8k words in and the plot is pretty well formed to the end. This is a sf thriller.
His back hit the wet leaves and down he slid over rotten sticks and acorns. Stan raised a knee and stopped himself with his foot on the trunk of the small oak ahead. He caught his breath. Where the slide had untucked his shirt he felt the cold and slime. He thought about his bike in the middle of the road below. Should have taken the road back up. That would've been quicker.
On the ridge above the dogs howled and barked in their runs. Again the small air horn sounded. Stan rolled to his knees, hooked his wrist around the oak tree and pulled himself up. Mom was silent now. And he still heard nothing from Grandad. Maybe he's in cardiac arrest. Keep going. Get over to the gravel path.
As he slid on his back over the rotten sticks and acorns, his shirt hiked up and he felt the cold and slime on his bare skin. Stopping his downward progress by catching a small oak, he thought about his bike in the road below. Returning to it along the road would have been better and quicker.
Caged dogs howled and barked in their runs above him and the air horn made its tinny sound again. "I must keep going," he thought. "Mom is quiet now and Grandad too. Did his heart finally give out? What's going on? Gotta keep going!"
I'm not sure it's better, but that's how I would write it.
I like the sense of immediacy about this opening. I don't know why the dogs are there, why his mother and grandad are "quiet", or why his bike is on the road, but I expect the answers will come. This is an "in medias res" opening, and therefore this dangled information acts as a good hook. I liked it. (I am wondering if he has a telepathic connection that passes on from one parent to the child, grandfather to mother to Stan.)
I'd suggest don't start with "He". Yes, it can enhance the artistic sense of immediacy if you do, but since the next sentence tells us the name Stan, I initially wondered if "he" and Stan were two different people, and then I wondered why that information was withheld in the first sentence. Both of those wonderings stopped the flow. Both would have been avoided if it had started out Stan slid ... (If you want to withhold the person's name, especially in a third person story, there must be a significant reason to do so.)
Second, the immediate thoughts can be italicised if you want. Put square brackets "i" and "/i" before and after the thoughts. You context is fine that it doesn't need them, but it may help further create that immediacy that is part of this opening.
"Where the slide had untucked his shirt he felt the cold and slime." For greater immediacy, focus on Stan's feelings of cold/wetness first, and then let him discover the reason (even if unconsciously). Otherwise, the narrative distance moves back to a more cinematic one. This is your call, as the distance added here may have been deliberate.
"On the ridge above the dogs..." Cut the second "the" here, or else it can be read ambiguously. That is, are the dogs on the ridge above or is the ridge above the dogs? I suspect the former is true, but that suspicion only came later and I had to revise my understanding of the scene - which threw me out of the flow for a little while.
Anyway, overall, I would have read on, even if just to see what the missing information was. Nice job.
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Thank you everyone for your responses. You make me a better writer, and I hope I can pay it forward.
Responses to specific comments:
"I'd suggest don't start with 'He'": Good point. I had some doubts but tried it anyway. You are the second person to say that. I've made the change. I did more to avoid repetition of "Stan". I found a more effective way to solve that problem.
Italics: Duly noted, but I think for now I am going to keep it as is because the POV will dip into stream of consciousness often enough that I might annoy the reader if I use italics too much. Of course, my fear could be a function of my inexperience in using italics to express immediate thought.
Where the slide had untucked his shirt: Thank you! I had it the way you suggest but changed it for sentence flow and mechanics reasons. Sounds like this is a mistake because dramatization takes priority. What I was going for was positioning the next thought, "He thought about his bike in the middle of the road below" as a semi-unconscious response to the discomfort - regretting his decision to drop his bike and run up the hill.
On the ridge above: Duly noted. I laughed when I realized my error! Too funny.
** @Sandy: I want you to know the answers to most of your setting and sequence questions. Why is his bike below? I need to give a better indication of the answer to this.
Why are dogs in the runs above? Answered in the next few paragraphs but I should make it less of a question.
Why is an air horn blowing? I want you to know the answer to this in general.
How did he get there and where is he going? I want you to know this and will layer it in with new short chapter. **
Your responses have got me thinking. I don't want the reader to have too many more questions than Stan. I've raised some informational questions I didn't want to, at least not to extent I did. And I think that exposes some cracks in the structure. I think I can answer those questions well enough to cut down on their distraction.
Still, I'm concerned because the event straight ahead is tragic, and I can see when the reader with Stan discovers what happened, it could come off as melodramatic. This is because questions I evoke don't coincide enough with Stan's questions.
I've written a very short chapter before this one that answers many of the informational questions through action and dialogue, and hopefully builds empathy with the reader.
The impending discovery/tragedy event must have enough weight to motivate Stan, and other characters for that matter, in one way or another for the remainder of the story.
Thank you all again!
Stan’s back hit the wet leaves and down he slid over rotten sticks and acorns. He raised a knee and stopped himself with his foot on the trunk of a small oak ahead. He felt the cold and slime where the slide had untucked his shirt. As Stan caught his breath, he thought about his bike in the middle of the road below. You should have turned around and ridden back up. That would've been quicker.
On the ridge above dogs howled and barked in their kennels. Again the rescue air horn sounded. Stan rolled to his knees, hooked his wrist around the oak tree and pulled himself up. Mom was silent now. And he still heard nothing from Grandad. Keep moving. Get over to the trail.
Firstly, revision mechanics on this forum (boring, I know). It is easier for someone starting part way through to see all revisions in your first post. See this post (near the end) to understand the recommended method.
Secondly, don't get bogged down in editing before you finish the story. Putting an opening up here is fine as a broad guide that you are on the right track (the feedback here shows this one is well and truly going the right directions), but editing is a destructive process, which (IMO) is best done after the key parts are written. Of course, every writer is different, but I find if I don't keep the key focus on the target plot turning point in the story, I start to meander. And distractions, include editing, changes that focus as the minutiae becomes the target instead.
Thirdly, I was under the presumption that what was posted was the opening (because most 13s here are). I quite like this as an opening, and am even worried a little that knowing a number of the questions I have would diffuse the tension somewhat. But then again, I haven't read the opening chapter, so I can't really judge that. Next time, it would be worth informing us about the location of the 13 in the story, as it changes what we would likely pick up on.
Brendan, thank you for the encouragement and suggestions. Writing can be a lonely uncertain business for sure! And my apologies for the confusion. I will read through the post.
To your second point, I do always seem to get bogged down in revision. Thank you for the wisdom. I hadn't thought of revision as a destructive process, but it is a very different mindset.
On your third point, the 13 lines were my opening, but I changed course between the time I posted and the responses. I'm struggling a bit with how to make the incident which has occurred carry real weight. I am concerned that the reader will not respond to Stan's loss as strongly unless they experience a bit of the relationship. I will leave the door open to this being the opening. Maybe as I continue to write without editing I'll discover the solution or determine that the problem I am trying to solve doesn't exist.
kmsf, as a general rule, if you want readers to care, or feel, for someone, the reader really does need a reason.
Why should I care about Stan's loss? This is one of the inherent problems in trying to hook a reader into a story with your first 13; coming up with a compelling reason to read on, or care about a character's situation. It's also a problem inherent in a in medias res (in the middle of things) opening.
Finally, I used to edit/revise as I wrote, I now know that's a mistake. For me, my rule of thumb is now to plan out the story, write the first draft until I get to 'The End", then I put it away for a while. I come back to it later with fresher eyes, and then I can decide what works, what doesn't and how I can do it better.
Phil, Thank you. I am also finding that pushing forward with writing the first draft before editing and revising leaves the story open to discovery and therefore a more realistic chain of causal events.
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