We'll discuss the first 13 lines up to Wednesday, and after everyone has had a crack at them, we'll cover whatever other aspects of the story strikes your fancy.
Homeless in Hell, by Orson Scott Card:
If you don't get into heaven, you go to hell, right? That's what I'd always been taught. Heaven is Harvard, and hell a county technical college. If you finished high school, they've got to take you. Except that with hell, dying is the only diploma you're supposed to need.
I read those near-death-experience books, where they talked about how "the light" was full of warmth and love. Well, it was nice, but it sort of sets you up for disappointment, because when you're really dead and not just straying in there by accident, you get past that feel-good stage and suddenly you're at the light, and either it sucks you in or it shunts you away, like a magnet, and it all depends on how you're polarized.
Doubt I will have time to read the story. I am arriving home for the first time in five weeks tomorrow, just in time to deal with a flood in my basement -- five inches deep. (and my wife is a pack-rat). But I will comment on the first 13.
I have read only one OSC story (Ender's Game) so you can consider that I am not an Orson homer. I must say this opening is one hell of a hook in my opinion. It is only because of the flood I won't be reading it but man am I interested in the premise,
Yes, this is a heck of a hook. He starts by taking concepts we're all familiar with, heaven and hell and 'the light, and turns them on end. Well, he at least turns them cattywampus enough to make me wonder where this is going to go.
In fact, he relies heavily on shared experience here. The college references, the book on 'near death' experiences and of course, heaven and hell. If someone was from a culture where these weren't familiar it wouldn't have nearly the power. I'm sure they would get the gist of things but part of why this works is the familiarity of the concepts.
It's also interesting that the hard core hook is right at the end of the first thirteen. My understanding is that we focus on the first thirteen because that may be all that an editor reads on the first page of a manuscript. But OSC certainly doesn't have to worry about getting out of the slush pile. Do you think this was intentional or is this just how the story flowed? Did he set it up as an example to us of how to do it right?
Teraen, thanks for picking this up. I was thinking of doing it but it was just too busy at work for me to get any internet time in and the next thing I looked you had posted. So thank you.
snapper, if you can find a few minutes on the upper deck of the ark this is a great read. Sorry to hear about your flood.
Holiday distractions are keeping me from wrapping my head around this story's and its thirteen. Might I suggest we hold it over an extra week so it gets reflection and comment time it'll otherwise miss?
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An extra week sounds good, though I read the story as soon as it was posted. Great hook!
About the first thirteen:
I also noticed the hook came at exactly 13 lines, which seems appropriate. Maybe it's just second nature for him now?
I also agree about the shared experiences. (Apparently I'm very agreable today) It occured to me while reading the 26 monkeys story earlier that a lot was left unsaid, relying on the readers shared experiences, with only a few things really described in detail. The same is true here with the universities and "the light", even the street and the bouncer further into the story. (oops, not the first 13 anymore, sorry!)
I'm starting to think that is part of the key to writing really great short fiction. Concentrate the words where you need them, leave everything else to the reader's assumptions.
Interestingly enough, I found that he included all four aspects of the MICE ideas within the first thirteen. I usually have problems getting one of the four, and he got all four!
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A great title in "Homeless in Hell" that starts the opening rolling on a complication. Homelessness is hell, hell is hell on steroids. Cast out, unwanted even in hell. Sublime.
Teraen already noted MICE characteristics are identified in the introduction. Second person indirect address in the impersonal pronoun use of you, reflexive second person address to the self of the narrator. Further complication or building complication added onto the title complication. The thirteen suggests an internal and external conflict exploring good and evil, what the narrator's experience with mortality in the hereafter will be like, and a life- (after death) defining conflict to address. The strongest line that engages me is "Except that with hell, dying is the only diploma you're supposed to need."
Before week's end of the two-week run for "Homeless in Hell" I thought I'd get into when the climax of the story occurs. I use three criteria to discern a climax moment; when the opposition of forces are at their greatest opposition, when the outcome of the story is most in doubt, and when all salient detail is known.
Decidely a conflict resolution story, Homeless opens in the very title with the conflict, acceptance or rejection. Rejection is heavily weighted, then revealed in all its part as pertains to the story. Seeking acceptance in hell, failing, wandering, seeking some kind of acceptance anchor in a homeless purgatory state, the unnamed protagonist encounters Santa in hell's nether outsider circles. Finding any kind acceptance must be earned by the unnamed protagonist. The outcome that he finds is some kind of acceptance, internally and externally.
The three criteria coincide in the line "This voice, so soft, so kind, and all it says is, 'Whatever you do for the least of my little ones, you've done it for me.'" All salient details are known, outcome less in doubt, and opposition of forces declines after that.
The inciting crisis falls when the protagonist finds he can't get into the inner circles of hell. The tragic crisis falls when he confronts the light for not accepting Santa. And the resolving crisis comes when the protagonist realizes that being homeless in hell isn't what it seems. He's accepted in the larger scheme of things, and more importantly he's accommodated to accepting himself. He's unequivocably, irreversibly transformed by a revelation of self-identification.
I'm stumping for anything by K.D. Wentworth for insight into the creative mind of an author who's the coordinating judge of the WOTF contest. "The Gender Plague" is available at DayBreak Magazine, not an SFWA qualifying market though.
About halfway down the page, after several other stories;
I love this idea, and I hope it hasn't died a premature death from lack of one additional voice--I'm ALMOST done editing, and then I would love to participate!
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