The scream jolted me to my feet in an instant. What happened? I scanned the surroundings, momentarily confused by the looming silhouettes of HVAC equipment. Where was I? Right; on the roof of the University Hospital. Not surprising. It was the tallest building on campus, and I often climbed it when I was too lazy to make my way to the docks in Mayberry Square. I had a vague memory of screaming at my cell phone before powering it off and climbing the access ladder with a driving need to escape. After that, I’d settled onto the roof to watch the sunset and then…I must have fallen asleep. “Obviously,” I said, rolling my eyes. My whole body ached and my mind, while alert, felt sluggish.
Hello, everyone! Above are posted the first thirteen lines (I think) of my most recent novel Guardian Angel which features a seventeen-year-old martial artist named Angela Farr who finds out that her stepfather's murderer has just returned to the city she lives and 'works' in as the illegal vigilante Guardian Angel. I'm looking for feedback on the first thirteen lines, as well as volunteers who might be interested in reading the manuscript in whole or part for pacing, characterization, and overall story purposes. I know we're all busy, so any help would be greatly appreciated ^-^ Happy Writing (or reading Kaliea
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An individual awakens, in a confused state, from heard screams, atop a high structure.
The screams and "driving need to escape" are standout potentials with most dramatic promise, for me. The screams represent external complication-conflict potentials; the driving need to escape, internal complication-conflict potentials. Both essential to drama if not the core criteria thereof. However, many are the creative and dramatic shortfalls that attend strengths.
One, that the aural context and texture of the screams are underdeveloped. They are a sensation detail that asks for more timely and further report of a personal meaning nature. What, blood-curdling screams of fear? Or of joy? Or what and what do they sound like or are?
Plus, the description entails overly narrator mediated description of received sensation, most through too little personal context and texture development. Show, not rushed through told summary of sensations, is a stronger artistic method. The screams are of more immediate import than the narrator wake-up setting description as is, too. Would not a superhero vigilante naturally and necessarily headlong rush toward the screams' source?
//Screams//, by the way, obviates the definite article adjective first word "The." An emphasis grammar error as it is; "scream," "jolted," "to my feet," and "in an instant" do little to define a definite subject that warrants the "the" article, //A scream,// maybe, indefinite article. Another adjective instead or the plural noun form or both eliminate need for a bland, meaningless emphasis article altogether.
Illustrations -- not blood-curdling, that's also artless tell and trite, perhaps cliché. What, of an aural sensory quality? Perhaps simile or metaphor or another trope or several may serve?
"The scream jolted me to my feet in an instant." Narrator mediated artless summary tell. //Screams like police cruiser sirens shattered sunrise quiet -- vocal chord eruptions to the peak of despair.// Aural, simile, metaphor, and metalepsis that evoke a reader accessible mind's eye sense of the sound, though my voice, my sense impression of the scene, my poetic equipment sense, and not intended to impose my creative vision upon that of the fragment. For illustration purposes only.
Lavish attention to literal sensations and incorporate tone's emotional attitude features, those of a narrator's direct received reflections of sensations and attitude responses to those, part through figurative allusion and part through direct sensory description is a fine show distinction principle that estranges narrator mediation in favor of reality imitation's shown immediate report.
Other standout shortfalls of the fragment, and that signal those of the whole, include this is an artless wake-up scene and unmet challenges of first-person narrative.
Wake-up starts are a type of Dischism and widely deprecated if artlessly presented. Writer wakes up from an alpha reality, real-world setting, to the secondary reality of a narrative's blank page and proceeds to make out a sense of the imagined setting on the blank page, through vague setting descriptions, and doesn't get to the real action until after the setting makes vague sense.
Writer's real world transition from waking alpha reality to dream waking in a secondary reality emulates a wake-up. See The Turkey City Lexicon for definitions of Dischism and numerous composition shortfalls for prose and fiction in general and fantastic fiction in particular.
The scream incitement is a preparation segment; delay instincts for then a suspension segment are artful, though the narrator's setting introduction and development are unrelated to the scream's action, an untimely and injudicious detour from the action the scream incites. Suspension is essential for drama, though.
The setting could be introduced and developed and suspension criteria met through response to the scream event, characterization, too. Then a partial satisfaction segment might entail the narrator's first view of the scream's scene, its horrors. Preparation, suspension and attendant anticipation, and satisfaction segment sequencing drive pace, fluent movement flow, dramatic movement, event movement, and setting and character movement, story movement overall, and, of course, reader engagement.
First-person narrative challenges and shortfalls most concern characterization criteria. Writers writing about creative writing dysphemistically label the "I" pronoun the perpendicular pronoun, the upright pronoun, and its attendant variants first person me, my, mine. Two essays that concern the upright pronoun address those challenges and shortfalls, from Writing Creative Nonfiction, Carol Forché, Philip Gerard editors, 2001: "Writing Personal Essays: On the Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character," Phillip Lopate, pg 38, and "Taking Yourself Out of the Story: Narrative Stance and the Upright Pronoun," Philip Gerard, pg 50.
A relevant cite from Lopate: "The problem with 'I' is not that it is in bad taste, but that fledgling essayists may think they've said or conveyed more than they actually have with that one syllable. In their minds [not on the page] that 'I' is swarming with background and a lush, sticky past and an almost too fatal specificity, whereas the reader, encountering it for the first time in a new piece, sees only a slender telephone pole standing in the sentence, trying to catch a few signals to send on." (pg 38, bracketed content mine)
Numerous others as well assert that first-person narrative's overall challenge, regardless of whether nonfiction or fiction storytelling, is adequate characterization, of events, settings, and as well characters, plus matters of artful internal-external complication-conflict introduction and development, and tone. Prose culture is not a writer's courteous workshop and coffee klatch community. Prose portrays nasty, ugly, judgmental, and anguished contention between external and internal moral choices and within each too, an attitude toward a focal moral contest's dilemma.
Vigilante superhero narratives are uniquely poised for external-internal complication-conflict contests. Vigilantes operate contrary to social-moral order to set right antisocial-immoral disorder. They amorally set themselves up as god, judge, jury, and executioner in opposition of accepted social-moral order, though are exalted as champions of miscarried justice. If that's not an internal-external moral anguish conflict and complication, I don't know of one.
What complicates the narrator? What does she most want that problems trigger, oppose, and motivate, that compel greater efforts to satisfy? Therein are essential aspects for complication and setting a plot in motion. And what conflict does she contend with, which is a polar opposition of stakes and outcome forces, like -- well, for vigilantes in general anyway, liberty to continue and imprisonment, external conflict; internal conflict, an anguished clash between social and antisocial moral choice forces. And what of tone? An attitude contest between, say, moral self-justification and attendant self-judgment of the self's amorality?
The title, Guardian Angel, perhaps signals too much writer surrogacy (author surrogate) and too little of what the novel is really about!? //Demonic Guardian Angel//? illustration, that contrast signals a complication-conflict contest. Or some such congruent yet different title context and texture, plus, considerations of setting and event as well as character signals incorporated into a title? //Dame Esquire of Solace City//? "Dame" to mean the feminine nominative equivalent to masculine knight esquire. Setting's relevant strength signals derive from satire's function of reveals social settings' vice and folly. Surely, criminal enterprise is antisocial vice and folly, right?
I would not at present ordinarily read on, due, in the main, to unmet challenges of characterization, unmet start criteria, and unmet complication-conflict and tone introduction essential to novels' successes.
I would not read on. The reason is simple: the opening is filled with basic writing clichés. A character tells us that she wakes up disoriented and confused after hearing a scream; the clichés are these: First person main character narrator, starting a story by waking up, and starting a story in the middle of an action (depending on circumstances this may or may not be in medias res). Such faults so early on argue against having expectations the writing will improve.
Best recommended practice, supported by the number of books published in the mainstream, would indicate that a tale is best told in the third person with an introduction that sets the scene, (setting, milieu, character, etc.), and hints at an upcoming dramatic complication(s). Should a writer deem it necessary to have the main character wake up in the opening scene, it should be done as if this were just another day, like any other.
Best practice for first person narration is the have a 'Watson' character as the narrator. That is, a character who reports on what the main character does and who may, from time to time, comment on the actions and motives of the character. Such a treatment is also ripe for dramatic tension and moral contention between the MC and side-kick.
In essence, I also agree wholeheartedly with extrinsic. Hope this helps somewhat and isn't too painful for a first critique.
quote:Originally posted by Kaliea56: The scream jolted me to my feet in an instant. What happened? I scanned the surroundings, momentarily confused by the looming silhouettes of HVAC equipment. Where was I? Right; on the roof of the University Hospital. Not surprising. It was the tallest building on campus, and I often climbed it when I was too lazy to make my way to the docks in Mayberry Square. I had a vague memory of screaming at my cell phone before powering it off and climbing the access ladder with a driving need to escape. After that, I’d settled onto the roof to watch the sunset and then…I must have fallen asleep. “Obviously,” I said, rolling my eyes. My whole body ached and my mind, while alert, felt sluggish.
This opening leaves me confused, more than anything else. There's a lot of potential here, but also a lot that could be improved upon.
For example: The story opens with a scream, which is generally an attention-grabber, but no details are provided as to where the scream originated from or why it happened. I'm sure this comes later in the story, but as things currently stand the viewpoint character's seeming lack of concern means I feel no reason to be invested in it as a reader.
The protagonist's climb to a top of a building being a result of them being too lazy to go to the docks struck me as unusual. Climbing a building hardly seems like a lazy thing to do, especially when compared to a walk (or even a drive). More context would make this an interesting character observation, I think. (The docks' significance to the character could help clarify things, as could an explanation of what the character does at the docks and/or during the trip to the docks that makes a climb up a building more preferable.)
The story presently opens with the main character waking up, which is generally considered a difficult sell to editors. It seems to me that a more interesting point to open the tale could be when the protagonist finds the source of that scream.
Overall, this strikes me as an early draft. I probably wouldn't read farther at this point in time, but might be inclined to do so later once the story is more thoroughly realized. Keep writing! The more practice you get, the stronger your writing will become.
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Hi Kaliea. First, thanks for posting. Take my feedback with a grain of salt. I am just one reader, and I'm not a professional editor. Nor am I a published author.
I think I'd put this book back on the shelf. This opening feels... gimmicky to me. The MC is waking up to someone screaming. That's been done a LOT. I feel like you've tried to cram too much into this opening. If it's novel-length, you've got some room. I've read several books on writing in the YA genre. Many of those books say you need to get your inciting incident onto the very first page, if not into the very first paragraph. You've done that, but what's missing is context and some character development. Here's what I mean: "The scream jolted me to my feet in an instant." You used "the" rather than "a," suggesting a level of familiarity and context that doesn't yet exist. What scream? Who's screaming? The MC doesn't know, and (more importantly) neither do I. The artificial familiarity of the word "the" immediately rubbed me the wrong way.
I'd omit the first question of "what happened?" What is your intent in including it? To show confusion? You achieve that in the very next sentence, making the question feel redundant.
The "where was I question" feels forced--a way to clue the reader into the setting by providing the answer in the next sentence. When I was in college, I learned to sleep in the most unlikely places all over campus, and not once did I wake up confused and disoriented. The MC's reaction upon waking felt disingenuous.
The "too lazy to make my way to the docks..." comment needs some clarifying for it to make me curious. As is, it's just a declarative statement with no emotional effect (for me).
Who powers off a cell phone? I would understand silencing it, but to power it off completely? Why do that, unless you're trying to ensure no one can locate you via GPS tracking, and if that's the case (which it might be given she's a vigilante) you need to clarify that choice.
"My whole body ached and my mind, while alert, felt sluggish." How can someone's mind be both alert and sluggish at the same time? That confused me. Also, why is her body aching? Did she sleep in an awkward position? How old is this person? When I was a teen/20-ish person, I could have slept upside down in a bathtub and woken up fine.
Since this is a novel, you have more room to write. Maybe slow things down a little. This "waking up to someone screaming" opening is like being shot out of a cannon. Where can you go from here in terms of building the pace, the emotional tension, etc.? Your MC wakes up cranked (not red-lining, maybe, but not far off either). That doesn't give you a lot of room to build, and you want to build an opening, not start at the crescendo with nowhere to go but down.
I hope my feedback is useful and constructive. Remember, if none of what I said resonates with you, ignore it.
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quote:The scream jolted me to my feet in an instant.
You, the author, are telling this story to the reader. But that places you squarely between the action and the reader, making you the gatekeeper—an external observer, whose tone of voice cannot be heard.
One of the problems with a told story is that we tend to include unnecessary or irrelevant data. In this case, what function do the last three words serve? Doesn't, "jolt" imply immediate reaction?
But further, because you're reporting what matters to you, rather than what matters to your protagonist, we never learn the protagonist's perception of the situation, just what they do.
But isn't why they act of as much importance as what they do? Knowing why, we know what the protagonist hopes to accomplish, and that acts as a measuring stick to calibrate our own reactions. It's the thing that invests the reader in the story because we'll want to know if it works.
Without that we're reading the detailed history of a fictional character, and what's entertaining about history? It has no uncertainty to make us wonder, and become involved.
quote:I scanned the surroundings, momentarily confused by the looming silhouettes of HVAC equipment. Where was I?
To you, who knows who the character is and why they are where they are, this makes sense. But you've not yet covered the three questions a reader wants answered quickly on entering a scene: Who am I? Where am I? What's going on? And without that we have no context. In this case someone of unknown gender, in an unknown location, wakes because of a scream from someone unknown. You know what's happening. The one waking knows. But the one you wrote it for has not a clue. Why not let them in on the secret?
This is a novel, and there's room to develop setting and character. So place the character first. Have them get comfortable. In doing so we'll learn why they're there, and where "there" is. Then, when the scream comes, the reader will wake, and want to know what's going on. Why give them context after they wake? Why tell them things for which they have no context, like the character "screaming" at his cell phone for unknown reasons, or climbing to the roof rather than going to a named but unknown location?
In other words, instead of explaining the story to the reader, which makes it every bit as exciting as a report, why not make them live it?
Remember, our goal, isn't to make the reader know that the protagonist is frightened, were we writing a horror story. It's to terrorize the reader, to make them fall in love, or feel whatever the character is, for-the-same-reason.
Put aside a bit of time to dig into the tricks of viewpoint and presentation. There's a lot that's not obvious, any more than for some other profession. And our reading no more teaches us how to write then eating a meal prepared by a chef teaches care and usage of the chefs knife. In reading we see the product, polished to brightness. To create that product we need the process.
Hang in there, and keep on writing.
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How married are you to 1st person as your POV? You might, as an exploration exercise, try re-writing the opening from a different POV to see if that works better. Someone here suggested that to me on a piece and, oh my, what a difference it made!
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quote:Originally posted by M.J. Larsen: Lazy and yet she climbs to the roof of the tallest building?
How could she go from screaming to sleeping then to watching the sunset so quickly? I should think she would be wide awake, alarmed and have no desire for sunset watching.
Was she so exhausted and from what, that she simply couldn't stay awake? Was she accustomed to screaming that it did nothing more than get her brief attention?
Sorry, but the opening lines simply leave me confused. Try again.
While your observations are valid, simply saying 'try again' doesn't seem to me to be a particularly constructive criticism. Perhaps you could suggest something you feel might improve the manuscript as well as pointing out what you feel is flawed?
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