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Author Topic: Story Opening Masterclass 01
Grumpy old guy
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A little girl is dying; make me cry in only two sentences.

I am the sole arbiter of who wins and no correspondence will be entered into.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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Amy shrieked as the frozen skin of the pond shattered beneath her. She scrambled to slow her plunge into the frigid darkness, but her coat and snowsuit pulled her down.
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extrinsic
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Dad refuses talk about his sister, the one near his age when they were children. He knows she drowned in the lake at the neighborhood park soon after their mother untimely died of a heart attack and denies -- if he knew, though older siblings do -- to accept why.
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JSchuler
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Twelve candles stood on the cake, never to be lit.
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wcoditwgth
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Heufester needed no orders, only fanatical commitment. Streams of grief and religious joy rippling down his normally implacable, pock-marked face, he grabbed the lit torch offered to him and ,with nary a bit of hesitation, threw it onto the pier where his youngest daughter stood.
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Grumpy old guy
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Interesting responses so far; it seems everyone has a different understanding of what "A little girl is dying; make me cry in only two sentences." is actually asking for.

This is intended as an exercise in using setting and situation to encourage the reader to make up the story themselves. The writer's task is to 'evoke' the required setting, situation, and sentiment with as few words as possible--hence the two sentence limit.

None of you have even gotten me close to a sniffle yet, let alone a tear. The closest so far would be Disgruntled Peony, however, that's simply recounting the moment Amy fell through the ice--the outcome still in the balance. The original premise is "A little girl is dying." The task is to make me cry because she is dying.

Would anyone care to try again?

Phil.

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JSchuler
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The little girl who is dying faints and hits Grumpy old guy in the nose on her way down. Grumpy cries.
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Grumpy old guy
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[Eek!]

Phil.

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wcoditwgth
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Anna gave her never-ending love, boundless energy, and limitless hope to her girl, her mutant love child, all for naught. Coughing up red fluid onto the chains wrapped around her, Anna could only watch as the life she had helped bring into the world sink beneath the icy waters of the birthing pool.

I have to say, using only two sentences is a difficult exercise. I keep writing three or more sentences instead of the prescribed two. Bad habits I guess. This exercise is definitely making my brain twirl.

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Grumpy old guy
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Now that's getting there wcoditwgth. You've made it about a part of the human condition: a parents love for their child and the acute pain of losing them.

If it didn't hurt your brain it wouldn't be much of an exercise in learning.

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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My turn:

Of all the members of her family gathered around her hospital bed, Karen's attention was focused solely on the tiny, much-loved teddy-bear she had clutched against her cheek. Closing her eyes, she turned her head and whispered her last breath into the soft small ear near her mouth, "Look after mommy when I'm gone, Mister Perkins."

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Two sentences, even if long loose sentences, to develop a preparation, suspension, resolution sequence suitable to evoke an emotionally charged scene -- I'm more long legged word count-wise, for essential preparation and suspension segments at least; and the resolution segment, even if for an opening's tension development sequence, is what the exercise asks for.

Barbed wire, rusty nail-studded boards, emptied chemical jugs -- limbs at unnatural angles, their little broken and poisoned bodies lay tangled in the collapsed, now excavated by our menfolk, barn trash dump. "Never mind, Mommy," twins Missus and Megan said, as like hoarse whispers floated from across a grand chasm, "we don't hurt much no more."

[ July 20, 2015, 12:47 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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"Oh god, I didn't mean to, Amy--I didn't mean to." The shotgun slipped from Andrew's fingers as he scooped his bewildered sister into his arms.
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Grumpy old guy
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If no one else wants to participate, I'll announce the winner and an honorable mention about this time tomorrow.

If there are any laggards in the wings, speak up soon.

Phil.

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wetwilly
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I'm a laggard in the wings. Here's my attempt:

After four nights of listening to his littlest daughter's labored breathing and hacking cough all night long, James thought he would rather hear any other sound in the world. When he jumped awake in the middle of the night to absolute silence coming from her room across the hall, though, he prayed to hear that pathetic little wheeze again.

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Grumpy old guy
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Thanks wetwilly, now you've buggered up my trophy count [Smile] . I need a re-think 'cos that one's good.

If nothing else happens, I'll let youse all know my answer in about 12 hours--I need to sleep on it.

Phil.

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wetwilly
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Sorry, Phil.
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Grumpy old guy
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While you all sit and nervously bite your nails waiting for the drum roll and announcement, here's something to ponder:

This was the first in a series of exercises that I intend to offer you which will, I hope, bend and twist your mind out of its current plodding [Smile] ways. All of these exercises will be asking you to write stuff, for the most part, and places a limit of two sentences on the amount you can write. Note: extrinsic had an exercise in writing a coherent sentence containing 100 words or more; that will not be acceptable in these exercises.

Why only two sentences? In analysing my purchasing patterns I realised that my decision to buy a book was based on the first sentence; muck it up and you’ve lost me, a few minor hiccoughs and I may, I repeat, may, read the second sentence. If you haven’t got me by then I’m off. So part of these exercises is to focus your mind on those very first two sentences.

Why was I so specific in this exercise: A little girl is dying, make me cry. The answer is simple: a lot of times I read critiques of first thirteens where every man and his dog is saying, “Make me care about the character!” From the results, disappointingly small though the sample is, it appears it isn’t easy to make a reader care about a character. Is it?

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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Of course it isn't easy to make people care about characters in the first two sentences of a story. If it were, everyone and their mother would do it. [Razz]

I usually try more for intrigue than anything else, personally, because curiosity is what drives me to read further. I also have a personal preference for economy of words, for better or worse.

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extrinsic
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Not easy to evoke empathy of sympathy in two non-loose sentences. "Loose sentence" is a term for a long complex-compound sentence. Long sentence starts can alienate on their own, despite content. Likewise, a long sentence can propel readers forward, the sheer force of a long sentence's fluency enough by itself to hold reader attention. General readers, though, learn in grammar school long sentences are unsuitable and reject them out of hand. An artfully crafted long sentence, though, speaks for itself.

What are the requirements for evoking emotional rapport between reader, character, and narrative then? Rust Hills offers: forehadowing by setting description, by symbol (or emblem), by parallelism, by chronological inversion, by dynamic dialogue, by "sequentiality," by theme, by choric devices (song or oration-like introductory content), by "aftershadowing" (a repetition scheme that repeats, substitutes for, and amplifies a previous foreshadowing motif), and suspense; puzzle, mystery, curiosity, mystique; conflict and uncertainty, and tension and anticipation's preparation, suspension, and resolution sequences, not to mention irony in its infinite glory, and all the former to varied degrees. A lot for two sentences, anyway.

Readers are more able to align with a narrative, a start evocation of emotional response, through antagonal events than through settings or characters. Events take place in settings to characters, though. Even two sentences is space enough for event, setting, and character development such that they evoke emotional rapport.

Starts entail and require numerous features, emotional evocation most of all, that two sentences cannot hope to fulfill adequately, effective exceptions notwithstood. Ernest Hemingway's micro fiction: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." As much as a quarter of a narrative's word count is available for full emotional evocation realization. One or two sentences, otherwise, need only begin emotional evocation.

For me, though, first sentences need only not disturb the fiction dream. Clumsy grammar, rhetoric, style, content and organization, discourse, and appeal of a whole are easily signaled and discerned by but one first word or first sentence anyway, maybe even by a title's lackluster evocation. Clumsiness is a put-it-down for me. Static voice, tell lecture, for one, is for me a first-order lost reader.

One of the headier challenges for this exercise's rubric and prompt of a dying child is that is on its surface an outcome, not a start. If a dying child is a start, and the outcome and conflict is life and death, the length of the whole must by necessity be brief. The middle suspension segment could be extended at length though only so much brief length until a resolution segment end must emerge. Although, that start type begins as near the middle or end of an action as practical, a useful point Edgar Allan Poe suggests about short fiction. "The Cask of Amontillado," for example, could be interpreted as a single act, the denouement act end and outcome of a longer action. Preparation, suspension, and resolution sequencing, though, three discernible parts nonetheless.

[ July 23, 2015, 12:37 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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“Make me care about the character!” From the results, disappointingly small though the sample is, it appears it isn’t easy to make a reader care about a character. Is it?

"Make me care" and "make me cry" are as distinct and far apart as "jump over the fence" and "fly to the moon."

Ernest Hemingway's micro fiction:
Nope. Urban Legend. Hemingway had nothing to do with that. Besides, you didn't like the one entry here that used that as a model. [Razz]

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extrinsic
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Sure, one view is Isaac Asimov's apocryphal attribution of Hemingway's napkin-scribbled missive. Other views abound. The attribution, valid or otherwise, stands large in culture consensus, legendary, gossip, rumor, fact, or not.

I noted the similarity between JSculer's entry and that legendary micro fiction right away. I made no comment about like or dislike for it. Not for validity of attribution, only offered the micro tale as evidence of a very brief, one sentence narrative of potential, if mostly implied, emotional evocation.

Here's one from an acquaintance, briefer yet: "Never mind my scars." How brief is too brief? For titles, brief is probably memorable and thus potentially preferable. For narratives' body content, brief is probably undesirable, except anecdote, sketch, and vignette, probably metafiction too. Drama briefs, like Poe's, start as near to the end of an action as reasonable.

[ July 23, 2015, 12:35 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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Apologies, extrinsic. Somehow in writing the response, I got yours mixed up with Grumpy's. Sigh...
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AndrewR
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quote:
Hemingway had nothing to do with that.
But what about Hemingway's rough drafts? [Confused]

(This probably won't make GOG cry, but it's sure to make him groan. [Big Grin] )

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Grumpy old guy
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Apologies for the delay; I had a late night and a sleep-in before work.

Disgruntled Peony was leading the race despite my belief the submission would have been stronger if the sentence order was reversed. Never start a story with a quotation mark. However, Disgruntled Peony, you were pipped at the post by the late starter, wetwilly. So, an Honorable Mention for your effort.

wetwilly, what can I say? Rushed and disorganised though the fragment is, and it needs editing for better effect, your entry is full of possibilities for future development. Has the daughter died, simply gone to seep, or what? And, the emotional guilt that is at the heart of it is, I think, something all of us can relate to. So, as a purely subjective choice by me, wetwilly, I grant you the gold star and an elephant stamp for your effort.

What I do find interesting is that all submissions (apart from mine) chose a viewpoint character that wasn't the dying girl. I wonder why.

Phil.

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wetwilly
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Thanks, Phil. I agree that my sloppy sentences need a lot of housekeeping.

I also really liked Peony's shotgun entry. It gets quickly to the emotional heart of the matter. JSchuler's 12 candles entry was also quite good, I thought, because of how efficiently it implied events (I also immediately thought of the microfiction that Hemingway may or may not have written).

I chose a father of young girls as my viewpoint character because, well, I'm a father of young girls, and for me, that was the emotional connection to the prompt. The part of the tragedy that spoke to me was the father being scared that his daughter had died.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Never start a story with a quotation mark.

Hunh. That is the first time I ever heard that one. You're definitely right in this case, though. The sentences would be stronger if I reversed them. I wouldn't have realized it if you hadn't pointed this out.

The reason I chose a different perspective for my second try was primarily due to the emotions I was trying to invoke with the scene (not just sadness, but guilt). Amy would have been in shock from the fresh gunshot wound, and therefore would have felt little to no pain. For Andrew, though, there is the raw emotional wound of having just shot his sister. If I'd continued the scene, Amy would totally have tried to convince him this wasn't his fault.

Upon further reflection, there's also the fact that while I've never been dying I do know what it's like to have someone close to me dying.

Congrats, wetwilly! [Smile]

[ July 24, 2015, 08:06 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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Grumpy old guy
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The quote is from Damon Knight in his book Creating Short Fiction. A book highly recommended by me--and extrinsic.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
The quote is from Damon Knight in his book Creating Short Fiction. A book highly recommended by me--and extrinsic.

Phil.

I'm planning to buy both that and the book Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury recommended. My husband and I just haven't had the spare money to pick them up yet.
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extrinsic
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Grumpy old guy's is as much narrator voice and perspective as each other one, except wetwilly's somewhat: detached objective third person narrators except for my two; detached, objective first person narrators. wetwilly's, though, signals somewhat subjective character voice and viewpoint of a parent, though tagged indirect thought: "James thought" and "he prayed," paraphrase sentences. Paraphrase indirect is usually more open distance than verbatim direct, and is narrator or narrator-like summary or explanation lecture. wetwilly's does to a degree, though, partially report verbatim the father's subjective received reflection of and response to events -- partially show and partially tell.

For each, the children are subjective characters. Each has different influence parameters, none overtly influence characters, per se, though clear agencies.

Objective to mean observer, as like a camera lens is an objective. Subjective to mean subject of observation.

wetwilly's father character is a degree subjective, self-reflexively, introspectively, as response to observed (objective) aural stimuli of the subjective child's labored breath and coughs, though the child is also influence-like character agency acting upon the father objective. The labored breath and cough are the direct influence agents, scene object motifs, so to speak; the child is the proximal influence.

Narrative point of view, a narrator's perspective is natural and instinctive, sometimes chosen, based upon the objective-subjective-influence character interrelationship. For each entry, that choice lends an artful ambiguity of doubt to whether the children will die or will survive.

Not to mention, the added challenges of, if a single viewpoint character dies, who then tells the story after the fact of the action? Narrator, obviously, though a viewpoint character who dies could be suitable for narrative that unfolds as if real-time now moment, place, and situation action. Some setup, though, needs to be pre-positioned for if a narrator aftermath report is needed after the death end.

For genuine child focal viewpoint, a few possible devices serve, narrator context and texture, specifically. Like wetwilly's, perhaps tagged or clearly untagged indirect thought and speech, or, more artfully, free or tagged direct discourse of a child. Another method is tropes and schemes that clearly signal the discourse of a child, metalepsis, metonymy, synecdoche, metaphor, and simile, for examples. Like "seep" is a delightful metalepsis if taken to mean sleep, though pronounced child-like "seep." Exquisite metalepsis. Say, the child describes the assembled adults as subjective characters, plus possibly influence characters, as received reflections from the sensory perceptions and reactions of the child objective character.

Silly tears ran from Mommy's eyes. Clearly first-person child viewpoint of a visual sensation, for example. Then a dialogue line could follow as response, possibly after an interposed suspension segment to develop anticipation. A free direct thought possibly. Setup of objective viewpoint is as essential as setup of narrative point of view.

[ July 24, 2015, 12:49 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I thought I would take this opportunity to comment on JSchuler's contribution.
quote:
Twelve candles stood on the cake, never to be lit.
While such micro-fiction can be poignant, it runs the very real risk of being rendered either trite or farcical. For example:

Parachute for sale: Used once, never opened.

A reader may imagine the novice skydiver jumping out of the plane, waiting for the sudden jerk of the opening parachute only to have it never come. That reader may be able to vividly imagine the thoughts and fears of the skydiver as they plummet earthward, their attention focused on a single piece of ground that is rushing toward them. Or they may be reminded of an Irish joke, and all sympathy and empathy dissipates.

The problem as I see it with micro-fiction is there is no real connection to, or identification with, the object of the moment.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Upon reflection, I've now noted a singular distinction for wetwilly's entry; that is, the fragment leaves its resolution segment open -- unresolved. The others imply or establish tension resolution too patly for further reader anticipation and empathy and curiosity development beyond their four corners, for page turning engagements. Mine included. Let's see what the second story opening session holds.
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