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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » Beginning of Chapter 1

Author Topic: Beginning of Chapter 1
Member # 10220

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I would like to know how appealing this is. Does it seem interesting? Would you want to read more?

Alexandria Casey Cooper, or Alex for short, is your typical 18 year-old teenager, though she doesn’t have any friends. Everyone in Cretice believes that her father killed the Parson family. The Parsons were an incredibly nice and warm family of five. About five years prior to the beginning of this story, the Parsons were brutally slaughtered in their home one night. It was very clear that it was the work of another human being; that much the whole town was sure of. Unfortunately, most of the evidence was destroyed in a fire that consumed almost half the town. Nonetheless, the remaining salvageable evidence pointed to Alex’s father, Don. Alex’s parents were divorced and her mother filed a restraining order against her father. Don Cooper was an alcoholic with an unpredictable temper and violent tendencies....

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Member # 1818

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This covers a lot of story ground very shallowly. It tells a lot that happened without actually letting me experience any of it. Try to find ways to show me this information in scenes (letting the reader experience events unfolding in real time).

For example, your first sentence,
"Alexandria Casey Cooper, or Alex for short, is your typical 18 year-old teenager, though she doesn’t have any friends." Can you think of a scene in which I can see her being a typical teen, rather than telling me she's a typical teen? Let me see that she doesn't have any friends. Maybe a scene in which she is eating alone at lunch at school, and maybe she tries to join a group at another lunch table, but gets shut down. Or maybe we see her audition for the school play and gets shut out by the drama kids. Something so we can see what she's like, rather than just being told.

I hope my thoughts are helpful. If not, feel free to disregard them.

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Member # 10220

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Okay yes that's great! I'll get to work on that! Thanks!
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Member # 8019

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For a beginning writing, a summary sketch of pertinent highlights works to see the whole. This above hits highlights. Isolation, murder, suspicion, community mayhem, and dysfunctiional family mayhem. Quite a few dramatic complications ready for development into a narrative are there.

Many writers have filled journals, notebooks, and sketchbooks with this type pf prewriting plan. I have a trunkload. They were my early efforts to start writing creatively, start stories and novels. They were daydream diaries of self-idealization, self-efficacy, and proactive and satisfying life-complication conquests. A gem in the rough here and there might be in them. They are summaries of backstories mostly. When the Digital Age came along, those sketches started going into a computer file of notes, sketches, plot plans, titles, a clever line of dialogue, a piece of sharp prose, practice writing.

The file journal became an outline sketchbook for keeping inspirations so they didn't get forgotten while I developed my writing skills, so I wouldn't waste them, spent by struggling to shape them into stories and, from frustration and sheer weight of doubt and struggle, abandon them altogether incomplete.

I still do all that, except abandon. Now I have a plan of approach. A battle plan. I will free write out an inspiration's sketch. I take that sketch and tear into it, identifying several core kernels: Event, setting, and character. Those are the primary kernels of scene, or imitation, or the all-important illusion of reality a scene should portray, and plot--dramatic structure.

Event's significance is that it expresses how time, place, and situation (three corners of setting) complicate a character. Events are the causes of complications. Complications are the motivators of characters. Wants and problems wanting satisfaction are these dramatic complications: dramatic events, in dramatic settings, that dramatically complicate characters' lives.

Though what's dramatic has near infinite principles and possibilities and writer and reader definitions--humans are complicated--drama can be distilled down to cause and effect: causation. Action and reaction, stimulus and response are two other causal patterns and sequences. Many, many more specific pattern-sequence pairs may come to mind. Insult and injury, offense and attack, murder and revenge, ad infinitum.

Stimulus and response, for me, is most contributory for scene development. The basic human sensory perceptions develop the reality of a scene's events, settings, and characters's physical and emotional portrait: visual (sights), aural (sounds), tactile (feel, whether physically touched or felt with eye or ear or nose sensations), olfactory (smell, nose as well as eye and ear and finger touches that sense scents), and gustatory (tastes, as well as eye and ear and nose and finger touches that taste).

The sixth and most important and contributory scene reality development dramatic sense is emotional feeling. Emotional feeling about stimuli. Not separate from physical sensation but in the moment, part of the emotional context and texture of the sensation while it is perceived. For example, describing a sunset as a red sunset is vague, straightfoward, lackluster, unemotional. An angry sunset is an emotional feeling.

Otherwise, response is then how the setting and other characters in it are perceived by a viewpoint character and, most importantly, how she or he reacts emotionaly. How a viewpoint character perceives other characters, him or herself, and settings develops the viewpoint character's characterization. His or her personality, behavior, value system, social codes.

Those are features that readers look for from real life acquaintances, for likeability and trustworthiness. Readers look for them in characters they are meant to find commonness with, so that readers care and are curious about them and about their life complications and what the outcomes are of their dramatic complications. That's drama and scene in a thimble.

As wetwilly notes, unpacking the above summary into scenes develops the all-important illusion of reality. Rather than directly telling readers in a summary and explanatory lecture manner that Alex is your typical friendless eighteen-year-old teenager, show her perceptions of and reactions to events, settings, and characters, her behaving, exhibiting her private and public personalities, her empathy-worthy social and value systems, her evaluations and judgments, and her complicated struggles with confronting and satisfying her wants and problems, so that we authentically infer that Alex is a friendless eighteen-year-old young woman.

An opening introduces dramatically complicated events, settings, and characters to readers. Events are easiest for readers to associate and identify with at first. As if the events happen or are directly observed by us as reader bystanders or best of all as participants, at least vicariously urging Alex to satisfy her wants and problems.

Settings are second easiest at first to engage readers in the illusion of reality. We bring our experiences and memories along and can add details from our imaginations to the moving portrait. However, as in life, we are cautious and reluctant, shy of characters. We've been betrayed and hurt beforehand by unconditional liking and trusting.

We want to participate in events, settings, and characters' dramatic complications. Our experiences and memories bring to a story our imaginations. Through exercising our imaginations we participate.

As events unfold in emerging settings, we come to, ideally, trust and like a central character, a protagonist usually. A protagonist is the character with the greatest dramatic complication and expends the greatest proactive efforts to satisfy it.

Say we don't trust Alex much because she's a friendless teenager, she is nonetheless at least likeable to a degree for her pitiable friendlessness and for the complications common to a young woman, that are part of our experiences and memories. Then Alex does a random act of kindness. This is noble for its self-sacrifice, even if trivial, like tipping off a neighbor that another neighbor stole her mail. It is heroic for its self-sacrifice. We come to trust her and like her more because she behaves honestly, as we do. Her social and value system aligns with ours.

Dynamic character multidimensionality for character depth and reality requires that Alex's personality also be flawed. She dislikes the neighbor who stole the mail because the neighbor is popular. A touch of jealousy, huh? Alex has an ulterior motive for snitching. Okay, she's human. She's like us. We like her more for using her value system to benefit herself as well as being honest. Oh clever girl. We like her more because she's cunning. Nothing much more insufferable and boorish than a flawless character who can do no wickeness and everything complicated comes out easily and ideally and satisfying.

These above are a few tips for guidance on your Poet's Journey. The path can be long and trying. Though the struggles are heartbreaking, they are joys when they're overcome. This lecture is intended to make your journey less of a burden, more of a joy, shorter than mine. But I cannot and will not take away the hardships. They are yours alone to overcome for your greatest, joyous satisfactions.

[ February 23, 2014, 09:20 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Member # 10202

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The first word that stuck out to me was "your". The author is supposed to be telling the story, not the reader. The reader wants to be entertained, not assigned a task from the author. [Smile]

I would think the paragraph you wrote could be expanded to a page or two.

The beginning of any story is very difficult because exposition is bad, but how to start a story without it?

Expand the paragraph to a page or two, then go in and refine it as you go through those first few pages repeatedly.

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