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Author Topic: Manassas - YA
Michelle M.
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Hi all! I'm back! I've recently been wanting to rewrite a manuscript I wrote a while back. I found that I had already begun the rewriting process on it and wanted to see what you guys thought of the first paragraph. This is essentially a young adult ghost story. It has two parts. The first part is set at the beginning of the Civil War, and the second part is set in present time.

---

I have had a very long and tiresome existence. The blood curdling in my veins had begun to do so a long time ago. Threats of what would later be called the War Between the States had pushed my family, the Suttons, northward. We followed the Bull Run River to the outskirts of a growing community where my father believed his profession as a carpenter would come in handy. Unfortunately my mother’s condition caused us to stop short of where we had originally set our sights. It was there where my troubles began.

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extrinsic
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A disembodied mind recollects and directly tells receivers a backstory.

Slow start.

If this paragraph were staged for theater, this would be orated aloud by a narrator stage left at a lectern, dimly lit or spotlighted, with the curtains closed, direct to an audience seated before the narrator.

If this paragraph were filmed, a voice would orate a voiceover while a cinematic camera panned the landscape and the opening credits scrolled.

Back in the day, long ago, arrival at the local theater, amphitheater, and today, film theaters, whatever, for a performance, savvy theatergoers arrived fifteen minutes fashionably late, because the start is fluff and fuss about nothing. They could infer what they'd missed from what came after, if they even bothered at all or if it mattered anyway.

Narratives that start similarly lend themselves to pages skipped -- fifteen minutes at average reading rate amounts to seven or eight pages skipped.

The traditional start of narrative and stageplay from the dawn time up through to circa late nineteenth century more or less starts that way, a time-honored noble tradition, yet one contemporary readers decline. Narratives that do and are nonetheless successful initial engagers entail strong sensual (visual and aural and emotional at least) drama flow from a first word forward, even from a title.

The paragraph end implies the "troubles" begin the very next line. Not much delay to speak of getting to that start, if so, though told direct. However, more often than not, narratives that start this same way go farther astray into more detours and deflections before those get into the nitty-gritty. On the other hand, a minority consensus advises the first few words, lines, paragraphs, pages, whatever, are freebies!? So long as the action starts movement soon or late.

I don't observe much, if any, sensual drama movement in the paragraph. I would not read on as an engaged reader at this time.

[ April 22, 2017, 12:01 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Jay Greenstein
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• I have had a very long and tiresome existence.

So why do I want to read on? This person of unknown age and gender just told me they have no interesting characteristics and no useful skills. Start with story, not history.So start the story when life stops being boring.

• The blood curdling in my veins had begun to do so a long time ago.

Were that true the person would have been dead long ago because curdling is congealing.

• Threats of what would later be called the War Between the States had pushed my family, the Suttons, northward.

This is so general as to be meaningless. Were they sharecroppers, wealthy bankers craftspeople? No way to know. Is "family" to mean, mom and kids, or a nuclear family? And if the latter, who the hell is talking?

The short version: Dump this opening, It doesn't place us meaningfully, doesn't tell us what's going on, or who we are. it only serves to slow the narrative. Stop talking about Story with that capital S and focus on what matters to the protagonist in the moment he or she calls "now." Anything else is a report. in Short:

“Don’t inflict the reader with irrelevant background material—get on with the story.”
~ James H. Schmitz


Never forget that using first person does not legitimize an external narrator telling the story as if to an audience. The reader wants to know the protagonist in their moment of now, not sitting in a bar and saying, "So,I have had a very long and tiresome existence. And..."

Story happens in real-time, it's not talked about.

Did the family migrate because of politics? If it matters to the story, mention it where it matters to the protagonist, either as part of the character's decision making process or in conversation. But every time you, the storyteller, appear on stage you kill all momentum the scene may have developed. And when the characters politely shut up and wait till you stop speaking it cannot seem real to the reader.

In short, there are lots of tricks of the trade that a writer needs to know, and we learned none of them in our school days. Pretty much any decent book on writing fiction will give you a feel for how to lay out a scene, and avoid the deadly talking head that will generate an instant rejection.

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Michelle M.
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Jay - Surprise, the narrator is dead. The first part of the book is telling how she dies and why it is important in the second book.

Thanks, again, guys for your excellent feedback!

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
Surprise, the narrator is dead.

Why not tell the reader this at the very beginning?
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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
Surprise, the narrator is dead.

Why not tell the reader this at the very beginning?
I actually guessed as much from the ghost story comment and the 'curdled blood' line, but it would probably be better to be clearer in the opening lines.

I'll add a full-fledged critique this evening.

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Michelle M.
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So do you think that would have made it more interesting? If I added something like this:

"I have had a very long and tiresome existence. Being dead tends to have that effect..."

I suppose revealing her death at the beginning won't take away that much from the story. I honestly hadn't thought about that because I love surprising people. But if it will make them read more, I think it would be a welcomed change.

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extrinsic
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So the narrator is indeed disembodied, a spirit or ghost without body. Can that be shown without overt tell? Consider what sensations such a being may perceive that imply such is the case. Does the liminal plane between life and hereafter afford unique sensations that are amenable to written word's verbal expressions and for reader relatability and familiarity?

Nociception's pain -- of the grave -- within an organism sensations perhaps? Thermoception, too, perhaps, the chill of the grave contrasted by the heat of the Nether realm? Other possibilities, too, somatosensations overall and vestibular sensations (Wikipedia)?

Sensation perceptions are a crucial, if not essential, fiction and prose overall [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensation_(fiction)] composition mode, among a dozen modes, for reality imitation, even if unreal, or the irrealis grammatical mood, that draw readers into a narrative's secondary, non-alpha performance space, that makes believe this is real for the all important reading dream spell's appeals.

Alas, though, no resort except a much expanded word count, perhaps ten times as much. Can such be done in thirteen lines' limitations? Yes. Hard work, though.

Huh, what, homework!? Recommended -- not assigned.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
So do you think that would have made it more interesting? If I added something like this:

"I have had a very long and tiresome existence. Being dead tends to have that effect..."

I suppose revealing her death at the beginning won't take away that much from the story. I honestly hadn't thought about that because I love surprising people. But if it will make them read more, I think it would be a welcomed change.

What readers know beforehand that arouses emotional rapport and curiosity as well is tension's function. How is that the narrator is dead dramatically relevant now and to later action? Such that when that later matters it is of great surprise and appeal? This is, in a nutshell, dramatic irony: some entities are in the know, other entities are not. Readers, in most cases, are best practice in the know about what matters now to the now action, even if narrators and agonists are not in the know now.
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Grumpy old guy
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The fact the narrator is dead was obvious from the start. The fragment has many more issues than that which need addressing.

Phil.

[ April 24, 2017, 07:36 PM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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There's been a lot of discussion since my last post, so I decided it best to make a new one for my critique.

quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
I have had a very long and tiresome existence. The blood curdling in my veins had begun to do so a long time ago. Threats of what would later be called the War Between the States had pushed my family, the Suttons, northward. We followed the Bull Run River to the outskirts of a growing community where my father believed his profession as a carpenter would come in handy. Unfortunately my mother’s condition caused us to stop short of where we had originally set our sights. It was there where my troubles began.

There are some grammatical issues with the piece (overuse of 'had', for example--a problem I need to watch out for myself from time to time). The larger issues, to me, have to do with the prevalence of telling rather than showing and vagueness where details would improve the piece.

What do I mean when I say there's a prevalence of telling rather than showing? I mean that there's a chapter's worth of story summarized in a single paragraph, here. As a reader, I would be far more engaged if I could see the protagonist and her parents interact, if the mother's condition was revealed in detail instead of briefly mentioned, etcetera.

Now, I'm not saying you have to write all of that out. It likely has little impact on the story, or you wouldn't have summarized it so quickly. But it could have more impact, if you give it the chance. In a story I'm presently working on, I noticed and expanded on a telling paragraph I'd written. I got a whole scene out of it--a very important one, no less.

As for the vagueness: Neither the father nor the mother are named. The mother's condition is not detailed enough for the reader to have any context for what it is or could be. All we know is that it's probably some kind of bad. It could be anything from asthma to seizures to a cancerous tumor the size of a grapefruit. What's the name of the community they ended up settling in? I, as an uninformed reader, don't have enough context to place their location in any concrete manner.

The point I'm trying to make, I suppose, is that the devil is definitely in the details when it comes to writing a good story, and as a writer you want your story to be jam-packed with those devious little devils.

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Grumpy old guy
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The issue of 'narrator tell' is endemic in first person narratives. It takes skill to avoid. The fragment also misses a perfect opportunity for character development in the first sentence.

Phil.

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Michelle M.
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Thanks all. I really wanted this little paragraph to be a hook, per se. Disgruntled, Everything you mentioned that I should tell is told right after this brief introduction. I can't seem to get the whole "tell everything but at the same time nothing" thing down for the first 13 lines.

When I write something like this, it is meant to briefly tell the reader what is about to happen but not tell them every detail. The details come next should they choose to read on.

I'm afraid if I mention everything in the first paragraph, the readers won't want to read on because they already know everything.

Let me try to revise this paragraph using what I believe is what you guys are wanting to see:


"Being a ghost, I've had some experiences. For example, my family was devastated during The War Between the States. Because of a deadbeat, Union traitor runaway, known as James to others, I got shot. This was after the defector got my father, Charles killed, leaving my mother, Mary alone with my younger brothers, Carson and Alex. Not to mention my mother was going to have another baby. In fact, that's the only reason why we ended up settling in Manassas, Virginia. You would be just as angry as I am if someone you tried to save ended up stabbing you in the back, or, in my case, shooting you in the stomach."


Something like that. I don't know. That just kind of fell out. Although, it kind of fits Kate's personality. I didn't put her name into it though because the very next line is her mom calling her name.

Let me know if something like this is closer to what you guys are looking for.

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Grumpy old guy
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If this is meant to be a hook, the fish has gotten away. For me, the fragment appears pointless, it rambles, and is as dull as dishwasher.

Phil.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
Because of a deadbeat, Union traitor runaway[, known as James to others], I got shot.

This might be a good opening line if it were followed by showing the scene in which it happened (with the father also being killed, etc).

Unless the identity of the traitor is important later (say he also shows up dead and apologizes to her, or something) I'd recommend leaving his name (and everything I put in brackets) out of the sentence - he isn't important, though what he did is.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
Let me know if something like this is closer to what you guys are looking for.

It's not about what we're looking for, in the end--it's about what you're looking for. Don't write to please us. Write to please yourself and make the story as good as possible in the process.

If you'd like, I can give you more concrete examples of what I mean about telling versus showing. It's a battle I've been fighting ever since I got back into writing, and I think I might finally be getting the hang of it.

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Michelle M.
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Disgruntled - Yes, please provide some examples of what you mean. Seems like when I think I've got it, I don't...

I know the latest fragment wasn't good. It wasn't meant to be. It's just the way I see how everyone is wanting all this information packed into the beginning. It's what I think everyone is talking about. I personally don't like it because it doesn't give suspense. It's more like the back of a book blurb.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
Disgruntled - Yes, please provide some examples of what you mean. Seems like when I think I've got it, I don't...

I know the latest fragment wasn't good. It wasn't meant to be. It's just the way I see how everyone is wanting all this information packed into the beginning. It's what I think everyone is talking about. I personally don't like it because it doesn't give suspense. It's more like the back of a book blurb.

See, I don't think it's that everyone wants you to pack that much information into the opening--it's that there's already a lot of information packed into the opening, and they want it to be elaborated on. My recommendation is to pick one thing and focus on that.

As far as the difference between telling and showing:

quote:
Telling:
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

quote:
Showing:
The red-brown fox hunkered in the bushes. He quivered with excitement as he studied his quarry: the chicken coop, and the delectable morsels within. A heavy-jowled bloodhound lay in front of the door, stretched out to absorb as much sunlight as possible. The dog's chest rose and fell with the steady rhythm of sleep. Idle clucking and the rustle of feathers echoed from inside the coop.
The fox's tail twitched. He dashed out of the bushes and leapt over the sleeping dog. Once inside, he snatched up the first chicken he saw and scrambled back out the door. The bloodhound yelped with surprise as the fox vaulted off its head and scampered back into the woods with his ill-gotten gains.

I'm sure this example is far from perfect, but I think it does a decent job of illustrating my point. The telling example is a single sentence that conveys information to the reader, but does little to invest them in the story. The showing example sets a scene, lets the reader know what the fox is feeling, and lends emotional weight to the fox's actions. The information from the showing example is conveyed in a great deal more detail, and is hopefully more interesting to read as a result.
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Michelle M.
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That's a really awesome example! Thank you. Would you be able to show one in first-person POV?
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extrinsic
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Disgruntled Peony's prior points seconded. The Quick Fox illustration is on target. One shortfall, Who's the narrator? A detached narrator, as if a drone quadcopter surveillance camera, well enough. Closer distance and more appealing would be if the narrator were apart from though of the fox's received reflections of the events, as if a camera were on the fox's shoulder or between its eyes or inside its head and emotions, though still third person, as if metaphorically first person though third person.

The next version does the same as prior versions. The information is more comprehensive than before, though does what information relation does -- lectures, tells, summarizes, and explains unemotionally.

Written word is by definition tell, however, sensation detail shows, especially emotional sensation.

The latest version contains closer show than prior versions, in the sense of action, though is emotionally empty and generic. The action, if it were Kate's received reflected sensations, perceptions, and emotional responses to the events, or focal event, really, would show the death of her family and hers.

Lingered description, in other words, of the event, its setting, and the characters involved. Due to the scene would entail six characters, at least, the possibility of a population explosion and too much content for thirteen lines raises a challenge.

One method to manage the population explosion challenge for this case is to start with description of James stalks Kate and the family already dead. That sequence is natural and necessary. James stalks Kate, Kate observes James and incidentally observes and emotionally reacts to her dead family members, one or two at a time. James kills Kate.

This would be a specimen type start, James the specimen subject. That way, first person narrator Kate doesn't tell about herself from an overt self-centered perception; she shows her viewpoint of James and her dead family, which characterizes her incidentally, dramatically, robustly. At the same time, she discovers James' motivations and human nature. As is, Kate's perception of him is dull because he's portrayed as an utter, indifferent, generic villain, inhuman evil, which is valid, though James is nonetheless human.

Far too much content for thirteen lines limitations. What, though, is essential that would fit within thirteen lines? The scene's dramatic situation is Kate's death. Even that is too much for thirteen lines, potentially. That is a valid start point, however. What matters first? That Kate sees James stalk her and walk around her dead family from a hiding place?

The event and characters are given, not the setting. The setting and sensation details of it are a crucial part of the dramatic situation. Place, Manassas, Virginia; time, outbreak of the War of Northern Aggression (the Southern label for the Civil War). Too broad a setting. Where specifically? A refugee encampment, tent city and all? In town at a boarding house? A house on the town outskirts where Charles' was to do carpentry? A barn loft where the family stayed? Where?

Setting details anchor readers in time, place, and situation (setting). The descriptive details themselves are secondary, though, to their dramatic influences, here, upon Kate. Where the slaughter takes place could be a surprise, though best practice is a natural and somewhat reasonable place a homicidal deserter could act with some degree of impunity. Like a rural barn loft, in a tangled wood, away from crowds and in secret.

James' overt motivation could be theft and not much necessary to be made of that. It's natural and probable for a deserter to want to steal. However, that doesn't have enough motivation to slaughter a family. Because he doesn't want to be caught as a deserter? Why does he kill everyone? He's a desperate psychopathic murderer? The desperation? He accepts the family's help only to realize in his desperate and disturbed state of mind they are an immediate threat to him? Focus on his motivations, his specimen nature, linger, where and when and why specifically does this murder spree take place, the rest will follow.

Who, when, where; what, why, how Kate experiences James' actions and motivations, the specimen type of start, overtly about James, actually, incidentally about Kate, one artful, robust way to manage first person's challenges. And linger, best practice, don't rush and force the action, description, sensation, and emotion, especially emotion, of the scene.

One piece of Kate's emotional reaction to James would go a long way in a thirteen lines start to engage readers; more is better, if all of it were emotionally charged. Murder on the face of it entails emotional charge as it is. Kate's personal added reaction distinguishes the situation from otherwise generic and indifferent mayhem and murder, to which readers are all too immune anymore.

[ April 26, 2017, 12:03 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
That's a really awesome example! Thank you. Would you be able to show one in first-person POV?

Oh boy. I haven't written in first person for awhile... let's see if I can do this. (I am making no promises. Not much time to edit this one, either; I have to get ready for work.)

quote:
Telling, 1st Person
I am the quick brown fox who jumped over the lazy dog.

quote:
Showing, 1st Person
The savory scent of two dozen chickens sent a shiver of excitement from nose to tail. I hunkered in the bushes to study the chicken coop that held them--and the monster that guarded it. The beast was almost twice my size, with massive jowls that drooped past its lips and onto the ground. It sprawled out in the sun's warmth, limbs akimbo, eyes closed. Its chest rose and fell with the steady rhythm of sleep.
The complacent clucking and rustling feathers of my prey taunted me. No more waiting. One of them would be mine.
I dashed out of the bushes. As I leapt over the beast, the thought that he might open his eyes and snatch me up in mid-air set my heart lurching in my chest, but I sailed through the air unharmed. The floor of the coop was slick and sent me skittering along its length when I landed, claws clambering for purchase.
The chickens let out squawks of panic and flailed about the coop. No time to pick the best prize. I snatched up the closest morsel and scrambled back out the door. I couldn't resist the urge to vault off the monster's head as I scampered back toward the treeline with my ill-gotten gains. The beast's yelp of surprise filled me with pride as I vanished into the woods.



[ April 26, 2017, 01:08 PM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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Michelle M.
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That was great, Disgruntled!

So, how do you guys suggest I begin when the following scene isn't immediately the death of Kate. For instance, the first scene after this narration is the family arriving and moving into the little two-story house their father built. That chapter is when the war begins and she finds James out in the woods, shot.

Would it be better to go straight into the action rather than introducing the setting and characters?

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Would it be better to go straight into the action rather than introducing the setting and characters?
With some practice, you'll be able to do both at the same time. [Smile]
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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So, you start with Kate dead and then immediately jump to when the family arrived and built their house. Why?

Does the story start with them arriving and building their house? If it does, then start there, not with something that happens later (house-building would mean it must have been quite a while after their arrival).

When does something happen that the readers will care about? When do the characters have to leave their "comfort zones"?

Start when your story starts and don't go dumping in a flashback that stops the story while you tell the readers things you think they ought to know - also known as lecturing.

When does your STORY start?

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Michelle M.
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The "story," or rather the action of the story, starts in the first chapter, a page or so into it. Doesn't take long. The first part is essentially Kate telling the audience what happened, not as it happened, but how anybody would tell a story. The house is built when they arrive. After a brief settling of the characters, the war begins, and she ends up running into James in the woods as she tries to retrieve the family's horse that was spooked by the gunfire.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I would recommend that you start with the horse spooking from the gunfire and Kate running into the woods after it.

As an exercise, at least, try to show her thoughts about the noise and the horse in a way similar to the example Disgruntled Peony gave you.

And keep her focussed on the horse and the gunfire and getting through the woods.

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Grumpy old guy
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Before I say anything else, I have a question: Is this story a period piece set during the Civil War, or does the majority of the dramatic action take place in a contemporary setting?

Phil.

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Michelle M.
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It's kind of a weird set-up, but half the story takes place during the civil war, and the other half takes place in a contemporary setting.
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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
It's kind of a weird set-up, but half the story takes place during the civil war, and the other half takes place in a contemporary setting.

Then it might actually be interesting to do a present-day prologue chapter where she interacts with someone else and ends up having to explain her situation. That might have the effect you're looking for of teasing the audience without simply being a tell. You'd want to make sure there was plenty of tension in the scene to make things interesting, if you did this (and you certainly don't have to--this is just a suggestion).
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Michelle M.
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That's an interesting suggestion. The weird thing about my story is that the second part is actually narrated by another character to is "haunted" by Kate. But I do like that idea. Maybe I could work with it...
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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Michelle M.:
That's an interesting suggestion. The weird thing about my story is that the second part is actually narrated by another character to is "haunted" by Kate. But I do like that idea. Maybe I could work with it...

You could do something with those two, maybe. It actually might be interesting if you cut back and forth between the time frames every so often, rather than just doing one and then the other.

Again, just a suggestion. I'm weird. XD

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Michelle M.
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See, I thought about that, but I was afraid it would be too confusing.
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extrinsic
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Nonlinear timelines are less common than chronological. The more common nonlinear timeline method is a start that begins at an action incitement moment, doubles back to an initial action moment, often when a protagonist first begins to suffer victimization, and catches up to the incitement scene roughly halfway through word count. Stephenie Meyer, Twilight; Donna Tart, The Secret History; Charles Frazier, Thirteen Moons, sequence timeline that way. Great examples of transition mode techniques; the type is labeled a buttonhole timeline.

A ghost story, the ghost as narrator, affords opportunity for the ghost to slip loose from temporal restraints of the living. Nonlinear timelines that move forward and backward through time, "unstuck in time," is Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five; plus, William Faulkner, "A Rose for Emily." For inline flashback and flash-forward transition methods; the type is labeled a zigzag timeline (note, buttonhole, zigzag: sewing metaphors).

Anyway, descriptions of this Manassas novel suggest a nonlinear timeline akin to Vonnegut's zigzag. Kate's ghost loose across time, what ghost-she perceives amounts to forward movement based upon her ghost needs, includes she observes live Kate from the start and urges her to avoid James.

A challenge of buttonhole and zigzag timelines is a clear and strong establishment of a "now" time for readers to associate with and moor upon. A guidance that defuses the challenge is to portray the now time the sequence when and where a priorly victimized protagonist becomes unequivocally proactive. More than a willy-nilly timeline, the temporal organization follows a dramatic sequence otherwise the conventional one: action incitement, action rise, climax, action fall, action end, and the action oriented about a personal, private want-problem setup at the start, proactive efforts to satisfy the want-problem middle, and want-problem satisfied at the end.

The start want-problem for this novel could be a bridge complication or the overall one. Ghost Kate could want to prevent herself from being murdered by James, and powerless to prevent it at the time. Ghost Kate therein is the specimen observer; live Kate the specimen, and James, plus her family. Ghost Kate then is a visitor -- a visitation shape as well as a specimen shape. That want to avert the murders is a bridge want-problem complication scenario. In the meantime, concurrently, either ghost or live Kate, or both, could express or imply an overall complication for the overall novel's dramatic action.

What does Kate, live and dead, privately, really, and truly want that is also a hard to satisfy and satisfiable life-defining (sic) complication? A complication to satisfy implied or expressed at the start and satisfied at the end is the crux of a robust drama. No clue given yet what Kate personally, really, and truly wants. What is Kate's motivation? Motivation: another term for want-problem complication.

[ May 04, 2017, 01:36 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Jay Greenstein
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quote:
Surprise, the narrator is dead.
You miss the point: so what? Alive, dead, first person, or third, the narrator cannot tell the story.

Why? Assume for the moment that you're in a theater and a storyteller walks on stage. They step to a podium, and then, with no gestures, no body language, no change in expression—with only the emotion in their voice that your computer would read it to you—they recite the story.

Would you sit through that performance? I sure wouldn't. But isn't that what having your dead narrator speak directly to the reader as they talk about the story instead of presenting it through the persona of the protagonist, is? You can tell is how a given character speaks with a tag, or by making the reader know their emotional state. But you can't tag the narrator's lines, so the only emotion they contain is what the words suggest to the reader. But the reader won't know those words until after they read the line, and by then it's too late.

Obviously, I'm basing this on the info-dump you open with, not the rest of the story. But when I see what amounts to a storyteller setting the scene as their opening, it usually continues that way, not a live-scene story. So while what I say may not apply, in your case, I strongly suggest that you do one of two things.

First is to have your computer read the story aloud, to hear if what a reader will get matches your expectation for you wanted them to get.

The second, and this is riskier: Find a friend with zero acting talent. Tell them nothing about what they're about to read, not even that you wrote it (so they can't mentally apply your voice and mannerisms to the words). Claim you found it on the Internet and want an opinion. Then, with no practice and no idea of what they'll find on the page, have them read the opening pages aloud. You'll hear, then, what the average reader gets. And if they have to stop and ask for clarification, that matters...a lot.

I say it's risky because it can be a humbling experience—especially if the one reading is moved to make a negative comment. But is is something we want to know.

Sol Stein suggested it as something that will help. In his book, Sol Stein on Writing, he says:

“Each Friday afternoon at three, while other students decamped for their homes, the lights were on in the Magpie tower high above the rectangle of the school. There Wilmer Stone met with Richard Avedon, then a poet, who became one of the most famous photographers in the world, the editor Emile Capouya, Jimmy Baldwin, myself, and a few others whose names hide behind the scrim of time. What went on in that tower was excruciatingly painful. Wilmer Stone read our stories to us in a monotone as if he were reading from the pages of a phone directory. What we learned with each stab of pain was that the words themselves and not the inflections supplied by the reader had to carry the emotion of the story.

Today I still hear the metronome of Wilmer Stone’s voice, and counsel my students to have their drafts read to them by the friend who has the least talent for acting and is capable of reading words as if they had no meaning.”

The suggestion to find someone of your own with no acting talent followed. I tried it, and as I said, it is a humbling experience.

Hope this clarifies.

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extrinsic
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And how to emote through written word? The technical-mechanical and aesthetic aspects? Mehrabian's communication study determined that social appeal, likeable, and alienation, dis-likeable, in person and from aural-visual rhetoric expresses through 7 percent verbal words, 38 percent vocal intonation, and 55 percent nonverbal and nonvocal body language. (ChangingMinds.org)

Seven percent words? Written word is 100 percent words, no vocal intonation, per se, except perhaps italics emphasis [edited to add: maybe exclamation marks and interobangs (!?), maybe bold and capped letters] italics emphasis common to fan fiction, less common overall to fantasy, and more commonly feminine than masculine written expression; and only verbal description of vocal intonation and body language possible. Vocal intonation and body language description, at least implied, is appropriate for prose, for dramatic infill; however, viewpoint glitches commonly arise when a viewpoint agonist describes the self's appearance and actions and cannot possibly observe the self, or resorts to reflections, like mirrors, to see the self's physical appearance -- widely deprecated methods.

Hence, emotional language metaphorically substitutes for intonation and body language. Rhetoric's many figures themselves substitute for and amplify otherwise easy emotional resorts of, say, -ly adverbs, modifier words and phrases generally. The prose function of modifiers is emotional commentary, as is the function of rhetorical language.

Emotional charge is a crux of characterization, how an emotional response to contention, if not clash, expresses through show who a persona really and truly, naturally is.

Disgruntled Peony's first-person Quick Fox and Lazy Dog illustration above contains such emotional modifications. Some of the emotive contents are strong, bare emotional verbs, too, and more appeal for it and its concision. That implies an order for parts of speech and their emotional hierarchy: respectively, verbs, interjections, adverbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions, and conjunctions.

Strong and clear emotionally charged verbs first and foremost.

Judicious and timely interjections nextmost, and similar phrases and brief, judicious sentence fragments.

Adverbs when and only when verbs themselves are unemotional and no apt verb is at hand.

Nouns are of emotional significance when their name-dropped context entails emotional relatability. Is any more emotionally charged name extant at present than Adolph Hitler? A rare few, none which will be named here.

Pronouns are of near zero emotional significance when sans context and texture wrap, as are the remainder parts of speech: adjectives, excepted in some artful rhetorical uses, and prepositions, and conjunctions, likewise, excepted in some artful, rhetorical uses.

Grammar is more than a mechanical and dreary-dull, dusty old bones principle; it is a companion skill of prose craft, expression, and appeal. Grammar does invisibly what the prose arts require: emotionally charged, appealing reading ease and reader ease of comprehension.

Side-by-side comparison between the fragment's latest version's first sentence and Disgruntled Peony's first-person first sentence:

"Being a ghost, I've had some experiences." No emotive words or phrases. None. Maybe the least trickle of trivial emotional appeal from "ghost." [Edited to add: And maybe the least tickle from "some" taken as understatement emphasis -- the zero-grammatical person pronoun case use which expresses indeterminate quantity and quality and is emotional, somewhat, if taken in that sense.]

"The savory scent of two dozen chickens sent a shiver of excitement from nose to tail." "savory," "shiver," and "excitement," three emotive words. The pivotal verb "sent" is lackluster, though. Three empty prepositions, "of" twice, and "from". The definite article adjective "The" is empty, too, apt grammar, though. A plural sentence subject would enliven the sentence and obviate the "The." Or, "Savory scent" construed as a non-numbered subject, a stream-of-consciousness method.

The first person inside-looks-out perspective of the sentence is a degree compromised by the perspective is inside looks deeper inside, though, a propioception sensation of an organism's body consciousness. The fox feels the internal sensation, and can; it is not an impossible de se observation (of the self).

The lack of any personal noun or pronoun subject, which the verb "sent" acts upon, or subject acts upon an object, is an artful stream-of-consciousness method; apt, too. Open to access and comprehensible interpretation -- implies a first-person perception, introduces the narrative point of view for the overall sample and character viewpoint for the portion, without the challenges early and underdeveloped first-person pronouns entail.

The next sentence, though, falls back on narrator "tell" habits: "I hunkered in" One, an unnecessary extra lens filter; two, a perception the viewpoint persona cannot possibly observe, is outside looks in of a narrator -- a viewpoint glitch, second after the inside-looks of the first sentence; three, summarizes a complex action which could instead be reflected from inside looks out; and four, is static voice of the third degree, an indefinite span of time stasis depicted by the predicate "hunkered in" and predicate complement infinitive verb "to study."

Hunker takes a particle, either a preposition or adverb verb complement, of a two-word verb, which "in" is an adverb case, true, though directional verb hunker asks for a more definitive particle, a stronger and clearer, definite directional adverb, say, inside, down, into, etc. Plus, hunker has a limited emotive charge potential, when sans emotional context and texture wrap.

Otherwise, the action depicted could be an inside-looks-out emotional observation of the shrubbery approach and stalk takes place instead, and imply rather than declare the hunker to study action. More word count, though.

[ May 05, 2017, 09:52 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Michelle M.
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Jay - I did not miss the point. I understood what you said the first time. I was merely making a comment on your comment about the "blood curdling" line. Thank you for your clarification, though.

Extrinsic - Thank you for the ideas and examples. Using Disgruntled's example for your comments helped me.

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Kathy_K
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I have had a very long and tiresome existence. The blood curdling in my veins had begun to do so a long time ago. Threats of what would later be called the War Between the States had pushed my family, the Suttons, northward. We followed the Bull Run River to the outskirts of a growing community where my father believed his profession as a carpenter would come in handy. Unfortunately my mother’s condition caused us to stop short of where we had originally set our sights. It was there where my troubles began. [/QB][/QUOTE]

The first sentence is a telling statement. I think you could rewrite it to be more dramatic, more emotionally engaging. Second sentence: blood curdling in my veins is a cliché, and it is also a telling statement, written in perfect past tense so I feel completely disconnected from the action. Third sentence, again a telling statement holds opportunity for drama and tension, but it needs a rewrite because it's emotionally flat in its current form. Second to last sentence piqued my curiosity. Last sentence: It was there where... odd syntax, and use of "it" as a demonstrative pronoun only works if you include its antecedent. Even so, I can't get past the syntax.

Overall, I'm not engaged by this opening. A lot of stuff happened, but I have no image of the character who is narrating, I don't have a good sense of time or place, nor do I have a clear sense of conflict or stakes in the situation being described. Hope that helps.

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Will Blathe
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I agree that the opening feels slow, but the information makes me curious.

What if a "Before I died . . ." started things off followed by emotional rather than factual material?

Maybe: "Before I died, the war carried us to a new home in the north, . . . . yada-yada-yada. . . . and my poor mother's arms fell off. That was the first of many troubles."

I figure that you can leave off naming places or which war it was until those things come up later.

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Michelle M.
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Will - "my poor mother's arms fell off" made me laugh. Thank you for that, and thank you for your comments!

Kathy- Thank you for your comments. I am trying to figure out the best way to start this novel since it is in two parts and has two different narrators and time periods.

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Will Blathe
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I remember hearing about an author who titled his chapters according to the POV character of the chapter.

Would something like that work for you?

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Michelle M.
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Right now I have it going by part 1 (roughly 1/3 of the book) and part 2. I don't have it changing POV by chapter or every few chapters. It's relatively clear whose POV the parts are... At least I think it is!
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Michelle M.
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Speaking of the second part of my book, here's how it begins:


Forecast

It was raining. That much I could tell without getting out from under my warm covers. I was wrapped up tight from an involuntary spasm of my sleep. The temperature had dropped drastically overnight from the cold front that had randomly decided to hit the northern tip of Virginia. Our AC was still on, trying to fight off the sticky summer that had now temporarily gone into hiding.

I pulled the covers over my head trying to pretend I wasn’t awake. I couldn’t tell what time it was from looking out the window. It was dark. I didn’t want to look at my clock. I feared it was earlier than I wanted it to be...

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Will Blathe
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Can you interleave the two time periods at the start? Can the ghost (or otherwise undead character) complain about modernity?

Would that screw with the larger structure of the story?

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Michelle M.
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The ghost does complain about modernity in the second part. They are directly connected, they just have two different narrators.
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