The planetary settlement bustled with activity just beyond the craters and crevasses of the surrounding barren landscape, yet to Raylan Farris the world seemed devoid of life, as cold and dark as the young girl’s vacant, dead eyes. He shuddered at the thought of what had happened. There are so many people calling for my death. They all think what I have done cannot be pardoned. He instinctively moved closer to the fire.
The planet’s two waning moons rose slowly between the towering silhouettes of ancient razor stone monoliths just west of Raylan’s camp. Their light did nothing to reduce the gloom that hung over this night and Raylan’s heart. Raylan calculated his chances of escaping capture as poor. But he had to run. He had no other choice.
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That first sentence is working very hard. Dropping 'surrounding' would probably help. I'd split it in two myself, but it depends on what you're trying to achieve.
Synopsis for myself: Protagonist (Raylan) is on the run for (possibly) playing some part in the death of a girl. Setting is another world, complete with alien monoliths (shades of 2001). His goal: escape (though to where is unclear; 'planetary settlement' implies it's the only one, and if he's sitting by a campfire he probably doesn't have the tech to leave the planet). Feeling: exclusion; perhaps despair.
So, a lot of info communicated quickly. And it does leave me somewhat intrigued... Suggestive of classic science fiction (Clarke, Asimov, etc.) rather than the more recent stuff. I kind of like that -- conscious choice to be evoke nostaligia?
Some problems from my perspective:
> He is outside the settlement, somehow looking in... They can't see his fire? If he is not looking in, then it may be better to make his (more distant) position clear. As M.E. notes, the line could be read as, 'he's inside the settlement' -- and to me it implies that he's at least looking at it.
> The campfire does seem a bit of an anachronism... Plus the risk of detection.
> Barren landscape = generic image... Perhaps more specific/sensory/visual clues?
> The monoliths reference (intentional?) verges on cliché... On the other hand, given fond memories of the space odyssey, this might encourage people to read on.
Overall, I am interested, but not fully convinced I'd want to read the whole piece... Could be a second-draft reader though, if that would be useful? What's the current word count?
Posts: 70 | Registered: May 2018
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I am not engaged, and would not read on. For me, the first few lines are unnecessary window dressing--setting a scene. The rest is a rather obvious attempt at artificially creating mystery, where none should exist, and conflict--telling me Raylan is a criminal on the run.
Let’s take the faux mystery first. Raylan is on the run because he is thought to have murdered a young girl. Did he? Raylan knows and, as we are in his viewpoint, we know--or should. No reason for mystery. This indicates to me a writer who will try and manipulate me as the story unfolds. Not something I will stand for.
Then there is the unnecessary ‘window dressing’. It is important to set time and place, it’s also important not to make your viewpoint character look like an idiot by lighting a fire at night while on the run. But there are more economical ways of getting to the point. The following is for demonstration purposes only:
Night fell quickly on Deneb Three. Raylan took a chance; a low fire shielded from sight by . . ..
Of course, you’d have to give a pretty good reason for him lighting a fire in the first place. And, I know, your lovely depiction of exotic setting has disappeared. But the reader isn’t all that interested in it, really. They want to get to the heart of the story.
The start of any story is a difficult thing to create; shorts stories being the hardest. With a novel there is time for the development of setting, character, plot and movement. With the short story you have to dive right in.
quote:The opening is especially important and difficult because it has to stand on its own; every other part of the story has the preceding parts to lean on. The opening must establish character, setting, situation, the mood and tone of the story; it must provoke interest, arouse curiosity, suggest conflict, start the movement of the plot--all this in about two hundred words.
quote:The planetary settlement bustled with activity just beyond the craters and crevasses of the surrounding barren landscape, yet to Raylan Farris the world seemed devoid of life, as cold and dark as the young girl’s vacant, dead eyes.
Beginning with a thirty-eight word sentence seems a bit long, given that it’s a opening “long-shot to establish location,” that provides little real context for a reader. From a reader’s viewpoint:
1. What’s a planetary settlement? Isn’t NYC on Earth one? 2. Who would establish a town in an area where food can’t be raised and the area around it is inhospitable to life? 3. Why would this person see a "bustling place" as devoid of life? You know, but that hasn't made it to the page. Without context it’s meaningless. Why confuse, then clarify? Confusion can't retroactively be removed. 4. Why must you say it seems dead, and then specify a certain kind of dead? How can a busy settlement seel like a person's eyes? 5. How can it be “the” young girl when we know of none?
This opening can only work if the uncertainty is addressed at once. But…
quote:He shuddered at the thought of what had happened.
Isn’t he supposed to be our protagonist, our avatar? How can he be that if we don’t know what he knows, as he does? You opened with him upset, and raised questions in the reader’s mind. Instead of addressing them, you’re now having him upset, again (for the same reason, it appears), over something meaningless to the reader.
quote: There are so many people calling for my death.
Now, you abruptly change from third person to first. Pick a tense and stick with it. This is instant rejection.
And. Again, he’s whimpering over the same thing that had no meaning in the last line. You’re talking about things for which the reader has no context, while absolutely nothing is happening in the story.
quote:They all think what I have done cannot be pardoned.
You made your point. You drove your point home. Now you smash your point into the dirt. In the words of, James Schmitz, “Don’t inflict the reader with irrelevant background material—get on with the story.”
Here’s the deal: You can’t, as the storyteller, tell the reader a story from the narrator’s viewpoint, as you would on the stage because the reader cannot hear the emotion in the narrator’s voice as they read. And since they can’t know what the line will say till it’s read—which is too late—they can’t guess. In other words, verbal storytelling tricks don’t work in the page because it can’t reproduce your performance.
You, of course, hear all the emotion in your voice as you read. You know the expressions the storyteller uses, and the visual punctuation in the form of gestures, plus body language. But you cheat. You know the story, the scene-goals, and the backstory before you read the first word.
The short version: Dig into the tricks of writing fiction for the page. They’re very unlike the nonfiction writing skills we’re given in our schooldays, and make all the difference, because in school we’re taught to write to inform, so we can write essays, reports, and papers for our future employers. But fiction, which is as much a profession as medicine, accounting, and plumbing, has its own unique body of craft that’s as necessary as that of the other professions I mentioned.
The library’s fiction department is a great resource. And after all, if we want the reader to enjoy our stories as much as they enjoy that of the pros, doesn’t it make sense to spend some time, and perhaps a few coins on acquiring the skills that make the pros successful?
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