually, observe herself sigh, can, though observe and respond to another persona's sigh. She might become aware she sighed afterward, might beforehand decide consciously to sigh from an ulterior motive, either or both of which afford contextural opportunity to express or imply, especially imply, the sigh's full, realized dramatic meaning.

So who observes Cramer sigh? The real writer? The implied writer? The narrator? Cramer herself? The sigh is, as is, a real writer intrusion, usually, a viewpoint glitch in limited close third person.

How does Vonnegut "get away" with his obtrusive real and implied writers and narrators? He is consistent, starts as overt real writer, establishes the overall main narrative point of view, real writer tell, gentles through seamless transitions, sometimes stepped from real writer to implied writer to narrator, and smooth throughout and across and back and forth the gamut; sometimes through jump transitions, abrupt viewpoint persona transitions signaled by white space: paragraph breaks, empty line breaks, type-art marked otherwise empty lines, and chapter breaks. And each as well with suitable stepped setup and transition and follow-through.

These fragments herein, and illustrations for demonstration examples, plus, fragments posted in these forums generally, manage transition mode mischief less artfully than accomplished writers. Transition is an essential skill that is near invisible when its mischiefs are tamed.

Generally, fragments here contain wild and willy-nilly at haphazard viewpoint shifts, from real writer to implied writer to narrator and at happenstance back and forth free association throughout, too often, too, within a sentence or paragraph. A principle of thumb helps tame wild transitions: one viewpoint, one paragraph, white space break, new paragraph. Never mind the formal composition principle that asserts a paragraph contain at least three sentences. Note, too, that Online Publication Format's empty line paragraph break format lines do not count toward thirteen-lines' restrictions. Don't jamb it all into one text wall. Break it up!

White space is a writer's ally -- well, signals a leisurely and competent full realization will unfold long before it does. Competent transition does too.

In short, clumsy viewpoint transitions violate the "fourth wall." The violations directly address the audience from a narrative's internal milieu, by narrator, by implied writer, by real writer. Vonnegut violates the fourth wall with artful, dramatic impunity. Mel Brooks does violate the fourth wall, too, for motion pictures he directs, for a sound dramatic purpose, and that exception proves the principle, calls into question whether the narrative is real or unreal -- viewers decide for themselves; meantime, a germ of moral truth is asserted sublimely and discoverablely. Those intrusion types generally disrupt the reading (audience reception) immersion spell, though, signal this is not and cannot be real, spoil willing suspension of disbelief.

A recent craft analysis essay about belief details that willing suspension of disbelief is best practice in tension with belief; never jeopardize that belief-disbelief tension, especially for fantastical fiction. Maintain doubt that this is real! Bertolt Brecht's Distance Effect: Verfremdungseffekt. Let receivers decide.

". . . stories driven by wonder should insist on our belief so intently, that[,] at the end, despite any conscious disbelief, we should be left with the feeling that it could be real in another one, even if not this one." (Brenda Peynado. "The Fabuleme: On Belief and Reactivation of Disbelief in Fiction." Association of Writers and Writing Programs: AWP. The Writer's Chronicle: Summer 2017, pgs 100 - 110. Print.) (Online, a paywall, though, membership dues -- I belong to AWP -- Here.)

I second the above Peynoda premise, and refuse it, and both. What about fiction that so intensely insists it is not real though nonetheless implies the real-world reality of it is so real it cannot be dismissed?

[ May 10, 2017, 03:31 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Jay Greenstein
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What you’re doing is recording yourself telling the story aloud. So throughout, there’s no one but you on stage. And though you can visualize the setting, and talk about what’s in it, that doesn’t provide the reader with the image you imagine as you read. Nor does it provide the way you read it. As you read your own words, you can hear the emotion in your voice. You literally provide the expressions you would wear were you telling it aloud. You can feel the hand gestures with which you’d visually punctuate, and even the body language. In other words, your performance. But none of that makes it to the page. So the reader must make do with what the words suggest to them, based on their background, not yours and your intent. Have your computer read your words to you and you’ll hear what the reader gets.

quote:
The 9:30 morning train slid up to the landing platform and came to a stop on its magnetic track outside the main entrance of BioDome38.
The problem you face is that you’re using terms like, “magnetic track” to set the scene. But to a reader, who hasn’t your mental image or intent, what does it provide that’s worth the slowdown the extra words bring. Suppose you said, “The morning mag- train slid stop outside BioDome38.” Won’t the reader assume that it stopped in the proper place, a station of some kind? Does it matter to the story if it stops outside the main entrance, or just an entrance? Do we care if it’s a magnetic track or it just settles to the ground?

My point is that every unnecessary work slows the narrative and reduces the impact, and enjoyment of the sentence. Don’t waste time on visual minutia that the protagonist isn’t focusing on because knowing something is in the scene is not the same as seeing it. And while the character can see that detail at the same time they see what matters, on the page, you have to tell about them serially. So, as I said above, fewer words means greater impact.

quote:
Mrs. Cramer watched who she assumed to be the Simm’s family step from the third car and merge with the stream of commuters bustling along beneath the platform’s weather awning.
At this point we don’t know who she is ands why she deserves our attention. We don’t know why she’s there—or where and when “there” is. So telling us that she assumes that an unknown number of people getting off the train are probably people she’s seeking for unknown reason gives the reader nothing for which they have context. So while you’re informing the reader, and giving them facts to memorize until they become useful, are you entertaining them? That matters a great deal, because the reader is with you only to be entertained. And they expect that to happen immediately.

But forget that. After being told that she sees someone she’s probably looking for the reader expects to find out why, and who they are. They expect that since our protagonist noticed them she will act on that. But instead, you abandon Mrs. Cramer, and the Simms family. You freeze them in place and give us a lecture on the kid standing with her. How real can that story seem?

My point is that story happens, it’s not talked about in the abstract. Your reader isn’t seeking a history lesson, they want the scene clock to begin ticking, and not stop, as the story happens in real-time, within the moment the protagonist calls “now.” Instead, you’re presenting the story primarily in overview, in the words of a verbal storyteller, without the stage directions on how to tell it.

It’s something I see in about half the stories of hopeful writers because—other then presenting a chronicle of events—it’s the only way they know to tell a story. In our school days we learned to write as our future employers need, which means business oriented writing, fact based and author-centric. In other words, nonfiction. So since that doesn’t work, and we haven't yet learned the character-centric and emotion-based tricks of fiction writing we turn to the storytelling skills we use, when someone says, “So how was your day.” And perhaps if the reader could see and hear our performance it would work. But they can’t.

Not great news, I know. But as I said, pretty much half of pre-published writers do it, so you have lots of company. And for all we know, once you pick up the tricks of the trade and get your writing talent trained, mounted on Pegasus instead of the dray horse our schooldays gives us, you’ll take wing.

But given that every field has a set of craft and specialized knowledge that isn’t apparent till it’s pointed out, it may be a pain to learn that you need it, but it’s no big deal—just part of the process (though it plays hell with that lucrative publishing contract you hoped to have by New Year). [Wink]

The information you need is available in lots of places. The Internet is filled with articles (some of them mine). But a great resource is your local library system. There you can find the views of successful publishing professionals, writers, and teachers. And you can’t beat the cost. My personal recommendation is to begin by seeking the names, Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, or Debra Dixon on the cover.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathy_K:
The 9:30 morning train slid up to the landing platform and came to a stop on its magnetic track outside the main entrance of BioDome38. Mrs. Cramer watched who she assumed to be the Simm’s family step from the third car and merge with the stream of commuters bustling along beneath the platform’s weather awning. Beside her, a young boy fidgeted and glowered inhospitably. She sighed. In the time between his tenth and eleventh birthday, Mrs. Cramer’s son had begun the unfortunate but unavoidable process of shedding his childhood. Before her very eyes he was morphing slowly into a sarcastic and moody pre-teen. Thank goodness she and her husband had had the good sense to limit themselves to just the one.

“Here.” She thrust the welcome basket of gift cards and nicknacks into Jack’s arms in an attempt to stop him from jittering in place like a live wire.

This may sound like a strange question, but I'm curious why you refer to Mrs. Cramer by her last name in this fragment. The rest of the fragment indicates that she's presently the viewpoint character, but I feel that the strict formality with which her name is presented distances me from her as a character. I certainly don't think of myself like that on a regular basis. The fact that Jack's first name is given before Mrs. Cramer's automatically draws my attention more toward him than her at that point, despite the fact that the story is being told from her perspective. It's... disorienting.

Another thing that bothers me is that you refer to Jack as 'a young boy' before you refer to him as 'her son', and that you don't give his name until a paragraph later. Again, it feels distancing and keeps me from really getting into the mentality of the character--if she thinks of Jack as 'a young boy' before she thinks of him as 'her son', that implies an emotional separation of sorts that perturbs me as a reader.

A little more detail about the setting might help me visualize things more strongly. The opening at the station actually reminded me a fair bit of 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe' at first, so I was picturing an early 1900's train station (which, I will grant, is due to my own biases as a reader). I caught the mention of the magnetic track and 'Biodome38' on my second read-through, but another sentence or two of relevant description would go a long way toward solidifying a stronger visual of the place in my mind.

The prose seems fairly strong to me, overall, but the emotional distance of the opening discourages my interest. As a result, I would probably not read on at this point in time.

Random spelling note: I think 'knick-knack' is a more commonly accepted spelling than 'nicknack', at least where I've lived.

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