I've started working on what might eventually be a novel about immortals who aren't superheroes or superbankers, just ordinary people doing ordinary jobs. They work/meet in a bar run by two of them, probably set in the future 2100 or so. This is the start, Molvus the dishwasher collecting dirty mugs etc.
Molvus moved through the pub collecting dirty plates, cutlery and mugs as he deftly skirted the laughing customers, his long arms and large hands easily scooping everything up as he automatically repeated his usual “Finished with that mate?” without waiting for a reply. He always knew when they’d finished. He returned the full tray to the side of the kitchen at the back of the room, unloading it quickly into neat piles next to his sink with its constantly running taps. Smoothing his hands over his almost-bald head he frowned at the topmost plate accusingly. Picking up the plate he walked back into the dining room, scanning the crowd before advancing to a table near the bar. “Excuthe me thir,” he said in his best Igor voice - Molvus did Igor very well, even Igor said so - “I think you’ve forgotten
An individual buses a restaurant's tables and confronts another individual about unsocial behavior.
That confrontation is a standout for the fragment, a matter of a dramatic contest between individuals. However, a low magnitude contest, perhaps a bridge conflict, though of little dramatic consequence. No clear or strong complication behind it, though: Complication for prose is the other part of drama; that is, the portrayed motivations of the agonists in contention. Complication's motivations and conflict's stakes risked are the two prime dramatic movers of prose, those and tone's attitude toward a subject or topic, in this case, maybe everyday immortality as -- what?
A start best practice introduces what a narrative is truly about, or a theme-complication-conflict-tone for the overall narrative.
By the way, at present, the fragment is twice thirteen lines, and tolls at "I think you've forgotten". Even composed in Times New Roman's cramped composition would be two more lines, not thirteen more.
The main narrative point of view is third person impersonal, past tense, indicative mood, though several unnecessary tense shift glitches to present progressive throughout. Third person impersonal, also known as detached narrator narrative point of view, reports events, settings, milieus, and characters from an outside looks inward perspective, generally, a now deprecated prose narrative point of view for its remote distance.
Third-person personal to one viewpoint agonist, who looks from inside out, is much more preferred anymore. As is, the question of who's the narrator is unanswered. Establishment of narrator identity for readers' rapport sake is another essential feature of a start fragment. At the least, introduces a narrator's identity through a strong attitude tone expressed of what readers like us value and disparage.
Several grammar glitches and prose craft shortfalls detract from the fragment's readability and comprehensibility and appeals, too.
No fantastic fiction motif introduced in the fragment. Hatrack welcomes any prose genre offered for critique; however, if a work is fantastic, best practice is to introduce such a motif early, if not on the first page's first thirteen lines (a facet of Hatrack's first thirteen lines principle).
If the milieu is circa 2100, what might intimate this situation is fantastic? Futuristic? A global trend tends toward laborer displacement and jobs elimination. Would a futuristic café-diner even employ humans? for example. If this one does, why? Would human laborer restaurants cater only to the elites? What about the salts of the earth? Would they seek homely, comfortable, and economical food service? What does that say about a café, its workers, and patrons? And so on.
This laborer displacement phenomena is a timely and relevant topic for a narrative about everyday immortals here and now, as well as in the foreseeable future, and of strong and broad appeals.
Occasion missed to introduce the narrator identity from the get-go, wanted within the first sentence. By default, Molvus' name given first implies he is the viewpoint agonist; however, most of his actions cannot be seen by him. Another persona observes him, and is not introduced. Defaults to an anonymous, detached, remote, vague narrator. Defaults create vague reader engagement and leave readers at arm's length or farther.
"Molvus" itself is a difficult name, unfamiliar and unrelatable. The name somewhat resembles "Hulga" from Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People." Helga, originally at birth, Swedish for beautiful, Hulga changed her name to show her low self-worth and self-perceived ugliness, an apt development of the narrative. Even Milvus is at least searchable, Latin name for the red kite bird of prey, relatable, too.
Many methods are possible to overcome vagueness of viewpoint perspective in third person. Attribution tags are one method, of the he said, she thought, etc., types. Though not extra lens filters of the she saw, he heard, it touched types. (See "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction" by Clarion workshops' David Smith, SFWA hosted, for extra lens filters and a cornucopia of story craft shortfalls common to all prose, as well as fantastic fiction, and craft advices.)
Abundant -ing and -ly words might signal a kind of present sense state of ongoing present time. Gertrude Stein uses the present progressive tense for that function; William Gibson emulates the method though to less artful effect. "collecting" is an unnecessary and unsupported -ing word. All of the fragment's -ing words are, includes gerunds, like "laughing".
-ly adverbs', like all modifiers, prose function is to express an emotional charge when verbs and predicates themselves do not. "deftly" is emotionally empty, flat. All of the fragment's -ly words are. Adjectives likewise.
The first sentence, overall, is lengthy for no purpose, and is a run-on of forty-three words -- wow -- joined by a conjunction mistake: "_easily scooping everything_ up _as_ he". First, an empty -ly followed by two unnecessary -ings. -ings create a ring rhyme annoyance unnecessary and counterproductive for prose. Not even poetry favors that type of rhyme scheme. Correlation conjunction "as'" function is to correlate ideas, not for coordination of nonsimultaneous action events. Molvus' actions are sequential at least. Sequential same-tense predicate clauses and sequential sentences are prose's dramatic movement engine.
"Finished with that[,] mate" Comma missed.
"He _always_ knew" Non-ly empty and absolute adverb and an illogical declaration. Not once in his entire life has or will Molvus not know? Impossible, an Oh yeah? I should believe that? from our host Orson Scott Card's three questions every reader asks. Why should I care? Oh yeah? and Huh? what is that? For that matter, I have little, if any, emotional investment to care about from the fragment.
"his almost-bald head[,]" Either is or isn't bald-headed, no almost about prose, at least for clarity, strength, and reading and comprehension ease, if not firm assertions. The prefatory dependent clause takes comma separation, too.
Another prefatory dependent clause the next sentence that lacks comma separation: "Picking up the plate[,]" and unnecessary sameness of syntax.
That sentence, for that matter, confuses tense sequence order, from present progressive to simple past and back again to present progressive and yet another clause of present progressive at the end, a grammar error. Prose favors simple past for its metaphoric representation of just this now moment passed present tense. Present tense's artful present-sense and subjectivity strengths notwithstood. Unnecessary tense shifts impact reading and comprehension ease. For best prose reader effect, ideally, the words and pages evaporate and readers vicariously live a story and an agonist's perspective of events in the immediate now moment.
"Excuthe me[,] thir" Direct address takes comma separation between an expression and the addressee.
A future where everyday immortals are extant offers strong promise of enjoyment and satire delight potential; however, little to connect with leaves me disinclined to read further as an engaged reader. Several grammar glitches and language inaptness detract from what of the fragment does hold some small appeal, that is, a restaurant worker who publicly mocks and ridicules a thoughtless patron.
Before anything else… Nothing you’ll read in response to this posting has to do with your talent or potential as a writer. Nor does it have to do with the story, or good/bad writing.
It all relates to the fact that at this point you’re missing the tricks of the trade and specialized knowledge of the profession—the learned part of it. And like most hopeful writers you’re probably not yet aware that the style of writing we’re taught in school is fact-based and author-centric, designed to inform. But fiction’s task is to entertain. And that requires an entirely different approach and methodology. So while I’m sure this is pretty hard to take, it’s something every writer faces on the way to publication. So don’t let it discourage you.
quote: Molvus moved through the pub collecting dirty plates, cutlery and mugs as he deftly skirted the laughing customers, his long arms and large hands easily scooping everything up as he automatically repeated his usual “Finished with that mate?” without waiting for a reply.
You’re way over-specifying visual details, slowing the narrative. Molvus is bussing tables in the pub. Why does a reader care what kind of dishes he collects? Why do they have to know that he’s not bumping into the customers? Why do they want to know that he has large hands, and all the rest? Remember, they-can’t-see-him. And knowing what can be seen is not the same as seeing it.
You can visualize the place, but the term “pub” could be placing us in the 1700’s in the English speaking world or a contemporary drinking spot in modern England. Which is is matters a lot more than how skillfully he picked up a plate.
In short, this is trivia, not story.
quote: He returned the full tray to the side of the kitchen at the back of the room, unloading it quickly into neat piles next to his sink with its constantly running taps. Smoothing his hands over his almost-bald head he frowned at the topmost plate accusingly.
Do I care that the kitchen I can’t see has water running that he ignores? Of course not. It has light bulbs, too. You might as well mention them, and the contents of the refrigerators, because they are exactly as relevant to the story as what you do mention.
Here’s the deal: At the moment you’re thinking cinematically, and explaining what there is to be seen in the film version running in your head. But almost none of that matters to the plot. It doesn’t make us know Molvus as a person. And, none of it sets the scene meaningfully because he’s ignoring the things you’re talking about. And since he is our protagonist, if it’s not important to him in his moment of now, it doesn’t matter to the reader. Fair is fair. It is his story. So stick to what matters to him in his moment of now.
Story isn’t about what’s happening. It’s not about scenery. It’s about how the protagonist perceives what matters to him, in real-time, and how he resolves what he sees as problems.
Obviously, the nonfiction writing skills we picked up in school aren’t up to the task of making the reader feel as if they’re living the scene, moment-by-moment. They’re good at reports and essays, but lousy at fiction, which is emotion-based and character-centric.
So literally every line in which the narrator is talking to the reader needs to be rethought and restated to place it into his viewpoint. I don’t mean changing to first person, I mean presenting the scene as he perceives it.
Were you and five other people to walk through my house, looking at what you care to, opening closets and drawers, every one of you would focus on different things and reach differing conclusions, based on your personal background and experience. And in fiction, it’s the viewpoint of the protagonist that matters.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old observation that in every argument between husband and wife there are three viewpoints: His, hers, and what really happened. In fiction, only the viewpoint of the protagonist matters, for reasons to complex for a short post. You might want to read this article because it illustrates how the backgrounds and needs of several people influence how they react to the same situation.
The point of all this is that spending some time digging out the tricks of fiction writing that are mandated by the limitations and strengths of our medium would be time well spent. And a good place to begin is the library’s fiction writing section. My personal recommendation is to seek the names Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, or Debra Dixon on the cover.
Hang in there, and keep on writing.
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I don't have anything useful to add to the feedback you've already received about technique, POV, grammar, etc. Instead, I'll just share my response and the questions that come up for me.
'Ordinary immortals' is an intriguing idea. But I'd like some hint from the opening lines about the *direction* you're going to take with it....
Will the story/book use these characters to offer a kind of long-view social commentary? That might produce effective satire – though it would probably need a lot of research and be quite complex to pull off.
Or, is it a mystery story or an adventure we're embarking on?
Or, is it more about the relationships between the immortals (and perhaps the 'normals') - very different dynamics would be at play, and the theme of loss would (I imagine) be strong?
Or perhaps all or none of the above. I just need a hint of something more than pub life: perhaps one important theme foreshadowed in the fragment.
If some hint of your answers to the overarching question, 'Why are we here?' – even if it's only present in subtext – came through in the first few lines, I would be more inclined to read on.
The main image I am left with is of a somewhat simian, though efficient, busboy, doing routine chores. What image do you want me to be left with? Or what question? How do you want me to feel about Molvus - and what will it take to produce that feeling pretty immediately?
(A complete aside: working out the backstory that precedes the action will probably be a lot of fun... I guess this world has to be built in some depth so you are able to find the telling pieces of information and color to show your reader upfront.)
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These are all very good questions, Warren, and exactly the ones I'm struggling with right now. My first idea was simply of a waitress in a café scolding an immortal for his take on their 'Unlimited coffee refills' since he'd only paid for one cup a couple of hundred years before. It developed into a couple of people running the bar, and then a restaurant since I have a background as a professional chef. I've taken the story elsewhere from 18th century France to this bar, which is now a couple of hundred years into the future. And it's only 5 chapters long. So a long way to go, I'm still looking for the way through the story as you say. Thanks for your points, much appreciated.
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Despite a few semesters of formal creative writing instruction, I did not at first appreciate "plot's" essentialness for prose. However, from my early years here at Hatrack, I did learn dramatic structure's fundamentals. A member asked a rhetorical question about how and why, what, etc., motivations and stakes fit into creative composition. That question set me on a long and deep search for functional definitions and explanations of drama.
Dictionary definitions are obtuse, though speak of conflict and situational sequences of events; online sources more so accord the infamous U.S. Justice Stewart Potter Supreme Court obscenity definition "I know it when I see it" than useful categorization; among the cornucopia of literary theory texts are likewise intuitive near-miss broadsides; and an overall lack of firm and concise definitions and explanations.
Oh, something then to which an individual could self-define and select, as there is no extant consensus of what plot is? Perhaps something that warrants and wants a comprehensive explication that entails publication potentials for all creative writers' benefits?
After many the midnight candle burnt, my investigation and appreciation of dramatic structure rendered a dual three-prong matrix of plot's criteria: antagonism, causation, and tension (or, conveniently, mnemonic ACT); complication, conflict, and tone.
Antagonism is a duality of forces in both polar opposition and every-which-a-way influx and efflux forces, both oppositional and motivational complications and conflicts. Causality is the oscillation of action and reaction, stimulus and response, cause and effect, and effects that, in turn, become causes, from a first cause to a final effect. Tension is the emotional effects of antagonism and causation, often reader, or spectator, rapport, sympathy, empathy, or displeasure and as well fear or worry accompaniment, or another emotional cluster, like Golden Age science fiction's awe and wonder rapport, plus suspense's curiosity for what will transpire and eventually conclude at an end.
Complication is the motivations behind a compulsion to act proactively; that is, wants and problems that oppose and motivate each other and entrain conflict's stakes risked. Conflict is a polar opposition of stakes risked; for examples, life and death, acceptance and rejection, salvation and condemnation, riches and rags, success and failure, ad infinitum, and are theme based; for examples, an individual and the gods or government, an individual and society, -- and social life, and family life, and work life, and alienation, ad infinitum. Tone is an overall or situational creative work's emotional attitude toward a topic or subject, and is subject to transformative change from start to middle to end.
Those six essential dramatic structure features overlap and merge, combine and blend, and never display a creator's hand on the keyboard, such that they do not appear to readers as formulaic or overt nor preachy lecture, and start from an upset equilibrium and result in a new-normal equilibrium state at an end. And those are essential for prose in every dotted iota and crossed theta of a narrative, parts small and wholes, as focused as a snapshot or broad as all of humanity's or the cosmos' span.
Or the proverbial Broadway and Hollywood character actor joke question of a director, or of the auteur, "What's my motivation?"
What is Molvus' motivation? His personal and private and public complication, conflict, tone; antagonism, causation, and tension? What's his act?