It’s evening on the fifth day of the week, and it’s my least favorite day, because I don’t have school tomorrow. On earth they would call it “Friday.” As usual, I’m spending the evening in my room, reading and doing homework. My parents are getting ready to go out partying in a sky-view dome with a fancy gas bar, and my siblings are skating and getting high. I’ve taken several books from my school’s book room—earth books, of course. Here on the moon, we don’t produce any books of our own, so they import a few from earth. Most people never give them a second glance; I’m the only kid in my class who ever reads them. My favorites are books about earth animals— Charlotte’s Web, Julie of the Wolves, or Island of the Blue Dolphins. I’ve never seen a real earth animal, obviously, because I live on the moon.
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I hope you find my feedback and that of others useful. Don't despair at what may seem harsh criticism; this is a great place to find out how well the amazing picture story in your head transfers through screen squiggles into another mind.
I'll leave comments on the narrative distance, telling details, and word economy to others to keep this first post brief.
Who is our main character? We have no name, sex, or approximate age. Years make a large difference when it comes to children. (mention of grade, or some other identifying feature could be useful.) Difficult to introduce the character with the first person POV you've chosen, especially when we open with a character alone in a room reflecting.
What is the conflict? The character is sad because there is no school tomorrow? This is insufficient enough conflict to keep my attention. Sibling's getting high seems to hold the most potential for conflict. Though there is no indication that this information is important. Something our character knows but the parents don't? Or something common? All moon-folk get high. Many things are introduced in a short time here, to me, it feels unfocused. What details introduced are important/relevant to what the story is about?
The remainder of my comments will be about setting.
While you do establish early that our character is not on earth, it is not until the very end we learn our character is on the Moon. I, as a reader, inherently fill in the details about the setting. In this case, in my head, it was a ship; some kind of generational space pleasure cruiser. There was nothing specific that led me to that conclusion. I simply lacked the initial context to ground the setting to a celestial body. So at the mention of Sky-view domes and skating rinks I add these features to the space cruiser I have envisioned, further solidifying its features in my mind. Once the reader has filled that information in themselves it is jarring to be informed you were wrong. As such, the revelation in the last sentence ended up feeling like a trick to me. A, Ha! you were wrong, moment.
quote:"Obviously, I live on the moon."
I look back and think hmm... what should have clued me in to that up to this point? (After another read I do see the moon mentioned before the end of the fragment, but still after the details mentioned above.)
Secondly it seems odd to me that we are told it is the fifth day of the week. Even if a colony on the moon were to adjust their calendar to differ from earth wouldn't they have a system with more depth than simply fifth day, sixth day, etc... Something perhaps reflective of the much longer moon day in comparison to an earth day? (Professor google told me one moon day is about 29.5 earth days.) These "days" wouldn't be days in the day night sense to someone living on the moon. Likely rather, segments of 24hrs with simulated day/night cycles through artificial lighting perhaps?
Lastly, it is difficult for me to envision a future where human kind has colonized the moon and imports physical books to be held in a school library that all ignore. Why import them? How much easier and cost efficient to simply send information to be viewed digitally? Simply pointing out something that without added context seems out of place given our current technological level.
When spinning a yarn around the camp fire I nearly always begin with a character. Usually such characters are well-known stereotypes of commonly met visitors to the bush, and sometimes they are instantly recognisable satirical clichés of such people. Whichever they are, they all have one basic requirement at the outset: they MUST be interesting. If I can’t capture the interest of my audience right at the beginning then I’m stuffed.
When writing in the first person the character is on-stage right from the outset; first person is essentially just character dialogue ‘telling’ us what’s happening. The only thing that can make a first person narrator interesting is the style and content of the dialogue put on the page. To be interesting a character can be comedic, dramatic, pathetic, satirical, heroic, etc.. However, to be any of these things, such a condition MUST show through in the words put down on the page.
For me, this current start does not fill that bill.
I find the words on the page, and hence the character relating them, to be flat, dull, and uninteresting. There is nothing there to grab my attention or to excite my interest. Sorry.
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A strength of the fragment worth note is some tone expressed, though, like most prose rough drafts, is as well underrealized, is of a low strength and low clarity. Hmm, a strength that's also a shortfall, often inextricable through superficial means. However, this fragment holds promise for straightforward tone adjustments, to wit, stronger and clearer emotional attitude. More tone details anon.
The other two essential features for prose are motivations and stakes, or, more explicitly, complication and conflict. Complication is want and problem motivations that contest, compel, and oppose dramatic action movement. An outcome of a complication is a narrative's payoff, ideally, satisfying for readers due to a complication's satisfaction, not per se resolution.
Conflict, which is stakes risked, can be resolved, though, and usually is for a conflict's main outcome. Conflict is a polar opposition of forces in contention, like life and death, acceptance and rejection, overall, success and failure in contention. Only one or the other is possible in the end, not both.
What main complication motivations does this unnamed first-person narrator entail? What does she want that is a problem to satisfy and as well problem that amplifies her motivations? Problem-type complications are vicitimism scenarios at first, Want-type complications are proactivism. Victimism, though, best practice becomes proactive at some point in a narrative, no later than midway.
Likewise, what conflict stakes does she risk? Her life and death? Or a fulfilling and meaningful life otherwise denied to her by her milieu's situation? She may accept or deny that denial: either-or, conflict.
Likewise, what main tone, or attitude does she hold toward the main topic, subject, or theme of the contest that confronts her? The question from the other post that asks for labels for parents suggests a ready-made approach to tone, and attitude. Plus, therein is a timely and relevant dramatic action movement criteria; that is, she is underequipped for adulthood's trials due, in part, to incompetent parenting, and furthermore, due to social milieu shortfalls.
She soon realizes those are the situations, though not at first, nor what to do about those immediately upon the realization's presentation, the epiphany. Eventually, she realizes the responsibility is hers alone to act upon, a further epiphany. She need not fully implement her plan to self-govern self-responsibly, she only need realize and implement a first conscious effort's satisfaction, all the prior action is trial and error, error due to her underrealization of her real and true complication. After all, this is a short story, though with potential long fiction legs on it.
However, the above is an intangible movement, if portrayed as the tangible action, the narrative could be inaccessible for readers and "preach," so to speak, moral law assertions to unwilling readers and alienate them. Therefore, a main tangible complication and movement is warranted in addition to the intangible one. The tangible complication best practice is some concrete object, objective, or outcome to which readers relate and that relates to the intangible complication, even if a congruent contradiction, more appeal potential, in fact, if a tangible and an intangible complication are a congruent contradiction.
For example, if parental and social mentorship incompetence are the matters of the intangible substance, then a tangible complication might be a clumsy competence for, say, self-responsibility ambitions that set a goal, plan, and implementation of a target object, objective, or outcome. Again, what does she most want? Escape from the Moon? To where? Earth to see animals in the flesh? (Proper noun Earth capped, by the way.) Or travels farther afield in the cosmos? Mars? Saturn? Jupiter. One of the other moons?
Or more immediate at hand, and more tangible, say an object available on the Moon, though difficult to lay to hand. Precious rare books? A past lunar denizen's library of actual print books she dearly desires for herself? Object, objective, and outcome, motivation complications, too. What stakes does she risk, though? Say the books are at an abandoned lunar site she cannot in her ordinary course access. Life and death at stake, perhaps; perhaps social alienation or outright violent opposition meets her at every turn of the journey.
Then, tone, her attitude is at least twofold, negative commentary about mature adulthood mentorship incompetence -- all the Moon would rather celebrate idleness and vice than do the hard though most rewarding personal growth work -- and positive in that she appreciates persons' rights to chose idle sloth and have no overarching reason to care otherwise, without which, one, her ambitions would be harder to satisfy; and two, she realizes that life stagnates and dies without contention, conflict, and complication to enliven lively existence. Her ambitions, therefore, set an example for which a few others might strive. Another epiphany apropos of such a scenario.
The intangibles above, though the real and true action of such a narrative, any narrative worth publication, are a second seat to a foreground action's movement, thus, a tangible goal is the overt and overarching action. Though covert, the intangibles unify an otherwise And Melodrama: And something meaningless happens at the outset; And something meaningless happens at the middle; And something meaningless happens at the conclusion, and all to no meaningful or satisfying outcome end.
A few germs of promise within the fragment, though I would not at this time read further.
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Thank you everyone! Overall, it seems like I need to rewrite the beginning to dive right into the action instead of first setting up the scene and then diving in.
I'm not sure how to give more information about the setting right away (which seemed to be your suggestion, Delgreco). I don't want to dump too much information into the very beginning. But I guess just mention the moon base in the first sentence to start the readers off with a good mental image?
One quick and easy thing to address: not capitalizing "earth" and "moon" was a deliberate choice. I thought it reflected the overall lack of seriousness towards anything intellectual in their culture (which directly connects to the overall point of the story).
I even toyed with the idea of not capitalizing names or titles, because they also have a distinct lack of seriousness towards individual identity, but ultimately decided that was just too confusing.
Is that kind of thing okay or should I just forget it? Is it worth potential confusion at first to better communicate the personality of the society?
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The setting situation is ready made for depiction and irony's congruent contradiction, given a true and full realization of it. What, numbskulls inhabit an advanced technological milieu and the technology provides every need and want and self-gratification immediately, effortlessly? That's tone's attitude ready made, too. Such a scenario's intangible action is then realization that, without a measure of struggle and strife, life, or society anyway, stagnates and dies. A theme of an individual and technology gone awry. A start scene that shows the society lacks basic ambition, are illiterate, and tended to and caregiven by and utterly dependent on the technology would achieve that.
See Cyril M. Kornbluth's The Marching Morons, 1959, for examples of scenes that do the above (PDF, University of Denver website), a Science Fiction Hall of Fame awarded classic.
whether proper nouns then are capped or lower case, lower case is a secondary consideration that supports, yes, expression of the society's intellectual personality overall, and notably, the viewpoint agonist's intellect and personality are negatively impacted, too. yet she's a reader and knows otherwise. however, that phenomenon, if used, then warrants due and timely emphasis so that readers aren't left with the impression faulty capital case isn't a typo or writer error or convenient habit. what, sentence start lower case, title words lower case -- all lower case, no caps at all, except perhaps for EMPHASIS, like are at times common anymore for twiddle and fakebook and text message faddle?
Cormac McCarthy's aesthetic omits any otherwise understandable contraction and possessive apostrophes and all quote marks, one example of workable grammatical fault, teaches readers those are unnecessary if managed consistently and artfully.
quote:Originally posted by extrinsic: A start scene that shows the society lacks basic ambition, are illiterate, and tended to and caregiven by and utterly dependent on the technology would achieve that.
That's what I was trying for, though--setting up the scene that contrasted the main character's curiosity with the intellectual stagnation of everyone around her. But the response has been that there's no action or conflict. So, I mean, there IS conflict, but I guess I just didn't get it out soon enough to hook the reader?
quote: whether proper nouns then are capped or lower case, lower case is a secondary consideration that supports, yes, expression of the society's intellectual personality overall, and notably, the viewpoint agonist's intellect and personality are negatively impacted, too. yet she's a reader and knows otherwise. however, that phenomenon, if used, then warrants due and timely emphasis so that readers aren't left with the impression faulty capital case isn't a typo or writer error or convenient habit. what, sentence start lower case, title words lower case -- all lower case, no caps at all, except perhaps for EMPHASIS, like are at times common anymore for twiddle and fakebook and text message faddle? [/QB]
So let me just see if I've understood you correctly-- it's okay to do, but I have to purposefully draw attention to what I'm doing so it doesn't seem like just a mistake? (I think that's what you're saying anyway, although your writing style takes some getting used to ...)
And by the way, I would still capitalize any word at the beginning of a sentence.
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Conflict expressly is polar opposite forces in contention. Without complication, too, conflict transpires in a drama-less vacuum. Consider conflict is representations of, say, life and death stakes. No stakes are risked if they're without complication's motivations, like want to strive for greater personal goals that risk life and limb, say, a foray outside of the life support comforts of a lunar habitat.
Yes, someway call due attention to lower case proper nouns represent the society's casual attitude nature and are not mistakes. The first-person narrator-agonist could, for instance, express a thought or speak aloud that's critical of the society's informality and disrespect, maybe related to what she reads. That's the tangible expression.
What might that practice also represent for the narrative's subtext? Something intangible readers can access and interpret though not be beaten over the head with lectures about their convenient text habits -- Edges of Ideas territory, how a gizmo, technology, or social practice, etc., affects personas' lives, not so much how it looks, is made of, or functions.
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What you’re doing is setting the scene, as a storyteller would on stage. And on stage it might work because the storyteller is an integral part of the story, and is the source of the story's emotional content. How you perform the story matters as much as what you say.
But on the page an entirely different dynamic takes over, because the medium is so different. The reader can neither see nor hear your performance, so all that’s left are the words.
On the page you have actors, where on stage as a storyteller there’s only you. On the page we can know how a character speaks their lines because you tell us. But we can’t know how you speak your narrator’s lines, which means the narrator’s voice the reader “hears,” is a monotone, modified by the punctuation.
The problem is that instead of beginning the story with story, you’re beginning with a lecture by the narrator. Using “I” as the personal pronoun, rather than “she,” changes that not at all. Yes, a later version of the protagonist is speaking to us, but that person cannot appear on stage with the one living the story because they live at different times. And that means we’re with the narrator, not with the earlier version who is living the scene. In fact, the scene has yet to begin.
Think about it. I don’t yet know where we are. I don’t know whose skin I’m wearing or what’s going on. So why do I care that this unknown person likes certain books? Knowing a few books she’s read doesn’t set the scene, develop character, meaningfully, or move the plot. Why do we care where the parents are? Do we need to know that to understand what’s happening in her now? Given that I know nothing about their society, or even how many siblings this person has, what purpose is there for me to know what they’re doing before I learn what my avatar is doing? It is her story, after all, so let her live it. Make me know what matters to her, not the storyteller. Place the reader into her now, and advance the clock in real-time, so I live the story as she does, moment-by-moment. Make the reader care, not just know.
In short: Begin your story with story, not data. Your goal is to entertain the reader, and do that on every single page. The tense and person you tell the story in is an authorial decision and of little importance, because no matter your choice in that, for the protagonist who’s living the story it’s always first person present tense, as it is in our lives. And that’s where your reader wants to be, in the moment your protagonist calls “now” now, living the story, not reading the words of someone providing an overview of generalities.
It’s not a matter of how well you’re writing, it’s that at the moment you’re using storytelling techniques not applicable to our medium. You’re a storyteller the reader can neither see nor hear, telling the reader a story in the way you would were they able to see and hear you, which can’t work.
Take a look at this article. It’s one I often recommend, because it shows one very powerful way to place the reader into the protagonist’s viewpoint. It’s well worth the time to chew on it till it makes sense. It can be a very powerful tool, as is the book it was condensed from.
Sorry my news isn’t better. Hang in there, and keep on writing. The world needs more people who, when asked why they’re looking out of the window at nothing can honestly say, “Working.”
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I don’t know about the others, but I didn’t say there was a lack of action, I said the character was flat, bland, and uninteresting. Or words to that effect. In first person we are reading your character’s thoughts as she thinks them, or thought them, and experiencing her emotions as she feels them, or felt them. These are the strengths of a first person POV narrative, though rarely and seldom seen, and also the major drawback of such a POV, almost universally displayed. Given the thoughts and feelings exhibited by the character through the words on the page she has the emotional depth and range of a rock. A flat rock, at that.
If this is deliberate, she doesn’t make for an engaging or interesting character at the start. Always a mistake. Give her some attitude! If she’s angry, show it in her dialogue (the words on the page in general are all a part of a first person narrators dialogue, not just those confined to spoken words in a conversation). If she’s frustrated, miserable, bored, or simply wallowing in ennui, show it on the page. It’s your only shot at getting me to care about who she is and what her problem is.
Given what you’ve posted about this story it would seem to me that we have a character at odds with the world around them, frustrated by the status quo. “I am right and the rest of the world is wrong!” This is a common theme in storytelling and I would suggest you search out some examples and see how the start of such stories is handled by others. For me, the situation has conflict/rebellion as an inherent part of the character, so show it. But not in all its fiery glory right at the outset; the reader needs to see what fans the flames and how the character grows into her rebellion so they will care what happens to her.
quote:Originally posted by Kirsten.J: I'm not sure how to give more information about the setting right away (which seemed to be your suggestion, Delgreco). I don't want to dump too much information into the very beginning. But I guess just mention the moon base in the first sentence to start the readers off with a good mental image?
In terms of mentioning the moon, it was problematic for my mental image to be told we were not on earth in the second sentence, but not told we were on the moon until the sixth. Does it need to be in the first sentence? Perhaps. Is there a way to introduce it later without confusion? Almost certainly.
My comments about setting were simply to point out features introduced that led to more questions than answers, or things that felt out of order. The reader doesn't need more setting here. If fact, less setting would strengthen the fragment and create fewer questions. After reading your post about parent labels in another thread I now know that this is a largely Hedonistic society.
quote:Originally posted by Kirsten.J: setting up the scene that contrasted the main character's curiosity with the intellectual stagnation of everyone around her.
In my experience, as a reader of your fragment, that was not overtly apparent.
There is much to perhaps imply it. -Parents heading to a party -fancy gas bars -skating rinks -siblings getting high -no-one cares for books
But non of these activities necessarily differ from what many readers might consider normal. Friday night is often a typical current earth party or gathering night, as most have minimal commitments the following morning. Not to imply a normal Friday night means getting high, though for these siblings in your story it may. Even many intelligent people go to parties or out for drinks. And few would be surprised at hearing of teenagers getting high. Perhaps our own society is largely hedonistic, but, the sense I get from your postings is that this society is meant to be more overtly so.
What setting details does the reader need to know right now? Do they need to know about the gas bars? Siblings? Imports of materials from earth? That people get high? No manufacturing, at least of books, on the moon? Day of the week and its nomenclature?
These are perhaps extraneous details when it comes to whatever our character is currently doing. I would recommend looking for a place to start where there is some intersection of Character, setting, and plot.
An example to illustrate: say these moon-folk like to watch their teenagers get high, and broadcast them trying to perform tasks or answer trivia in a sort of gameshow sense. Opening scene could be our main character unwilling to join her family in watching her classmates act like fools. Her parents, high themselves, deride her. She slams the door to her room, pulls out a hidden book, and begins reading about dissent and rebellion. Book is a hard copy to keep it off the grid.
This is an off the cuff outline example, may not be a good one, of an overt way to show that this society is markedly different(setting), our character is forcefully at odds with it for some as yet unknown reason(character), and her parents--and likely society at large--do not approve of her dissent(plot). Her reading choice at the end could be written to imply her dissent is more than just personal choice, she means to take action against the society.(plot) There would are a myriad of other ways, and certainly better, to accomplish what is attempted in my example.
I would say Keep the opening heavy with character and plot while restricting the setting to the minimum the reader needs to know at any given time to drive the plot forward.
What the reader needs to/wants to know at the outset:
Setting: Moon colony. Hedonistic society. Character: Late teenage girl. At odds with society. Character voice (how does she think/react). Emotion toward the setting/plot: Is she inwardly discontent? doggedly resigned? An outward passionate advocate for change? Plot: Not sure what is intended from current fragment.
What I knew after first reading the fragment:
Setting: Moon colony. Character: studious young person. plot: Main character wishes there was school tomorrow.
Hope this helps clarify, Del
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