Would love some thoughts on my the first 13 lines of my work in progress. It is a Young Adult mystery that will deal strongly with the effects of toxic relationships.
There was not just one choice that Samantha Chamberlain made that caused those tragic chain of events to occur. No, just one choice and she would still be here today. Instead it was the slow accumulation of seemingly little decisions that brings us to the stone covered hill. Everyone's head hanging low as they stand solemnly in black. No ones hung lower then Sam's boyfriend, Alex Thomas. As the ceremony ended, guests trickled away to their awaiting cars. Laura, Sydney, Cara, and Mackenzie, Sam’s closest friends, were huddled together waiting patiently while Laura fished her keys from her purse. As As he climbed into his Jeep, Alex glanced over towards the group of girls. Laura looked up at Alex, dropping her Kleenex back into her purse, all signs of grief gone, and winked at him before sliding behind the wheel.
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quote: There was not just one choice that Samantha Chamberlain made that caused those tragic chain of events to occur.
First problem: You're telling the reader what you're going to see for themselves if they read on. Why do that? They don't want an exposition and introduction by the author. They want story to begin with story—preferably, something that will make them say, "Hmmm...tell me more."
quote:Instead it was the slow accumulation of seemingly little decisions that brings us to the stone covered hill.
Third sentence and the story still hasn't begun because the autthor is still center-stage blocking the view of the scene.
As a minor matter, is a stone covered hill one that covered with cobblestones, or just lots of rocks? I know you mean tombstones, but only because I read ahead. But as they read, the reader has only the meaning the words to that point suggest, based on their background, not your intent. And since you've mentioned no funeral, or location, and since not all cemeteries have a hill...
Here's the thing: You're detailing the scene you visualize, thinking cinematically, and presenting it as a transcription of yourself telling the story aloud.
So you begin with the storyteller introducing the scene by first dropping in an introductory remark, then describing what they visualize happening.
You see everyone with bowed head (which is not the same as a head hanging low BTW). But you describe it, before you make the reader know they're at a funeral.
When you say they waited while she took out her keys, it's to give time for the sly look. But waited "patiently?" You just told the reader that Sam is an idiot who can't find her keys. Why? Because to remark that they had to be patient, she has to really fumble around. You need to think of the scene happening in real-time, and the reaction and intent of every character in the scene if it's to seem real.
Think about who the protagonist of the scene is. If it's Sam, she didn't see either Alex look over or see what Laura did in response. So who did? You're not in the story, or on the scene, so if you tell the reader what happened we're in your viewpoint, not hers, and there can be no sense of reality because we're with you, and you're not on the scene.
In short, you, the author, are focused on the plot events, and are explaining those events as a dispassionate outside observer, to a reader who can neither see nor hear your performance—which drains the life out of it. In person, you, the storyteller, would place the necessary emotion into the performance through how you tell the story. But on the page? Impossible. You can tell the reader how Sam speaks, but not how the narrator does. And for that reason, our profession has a set of skills very different from what we're given in our school days. There, we sharpen our nonfiction writing skills by writing reports, essays, and other nonfiction writing applications.
But our medium has constraints and mandates that preclude using either a storyteller's approach or nonfiction techniques. And, our goal differs, too. Where nonfiction writer informs, a fiction writer seeks to entertain the reader by giving them an emotional, not an informational experience. In a romance, for example, we don't tell the reader that our protagonist feels love. Because the protagonist is the reader's avatar, our goal is to make the reader fall in love, to feel fear and joy, and all the emotions the protagonist does, in parallel with our protagonist, and, in real-time. And that's a very different goal from informing the reader as to what's happening. It's also something our teachers never discussed or taught, because like any other profession, ours is learned after we master the traditional three R's. And that's a point that pretty much everyone misses, because our teachers, who learned their writing skills in the same classrooms never give us a hint that there is any other way of approaching the act of writing. So you have a lot of company
So...in looking at what you posted, it's not a matter of talent, or how well written it is. It's that to place your story in the best possible setting, you need to add a few tricks to your tool kit. As my favorite Mark Twain quote says, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
For all we know your picture will appear in the dictionary next to the term "writing talent." But till that talent is trained, it has nothing to work with. And it makes sense that to please the reader as the pros do, we need to know what they, and the publishers, view as a well written scene.
In other words: Like chicken soup for a cold, a bit of digging into the tricks of the trade sure couldn't hurt. The local library's fiction writing section has the views of pros in the publishing, writing, and teaching field. You may not always agree, but you know that the advice worked for them.
I know this was not only not what you expected, or hoped to see, and for that I'm sorry. But don't let it discourage you. It's a problem everyone faces. And I'm sorry this was so long. What can I say? I write novels, so I can't say hello in less than ten thousand words.
So have at it, and whatever you do, hang in there, and keep on writing.
Posts: 263 | Registered: Dec 2016
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Hi! I think your story sounds interesting. What grabs my attention is the end of the thirteen lines.
"As he climbed into his Jeep, Alex glanced over towards the group of girls. Laura looked up at Alex, dropping her Kleenex back into her purse, all signs of grief gone, and winked at him before sliding behind the wheel."
That's the point where I think something good could come of this. Before that, I'm mostly confused. The narrator voice is too strong in the first two sentences, like Jay said. I agree with the stone covered hill, I didn't know what that was. I forget too quickly who Sam is and then I don't know Alex because I don't even know Sam yet. It's like going to a party where you don't know anyone and everyone gets introduced at once and you're not even sure who the party is for. So I'm wondering who died, why Sam is there, or is she dead? My suggestion is to start off from sentence one deep in someone's POV, probably Alex. Let us see the funeral (if that's where you want to start) from his perspective.
Anyways, that being said, it sounds like there is probably a great story here. I felt like the last sentence would have made me interested enough to continue reading.
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I am not engaged as a reader. The opening three sentences are simply Prologue, similar to the Chorus in Shakespeare’s Henry V; heavy-handed narrator (writer) tell and intrusion. The fact is, rather than being a Prologue, it is the Epilogue to a life. But, who cares?
I know nothing about Samantha Chamberlain except she made bad choices. Who hasn’t? Why should I care? And now she’s on a stone covered hill. It took the next sentence for me to realise this is a euphemism for a cemetery. Euphemisms are great when they work. For me, this one didn’t.
The actual narrative starts with the fourth sentence and is essentially all narrator tell. It’s as if I’m standing on the next hill, far away, and watching people I don’t know gather around a grave. All I get is a list of names for people I know nothing about. Again, why should I care?
The only portion of the submitted fragment that elicits any interest for me is:
quote:Laura looked up at Alex, dropping her Kleenex back into her purse, all signs of grief gone, and winked at him before sliding behind the wheel.
But this doesn’t work as a stand-alone opening line. It needs a lot of set-up.
I am left wondering if this fragment is the precursor to a ‘flashback’ story. Sorry I can’t be more positive and I hope this helps somewhat.
An individual and a scenic social society event.
People and places is a "literary" prose topic, those and deep personal insights about relationships between people, places, and both at once. This novel has much promise for those regards, especially the concept of "toxic relationships." That is a term from once-upon-a-time-thought pseudoscience codependency theory derived from Alcoholics Anonymous tenets.
"Toxic" to mean codependent relationships between dysfunctional caretakers and enablers and the persistent cycles of enable, victimize, and persecute that drive and "justify" caretaker and enabler toxin uses for self-comfort purposes: alcohol, drugs, food, and other self-destructive behaviors, like sex addiction, extreme risk addiction, and gambling.
The fragment's narrative point of view is a traditional one of the Romanticism era: a narrator outsider filters and reports events and such direct to readers and expresses the strongest emotional and moral tone attitude of all a narrative's dramatic personae. That tactic places readers in closest alignment with a narrator rather than a viewpoint agonist or agonists. Creative nonfiction relies on that narrative point of view to a greater extent than another and is out of vogue for fiction at the present.
That narrative point of view combines narrator and viewpoint persona as one and somewhat closes otherwise detached narrator to a middle distance. Plus, this third-person narrative point of view is the most flexible of all of forty or so types, and affords ample, judicious novel-length narrative occasions for selective omniscience and selective omnipresence variants, ideally, not any selective omnipotence, though.
Not that the narrative point of view won't fly for today's readers; creative nonfiction performs stronger than fiction overall. Fiction that emulates that creative nonfiction "voice," yet is not personal essay, holds great potentials. Two facets of the form of significance are, one, narrative authentication; and two, narrator identity establishment. Each builds alignment rapport for readers.
Strong narrator tone is another fulsome method for the former, and the fragment's tone "goes there" to a degree, not quite all the way there due to shortfalls of over-leashed narrator attitude, narrative authentication, grammar errors, and inapt expression.
Narrative authentication is a method of vivid, lively description that promotes suspension of disbelief, from "telling detail" physical descriptions of event, setting, and characters, with subtext significance, that signal "this happens for real."
Narrator identity establishment orients more so around a narrator's subjective attitude that expresses personal and social sentiments, values, and beliefs, than actual appearances or actions thereof.
The first sentence, for example:
"There _was_ _not_ just one choice that Samantha Chamberlain _made_ that _caused_ _those_ tragic chain of events to occur."
Any negation statement for prose asserts a positive opposite: a litotes, a type of irony. Litotes is one of many irony types that expresses strong narrator attitude and identity and of substantive appeal promise, though, here, shy of setup and follow-through that affirms the irony. The next sentence confuses the irony, though is also a negation statement.
The larger rhetoric scheme on point is antithesis: generally, description of a circumstance by description of what it is not, a scheme of contraries. Antithesis involves three or more negation or self-contradiction statements prior to a positive statement that affirms the positive substance; there, too, the scheme is repetition, substitution, and amplification (auxesis, force increase).
Consider a clearer and stronger second negation statement and a third negation statement prior to the as is third sentence. Though this appears formulaic and uncomfortable at first, the timely, judicious leisure-lavish setup, delay, and follow-through sequence satisfies and appeals to inexperienced and experienced-reader expectations alike, and is of a strong and accessible ironic tone. Not to mention tension entrainment therefrom: tension setup, tension relief delay, and partial tension relief until a final, narrative end outcome full relief.
That first sentence also contains a gross grammar error, the pronoun "those" is a number error, plural, and the subsequent subject is singular, "tragic chain of events." Plus, the overall tense of the fragment leans toward simple present, and is inconsistent throughout, here, several past tense verbs.
"No, just one choice and she _would_ still be here today."
That sentence is nonsensical. If the intent is to express that one or several choices would make no difference, an authentic and valid facet of codependency, one large, overall mistake, and numerous little mistakes, the sentence wants another word -- an adverb -- and a comma. Plus, an unnecessary and inconsistent tense shift, "would," future present tense, though a perhaps artful and apt subjunctive mood expression.
Or if the intent is to express that Sam's one choice was attend the graveside service or skip it, and she would realize her social obligation and attend anyway, a clearer sentence is still wanted.
//No, just one bad choice, really, and she is here today anyway.//
"Instead[,] it was the slow accumulation of seemingly little decisions that brings _us_ to the stone[-]covered hill."
Conjunctive adverb "instead" wants comma separation; that emphasizes contrast and narrator attitude. Plus, //stone-covered// compound noun-gerund adjective wants the hyphen.
Agreed that "stone" misses occasion to provide an essential detail, plus "covered" implies an entire hill, top to bottom and all around is stone. //headstone-topped//
"us" Oh ho! First-person plural grammar person overall? If so, that harkens to William Thackeray Makepeace's Vanity Fair, a conspiratorial high-brow society "we," and William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," a conspiratorial "we" town gossips. Apt, if earned by strong and clear attitude, and that it evokes narrator-reader rapport. Two glyphs, one word, and a potent potential -- a timely and judicious plural first-person pronoun repetition follow-through would show the pronoun is other than haphazard happenstance. First-person plural's prose strength is that removed outsider "we" conspiratorial motion portraits of specimens appeal.
"Everyone's head _hanging_ low _as_ they stand solemnly in black."
That run-on sentence fragment contains a tense error and a dangled participle, due to the misused conjunction "as."
Apt syntax is:
//Everyone's head hanging low, they stand solemnly in black.//
Or for greater effect and aptness:
//Everyone's head hangs low, and they stand solemnly in black.//
//Everyone's heads hang low. They stand draped in solemn black.//
"No one[']s _hung_ lower _then_ Sam's boyfriend_,_ Alex Thomas."
Possessive apostrophe missed; inconsistent tense shift from overall, thus far, simple present to simple past; adverb use error, "then" mistaken for comparative preposition //than//; a stray comma. If an antecedent subject complement is definite, then no comma separation between it and a main subject.
//No one's hangs lower than Sam's boyfriend Alex Thomas.//
"_As_ the ceremony _ended_, _guests_ _trickled_ away to their _awaiting_ cars.//
Another misused "as." The conjunction is for correlative uses in prose, correlates otherwise unrelated ideas, to express and emphasize the correlative relationship, one subordinate, one main. The conjunction is unnecessary in any case, and causes another run-on. The overall idea, of course, is that the ceremony waned and, before the utter end, some mourners trickled away.
"ended" and "trickled" are unnecessary tense shifts.
"guests"? Huh? Mourners maybe, or bereaved or bereft. "guests" implies a festive occasion.
"awaiting" is on the sophisticated and affected side of apt. The use is valid, though "waiting" is more apt, though either are unnecessary and, here, unearned gerund adjectives. So what that the cars await their passengers?
And this is an occasion missed to amplify tone attitude.
//The maudlin rites wind down. Bereaved say goodbyes, so long, see you in the next life, and condolences to next of kin. Mourners trickle away to their cars.//
"_Laura, Sydney, Cara, and Mackenzie_, Sam’s closest friends, _were_ huddled together[,] waiting patiently -while- Laura _fished_ her keys from her purse."
Sudden population explosion. No clue given until the sentence end that the group stands at Sam's car, and not much of clue at that. Tense shift. Apt time correlative conjunction "while," though what part of the sentence is the main and emphatic idea, if any, is lost among the muddle. Also, "waiting patiently" misses occasion for dramatic action description and maybe dialogue. Four "marble" statutes, and a young woman fiddles in her purse?
If dialogue, the best friends could say final condolences en masse. For dramatic emphasis, they might express a miasma of upbeat and downbeat trite bereavement comments. Likewise, Sam's awkward, or whatever, dramatic and natural key action other than "fishing." Is she bereft or otherwise? Say, she's defensive about outside perceptions the death was her blame, part at least. This is an occasion to show her true sentiments.
"As _As_ he _climbed_ into his Jeep, Alex _glanced_ over towards the group of girls."
Duplicated word "As" and another conjunction misuse. Unnecessary tense shifts. And a lackluster description. Maybe a dialect mistake, "towards" (British variant) or "toward" (U.S. variant), though U.S. uses vary by regions and individual and cohort idiolects.
Multiple conjunction words signal forced correlations and connections and relationships between plural ideas. Prose wants distinct idea separation. If ideas are of a close relationship, then maybe joins are wanted. And more is wanted than that a persona performs two distinct actions, that each is earned, dramatic, that is.
So what if some random boyfriend climbs into a Jeep and looks at girls? Can he do both at the same simultaneous instant? Irrespective of if he can, without a clumsy action, such ideas are best practice written as sequential and contemporaneous, and fraught with dramatic emphasis and impetus.
"Laura _looked_ up at Alex, _dropping_ her Kleenex back into her purse, all signs of grief _gone_, and _winked_ at him before _sliding_ behind the wheel."
Multiple and jumbled tense sequence shifts. If necessary and earned, tense shifts best practice progress in temporal order. The above tense sequence is past, present progressive, past, past, present progressive predicate verbs. Plus, now a second and third lackluster visual description of "glance at," "look at," and "wink at." Lustrous, vivid, and dramatic visual sensation descriptions are more than the eyes-to-eyes pregnant glares here.
Recast for sequential action and clarity and strength demonstration:
//Laura looks up at Alex, drops the Kleenex back into her purse, lapses all signs of grief, winks at him, and slides behind the wheel.//
At the last, regardless, the first cue Laura is untrue and the apt dramatic central point of the fragment, and yet still a lackluster tone that the fragment and its narrative point of view otherwise promises and doesn't deliver fulsomely.
Overall, to me, the fragment withholds that the scene is a graveside service, artless, at least, if intended. Or a shortage of imagination inventory for the scene's full realization. Or a rushed and forced setup for the "wink" payoff.
"Microwaving the soufflé. A tendency to rush past important setup material in the author’s haste to get to the payoff. Generally leaves the reader feeling frustrated on two counts: (1) the setup, being rushed, is uninteresting, and (2) the payoff, being insufficiently set up, is not earned. (CSFW: David Smith)"
All the above considered, I could not read further as an engaged reader, albeit, the potentials for a strong narrator attitude, report-type narrative point of view give me pause for expectations fulfilled and possible writer "stretch" considerations.
Also from the Glossary:
"Dare to be stupid. An exhortation by a critic to an author whom the critic thinks is not stretching enough. Authors grow by daring to write bolder, more imaginative, more personal, or more emotionally powerful situations and confrontations. Since writing that stretches is by definition unpracticed, the result may be rougher than a less ambitious effort. The author must trust the critics to recognize the stretch and help the author build or expand his talents. (CSFW: Steve Popkes)"
Hmm. I think it's "one's". I don't like introducing her as Samantha and then changing to Sam.
If this is a story about Sam's choices and what happened to her, I don't want to know the ending before I start. I know the pressure to have an interesting first line, I am just saying what I like as reader.
If it's not about Samantha, then, like satate said, the last line is interesting and you're focusing your start too much on Sam.
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