These are the first thirteen lines of Chapter 1. Thank you for in advance for any feedback you care to give:
Stanley Lawton lay on his stomach in a bubble bath, guiding the frigate HMS Shepherd’s Eye by her hull on the tip of his finger.
She crept toward blocks and wedges of foam that rocked with the swells.
“Faster!” yelled the Captain. “Into the fog with her!”
A sea serpent closed in behind her, it’s chin plowing the water’s surface.
“The chase is over my good Captain. It’s coming up astern, and still no wind.” First Mate Watkins gripped the rail, his knuckles white. “Ya seen what it done to MacGillicuddy? Plucked him right from the poop! Oh, the crunchin’ o’ bones. Like a dog crunchin’ a snack. It was hideous!” His voice trailed off to a squeak. “I
Interesting opening scene that will probably work better if it's slowed down a bit. You're usually going to confuse readers when you throw name after name at them, and here you have Stanley Lawton, the Captain, First Mate Watkins, and MacGillicuddy. Lots of people, none of whom I've been properly introduced to as a reader.
What I'm taking from this scene is a boy playing make-believe in his bathtub. I like what you do with the language. It's hard to make characters sound like something, but you manage that well. I would drop Watkins' "Oh no!", however.
Also, except for the fact that it looks cool, why does the Captain pull out his sword? This is an action you'll see actors in movies take, but it's kind of like someone yelling, "Boil water", when a pregnant woman is about to give birth outside of a hospital in an emergency situation. Exactly what are you dipping in this boiling water that'll be in the least bit useful? If anything, ask for soap, not boiling water.
And pulling out your sword when a sea monster is about to attack? Why, when you have guns? Wouldn't that be more effective? Instead of unsheathing a sword, maybe he should rip a sawed off from its strapping on his leg.
Overall, though, an intriguing opening.
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Thank you all for your critiques. I did debate whether or not the Captain would unsheathe, then raise and drop his sword, and ultimately opted for him to do so because the sequence is fabricated by Stanley who would go for drama! I've tried to keep it as a story from Stanley's head. That being said, there are some things I may need to revise further to make the language more befitting his day dream world.
"On the tip of his finger" has been "with the tip of his finger" something like ten times! LOL.
I will look for where I can slow the pace a little to enhance the story. That might make the introduction of characters less frenetic as well.
Yes, "hideous" needs to go, and maybe one of the "crunchin"s. I left it repeated because of Stanley's voice. But just the same, there is room to maintain his voice and drop the repetition. Watkins' "Oh no" is out, too.
Thank you all again for your help. Your comments are much appreciated.
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Aside from a few trifles, this introduction works for me. For example, vessel names are italicized but not their designations. "HMS" should be set in roman.
Maritime sword drill manuals advise an officer to draw and thrust a cutlass to frontal guard position to signal a spoken order, especially if the order is to engage the enemy. That works for me.
The swift pace works for me. The number of characters isn't too much of a population explosion for me. The only area there for me is MacGillicuddy's rate isn't given. That would characterize his role and increase his memorableness to a suitable proportion, because he's done and gone.
The issue of "on" or "with" or "by" the tip of his finger is syntax--style. A past tense verb is indicated instead of a preposition. A subordination clause is also an option. And tense consistency. The present participle verb form ended in "ing" doesn't for me fit along with past tense verbs. Too much ing-ring-rhyme in composition overall, much of it from past participle "ing" verbs used as nouns: gerunds--like writing, opening, editing. Hence composition, introduction fragment or scene or act, and revision, guidance, critique, or criticism. Oh my!
"Stanley Lawton lay on his stomach in a bubble bath, guiding the frigate HMS Shepherd’s Eye by her hull on the tip of his finger."
"Lay" is the past tense of to lie for that use. Lay feels like present tense from its irregular and problematic conjugation challenges. "Lay" is also problematic from being a static verb. Did Stanley just this immediate past--past tense--moment lay down in the bath? The context and texture imply the static action has been and is continuous for an indeterminate while; in other words, present tense. Then instead for grammar principle conformance, Stanley lies on his stomach in a bubble bath.
"Lay" and any indeterminate time verbs are static voice. A stronger and clearer, more robust verb is indicated, one that has a narrower, definite, determinate time significance.
Lie, lay, lain mean to recline, an intransitive verb that doesn't take an object or does for discretionary though problematic uses; often confused with lay, laid, laid, for to put or to place, a transitive verb that does take an object. Then "guiding" is present participle. Then "by," "on," or "with" are preposition connections between a main clause and an object phrase, connected to an already cluttered and confused sentence.
Stronger: //Stanley Lawton fidgeted on his stomach in the bubble bath. His pointer finger guided the frigate HMS Shepherd’s Eye by her hull.//
Hunch a phrase, clause, sentence, paragraph is cluttered and confused as well as difficult to clarify and strengthen? Please crack open a grammar handbook.
This description I feel is also confused: "She crept toward blocks and wedges of foam that rocked with the swells."
"Blocks and wedges" are sharp-edged, solid, regular shapes that neither suit foam nor their imagined maritime roles. Perhaps consider drifts, mists, and bergs. The arrangement around "of" and "that" is unnecessarily wordy. "With" is a confused preposition for the use that implies coordinated accompaniment, rather than cause and effect contrast. I therefore visualize the soap foam awash, submerged in, part of rather than rocked on and by the swells. "On" or "by" are stronger and clearer prepositions in that case.
//"She crept toward foam drifts and bergs rocked on [by] swells."// (Implied and easily inferred authenticallly both the ship and the soap foam rocked on swells.)
Some confused style in Watkins' paragraph, adjusted for illustration:
//"The chase is over, my good Captain." First Mate Watkins gripped the rail, his knuckles white. "The beast be astern--and still no wind. Ya seen what the unholy creature done to Bosun MacGillicuddy? Plucked him right off the poop deck! Oh the breakin' o' his bones. Like a dog crunchin' a weasel. It was hideous! I still hear his screams."
For MacGillicuddy, I see the argument for adding his rate, but I think that Stanley would gloss over it, and I want the image of the serpent rising to be in full focus. He just likes the name because he heard it somewhere and enjoys saying it.
Point well taken on the opening sentence. I generally avoid using -ings, but in this case I tried to evoke a sense of on-going activity. For balance's sake, I think your suggestion works.
For the wedges and blocks of foam, I want to paint the literal picture and then immediately infer their imaginary role as the fog. If I say mist or something too much like fog at that point, I'm concerned about confusion.
As for the grammatical structure of the sentence, I like your suggestion very much. I think at this point, the transition to Stanley's imagination POV is still malleable enough to use that level of diction. It paints the intended picture very well.
In Watkins' paragraph I am trying to let Stanley get gross and exaggerated in tone like little boys do, yet preserve the pace.
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In the alternative, clearly and strongly implying Stanley as young boy reflector character speaking all these events aloud, as narrator of his imagination to an empty bathroom audience, would authentically have confused and cluttered syntax and diction to a degree. That then is a matter of developing a clear narrator identity. However, clarity and strength are still important principles, no matter the target audience's sophistication.
First composition law: Provide for appeal, reception, and comprehension. Either way, boy voice or detached narrator, or close narrator access limited to one character, this scene is a little inaccessible.
Second law: Writer writes; reader receives. I recast and rearranged and substituted while reading this introduction. Too much me writing for my sensibilities.
Third law: Preserve the illusion of reality, the participation mystique, the reading spell. Conflicts with the above two laws break the reading spell contract for me.
Firstly, no worries about the second law from my perspective
You've hit upon what I've struggled with here for a few days: obeying laws one and two, though I couldn't have articulated them with the same clarity.
The tension between the two goals is there. I must find the balance between POV/voice integrity and appeal, reception and comprehension. Since my audience is adult, I will necessarily sacrifice character some degree of reflection in order to maintain the spell.
In fact, in later scenes I found myself using "his mother" in all cases except when Stanley addresses his mother or when psychic distance is extremely close. Only then is she "Mommy". So there we have a further example of the importance of navigating the narrative distance scale.
Your appreciation for character and narrator voice and narrative distance and their complexities is noted and commendable.
I did unravel the scene's meaning. To its advantage, the scene evokes mystery and hence arouses curiosity. I might read on if the minor style disturbances settled out.
Managing the mischiefs of narrative distance for this narrative might benefit from a tiny narrative voice magic. If the first verb "lay" was from character voice, like I suggest "fidgeted" though ever more so Stanley's young language, perhaps imitating an adult expression that he heard, maybe squirmed in keeping with a sea serpent's movement, maybe not slithered, maybe wiggled or wobbled or both, I don't know. Each verb potentially a degree of an ongoing event yet definite, determinate, and robust voice. The narrative voice then is established as a mostly nonnarrated voice, from Stanley's viewpoint as reflector.
Maybe also instead of "on his stomach in the bathtub" consider a change for "on his stomach" to //Stanley Lawton wiggled and wobbled munch butt up and stuffed belly down in the bathtub.// That resolves the two-preposition issue: on and in. Only naming Stanley is left from narrator voice. That evaporates though, because the boy-voice verbs and boy-voice body position description become an immediate notice that all of this scene is implied and inferrable as vocal and reflected thought expression by Stanley. Quote bracketed speech then is obviously inferrable as his imitation of his imagined characters' speech.
That also obviates putting formal double quote brackets around Stanley's narration and single quote brackets around his characters' speech. That's a problem I had with one story I wrote. How to show that the narrator-character, though in third person, is thinking and speaking his own events partly through imitating imagined character's voices. I had a hard time managing that productively. No one in its workshops could offer solutions, except to change to first person. That is nonnegotiable for that story. This discussion has given me the satisfying solutions for which I struggled.
I have a strong sense Stanley's language sophistication isn't up to the complexities of lie to recline and lay to put or place, anyway. Even advanced English PhD professors have trouble with that and sit and set too, you might imagine.
That one artful verb or two and boy-voice descriptions do most of the magic mischief of establishing the mostly nonnarrated narrator voice. Then the narrator voice is available when needed later, occasionally revisited so readers are comfortable and settled into it without disruptive intrusions later. A little voice and narrative distance variation is a lively magic too.
Using robust if suitable boy-voice verbs and descriptions, readers would immediately understand this is the language of a boy narrating aloud from his imagination to his external world or his thoughts. External sensory stimulations, the to-a-degree-sophisticated narrator can reflect them somewhat from Stanley's viewpoint, and Stanley's speaking and thinking voice can reflect his limited voice sophistication with a gentle narrator hand on the tiller.
Once readers are in the know, and not later unsettled, the narrative distance and voice magic mischiefs are managed.
Thank you extrinsic! Thank you especially for slogging with me through the discussion. Your thoughtful comments and examples have pointed me to some real solutions as well. ("munch butt" is hilarious - excellent picture you paint with that sentence)
I hope to master these "mischiefs" of the narrative art, especially the art of seamlessly revisiting narration of the character/reflector variety within the same work.
I've been tinkering with using character voice in the first paragraph. And a very big difference this makes. As you say, just "one artful verb or two and boy-voice descriptions" can do the trick. It's a fascinating art.
How true that complexity of vocabulary and sentence structure can act as a character reflector. I only recently saw narration discussed in those terms, so it's exciting to see you mention it as well. Helps me know I'm barking up the right tree. Playing a little catch-up here
To write well is to make language perform ten types of magic at once while the reader only notices the story. Practice, practice!
We're having fun now, aren't we?
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