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Author Topic: Never to Return
Bob Wyveryn
Member # 10861

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Dora lived in her parents’ house, in the small town where she grew up and attended high school. It was a crooked little dwelling that creaked when the wind blew under its eaves. It had small picture frame windows throughout except for the one large dusty bay window at the front of the house with a noticeable crack in its lower right corner. This big window was poorly situated facing the homes western exposure which allowed the sun to mercilessly shine into the living room during the warmest times of the day. The sun blinded all who dared to glace out at the world when it was admiring its reflection in this large pain of glass. It could be doused with a hard tug on the pull top drapes her mother made out of thick heavy Duck Cloth stamped with a Victorian pattern. Her father was Dutch- mean, and stoic. Her father wasn’t an important

[ October 31, 2018, 12:49 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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In my humbled opinion, an action book should begin with action, a character book should begin with character, and a premise book should begin with premise. You have chosen what I consider to be either an outmoded style of start or literary fiction.

In other words, the first sentence drew my in and the second sentence ejected me. You are painting a wonderful picture of an interesting house.

If that's what you want to do, fine. Literary fiction, if I am using the word right, is common, I just cant empathize with it. The word "which" is ambiguous and "Inevitably" seemed redundant, but again maybe they work for literary fiction.

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Jay Greenstein
Member # 10615

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What you do here is to step on stage, as yourself, and explain some background to the story. Informative? Definitely. Entertaining? No. And of most importance: Is it necessary to understand the opening scene? No.

Ask yourself why I, as a reader, care where, and how, someone I don't know as a person grew up? I care where they are when the story begins. Why do I care that the house creaked when the wind blew. I'm expecting the story to begin on page one, But it has yet to begin because no one but the narrator is onstage, talking about things that happened before the story begins. That's history, not story.

In fact, at the end of this, we've read 167 words. The first page of standard manuscript submission has about 80 words, while the second, and others, have 250. So we're well down on page two and nothing has happened in the first scene. And while we know the protagonist's name, we don't know how old she is, or the smallest thing about her personality, situation, or desires and needs.

But isn't it supposed to be her story?

Here's the deal: Your reader comes to you to be entertained, by being made to feel as if they are the protagonist, on the scene, They want to be made to care about what has the protagonist's attention, so they ccan focus on what matters to her, in the moment she calls now. They want to feel as if they are within the moment the protagonist calls "now."

So open with something the reader will find interesting. Give the protagonist a problem to solve. Make the reader care, not just know.

The question is, how to do that, because in our school days we spend lots of time writing reports and essays designed to inform the reader. As a result, we become quite skilled at writing prose that's fact-based and author-centric. In other words, what you have here. So your teachers would be pleased. But our teachers provide only skills that future employers require—nonfiction writing skills.

But given that fiction's goal is to entertain, we need a set of writing techniques that aren't mentioned during our school days. They're character-centric and emotion-based. And, when writing fiction there are several significant differences to keep on mind. Two of them, are:

First, for every action taken by the protagonist, the reader should know why they were moved to act. In other words, what motivated it? Only then will the reader have context for what's happening. And fair is fair. If the protagonist is our avatar, shouldn't we know what's driving that person's actions?

In line with that, for every motivation there needs to be a response. That is how we live our own lives, in an unending chain of cause and effect.

Another thing to look at is that reading is a lot slower than living the story because in life we see/hear/feel, etc., everything in parallel. But on the page we spell it out one thing at a time. So to keep the story from crawling, we need to make every word count. What that means is that each line must either set the scene in progress, develop character, or move the plot. So ask yourself if, in your opening,any of that was done.

The short version: Like any profession, fiction for the page has tricks-of-the-trade, specialized knowledge, and things that we never notice till they're pointed out.

And since the tricks weren't taught us in our school days, a bit of digging into those skills will pay huge dividends. After all, if no one tells you about the need for and handling of the short-term scene-goal, will you provide one?

My personal favorite book on fiction is Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer. But there are many more in the library's fiction writing section, and online. There are also lots of articles online on the subject. And, if you're truly meant to be a fiction writer, you'll find them like going backstage at the theater.

And a final note: Pretty much everyone—myself included—leaves their school days not realizing that we're as well prepared by our schooldays to write a novel as to remove an appendix. So you have a lot of company, and the things I mentioned aren't a matter of good/bad writing or talent. They are the learned part of fiction, the craft. So, whatever you do, hang in there, and keep on writing. If you write just a bit better each day, and live long enough...

[ October 29, 2018, 01:49 AM: Message edited by: Jay Greenstein ]

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An individual and reminisces.

A setting backstory that summarizes a house, parents, presumably causes for a "You can never go home again" scenario or some other prodigal scion leaves town scenario. To what end, motivation and stakes risked-wise, not given.

Numerous subject-pronoun antecedent errors and each missed occasion for substitution and amplification schemes. The cotton fabric "duck" is a common noun, is lowercase, derived from German tuch: cloth; hence, "[d]uck [c]loth" is a tautology. Several other grammar errors, a typo. Each a fatal disturbance.

A first page's typescript is thirteen lines, half a page below a page sink and title and byline. Standard Manuscript Format typescript layout averages ten words or so per line, amounts to about one hundred thirty words for a first page, and is the basis for Hatrack's thirteen-lines principle.

I could not read further as an engaged reader.

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Jay Greenstein
Member # 10615

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Standard Manuscript Format typescript layout averages ten words or so per line, amounts to about one hundred thirty words for a first page,

At twenty-five lines/page and ten words/line, it's 250 words/page.

In the US a standard submission at many houses had personal information at the top, the title one third down, and the text starting two-thirds down, which yields about 80 words on page one.

Another format was one where the personal and title information was provided on a cover page.

Either way, it's best to begin a story with story, not history.

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SMF's twenty-five lines, by most accounts, a typescript first page is a half page sink (twelve lines), and a half page of content (thirteen lines), below title and byline and header, if any, part of the page sink real estate. Vonda N. McIntyre's, "Manuscript Preparation," for one (PDF).
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I tend to agree with the first post. I'm not quite sure what type of story this is, largely because this fragment consists almost entirely of architectural description. I've been gone for quite a while so I don't know if things have changed, but in the context of what I'm used to seeing on Hatrack my first guess would be a haunted house story, but apart from the architecture focus, there is nothing else to indicate that.

I could probably be more helpful if I knew the intended genre.

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