Here is the draft beginning of a story of about 1100 words.
A sallow complexioned woman in a brown sweat suit led me to a large bedroom in the back of Professor Ryzhov’s house. The somber atmosphere inside the house contrasted with the bright flowers outside. Perhaps the mood inside reflected the professor’s illness—that would explain the drawn curtains, but not the dark paneling and furniture. Cancer had wasted Professor Ryzhov’s body, but he kept his voice strong. “Doch, bring our visitor a chair. Mr. Wade, my college will have to find someone else to fund its building. I have found a better road to immortality. Did you read the material I sent?” “I did, but some aspects of it are questionable. While many people have had the procedure, there’s considerable doubt that
This beginning seems... how do I put this? Devoid of emotion. If you're going to write in first person, it might do well to explore the character's thoughts and feelings more directly. There's a whole discussion on first person perspective and how to make it pop in Michelle M.'s Manassas thread. You may find it useful.
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Just ask yourself this question: What does the reader need to know in order to understand what is going on? If it isn't essential to the reader's understanding, delete it.
Which means deleting the entire submitted fragment, is my guess.
More to the point, what does the reader need to know about the characters you've introduced? For instance, that the professor would happily stand on the shoulders of a drowning man for just one more breath of life.
[ June 06, 2017, 08:03 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]
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quote:A sallow complexioned woman in a brown sweat suit led me to a large bedroom in the back of Professor Ryzhov’s house.
This is visual detail spoken by a storyteller. But what purpose does it serve, other than that we’re in a bedroom in the man’s house? Knowing how she dressed and the visual impression of the woman we’d get, if we could see her as you do, are two very different things. The image you held in your mind generated the words. So for you, the words trigger the image, and it reappears. But will a reader’s mind reverse-engineer the image, which included size, age, expression, and the ambience of the house they’re passing through? No. So for the reader, it serves only to delay the meeting which begins the story.
The short version: You’re telling the reader what the narrator “remembers,” not what’s important enough for the one living the story to react to. Notice that it’s a generic “large” bedroom that tells us nothing about the era or the men through his tastes in décor.
quote: The somber atmosphere inside the house contrasted with the bright flowers outside.
I’m certain it does. But why does it matter? And in reality, what is a “somber atmosphere?” Are we talking about the furnishing? The expressions on people there? Music the protagonist can hear? In other words, you’re providing detail but not context to make the detail meaningful. Your narrator is reporting impressions without the reactions that make it meaningful. To clarify, this article might help. In the example given, you’ll see that, like your own presentation, the other half, the half that gives context, is missing.
quote: Perhaps the mood inside reflected the professor’s illness—that would explain the drawn curtains, but not the dark paneling and furniture.
Poetic, perhaps, but your reader is waiting for something to happen so they have context for what’s going on.
Think about your protagonist. What matters to him in the moment he calls now? Doesn’t that depend on why he’s there and what he opens to accomplish? As he walks toward the bedroom, is his primary thought sequence on how somber the place is and why? Or is he focused on what he’ll say, and what he expects to happen? My point is that it’s his story, not yours. So the opening should focus on what’s happening in his moment of now, not on, “I remember when I…” It’s not a matter of what person you tell it in. That’s an authorial choice. For the character living the events, though, no matter the person of the narration, it’s always first person present tense, just as is our own life. The tense of the telling is a writing convention not related to what the character is experiencing. So telling it in past tense from the past sucks the immediacy from it. Confusing to make sense of, I know, but think in terms of immediacy for the reader—a story that takes place in real time as against a recounted memory.
quote: “Doch, bring our visitor a chair. Mr. Wade, my college will have to find someone else to fund its building.
Here we have a common problem. Because you’re reporting the audio part of the film you’re mentally watching, the reader misses the moment when the professor cuts his eyes from the unknown woman, reorients on the protagonist, and waits until he’s certain he has that person’s attention. That’s all visual, conveyed by eye moment, body attitude, and perhaps a deep breath that signals the intent to say something meaningful to our hero.
But on the page that never happens, so you need to make the reader know it did by a break of some kind, like:
“Doch, bring our visitor a chair.” As she moved to comply, he turned to me, saying, “Mr. Wade, my college will have…
quote: I have found a better road to immortality. Did you read the material I sent?”
In this, his statement is fairly profound, and deserves some reaction to it by our protagonist. But you don’t want to change speakers. So we can reverse that, and have the professor allow him time to react internally with an ellipsis, which is kind of the reverse of a semicolon—a slightly longer, rather than a slightly shorter pause than a period: I have found a better road to immortality…. Did you read the material I sent?” It’s a way of providing ambiance without words. I also have to comment that if the professor is a very formal kind of person, who doesn’t use contractions like “I’ve,” that will have to continue…for him.
quote: “I did, but some aspects of it are questionable.
Two problems. First, the reader “hears” what’s being said but it’s meaningless because we lack context. Remember, we don’t know what he’s a professor of. We don’t know what prompted this visit. So a generic response like “some aspects,” is meaningless to a reader. So perhaps a targeted response that both moves the direction of the conversation and orients the reader would be better. Something like:
“I did, but the idea of soul transference…well, that’s…” I waved my hands helplessly, unsure of how to say what I wanted to without alienating the man, so in the end I just ended with a shrug.
Not your story, of plot gimmick, of course, but since I had no hint of what you were going for I made up one.
That aside for the moment, see how a bit of an emotional response—some uncertainty interjected—on the part of our protagonist can make him seem more real that a dialog reading machine?
The second point is that we don’t simply respond, as this character just did. Think about your reaction, were I to walk into the room where you were, and say, “I just heard the news that you won the lottery jackpot. Congratulations.”
Presented as you did here, the response would be something like, “Where did you hear that?” But in the real world, your first response would be instinctive: “What?” Next, and before that can be responded to, you might wonder if you heard wrong, or if I had. Then you would think back to if you did buy a lottery ticked, and when. And then…. And after all that, and wearing a very different expression from when you began, you would ask your question, or wait for clarification.
Can your protagonist do anything else and seem real? For an overview of one method of getting deeper into the protagonist’s persona, here’s an article I often recommend. Chew on it till it makes sense and I think you’ll like it.
Hang in there, and keep on writing.
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