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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » Fractured

   
Author Topic: Fractured
Christine Ralston
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Fireworks exploded over humid Montrose Harbor as Jeff Trenton scrutinized his surroundings from the deck of his thirty-eight foot Luhrs Convertible. His lawyer, Henry Barclay, was standing near the boat railing, but he wasn’t so much as standing as staggering. Barclay’s jaw hung slack, his eyes unfocused, as he leaned against the railing. Across from them, Terry Peterson let out a piercing scream.
Another burst of fireworks lit up their surroundings and Jeff saw a thick, gray liquid flowing toward Barclay, flowing up the lawyer’s leg and seeming to defy gravity. A low moan escaped Barclay’s lips. The sky darkened until the next series of explosions sprinkled the night sky with bright reds, blues, and greens. Jeff gazed at Barclay and swore he did not recognize the man.

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wetwilly
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Fireworks exploded over humid Montrose Harbor as Jeff Trenton scrutinized his surroundings from the deck of his thirty-eight foot Luhrs Convertible. [This is a lot of info for one sentence, especially the first one. In my opinion, you're trying to cram too much info in here.]His lawyer, Henry Barclay, was standing near the boat railing, but he wasn’t so much as standing as staggering. [cut first "as." Also, standing and staggering are not at all the same. Staggering implies walking, or at least attempting to, which is clearly not standing] Barclay’s jaw hung slack, his eyes unfocused, as he leaned against the railing. Across from them, Terry Peterson let out a piercing scream. [Who is Terry? Where is Terry (more specifically than across from them)? What is she screaming about?]
Another burst of fireworks lit up their surroundings and Jeff saw a thick, gray liquid flowing toward Barclay, flowing up the lawyer’s leg and seeming to defy gravity [cut "seeming to"; it weakens the sentence. Where does this liquid come from? The boat's deck? Up the side of the boat?] A low moan escaped Barclay’s lips. The sky darkened until the next series of explosions sprinkled the night sky with bright reds, blues, and greens. Jeff gazed at Barclay and swore he did not recognize the man. [What made him unrecognizable? How did he look different than normal?]

On the plus side, there is some pretty imagery here. The fireworks are nice, and make this event visually interesting. Overall, though, this opening doesn't work for me.

This might be an interesting event, the gray slime creeping up his leg, but right now I don't care about it because I don't know anything about the characters involved.

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Christine Ralston
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Thanks for your reply. I found it very helpful.

You asked more specifically for Terry's location. I cut the phrase "forming a triangle between the three men" thinking it didn't add anything, but since you are asking, maybe it did add something.

I will work on a description as to why Barclay is unrecognizable.

It's impossible to get to know characters in only 13 lines. That would be a lot to cram into a few sentences.

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LindseyCotler
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Fireworks exploded over humid Montrose Harbor as Jeff Trenton scrutinized his surroundings from the deck of his thirty-eight foot Luhrs Convertible. [Why not just his thirty-eight-foot yacht? Not being a yacht expert, I was jerked out of the story by this esoteric detail.] His lawyer, Henry Barclay, was standing near the boat railing, but he wasn’t so much as standing as staggering. [Staggering is something you do while trying to walk not stand. How about teetering or wobbling?] Barclay’s jaw hung slack, his eyes unfocused, as he leaned against the railing. Across from them, Terry Peterson let out a piercing scream. [Why is he screaming? If it’s because the creeping gray liquid, that would have to come first or be simultaneous, e.g. “Jeff saw the thick gray liquid flow up his layer’s leg. Turning, he heard his XXX Terry Peterson scream from YYY.” And who is Terry Peterson? What is his relationship to Jeff? Or, what is he currently doing? You mention him in a vacuum, and then continue. I’m sure he’s an important character, so maybe add the XXX & YYY, or introduce him a few sentences later when you can spend a few more words on him?] Another burst of fireworks lit up their surroundings and Jeff saw a thick, gray liquid flowing toward Barclay, flowing up the lawyer’s leg and seeming to defy gravity. [Defying gravity, not seeming to] A low moan escaped Barclay’s lips. The sky darkened until the next series of explosions sprinkled the night sky with bright reds, blues, and greens. [Very good imagery, the light “sprinkling” the night sky.] Jeff gazed at Barclay and swore he did not recognize the man.
Fortunately, these issues are technical issues. You introduce a creeping gray liquid and the reader is wondering, what is this awful stuff? You give them a reason to read on which is exactly what you are trying to do to start a story.

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extrinsic
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Three men aboard a luxury yacht attend a fireworks display. A sequence of fireworks shots momentarily light the dark boat strobe light-like. A mysterious gray fluid covers one man.

For openings, antagonizing, causal events develop tension, the three axes of plot: antagonism, causation, and tension (ACT). Events develop settings; events and settings develop characterization. The interplay of characters with each other (events) and in and with settings develop each. Events, settings, characters (ESC).

The events of this opening fragment hold promise, the antagonism of a mysterious gray fluid consuming Barclay. Trenton observes the action inactively, though. Terry reacts with a scream. Barclay moans. Trenton makes no move to assist Barclay. For a viewpoint character, developing reader emotional caring about a protagonist, the other half of tension, the viewpoint character ought best do a noble act, even a simple one, like attempting to assist a person in distress. Even, for example, opening and holding a door for another person to pass through.

This is how readers come to emotionally care about and trust a viewpoint character: through his, her, or its selfless acts that accord with readers' moral value system. This is also how a viewpoint character acts proactively so that plot movement begins.

Trenton has a problem here: the gray fluid consuming Barclay. That's one half of antagonism's dramatic complication criteria. The other half is want. Antagonizing wants and problems wanting satisfaction is dramatic complication. I don't know what Trenton wants, wants to do from this fragment. I do know the problem though.

I suspect Trenton is shocked but don't know his reaction to the gray fluid consuming Barclay. Trenton could have in one scenario brought Barclay and Terry out to feed the gray fluid. Or the gray fluid is a surprise to him, Barclay, and Terry. I presume the latter is the intent. I don't know, though, because Trenton doesn't react to the event.

Causation is cause and effect, action and reaction, stimulus and response. No reaction to the fireworks by any of the men; viewpoint character Trenton reacts to nothing. His reaction could come after Terry screams to give emotional texture to the event, clarify the meaning of the antagonizing event, and set up or establish Barclay's role, the tension, and start plot movement.

The reaction, if it may be called one, Trenton makes is not recognizing Barclay. That's neutral. A stronger and clearer emotional reaction that establishes Trenton is horrified I think is called for. One that is also part selfless. Some noble effort or ineffectual but well-intended gesture to aid Barclay. Through him a towel, maybe, please, for cripe's sake, Trenton. Don't just stand there like a video camera fastened to a statue.

Mechanical style-wise, a number of grammar glitches are problematic. Use of "as" as a time conjunction is faulty grammar. "While" or "when," and so forth, are time conjunctions. Conjunction terms either coordinate or subordinate ideas. "As" is a subordination conjunction. Subordination conjunctions do not coordinate main ideas. A subordination conjunction and its clause are subordinate to a main clause's idea. Subordination emphasizes the main clause's idea.

In other words, the first sentence is cluttered and confused. Strong and clear syntax would separate the sentence clauses into their own sentences.

Verbs that summarize sensation actions are static and narrator mediation summarizing and explaining actions. They are static voice, not the ideal dynamic viewpoint character voice. For example: "scrutinized" and "gazed." Visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, gustatory sensations are stongest and clearest and most straightfoward dynamic when the sensations themselves are described without narrator mediation. This also applies to visual sensations of static action, like to see, to stand, to sit, to run, to fly, to wait, etc., etc., etc., summary and explanation mediation that statically "tell" the action rather than dynamically show action. This a matter of craft and voice and appeal.

Craft-wise, sensory stimuli are causes. Voice-wise, narrator mediation intrudes between readers and the action. Appeal-wise, narrator mediation keeps narrative distance open and readers remote from the action at arm's length or more. Also, narrator mediation keeps aesthetic distance open and remote.

The ideal for closing narrative and aesthetic distance is portraying the immediate antagonizing events; moment, place, situation (setting); and persons causally within a narrative's performance space from the perceived reflections of a viewpoint character. This develops the all-important illusion of reality imitation readers desire from a narrative. Which for scene development, the principal features are action, sensation, emotion, conversation, and introspection, parts of DIANE'S SECRET writing modes:

Description, introspection, action, narration, emotion, sensation, summarization, exposition, conversation, recollection, explanation, and transistion. Put together with ACT and the other basic scene features of ESC, etc., a mnemonic whole is DIANE'S SECRET SPICED ACT; spiced being setting, plot, idea, character, event, and discourse (voice).

Tense inconsistency issues as well. Simple past is the most dynamic tense for prose. That tense establishes a finite flow of action. Present tense may also be dynamic; however, it is unreliable, which is a strength for present tense. Use of inconsistent tenses and unnecessary tense shifts unnecessarily stall and disturb flow. Also, -ing words, present participle and gerund nouns and adjectives, tend to accumulate in dissonant annoyance when misused, overused, and abused. Recast as many -ing words as practical to eliminate their white noise.

"surroundings standing railing standing staggering railing piercing surroundings flowing flowing seeming" Each of these could be made more finite and dynamic, less -ing ring rhymings, without changing their meanings.

A few more mechanical style gliches that get into ever more rarified grammar principles, too; however, I'll leave them for another time, how way leads on to way.

Strobe fireworks display above a dark yacht, the victim Barclay a lawyer, and the gray fluid arouse my curiosity. Those are for me strengths of this fragment. Shortcomings that don't work for me I've enumerated above.

[ March 23, 2014, 05:14 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Christine Ralston
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Thanks for the feedback. I am brainstorming ways to incorporate it in all of my writing.

I agree that Jeff needs to react to what is happening...which he does in line 17...hard to fit everything in to 13 lines...but I will try to rewrite the beginning so it is clear right away that he's going to take action.

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arriki
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Yeah, I agree with the others this is not working.

Try cutting down some –

Fireworks exploded over humid Montrose Harbor. In the bright flash(es?) Jeff Trenton watched his lawyer, Henry Barclay, lean over the boat railing of the yacht. The man (the bastard?) moaned as the light faded..

As another burst of fireworks lit up the deck, Jeff saw a thick gray mass oozing up the man’s leg. Then the sky darkened again until the next series of explosions sprinkled the night sky with bright reds, blues, and greens.

Jeff gazed at Barclay and swore he did not recognize the man. (Why did he not recognize the man – hmmm? The agony on his face? Why)

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