‘Want to go home,’ she whispered. The village was dead: her house burnt; mother gone. The sphere of Null I had maintained for over three hours faded from space-time. Sound and smell returned. I could hear the rustle of low burning in the distance. Stale, acrid smoke. A hint of roasted flesh on the breeze. I gagged. The ground was black around the dry hemisphere of earth where we stood, holding hands like lost children. ‘It’s gone,’ I said. ‘There’s no going back. Let’s go.’ I raised my hand and called up a globe of yellow light, then stepped up and out. Started off across the ashes, towards the softly burning fields in the middle-distance. Everyone’s dead. Except this child. She should be dead too. Oh god, what will Aldrin say! What shall I do now? [fragment ends.]
Hi there. I think this is 13 lines - if not, please let me know. It's the beginning of a short story. I'm working on it as a possible competition entry (and as a warm up for longer things). Genre is mixed: fantasy-sci fi. Final length guesstimate: 5000 words. Any reactions/feedback welcomed. P.S. If the spelling is mixed, I apologise - I tend to use UK spelling, but my machine is stuck on US. Let me know if there's a site preference or if you'd simply advise adopting American spelling for American competitions... Actually, that's probably a stupid question. I'll do that as I proceed. Thanks in advance for any input that's forthcoming.
To the favor of the fragment's craft, the fragment is composed in scene mode, though by default of first person is less of a challenge than third person, however, nonetheless contains narrative point of view inconsistencies. More anon.
Seventeen lines, by the way. Thirteen lines tolls at "She should be dead[,]too." "too" takes comma separation in that case.
Some works for me, some doesn't work for me facets, or prose craft strengths and shortfalls. Overall, the grammar and language entail more than several discrepancies, punctuation errors, for one, artless sentence fragments, organization glitches, narrative point of view flaws.
About dialects, British or U.S., as is, the fragment has single quote mark ' and two words common to British dialect and less common to U.S. dialect, though nonetheless U.S. variants, and one word unique to British dialect: "towards" and "amidst" and "Saviour". U.S. prose dialogue marks convention is the double ". Conventional or standard U.S. spoken and written English is toward and amid, per U.S. style manual references Chicago Manual of Style, prose publication's gold standard, and The Associated Press Style Manual: 2017, journalism publication's gold standard. Webster's Dictionary of English Usage allows either of both those terms and distinguishes toward usage favors adjective case and towards usage favors preposition case, in either dialect, though consistently if one or both used. The fragment's usage is preposition case.
The title "Saviour" is a patent British dialect variant, U.S. variant savior.
On the other hand, a U.S. prose contest could go either way for British dialect use, sentiments either way. My question is, does the dialect used suit the narrative? Dramatic personas and settings and milieus of standard British situations favor the British dialect. So where the action transpires and through whom matters.
Not to mention, also, International Dialect English, mostly written word distinctions, evinces fewer speech distinctions, like diction considerations "toward-towards" and "amid-amidst, maybe -ly adverb distinctions favor British dialect. U.S. trends toward flat -ly adverbs: British firstly, U.S. first, for sentence ordinals. Written-word forms that favor distinction, like cooperate, U.S., co-operate, British, or coöperate, International, are indistinguishable in speech, except for speaker native accent.
Unclear from the title "Saviour" and the fragment what the story is superficially or truly about, either on the action surface or the subtext. What, a high tech individual adopts a refugee orphan? That's event and character introductions; place and time and situation are vague, though. Little, if any, cues given about the theme subtext in terms of the human condition. What, sub-Sahara Africa warfare devastation? Which is due to, what, ego-centric nihilism in crisis contests with, what, noble social responsibility? an apt theme for this narrative.
An adjustment that could establish the theme is a different start time. To me, the narrative starts at an earlier time, say, when the unnamed narrator-agonist erects the sphere of Null and its external sensation shutoff, no sight, no sound, no smell. Or maybe later at the immediate now moment before the sphere shuts off.
The third sentence's past perfect predicate is a dead giveaway the time organization is confused and is a challenge to reading and comprehension ease. Two sentences, one paragraph given in a just this immediate past moment sequenced simple past, prose's metaphoric present tense, and next the third sentence digresses back three hours in time and to a past perfect, already completed, over and done, action. "Had maintained" The remainder of the fragment flows more or less forward in time.
However, the first sentence is dialogue that comes from a disembodied voice and an empty vacuum void. The instinct to open with dialogue is common across prose's opus, though a challenge to support setting and character development, less so event, which speech is an event. Even reversal of the two first sentences enhances timely event, setting, and character introduction development and organization a small degree.
Also, colloquial dialect might enhance the dialogue. Instead of "Want to," perhaps Wanna. Does a terrified young girl want home, though, or does she want momma first and foremost?
"The village was dead: her house burnt; mother gone." Punctuation errors. The sentence contains compound predicates after the colon, neither the colon or the semicolon are indicated, maybe prose's dash of style, otherwise, commas are indicated. The three clauses of the sentence are also elliptical, or omitted or elided content easily understood or recovered from the context wrap.
A grammatically precise rendition demonstrates: //Her village was dead. Her hut home was burnt. Her mother was gone.// That, by the way, is also a tricolon of the Vini, vidi, vici nature attributed to Caesar, loose translations: I came, I saw, I won or I arrived, I observed, I conquered. Due to regular and loose tricolons form a three-segment sequence of a close idea relationship between otherwise independent clauses, comma separation is advised instead of periods, to signal close relationship between otherwise independent or compound predicate clauses, especially elliptical, compound predicate clauses.
Colons introduce subsequent explanatory content of an appositive nature, and lists that do likewise. A verbal substitution for a colon is as follows.
Semicolons join independent clauses of a close or implied close relationship, plus add separation organization when commas are insufficient. Verbal substitutions for a semicolon are and plus, and also, as well, furthermore, and similar additive conjunctive adverbs and adverbial phrases. Hence, overly sophisticated for prose in general. The simple comma workhorse is the go-to for when and won't do. Or, just separate clauses into standalone sentences.
"The sphere of Null _I had maintained for over three hours_ faded from space-time." One of first person's more common challenges and glitches is extra lens filters. Extra lens filters take variant forms of <auxiliary name or pronoun sentence subject, or complement><auxiliary predicate><auxiliary object or complement, if any><actual, true subject><actual, true predicate><actual, true object, if any>.
Underscores above bracket an extra lens filter. Extra lens filters involve a roundabout narrator summarizes a sensation action rather than an agonist's received reflection describes the bald sensation, regardless of sensation type: visual, aural, tactile, gustatoral, olfactoral, emotional, etc. Extra lens filters filter through several unnecessary dramatic personas to readers. In this case, writer tells narrator to tell character to tell readers the sphere of Null had been maintained for three hours before it faded.
For adjustment demonstration: //After a three-hour span, the sphere of Null faded from space-time.// Clumsy nonetheless. Best practice is to describe the maintenance effort if relevant or skip it altogether. The sphere's dissolution is the relevant idea; emphasize it and describe the unique sensations of its on, between, and off status.
"Sound and smell returned." What about sight? Are these sphere-external sensations only? The girl speaks and that is heard before the sphere of Null fade is mentioned, after all.
"_I could hear_ the rustle of low burning in the distance." Another extra lens filter. An unnecessary gerund -ing word and vague. "in the distance," vague. //Flame tongues rustled and crackled among hut remnant embers.//
"Stale, acrid smoke." Stale or acrid smoke, not both at once. The intent appears to be the smoke smells at once aged from time elapsed and fresh, and possibly the aged and moldered nature of the combustibles. Sentence fragment anyway, sentence fragments for prose best practice express emotional commentary.
"A hint of roasted flesh on the breeze." Another emotionally empty sentence fragment, plus, a contradiction. Does roasted flesh not smell pleasant for carnivores? "roasted" is itself contrary to the overall fragment motif of burnt ruins and ashes. Another synonym is wanted, that amplifies the concepts, plus, likewise, another word substituted for "hint." "hint" usage comports with gourmet palates' special notice of rare sensory delights. Even next resorts stink or stench are more apt.
"Stale, acrid smoke. A hint of roasted flesh on the breeze. I gagged." Best practice, those combine into a single sentence and a maybe dash of style used to emphasize and separate the final clause: //Stale, acrid smoke, a hint of roasted flesh on the breeze -- I gagged.//
"The ground was black around the dry hemisphere of earth where we stood, _holding_ hands like lost children." A visual sensation that best practice immediately follows the paragraph's first sentence and then segues into the sounds and smells and textures in a logical sensory experience and process order.
Underscores above bracket another unnecessary -ing, a verbal word in that usage. A verbal word equivalent for a comma is and. (Different senses of "verbal" there, one grammar, one speech or written expression.) Sensibility of the sentence tested that way: //The ground was black around the dry hemisphere of earth where we stood _and_ holding hands like lost children.// Nonsensical. held wanted instead, and also a compound predicate clause regardless.
Plus, the sentence contains other clumsy language: vague "ground," static voice "was", "black" instead of more apt blackened, "dry hemisphere of earth" a huh? what is that? A bowl the sphere of Null dented into the terrain? How? Why? Why not soil or dirt, etc., for "ground" or "earth"? The objective case use of "where we stood . . ." is a conjunction case error, syntax glitch at least.
Adjusted for demonstration: //The Mabanaga firestorm blackened the soil around the dried bowl of dirt _in which_ we stood and held hands like lost children.// Wordy, though, first, due to "in which," second, due to multiple independent ideas. Separate sentences wanted regardless.
"_I raised my hand and called up a globe of yellow light_, then stepped up and out. Started off across the ashes, towards the softly burning fields in the middle-distance." Oh, late in the fragment, we now find out the setting is nighttime? Underscores bracket another extra lens filter. "then" is widely deprecated for prose segment sequence uses and compound predicate sequences.
Punctuation errors, too, as is. The three sentences are a sequential action sequence, comma separation indicated, though would be wordy and unnecessarily lengthened. Another unnecessary -ing gerund, an unnecessary and emotionally empty -ly adverb, both back-to-back, and both part of a noun phrasal, which takes no verbal parts of speech: adverb and a present-participle gerund. "Middle distance" takes no hyphen, is a two-word noun.
Apt punctuation adjustment demonstration only: //I raised my hand and called up a globe of yellow light, stepped up and out, started off across the ashes towards (or toward) the softly burning fields in the middle distance.//
"softly burning" substitutions? Writer's choices, many from which to select. Sluggish fire and singed sorghum stalks?
"Everyone’s dead. Except this child. She should be dead[,] too." Patently interior discourse, stream-of-consciousness thought, that is. The italics might be superfluous, though feminine and young to early adult reader fantasy favors their timely, judicious uses for emotional emphases, less so, if at all, for older age and masculine readers and science fiction.
The remainder will be detail uncommented due to over thirteen lines. Several more grammar and language discrepancies therein, though. [Edited to add, after Ms. Dalton Woodbury allowed a few more words:] "What _shall_ I do now?" Indicative mood verb "shall" mistake. Subjunctive mood is for such an uncertainty. A conditional helper verb wanted instead, would, should, can, or another subjunctive construction.
Several facets of the fragment hold promise, though inference taken from what's given less so than more so my projections. On its own, the in-scene mode recommends the fragment, absent glitches that detract from scene mode's appeals. If the narrative were about a savior of a refugee orphan solely, that is not much to work with, part because such one-sided altruism has little human condition appeal, often labeled mono-dimensional or flat. An agonist best practice suffers internal, of the self complication and conflict and contests as well as external complication and conflict and contests, for roundness' sake, that is, multi-dimensionality of realistic and natural human conditions in contention.
The fragment contains a vague intimation the agonist evinces a momentary doubt about the girl's rescue, though at most an insubstantial flash as soon gone as broached -- and not even broached at that. Prose drama contests and crises are best practice intimate and personal, of the self, hence, internal as well as external. Dramatic doubt wants a situation that asks for clearer and stronger development in the immediate now moment of that almost broach.
I would be especially and hopefully, hopelessly engaged if the fragment intimated the girl would later become the agonist's savior as well, an agonist herself, no mere accessory character, though neither knows at the start. That potential holds strong and clear promise and occasion for overall unity of the parts and whole.
As is, though, I am disinclined to read further as an engaged reader.
Thanks for very rich and detailed feedback, extrinsic. Your comments speak to narrative, word choice, stylistic issues, grammar and punctuation (and no doubt several other aspects that it'll take me a few re-readings to grasp!).
There are too many points to take them one by one this minute. In short though: agreed on the punctuation and tense errors, agreed on the extra lens filters, agreed on the starting place (including voice inconsistencies) - in fact on almost everything you've written above. (And I have a terrible feeling I might have just used a colon incorrectly again... Aaargh!)
Beyond all of that, this is helping me learn how to see my own text from the outside, as it were. A critical gift.
I want to address most of your feedback in later drafts, but won't resubmit immediately. I want to get closer to a whole story before posting again. Will probably repost the fragment when the whole thing is closer to feeling complete (though not finished).
Just as background: Imagined setting is not Earth. Neither of the characters touched on so far is (necessarily) homo sapiens - though ultimately everything is kind of about us.... Theme is more related to the dangers of falling into/trying to live out of the saviour narrative - ego inflation - illusions of superiority, etc. And a few steps on the journey beyond these. (Maturation is probably the big theme for me at the moment.)
But, as I scribble, type and generally discover where it wants to go, some or all of that may change.
I found your feedback on the punctuation and tense issues particularly helpful. My use of punctuation is pretty instinctive (which may sometimes be a synonym for 'random'). Clearly, I need to think more about the rules and not just treat semicolons as a longer rest than a comma. :-) (The convention around double vs single quotation marks was also news to me.)
Tense is probably an even larger problem: inconsistencies abound in my writing. I may need long-term professional help with that (or - God forbid - to actually read and grapple with an English grammar). This stuff should have been taught in school... Perhaps I was absent that day/week?
Your comments on how to work in 'scene mode, first person' are really useful - this was also an instinctive choice; one I think I want to stick with, just more consistently and coherently.
in summary: thanks again. I appreciate the time, attention and knowledge you've brought to this first attempt. I'm also glad I didn't spend hours messing with it and getting deeply attached to it before posting. This was a very first draft (scrawled, typed and submitted) and your input at this stage will hopefully help me, in the coming week or three, to craft the whole into something worth reading.
P.S. Sorry about the extra lines - I thought it was 13. I used 12pt Times New Roman, counted 13 lines and then copied into the field and trimmed whatever didn't fit. I read somewhere in one of the 'guideline' posts that if text filled the field it was 13/14 lines. But I guess not on Safari? Any simple tips for getting the fragment length right? P.P.S. On the same issue, but from a different angle: I think I get the 13 line convention - and its use by overworked editors/readers. I don't think I've ever personally chosen a novel based on so little text - I tend to skim the first page or two, and perhaps dip in to a later chapter, to see if there's anything that speaks to me, and if the words 'sing' at least a little. In a short story those first 13 lines do feel more critical since the form is so much more compressed. I guess I am rambling towards the realisations that, (a) while I think I'm a fairly critical reader, I've grown quite lazy... there's a steep learning curve on the way to seeing *all* (or most of) the details that matter (b) the task of sustaining the kind of quality I'd like - beyond a good first 13 lines - is going to be a serious challenge!
Enough P.S.'s for one day (and one post)! May your day be a good one! And please read this post a bit less critically than my attempts at fiction: I am fairly certain this is RIDDLED with punctuation and grammatical errors (despite my attempts to avoid at least some of them!).
Hatrack's thirteen lines principle is at its core based upon two criteria aside from maybe a first page is all a screener will sample and decide upon decline or buck a manuscript up a publisher's evaluation hierarchy.
Standard Manuscript Format's first page contains a half page of text formatted in a monospaced typeface, Courier New, for example, and protection of copyright and publication rights are Hatrack's thirteen-lines-only foundations. Plus -- well, thirteen lines is an economical quantity all around from which to estimate a given reader's engagement, what works and what doesn't for a given reader and, by extension, other readers, and a narrative's publication potential.
My simplest method for thirteen lines count is to set word processor default page format for Courier New, count and copy and paste from that composition. Times New Roman is a proportional typeface designed and kerned for newspaper space conservation. Dependent upon a text's diction and syntax, and a writer's idiolect variants, Times New Roman crams in as much as or more than thirty-five percent text per line than Courier New. Apple-Mac browser Safari might allow one extra line over other browsers, at times.
A Hatrack rule or principle proscribes, generally, critique of any posts not offered for critique. So thread discussion outside of fragments offered for critique usually won't garner critique comments.
More than a few screeners claim they sample up to two or so pages, or about four hundred words or so. If a screener samples several dozen submissions per day and daily for most of their weekly workload and year or two of internship span, a screener develops an above the average reader aptitude for noting strengths and shortfalls. Hatrack's many posted fragments offer ample occasion to experience a screener's routine work.
The assembly line factory school mentality common to most school entities is part responsible for grammar and language shortfalls. A bare minimum for hypoliterate salt mine drudges is all that's taught and never a clue stated that grammar is a tacit social contract amenable to further realization and very much more extensive than what's taught.
A comprehensive grammar handbook is a creative writer's best practice resort for further guidance on the topic. The Little, Brown Handbook, Thirteenth Edition, about a hundred USD from online booksellers, is most comprehensive and recommended. Anymore, though, a broad array of online resources cover the same topics, mindful much wildlife error and misdirection offered out there, too. As well, a comprehensive dictionary, main mine's Webster's Collegiate, a style manual of a writer's chosen bailiwick, U.S. English prose publication: The Chicago Manual of Style, and a likewise English usage dictionary, again, main mine's Webster's. My library shelves contain a dozen linear feet of such references and very much more prose craft texts.
My grammar skills come from the same paltry school instruction basics, later advanced independent study for prose publication intents, and dedicated study for my livelihood: editor. My advanced grammar skill learning spanned ten years from when I first set a serious foot on the sacred Poet's Journey, and still I study ever more rarified grammar and language nuances.
Like prose composition skill development is a marathon, not a sprint, grammar and language aptitude developments are as well. Ten dedicated, if informal, years' study after standard school instruction completion is one apocyrphal anecdote about how long a time to reach either and both's competence and confidence degree. Exceptions abound.
Though screeners generally might have less aptitude for grammar than my grammar peers and I do, obvious and intuition of grammar and language shortfalls are an easy submission rejection, if not a first reason. Story craft is an entire other discipline apart from grammar and general factory instruction -- manifold are the insightful texts which contain craft guidance. Matters of expression and appeal, the other two meta areas of prose composition, are writer dependent and independent of useful instruction and text references. Prose reading itself offers occasion for those study areas.
All creative writers who set determined foot on the Poet's Journey come to these above and more donnybrooks and Rubicons and Waterloos. Tel est la vie de escritur: such is the life of writing.
By the way, a narrative that portrays the complications and conflicts and themes of an individual and megalomania is very much relevant and timely and of large audience appeal potentials, appeals to me anyway. Exquisite satire topic.
Thanks for the manuscript guidelines, suggested reference books and advice. I'm beginning to build a modest list of texts to buy (or hunt down) as well as a clearer sense of what I need to work on. Also beginning to get excited about the process of learning about all of this - as well as about the writing itself.
Posts: 14 | Registered: May 2018
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quote:Just as background: Imagined setting is not Earth.[QUOTE]
Given that the reader doesn't know this, any clarification you make after the fact is too late. A story is like a self-guiding trail, and must provide its own context as the reader progresses.
quote:Want to go home,’ she whispered.
Here's where the problems begin. As stated, an unknown she whispers to someone not introduced. What can that mean to the reader? Nothing. So line one serves to confuse the reader. Moreover, as presented this is the story's protagonist and you're using thirs person. But neither is true, so again, a point of confusion. That's two in the first line. They don't jump out at you because you have context, which is why you need to edit as a reader, who knows only what the words to any given point suggest to them.
quote:The village was dead: her house burnt; mother gone.
What can this mean to a reader who doesn't know where we are in time and space, what's going on, and who we are? This unknown "her" could be ten or thirty, human, alien, or animal. The village could be a thatched hut or a village in modern England. You know. She knows. Everyone in the story knows. But fair is fair, shouldn't the one you wrote this for know, too.
quote:The sphere of Null I had maintained for over three hours faded from space-time.
So here, as far as the reader is concerned, we switch from third person to first, and to the unknown "she" we add an unknown, and ungendered narrator, talking about unknown things. And added to that, there's technobabble about something unknown fading from "space-time." As an engineer I have not a clue of how "faded from space-time" differs from "faded." Hasn't anything that disappears vanished from time both time and space? If so, why mention it other than to impress the reader with something mysterious sounding (which doesn't work)?
I know this comes as a blow, because it makes perfect sense to you. But the problem is that as you read, every line calls up images, concepts, and story, all stored on your mind. But for the reader, every line calls up images, concepts, and story, all stored on your mind. And without you there to ask...
The problem isn't one of talent, or bad/good writing. Nor is it the story. It's that fiction, like any other profession, has a body of specialized knowledge—the tricks of the trade—that must be mastered. Many are the type to make you say, "Why didn't I see that," when you hear them. But they are also the kind you'll not notice till they're pointed out, because "art conceals art." After all, if you want to write like pro, doesn't it make sense that you need to know what the pro knows?
So, yeah, this is really bad news. But it's also something that every hopeful writer faces on the way to publication, so it's not big deal—though it does mean you won't be rich and famous by Christmas. And that's a bummer. But the good news is that if you are meant to be a writer the learning will be fun. So hit the local library's fiction writing section. It can be a huge resource.
Hang in there, and keep on writing.
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Thanks, Bent Tree, WB and Jay. Feedback appreciated.
No blow, Jay - and points taken. I've moved on to a complete redraft which I'm still working on in between the distractions involved in earning a living. I've been traveling for most of the past month so not a lot of progress. Draft 1 of the MS is perhaps halfway there, though at least every scene and link is now mapped out and I know where it's going... The challenge is making the uninterrupted time to finish draft 1 and then rework (repeatedly, I suspect :-). So a new opening paragraph should be forthcoming in August.
In the process, many of the issues raised above should be addressed. It does seems to be developing into a novella though, which wasn't what I intended, but a bit more wordage seems necessary to build a sense of the cultures and the world (without acres of heavy exposition).
*Bent Tree: thanks for the generous offer! If it still stands, I might take you up on in it in a month or so's time...*
And now to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing this week, and prepare to board another plane... <Deep sigh.>
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Not sure if you are still working on this but I have to do my part in this give and take relationship. Not much to add but for me, I feel that you try to do too much at once. It reminds me of an essay of Orwell's where he writes about working in a book shop. He wrote that short stories weren't as popular with readers as novels because the short story requires the reader to jump right into the action, where as the novel allows them to ease their way in. I think you can stretch out this opening. Maybe focus on one aspect: either the girl, the narrator or the environment. One last thing, and this is definitely subjective taste. I am not a huge fan of fantasy and one reason is such tropes as orbs, spheres, cubes and shards. I feel these devices are too common and are seen everywhere in the genre. If there is a different device/description possible, that could help with a reader such as myself. However, I do understand that these are signals to reader to let them know "this is what you are getting" and help with grounding. Thanks
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One more last thing, I realize that you are creating a tense/frantic situation, but that can still be done by doing what I suggested above. Build up tense and suspense. Even if this is supposed to be just a quick jaunt/excursion, greater focus on the more important elements can still allow for this.
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