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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Warspawn (Dark Fantasy, ~4.5k words)

   
Author Topic: Warspawn (Dark Fantasy, ~4.5k words)
Disgruntled Peony
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This is a sequel story of sorts to "A Matter of Interpretation". I've been hammering away at it off and on for a few months, and I've reached the point where constructive criticism will help. Any and all feedback is appreciated. If someone wants to read the current draft, please let me know.

_______________________________________________________________

1st Version:

A mournful wail echoed through the sharp-needled pines and bloodwood oaks to the east of the Wendren Road. Cers stopped his southern trek and tilted his head. Was that an animal? No. The pitch and intonation sounded human.
Cers wanted to investigate, but that would mean leaving the Wendren Road. It was more a collection of interconnected trails than an official highway, and thieves often roamed the low-traffic areas between towns. Common sense dictated Cers should have traveled with a group, but his appearance left strangers curious at best and frightened at worst. He stood head and shoulders above every human he'd ever met, a veritable wall of thick-corded muscle. If he were to take on traveling companions, someone might realize he wasn't human.

2nd Version:

An armored caravan fell into step with Cers as he traveled south on the Wendren Road. Four men rode brindle horses. The fifth steered a closed wagon forged from steel and outfitted with heavy locks and chains. Cers eyed the wagon uneasily. He harbored a deep distaste for cages of any kind, and this one looked unpleasantly sturdy. The walls might bend, but would not easily break. The best option for escape would be to batter the door free of its hinges.
A muscular man with the dual emblems of the bounty hunter's guild and House Cavrilon emblazoned on his armor reined his horse in next to Cers. “Good evening, stranger.”
Cers kept his pace even and focused his gaze on the road. “Good evening, sir.” Despite his efforts to remain calm, his voice

3rd Version:

A caravan fell into step behind Cers during his southward journey on the Wendren Road. Hoofbeats and the grind of wagon wheels echoed off the bloodwood oaks and sharp-needled pines. The sounds made Cers' stomach clench. He had chosen the Wendren Road because of how infrequently it was traveled. More a collection of interconnected trails than an official highway, its winding paths avoided most major Valdian cities.
Cers considered stepping off the road until the travelers passed, but a backward glance confirmed that they were already well within sight. Four armed and armored men rode brindle horses; a fifth steered a wagon with a steel cage mounted on the bed. Mercenaries? Bounty hunters, perhaps. If Cers abandoned the trail he might be mistaken for a bandit. That would lead to even more trouble.

4th Version:

Muffled cries reverberated outside the walls of Cers' hovel. The orange glow of firelight bled through the papered-up windows. Cers snuffed his candle, set down the chair leg he'd been shaping, and waited silently in the dark. Perhaps this time the crowd would pass. Perhaps, just this once, they were not here for him.
Something solid and heavy slammed against his front door. The whole building shuddered under the impact. Wood dust drifted down from the ceiling.
Cers sighed and pushed aside his tools. He stalked over to the door, shoved it open, and ducked down in order to fit through the frame.
A mob of twenty villagers circled his house, torches at the ready

Final Version:

Muffled cries reverberated outside the walls of Cers' hovel. The glow of firelight bled through papered-up windows. Cers set down the armchair panel he'd been carving, snuffed the candle that illuminated the room, and waited silently in the dark. Perhaps this time the crowd would pass. Perhaps, just this once, they were not here for him.
Something solid and heavy slammed against his front door. The whole building shuddered under the impact; dust drifted down from the rafters.
Cers sighed and pushed aside his tools. He stalked over to the door, shoved it open, and ducked down in order to fit through the frame.
A mob of villagers circled his house, torches at the ready. They

[ September 21, 2017, 09:19 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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Will Blathe
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I get a clear picture from the text.

Certain descriptors like "southern" feel unneeded and break the flow for me.

The hook at the end interests me, but it feels report-like.

I don't feel Cers all that much yet.

I'd read further.

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extrinsic
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An individual hears a wail and self-debates whether to investigate. Decides not to.

If the wail is of relevant influence soon, it belongs; If not, it doesn't. If the design is to set up setting and character development details, the wail is unnecessary and gimmicky. Little to no dramatic movement in any case.

Perhaps a stronger interpretation what Frankenstein's monster is really about would offer direction. The monster is made out of human spare parts, so to speak, and implies he is made of all humanity's faults and glories. Frankenstein creates a human, creates humanity, as Prometheus does, for all humankind's warts and beauties. What then is the action movement? The monster realizes his faults are as common as his graces, though more so persecuted for his monstrous appearance than his personality faults. The novel raises hypocrisy issues akin to the Biblical exhortation Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone.

This fragment details tangibles without such intangibles, like theme and the real action of the work, what it's really about. The title Warspawn suggests a vague implication of an individual made monster by warfare. Highwayman-like werewolf. A Frankenstein monster is neither golem nor zonbi, nor vampire, and not per se werewolf. I think the fantasy archetype is misconstrued, or misapprehended. Consequently, the start seeks a point of start, when and where, maybe who, why most of all. Why and what and how is Cers set into disequilibrium movement in a life transformative way? That is a start.

At this point in the fragment he has no motivation except to avoid others. Is that enough? Maybe not. If that is his design, then he is not who to start with, perhaps through selective omniscient narrative point of view, begins with the persona who wails? As the Frankenstein monster finds some relatability with the blind girl of the novel. The start then is some other persona's agenda and motivation, not Cers'. Or he is immediately placed in contention with another's motivation at cross causes with his motivation.

As is, he's alone with his thoughts, stuck in a bathtub of navel contemplation and little to no conflict risks or motivation compulsion. Life and death, conflict, sure, though distant from the immediate now moment. This only primes the pump. The water needs to gush forth immediately now.

The prior version placed Cers' motives in contention with another individual's motives somewhat off stage. This one's is solitary motivation, if any, and of low magnitude due to no immediate motivation contention interaction.

Plus, again with unnecessary and de-emphasizing conjunctions that misplace emphasis and blunt and spoil surprise, plus, are more so writer voice than either narrator or character voice. This one most so: "Common sense dictated Cers should have traveled with a group, _but_ his appearance left strangers curious at best and frightened at worst."

Is that sentence meant to be character thought? Comes across as writer thought, of a detached narrator if not a detached writer. "But" there subordinates the main idea -- that Cers' appearance is monstrous -- to the main clause, that he should travel with others. Misplaced emphasis. Tense problem, too, "should have traveled," a past-perfect predicate. More tense issues, coordination between past participle of to leave "left," adjective "curious," and past participle "frightened" as a gerund adjective. The two superlative comparatives also lack comparators, "best" and "worst."

The whole recast for invisible-smooth expression parameters: //Common sense told Cers he ought could travel with a group. His awful scars aroused curiosity and panicked the weak into flight and murderous fight.//

Detached self-commentary there, from understatement and more so stream-of-consciousness expression than deliberative expression.

I would not at this time read on as an engaged reader. I have not been engaged at all.

[ June 07, 2017, 08:20 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Will Blathe:
Certain descriptors like "southern" feel unneeded and break the flow for me.

The hook at the end interests me, but it feels report-like.

I don't feel Cers all that much yet.

I agree with you about the cutting of "southern" and the general smoothing over that needs to happen with the descriptions. The story definitely still needs some polish.

After giving things some thought, I probably need to cut or rewrite the entire second paragraph.

I'm going to try to work on bringing his narrative voice out more.

quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
An individual hears a wail and self-debates whether to investigate. Decides not to.

He does go off after the voice when he hears it again, which happens... like... right after the 13 lines currently end. In my original draft Cers headed off after the voice immediately, but a couple of people read the first draft and one of them asked me where Cers had been going before that deviation from his original path. That question threw me for a loop. I think in trying to answer that question I ended up cramming too much into the beginning. It certainly put the proactive action past the thirteen line mark.

The key, I think, is to go with my initial gut reaction that he'd respond to the first cry and figure out how to explain where he was going more organically throughout the course of the narrative. That's proven rather difficult thus far, but I'm sure I'll figure out how to do it eventually.

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extrinsic
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If Cers has a physical destination in mind, that could imply his up-front motivation on its face, plus speak volumes about what the story is really about thematically and subtextually. Plus, that would also imply the actual destination he wants to reach, like Frankenstein's monster wanted to be understood as human as the rest of humanity.

I don't know how many draft narratives I read that start in medias res with a focal persona in physical motion though no actual destination or motivation for the physical movement in mind. Always makes me default to the hapless fool archetype about to step off a cliff to his death. Oh, just out for a casual stroll to nowhere, be back in a minute!? How long before a destination comes to mind?

The type of destination outcome requires its setup at the outset, regardless of whether an agonist physically arrives there or not. The subtext destination arrived at is always best practice an emotional disturbance re-normalization, a life transformation event, and an inevitable surprise set up at the outset.

From Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction by Dave Smith of Clarion workshops.

"Destination. The emotional endpoint of a story: where the author’s intent coincides and rings with the action in the story, where the experiential contract between writer and reader is fulfilled. The author sets out to create certain responses in the reader; the destination is the place where the author does so. One may have plot destinations (Frodo gets to the Crack of Doom), character destinations (Frodo masters the Ring and himself), or understanding destinations (Frodo learns he’s adult and strong enough to scour the Shire). But stories must always have destinations. In the best writing, the characters’ struggle involves multiple destinations that relate to one another (inner and outer journeys echo each other). (CSFW: Steve Popkes)"

Consider Cers initial destination introduction the start, of his declared, or if implied, motivation at the least. The wail comes next as an interruption and detour of his initial motivation and intended destination. Oh my, might the source of the wail's physical destination and Cers' physical destination coincide? Then they join forces and the wail persona adds complication wants and problems while the setup act unfolds, and on through to the denouement? That wail persona becomes then an influence character and possibly a subjective character who prevents Cers from being stuck in a bathtub contemplating his navel at the outset and throughout. She? is a foil and co-agonist with her own agenda separate from and at times aligned with Cers' agenda? Plus, that he shows compassion at times for her shows him as likeable and sympathy or empathy worthy.

[ June 08, 2017, 01:13 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Bear with me for a moment while I try and explain where I’m coming from. Recently, from time to time, you may have seen me mention that I am trying to develop a set of principles that will help a writer find the best way to start their story. The first criteria is finding the best person to tell the start of the story; the pivotal viewpoint character. The second criteria is to decide where best to start the story; which can only be done once you really understand what your own story is actually about (that’s at about draft two or three, btw). The third criteria is only telling the reader information they need to know in order to understand what’s happening, or about to happen; which sounds simple, but really is the most complex part of writing the start.

To my mind your opening has been tripped up by that third principle.

A single character walks along a lonely road known to be frequented by bandits. He hears a wail (or blood curdling scream?) in the distance and decides NOT to investigate. WHY? That’s what the reader wants to know.

When someone picks up your book and starts to read, they are looking for one thing only in those opening lines; something solid they can hang on to. They are desperate to find something that is tangible, understandable, and relevant to the story which will carry them into your world willingly, without struggle, uncertainty, or doubt.

You, the writer, have to provide the reader with the information they need to know, or will need to know, before they know they need it.

In that opening paragraph, the reader needs to know why Cers ignores an obvious plea for help; to do so for no reason does not make for a sympathetic character. On the flip side, if it is, as extrinsic suggested, perhaps simply there for effect, delete it. It is a distraction. If it has significance, then the reader needs to know why Cers’ original intent is to ignore it. Perhaps he has a meeting he HAS to attend?

The point is, that’s what the reader really needs to know, not what the countryside is like, or what effect Cers’ appearance has on other people.

Tell the reader what they need to know, not what you want them to know. Hope this helps.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Grumpy old guy's three start criteria are profound, the third especially, give readers no reason to set aside a narrative, at the start and throughout. That pulls in the added detail about giving readers something to hang onto. The finish of that paragraph about that something drawing readers into the story is the more substantive part.

On the other hand, sometimes that something is quiet, not slow or fast, common labels for starts: the start is slow, if not stalled altogether. Or the start is quiet though no overt reason to set aside the work. Or the start is fast, readers engaged and hopelessly unable to let go, fully involved in the all important reading dream spell. The opposite of which is an overly fast, gimmicky, melodramatic start that calls undue attention to itself as a fictive construct -- unnatural and unnecessary.

Those start-type labels suggest that a consideration is to do nothing which interrupts engagement with the reading dream spell, like grammar glitches, stray details that at the moment have no relevance to the dramatic movement, and one feature, one something that readers can hold onto, which is where motivation comes into play.

Victimism 's forte in that regard is a something external which soon or late will motivate proactivism. Proactivism's forte, whether consequent of victimism or its own start on its own initiative, is an internal want motivation. Either may complete later, full want and problem setup detailed such that readers fully engage, though one complication feature is crucial for a start to engage readers, to give readers something to hang onto. Actually, maybe stronger to set up one want or problem complication feature, delay its full presentation, come to it timely, and leave its full significance open until a later timely revelation.

Anyway, Grumpy old guy's three criteria speak profound volumes, most that something significant be revealed, though otherwise give no liminal (subconscious awareness) or superliminal (conscious awareness) reason to disengage. Perhaps the first reader reason for reading a narrative is to be engaged in a reality secondary to our droll and indifferently miserable alpha reality routines, so readers come with a willingness to believe -- willing suspension of disbelief -- and, ergo, anything that jeopardizes engagement and belief willingness is a fatal flaw.

One criteria of folklore, too, or most everything fantastical is how, when belief and disbelief remain in contention, readers or recipients remain or become evermore deeply engaged because they want to believe yet resist belief until only belief is left to prevail.

So give readers no reason to set aside a work, to disengage, and give them something believable and significant to hang onto.

On theme, theme confounded all my writing mentors. They say pay no mind at all to it. Let readers and analysts interpret theme as they may. In the end, my conclusion about those exhortations, twofold, are that theme from a writer's perspective differs strongly from reader perspective, and that they couldn't grasp theme's relevance and how to design such from a writer perspective. The simple function of theme in either case is message and moral, not the subject of a narrative, what a narrative really expresses about a focal human condition from a writer's subjective perspective, which is what a writer's design entails, which aligns closely with agonist motivation and stakes. That's simple though is what theme is for both writer and readers. The difference is how subtly a writer tames and frames a focal theme such that readers are persuaded to take due notice and not feel preached and lectured at.

[ June 08, 2017, 02:10 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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I've given the opening a lot of thought, and decided to take things in a different direction. I'm rewriting the entire first scene from scratch, but I think it'll be better for the changes.

Also, kdw: I meant to post this in Fragments and Feedback for Short Works, but accidentally posted in Fragments and Feedback for Books instead. If you could move this thread to the appropriate subforum, I would be incredibly grateful.

_______________________________________________________________

An armored caravan fell into step with Cers as he traveled south on the Wendren Road. Four men rode brindle horses. The fifth steered a wagon with a steel cage mounted on the bed, outfitted with heavy locks and chains.
Cers eyed the wagon uneasily. He harbored a deep distaste for cages of any kind. A rag-clad woman sat inside with her back against the bars, a newborn baby held in her arms. The pair could have been human, were it not for the black-tipped talons on their fingertips and the abnormally wide mouths filled with viciously pointed teeth. The mother stared at Cers intently, her gaze a silent plea for help.
A muscular man with the dual emblems of the bounty hunter's guild and House Cavrilon emblazoned on his armor reined his horse in next to Cers. “Evening, friend. Where you headed?”

[ June 11, 2017, 10:10 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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Jay Greenstein
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For me, it reads too much like a report. You, the author, are explaining the situation.
quote:
Cers wanted to investigate,
Why did he want to do that? You don't say. So this isn't Cers hearing and reacting. It's you the narrator, explaining the situation to the reader in a voice whose tone can't be heard. Which would you prefer, a copy of the storyteller's words, without the stage directions on how to read them? Or to be made to feel as if you are the person living the events?

The problem is that this is told in the viewpoint of a person unknown—a dispassionate external observer. We know what can be seen, not what the protagonist is focused on, and why. So the protagonist is the focus of the narrator's attention, not the POV character. And that's what I see as needing to be addressed. The protagonist needs to be the reader's avatar, not the subject of a report. Why? Because reports inform. Life entertains. And why do we read fiction? For entertainment.

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extrinsic
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An individual encounters individuals while he travels.

The latest fragment entails opportunity for contention between the individuals, though a mite of population explosion challenge from seven persons, several animals, a wagon, and vague setting details.

Each sentence clause of the fragment could easily expand to a paragraph or more -- as is, the content seems shoehorned into a tiny container, to me, feels forced and rushed.

Cers is hyperaware, where perhaps a best practice is to imply he's hyperaware due to expressions of the intensity of his observations of perceived threats. One observation at a time, too, attention leisurely lavished on an expanding perception tames population explosion. The caravan is suddenly right in Cers' face. A hyperaware person notes influential observations from a distance first, observes them as singular generalizations, reacts to those as one, emotionally if emotional, then ungroups them more and more when they become more focal -- call due attention to themselves for emotional response.

Like, the caravan overall as a first threat that Cers reacts to, hears perhaps come up behind him, doesn't at first see, notes who's most threat next, concludes the whole is a threat, only notices after that the wagon passengers are the greatest threat to his peace because he is empathetic to their plight and compelled then to act.

"Armored caravan" says little about the sensory details of the whole. It is a tell, where the edges of ideas are more important than the general physical appearance of things. Read The Homesman recently, the visual descriptions of the wagon I default to from the vague fragment descriptions. I visualize that wagon -- not this one. Glendon Swarthout describes the wagon by its secondary idea more so than direct tell and is at first only detailed as a necessary item for the journey east. The wagon's oddity perceived by observers and commented upon compared to routine frontier wagons and its cruel and, contrarily, humane purposes.

Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction by David Smith of Clarion workshops:

"Edges of Ideas: The places where technology and background should come onstage: not the mechanics of a new event, gizmo, or political structure, but rather how people’s lives are affected by their new background. Example of excellence: the opening chapters of Orwell’s 1984. (Lewis Shiner)"

"How people's lives are affected by their new background" includes a caravan, not the physical appearance of the caravan, the wagon, the persons, but the caravan's impact on Cers, first, then the horsemen, then the passengers. Only Cers reaction is relevant, at first, though. Subsequent sequences close into greater detail that more strongly impacts Cers. The apparent intended emotional texture of the fragment is what impact the caravan causes Cers at first. Causes, effects, that accumulate antagonism and causation, that Cers becomes interesting due to his jeopardy expands from the caravan.

A modest strength advancement from now Cers has other individuals with whom to immediately emotionally interact, though doesn't. I still could not read on as an engaged reader.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
Also, kdw: I meant to post this in Fragments and Feedback for Short Works, but accidentally posted in Fragments and Feedback for Books instead. If you could move this thread to the appropriate subforum, I would be incredibly grateful.

Done!

The old topic is still there, but closed. As soon as I see that discussion is continuing here, I'll delete the old topic.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
Also, kdw: I meant to post this in Fragments and Feedback for Short Works, but accidentally posted in Fragments and Feedback for Books instead. If you could move this thread to the appropriate subforum, I would be incredibly grateful.

Done!

The old topic is still there, but closed. As soon as I see that discussion is continuing here, I'll delete the old topic.

Thank you. [Smile]

I'll keep poking at this thing. I think I'm headed in the right direction. This story is apparently one of the difficult ones, though.

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Grumpy old guy
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I am still not engaged as a reader. The opening lacks a concrete focus. What's the most important thing in the opening: The men, the horses, the cart, the name of the road, the creature, the infant, or Cers?

The reader demands a concrete focus to drag them into the story. Instead, they got a menagerie. My advice is to focus on the most important element, and leave anything else that might be important for revelation later. Get the reader interested first, then play with them.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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Here's my third try. My goals with this draft were to work on better descriptions, to explore Cers' thought process, and to avoid overloading the reader with unnecessary information.

_________________________________________________________________

A caravan fell into step behind Cers during his southward journey on the Wendren Road. Hoofbeats and the grind of wagon wheels echoed off the bloodwood oaks and sharp-needled pines. The sounds made Cers' stomach clench. He had chosen the Wendren Road because of how infrequently it was traveled. More a collection of interconnected trails than an official highway, its winding paths avoided most major Valdian cities.
Cers considered stepping off the road until the travelers passed, but a backward glance confirmed that they were already well within sight. Four armed and armored men rode brindle horses; a fifth steered a wagon with a steel cage mounted on the bed. Mercenaries? Bounty hunters, perhaps. If Cers abandoned the trail he might be mistaken for a bandit. That would lead to even more trouble.

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extrinsic
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A caravan overtakes an apprehensive individual.

The individual is more done to than does, a victimism tableau. Valid enough, though that type of action delays proactive action, delays, too, dramatic movement.

A stronger start, though, due to the sensations and responses are more viewpoint persona inside looks out and looks within than for prior versions -- less narrator outside looks in. Which is also a valid narrative point of view when separate from inside looks out, and emotionally charged. That one, more so for long fiction and selective omniscient prevalence rather than limited, close third person, one viewpoint persona omniscient. The closer access to Cers' thoughts of this version is a strength that accomplishes that, plus, somewhat that the sensory descriptions could be either the narrator's or Cers' with only awkward diction in the way of Cers' voice.

Diction and less so syntax set this fragment more toward narrator voice -- well, writer voice, than Cers' voice, sensory perceptions, and thoughts.

The first sentence, for example, is a run-on that shoehorns together two separate main ideas. The fuse is due to the preposition "during" -- used as a conjunctive case rather than an appositive case. The idiomatic use of "fell into step" also confuses the sensory experience, part temporal confusion and part spatial confusion. The expression means to coordinate a walk or march abreast of several individuals. The caravan is all horseback and behind Cers on foot. The sensory experience is contrary to logic and causes a difficult sensory comprehension.

Likewise, a temporal confusion due to unnecessary tense shifts here, after the simple past of the prior two sentences : "made Cers' stomach clench. He had chosen" Though "made" is past tense, "clench" is the operative verb and is present tense; "had chosen" is past perfect, though simple past "chose" is indicated, due to Cers is still mid travel on the Wendren Road and could change his mind, in fact, thinks to leave the road, hence, is as yet an ongoing thought process.

The "because" clause of that latter sentence, too, is an explanation tell, that could be implied instead and, ergo, left for readers to interpret. Later context does timely imply that reason on its own.

This is the weaker summary sensory description sentence, though: "More a collection of interconnected trails than an official highway, its winding paths avoided most major Valdian cities." Wordy, for one, and dead metaphor and false superlative comparison "most." "collection of interconnected trails," "official highway," and "winding paths" evokes a confused sensory portrait.

Readers favor straightforward descriptions of a strong and clear sensory mien, visual in the main, with auxiliary sensations, if at times apt metaphoric language that is near invisible in terms of readability and comprehensibility. To wit, "collection" metaphor for trails group is inapt. Consider perhaps tangled, a metaphor that evokes an image of tortured vines or rope, or maze, which is literal and not at all metaphoric, or similar different stronger and clearer visual and tactile descriptions for what Cers' present-sense impression observes. Such a word choice expresses more with less words, pools together the phrase "collection of interconnected trails" altogether, and more, and evokes a strong sensory experience.

Likewise, "official highway" is an idiom anachrony from present-day everyday conversation, means government sanctioned. In the period vernacular alternative, such "official" roadways were labeled "king's road" and similar, "crown road," "queen's pike way," etc. A tangled maze of footpaths and cart roads that follow legacy game trail routes is anything but a high lord's planned, improved, maintained toll highway.

"most major" is a confused superlative, and unnecessary. The two added words imply an importance emphasis that's unnecessary and likely not relevant now or later.

"Cers considered stepping off the road until the travelers passed, but a backward glance confirmed that they were already well within sight."

This is clearly a tagged thought process, though somewhat a bogus alternative. "Bogus Alternatives: List of actions a character could have taken, but didn’t. Frequently includes all the reasons why. In this nervous mannerism, the author stops the action dead to work out complicated plot problems at the reader’s expense. 'If I’d gone along with the cops they would have found the gun in my purse. And anyway, I didn’t want to spend the night in jail. I suppose I could have just run instead of stealing their car, but then . . . ' etc. Best dispensed with entirely." From "The Turkey City Lexicon". The later content duplicates the problem at hand anyway; the repetition is redundant. The stronger internal discourse sentence of the fragment, though.

On the other hand, "brindle horses" is, for readers familiar with horse coloration labels, a vivid visual sensation; however, that description is lost on general readers.

Another bogus alternative, "If Cers abandoned the trail he might be mistaken for a bandit. That would lead to even more trouble." A treatment for bogus alternatives is for characters to go ahead and make the mistake, not think it through beforehand, and add to the drama and overall movement.

"If Cers abandoned the trail[,] he might be mistaken for a bandit." Dependent subordination clause at sentence start, or middle, takes comma separation. Restrictive subordination clauses do not take comma separation at sentence end: //He would be mistaken for a bandit if he abandoned the trail.// That latter leaves the main idea for last and is a minor inevitable surprise, still a bogus alternative, though. Alas, strengths and shortfalls too often overlap and are indivisible in the main.

Quiet start, part due to the victimism of it, part due to unemotional narrator-writer voice favored. I am more inclined to read on, though not as an engaged reader yet.

[ June 18, 2017, 11:54 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I am going to comment, DP. I just need time to gather thoughts concerning Gog's second principal (see above). In my opinion you've run afoul of that one too.

This is not the place to start your story. [Smile]

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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No matter how you write, be it as an off the top of your head pantser or a meticulous and pedantic planner, every time you get the idea for a story you want to write you always find a place to start it. How?

The answer is rather obvious when you take the time to think about it: The start is how you imagined the story starts; a subliminal and subconscious Intuitive Inspiration that this is the right place to start.

And it’s usually the worst place to start.

A case in point: Disgruntled Peony’s current submission. I image her imagining the story starting with Cers rescuing this strange and enigmatic female from the clutches of, well, bad people. Fair enough, but the story isn’t about a gaol break, I’ll bet, rather, it’s about what comes after the gaol break. So why start with a gaol break? If it’s alright to start in medias res (in the middle of things), why not start post eventum (after the event)?

Because that’s not how Disgruntled Peony imagined it. She imagined Cers breaking this female out of an iron prison and she’ll make it work, no matter how many times she has to rearrange the deck chairs on an already sunken ship.

This is where asking yourself, “What does the reader need to know right now to understand what is going on?” can help you focus on where exactly to start your story. Does the reader need to know how Cers broke her out or the reason he did it; if even he knows what that is right now. One start could possibly be exciting, if done well, the other would be revealing of character, motive, plot, and theme. I know which one I’d prefer as a reader.

Out of all four iterations of this start, one being buried within the body of the thread, only that one held any interest for me as a reader. In all the others, the first paragraph was usually bland and pointless while the second paragraph always devolved into narrator commentary about the state of the highway and traffic conditions. Not even narrator tell or exposition, just dull commentary.

All these things are sure signs that the writer has chosen the wrong place to start their story.

I’ll just end this little tirade with a number of useful quotes. [Smile]

Rust Hills: Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular:
A short story tells of some-thing (my italics) that happened to someone.

Edgar Allen Poe: Cited by Rust Hills:
If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect (the purpose of the story), then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design.

Aristotle: Poetics verse 8
. . . so the plot, being the imitation of an action, must imitate one action and that a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.

Just three more things to concentrate the thinking on.

Phil.

[ June 21, 2017, 08:33 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
A case in point: Disgruntled Peony’s current submission. I image her imagining the story starting with Cers rescuing this strange and enigmatic female from the clutches of, well, bad people. Fair enough, but the story isn’t about a gaol break, I’ll bet, rather, it’s about what comes after the gaol break. So why start with a gaol break? If it’s alright to start in medias res (in the middle of things), why not start post eventum (after the event)?

Because that’s not how Disgruntled Peony imagined it. She imagined Cers breaking this female out of an iron prison and she’ll make it work, no matter how many times she has to rearrange the deck chairs on an already sunken ship.

This is where asking yourself, “What does the reader need to know right now to understand what is going on?” can help you focus on where exactly to start your story. Does the reader need to know how Cers broke her out or the reason he did it; if even he knows what that is right now.

I respectfully disagree with your analysis in this case. This was not the original opening I envisioned for the story--I actually rewrote the entire first scene between my first and second draft.

This is the scene that needs to come first, because it a) features the inciting incident and b) does a good job of illustrating both the external and internal conflicts of the story. Starting after the inciting incident would stunt my try-fail cycles and leave the story seriously lacking in depth.

I will grant you that I haven't been able to get my opening 13 lines where I want them to be yet, but that doesn't necessarily mean I picked the wrong scene. In this case, it simply means I haven't yet found the right opening for that scene.

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extrinsic
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Starts are a challenge. What is necessary? A simple answer is who, when, where, what, why, and how a story is about. That's one layer of the W questions; another layer is how a viewpoint persona reflects those questions' answers timely.
Which comes first? is matter of sequence, not per se always any one first, next, and last.

Why is always most important though not per se first. Why is Cers on this journey? for example. That's where destination comes into play -- the end destination of the whole. Like, what? Why, too, does Cers travel to a physical destination, mindful another intangible destination adds fullness of dimension. The usual, if not sole, intangible narrative destination is a changed state of being, a new normal, usually a moral maturation transformation, subtle or profound, sublime or definitive, slight or great.

A start might be slow, quiet, or fast, to mean dramatic movement velocity. "Slow" is a euphemism for no movement. Quiet well enough at least doesn't disturb setup movement, mostly which is emotional movement, from routine to emotional upset. Fast starts start high-speed movement at the setup outset, in a preparation segment.

And each of these span a gamut from zero to hero, zero to ten, or minus one hundred to plus one hundred. Mind, though, that a reader consensus balks at gimmicky starts as much as at too close of a narrative distance -- too close to the inside looks in narrative point of view.

The prior fragment versions, to me, are hampered by a mixed narrative point of view and attendant shortfalls due to the unsettled narrative point of view. Some outside looks in, some inside looks out, some inside looks in, and no seamless or progressive transition sequence between each.

This above altogether gives me mental whiplash. Not sure whether the writer, the narrator, or Cers is the perspective viewpoint, my mind and imagination substitute other than what is suggested as the intent. It's like a dispassionate camera records and plays back a visual account that is reflected by thought more so than the actual stimulus as it occurs to Cers.

Long fiction generally uses the selective omniscient narrative point of view, for its viewpoint flexibility advantages. Short fiction generally uses the limited, close narrative point of view, for its focal advantages. That latter regardless of whether first or third person. Long fiction first person selects the focal persona as the dominant viewpoint perspective, though the person often entails excessive extra lens shortfalls, less so, anyway, than third person.

So, in all, first consideration for a start is who, when, where, what, why, and how a destination unfolds, most so why -- motivation, because why? This and previous fragments leave Cers at loose ends, bound somewhere for what reason why? What does he intend to do?

Next overall shortfall, related to motivation, is Cers is alone with his thoughts. Solitary characters invariably contemplate their navels, stuck in a bathtub. No movement transpires during such. A simple alternative is to pose a secondary character as a foil for the focal persona, so that they interact dramatically. A more complex alternative is to pose the focal persona in contention with the setting. A yet more complex alternative is to pose the focal persona as the subject of an observer, present or not, for movement's sake, that type is the foil persona. Each requires an influence persona or situation, something that compels contention and action and reaction.

Cers in the fragments is pendent, awaits the next scene for to start action and reaction. The caravan's approach is the routine's about-to-be interruption. The interruption is the action's start, as is. However, if Cers has a destination in mind, that is the setup for the interruption, and starts movement itself.

The suspense question most on readers' minds is what will happen? Will Cers arrive at the destination or not? That's a best practice start, a motivation, if routine on its face, though charged with ominous circumstances, for a gimmickless fast start. Short fiction asks for fast starts, maybe quiet yet ominous, not ever slow.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
A caravan fell into step behind Cers during his southward journey on the Wendren Road. Hoofbeats and the grind of wagon wheels echoed off the bloodwood oaks and sharp-needled pines. The sounds made Cers' stomach clench. He had chosen the Wendren Road because of how infrequently it was traveled. More a collection of interconnected trails than an official highway, its winding paths avoided most major Valdian cities.
Cers considered stepping off the road until the travelers passed, but a backward glance confirmed that they were already well within sight. Four armed and armored men rode brindle horses; a fifth steered a wagon with a steel cage mounted on the bed. Mercenaries? Bounty hunters, perhaps. If Cers abandoned the trail he might be mistaken for a bandit. That would lead to even more trouble.

If I may add some of my thoughts on this?

That first sentence bothers me. That one party falls into step behind another party indicates to me that the following party has appeared suddenly -- from another road? from the surrounding oaks? Yet as you describe the setting, there are no other roads, and a wagon is not going to be able to come through the forest except on a road.

A wagon with armed and mounted guards would not appear suddenly. They'd come up the road behind Cers, and if Cers were being watchful, he would have noticed them long before they could have fallen into step behind him. It just doesn't make sense to me.

Couldn't you have Cers watching them from behind a tree as they pass, or something?

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Grumpy old guy
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DP, feel free to disagree with me vehemently and disrespectfully if you like, I was making some rather large assumptions. [Smile] I still stand by them if this opening is essentially a gaol break,though. Inciting incidents can occur in the back-story.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Cers in the fragments is pendent, awaits the next scene for to start action and reaction. The caravan's approach is the routine's about-to-be interruption. The interruption is the action's start, as is. However, if Cers has a destination in mind, that is the setup for the interruption, and starts movement itself.

The suspense question most on readers' minds is what will happen? Will Cers arrive at the destination or not?

I've had a physical destination in mind since the second draft of the opening; the problem is figuring out how to work it into the opening thirteen lines without making it a blatant tell. Right now, it comes up midway on page two. I'd like to figure out a better way to introduce both the physical destination and the internal struggle into the opening lines without making it feel forced, because the chosen destination is an attempt at resolving his internal struggle (he thinks he'll find acceptance there, something he sorely lacked in the area he previously resided).

I have done some edits and have a new opening thirteen lines, but it's still similar enough to what I wrote above that I haven't bothered reposting. The scene as a whole has gotten a lot better. The opening lines are not yet where I want them to be, though.

quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
DP, feel free to disagree with me vehemently and disrespectfully if you like, I was making some rather large assumptions. [Smile] I still stand by them if this opening is essentially a gaol break,though. Inciting incidents can occur in the back-story.

Phil.

There is an attempted jail break of sorts, but it goes sour and ends up spiraling things in another direction entirely. The spiraling is important, and the internal and external conflict in the scene also serves to ground the reader in the setting. It gets *tons* better on page two, but that's a problem, and I know it. I need it to hook the reader on page one.

I'll take another crack at it after I finish revising the second scene and try for a hefty revision of the third scene. My ending is pretty rough at the moment (I always have a hard time with endings).

[ June 21, 2017, 06:52 PM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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extrinsic
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Implication is an often overlooked method for complication setup. Like the road Cers travels could itself imply a wanted destination, if he asks someone what town lays on it, or sees a milestone that names the road's endpoint and distance, or only a place's reputation feature which Cers knows and desires. Like a place where folk mind their own business and otherwise go about rebelling against whatever, like the crown.

Communities hereabouts are known for those sorts of features. The folk generations ago either self-exiled or were exiled from mainstream society. Their descendants continue some degree of isolation and resist outside attempts to intrude into their private communities. An enclave type common to pre-industrial society sought uninhabitable places -- well, uninhabitable as far as most folk were concerned.

These are the forebears of present-day less-isolated communities that hold strong contempt for and distrust of outsiders. The question then is how an outsider becomes an insider, or at least is tolerated -- Cers? Maybe a community of outcasts who accept him as one of their own due to his monstrous appearance and physical strength and combat acumen, aligned if not allied by common cause.

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Jay Greenstein
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First version:

Once you give his name, use it only when necessary. Only you call him by name. For him he’s in present tense first person, and never uses his own name. And given that the third person equivalent of “I” is “he,” that works better. The reader will remember his name.
quote:
Cers wanted to investigate, but that would mean leaving the Wendren Road
This is a report. He would give thought to investigating, but decide against it. Given that it is his story, let the poor bastard live it. You’re going to put him through hell, so he deserves more stage time. [Wink]
quote:
It was more a collection of interconnected trails than an official highway, and thieves often roamed the low-traffic areas between towns
Phrased as, “it was,” it can only come from you. You can make it more neutral with something like: More a collection of interconnected trails than a highway, thieves often roamed the areas between towns.”

Phrased this way it’s his assessment, not your report. I simplified in the interest of speeding the narrative. The reader sees no difference between a highway and an official highway, and we assume that there’s less traffic on the road than in town.
quote:
…but his appearance left strangers curious at best and frightened at worst. He stood head and shoulders above every human he'd ever met, a veritable wall of thick-corded muscle.
This is you, explaining. As he sees it, it would be more like: Standing head and shoulders above even a tall human, any meeting with a stranger would bring unanswerable questions, suspicion, and too often, fear.

Second and third version:
quote:
An armored caravan fell into step with Cers as he traveled south on the Wendren Road.
You lost me here, because an entire caravan falling into step is pretty much impossible, if for no reason other than that there would be no reason to march in step. And, having done no setup, there’s no context.

In general, it's too much you talking and too little what matters to him.

Hope this helps.

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extrinsic
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Valid observations above if the fragment intends a close, limited third person narrative point of view. Otherwise, other narrative points of view entail variant perspectives, outside looks in, of narrator, implied writer, or real writer.

Before publication technology innovations and industrial publication methods emerged late nineteenth century, some degree of real writer perspective was commonplace to the point of near totality. Anymore, though, present-day readers favor close, limited third person and first person that mirror each other except for first person's multiple-role persona: narrator, viewpoint persona, and focal agonist, maybe real and implied writers; third person's separation of the writer, if not utter exclusion thereof, narrator and viewpoint persona and focal agonist roles.

Another variant of limited, close third person, perhaps the hardest, greatest challenge to compose of the manifold multitude, is an invisibly narrated narrative; Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse, labels this narrative point of view type non-narrated. That type is closest of the close, limited third person types, closest to first person's default closest narrative distance and demarcated by solely inside looks about.

The only narrative point of view label perhaps that applies to this thread's fragments is disorganized, unfocused, unsettled, all over the place in terms of who observes, experiences, and reports Cers' received stimuli and reactions. The comments to date exhort the non-narrated type, as like Cers is the sole experiencer and reactor thereto, and the narrator's role an invisible pass-through who reflects -- refracts -- Cers' perspective as if a motion picture camera lens and microphone records him from inside his head. However, due to that narrative point of view is nowadays most desired and not as fully accomplished as might most appeal, alternatives are to double down and get the rest of the way there or use real writer, or implied writer, perspective to enhance appeal, either of which is difficult due to the subtle nuances narrative point of view focus, transition, and variation demand.

The creative nonfiction prose culture, usually first person, if not exclusively, does both close, limited narrative distance and real writer arts more so than fiction at present does, even for short prose, though also favored and more suited for long prose.

Disgruntled Peony's experiences and skills with creative nonfiction, impersonal, informational essay more so than creative prose, shows forth most from real and implied writer perspective instances. What about consider that experience applied to fiction, short or long, this fragment, too, of a unique, appealing, creative, emotionally personal mien? "Personal," (emotional), there's the distinction of substance between non-creative essays' impersonalness convention and creative prose's strength.

[ June 25, 2017, 04:12 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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So, I did get an idea for a new opening scene today. I'm not 100% sold on the change, but I think it gives a more straightforward insight into why Cers ends up on the road.

I feel kind of silly now for arguing so vehemently that the last opening was what I needed. Oh well. I didn't jump forward; instead, I shifted further back.

_______________________________________________________________


Muffled cries reverberated outside the walls of Cers' hovel. The orange glow of firelight bled through the papered-up windows. Cers snuffed his candle, set down the chair leg he'd been shaping, and waited silently in the dark. Perhaps this time the crowd would pass. Perhaps, just this once, they were not here for him.
Something solid and heavy slammed against his front door. The whole building shuddered under the impact. Wood dust drifted down from the ceiling.
Cers sighed and pushed aside his tools. He stalked over to the door, shoved it open, and ducked down in order to fit through the frame.
A mob of twenty villagers circled his house, torches at the ready

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extrinsic
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The latest version's narrative point of view is now consistent -- not willy-nilly back and forth between writer, narrator, and viewpoint persona. That is more comprehensible, easier to read, for me. The emotional strength, though, is about the same low magnitude as prior versions.

The language is, again, on the modern everyday conversation side. The narrator is like a present-day observer looks back in time and across space into a medieval Europe milieu, though Shelly's Frankenstein is late colonial era, early Victorian. "hovel," for example, is a mid-sixteenth century word coin. "perhaps," likewise from the era, and maybe and mayhap, distinguishable by degree of cultured language. "Mayhap" would suit this milieu and Cers' uncultured language facility, seem cultured yet of an uncultured individual parrots sophistication without cultured sensibility. Sublime contradiction appeals possible therein.

Does a hovel have a ceiling? A roof, yes, maybe, most of one anyway, usually a crude rush thatch in ye olden medieval-Victorian days. No ceiling below the roof; rafters maybe; otherwise, only the rush reeds for an overhead roof's underside. Nor would wood dust trickle down from it, more so the vibrations would shake dust and dirt loose from the rush.

Plus, the chair leg holds potential to likewise provide exquisite telling details from Cers' internal perspective, not mere bland stage dressing, for foreshadowed expression, for implication, for emotional charge, for characterization of characters, setting's time, place, and situation, and for to introduce a central theme, for metaphor, for dramatic movement. Like what kind of chair does Cers' make? The Windsor was the most popular chair type of all time, from the 1740s onward.

Details, details, "telling details," the above litany of what details' functions are, those are appeal features for their multitude of functions from mere physical appearance and other sensory details, though charged, descriptions.

The fragment is now clearly a "Bear at the Door" Jerome Stern shape type, a routine interruption type. The person, time, place, and situation now more likely and natural a circumstance from which to start movement -- a routine interruption that compels Cers to act proactively upon complication satisfaction efforts.

Maybe more attention lavished on the routine first, before the rush into the interruption, would be stronger appeal -- so that readers build a rapport or at least a degree of empathy with or sympathy for Cers, such that then the village mob, delayed, suspended arrival at the door, though prepared for later and reader anticipated, is less a cliché mob scene and more an inevitable surprise (dramatic irony). Yet, nonetheless, the routine an ominous foreshadow of the mob's pitchforks and torches interruption?

A type of Windsor chairs' back support spindles are arrow shaped. JPEG, 1733 by 1300 pixels: arrowback Windsor. The round parts are lathed spindles, the legs, for instance, not carved. The arrowback spindles are carved, so to speak, actually, shaped on a drawknife vise bench.

And who counts the mob size? Twenty, really? Okay, they outnumber Cers, is that detail timely and judicious, relevant, necessary? Writer tell, or that narrator far removed from the here and now time and place, maybe.

Which "telling" details of Cers' hovel's interior are suited for a routine interruption setup scene, where he's about to be run out of town, tarred and feathered, suspended from a rail? The papered-over windows? What, paper-covered glass, of, say, casement window panes? Nope, for a hovel, more like oiled paper panes, no glass at all. No windows at all, actually, maybe slits with inner shutters. Maybe oil-paper covered slits to let firelight and daylight light in and keep pesky pests and prying eyes out? The openings, then, afford opportunity for a most telling detail of Cers' want for privacy about to be interrupted.

"torches," specificity and metaphoric functions, too? Firebrands, tallow reed bundled and aflame, pine lighter knot cressets? Not their sensory details so much or type descriptions, more so their Edges of Ideas that inform and influence people's lives dramatically. So a thatch roof, crude woodwork tools, crude lighting, crude workroom, slash, hovel home, more than ample material for a routine's ominous about-to-be-interrupted introductions' Edges of an Idea.

This latest start, to me, is less rushed than prior fragments, though could, I believe, be more lavish-leisure in attention to literal and dramatic details and no less faster a start, faster to mean more rapid dramatic movement velocity, emotional movement most so at an outset. The start, as is, is on the quiet side, despite the rush to get to and the emotional potential of the mob scene. Cers is still alone with his thoughts: navel contemplation. How to make that solitude work and appeal, though? Or could someone be inside the hovel with him? Someone who makes Cers more empathetic? More human and relatable, for all his scars and warts?

I am yet more inclined than for all prior fragments to read on as an engaged reader from this fragment, most because the narrative point of view is now consistent and no overt disruptions put me too far off, except maybe the language being too modern for what I project is the milieu of the narrative.

[ June 28, 2017, 03:29 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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I don't usually end up posting the final versions of my openings here on Hatrack, but I thought maybe people would be interested in seeing this one since the story made finalist at Writers of the Future. It's... honestly not that different from the previous version, although that's more because I ran out of time than anything. Even so, there are some changes.

(I think the biggest changes came from the fact that I did some research into what old chairs used to be like and the kinds of work that went into making them, and that I took note of the critiques about dust drifting down from a finished ceiling versus the far more likely rafters.)
_______________________________________________________________

Muffled cries reverberated outside the walls of Cers' hovel. The glow of firelight bled through papered-up windows. Cers set down the armchair panel he'd been carving, snuffed the candle that illuminated the room, and waited silently in the dark. Perhaps this time the crowd would pass. Perhaps, just this once, they were not here for him.
Something solid and heavy slammed against his front door. The whole building shuddered under the impact; dust drifted down from the rafters.
Cers sighed and pushed aside his tools. He stalked over to the door, shoved it open, and ducked down in order to fit through the frame.
A mob of villagers circled his house, torches at the ready. They

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