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Author Topic: Untitled, Standard Fiction, 18,000/ ~60,000 words at present.
Mecopitch
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Based on my outline, first draft, and the first chunk of second draft, I expect this to run around 60,000 words. Longest thing I've put my pen (keyboard) to.

This is neither SciFi, Fantasy, or any other subgenre that I usually find myself within, but just good, ol' fiction. And if that's not kosher, feel free to remove this post.

It is coming along as a sort of "Coming of Age" novel, so it's intended audience is 14-18 years, though so far my test readers have reacted positively, emotionally, and to the prologue and first chapter, well-into their 30's.

It's a retrospective, first-person, something I'm not familiar with writing or reading, but that's how it came out. Grammar is far from perfect. (I feel like I say that a lot)

I'm curious as to what the first 13 lines feel like to you all.


Ahem...
----

It was interesting, being the only publicly-schooled kid who was regularly seen at church, though I brought Fred with me as often as his father’s condition would let him. My absence from the weekly homeschool co-op that the other kids attended was certainly noticed and never forgotten by Pastor Hubbard’s wife, which then trickled down the chain to the deacons, and finally to my mother. She never did do anything about it. I was left in Montabella High School, with the heathens and the lying, evolutionist teachers, either to be a light to the world or because Mom truly needed to see me fail so she’d have a reason to crush my dreams.
Evidently they had learned their lesson with me and kept my little sister out of it, preferring to homeschool her instead.

--------------------Potential Revised opening----------------------

My absence from the weekly homeschool co-op was certainly noted and never forgotten by Pastor Hubbard's family; the resulting vitriol eventually meandered its way down a cascade of disappointment through every level of church leadership, eventually stopped with my mother. Mom never followed through on her clearly empty threats of removing me from Montabella High School, so I was left to the terrors of the public school system, with the lying, evolutionist teachers, either to be a light to the world or just because Mom wanted so badly to see me fail, so that she'd be vindicated in her malice toward the secular world.

[ January 10, 2019, 09:47 PM: Message edited by: Mecopitch ]

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WarrenB
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A reaction only, not an analysis:

The fragment started to interest me from the final sentence of the first paragraph on, i.e. "I was left in Montabella High..." I was amused by the "light to the world" image, and by your references to heathens and lying evolutionists (which I'm reading as irony). And made curious about the storyteller's relationship with his mother (and about her character -- I've always appreciated wicked witches; they do move stories along!). This sentence also led me to wonder about your character's foreshadowed role as a 'savior' of some kind. In short, by it, I'm interested.

The final sentence also offers hints about what they (family? church?) learned from this experiment in public schooling -- which obviously met with mixed reviews... Lots of humor and pathos potential there for younger or older audiences.

Only after reading these final two sentences, did I become even slightly invested in what was happening with Fred, Pastor Hubbard and his wife, etc. Overall, on first reading, the first three sentences confused me, or simply didn't grab me. What does "interesting" mean in this context? Who's Fred, who's his father, why should I care? Which 'she' failed to act (I'm guessing that was mom, but there's some pronoun ambiguity)? etc.

From the content so far, Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" sprang to mind as -- maybe -- inhabiting adjacent story-space... Am I way off-base with that? If not, then I would have questions about how strongly this story is differentiated from that one (though perhaps the different target market is enough?).

In terms of construction, I would be more motivated to read on, if the fragment began with sentences 4 and 5. There's traction there and some hooks which might intrigue. The complexity of church society could be unpacked as we go along... and once we're with your central character/narrator.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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My vote goes for getting rid of the first sentence. The second sentence seems to me to be a much better start.
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Mecopitch
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Thank you, Warren! Reactions are more than welcome!

I was unfamiliar with A Prayer for Owen Meany but having briefly checked it out now, I can tell you it has similar themes in that it is critical of religion, touches on social issues, etc. But that is about all they have in common Unless the writeup I found was incorrect.

I guess the notion of being the only one publicly schooled kid being an "interesting" experience would be made known to the reader without explicitly saying so. I could eliminate that first sentence altogether.

Maybe starting with the Mother never making good on her threats to pull him form public school? Immediately setting up a conflict between the mother and narrator? I love when I'm hooked by the first line... I'm just not great at it :-) My favorite being, "Ryan was nearly killed twice in half an hour." - Patriot Games. It sets up the entire universe, and you know what to expect for Jack Ryan for the next 20 years.

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Mecopitch
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Thanks KDB!
Maybe then I could expand "She never did do anything about it." Into something like, "Mom never made good on her threats to pull me from Montabella High."

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EmmaSohan
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To me, this is not a style I would expect to see in a modern book. Which seems like a cruel thing to say, but there you have it.

You wrote: "It was interesting, being the only publicly-schooled kid who was regularly seen at church," I expect something more like:
quote:
I was the only publicly-schooled kid regularly seen at church.
That hints at conflict, or a problem, or a tension.

You change topic to Fred, then to Fred's father, all in the same sentence. The next sentence explains that there is a home-school co-op, that he doesn't attend, that people noticed, and finally (I think) that he didn't tell his mother he was going to public school.

(Alternate start: I didn't tell my mother when I stopped going to the church school.)

So, you are giving me information, which could add up to an interesting story. But you're dumping it on me, instead of creating tension, contrast, building, and I still don't have a list of what writers actually do when they create a scene. I want to say you are supposed to tell me a story, as opposed to giving me the information in your head.

Good luck. I like the premise.

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Mecopitch
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Hm. Out of curiosity, where did you get that he hasn't told his mother about leaving church school? The last few lines say, albeit implicitly, that his mother left him in Montabella High School.

I'm working on a revised 1st 13. Stay tuned.

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Mecopitch
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There is a revised opening at the original post.
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extrinsic
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Division, revision, adjustment considerations? Or is the first-person agonist hypoliterate due to public school or home school shortfalls?

My absence from the weekly [homeschool](home school) co-op was [certainly] noted and never forgotten by Pastor Hubbard's family[; the](. The) [resulting] vitriol [eventually] meandered [its way down](along) a cascade of disappointment(,) through every level(each branch) of church leadership, [eventually] stopped [with](at) [my mother] (Mom). [Mom](She) never followed through on [her](the) [clearly] empty threat[s] [of removing](to remove) me from Montabella High School[,](.) [so]I was left to the terrors of [the] public school[ system], with the [lying](lies)[,](and) [evolutionist](evolution) teachers, [either] to be a light to the world or [just because] Mom wanted [so badly] to see me fail,(--) so [that she'd](her malice toward the secular world would) be vindicated[ in her malice toward the secular world].

Also, this defuses somewhat the perpendicular pronoun "I, me, my, mine" self-promoted subject reader alienation of the first word, first sentence, first clause:

//Pastor Hubbard and family noted and never forgave my absence from the weekly home school co-op.//

I could not read further as an engaged reader.

[ January 11, 2019, 04:23 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Mecopitch
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Thanks Ex! This is your most helpful response to any of my fragments, yet.

It seems I've fallen into a sort of adverb trap. Even after reading On Writing... Shameful.

Any and all feedback is welcome at all times. It's no secret that are many people on this forum with far better grammar and vocabulary than me. (Than I?)

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extrinsic
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Objective case "me" or subjective case pronoun "I"? Or possessive case? Objective there means part of a sentence object phrase; subjective, sentence subject phrase.

Hard to distinguish. "It's no secret that are many people on this forum with far better grammar and vocabulary than me. (Than I?)"

//_I_ keep no secret that my vocabulary and grammar are less than many people of this forum's far better aptitudes.// Subjective case.

//No secret that many people on this forum have far better grammar and vocabulary than _me_.// Objective case.

//No secret that many people on this forum have far better grammar and vocabulary than _mine_.// Possessive and objective case, sentence object position.

//No secret _my_ grammar and vocabulary are less than many people on this forum's far better skills.// Possessive and subjective case, sentence subject position.

//_My_ limited grammar and vocabulary skills are less than many writers' far better aptitudes on this forum is no secret.// Possessive and subjective case, sentence subject position.
----
I attended assorted church schools, private schools, Sunday, Bible, and CCD schools, public schools, numerous and diverse and each grounds for abuses and bullies about one the other and all at once, no formal home school co-op attendance, though have tutored home schoolers and had been home tutored some until the eventual GED rental folks could no longer keep up with whatever school or me -- about sixth grade.

[ January 11, 2019, 04:24 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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EmmaSohan
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Yes, this new version resolves my main issues. To me, it now reads like a reasonable start, like I would find in a book. It's interesting to me, and I keep reading.

There are probably small issues, that you will probably fix yourself. For example, I think you want "reaching" instead of "stopped".

Another small point, but vitriol worked really well for me, for creating issues I want to read about.

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Mecopitch
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The next thing I'm working on the opening is demonstrating that it wasn't just one absence, but that the narrator had never been a part of the Co Op, because he wasn't a home schooled kid.

Events that happen at the Co-op without him effect the story later on.

I think I agree that either stopping or reaching would work better than stopped. I thought about using "finding repose" but repose feels too positive for the surrounding sentence.

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Grumpy old guy
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I much prefer the first fragment. The stream of consciousness seems so much clearer. I am reminded of the opening of Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caufield's complaints about his family and life. It's almost a combination of cherished love and loathing.

I really don't know if I'd read on or not; depends on my mood. I know this is of absolutely no use to you. Sorry.

Phil.

[ January 13, 2019, 06:04 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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extrinsic
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Either-or, neither fragment engages me. Consider the fragments' mannerisms are voiceover paraphrases that tell circumstances in a summary fashion. Though first person, the narrator blocks the view of the action. Get out of the way! Once upon a time, that discourse method was common, all but exclusive. Visual entertainment media changed that. Prose wants a greater proportion of verbatim expression, actual visual and aural sensations portrayed on screen in scene, due to movies and television.

Each clause or so of each fragment wants a scene. Direct discourse, verbatim expression of circumstances that matter in the here and now. An absence from the co-op in and of itself is a challenge to portray, a proverb demonstrates: absence of proof does not disprove absence. A scene would show the narrator-agonist confronted (antagonized), maybe by one of Father Hubbard's peer age children, for non-attendance at the co-op. Not one overlong run-on sentence summary, several paragraphs of verbatim and dramatic sensory details at least.

Where is the scene? Who is in the scene? When, and what, why, and how?

The fragments summarize -- paraphrase -- three scenes: Mother and Father Hubbard and offspring's contempt for non-attendance, Mom's empty threat to transfer him from the public school to the co-op, and the public school lies and evolution instruction. The non-attendance confrontation scene could lead into a school scene to a Mom scene. Maybe the school scene first, confrontational, so that time conflates, then a Hubbard confrontation on the way home to a Mom confrontation scene?

Hubbard? Really? Okay, like the nursery rhyme? A smart subconscious plant? A children's nonsense rhyme popular for diction and syntax and social instruction.

Where's the scene(s)?

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WarrenB
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I don't find the discourse method a turn-off in an introduction -- more nostalgic. Provided there are more 'verbatim expression'/viscerally realised scenes later in the text (quite soon, I hope), some straight narration upfront is fine by me... Especially if the narrating consciousness hints at interesting complications (church vs. secular world, saviour motif at a public school, etc.) and intriguing characters (vindictive mother, the pastor and his wife, the narrator himself) down the line. I assume this is setting up the meat of the book and naming central characters.

I agree with Phil though: while I didn't think it 'started' until a few sentences in, I preferred the first version. The addition of 'vitriol', the cascade metaphor, 'malice' and 'secular' take me out of the flow (and away from who I thought the character was), rather than injecting color/movement/valuable info. Lower level vocab might be more appropriate in the beginning anyway -- given your mooted market?

I assumed Hubbard was a nursery rhyme reference, and wondered what it foreshadowed about the pastor and his wife.

In general, I'm interested in learning how this story unfolds. If you're looking for another reader -- not a close editorial reading, but comment on the whole -- and are not in a major rush -- I'd be happy to read your draft. (Engaging with a longer work would be good for me too, since I'm trying to embark on a novel for the first time -- which is more than a bit daunting.)

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Jay Greenstein
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#1
quote:
It was interesting, being the only publicly-schooled kid who was regularly seen at church, though I brought Fred with me as often as his father’s condition would let him.
For you, who begins reading with the knowledge of who we are, where we are in time and space, and what’s going on, this makes perfect sense. To a reader? Look at what they’ve learned after reading this:

Someone unknown, of an unknown social class, age, background, and location so far as era or country (or even planet, I suppose) finds it interesting, in some unknown way, that he or she is the only one who didn’t go to some sort of undefined private school. Why is it interesting? You don’t say. In addition, someone named Fred, who has an unknown connection to the speaker, came to this unknown denomination’s church when his father’s unknown condition didn’t interfere. That might be once a year, three times a week, or anything between.

Forgetting that the reader has context for nothing that was presented, it’s not story, it’s an info-dump of backstory the reader has not been made to want. My personal view is that here is where the rejection slip would come out of the drawer.

The rest of #1 is just as cryptic. You talk about unknown people for unknown reasons, as if the reader both knows who you mean, and cares that what you allude to happens.

Some advice: On entering any scene the reader needs to quickly know where they are, what’s going on, and whose skin they wear. They would also benefit from knowing what the protagonist’s immediate goal is, so they can recognize when something occurs that will interfere with it. Without that, they have no context to make your words meaningful. The reader should be treading a self-guiding trail that provides the context needed to make sense of what’s being read, as-it’s-being-read, or before. And hopefully, they’re given that context in a way that’s more enrichment to necessary lines than exposition. Readers hate reading reports and info-dumps.

#2
quote:
My absence from the weekly homeschool co-op was certainly noted and never forgotten by Pastor Hubbard's family; the resulting vitriol eventually meandered its way down a cascade of disappointment through every level of church leadership, eventually stopped with my mother.
Several comments:

First, I see no reason the reader must rush from sentence one to sentence two, to make what was said meaningful. So the semi-colon seems unnecessary.

Next, Why do I care that the family of someone named Pastor Hubbard is upset that this unknown speaker doesn’t attend the weekly homeschool co-op meetings, for unknown reasons? Hell, I don’t know what a “weekly homeschool co-op” is, or what people do there.

What’s killing you, here, is that you’ve not taken into account that you cannot talk to the reader in the same way you would in person, if for no other reason than that the emotion in your voice does not make it to the page, any more then your intent for how the reader should take your words. Never forget that the reader has only what the words suggest to them, based on what has gone before and what the words, and punctuation suggest based on their background, not yours.

In recording the words you would use in telling the story in person you end up leaving important parts of the story—parts the reader needs in order to have context—in your head, unmentioned, because they seem obvious to you. But you cheat. You know all the backstory, the situation, and the characters before you read the first line. So to you it makes perfect sense. Only by viewing the situation as the protagonist who is living the story in real-time, and taking into account what matters to them in that slice of time they call, “now,” will you know what the reader needs to know, to have the protagonist as their avatar. Instead of explaining the story to the reader as a dispassionate outside observer, recounting things that once happened, place the reader into the protagonist’s moment of now. Make them know what matters in the scene, not the report on the scene. In other words, make it live, moment-by-moment as it does for us in life. That doesn’t mean present tense, it means presenting the protagonist’s viewpoint.

Remember, while you can tell us how Pastor Hubbard speaks a line of dialog, or how the protagonist does, you cannot make the reader know how the narrator speaks their lines, which is why Sol Stein observed: “In sum, if you want to improve your chances of publication, keep your story visible on stage and yourself mum.”

So open your story with story, not history. Don’t tell the reader that undefined people said undefined things because of undefined actions. If it matters, take Mark Twain’s advice to heart: “Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

Want us to know people are spreading stories that get back to Mom? Open with Mom confronting our protagonist about it. The fact that it happens is detail. How the protagonist responds is story. Fair is fair. Your protagonist is the star of the show. It’s their story, not yours. So let the character live his/her own life as we watch, instead of talking about what happened. Make the reader feel as if it's happening to them, as they read. We aren't reading to learn what happened, after all. We're reading for entertainment. And that takes a very different approach from informing the reader on the historical chronicle of events.

I say this a lot, I’m afraid, but here’s the deal: Writing fiction for the printed page requires a very different approach from telling the same story in person, or on the screen or stage, because our medium is so different. It precludes some things and mandates others. And if we’re not aware of that… If we don’t know the elements, for example, of what a publisher views as a well written scene, can we write one with any assurance that the one we submit the work to will lean back in their chair and say, “Hmmm…tell me more.”? No, we can’t.

Bear in mind that nothing I said about the lines you posted relates to your talent or potential as a writer. What I’m reacting to is matters of craft and presentation—the learned part of our profession. So if you’ve not dug into the specialized knowledge and tricks of the trade, some time spent digging it out would be a wise investment of time.

Sorry my news isn’t better, but…I through you would want to know.

Hang in there, and keep on writing. It keeps us off the streets at night.

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Mecopitch
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I know this might sound absurd, but I hadn't even thought of Old Mother Hubbard while writing.
I chose "Hubbard" as a last name because it sounded sufficiently stuffy for the type of family I was trying to portray.

I have a tendency to ignore the literature I know while I'm writing. There's no real correlation, even be accident.


Phil - I definitely agree. If you can imagine a combination of The Catcher in the Rye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and an antithetical version of Donald Miller's Blue like Jazz, this is what I feel I'm writing, thought not on purpose. The narrator is essentially looking back and providing commentary for his life's DVD Extras.

Side note, I could not stand Catcher in the Rye when I read it way back in 10th grade, I found Caufield to be a deplorable protagonist. I get it now.

Warren - Nostalgic is sort of what I was going for. Later on in the story, there are references to the time period in which this takes place, and the three people who have read my first chapter have both told me they love where they think it's going, identify with the narrator, and have told me to finish it.

Between their reactions and the good criticism I've received on this forum, it's safe to say that I have to finish. If you want to sent me a private message, I could send you some other portions. I'm not entirely comfortable sharing my entire work with "strangers" yet, but I'd be happy to have someone read through parts of this.


I'm also finding out that novels are incredibly daunting. This started out as an exercise. Now I'm at 24,000 words... 1/3 through my outline and first draft. Oops.

Ex - The discourse within the fragment reflects scenes that play out later. I guess I feel the tension created initially by the lack of respect he receives from the church's leadership, and the apparent abuses from his mother in the first few lines set up the attitude for the rest of the story.

The reader might expect to see injustice after injustice at the hands of both the narrators church and family. Or perhaps they'd expect a sort of coup against the leadership of his church, teaching them the true meaning of Christianity, etc.

I think the tension that sets in later in the story may better emphasize the scenes you're expecting at the beginning. It could be that my story should start with more impact, I'll see if there is a more organic way to make it happen than straight up narration.

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WarrenB
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Sure - will send you an email.
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extrinsic
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The texture what and why at the least do a constant of back story starts that thought and memory filtered narration wants, that is, upsets emotional equilibrium. Shy though, or altogether absent, when and where the introspection recollection context and how texture transpire. Who context given.

Does the narrator reflect at a library desk before a 1940 Underwood manual typewriter? In jail with pencil and paper? Locked down in a church basement with a laptop? On a beach with a smartphone? On a playground with an audio recorder? At home with an outdated desktop console? Spoken aloud to a transcriber or a direct address to implied readers or "real" campfire listeners?

Setting and milieu time, place, and situation context anchors develop characterization, too, and provide readers a stage set within which to construct a relatable and familiar, if exotic, scene in the mind's eye, so that thought expressions come from other than a mindless, headless, disembodied void. I default by default to a bathtub setting, stuck in a bathtub and contemplates the navel. Bathtub stuck equates to Henry James' goldfish in a fishbowl representation of human consciousness, viewable though inaccessible.

[ January 14, 2019, 04:43 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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