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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » New Arbor Day

   
Author Topic: New Arbor Day
enigmaticuser
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Hello everybody, thought I'd finally throw this out there. "New Arbor Day" is a fantasy probably the first of two books, don't have a real firm sequel plot yet...though I do have the title =) If any of my fellow WCE groupees read this, this is a new set of thirteen lines as I took the original chapter and erased the first half that no one liked and made a new opening chapter and put the other half of the original chapter into chapter two by itself (the part where Agee is introduced on his road trip).

--
The clock was ticking. Yellow incandescent bulbs lit a sphere atop Time Square. Thirteen year old, Aegeus Skyler watched its descent, a black aluminum flashlight hanging like a baton from the crook of his crossed arms.

He glanced at his Mom while he shifted back and forth in sneakers on her carpet. She didn’t say anything.

On the couch next to her sat her oldest, Theo, watching intently. From the stairway rummaging could be heard from below, heavy boxes sliding, cans clanking their sides. Agee wondered what his friends were doing at that moment. On other New Years he would have been with them but this one was too important. This one, will change everything. In the future, people will look back and see how this started it all.

[This message has been edited by enigmaticuser (edited March 20, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by enigmaticuser (edited March 20, 2011).]


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Natej11
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Knee-jerk first response is that it comes off a bit artsy. A bunch of short, impressionist sentences that set mood rather than plunging into the action.

I don't know if that's what you're going for, but that's how I saw it. And it doesn't have to be a bad thing if you're trying for a more surreal type of story. Let me wait a second and come back to it for another look.

Edit: Okay here's my take on it.

All in all it does a good job of setting the scene. You get an idea of where he is, what's going on, and you even manage to introduce a hint of foreshadowing. The sentence structure itself seems a bit jarring in places. I think the main issue is misplaced and unnecessary commas. Let me break it down with my thoughts.

The clock was ticking. Yellow incandescent bulbs lit a sphere atop Time Square. (starts off a bit passive, but it gives the sense of tense anticipation...something is about to happen). Thirteen year old, Aegeus Skyler watched its descent, a black aluminum flashlight hanging like a baton from the crook of his crossed arms. (Sentence seems odd at first glance because the first comma doesn't belong, take it out and it works.)

He glanced at his Mom while he shifted back and forth in sneakers on her carpet. (Again, sentence seems odd. If you're implying he's wearing sneakers you could say "he shuffled his sneakers on the carpet" or something similar.) She didn't say anything.

On the couch next to her sat her oldest, (if it's from his point of view maybe introduce Theo from his perspective, ie "his oldest brother") Theo, watching intently. From the stairway rummaging could be heard from below, (You have two different locations here: "from the stairway" and "from below". Changing it to "from below the stairway" or "from the stairway below" would work better, depending on which is more accurate) heavy boxes sliding, cans clanking their sides (this implies the cans themselves are acting, rather than being acted upon). Agee wondered what his friends were doing at that moment. On other New Years he would have been with them but this one was too important. This one, will change everything. (Again, the comma is unnecessary) In the future, people will look back and see how this started it all.

[This message has been edited by Natej11 (edited March 20, 2011).]


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Tryndakai
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I am somewhat curious what's so special about this New Year, so that's good. I agree with the above comments, and would like to add that you shift to future tense when talking about the future which, though it seems like it should make sense, is actually pretty weird.

quote:
this one was too important. This one, will change everything. In the future, people will look back and see how this started it all.

change to:

quote:
this one was too important. This one would change everything. In the future, people would look back and see how this started it all.

Still, the overall vibe is pretty passive. And you're showing me that we're waiting for something, but there's no actual *tension* to it, except what you *tell* me should be there. Even the kid's feet-shuffling seems more bored than anticipatory. Ought they be anxious? Excited? is the world going to change for the better or the worse? Do they even know? Give them some actions that give me more chills.


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enigmaticuser
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Dang, I really hate this first thirteen lines thing. Why do I find it so difficult to make someone care within those first lines?

Ok, done with my tantrum. I'm just having a difficult time coming up with anything for an opening where something "happens". Anything actually "happening" requires me to start later and flashback to explain its meaning...maybe that's what I have to do, but I have a hard time justifying telling the story out of order just so I can snag attention. I know this is a common complaint, but why can't the story begin where it begins instead of manufacturing some meaningless event?

Ok, done complaining. Again.


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enigmaticuser
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Nate & Tryndakai, thank you both for your insights. On another read through, I realize I was over reacting. Probably over sensitive because I can't seem to get the opening to a place where its interesting to others while I know from other readers that once they get past it they like the story.

It's like having a great house, but you can't get people past the front door.


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Natej11
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I hope you don't think my critique is demanding that you make some event happen immediately within your first 13 lines. I think it's very possible that you can work with what you have and make it an engaging hook.

Also don't let the mysticism of the "first 13" get you too psyched out. As long as your story begins naturally and there are no glaring mistakes people aren't going to be like "gross he ended his third sentence with a preposition!" and fling it across the room.

It might help if you try reading the lines aloud to yourself. Exaggerate the commas and periods a little for emphasis, and fix any sentences that seem stilted or unnatural and eliminate or relocate out of place commas.


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Wonderbus
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Hello,

I found this one a little confusing to begin with. My two main points of confusion were that I read the opening paragraph presuming Aegeus was at Time Square and then in the following paragraph I found out he was on his Mom's carpet. And then again in the opening paragraph I wondered what the "its descent" referred to. As I read it, there was a sphere atop Time Square and I imagined it being motionless. Maybe its because I'm English that I didn't immediately realize that the sphere would be falling.

Do we have to know that he is wearing sneakers on his Mom's carpet? And the shifting back and forth sounds strange to me. Is he nervous? Maybe you could show him pacing his Mom's living room or something.

'From the stairway rummaging could be heard from below' sounds a touch awkward. Maybe its because of the two 'from's. "From below on the stairway" or something like that might be more natural.

Would a thirteen year-old usually spend New Years with his friends? I don't know enough about the world yet to know, but this sounded strange to me.

Oh, and 'yellow incandescent bulbs' didn't really work for me, the reader will know that bulbs glow, maybe something stronger there to really set the scene for your readers.

Hope this helps


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enigmaticuser
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@Wonderbus, thanks. That seems to confirm the general feeling about this version of the first thirteen. I'm working on a newer one where I take out this whole scene and just further along closer to where the story "begins" which has been described as too slow, so hopefully the improved hook will also set the tone for the story that follows and eliminate the slowness.
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Jesse D
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Love it. One small grammatical thing: there shouldn't be a comma after "thirteen-year old." Second, you should change "rummaging could be heard" to active voice, "he could hear rummaging." One last nit-pick: if you're talking about the New Year's ball in Times Square, why refer to it as a sphere? It's a common cultural object; there's no reason to try to hide what you're talking about or try to be all fancy about it.

All that said, I really like it. I'd love to read it when it's done.


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Twiggy
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I know what it is like to have a good novel with a problematic start. No matter how I try to change mine, it never seems right.

Maybe if you give us a hint of what the New Year will change, it will hook us more.
To activate the story, you could do things like have the boys' ages come out in a conversation, rather than telling us them.

I agree with Tryndakai's changes on the 'this one was too important' section.

I hope this helps


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TMR Beste
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The clock was ticking.
I think this first line could be more exciting....."Ten, nine, eight..." or from where it is ticking. just a suggestion.
"Yellow incandescent bulbs lit a sphere atop Time Square."
Something seems wrong about this, but i can't put my finger on what. Maybe its the yellow incandescent bulbs. I could not picture that. I could picture the times square ball going up. Does it go up or down?....whatever...
"Thirteen year old, Aegeus Skyler watched its descent". I agree that this is too much info. Giving his age here gratuitously takes me out of the story. Maybe something like Aegeus. (BTW, like his name) had watched this event for the last four of his thirteen years and had always spent this day....blah,blah, somehow work it into the narrative .....
"a black aluminum flashlight hanging like a baton from the crook of his crossed arms." I like this idea, but could not picture this-from the two arms, from one arm?

"He glanced at his Mom while he shifted back and forth in sneakers on her carpet."
I agree, throwing the sneakers in here seems contrived. somehow you have to work this in. Again, this detail takes me out of the story. I like the detail, but it has to be worked into the narrative. The sentence is somewhat awkward. I have to work too hard to figure out that he is shifting in sneakers. Maybe we don't need to know he is on the carpet? Maybe that is a detail that is not important? His untied sneakers barely hung on to his nervous feet as he shifted back and forth. ??? sorry about that.I just took liberties with your work. Is that what u wanted to convey? that he is nervous??

She didn’t say anything.

"On the couch next to her sat her oldest, Theo, watching intently."
This is also awkward. I would rework this. You could also add somthing amusing about this brother here.
"From the stairway rummaging could be heard from below, heavy boxes sliding, cans clanking (their sides*delete this?redundant?).
Agee(I figured out this was his nickname, but that might be confusing)
"In the future, people will look back and see how this started it all."
I like this hook. Interesting. I always expect something apocalyptic to happen on NY eve at 12:00, ever since I filled that bath tub back in '00

Comment: Yep, this first 13 line thing just stinks. I have written mine at least 100 times, even re-plotted the monstrosity and still, am not happy with the entire first chapter. welcome to the club.

[This message has been edited by enigmaticuser (edited March 20, 2011).]


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Craig
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I like it, the hook is in there waiting to be pulled out.
I agree about the Time Square ball.Call it the ball, but if it's the time square ball and not to far into the future, the lights I believe, are white.
Don't you want to get on NY best selling list? Not with yellow.

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mbwood
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Hello, enigmaticuser, you don’t like thirteen lines? Remember, most editors won’t read more than thirteen lines, so you gotta make ‘em count. How?

Get the story going, right away! Introduce the conflict, make your reader care about what’s going on, and only then provide the setting and back story.

How d’you make ‘em care? Put the protagonist in jeopardy; give him or her a problem; let the reader see the pending consequences of something about to happen - raise the emotional stakes.

Your first page has to be your best page – it’s where you show your stuff.


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