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Dazzlinkat
April 22nd, 2006, 01:06 PM
This is a short story I am still working on, part of which I had posted earlier. I have two versions of it one I intend to keep all in past tense, while the other will start in present tense, change to past tense, then return to present tense. Comments on these variants will be greatly appreciated. Also, feel free to breakout the hatchets and hammers and pummel it to your hearts content. I would love any and all critiques.

All in past tense:
http://www.sffworld.com/community/story/1470p0.html

Mixed tense:
http://www.sffworld.com/community/story/1438p0.html

warfitz45
April 22nd, 2006, 07:59 PM
First, what I thought I would do is post my thoughts to the first paragraph. Hopefully, the points I make there can be applied throughout the work (if you agree w/ them).

S&L:
Screams were as loud as the roar of flames, but both were drowned out by the rumbling thunder that sounded like wicked laughter.

CRIT:
This sentence reads passive to me. Try, "Rumbling thunder, sounding like wicked laughter, drowned out the roar of flames and screams of people."
What I'm trying to do is utilize only the words that you've given, but I think this sounds more imperative.

S&L:
No rain fell, and those outside were too desperate seeking safety to carry water.

CRIT:
Why are they carrying water? I can figure out that it's for the fire, but given your opening it took me several read throughs to understand this sentence. My concern is that you've opened this up with too much going on so that I'm trying to play catch up. For this past sentence, I think it needs adjusted for clarity to, "No rain fell. Those outside in the rain threw down their pails of water to seek their own safety.

S&L:
Inside burning buildings, people had to choose between burning in the flames or dodging the lightning that flashed down from the dark clouds above.

CRIT:
I actually think this would make a stronger opening to the whole paragraph. In this way, we'd be given the meat (the decision needing made) before the garnish (the description to increase our fear of the challenge). This one could use a rewrite utilizing stronger language but unlike the other ones, I can't get it right after a few tries on my part. Sorry that I can't help out more.

S&L:
Clouds which turned day into night and refused to let the smoke rise.

CRIT:
"Clouds turned day into night and refused to ..."


S&L:
Slowly, the smoke rolled to the edges of the city beyond the reach of the clouds where ii could finally make its escape.

CRIT:
Why is this important? How does it build the fear of the moment? This seems unnecessary to me.

The main area of concern I found was in using "weak" verbs. Find the sentences subject and focus on what that subject is doing. That should help continue you on the path! Excellent job sharing with everyone and willingly putting your work out for others to see. That, in and of itself, is quite an accomplishment that many "writers" fail at!

Warren

Dazzlinkat
April 22nd, 2006, 08:52 PM
Hi, Warren, and thanx !

First off, I know I have this passivity phrase problem and love of weak vebs. I think it started way back when I had an English teacher that always loved em :eek:

I like how you show me examples, too. It really really helps.

As for the smoke, I was trying to show that the smoke was a hindrance. Without it able to rise right away, it impairs the vision and can choke you. Hmmm. Will either have to expand on that or take it out :rolleyes:

Oh, I have no fear over 'exposing' my writing. I know I need help !! :D

Dawnstorm
April 23rd, 2006, 05:23 AM
1. I prefer the present tense version. It makes for a more interesting structure, with a present tense omniscient narrator for the frame, and a conventional past tense 3rd limited narrator for the narration proper.

2. I agree with warfitz, mostly. The language could need some tightening.

Example:


Screams are as loud as the roar of flames, but both are drowned out by the rumbling thunder that sounds like wicked laughter.

1. As has been pointed out: weak verbs.

-->

Screams as aloud as the roar of flames, but both drowned out by the rumbling thunder that sounds like wicked laughter.

2. Comparisons that involve the intellect too much for a vivid scene: "as loud as", "but", "that sounds like"...

-->

Screams as loud as the roar of flames, and [continuous flow rather than comparison] both drowned out by thunder rumbling like wicked laughter [through *introduce setting*; good opportunity to introduce setting - as the rumbling could use context; the re-arranging of adjective -> verb makes for a more active flow, and allows to get rid of the explicit comparison "souds like".]

3. Sometimes the "arrangement of ideas" is a bit of a mess; as if you're trying to say too much at once, but language would only let you say one after the other.

Example:


A hidden door through which come men dressed in black leathers, wielding long blades. Not one cares as all stepped over the body. The wicked thunder drums through their veins, thrilling them and commanding them. Eagerly, they obey as the promised time has come. The sun is blotted, unable to burn them as they march boldly into the chaos. No need for them to fear the lightning. All they encountered die, cleaved by the long blades.

The central point of the passage seems to be that the chaos is a "promised time", and that, as they feel it inside, too, they're in synch with the city; much like the lightning or the fire, they're a tool of destruction, and they don't have more sympathy than the lightning & fire, but they take pleasure in destruction.

As it is, you waver between specifics (arriving through the door, stepping over the body, killing) and generals (relating the promised time, stating their relationship to the havoc wrought). The result is a bit messy.

Suggestions: if you strengthen the interconnection of various sentences, instead of dangling against each other, the specific and the general can enhance each other.

"The wicked thunder drums through their veins" is a good example of this. Here, you have established a connection between outside and inside, through the rhythm of thunder/heartbeat (persumably they have hearts, if they have veins).

Since lightning and thunder share a semantic field, it might be a good idea to place the "no need to fear the lightning" after the thunder-sentence. Then, the "blotting of the sun" (which is a result of smoke, which in turn is a result of lightning induced fire); then the explanation: promised time etc.

But before this, you'll have to deal with the body. I don't think that simply asserting uncaringness cuts it, and the transition to their mission doesn't flow easily.

It could look something like this (in case I'm making little sense abstractly):

A hidden door through which come men dressed in black leathers, wielding long blades. A swift kick jolts the limp body out of the way. It comes to rest at a distorted angle, empty eyes staring at marching boots. The wicked thunder drums through the men's veins, thrilling them, commanding them. Lightning guided, prepared their path. Clouds and smoke blot the sun, protecting them from its lethal glare. The promised time has come: Eagerly, they obey the rhythm of destruction. All they encountered die, cleaved by their long blades.

Sorry for re-writing parts, but re-arranging ideas often necessitates re-writes. The point isn't the new words, or action or whatever I introduced, it's the new progression of ideas: Now it's:

1. Arrival scene including the boy's body.

2. Describing their situation taking their point of few by using list (1) thunder (2) lightning (3) clouds/smoke, and then explaining its significance (promised time has come).

3. Leading into their deeds (obeying, killing)

Sometimes, your ideas tumble onto the page like dice, rather than making their way through it like a river. Try to find them, see what you're trying to say, and re-arrange the single events/info according to a concept (what I've suggested as a logical progression of ideas, is just something I'd find easier to follow; there may be other possibilities; or I may have misunderstood the basics of the paragraph, so that another sequence might be more appropriate).

***

4.


Beyond the balcony, the dim lamps of the streetlights revealed the meandering weaves of the city streets below. Windows of homes and the occassional inn or tavern added their glows, making a beautiful view, but he never bothered to look.

I'm not sure about the narratorial situation, here. Does he consider such views beautiful, and normally he'd look, but not today, as he's distracted? Or does the narrator think it's a beautiful view, but the character doesn't really care.

"His hazel eyes saw only her..." seems to suggest the former, but maegre-characterisation in the intro hints at the latter.

Note, that it's not bad as it is; 3rd limited also affords the ability to tell what the character does not see, but could have seen had some aspect of his been different. And, sometimes, narratorial ambiguity can be a desired effect.

Most people probably won't notice, and while critique-me notices, I'm not sure reader-me has noticed.

5. Review your paragraphs in scenes that include dialogue. Current conventions say, that if after a piece of direct speech the focus shifts onto another character, a new paragraph should follow.

Example:


"I'm not sure," she frowned, "but I can feelt it." His heart jumped.

-->

"...it."

His...

6. You're using single quotation marks for thought. This is unusual.

There are three methods that are common:

* italics (with or without the words "he thought").
* normal quotation marks, with "he thought" being the only marker of thought (as opposed to speech)
* Transliteration (like reported speech; "he" instead of "I", tense changes to accomodate normal narration tense etc.) with no markers at all.

Example:


'How could she feel it? She is Scavior. Only the maerge could feel the drumming of the Trin ritual,' he thought.

How could she feel it? [he thought] [/i]She is Scavior...[/i]

"How... ...it?" he thought. "She..."

How could she feel it? She was Scavior. Only the maerge could feel the drumming of the Trin ritual.

The reason I placed "he thought" after the first sentence of the speech rather than at the end is that the reader will want to know that it's a thought straight away (single quot.marks will accomplish that after a while, but until then it's choppy reading, because readers aren't used to single quot.marks identifying thought yet).

***

7. Finally, there's one point where I disagree with warfitz. It's the sentence about "Clouds which..."

I think the which is important for language flow, here. Deleting the which results into a clumsy, instead of an emphatic repetition of "cloud":

Compare three versions:

"...from the dark clouds above. Clouds which turned day into night and refused to let the smoke rise."

"...from the dark clouds above. Clouds turned day into night and refused to let the smoke rise."

"...from the dark clouds above, which turned day into night and refused to let the smoke rise."

I don't think the version without the "which" works very well.

Dazzlinkat
April 23rd, 2006, 04:41 PM
Yay, one vote for present tense beginning thats 1:1 so far :D

Point 2) I agree with both of you. I really need to get a handle on that. I do have a question, though. Is the use of passive a major bad idea? Is it something I should focus on eliminating completely from my writing?

Point 3)

Sometimes the "arrangement of ideas" is a bit of a mess; as if you're trying to say too much at once, but language would only let you say one after the other.



Sometimes, your ideas tumble onto the page like dice, rather than making their way through it like a river.

Wow, that is exactly how this story is swirling in my head. Yes, I have an outline complete to the end but the details just pour out. Everytime I go to write it, everything just gushes out and its all I can do to write it down. I can really 'see' the whole story at once. Anyone ever have this problem?

Point 4)

I'm not sure about the narratorial situation, here. Does he consider such views beautiful, and normally he'd look, but not today, as he's distracted? Or does the narrator think it's a beautiful view, but the character doesn't really care.


Actually, I was setting it up as a beautiful view to Kira. I wanted the view to already be there so the focus wouldn't turn away from her own intro into the scene. Umm, does it work that way?


"His hazel eyes saw only her..." seems to suggest the former, but maegre-characterisation in the intro hints at the latter.


Wow. I am really glad you see this as a contrast to maerge behavior, as I am trying to portray him as very odd for a maerge. I was hoping to point this out by his behavior towards Kira, not neccessarily the view!! LOL. But it is cool you considered that. I will have to think deeper on how setting can influence perceptions of my chars (something I never really thought of before)

Point 5) That is good to know. I was paragraphing when the speaker and/or a non-speaker ACTION changed.

Point 6) I was planning on using italics but couldn't figure out how to get them in when I typed it. (Am a comp gimp :) )

Point 7) I think the third one you showed would work best there.

Dawnstorm many, many thanx for the critique.

Dawnstorm
April 24th, 2006, 01:09 AM
Point 2) I agree with both of you. I really need to get a handle on that. I do have a question, though. Is the use of passive a major bad idea? Is it something I should focus on eliminating completely from my writing?

I assume you're talking about "passive writing", instead of to the grammatical category of "passive voice" (where something's done to the subject of the sentence).

No, I don't think you should eliminate passive writing completely. But it's inappropriate when you're trying to draw in the reader. If want to them to step back from the story and consider some piece of information, however, it could well be appropriate. Add to that the uses I can't think of right now...


Wow, that is exactly how this story is swirling in my head. Yes, I have an outline complete to the end but the details just pour out. Everytime I go to write it, everything just gushes out and its all I can do to write it down. I can really 'see' the whole story at once. Anyone ever have this problem?

When this happens to me, it stops me cold. If I get too visual, the words don't come anymore. (Maybe I should do comics, but I have no talent at all for drawing...)

By trying to focus, I often get tunnel vision, though. The result is that often things happen mechanically; it's way to obvious where I'm heading to the point that it's implausible that it would happen that way.


Actually, I was setting it up as a beautiful view to Kira. I wanted the view to already be there so the focus wouldn't turn away from her own intro into the scene. Umm, does it work that way?

That's a question of point of view, or focalisation. Through whom does the story flow? Who's perspective does the reader attribute the words to? I read this scene as 3rd limited, as opposed to the opener which I think is an omniscient narrator talking. Let me go through this line by line:

The door opened.

Who notices that the door opens? Or is it the narrator? Hmm...

He stepped out onto the balcony,

Ah, a character is introduced. We don't know exactly who "he" is. Is "he" our PoV character? At that point it's not really clear, since people don't go around thinking "I'm stepping onto the balcony now". Even, if this is our point of view character, it's the narrator talking for him in pure description. If he is our point of view character, though, this has an interesting effect on the first sentence. Why "the door opened"; did it just swing open by a breeze? Was it jammed, and it opened at last? Maybe he isn't our PoV character, really, but somebody else is there noticing first the door opening, and then him stepping onto the balcony? Or it's still just the narrator talking.

the shadows deep, just after the sunset.

Hmm... now, this must either be "his" point of view, or the narrators. Whoever's out there wouldn't have their attention on the shadows, since s/he's been standing here all along.

At this point, I'm beginning to lean towards 3rd limited with "him" as the PoV-character...

Light from the lamps in the room shone out the windows and reflected off the silver skulls tooled around his belt.

...so that now I'm attributing this sentence to him noticing it.

Beyond the balcony, the dim lamps of the streetlights revealed the meandering weaves of the city streets below. Windows of homes and the occassional inn or tavern added their glows, making a beautiful view,

And again. The transition, using lights that reflect on silver skulls and city lights seem to simulate a "flow of attention" on his part.

but he never bothered to look.

Oh, I was wrong. Or at least not completely right. But since I, as the reader, am taking his point of view at that point, I'm tempted to think its the narrator noticing that he isn't noticing it. But that would mean that, normally, he'd notice. At that point I shifte the lever a bit towards "omniscient", though I'm still in 3rd limited (to him-mode).

His hazel eyes saw only her,

This supports my theory above. Basically, I'm getting to know "why" he doesn't bother to look. "hazel" wouldn't be determined by his attention structure; I doubt he'd reflect the colour of his eyes at that moment. A case of narratorial intrusion; but - again - just to give descriptive detail about him.



palms resting on the balcony's stony rail, her chestnut hair fluttering in the light breeze.

And that's what he sees, when he's looking at her.

Eyes half-closed, listening to pieces of music and voices drifting on the breeze, she didn't move.

Continued. "listening etc." could be her point of view; but given the way I'm reading right now, I'm more inclined to think of it as him watching her and drawing conclusions.

She knew he had come and simply waited.

Same. I tend to see this as his conclusions. But my attention is drawn to the narratorial situation; basically, I have my hands on the lever, ready to push it more firmly into 3rd omniscient territory.

In three strides he joined her, leaning on the rail, but his eyes still only on her.

The repeated use of "she listens/she knew" has me alert to her point of view, so that I see this from both points of views at the same time.

Later, though, when his inner thoughts (along with the voice) come on, I'm back firmly in his territory.

Now, most points of views in actual fiction waver a bit. That's not unusual, and not really a cause for worry. But, at the time of the view-description, the reader has not yet been alerted to "her" presence. When she's introduced, though, it's not too late yet for a reversal. ("Aha, so we've been in her PoV all along!") However, the way this scene goes on doesn't support this too much, and we're basically staying with him.

Point of view is one of the most complex issues in writing, really. There may be a workable reading I've missed. But that's the gist of it, the way I read it. Or, to be more accurate, the way I think I read it (because I'm working from memory, and display it way more analytically than it actually happened).

***

So that's it then. Keep writing. :)

Dazzlinkat
April 25th, 2006, 12:52 PM
Wow, Dawnstorm, thanx for that detailed POV explanation. It was very enlightening.

As for the keep writing part, dont worry. I already have more to add, but wont be adding it until this weekend. ;)

BrianC
April 25th, 2006, 03:15 PM
Dazzlinkat, the rule of thumb that I use for POV is to never shift between characters/narratorial voices in the same scene. At a minimum, if I want the same action depicted from the viewpoint of different "voices" (and there are many good reasons to do this, once in a while, but not overdo it), then I need a scene break. That, or start a new chapter. Trying to shift POV's intra-scene gets all kinds of underclothes all wadded-up; it sows confusion and ruins the flow of the plot.

Example, (of proper POV shifting in IMO) in my WIP I am at a point where I have a character following another character through a hilly wilderness. He is trying really hard to catch up with her. She does not really know he is following. It is night, and he--having very good eyesight--can see her from time to time crossing the hills ahead. But he also sees a deadly and horrific monster stalking between him and her. Redoubling his efforts to catch her before the monster can strike, he climbs to the top of the hill where he last had sight of her. There he finds a body on the ground in a pool of blood. End of chapter.

The next chapter begins from her point of view, just before setting out on her journey. It follows her experiences and thoughts as she travels through the wilderness, the why's and where's of it. The reader knows a lot about what is going to happen, but of course she does not. Then she encounters the monster, and only then does the reader find out that she killed the monster and that he found its body, not hers. End of chapter.

Trying to do all of that in one scene is impossible, if the reader is supposed to be able to follow the narrative, and very difficult to pull off in one chapter with scene breaks while preserving the built-up tension. (Trust me, by this point in the story the reader has no justification for assuming that major characters won't be killed off at random).

This kind of structure, having different POV's reveal different aspects of the same action is called interlacing. It is quite common in its simple form and can be very effective if handled carefully. It can take a deft hand to know just when to shift the POV and to what point in the action, whether to go back in time, or forward, and how far. Too much of this switching back and forth, among too many POV's, handled clumsily, can do a lot of harm to the coherence of the plot.

If you've ever read LOTR then you are familiar with a very complex and very effective interlacing, beginning with the break-up of the nine walkers at Ammoth Hen. Tolkien's interlacing lasted for all of Two Towers and a good bit of Return of the King, but effective interlacing can and is used for much shorter sections of writing. You can interlace a critical encounter between two or three characters, for example--letting the reader see the same action and dialogue from different POV's and giving the reader an insight as to why, later on, the characters act and react differently. The actual encounter, however, might have lasted only a few moments. A brief encounter may actually be best for POV shifting with only scene breaks, the (multiple) encounter(s) could be the whole subject of the chapter.

Interlacing is only one reason to shift POV's, however, and you may want to have a different voice take over without necessarily going over the same ground again. This is a simpler form of POV shift but still, IMO, you must use a scene break or chapter break to avoid chopping your reader's brain into mush.

Dazzlinkat
April 25th, 2006, 05:02 PM
Thanx, Brain C.

From what you said, do you feel the balcony scene is too much POV shift? I still feel the 'interlacing' adds to its intensity, but would like to hear what you think, and anyone else's ideas, too.

I must admit, POV of omni and 3rd limted and 'interlacing' hadn't been on my mind at all when I wrote it. I WAS focused on narrating and his thoughts and the voice as intencifiers and that is all I considered it as. Dawnstorm's dissection helped me better understand POV.

Narrative I always considered observed view. Kind of like the fly on the wall type of thing. This I now see is omniscient and they are the same.

Intensifying I considered the 'inner' view, or what can't be observed. This would seem to be part of 3rd limited.


Light from the lamps in the room shone out the windows and reflected off the silver skulls tooled around his belt.


Could also be seen as 3rd limited but I wrote it as narrative (omni) so there is a crossover, something I never considered.


She knew he had come and simply waited.

Here is one that could be three POVs in one. Omni, 3rd-him (his conclusion), and 3rd-her. Hmmm. I actually considered this an intensifier, as I delved into her reason for not moving, but now can see it as omniscient (narrative). Do such shared POV statements confuse a reader?

So, does the shifting between omniscient POV and 3rd limited-him POV weaken the scene?

Dawnstorm
April 25th, 2006, 07:04 PM
Narrative I always considered observed view. Kind of like the fly on the wall type of thing. This I now see is omniscient and they are the same.

Intensifying I considered the 'inner' view, or what can't be observed. This would seem to be part of 3rd limited.

No, you got the intensifying part right. An omniscient narrator does know the "inner view" (considering he's omniscient...). There is a specific PoV for "observable data only, no evaluation" called "camera eye view".

3rd limited is when you restrict your knowledge to what one character can know. It's currently a very popular format. Starting a scene with "he", without telling the reader who "he" is, is usually a hint that the story's going to take "his" PoV (an omniscient character has no reason not to use the name, or a description of the character, to tell the reader who the scene is about; if you limit your narrator to a character, though, this vital info can be omitted, because the character won't think of himself by name or description - there's very little narrative distance between the narrator and the character in question).

PoV has come up here (http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=12503&page=8). In post # 127 (on page 9) I link to another thread where I deal with concrete PoV-changes (one that works, and one that doesn't), and I also link to a site that treats the subject in detail (beware: I do mean in deatail). If you're really interested in PoV, you've got quite some reading material, there.

Else, just go the trial & error path, until you find a mode that suits you. Theory can be terribly confusing and hinder the actual writing. If you feel that happen, just stop thinking about it and write. ;)