*cracks knuckles* Well alright, here's goes nothing. This is the first thirteen lines of my own story, which is just titled Numbered Days for now. I only have about a chapter and a half written of it so far(About 15,000 words), but this is a complete rewrite of an idea I had a couple years ago.
I would like to see if the beginning thirteen is page turning worthy to anyone. Any other advice is also welcome. Truth be told I'm still trying to figure out what genre this should be. It is set in a world different from Earth, but I like the technology to hover somewhere around modern. I still try to keep the current age technology in this world "subtly" different. Not necessarily advanced, but a little different. That and I don't have too much experience with science fiction , so I hesitate to go there.
quote:Michelle swiveled in her mahogany chair, coming face to face with her sister, Queen Selyene. “Is there any particular reason you wish these souls… released from my devout care?” Michelle’s soft lavender eyes searched her twin’s own black, soulless orbs.
“Ah Michelle, truly, it is such a delight having these conversations with you. Spending time with my only sister on a beautiful snowy day no less. I shall miss some of your arrogance when you come to my age. My ever loyal and steadfast Warden.” The Queen of Irothis inclined her head towards the open seal of a window. “Escort me down to the recruitment center, will you? Let us discuss the fate of our undesirables.”
Some intriguing mystery implied that I infer from Michelle devoutly caring for souls that might connect to the undesirables being recruited.
The language doesn't work for me, though. The diction and syntax is a melange of formal and informal speech and discourse. For example: "'Is there any particular reason you wish these souls… released from my devout care?'"
"Is there any particular reason" is informal while "you wish these souls released from my devout care" is formal. A full one way or the other is less disruptive and smoother, not offering an abrupt speed bump at which to stall or stop reading. Smoother, for example: //For what purpose do you desire these souls released from my devout care?//
A strategy for ironing out the at-times wooden language might delve more deeply into why and how whomever speaks the way she or he does. Is the queen formally educated? Or does she put on airs of sophistication awkwardly melded with rough and vulgar commoner speech? By vulgar I mean everyday dialect, not per se obscene language.
Like many thirteen lines excerpts, overall this opening feels rushed to me. Openings are for introductions of, most importantly, a dramatic event done by dramatic characters in a dramatic setting. I don't see one yet, nor would I continue reading as this opening is.
Frankly, I was done by the second word "swiveled." Swiveled is a static verb. Though swiveled describes a physical action, it signals a drama-less (static) action is coming up.
By the way, is this an opening for a short story or a novel posted here in the Fragments and Feedback for Short Works forum?
Previous Writers of the Future Contest coordinating Judge K.D. Wentworth had a strong aversion to any use of the word "orb." If she encountered it in an entry, the entry was summarily rejected. Many screening readers and editors react similarly to the word.
The dramatic action is on the static side for me. Chair swiveling, coming face to face, eyes searching eyes, and so on.
My curiosity is most engaged by Michelle and the queen being twin sisters, the queen perhaps eldest, hence her having primogeniture right to nobility and the throne, and Michelle being second oldest, hence in traditional birthright a leadership place among the clergy, signaled by the word "devout." The traditional order for offspring's ways in life, though, is first born head of estate, second born warrior, third born clergy.
These few clues give me substance to interpret and care about and suggest a power struggle between the queen and Michelle, perhaps the story's main dramatic complication. That these are females posed in a traditional masculine situation intrigues me.
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Alright, it's been awhile, but I've been working on this and I've come up with another start. Hopefully, this attempt is better than the last . Any feedback is appreciated .
The gateway into Kazan Fortress yawned open. Twenty metric tons of solid metal reclines from the midst of a hundred foot obsidian wall. The entrance continues to shrink until it is as flat as any other patch of earth, flatter than the arid steppes itself. Jesairis isn’t walking, but observing from thirty meters above ground, sitting uncomfortably above the wheels of a large prison land ship. The wheels grind across the meticulously paved asphalt up and onto the Kazan’s first terrace. It wouldn’t be the last, either.
Jesairis can only see the world through a small glass pane on the very back of the transport, surrounded by a dozen unfamiliar faces. One of the Wardens had said that there were a hundred inmates on this barge. All of them chained down in their seats ***********************
There's another sentence or two to finish that paragraph, but I'll stop it there to keep within thirteen lines. My first attempt didn't start with a look at my main character, or the first of two. However, the Nagasa sisters are going to be playing an important role. Thanks to some advice I received from my first 13 lines, I realized that they may need some tweaking to get them down right. This time I'm aiming at where I think the story should begin, which is Jesairis' imprisonment .
Significant improvement. The details were quite good, though overall a bit overwritten. There's a lot you could probably drop:
quote: Twenty metric tons of solid metal reclines from the midst of a hundred foot obsidian wall.
'reclines' is a bit of a strange word to use here. It unnecessarily personifies the twenty metric tons of solid metal.
quote: Jesairis isn’t walking, but observing
I'm a bit unsure why you need to say that Jesairis *isn't* walking, though the previous sentence does need a bit of explanation:
quote: The entrance continues to shrink until it is as flat
If Jesairis isn't moving, why is the entrance shrinking? Is it moving further away? I think the idea, though, is that Jesairis is on a ship moving away from the entrance, though I'm not entirely sure on that point, either.
quote:Jesairis can only see the world
'Jesairis sees the world'. Not sure what 'can only' brings to the sentence.
quote: One of the Wardens had said that there were a hundred inmates on this barge.
I fumble this in my writing also. When setting the tense in the past and wanting to depict an action in the further past, I can overdo the 'had'. But it sounds so awkward usually, and I never know how needed it is or isn't in order to clarify a sequence of events. Here, though, I would cut the 'had' to make the sentence simpler and easier to read.
quote: All of them chained down in their seats like rabid animals. All of their expressions as bleak as his own
Maybe these two sentences can be combined with a comma instead of a period?
Hm, was that rewriting the passage? If so, I apologize in advance. Just some thoughts that popped to mind as I read.
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Thank you for the advice, Denevius, will put it to use .
quote: 'reclines' is a bit of a strange word to use here. It unnecessarily personifies the twenty metric tons of solid metal.
quote: If Jesairis isn't moving, why is the entrance shrinking? Is it moving further away? I think the idea, though, is that Jesairis is on a ship moving away from the entrance, though I'm not entirely sure on that point, either.
Yeah, recline is a bit on odd word, in hindsight. I chose that word because Jesairis isn't leaving the gate, he is about to enter it. I was trying to depict the fortress gate being built to sink below ground to open the entrance.
quote:I fumble this in my writing also. When setting the tense in the past and wanting to depict an action in the further past, I can overdo the 'had'. But it sounds so awkward usually, and I never know how needed it is or isn't in order to clarify a sequence of events. Here, though, I would cut the 'had' to make the sentence simpler and easier to read.
Glad I'm not the only who stumbles over this from time to time! I do tend to sometimes overdo the tense thing, will just have to keep working on it.
quote: Hm, was that rewriting the passage? If so, I apologize in advance. Just some thoughts that popped to mind as I read.
Your critiquing is fine by me, no problems there .
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The newer version more strongly but not quite as clearly develops the setting I think. Event takes a back seat to setting development. Character development doesn't take much shape yet.
Part of why I think the scene's event doesn't work for me is a confusion over what's happening. If Jesairis is at the back of the land barge moving toward Kazan, only able to see out a small window above a grinding wheel, how can he see the fortress gate open? How can he see the meticulously paved asphalt ahead? How can he see the land barge climb onto Kazan's first terrace?
Though strongly developing the setting, I think the setting's development intent is to show Jesairis seeing his entry to a fortress prison, the event of consequence. Logically, if he's at the back of the land barge and only seeing out a small window from behind rows of unseen prisoners, I don't understand how he can see forward.
If the fortress gate drops down to open, "yawned" doesn't seem quite the clearest description. A person's yawn usually involves a lower jaw dropping. As an idiom or metaphor for an opening door or gate, though, a yawn is typically a sideways motion.
Also, that first sentence is in past tense. The rest of the paragraph is present or present progressive, ended with a conditional future tense sentence. The second paragraph is partly present tense, with a past perfect sentence second.
In terms of narrative voice, I feel this opening is trying for close narrative distance, mostly character voice, but coming across as pure narrator voice.
Denevius points out the awkwardness of the word "reclines." I think something along the lines of recede is intended.
Almost without exception, use of the prefatory pronoun phrase "one of the" is vague, wordy, impersonal, and disruptive. Using an indefinite article for a generic noun is almsot always stronger and clearer. //A warden//
Denevius also finds the past perfect tense use awkward. For me, the issue is the time transition has no temporal relation. When did the warden say that? Moments before? Is the warden nearby at the moment Jesairis recalls the speech? In other words, did the warden just moments before the speech is reported speak to Jesairis? Or did the warden speak hours or so before when the prisoners boarded the land barge?
Overall, though, the report of the scene gives a neutral account of the event. The prison barge setting situation isn't a joyride, is it? I don't believe Jesairis is having fun but he's essentially a sightseer on vacation for all intents and purposes. Might the prisoners at least be a galley crew propelling the barge no matter the state of technology?
"Meticulously" and asphalt pavement don't match up in my imagination. This is a matter of scale. Meticulous is for minutia, small scale circumstances or details. Asphalt pavement application is a rather coarse process and is not detail oriented at a large scale, like for a land barge roadbed.
This gives me a picture of a vehicle climbing a steep terrace retainer wall: "up and onto the Kazan’s first terrace." I think the intent is for the barge to climb a gentler ramp slope.
I think more event development is warranted, that this isn't a joyride into a country club prison. Developing the event's situation more clearly and strongly would also develop Jesairis' character from how he perceives the situation and his emotional reaction to it. If he pedals a chain drive, for example, that propels the land barge, how does that hurt him? Also, putting him in a place where he can see the land barge entering the fortress I think might clear up a lot of confusion.
I think at this point in the story, a clue as to whether Jesairis is a wrongfully or unjustly imprisoned person is called for. Maybe he's where he belongs, maybe not, and faces brutal but unjustified imprisonment, maybe justified. I'd like to see an introductory hint soon, one I think could or should be shoehorned into the opening.
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Whew, that's a lot to take in . I appreciate your suggestions though.
quote:In terms of narrative voice, I feel this opening is trying for close narrative distance, mostly character voice, but coming across as pure narrator voice.
Yeah, that's what I'm attempting to go for. Do you have any suggestions on how to achieve that?
quote: Also, that first sentence is in past tense. The rest of the paragraph is present or present progressive, ended with a conditional future tense sentence. The second paragraph is partly present tense, with a past perfect sentence second.
You kind of lost me there, but no problem, I will into this .
quote: I think at this point in the story, a clue as to whether Jesairis is a wrongfully or unjustly imprisoned person is called for. Maybe he's where he belongs, maybe not, and faces brutal but unjustified imprisonment, maybe justified. I'd like to see an introductory hint soon, one I think could or should be shoehorned into the opening.
I feel a little dense for having to ask this, but what exactly do you mean by an introductory hint? If it's what I think it is, then I'll give a small rundown on Jesairis' situation:
Treason is the charge branded on Jesairis' arms by the Imperial family. Living a nomadic lifestyle like a true lone wolf, Jesairis has traveled nearly half the length of both of his home countries to escape the rapidly changing fronts of war. Near the beginning of this tale, he is surviving in the hinterland wilderness during the dead of winter.
On a fateful encounter during his hunt for wolf skins, several Kazanite Separatists fearing death in the woods request shelter for the night. After some debate, Jesairis leads them into the outskirts of his current town of residence and points them in the direction to nearest inn...
I leave it at that , I hope that's what you were looking for.
I've been debating if I should go back and work on the scenes from this summary first or use it later.
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Quite some probing questions you ask. That's great for workshopping a story.
For closer narrative distance, a number, probably hundreds of distinct methods are possible, many of them overlap. A kernel concept is to imitate an illusion of reality. How to do that is to portray causal events that relate closely to a central dramatic complication as perceived by a focal character, usually a protagonist, in the moment, place, situation, persons, event, setting, and causes and effects and antagonisms of the immediate moment. Jesairis is this story's focal character.
A dramatic complication is a want or problem wanting satisfaction, again, usually a protagonist's. A dramatic complication of Jesairis' given in this opening is his entry to a fortress prison as an inmate. That seems highly problematic and adequate for developing tension for an opening. Imprisonment comes with empathy and curiosity evoking features. It's tangible and hence capable of developing tension, which is readers knowing enough about a dramatic situation to care about the persona complicated by the situation and curious about what will happen. Time enough later to develop the dramatic complication further, like developing Jesairis' want related to the problem, escape maybe, maybe just coping with the harsh treatment he receives from other inmates and the guards.
How to show all that, character voice and perspective, rather than tell in summary and explanation, narrator voice, is for Jesairis to assume an attitude, an emotional reaction to the event of his imprisonment, at least his entry into the fortress prison. For example, if he's angry, use verbs, adverbs, nouns, adjectives, and commentary expression to describe what he sees, hears, perhaps smells, maybe tastes, even touches with his hands or even with his eyes, and how he feels about what he senses and experiences. The six senses of creative writing are visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and emotional; emotional being the strongest expression of reaction to external sensations for developing the illusion of reality.
Another method that overlaps with showing sensory stimuli is expressing reaction thoughts using a stream of consciousness method or two. Interjections, exclamation like, incomplete, unconventional, or informal grammar, rhetorical figures like multiple conjunctions with or without the conjunction words like "and," "or," "but," and so on. Perhaps missing articles or sentence subjects. Use of punctuation to signal interrupted or broken thought or sensory perception, like dashes, colons, semicolons. Again, hundreds of methods are available for signaling stream of consciousness.
For example: They jerked across a pothole, floor timbers moaned agonies--prisoners silently suffered, fearful of the overseer's lash, pushed harder on the pedals--wheels ground into crumbled asphalt, climbed the far pothole lip.
Of course, that's exaggerated for effect, way too purple for most general reader sensibilities. Note, though, that the verbs, adverbs, and adjectives express emotional reaction conditions, express commentary. Also, that the informal grammar is poetic-like yet clear, strong, easily read and comprehended as incidental thought, perhaps most of all maybe emotionally appealing, empathy and curiosity evoking.
No mention of Jesairis, but let's assume he's been introduced priorly and this sample seems to be his perception thought as though a reflection rising unbidden from his mind. In other words, he does not consciously arrange his thoughts into a conventional or formal grammatical construction. He describes through reflection what he feels as touch sensations (the barge jerked, the overseer's lash), sees, (prisoners pushed harder), and hears (timbers moaned and prisoners silently suffered), and so on, but does so with an emotional slant to it (this is agony symbolized by the barge jerked, prisoners suffered silent, floor timbers' moaned, overseer's lash).
Note also that the focus is somewhat wide angle at first, and narrowing, then foreshortened to a narrow field of view on the overseer. Then opening to wider angle again of feeling the barge climb the far pothole lip. For closer yet focus, perhaps Jesairis observes the overseer lash a prisoner and reports it also in a reflected emotional reaction way, as though Jesairis feels the lash on himself.
Tense consistency is an essential practice, so that readers stay in the moment of an unfolding narrative. Past tense for its just-this-immediate-past-moment-happened sense of the present is the strongest and most objective tense. Mixing tenses confuses the moment and objectivity of an otherwise subjective reflection by Jesairis.
Do any of the above, and the hint I allude to will be portrayed, how Jesairis feels about his imprisonment at the moment of his entry to the fortress prison. Unjustly imprisoned? Unjustly and cruelly treated? Justifiably imprisoned but unjustified brutal treatment? Justifiably cruely treated? Or is he entering a country club prison and all is peaceful and pleasant except for the moderate limitations placed on his liberty?
Here's a quick revision :(I think it's thirteen lines)
The gates leading into Kazan fortress split apart to bid them welcome. Twenty metric tons of cold steel shake the arid steppes and sends tremors of unbridled force through the prison land barge. Had it not been for neat chains and handcuffs locking them down in their seats, Jesairis knew a hundred inmates would surge up in an insurmountable wave attempting to escape. That would prove disastrous in the dead of midnight, where nothing remains clearly visible but Kazan’s onyx walls and battlements.
The anxiety written on nameless faces- and his, became visible in the tendrils of passing lamp lights erected along the Barren Highway. The wait had been agonizing. He suspected the journey would be unending for days. To his surprise, the arduous journey had taken several weeks. The Wardens had certainly made one point…