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Author Topic: virus:london urban fantasy/sf
Lynne Clark
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I am useless at tying down genres, sorry. This is a short not quite finished, currently at 2400 words, probably another 1500 or so to go to finish. It's a style I'm trying out, so any comments regarding style and whether it would grab enough for a short would be welcome.

#204 No content
‘I’m sorry, Hetty, I’ve tried everything. There’s nothing left.’
Lisa pulled out the last wire and the screen blackened and folded up.
I looked down at the face I knew so well, the blonde hair tousled over his forehead, tangled where the cables had been. But I knew it was just a body on a bed. He might look like Michel, but without his content… he was nothing. Just a housing.
‘He was just held in London, then? Nowhere else?’
I nodded, my nose twitching in disgust. ‘We only talked about the idiocy of having his backups in one place last week. He promised to look into it again, but I don’t think he did. Always too late.’
‘Well, his programmer was known for being impractical.’
‘Indeed.’ I pushed the hair back, but it flopped forward again.

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Bent Tree
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I quite like the pace and voice you deliver. I also like the balance of dialogue and description.

It unravels a great deal on the 'back nine' mostly due to lack of dialogue attribution and diving more heavily into dialogue which disrupts the balance I was so fond of up to the end.

Ultimately, this reads to me like an excellent rough draft. To me this reads as soft SF or techno-thriller, not typically my preferred genres yet something about the diamond within that could be polished out kept me motivated and interested.

I could really sink my teeth into this if you would like a full critique. Send it over.

If you don't want a reader, my advice would be to let this cool down if it is still hot off the press. Give it a week or two. Look at it through new eyes. Uber-Editor mode. Go through paragraph by paragraph focusing on concise phrases, sharp POV, and balance between dialogue and action.

Best of luck. Hope this helps. I promise a quick, thorough review if you want to send your draft over.

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Jay Greenstein
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Because you begin reading with the full knowledge of who the people are, where we are, and what's going on, every line points to that data, stored in your head. So as you read there is emotion in the voices, and on their faces. They smile, or frown, they gesture, or slump with sadness, as the story plays in your head.

And as a reader, I know what's done and said. But pity me. As everyone knows, poor Jay's head is empty. Won't you take a bit of time and place that context into my head so the words can point to images, ideas, and emotion in my head instead of yours?
quote:
‘I’m sorry, Hetty, I’ve tried everything. There’s nothing left.‘
Here, I don't know who's speaking, who they're speaking to, or what motivated them to speak. So there's no way I can meaningfully place the sadness the character is feeling into the voice I hear speaking the line. That's why it's usually a bad idea to begin with dialog.
quote:
Lisa pulled out the last wire and the screen blackened and folded up.
As you read this, you can see it happening. But for me, pull the last (?)wire from what? What screen? Why would a screen fold up, and in what way?

When entering any scene there are three issues that need to be addressed quickly, so as to provide a reader with context : Who am I? Where am I? What's going on? Because you know all that, this makes perfect sense. But because I know none of them, the questions I mentioned were raised. The trick is to place a reader on a self guiding trail, where there will be just enough context supplied with the detail that the action will always make sense, and the reader will never notice it being supplied. For example. Suppose, prior to your first line, you'd said:

"I looked down at the face I knew so well, the blonde hair tousled over his forehead, tangled where the cables had been."

It's your third line, in this case, and by presenting it first, we hear the dialog as being from someone sad, looking at what we assume is a human face (if I'm wrong you may need a slightly different line). The fact that the cables are said to be missing leads perfectly to the last wire being pulled, and the reader is on board. But of more importance, presented this way it's not being explained by the person who once witnessed it, we're reading it in the viewpoint of the one who is experiencing the event in their moment of now. And that's story, as against history.

A really good introduction to placing the reader into the story like that can be found here If you're not familiar with the technique, chew on the article till it makes sense. Used well, it has the ability to make the story so real that when someone throws a brick at your protagonist the reader will duck. And if it does seem worth knowing more about, you might like the book the article was condensed from. It's filled with such things.

Hang in there, and keep oon writing.

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Jack Albany
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Lynne, thank you for submitting your fragment. A daunting task no doubt, yet hopefully worth the transient pain of hearing robust yet well intentioned criticism.

I would not read on. The scene is essentially a ‘narrative void’. A disembodied character carries on a conversation about ‘God knows what’ with another disembodied character about a third, unknown, dysfunctional (assuming it’s not alive) character. You may know what is going on, who these people are, and what they’re talking about but I don’t. Just how am I engaged with the story? Why should I read on? Perplexing mystery alone is not enough.

There are Five Questions a reader wants answered at the beginning of a short story according to Damon Knight:
quote:

Who is the story about?
Why are they doing what they are doing?
What is the story about?
Where does the story take place?
When does the story take place?

You should answer at least four of these questions as early as possible in the story--preferably within the first two hundred words. (Why can often come a little later.) Otherwise you will probably fail to give the reader a coherent image to focus his attention on, and that’s fatal.

Damon Knight
Creating Short Fiction. pp 107-108

Unfortunately, you have missed this mark in my opinion.
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Lynne Clark
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thanks guys. For the record, I am no thin-skinned snowflake, I think active, robust criticism is much more useful than anything else.

Bent Tree; once it is finished and polished I would indeed like you to read the whole thing. I'll send it across when I am happy with it.
Jay; it's tricky when it's just the first 13 lines. The next ones give away a lot of the info you ask for, but I'll think about how to get that up higher.
Jack; thanks for the 5 questions, I think they get asked by the end of the first segment, but I might well need to get them higher. I'm wary of putting them all in the first couple of lines though as it stinks of infodump to me. The characters are introduced just below the 13 lines which was OH SO frustrating as you can imagine, but I am a newbie and not about to contravene the rules at this early stage.
Are you all ok for me to resubmit the start when I have taken to action your comments and polished it again?

[ January 18, 2018, 07:01 AM: Message edited by: Lynne Clark ]

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Lynne Clark
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ok guys, good morning to you on the other side of the pond. I've been busy this morning. Excellent advice when I looked at all line by line. So. This is the new effort. Better?


I looked down at the face I loved so well, the blond hair pushed forward, tousled over his forehead, tangled where the wires had been. But I knew it was only a body on a laboratory slab. He might resemble my husband, but without his content… he was nothing. Simply a housing.

Lisa pulled out the last line, pushing the diagnostic panel to one side as the darkened screen slid back into Michel’s open head.

‘I’m sorry, Hetty, I’ve tried everything, but this virus... it’s lethal. He's empty.’

She turned from winding the cable round her arm, twisting it into a smooth hank. Ever the neat scientist; I tended to the absent-minded professor and Lisa had kept me tidy all the way through university.


I THINK I've revealed more of the who, why and when. Is it clear yet? Or do we need more exposition at the beginning?

[ January 19, 2018, 10:53 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The 13 lines comes from what would constitute the first page of a short story manuscript in proper manuscript form.

The idea is to start the story in such a way that it "hooks" your readers and makes them want to turn the page.

You only need to have enough to let them know who to care about, where that person is, and a hint about what the problem is. (Sometimes that can all make it into the very first sentence.)

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Lynne Clark
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oh! you've taken so much away... [Frown] I had counted up the 13 lines on my first take from the manuscript, and I know there was more in the 2nd effort but I was trying to show how I had incorporated a lot of what had been suggested in the feedback.

ah well. You are right of course. So the question is, did you understand what was happening without the extra lines?

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extrinsic
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An individual laments a loved one passed away.

Somewhat "hard" science fiction, a mention of what might be "urban" fantasy, little, if any, "soft" science fiction or other fantastic genre or other genre crossover. Hard science fiction conventions entail fantastic physical science and technology, somewhat possible, if improbable. Soft science fiction's conventions include fantastic social sciences. Or, respectively, hard sciences and soft sciences, and all but impossible to write a successful narrative without some degree of social science-driven dramatic movement. And to add another facet to the fray, fantasy science fiction entails impossibles as far as currently known and futureward-projected scientific and technological principles.

Fantasy conventions generally entail impossible circumstances. "Urban" references that a narrative occurs more or less in a setting contemporary to a time period, generally, a present now and in which the fantastic is taken as common and known to a time and place and its personas, and not exclusively now-ish.

A standout of the fragment(s) for me is wires disconnected from a contentless housing, wiped clean by a virus, and no content backup available to reboot the housing. Computer or biological virus? Is "virus" the narrative's title? Not much of a title, to me. Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, to me, does what a title best practice does: evokes mystery, curiosity, and implies a central biological contestant of the drama, what the novel is about for its surface and subtext contests.

The second fragment contains language mannerisms all too common these days, in part, brought on by mass media talk television and social media online, texts, yada, part by the ease anymore of unscreened self-publication, and a global English language culture of misunderstood grammar principles that become the babble idiolect of mass communication.

One example, the term "exposition" holds distinct and original prose denotation substance far different from its grammar school and later levels' and general mass culture connotations. Blocks of which readers, critics, and writers label info dumps, artless, drama-less writer-narrator tells. The Oxford sense 1.2 comes closest of its several: "The part of a play or work of fiction in which the background to the main conflict is introduced." Webster's sense 1 is closer: "a setting forth of the meaning or purpose (as of a writing)."

Neither or any of the above do the term justice relative to what exposition is for prose writers. Gustav Freytag's The Technique of the Drama, 1863, explains it clearest so far. Paraphrased: the first act of a narrative, in which dramatic movement setup begins, its outset, perhaps best, even a dramatic movement incitement, for best practice reader engagement. Another creative prose culture definition defines exposition as backstory given for and necessary to understand the main action to come. None of those encompass the full context and texture of "exposition's" true function.

In order to appreciate exposition's true function, other prose culture terms, definitions, explanations, and functions clear up the mass-culture muddied waters. "Denouement," for one, the last act of a drama, or sole act of an anecdote, vignette, or sketch, in which the main dramatic complication's outcome is presented. Main complication, not main conflict as per Oxford. Huh? Understand start essentials from an appreciation of the end's? Yep. A middle part's true function then also becomes clearer.

Anyway, the fragment doesn't start dramatic movement, for me. In a way, the fragment starts at an end, not at a start, that is, Michael's end.

Another misappreciation mass culture promotes and avers is essential for prose is introduce in sequence context-question answers who, when, where, and texture's what, why, and how, another grammar school map for banal school compositions. Prose's structure and mechanics differ, in that dramatic impetus is a foremost essential. Also, prose favors seamless and melded who, where, when, what, why, and how content.

E.M. Forster famously asserted in lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge, "Let us define a plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. 'The king died and then the queen died' is a story. 'The king died, and then the queen died of grief' is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it." (Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel. Harcourt: 1927. pg 86. Print.) Story, as in a history report of an event, etc., not a dramatic movement start to end.

Causality then, The Poetics of Aristotle's topic. And tension, Freytag's, a matter of reader effect in the senses of emotional engagements empathy or sympathy and curiosity suspense. Plus, edges of an idea they scratch at and arisen from prose culture's collective subconscious: antagonism: complication; or overall mnemonic ACT, antagonism, causation, tension. Act out, act up, create an active scene on the page!

"Conflict" is another term that has lost its way in mass culture, defined well enough in dictionaries, absent the generic mass culture usages. Polar opposite at-stake forces in contention, the stakes risked, like life and death, acceptance and rejection, ad infinitum. Antagonism, mentioned above, is want-problem complication's causal forces that motivate proactive action and impel dramatic movement. Conflict expressly is stakes. Complication expressly is motivations. Third prose essential is tone, an attitude toward a topic or subject, of a now-moment piece, of a parcel, of a whole. Motivations, stakes, and tones are essentials for prose.

I see little, if any, of those in the fragment. Focus upon a dramatic event (ACT) is at the fount of drama. Settings and dramatis personae are the players of the event and as much incidental to it as they are the essential agonists (contestants), antagonists (anti-contestants), causers, and tensioners of the event. Little, if any, of those in the fragment, either. Somewhat enhanced who, where, when for the second version, little, if any, what, why, or how, especially event-movement what, development for either fragment. The event of the fragment is stuck at zero velocity and little, if any, signal the narrative may in the next instant or soon stomp on the accelerator.

Three areas of prose craft and grammar mechanics shortfalls stand out to me from the fragment, extra lens filters, unnecessary I saw, heard, did, touched, smelled, tasted, felt, etc., or he or she saw, etc., as well; clumsy grammar, like use of "as" for a coordination conjunction. The word is a correlation conjunction. See Fowler's English Usage Dictionary, British dialect; Webster's English Usage, likewise, U.S. dialect; and otherwise general awkward syntax.

In all, I would not read on, somewhat curious about humans as computer analogs, though unengaged, even disengaged, by the prose as is.

[ January 18, 2018, 03:17 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Lynne Clark
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sorry you didn't like it extrinsic. I have the feeling that my style isn't for you at all. I am not taking any constructive suggestions though from your feedback, can you be clearer?
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extrinsic
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The fragment doesn't work for me due to its several grammar, craft, expression, and appeal shortfalls. To me, it's an excerpt that looks for a time, place, and situation for a start and doesn't start. Stalls, stops at the start.

The content is in limbo between an event and another event that might more effectively start the narrative. Maybe Michael's content loss onset, or maybe an onset of whatever Lisa and Hetty face that immediately defines their lives, or one's life, from the start moment forward would serve.

Among the above cites, like Forster's about plot, another from prose culture, is to give a contestant a want at the outset and make it a problem that faces impossible odds of satisfaction. Or the reverse, a problem that wants satisfaction from impossible odds. "Impossible" is open to broad interpretation. At its simplest, all it means is obstacles impede immediate want-problem motivation satisfaction.

A motion picture actor equivalent is an actor asks a director, "What's my motivation?" Or what do I want now, for this scene? What's the problem I face in this scene?

The fragment does imply a life and death conflict stakes risked, and death is Michael's outcome. No conflict given of immediate substance and forward for Lisa or Hetty.

Who is the story about? Not clear. Could be about Michael, or Lisa, or Hetty.

In all, little, if any, motivation or stakes, or complication or conflict, and little, if any, tone, or attitude, except for the everyday idiolect of everyday-life routine conversation.

Whether I like a narrative or a start fragment or not is neither here nor there, rather, whether a fragment works for me or doesn't and, by extension, other readers. What matters is whether a fragment and narrative overall engages me, as a reader, any reader, all target audience readers. Motivations, stakes, and tone developments do that work. The fragment doesn't work for me due to shortages of those developments.

Potential promises of a virus epidemic and humans as computer analogs somewhat engages my curiosity, though is underdeveloped and underrealized on the first page. Can I hope to see those developments materialize soon and later? I am unconvinced by what's given.

[ January 19, 2018, 03:48 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Lynne Clark
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OK, I will take these comments on board. I am having real problems in getting all these things into the 13 lines I am allowed, when my structure is high on dialogue and each line of dialogue needs its own line. I'll have another go though. Thanks again for your input.
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extrinsic
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Hatrack's thirteen lines principle encourages writers' growth and rigorously challenges every writer who attempts it, bar none.

I could cite dozens of related proverbs about what a start best practice does; another one: Three hundred sixty-five days a year, the non-routine day's event is the one from which to start a narrative. The day's critical crisis event incites inevitable, unequivocal, irrevocable alteration of a private individual's life and ends at a substantive personal transformation, maybe a public transformation, too.

Another, start from dialogue development and infill dramatic thought, sensation, emotion, event, setting, and character description content, mindful drama is contest-motivated depiction. One U.S. writer noteworthy for those methods, Tobias Wolff, This Boy's Life, 1989. Joan Didion, too. Didion's aesthetics entail a New Journalism approach to prose that exposes erosion of human virtue and prudence, nonetheless transformative.

[ January 19, 2018, 06:42 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Lynne Clark:
oh! you've taken so much away... [Frown] I had counted up the 13 lines on my first take from the manuscript, and I know there was more in the 2nd effort but I was trying to show how I had incorporated a lot of what had been suggested in the feedback.

ah well. You are right of course. So the question is, did you understand what was happening without the extra lines?

I think it was a good start. The fact that this "housing" had been her husband is a fine hint about a problem situation, and I could at least "see" him on that laboratory table.

I don't think the last paragraph in your 13 lines does much to help, though. It's like you're jumping to something else there and, as a reader, I'd prefer that you stayed with the virus that deleted all of her husband's "content."

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Lynne Clark
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interesting you say that Kathleen. I was thinking the same thing, seeing it as a stark ending like that. I was trying to establish a relationship between Hetty and Lisa, but it might be better dropped in later.

The next line probably fits better running straight after.Which would give you:
...‘He held his data in London, then? Nowhere else?’ Lisa said.
I nodded. ‘We only talked about the idiocy of having single back-ups last week. He promised to sort it, but I don’t think he did.’

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I think that fits the rest of the 13 lines, but it doesn't do a lot to move the story along. We can already guess from Hetty's resigned attitude that there is no back-up. If there were any hope of a back-up, her reaction would be very different.
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Lynne Clark
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the plot lies along the fact that he DID actually have a back-up, so I felt it was necessary to know that he had talked about sorting it out. Can't talk about him sorting it out without stating that H believes he doesn't have any backup away from London data (which we know from the title of the story is virus corrupted. I like what you are saying about H's reactions being right for believing in no back up.
Maybe it needs more tension instead?

Do the same get-in-there-quick rules apply for a novella or long short as much as for a short short of only 1000 words say? Is there room for a slower development in that case?

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extrinsic
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Prose poems, a few words up to a few hundred words, maybe up to novel length. Flash, roughly one thousand or so words, maybe less. Short story, anywhere more than a thousand words up to about eight thousand words, maybe as much as 17,000 words for WotF's submissions. Novelette, novella, anywhere from eight thousand or so words to forty or fifty thousand words, depends on publisher discretion. Novel, forty or sixty or more thousand words, as many as four hundred thousand words. X-ology: trilogy, septology, decology, etc., roughly eighty or so thousand words per book. Regardless, a best practice is to engage readers from a first page, maybe a title, a first word, a first sentence, and maintain engagement throughout, even afterward, eager for the next product's installments.

Antagonism's motivations, causation's time-linear or nonlinear flow, and tension's emotional reader effects achieve those goals. L. Rust Hills, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, notes that segment sequences set up tension incitement, delay tension relief, and relieve tension in oscillation, in pieces, parts, parcels, and wholes. Clause level at least, sentence level, paragraph level, scene level, section, chapter, book level, etc.

A close analytical read of the Potter saga observes those multilevel segment sequences, from titles to first sentences to final word, and leaves readers both satisfied and eager for more afterward.

[ January 20, 2018, 01:21 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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A short-short (around 1000 words) requires a very tight economy of words, so you'd have less time to develop in that.

Longer stories do give you more time, but you still have to "hook" the readers as quickly as possible, or they'll not be as likely to get to the further development.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'd definitely recommend Hills' book, as mentioned by extrinsic above. Short book that does a nice job on the subject of short works.
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Lynne Clark
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Thanks all.
So, I am trying to take all your tips on board. I've revisited the first segment; I noticed in a lot of detective type mysteries, that the first view is that of the target/victim. So I am wondering if using a prelude snapshot of Michel as he falls subject to the virus would do the trick?

which would give us:

It was the oddest sensation. He could remember last week, but not what had happened today. Why was he here? Where was here, anyway? He had no idea.
Somewhere, deep inside, he knew he should be worried. But he couldn’t remember how to be worried.
He could remember someone talking to him. He glanced down at the chip in his hand. Had they given him this? He knew it was important.
He moved his hand sluggishly; it was such an effort. The edge of his glove was in his way. He folded the leather over on itself and slid the chip into the groove in his wrist. Slow.
So. Slow.

too many pronouns starting sentences, I know. But this was very quickly done, and I am interested in the overall feeling rather than any nitty-gritty.

I feel like an optician. Is this better? or worse?
Lens A? or Lens B?

[ January 20, 2018, 01:41 PM: Message edited by: Lynne Clark ]

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extrinsic
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A start from Michael's immediate-now perspective wake up from nonconsciousness does sequence tension incitement, tension relief delay, and tension relief.

Wake-up scenes, though, can spoil tension, if an agonist wakes up and only explores the setting to figure out what's happened. That's a type of Dischism: writer work setting intrudes into a narrative. This case, writer, Michael, readers wake up from the everyday alpha life of the writers workplace onto the writer's blank white page of the reading dream spell and figure out what happened.

Wake-ups can be artful; they can be artless. A difference is one starts in reverse time motion and the setting exploration stalls forward movement, or the wake-up is incidental to the forward action and movement bolts forward out of the gate.

A prologue is a prefatory portion of a narrator's voice expressed from a writer's workplace that provides information necessary to understand the main action to come. A prelude is a prefatory sequence that's in a narrative's setting and personas in-scene and segues into the main action. The snap fragment above is a prelude, much more engaging than prologues due to closer to the main action than a prologue.

[ January 20, 2018, 01:44 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Lynne Clark
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well, this is more a fall asleep than a wake-up, as he is next found on the slab, empty. Does it make you want to know WHY he is slowing down and losing his memory?
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Lynne Clark
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right-o. Prelude it is, thanks!
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Lynne Clark:
well, this is more a fall asleep than a wake-up, as he is next found on the slab, empty. Does it make you want to know WHY he is slowing down and losing his memory?

Reads to me like a wake-up, explore somewhat, immediately return to nonconsciousness. If started from Michael's content-loss virus onset, I'd be informed why he slows down and loses his memory. Right fast from discovery of content loss, horror about it, to the reversal of total wipe, though. If I shared that experience, I'd be horrified; I'd care*; I'd be hopelessly engaged. That's dramatic irony; readers infer, learn, then know; Michael doesn't ever. Later, Lisa and Hetty at first don't know, soon figure out what happened, and then horrified what happened could happen to them next. (Could happen to all of us. To me and mine!? I hope they figure out a fix and right soon.)

* Our host Orson Scott Card notes three questions every reader asks of a narrative, consciously or otherwise: "So what?" Why should I care? "Oh yeah?" Come on, I should believe that? "Huh?" What the ---- happens here? (Characters and Viewpoint, pgs 19 - 21.)

[ January 20, 2018, 02:13 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Lynne Clark
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hmmmm if you see it as a wake-up that isn't what I want. I want it be the AI equivalent of a murder being revealed, so it needs tweaking.
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extrinsic
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Murder mysteries are an equivalent to jigsaw puzzles. More or less, the suspense question of mysteries is "who done it." Who revealed when the last puzzle piece falls into place. Thrillers' is why who done it.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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We don't get a clue that this is anything other than some "mundane" (as in not speculative fiction) story until you get to him sliding the chip into his wrist.

I'd recommend that you consider having him suspect what it happening (example: he notices something is wrong, pulls the chip out and can't see any problem, but then mention the memory losses - is it the virus?) and so on.

Otherwise, the reader may not notice the chip or make sense of it - it sounds like someone thinking they have Alzheimer's or waking up from a head injury.

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Lynne Clark
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thanks Kathleen. Hopefully, we are getting there...
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Lynne Clark
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next trial; I have tried to show that Michel is not human, and therefore the memory loss is something external rather than a human injury or disease.

Michel glanced down at the microchip in his hand.
Someone had been talking to him; the memory twitched like an energy surge in his processors. Had they given him this? He knew it was important, that he had to use it before his housing ceased reacting to his program. But why?
It was the oddest sensation. He could remember last week, but not what had happened today. Something had happened today that had changed him, he was sure of it. Somewhere, deep inside, he knew he should be worried. But he couldn’t remember how to be worried.
He moved his hand sluggishly. It was such an effort. The edge of his glove was in his way; he folded the leather over on itself and slid the chip into the groove in his wrist. Slow.
So. Slow.

[ January 21, 2018, 09:37 AM: Message edited by: Lynne Clark ]

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extrinsic
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Latest version. An individual contemplates physiological and cognitive deficit onset.

Part of the fragment is third-person outside looks in, part inside looks inside, part inside looks out. The viewpoint sequence is jumbled, to me. Outside looks in is generally narrator-writer perspective. For example: "_Michel glanced down_ at the microchip in his hand." A person cannot see the self see, a "Viewpoint glitch," also a viewpoint glitch of switched viewpoint overall between narrator and viewpoint persona for no good reason.

Also, that sentence is an unnecessary extra lens filter. Underscores above bracket the lens filter. Extra-lens filtered sensations keep an inside-looks-about perspective out of readers' view. Analogy: at the theater, a person stands in front of the screen, blocks the entire screen, and yaks, tells, summarizes and explains the motion picture, like a shutterbug narrates a summer family vacation video to disinterested neighbors.

Two fantastic fiction writer workshop essays about craft shortfalls, mostly, some craft strengths, worth a gander if not close study: "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction" by Clarion workshops' David Smith, and "Turkey City Lexicon – A Primer for SF Workshops," Edited by Lewis Shiner, Second Edition by Bruce Sterling, both SFWA hosted. (SFWA: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.) I don't know of British equivalents to the Glossary, Lexicon, or SFWA. "Reality is filtered through an extra lens." is one of the Glossary's items. "Viewpoint glitch" is a Lexicon item.

Oh no, slander and calumny, yet another homework reading and study assignment!? Hatrack member Meredith, at times, observes "Writing is a marathon, not a sprint," a proverb attributed to screenwriter and writing instructor Robert McKee. Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting, 1997, is McKee's contribution to storycraft principles. Much insight about prose craft within that book though targeted for screenwriters.

The fragment's perspective leaves me confused, I don't infer, learn, or know what the event is. In terms of an archetype around which I might relate, what happens is -- what? Archetypes come in events and settings as well as characters, I recently realized. Orson Scott Card notes a narrative or a part of one might emphasize Milieu, Idea, Character, or Event over the others. Known as the M.I.C.E. quotient, each's relevance and emphasis compared and contrasted to the others. This fragment, at least, could be an event emphasis.

Some more or less universal real-world analog event archetype to what happens here is wanted, I feel. A diabetic sugar crisis comes to mind: sudden onset, slowed to no conscious physiological activity, cognition loss, coma, perhaps death. Or similar or different. Sugar crisis comes to mind due to I am diabetic and experienced several horrific ones. Concussions, viral and bacterial deliriums, too.

A crucial, to me, facet is Michel may not know what happens, logical and natural he doesn't. His cognitive faculties crash. Readers should at least be able to infer, though. Hence, an event archetype. Several other than expected sensory perceptions are wanted, to me. Proprioception is awareness of body and extremity positions. Nociception is awareness of pain and similar nerve and neural sensation awareness. And other internal sensations: interoception. Plus, external sensations, the usual expected ones, visual, aural, tactile, maybe olactoral and gustatoral, certainly, emotional sensations.

For instance, if a diabetic is attuned to sugar crash sensations, at first, a giddy light-headedness, sort of intoxicated sense; next, extremity tingles, muscle aches; next in sequence, vision distortions, slurred speech, irritability; next, muscle and mind torpor, sense of an insensate and mindless wet dishrag flopped on a floor; next, immobility and loss of all advanced cognitive and communicative functions; last, coma, maybe death. The furthest low sugar crisis for me was the dishrag phase; for kin similarly afflicted, coma, recovered, though; diabetic acquaintances, death.

If such a focused inside looks inside archetype event for the fragment is a direction to go, about half the words of the extant fragment could be excised and then allow for more robust and reader-relatable event and setting development. Yes, important to show the narrative is a fantastic fiction. As is, the chip serves that fantastic motif function. A sugar crash analog there is the chip insertion is like an insulin injection when blood sugars are already low and further crash.

If Michel first inserts the chip, feels symptom onset of the virus, slowed physiology, other unpleasant internal sensations, and cognitive decline, he then removes the chip, sees no problem with the chip, reinserts it -- fade to black.

Fade to black, for prose, written word, a jump transition marked by a type art line, like so for Standard Manuscript Format:
###
Standard Publication Format uses arty type art and centers the marks on the page. A less significant scene transition jump uses an empty line, SMF signaled by a flush left #. See Vonda McIntyre's "Manuscript Preparation" (PDF), if interested in manuscript preparation and submission conventions.

The fragment, to me, reads too sensibly for an internal perspective of a cognition crash victim. Cognitive decline shown would be both sensible and nonsensical. Michel could be sensible at first, when he first inserts the corrupted chip, becomes nonsensical though sensible for readers, and less sensible, more nonsensical forward.

If a thousand words is still the goal -- frankly, I believe that's a steep challenge, my estimate is more like four thousand -- one consideration is that a narrative's start consumes a fourth of word count; a middle, one-half; an end, another fourth, roughly. Thirteen lines' roughly 130 words consume a thousand words' first eighth. The other start eighth would then be most of the available real estate left to introduce Lisa and Hetty and their initial crisis event and setting.

A notable dramatic pivot takes place at or about a first quarter word count mark: an abrupt or final straw incident that incites, motivates, or escalates efforts to satisfy a want-problem crisis, the latter, the action efforts of a middle part. Matters take a turn for the worse and further worse forward, while some progress increments made to unravel the complication. Plus, due to the narrative opens on a misfortune, the outcome best practice ends on good fortune at some personal cost loss. What, Michel restored? Hetty and Lisa avoid viral contamination? Save the world from viral contamination?

The latest fragment as is does give some stronger and clearer sense of what happens here, though, for me, is not as yet a full enough realization of the event situation's reality. Little, if any, setting detail description, either, as like Michel is a disembodied mind and hand in a black, deep-space vacuum. The chip, his wrist, hand, and glove are the sole external perceptions.

I am still disinclined to read on, though mindful the fragment drafts' process advance incrementally toward a fuller realization.

[ January 21, 2018, 05:06 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Would "Michel focussed on the microchip in his hand" be more internal (as opposed to external) and less of a viewpoint glitch?
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Will Blathe
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Good afternoon. Here are some of my thoughts on the most recent version.

The story's focus is tight, so I don't have a sense of place. I don't think this is a problem, just an observation.

The POV character's characterization feels weak, but that makes sense given the situation.

The weak characterization and lack of a sense of place create a tone of mystery/thriller. The details tell me that it's an SF story.

I'd read on. But, all the "it feels like" and "I don't know why" looks redundant to me. I bet you could get the same sense in far fewer words and sentences, leaving you with more freedom.

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extrinsic
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"Michel focused on the microchip in his hand" "focused" is still an extra lens filter, "focused," to mean he looked intently. He still cannot see himself see or look*.

A facet that distinguishes a difference of natural and unnatural actions, like sees the self see, is whether a natural, conscious, volitional thought is behind an action, or otherwise nonvolitional, not thought consciously, and natural. Who thinks I will focus my eyesight on the microchip in my hand now? Unnatural. Of course, Michel's motor control and cognition are about to be or are already impaired. Maybe he needs to tell himself to look at the chip. For a first sentence, though, readers don't know that.

This maybe? //Focused on the microchip he held, Michel thought, where was I?// Note the causal sequence: setup, sees; thought attribution tag, tension relief delay; reacts, minor partial tension relief; plus, implies Michel's cognitive impairment at the outset, what, eventually, the scene is about on its surface, and reader relatable, accessible, and similar to our own misfortunes from our absentmindedness, maybe starts empathy or sympathy rapport, maybe starts suspense's curiosity engagement.

That also seamlessly segues from narrator to agonist viewpoint, that difficult setup and transition in one sentence. What follows then -- readers are primed for received narrator reflections of the viewpoint agonist's personal experiences. The narrator is estranged until and if that viewpoint is again wanted later.

Michel can see his hand, the microchip, the glove. The viewpoint there is from his eyes and mind. External and internal sensations and Michel's thoughts about those near-at-hand features could be less viewpoint glitch if shown from his inside-looks-out, or looks inside, perspective. If given a sensation a viewpoint persona cannot possibly perceive, readers default to narrator or writer perception and viewpoint.

Back and forth in short succession between narrator and agonist viewpoints cause a mental whiplash effect and reader confusion. By no means does a consistent viewpoint preclude a narrator viewpoint nor switches between narrator and agonist. Generally best practice, if a narrator viewpoint is wanted, to start from that viewpoint, complete a dramatic unit, then segue or transition to an agonist viewpoint, though not exclusively. Exceptions arise, of course.

Part of my disengagement or un-engagement, with each fragment is due to a dearth of solid, concrete, "telling detail" setting description. The Lexicon topic there is White Room Syndrome, except no room, nor performance space, so to speak, whatsoever.

Telling detail descriptions are more than bald sensory descriptions of event, setting, or character details; they are emotionally charged and entail representational substance that is abstract, yet strong and clear implication, and relatable and accessible for readers, for imitated reality anchors, also, so readers feel smarter than a narrative. (The latter, one of murder mysteries' appeals.)

For example, what place does Michel lose motor control and content? For representational facets, a medical clinic setting is obvious, too obvious. A congruent opposite (irony) motif or motifs are wanted. What is the most or ideal incongruent setting imaginable? Near infinite numbers of possibilities come to mind. Like a school or college classroom, a gym, a counselor's office, an electronics recycler business, a car repair garage, cemetery, church, any one of which might imply Michel's vocation, maybe his age, his social status, etc., without needing to declare those, thus, a part of the representational substance of telling details. Further, a classroom, gym, or repair shop's typical intents' representational substance counters Michel's motor control and cognition losses.

The setting's ambience features could be impressionistic rather than concrete: lighting maybe, temperature, humidity. To me, though, only if fully realized emotional charge, representational substance, congruent or incongruent opposites, and solid enough telling details.

By the way, what are Michel's body postures during this event? Does he sit, stand, lie prone on his back, stomach, or on his side? On what? Textures of a nearby object, a desk, armchair, chaise, or whatever, maybe, like steamy air and icy slab; soft and hard, hot and cold, insubstantial and solid; of note, perhaps related to the conflict at hand, like life and death: greenery (indoor ficus maybe) and decomposition? Could this event transpire in a morgue's reception foyer? For full telling details' representational substance realization.

* From the Lexicon: "Viewpoint glitch: The author loses track of point-of-view, switches point-of-view for no good reason, or relates something that the viewpoint character could not possibly know." Or do, think, feel, see, hear, touch, smell, or taste, etc.

"Point-of-view" above, though, is actually viewpoint. Narrative point of view glitches are also possible. Point of view is a narrative's overall narrative point of view: main grammatical person, main tense, main grammatical mood, etc., degree, type, and number of agonist thought access, and auxiliaries thereof, as the case may be, and overall tone, or attitude, toward the main topic or subject, and similar, mostly mechanical facets, some aesthetics, like whether the overall tone is caustic or ironically pleasant sarcasm, whether approving or disapproving, and whether the approval or disapproval is ironic, etc. Narrative point of view is a sublime vehicle for writer attitude expression that does not intrude, rather, implies, one of few areas from which a writer behind a fictive construct's wheel might shine forth and not distract, confuse, or estrange readers.

Also from the Lexicon: "White Room Syndrome. An authorial imagination inadequate to the situation at hand; most common in the beginning of a story. 'She awoke in a white room.' The white room is obviously the white piece of paper confronting the author. (Lewis Shiner)" Any "authorial imagination" shortfall.

Another Lexicon item, "Dischism: The unwitting intrusion of the author’s physical surroundings, or the author’s own mental state, into the text of the story. Authors who smoke or drink while writing often drown or choke their characters with an endless supply of booze and cigs. In subtler forms of the Dischism, the characters complain of their confusion and indecision — when this is actually the author’s condition at the moment of writing, not theirs within the story. 'Dischism' is named after the critic who diagnosed this syndrome. (Attr. Thomas M. Disch)"

Note, each of the above Lexicon items overlap, along with Viewpoint Glitch, which, in all, generally, identify viewpoint and imagination shortfalls, includes content missed that's necessary to understand an action at hand and, later, a main action, if separate from the main action. A prelude scene, as it were, is a bridge action to a main action.

[ January 22, 2018, 10:46 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Jay Greenstein
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quote:
It was the oddest sensation. He could remember last week, but not what had happened today. Why was he here? Where was here, anyway? He had no idea.
As with the previous version, this is a report—told in overview—voiced by an external observer. So, the reader is informed, but not made part of the action. Factual? Absolutely. A reason for emotional involvement by the reader? No, because you’re focusing on information, not emotional issues and reaction. You’re reporting it like a history, not a scene being lived in real-time. But history has no uncertainty. Reality does, and readers feed on uncertainty. So make the reader say, “What in the hell do we do now?” not “Uh-huh…I see.”

Suppose you’d given his viewpoint. That would be immediate and personal. And the first thing he would notice is what’s impinging on him in the moment he calls “now.” So if we begin after he wakes, and wonders what’s going on, it might be something like:

The bedroom was tastefully decorated but impersonal. But, whose was it? No memory came that might help. In fact, precious few memories did come, certainly none that would place him in this bed. That was a major worry, but of more immediate importance was the situation in the room and any threat it might pose. And since lying in the bed provided nothing he didn’t already know, it was time to get up.

That was a mistake, because…


Notice that the narrator speaks only in service of the protagonist. And everything that happens does so because he decides it must, based on his motivation. So instead of the narrator explaining, the character lives in real-time.
quote:
He moved his hand sluggishly; it was such an effort. The edge of his glove was in his way.
Again, this is you explaining what you see happening. Wouldn’t he wonder why he’s wearing a glove? Wouldn’t he wonder why his hand didn’t seem to be responding? You’re telling this story from the outside in, and as such it will always read like a report. Fiction for the page, though, is more of an inside out presentation—as the protagonist perceives and reacts to his world, not as you report it. This matters a great deal, because if he’s in service to your needs he’ll behave as you order, be it in him or not. If you need smart he grows in intelligence. If he must miss something the IQ points fall away. And how real can that seem? It is his story, after all, so let the poor bastard do his job as he feels he must, without you second guessing and feeding him lines.

My point is that you’re rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to try to make it more seaworthy, because you’re trying to use the nonfiction writing tricks you know, in different ways to try to fix the problems. You need a new set of tricks—presentation tricks that are emotion-based, not fact-based, and character, not author-centric. Without them all you can do is use the tools you know.

Chew on that article I linked to for a time, and try writing a short scene with the technique suggested. I think you’ll find it a lot easier to do, and much more personal to the protagonist.

Hope this helps

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Will Blathe
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This may just be a question of taste, but I liked the first try best. It was immediate and gave me all the information I needed to intuit the situation.

I'm itching to see the next try.

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Lynne Clark
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Hi Will, thanks for this. Here is the latest rewrite. (fingers crossed I've counted 13 lines this time...) I have removed the entire first para from Michel's angle, and gone back to Hetty in the lab.

I looked down at a familiar face, blond hair pushed forward, tousled over his forehead, tangled where the wires had been, a body on a NetCom laboratory slab. Nothing more than a housing that resembled my husband.
Lisa pulled out the last line, pushing the diagnostic panel to one side as the darkened screen slid back into Michel’s open head. ‘I’m sorry, Hetty, I’ve tried everything, but this virus... it’s lethal. He’s #204’d. He’s empty.’ She wound the cable round her arm, twisting it into a smooth hank.
‘Does anyone know where the virus is coming from? How it’s getting in?’
‘No. It doesn’t seem to be in the servers, they’ve tripled checked and cleared them worldwide.

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