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Author Topic: [SF] Untitled - First Contact Aftermath
RonaldReagan
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Oh, boy. I've read through about a dozen feedback threads and I've seen some impressive critiques!

Note: I'm sorry if I exposed too much of the plot or have written more than the 13 lines of the manuscript!

[Plot Details]

- An advance contingent of an alien first contact expedition arrives and begins a secret cooperative with Earth governments. Their goal is to bridge the divide between the two species in order to set the stage for public first contact, set to take place eight years later.

- The cooperative is ruined when a rogue special interest group (political and financial motivators) takes out the alien representatives and hijacks their technology.

- The group stages a series of hoaxes and propaganda campaigns to manipulate public opinion against the aliens, in order to sabotage any chance at future relations with them.

- The plot follows two sets of characters and timelines:
[1] Present: A surviving alien who recruits human allies to counter the special interest group.
[2] Future: An investigator that is tasked with trying to figure out what happened, after the alien succeeds (used, primarily, for exposition, as well as the main plot twist that I'm not skilled enough to write into a standard linear progression and because I'm a timeskip-loving simpleton).

The first chapter is an investigator section (most investigator chapters will be written in a deposition / interview setting). Also, I have skipped the few lines where she reveals the time/date/location, in order to fit more in.

The technician gave her a nod, indicating that the camera was ready to go. Everybody in the conference room took a seat to prepare for the taping. She watched as the technician made his way out of the room and closed the door behind him.

“Today’s date is Monday...[skipped] ...Washington DC.

My name is Deborah Moore – special counsel for the joint investigation into the Aysharan first contact incident. My team’s primary objectives are to ascertain the specifics of the actions that Global Intelligence Group and its allies undertook to subvert and sabotage the cooperative efforts of the United States government and the Aysharan first contact expedition.

We are gathered here today to interview Mr. Johnathan Russell, who was involved in the incident that took place during...

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extrinsic
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An individual introduces an investigation forum.

The fragment itself is thirteen lines, by the way. Plus, though plot summaries are unlimited as to length, a consideration is whether a summary helps give information necessary to understand the main action of a fragment. Writer's choice. Reader-responder choices notwithstood, like whether a preamble substantively enhances a fragment or detracts.

Strengths of the fragment, clear who the viewpoint agonist is, consistent narrative point of view, if on the remote and impersonal distance side, some event introductions, some setting introductions, some character introductions, an overall global problem puzzle wants a solution.

Some shortfalls, the dramatic movement is slow. A start can be slow, euphemism for no dramatic movement; can be quiet, some dramatic movement, the least a fragment best practice sets drama into motion; can be fast, a robust dramatic movement start. Thus far, a remote distance for the fragment, like at a mile high and looks in from nearby as if from a telecom monitor.

Motivation and stakes incite dramatic movement, of an antagonal magnitude that is somewhere between quiet and fast-paced, preferably not stalled at the get-go outset. Motivation is also labeled complication, the main dramatic complication of a narrative that propels a whole's dramatic action. Complication is want and problem, of both a private and public nature, and want and problem every which-a-way influential, like at opposition or perpendicular, and as well parallel coordination and tangential.

Stakes is also labeled conflict. Conflict is a polar opposite of forces in contention, like life and death, and otherwise of a near infinite polar opposites duality set possible. A short narrative entails one conflict; longer narratives entail one main dramatic conflict and other auxiliary, related conflicts, like a life and death conflict at stake related to a riches and rags conflict at stake, plus, say, acceptance and rejection at stake.

I see a public complication-conflict inherent to the fragment given and as well described in the preamble. I don't see a private complication-conflict in the given content.

As is, Moore is who best practice has a private complication-conflict. Though none given. That raises considerations of whether the fragment starts on the best dramatic event, setting, and character.

A further dramatic division is whether a viewpoint agonist first is done to, that is, personally problematized by victimization, or motivated first by a personal want. A Victmism tableau sooner or later becomes proactive, that is, wants to defuse being done to. Victimism that becomes proactive, or a Proactivism start? Writer's choice.

As is, the fragment gives a Victimism start, though solely a public tableau. Best practice for drama, a personal-private drama by default often implies a public complication-conflict as well. The reverse is less open to implication, due to public complication-conflicts are of broad scope, are impersonal and often remote, any given individual maybe not impacted any magnitude worth notice.

So who, when, where, what, why, and how might a main private complication-conflict enhance the fragment's generic dramatic movement incitement? What's personally at stake for Moore? What does she personally want that is a problem to satisfy and is related to the public complication-conflict of first contact and as well an opposition group that spoils the intended secret tableau?

I don't know. I would consider the GIG involvement more prone to private complication-conflict, hence, a consideration for a start. Why do they want to expose the secret? Secrecy implies nefarious doings. First contact tableaus entail much contention regardless of intentions. Like mutual if contentious trade or nefarious trade intentions.

Across history to date, first contact tableaus oppressed the technologically inferior culture for the rampant gains of the superior culture -- a zero-sum scenario. Science fiction affords the opposite possibility, or a genuinely mutual exchange, eventually, either or both potential for freshness of expression. Or an otherwise fresh take on the by-default zero-sum outcome arrangements.

A part that contains a common aesthetic fault and a grammar error: "She watched as the technician made his way out of the room and closed the door behind him." "She watched" is an unnecessary extra lens filter (see "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction" by Clarion workshops' David Smith). "as" is a correlation conjunction, not a coordination conjunction, though too often artlessly used for it regardless. Its coordination use signals mediocre-level language arts skills and signals a rushed and forced syntax and diction mien.

Strong potential promises for a first contact tableau that emulates current events and past events, like secret contact between disparate entities that intends positive outcomes though invariably results in high-magnitude negative outcomes, which then want apt satisfaction for a restoration to a new normal emotional equilibrium.

As is, I would not read on as an engaged reader, very little personal interest to engage through as of now. Or our host Orson Scott Card's three questions every reader holds about any given narrative, first one foremost: So what, why should I care? Huh, what happens here? and Oh yeah, is this for real? (Characters and Viewpoint.)

[ December 21, 2017, 04:39 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RonaldReagan
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Extrinsic, you're a saint. You ought to just take a bunch of anonymous submissions and make a book out of dissecting them.

The reason I chose to post this version of the many first chapters I have tried, is because I felt that it encompassed the largest ratio of exposition to unanswered mystery that would generate reader interest.

I have a few questions in regards to your lack of interest, but I feel like I need to make sure my reading comprehension is sufficient.

Am I correct in assuming that you didn't like that Moore's motivations aren't clear which slows dramatic pace to a level you're not satisfied with and the fragment is cold and distant?

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RonaldReagan
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Also, did you edit your comment since the original post? I just realized I failed to read like two paragraphs!
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extrinsic
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I did edit a few times, added the two paragraphs on grammar and mechanics and the one on promise potentials after first posted, plus, later, several grammar and style error edits, missed a close parenthesis and close quote mark, other punctuation, for instance.

Main doesn't work for me is that, while a hearing forum is an effective method for backstory development, it is of low magnitude drama and impersonal, as backstory's "tell" convention is wont by default to be, also known, erroneously, by and large, as "exposition." Some of my editor work involves similar setting milieus, edits of legal transcripts: hearings, trials, depositions, parliamentary proceedings, yada.

I know the situation -- talk about dreary, tedious, banal narratives! Those are sensory and emotional "show" wastelands, all "tell" summary and explanation, though with far removed subtext undertones that add a small degree of dramatic interest, that are a challenge to access. If given to be a prose writer-subjective observer of such, those sensory and emotional undertones would be the emphasis, not like a stenographer's verbatim, impersonal, objective recordation of just the speech testimony.

Otherwise, yes, Moore's dearth of personal-private motivated engagement with event, setting, and personas is my main lack of engagement. (See "Sensation (fiction)" Wikipedia, no parentheses allowed in Hatrack links, sorry, so no active link there, for that Fiction-writing mode, that latter article misses the conversation, dialogue mode; sensation for all story types for "show" purposes, actually, that is for vivid, lively, dramatic event, setting, and persona sensory descriptions.) Timely, judicious show and tell variety spice; not tell, don't show; nor show, don't tell, for best practice storycraft arts.

[ December 21, 2017, 07:50 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RonaldReagan
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I realize your evaluation deals specifically with the fragment, but it raises serious issues with the rest of this draft.

If I had to describe the plot/subplots in one sentence, it would be - The Usual Suspects with aliens. The protagonist is the alien's ally who stages an elaborate public relations campaign to defeat Global Intelligence Group. The protagonist's plans involve misdirects that I want the reader to follow, so when the time comes, I switch to Moore who is tasked with investigating the protagonist's exploits. I want the reader focused on the protagonist's conflict with GIG, while I plant clues that the alien is essentially Keyser Soze.

Question: Although Moore experiences character development throughout the rest of the manuscript, she essentially functions as a procedural tell-dump. The drafts I have, that don't have Moore, fail miserably at concealing the alien plot and the protagonist subplot. Are procedural tell-dumps, like the one you've just read through, universally reviled by all readers? Should I continue trying without Moore? Is there no way I can salvage this, without having to remove Moore as my crutch?

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RonaldReagan
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Again, I appreciate any input and thank any readers. Here is another shot at 13 lines:


The two friends traveled from New York City and arrived in Washington D.C. thirty minutes ago, but nobody has yet spoken. Heavy rainfall made traffic crawl, with most of the freeways in gridlock, but it failed to bother the two as they sat in their cab buried in their smartphones.

“I’m still not convinced this isn’t just an exercise,” said Chuck, massaging the bridge of his nose and looking out the window at The Capitol.

“I don’t think DEFCON exercises are public like this one is,” Elizabeth responded, without taking her attention away from her screen. “Otherwise, the stock market would panic-drop a hundred points during every drill. Even if it is an exercise, the Pentagon would have already released a damage-control statement.”

[ December 22, 2017, 11:01 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Jay Greenstein
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quote:
The technician gave her a nod, indicating that the camera was ready to go.
It’s not a bad opening line, but not strong, either, because we have no feel for where we are or why the camera is in use. But the problem is that on saying this, we expect something to happen as a result of her noticing it. But…
quote:
Everybody in the conference room took a seat to prepare for the taping.
So why did she focus on the tech nodding if she took no action, not even to signal that she was ready? It’s her story, and you’re not on the scene. Readers want to know what she pays attention to, and why, because she’s their avatar. If they know that, then they will know why she acts, and want to know the effect of that action. So here, by abandoning her and interjecting yourself into the story you kill any sense of realism.

That aside, “everybody sat?” You just told the reader that every person in the room was standing. Be careful of having groups of people behaving as an individual. But even that aside, isn't it assumed that when the meeting takes place that people sit? And if they don't, does it matter? That being the case, the line provides no useful story data, and only slows the narrative.

And remember, when you say, “meeting room,” and “everybody,” your knowledge of where we are, who we are, and what’s going on, gives you a sense of scale. But when does a meeting room become an auditorium? At what size is it a conference room? Your personal intent for the scene fills in the blanks when you read. But sadly, when we hand others our writing, our intent, and everything about us becomes irrelevant. It’s the reader, and what the words suggest to that person, based on their background and understanding.
quote:
She watched as the technician made his way out of the room and closed the door behind him.
Why does a reader care if a technician of unknown specialty walks out of an unknown room in an unknown place. More to the point, why must the reader wait for that to happen. Will the story change even a fraction if the tech has a panel in the room, or if that person nodded through a glass window from ouside?

My point? Ours is not a visual medium. So don’t waste time telling the reader what’s not necessary to either set the scene, develop character, or move the plot. And removing a tech from the room does not meaningfully set the scene.
quote:
“Today’s date is Monday...[skipped] ...Washington DC.
If it’s skipped why in the pluperfect hells did you bother to mention that it happened? Never forget, you are not writing either a synopsis or a history. Story happens, and does so in real-time, from within the moment the protagonist calls “now.” You skip the boring parts and don’t mention them.
quote:
My name is Deborah Moore – special counsel for the joint investigation into the Aysharan first contact incident.
In your mind, you visualize the room. You know who she is and why she’s there. You know her intent, and how she will be received. In short, you’ve seen the film. And as you read, that film plays in your mind, triggered by the words. But what about the poor reader, who owns none of that? For them, that film plays in your mind, and that doesn’t help a lot.

Remember, since we can’t see the film, we can’t see the expressions the actress uses to illustrate emotion, so her “performance” is flat. We have no knowledge of who she is, so learning that she’s important to an investigation of an unknown kind, called for unknown purpose, tells us nothing.

Bottom line: You’re working hard. You have the necessary dedication and enthusiasm. You have the story. But, you’re working with the writing and storytelling skills you own—skills that do not translate to our medium. Storytelling skills don’t because storytelling is a performance art, and pretty much all the emotional part of the story is communicated through the performance—the storyteller’s dance. Tone, cadence, intensity, and all the many attributes of the marvelous instrument known as the human voice are critical. So are things like facial expression, eye and body movement, and gesture. Not none of that makes it to the page.

Stagecraft—the skills of screen and stage are used in a medium in which we receive data in parallel. So in the time it takes someone to smile and shake our hand in film and play, the audience absorbs the ambiance of the setting. They learn the nuance of who the characters are, their attitudes, social status, and general society as reflected in clothing and carriage. We learn gender, age, appearance, and more. Our ears take in the audible ambiance, and more.

But on the page, each fact must be reported one at a time. But…if it takes longer to read about that handshake than to happen in life the story moves in slow motion. And that is the kiss of death so far as reader’s interest.

Obviously, the skill-set must differ between the mediums. And making things worse, we’re heavily biased by the fact-based and author-centric writing style—the only writing style—we learned during our school days. That’s meant to inform, which is how you’re using it here. But do we read fiction to be informed or entertained?

The problem is, that like medicine, accounting, or being a playwright or screenwriter, we need to know more than the general writing skills we graduated our school days with, if we are to practice the profession of fiction writer. Doesn’t it make sense that if we want to write like a pro we need to know what the pro knows?

My point is that it’s not a matter of talent, potential as a writer, or even the story. It’s a matter of acquiring some tools and skills that are emotion-based and character-centric (as against the fact-based and author-centrics we make seem intuitive by writing so many essays and reports in school and on the job), and polishing them. And while that may seem daunting—and certainly, not news you were hoping for—picking up the tricks of the trade is part of becoming a pro in any field. So while it’s not an overnight process, it’s no big deal.

My personal suggestion, as it so often is, is to look into several books. If you want to start easy, pick up Debra Dixon’s, GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict, online (or in hard copy from her site).

For what amounts to a university level orientation and training course I suggest Dwight Swain’s, Techniques of the Selling writer, or Jack Bickham’s, Scene and Structure. Most of my articles on writing came from those books.

You can also find an assortment of books in the fiction writing section of the library.

But whatever you do, hang in there, and keep on writing.

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RonaldReagan
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Thank you for the input and reading material suggestions, Jay! I feel like you've really zeroed in on the things that I feel I'm lacking. I'm afraid that the kinds of issues you've identified are prevalent throughout my drafts.

As far as the skipped portion, I just wanted to include more, so to speak, meat into the 13 lines. Depositions start with location, date and time, which I have omitted. Although I feel like I'm going to end up using parts of the fragment, I see now, why that was not an ideal place to start.

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RonaldReagan
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What I've kept from all of you is that this isn't science fiction at all, this is a fragment of my letter to Penthouse.
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extrinsic
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The Usual Suspects with aliens, a tall order on its own. Mystery genre, more or less a puzzle story-type, and conventions expected for the genre. Who done it, a crime, most of all, and the why done from thriller conventions.

Verbal-Keyser Söze's double-take end twist is more representational than literal and informs the whole story as such; that is, Söze represents a social force, of unmitigated evil secretly operant among us, similar to Anton Chigurh of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men.

The archetype is a twist on Romanticism's poetic justice feature; good rewarded, evil punished; is poetic injustice, which came about through Realism; good unrewarded, maybe punished; evil unpunished, maybe rewarded. Poetic injustice expresses the ultimate feature of the human condition -- free will.

The above explanation of the novel's agonist relationships shows the novel entails three contenders: Moore, an alien and a protagonist, and the GIG contestant. Either co-agonists or, respectively, a triagonist, a protagonist, and a deuteragonist. Emphasis and rank for any one is dependent upon both degree of antagonal influence and degree of transformation. Moore forefront implies she is the protagonist. Protagonist, most influence on people's lives, of the self, too, and most transformed and most transformative of people's lives. Realization of this phenomena for and in the novel could as well more or less inform its composition, mechanics, structure, and aesthetics.

No, tell blocks are not universally reviled by all readers. Artless ones, yes. Timing of their occurrences is crucial. Late-model narratives usually locate them after readers are hopelessly engaged already, though when they are essential to the now moment's drama, matter to the viewpoint agonist of the moment, and, by extension, matter to readers. The priority for the artful tell is initiate or escalate emotional disequilibrium first.

Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," the first fourth of the short story is backstory, told, though emotional upset begins right quick. The title starts it off, though many readers of it do not note the title is a revised excerpt from a Biblical passage and the Book of Judges overall about the same topic as the story. "Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou?" (Judges 19:17)

Oates' story initiates and then escalates emotional disequilibrium throughout and ends on a somewhat restored emotional equilibrium.

"Should I continue trying without Moore? Is there no way I can salvage this, without having to remove Moore as my crutch?" (RonaldReagan, from above post.)

Writer's choice. Though consider if Moore is, in fact, a crutch, or is she instead a coequal agonist who contends with the alien-protagonist partnership and GIG? For this, the question before me is, what's the novel really and truly about, human condition-wise? Taken from real-life current events and translated into an alien visitation? Is GIG xenophobic or rightly suspicious of the aliens' intents? Is the protagonist a witless dupe of an alien influence campaign, who are bent on dominance of true humans?

What's Moore's true personal-private agenda? When or does she ever learn the true alien agenda? Altruism is typical and fine for daydreams, though ripe fruit for drama if nefarious in ways and means and ends. Otherwise, the so-labeled "for the greater good" invariably entails self-advantage pursuits, even if posited as philanthropic, at the expense of others' brutal losses -- zero-sum.

Who might the aliens represent from real life? Red Chinese? Russians? Militant religion radicalists? Social Democrats? Robber-baron capitalists? New-wave monarchists and imperialists? A risen tide of ethnic minority, female, alternate lifestylists' empowerment demands? Or a neo-traditional Goober Good Old Boys next-to-last-ditch stand against loss of supremacy status quo? How might one of those factional groups or some other represent GIG? Also, with which does Moore align, personally, despite her intent and mission duty to remain objective, which suits an every-person sort of agonist for which readers are meant to most align? Writer's choice.

[ December 22, 2017, 07:27 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by RonaldReagan:
You ought to just take a bunch of anonymous submissions and make a book out of dissecting them.

Considered long ago and declined. Difficult beyond imagination to do such due to reluctance of writers, not yet accomplished, to yield use permission, accomplished writers similarly minded, though open for literary analysis by law, regardless of consent, and otherwise long-past copyright-lapsed works, dusty old bones writers and stale tomes, that are anymore largely out of sight and out of mind.
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RonaldReagan
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Extrinsic and Jay Greenstein,

Is there any particular article, video or forum topic that I can reference, that focuses on, let's say, the first page of a manuscript?

I'm looking for some sort of a list I can check off, as I practice.

Jay Greenstein, I thank you again for the reading suggestions you have already recommended.

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extrinsic
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A number of online sources propose first page content, some somewhat itemize how-to lists. Those vary considerably about essentials and range from too specific to too vague to be of use. Those, too, are the formulaic curse of how-to proscription and prescription.

Descriptive texts, though somewhat specific and somewhat vague at the same time, contain more generalized expression guidance that appreciates creative writing is of a near infinite variety, a first page, too. One of the better known and often recommended is Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

Though Hatrack's thirteen lines equates to a Standard Manuscript Format's first page, a minimum most screeners will read, brief thirteen lines for protections of publication rights as well, Lukeman notes that five pages either seals publication acceptance or condemns a typescript to decline, about the most content any screener will read then decide whether to read further or not. So one page or five? Short prose screeners favor one, if that; long prose, up to five.

Otherwise, a best practice is to learn what works and what doesn't for a given target audience, selected genre, topical intent, and personal aesthetic, and therefrom self-define one's own list of start criteria. Committed writers assemble one over time and with practice regardless. I have such a self-defined list, though it is metastable and subject to variation dependent on intent, content, and delightful discovery, perhaps narrows, too, while my creative self-definition develops. There, I define my audience of one reader and suppose a broad reader base holds similar sensibilities -- closely narrowed definition transcends the one for a global appeal.

Basic categories of the list: grammar -- language arts generally -- storycraft, expression, and appeals. Within storycraft are motivations and stakes essentials; tone essentials are a large part of expression. Irrespective, each category overlaps each the other and spans the whole for a glorious symphony.

[ December 27, 2017, 01:56 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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You might get a copy of Noah Lukeman's THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, if you want a checklist. Though it deals with starting novel-length works, there is a lot of useful information that can be applied to short stories as well.
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RonaldReagan
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Thank you, KDW! I've put the suggestion in my queue.

I stumbled on a blog called Live Write Thrive. It has a slew of first chapter critiques from best-selling books, which helped a lot. I also read through Techniques of the Selling Writer. That book is a treasure trove which I'll be referencing for a while.

I would like your opinions on the following fragment.I decided that Moore's storyline is not first chapter material. I'm planning on starting with the protagonist, this time.

Extrinsic, I know you've mentioned that my first fragment had slow dramatic movement and no personal conflict. Although the full chapter picks up the pace and introduces personal conflict, this fragment is no better than the first.

I found a nice checklist online. Then I combined the checklist with your critique, the book I read, and several other tutorials. I ended up with two pages of goals for a 13 line fragment. It was too much.

[FRAGMENT]

The freeway was gridlocked. Heavy rainfall amplified DC metro’s evening rush hour, turning a twenty-minute drive from Ronald Reagan National to the meeting, into an hour-long ordeal. Inside their cab, neither friend seemed to be bothered by the weather or the traffic. Elizabeth and Chuck, both American News Network employees, sat hunched over their smartphones, engrossed in the late-breaking developments coming through the newswire – the Secretary of Defense has just elevated the armed forced readiness level.

“I don’t think we’ve been at DEFCON 3, since the September 11th attacks,” Elizabeth said, breaking the silence.

“Right,” Chuck confirmed. “We need to get ahead of this story. I hope we’re not wasting our time meeting Dave,” he said.


I'm sorry to subject you folks to another fragment, but I find input and advice invaluable.

I would appreciate it if you could include a grade (something like a ten point scale) you would assign to the excerpt.

[ December 28, 2017, 11:31 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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extrinsic
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For my checklist, reader, writer, and analyst, I start with a loose sweep of observed items, sort of an organic laundry and shopping list, narrow specifics, then backtrack to first principles and general overall categories. The list becomes manageable once itemized into a dozen or so main categories, outlined into standard outline format, subcategories, and sub-sub- and sub-sub-subcategories, etc., included, one dynamic use for the dreary outline course work from high school English.

Like so (an incomplete sketched template):
I. Motivation (complication, antagonism)
 A. Want
  1. Private
   a. Life defining
    i. Of the self
    ii. Maturation
   b. Larger than life
  2. Public
   a. ditto
   b. ditto
 B. Problem
  1. Private
  2. Public
 C. Movement incitement
  1. Crisis
II. Stakes (conflict, at risk)
 A. External risk/reward
 B. Internal risk/reward
III. Tone (attitude toward a topic-subject)
 A. Emotional charge
  1. Duality of congruent opposite emotions in contention
 B. Moral aptitude
  1. Duality of congruent opposite vices and follies and virtues and prudences in contention
 C. Message
IV. Event
V. Setting
VI. Character
VII. Narrative point of view
VIII. Grammar (language arts)
IX. Storycraft
X. Expression
XI. Appeal
XII. Target audience

Note that motivations and stakes development are event related most and storycraft, too; tone, is character and expression; with overlaps in other categories an outline format can note, though an outline is strictly a linear arrangement.

Many narratives that enjoy publication success use melodrama techniques. L. Rust Hills' Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular observes that melodrama is situations solely intended to excite a plot point and no other influence on dramatic personas' lives. Melodrama results in And Stories: And something happens at the start, and something happens, and something happens, and something happens in the middle; and something happens, and something happens, and something happens at the end, and all unrelated and to no meaningful end.

Hills, too, notes, that melodrama found its fond, comfortable home in cinema narratives: television situation dramas and comedies as well as feature films, commercials and talk and gossip news content, too, along with aural-visual spectacle and a lean toward the picaresque form: a roguish protagonist's episodic adventures in vice and folly ridden settings (event, setting, and character features). Aristotle noted melodrama's home of his day was common playhouse entertainments for the masses.

Not to say melodrama is artless, too often is, rather that melodrama has a cultural place, even in written word narratives. How best practice to use it is the challenge, and of also near infinite variety, except artless uses of it, that repeat derivative and diluted types ad nauseam.

The next fragment, generally, the intent appears to be backstory development that writer wants readers to know so they can understand the action to come. Though in scene mode, the conversation is an As You Know, Bob, type of backstory presentation. As you know, Chuck, the aliens have landed and the government is hysterical and we need to report all this to our viewers, who need to and have a right to know. (Turkey City Lexicon)

See "The Turkey City Lexicon – A Primer for SF Workshops," edited by Lewis Shiner, Second Edition by Bruce Sterling, hosted at SFWA. That and "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction" by Clarion workshops' David Smith, SFWA hosted, are worth study for the more common shortfalls and reasons, besides grammar faults, for publication decline of prose compositions.

I would not read on as an engaged reader, most because the fragment doesn't engage me, due to it is a retrospective of events from a past moment -- no immediate dramatic incitement at the present now moment. On a zero to seven scale, zero engagement to full engagement, I give the fragment a two, due to it is at least in scene mode, not narrator tell mode overtly, though a dialogue tell scene. About a four or so I deem worthy of publication consideration.

[ December 28, 2017, 07:51 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RonaldReagan
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Damn, that was right on the nose.
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RonaldReagan
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I realized that I have a huge problem with telling.

I've read through various creative writing tutorials about show vs tell, but I'm still a bit confused. I understand how to show emotion and various other character-based content, but I'm having trouble with inanimate content such as settings and background exposition, that I want to supply to the reader.

In regards to this fragment,

quote:
Heavy rainfall amplified DC metro’s evening rush hour, turning a twenty-minute drive from Ronald Reagan National to the meeting, into an hour-long ordeal.
Does this qualify as showing or do I need to provide more vivid details like the size of the traffic jam, angry motorists, rain detail, etc?

quote:
Elizabeth and Chuck, both American News Network employees, sat hunched over their smartphones, engrossed in the late-breaking developments
This is kind of a weird sentence. Is the description of Elizabeth and Chuck hunched over their phones, an example of showing? I understand that slipping their employer in is a tell. The ending of that sentence (not included) is also a tell.
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extrinsic
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Aristotle differentiated show and tell, respectively, as mimesis or imitation, and diegesis or summarization and exegesis or explanation. However, summarization and explanation are widely accepted writing modes. Mimesis itself is more accepted overall for prose and is a core convention of Realism and its offshoots, like Naturalism, and descendants Modernism and Postmodernism, that is, reality imitation even if fantastic. The actual admonition, guidance really, is show and tell, not, as is lately the case, show don't tell. The fact of the matter is all expression is tell. What then distinguishes show from tell is open to interpretation.

Emotional charge is one feature that differentiates show from tell, sensation too, plus other writing modes: description, action, introspection and recollection, conversation, the more apt modes and which best practice are interleavened throughout a paragraph, segment, scene, chapter, novel. Tell modes generally include the other modes: narration, summarization, exposition, explanation, and transition. -tion words so that the mode labels are coordinated and for memorableness, and a mnemonic, DIANE'S SECRET. Each may be show or tell, however, yet none on its face contains the true feature of show, that is, drama.

Drama entails writing modes plus antagonism, causation, and tension, or ACT, dramatic action, act up, act out, make a public scene, show your backside act-hole and all its warts and boils. The Poetics of Aristotle is the signal work about causation; Gustav Freytag's Technique of the Drama is the signal work about tension. Both scratch at the edges of antagonism's role, though miss it by seven leagues and more. No texts since have yet to develop antagonism's dramatic role, though it is paramount for dramatic effect.

Consider if conflict fits causation or tension. Somewhat, maybe. More so antagonism fits conflict's role, and as well complication's role, both which influence motivation and stakes, though antagonism is more motivation, and stakes more conflict. Conflict as defined by publication culture has seen oversimplified to a near useless point.

Conflict defined more usefully is dual, mutually exclusive, polar opposite forces in contention, like life and death, acceptance and rejection, ad infinitum. Complication is those conflict forces' want and problem motivations. Denouement, or outcome, conclusion, is the satisfaction act of a main dramatic complication, the last act, and its introduction is portrayed in a first act, ideally, at least introduced on a first page.

Exposition mode is another composition culture term that lost its way. Generally defined anymore as summarization and explanation expression, usually through dull and banal backstory prologue blocks, the true definition is introduction, as of a writing's main theme, conflict, complication, tone, and etc. An introductory exhibition of a new product, or new crisis introduction circumstance anyway, the outset, setup, start of a crisis scene, a chapter, a narrative, a novel, a composition.

Freytag asks "What is drama?" The text gets around to description of its features and misses making the pivotal point. Drama is causal, tensional antagonism that compels, motivates proactive efforts to satisfy a main dramatic complication of a magnitude. What is the complication? Aliens have landed! Oh no, call out the National Guard. Yeah, right. Anymore, drama-less on its face; someone else will deal with it -- not me. A public complication; maybe a related private complication is more suited to drama and its reality imitation show features. Both, really, public and private complication, emphasis on private, though, for drama's true nature.

Another feature develops drama, that is, a related moral crisis incitement and moral complication of a magnitude suited to a narrative's length, the subtext, as it were, of a surface drama. Aristotle amply explores morality for dramatic effect; Freytag, very little, if any.

Note, though, morality's antagonal and causal crux, both complication and conflict in contest, usually of an internal nature, though subtextually external, too, and vice versa. Vice and virtue contend; internal, of the self; external, between personas. Note, too, that high magnitude external and internal and public and private dramatic contests are an essential for drama, hence, entail a degree of writer sadism, and maybe some masochism, too.

An individual and Nature contend, what, the setting is a main contender? Say Jack London's "To Build A Fire." The feral wolf is also a contestant, and a foil, so dialogue, speech anyway and the wolf's nonvocal responses, takes place.

L. Rust Hills distinguishes three types of narrative; energeic (Aristotle coin), or energetic, philosophic, and lyric; respectively, dramatic moral truth discovery due to life crisis, preached moral law assertion, and musical-poetic prose. The three are not mutually exclusive of each other. A point to take away is the morality feature of the first two, that is, whether discovered or preached moral values.

Yes, much context and texture to shoehorn into thirteen lines. Prose's grace is more done with less, fewer words, more expressed than, say, journalism or scholarly or how-to recipe and manual compositions do. The challenge and its satisfaction is to make words do more work, yet don't force or rush drama development.

Every publication aspirant writer cuts eye teeth on the show and tell dilemma. Huge consideration for everyone who would aspire to publication. Successful writers find some which-a-way that works for them and for their respective audiences. How will you manage show and tell's mischiefs? Above considerations given for to ponder upon a satisfaction of the dilemma. Now to it, the examples queried.

quote:
Originally posted by RonaldReagan:
I realized that I have a huge problem with telling.

I've read through various creative writing tutorials about show vs tell, but I'm still a bit confused. I understand how to show emotion and various other character-based content, but I'm having trouble with inanimate content such as settings and background exposition, that I want to supply to the reader.

In regards to this fragment,

quote:
Heavy rainfall amplified DC metro’s evening rush hour, turning a twenty-minute drive from Ronald Reagan National to the meeting, into an hour-long ordeal.
Does this qualify as showing or do I need to provide more vivid details like the size of the traffic jam, angry motorists, rain detail, etc?

quote:
Elizabeth and Chuck, both American News Network employees, sat hunched over their smartphones, engrossed in the late-breaking developments
This is kind of a weird sentence. Is the description of Elizabeth and Chuck hunched over their phones, an example of showing? I understand that slipping their employer in is a tell. The ending of that sentence (not included) is also a tell.
Both excerpts entail sensation description, show's usual basic feature, little, if any, emotion or drama or morality. More so, the dramatic developments are rushed from a lack of stepped transition setup and follow-through. From an outside looks in description of snarled freeway traffic to a description of two reporters with no dramatic connection between the congestion and the reporters' cell phone obsession and compulsion.

First question, why is the traffic snarled? By the way, D.C. Beltway and surrounds traffic is nightmarishly choked more often than not. Only the wee dark earlies does traffic flow at a reasonable pace. What takes twenty minutes at 3 or 4 a.m. takes three hours and more at a.m., noon, p.m. commuter and nightclub closing time rush pulses. An hour to go what otherwise takes twenty minutes, not too dramatic or focused a D.C. life complication magnitude.

Instead of narrator outside looks in, consider show's more potent viewpoint agonist inside looks out and about and in, though in third person transference from first person's inside looks out.

Also, a missed opportunity to foreshadow pendent ominous menace, say, of the roads being unusually traffic choked, utter gridlock even, as like the city and its urbs' sprawl knows something dramatic is afoot, not what, though. There's where specific focused detail shines.

Choked streets, what, due to government and military vehicles frantically scurry to and fro? A convoy of blue light bar camo Humvee escorts and black stretch limos passes across a cross street. They selfishly stop all public traffic so they can travel easy? Flee in panic maybe? Oh no, something serious is afoot! Elizabeth and Chuck know what and why. Don't hold back detail necessary to the moment. Artless detail withholds are worse than leisurely getting to their natural and necessary, timely revelations. What readers already know beforehand is the arts of tension. The ominous traffic snarl sets up and follows through forward dramatic movement incitement.

What about Elizabeth's private-personal complication, though? How does an alien landing complicate her private life at the moment? Is she delayed from her aliens have landed and a government coverup news scoop? Thinks it is Pulitzer material and fabulous for her career? only if she breaks the news story first. No virtuous regard for the inevitable public panic the news will surely incite and cause evermore clogged D.C. streets, nor regard for alleged government wisdom reasons to delay public notification. That's related so that And Story melodrama potentials are defused and tell transcends its native summarization and explanation nature.

That, too, follows a scene segment sequence L. Rust Hills asserts is paramount for drama: setup, or preparation, its tension incitement; delayed response, or suspension, tension heightened and tension relief delayed; and stimulus response, or satisfaction, or resolution, a setup and delay's partial or full tension relief. The law of threes, actually, not causality's duality cause and effect, drama's natural antagonal, causal, and tensional three-ality sequence. Antagonal first cause A causes first effect B; cause A and effect B cause effect C, and so on, until a final, unequivocal, irrevocable effect of all the previous causes and effects.

Thirteen lines is enough real estate for maybe the something different, Elizabeth thinks or says to Chuck, is up with the traffic snarl, itself a setup, Elizabeth's thought or speech itself its delay, the convoy crosses the gridlocked intersection, the partial tension relief, and maybe start into that Chuck and Elizabeth know what and why for setup Elizabeth is concerned someone has beaten her to the news scoop release. Or similar or entirely other. Writer's choice.

Drama then, and show and tell, is a many splendored mischief that entails many potentials. For starters, though, consider sensation description, emotion description, action description, introspection and conversation, and ACT contentions and a moral crisis tableau in somewhat sequential, somewhat contemporaneous synthesis foremost. Example, consider sensation-emotion-action-drama-moral in one fifteen or so words sentence, or sentences, about the traffic snarl. Impatience for traffic congestion is a vice of wrath and pride, which goeth before a fall.

[ December 29, 2017, 08:05 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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RonaldReagan
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Ok, here goes attempt #3!

Until now, the fragments I've posted were just beginnings of chapters that I've revised.

This is something I just came up with. There's no chapter that goes along with it. I've actually tried writing this before, but I abandoned it, because I thought that starting with a human's POV is better.

Background: Aylar is the alien. The robber baron-type faction (GIG) just took over the first contact facility and killed off all but one member of the alien expedition. Rich and powerful as they are, they don't have the capability to launch an assault team into low orbit, to silence the last alien (keep the alien from telling everybody about what happened to her comrades), so they decide to just blow her up.

Heavy cloud cover blocked out the moonlight. The darkness was absolute.

The launch platform bobbed, imperceptibly, in Arctic Ocean waters, hundreds of kilometers away from the closest shipping lane. When the order was given, the missiles roared from the platform’s surface, illuminating the clouds in hues of amber and vermillion. The engines muscled their payloads through the atmosphere at three kilometers per second, ensuring the destruction of the target through sheer kinetic force.

A cacophony of alarms accosted Aylar’s senses as soon as she stepped onto the bridge of the orbital installation. Proximity warnings, flashing in unison, lit up every console screen in the vicinity, demanding her attention. She rushed over to the closest


Note from Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:

This has been edited to 13 lines according to our rule about manuscript fragments.

Please read the topic on how to tell if it's exactly 13 lines.

Thank you.

[ December 30, 2017, 11:24 AM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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RonaldReagan
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Is the transition from the third to the fourth paragraph (missiles to installation) too sudden?
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RonaldReagan
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Also, no POV emotional tie-in. Hey! I can critique myself, but I can't translate that to an enticing fragment.

I found it difficult to do so, because of certain body-swapping elements that Aylar has to do. Yes, she's an alien in a human body. Couldn't compose a concise enough explanation as to why she displays physical signs of human emotion and writing about alien physical responses to emotion felt silly ("Aylar vibrated at 60 Hz, as Aysharans do, when they're frusturated!")

I can't seem to manufacture subject matter fit for first chapter, so I keep bouncing around characters and settings in my fragments, searching for a spot where it would be easiest to squeeze in the most palatable beginning.

[ December 30, 2017, 12:35 AM: Message edited by: RonaldReagan ]

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RonaldReagan
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury,

My apologies for breaching the 13 line rule. I have already read the post you referred me to. At some point, I must have expanded the text box for convenience, which made it look like I had more space.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Interesting. The textbox size is set as a guideline and while it can be expanded (don't know if we could do that before the site upgrade, but we can do it now), it shouldn't be for posting your first 13 lines.
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RonaldReagan
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It didn't expand on its own.

When I need to post a lengthy comment, I use the "Full Reply Form" and expand the box to keep everything visible.

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RonaldReagan
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Oh, I see what you meant. Right, my mistake.
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extrinsic
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A missile launch rises from surface to orbit.

The third version is both remote and close of narrative distance. Peculiar contrast that is an artful works for me due to the true "character" of the fragment is the missiles, which allows for a distant start and a ready-made emotional texture for closeness. Also, due to the true subject is the missiles, the jump transition between the second and third paragraph works. The viewpoint perspective follows the missiles from ground toward orbit. One other feature would achieve exquisite status: emotional charge enhancements of a personalized nature. Verbal metaphors do that work, maybe adverbial metaphors otherwise, though less readable and comprehensible and risk uncharged emotional texture.

For illustration purposes;

"Heavy cloud cover _blocked_ out the moonlight. The darkness _was_ absolute." The rhetorical situations are potential maritime circumstances and explosive violence, for foreshadows and enhanced sensation description purposes. "blocked out" could instead be drowned or blotted out or obliterated, for examples. This method, emotionally charged verbal metaphors imply a conscious, emotional persona behind the sensation descriptions, narrator maybe, or agonist, ideally.

The "was", being a to be verb, is static voice (stasis, state of being, no forward movement), and ripe for rewrite to a dynamic verb, maybe metaphoric. The true subject of that sentence is the absoluteness of the dark, though another sentence subject or object, not given, is more apt. For example, //Absolute darkness _cloaked_ rafted missile barges off Point Barrow, Alaska.// "cloaked's" rhetorical situation is cloak and dagger secrecy. More specific, more imaginable visual setting place and time and situation described there, too. My voice, though, no intent to usurp writer creative vision ownership.

One caution, fantastic fiction metaphor might be taken as literal. A common confused metaphor example cited across the culture is something to the effect of An articulated serpent bus _slithered_ over surface roads. Apt for nonfantastic fiction, confused for fantastic fiction; the bus might be perceived as an actual snake.

"Also, no POV emotional tie-in. Hey! I can critique myself, but I can't translate that to an enticing fragment." {RonaldReagan)

Yes and no somewhat. Some emotional viewpoint tie-in. POV, by the way, is a shorthand for a gamut of narrative perceptions and another term that's lost its way. A distinction with a difference is POV abbreviates narrative point of view, the overall expressive perspective of a narrative. Viewpoint is a situational perspective of a dramatic persona, a narrator if a drama participant or contributor, a contestant character usually (agonist), and is subject to motility, change from persona to persona, place to place, situation to situation, attitude to attitude, and segment by segment, vary and change and shift more so for long prose than for short prose, like a novel.

Yes, you can validly critique yourself. That is a true function of workshop: build and enhance self-editor skills from shared process discussion, both writer and critiquer.

No somewhat. The fragment by default of implied missile violence, violence foremost, natively creates a degree of engagement, tension's suspense's curiosity feature at least, maybe a degree of empathy or sympathy as well, both reader effect emotional engagement features. By unanimous consensus, Hatrack members a few years ago agreed reader effect is paramount, and also agreed apocryphally across publication culture. The one empathy, or sympathy, drawback, shortfall, is no cue who readers are meant to align with and root for -- who to care about. The missile launchers or the orbiter's persona?

"When the order was given," Ineffective passive voice. By whom? An opportunity missed to introduce who the anti-agonist is and show whoever's true nature and agenda. GIG and nefarious, right?

"illuminating the clouds in hues of amber and vermillion [sp]" Spelling, "vermilion." Wordy, the sentence overall and the appositive terminal phrase (two unnecessary prepositions "in" and "of"), also, unnecessary and ineffective tense shift to present progressive "illuminating." A separate sentence, recast, is indicated for the last phrase, rearranged for a true sentence subject. Maybe a verbal metaphor, too. Illustration; //Amber and vermilion hues flashed across the cloud deck.//

"muscled their payloads through the atmosphere at three kilometers per second" Factual inaccuracy. Surface to orbit escape velocity from the ground is 11.8 kilometers per second, even for ICBMs. An Arctic launch site more or less dictates a circumpolar orbit trajectory, not an authenticity issue, though.

"A cacophony of alarms accosted Aylar’s senses" Ideally, excise prepositions (of) wherever practical. Or use those for artful emphasis judiciously. "cacophony" though a valid descriptor, is inapt, nonfigurative and unemotional at least. More so, a four-syllable, too sophisticated word. Simplify and amplify are best practices for over-sophistication adjustment considerations.

"accosted," another inapt term -- assaulted or attacked is the obvious design, those less inapt. Another rhetorical design might more suit the intent, battered, for example. Assault and battery for a rhetorical design fits the inbound missile attack situation.

"Aylar's senses" Vague. What, her aural interface organs? Maybe visual interfaces, too? Those, though, are inapt. Those imply a cybernetic persona. Organic organism? Ears and eyes, then? This is a place where an economy of words might introduce that Aylar is capable of body shifts, by the way, distinguished by her clumsiness with human form sensory organs and sensibilities from her native and skilled alien ones.

Or a completely different syntax arrangement for the clause, in order to eliminate the possessive noun apostrophe, for simplification. Ease of reading and comprehension is a foundational principle for prose, and journalism, different from formal composition criteria somewhat. What is the sentence's main idea and true subject, or who? Two, actually, main ideas and true subjects.

The awkward pivot is the conjunction phrase "as soon as" that means when. As is, the sentence inverts causation, and misplaces the dependent clause at the terminal position. Syntax inverted for illustration; //As soon as she stepped onto the bridge of the orbital installation, a cacophony of alarms accosted Aylar’s senses.// Formal composition and journalism prefer most emphatic content first, then less emphatic. Prose, however, prefers that sequence inverted, many exceptions, though. In any case, the illustration is best practice grammar, syntax, otherwise, a misplaced dependent verbal modifier clause.

"stepped onto the bridge of the orbital installation" Wordy, too. Two prepositions in short order: onto and of. Is a vessel's bridge a floor deck or a dimensional space? A space. Into is a truer term, a particle of the two-word verb "stepped" in this case. "orbital installation" Wow wordy and vague. Simplify and amplify, maybe an orbiter name or type or both, Leviathan orbiter, maybe a separate sentence indicated for this place is a large orbiter, before or after, best before the alarm trip.

"Proximity _warnings_, _flashing_ in unison, lit up every console screen in the vicinity, _demanding_ her attention." Three -ing words in short succession, the first a gerund noun, two are present progressive verbs, unnecessary and ineffective tense shift, and misarranged verb sequence about central pivot and main idea, simple past tense verb "lit". -ing words cause an -ing ring-rhyme cumulative nuisance for readers, consciously or nonconsciously. Gerunds are less of a challenge to recast. "Alarms" is already nearby beforehand, alerts is apt.

Participial present progressive verb clauses and phrases, like "flashing in unison", best practice are placed in sentence first position, the prefatory position for compound sentences. Appositive participle clauses, like "demanding her attention", are best practice recast to the main verb tense and located at the terminal position, sequenced for artful emphasis. Illustration; "Flashing in unison, proximity alerts lit up every console screen in the vicinity, demanded her attention." Still problematic, though, due to a viewpoint glitch of an outsider looks in, is not from Aylar's inside looks out perspective.

"She rushed over to the closest" This, too, is outside looks in glitch. She cannot see herself rush, only a narrator can. Closing narrative distance requires consistent viewpoint perspective, not a back and forth exchange between narrator and viewpoint agonist perspectives. If the narrator is the observer-reporter, stay in the narrator's head, or the agonist's if so.

A novel affords numerous viewpoint shifts, narrator, focal agonist, protagonist, deuteragonist, triagonist, or up to seven or so for an ensemble cast, includes an antagonist as one or more of the above, who is also a contestant, is a co-agonist. Viewpoint transitions require setup and follow-through, though, so readers don't get lost, lose track, and lose interest. The abrupt shift, a jump transition, from the missile launch to the orbiter, though, illustrates an exception; that is, the perspective track follows the missiles from surface to orbit without the half hour or so long, probably dull, skipped ballistic trajectory report.

I am more inclined to read on than for the prior versions. This start begins an artful in medias re that does what starts in the middle of an action best do. It incites and furthers forward dramatic movement from a high magnitude dramatic crisis in the middle of an action that actually started from the alien first contact.

[ December 30, 2017, 10:07 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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