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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » Rewrite: Chapter 3 - Fade

   
Author Topic: Rewrite: Chapter 3 - Fade
Denevius
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[ January 21, 2014, 05:51 AM: Message edited by: Denevius ]

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MattLeo
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Are we looking at the start of chapter 3, or some part after that?
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Denevius
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Start of chapter 3.
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MattLeo
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I see.

Let me start with a rather unusual feature of this passage, which is the way it mixes different times in the past.

You start at a point in narration time where Nathaniel has been at this insomnia thing for hours. Let us call that Nathaniel's present, although it is in the past for the narrator and for us. Then most of the passage relates things that were *further* back in time than than "Nathaniel's present". In fact you all the way back when he started out with 1,2,3 -- hours earlier. Extrinsic can probably help us out with the correct terminology for the narration time dichotomy I'm talking about.

Whatever the technique is called, I think you have achieved the effect you set out to accomplish. The passage effectively creates a kind of suspended time feeling, vividly capturing the feeling of insomnia. Good for you.

The larger question, and the reason I asked about whether this was the start of the chapter, is this: what is that particular effect doing *here*? What do you accomplish by starting the chapter with a tense picture of suspended time?

The feeling of suspension you create is often just what you want at a peak moment of tension. And tension goes hand in hand with close observation and close narrative distances. I know that I certainly feel like I'm in Nathaniel's skin sharing his experience when I read the passage above. But tension usually rises over the course each chapter, and falls slightly at the start of the next. That lendsa MS a kind of rising sawtooth profile which gives a reader regular chances to catch his breath before the next sprint.

So my knee-jerk concern is this: if you've started the chapter like *this*, what is the *rest* of the chapter is going to feel like? It promises to be tiring and not very rewarding.

And I think that's another concern: What is the reader's reward for subjecting himself to Nathaniel's unpleasant experience? Since this is chapter 3, perhaps we're supposed to hate him by now. That can actually work; we'd be starting the chapter with a cathartic experience rather than a frustrating one.

Otherwise, I think it usually best to start out chapters relatively low key -- although it's important to note that's relative to the MS's rising tension level and that you should try exceptions to every rule of thumb. Chapter starts are good places to take care of narrative housekeeping tasks, to feed the reader a few spoonfuls of backstory, or to do some light characterization. So you *might* (note caveat) be better off just summarizing *here*, e.g. "Nathaniel slept poorly." Yes, it's less vivid, but you don't have to keep the throttle wide open all the way through the novel.

That's just some quick thoughts. Since I haven't seen the whole chapter or MS it's largely guesswork.

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Denevius
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Hey, thanks for the detailed reply, Matt!

I guess if there is a "reward", it is the beginning of the second paragraph when his alarm goes off and he "punches" through this nightmarish morning routine by finally opening his eyes and shutting the alarm off.

After that, the chapter slows down in the same manner as one's heartbeat after completing something strenuous. The last page of the chapter, however, picks up again to this same frenetic pace as it shows the process of him falling asleep.

This is the reader's first introduction to Nathaniel in the novel. Actually, I reworked the first page of this chapter in this manner because, after several months, I had to accept the fact that more readers found Nathaniel's narrative slow over fast, boring over interesting. I've been tweaking his story to up the tension, and what I'm kind of hoping is that this beginning gives the reader a better understanding of what's at stake with Nathaniel, which, from previous critiques, seemed to be missing.

I think, before, people would have compared Nathaniel's narrative to a stroll in the park on a lazy afternoon.

Well, stroll no more, muthaf******!

That's just a joke, but the sentiment behind it is real. Thanks again for your response!

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extrinsic
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This opening has a singular effect developed through several methods. Nathaniel's now moment is present time though expressed in simple past tense: fiction's present preterite. That now moment advances rapidly in story time and though rapid in narrative or discourse time, the sense of time passing excruciatingly slowly is a subtext of the expression. Another parallel time movement accompanies the present time passage; that is, a progressively receding time expressed in past perfect tense; that is, a stepped recollection transition back to a previous past time that becomes a now moment. The effect is like a cinematic recollection montage flashing back to a past now.

Flashback montage, stepped time transition, tense variations, and distinct story and discourse times: now, past now, farther now, farther past now, farther now, farther past now, farther now, and finally settling at last on the farthest past when the insomnia began.

Partly why the subtext expresses an excruciatingly slow passage of time is the count's exponential expansion, progressively proceeding now, progressively receding recollection, and lack of physical setting details implies a long internal reflection familiar to anyone who's experienced sleeplessness.

Our imaginations fill in the gaps and make these few words feel like we've spent years awake. Our thought processes happen in the blink of an eye, yet immersed in deep thought time feels suspended.

The amount of time expressing suspended animation's thoughts in discourse time in spoken or written words is a technique that suspends story time. This opening doesn't suspend story time, though. The story time rushes forward faster than discourse time as it rushes back in time. I think that's an admirable technique. That now and recollection montage is the singular effect, stepping back in time as the now time advances until the farthest past is the now moment.

Another part why this subtext feels like time passes slowly is the delay in developing what the sleeplessness means: delaying revealing the mystery of the sleeplessness's causes and effects and relevance to dramatic complication.

I'd need to read more to estimate if this chapter opening works for me. I'd want a little revelation that simultaneously deepens the mystery right soon, right after the last word of the thirteen lines. I project the next part does, going into Nathaniel figuring out why he's sleepless, and coming up with only partial and flawed answers he then has to act to investigate in the external world.

The numerous numerals visually alienate me. If they were spelled out as pronounced in thought, counting like a short Mississippi seconds count, they'd be less alienating. One, two, three, hundred one, hundred two, hundred three, thousand one, ten thousand, fourteen thousand, etc.

A prose mechanical style principle from Chicago Manual of Style is to spell out counting words through one hundred, and any larger numbers that are individually two or less syllables for ease of reading, as I did above. However, that would increase the line count and not allow as much content in thirteen lines. Tel est la vie d'escritur, such is the life of writing.

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Denevius
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As always, a *genuine* thanks for the detailed critique. It's appreciated!

quote:
I project the next part does, going into Nathaniel figuring out why he's sleepless, and coming up with only partial and flawed answers he then has to act to investigate in the external world.
In a way, yes, though I may have to make a connecton to him trying to figure it out more clear in what he does after waking, which, as I think of it now, may not be so clear. He thinks what he's experiencing is a test from God (which it isn't), so he prays. But I might have to work in more what brings about that assumption (which he'll eventually realize is also incorrect after he discovers the Gwanlyo and Oh Seung Bae's link to it).

quote:
If they were spelled out as pronounced in thought, counting like a short Mississippi seconds count, they'd be less alienating. One, two, three, hundred one, hundred two, hundred three, thousand one, ten thousand, fourteen thousand, etc.
You're right. I'll have to edit this to written numbers, not numerials.

I think the problem I've had with Nathaniel is that every other character in this novel has a tragic ending except him, who actually has, in comparison, a pretty happy ending. It could just be my reading of it, but usually the least-suffering character is also the least interesting.

Thanks again!

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:

I think, before, people would have compared Nathaniel's narrative to a stroll in the park on a lazy afternoon.

Well, stroll no more, muthaf******!

Well, perhaps you should consider other possible solutions.

One of the things I believe many writers fail to do (not necessarily you because I don't know your work) is to pay attention to the mental effort they demand from the reader. When you've got the reader caught up in suspense you can demand a lot of effort, but when you're introducing things you can't demand so much. The opening above seems to me to be claustrophobic; it takes effort to keep my attention focused on Nathaniel's suffering, to process all the numbers. Yeah, it's tense and mechanically clever, but that's seldom enough to get someone through something they couldn't otherwise get past.

So one of the things to consider is the ways you can make it easier for the reader to enter Nathaniel's story. Find ways you can abridge, omit unnecessary detail, and make an introduction as succinct and clear as possible. Get the reader through the necessary details with a minimum of effort.

When you've done that, then you can try to make what remains as interesting as possible, for example setting some easily understandable and relatable task for your character. In my current WIP I introduce a character who is leaving his home planet, so I set him a task of making sure the friends he leaves behind will be OK. The idea is to set the character a task that will put him through his paces, be understandable and sympathetic to the reader, and be over in a few thousand words.

If something strikes readers as dull, you need to find a way to make it interesting, or cut it out of the MS entirely. You can't fix dull by wrapping it or prefixing it. I've seen MS where authors try to fix a dull opening by prefixing an action-packed prelude, hoping to propel the reader through the Great Wall of Dull. But the reader isn't going anywhere as long as that wall is there; he's only getting his face bashed into it.

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Denevius
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Hey, again, good advice! I'll keep it in mind as I continue the novel. I actually think I'll be done with a first draft towards the beginning of December, which will allow me a more holistic approach to editing the individual parts.
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