View Full Version : Critique: first post, first short story
July 14th, 2007, 08:53 AM
found this site after a random search on book length, if I remember correctly... trying my hand at writing, did some a few years back (just for fun) but decided to get back into it.
read through most of the stuff on the site, thought it's time to get involved. So here's my first story that I would class as anywhere remotely near readable, and I would appreciate a few comments on it.
As the summary says, it's set it a world that I'm attempting to write a novel about, so there's a few things left to mystery. not sure if that will help or hinder the short story itself.
Be as mean as you like, once I get over the initial despair I'll take in every piece of advice. :)
July 15th, 2007, 10:44 AM
Hi Mark...nice to have you here, and welcome. :)
This has the feel to me of a novel chapter, or part of a chapter, rather than a short story. There's no concise end to me. Now, I don't necessarily believe that all short stories need concise endings (most of mine don't), but yours has the feeling of one that does. I know that you've used a cyclic beginning and end, but I think it might be a pointless one. I feel as if the story has just stopped in the middle.
Your character goes through somewhat dire events, finds himself briefly triumphant (finding the room with his mother), then thrown down again and then - it ends. I found myself thinking 'I wonder what happens in the next instalment/chapter/part'. It's a huge step to consider restructuring your entire story, but I feel you may have to in order to shape a successful tale.
Next issue: Honestly, this has the feeling of the Matrix, Demolition Man, Equilibrium, Minority Report and any other futiristic-possibly-with-alien-life movie you care to name. While I feel the idea might not be so original, you are writing cinematically. I feel you might be doing that unconciously, so it could be a good technique to practice and explore: My core value when it comes to writing prose is writing with your first voice - the one that comes most naturally. Perhaps your first voice is a cinematic one. Something to think on.
Now, the most important issue to me is your tendency to do two things: info-dump, and tell-not-show, the two wicked cousins of writing. Not sure how familiar with these things you are - I know that new writers can find it hard to wrap their heads around the concept, so bear with me as I babble on.
Here's how I see tale-telling:
We, the writers, create a frame. A broad frame packed with events, plot, character, themes, scenery and all those things that go into story. However, we let the reader fill in the picture, the little things. It's important to let the reader breathe, and make a journey out of the story they're involved in. You don't just want to speak at your audience, and tell them what's going on - you want to involve them, make them part of the story, show them what's happening, let them create pictures and details to go into the frame you've made.
Sometimes, as authors, it can be hard to be objective and recognise when we are telling-not-showing.
So - here's some examples of both from one of your initial paragraphs:
'Daniel craned his neck to look around the room, discovering a new ache while he did so. The dull glow from the light didn't illuminate the dark corners of the small room, giving Daniel a slightly oppressive claustrophobic feeling. A single window high in the far wall let in the faint starlight of the night. While it wasn't barred, Daniel definitely got the impression that he was in a cell'.
Here, you've told us:
that Daniel discovers an ache
that the light didn't reach the corners
that he has an impression of a cell
In amongst these you have a nice example of 'showing' though:
A single window high in the far wall let in the faint starlight of the night
In this context, though, 'starlight of the night is tautological - saying the same thing twice if you don't already know - as we only get starlight at night. That can easily be remedied by changing it to something like: 'A single window high in the wall let in faint starlight'. You don't really need the 'far' as we as readers can assume it will be a window he can easily see from his tied up position. This one line shows us two things right away - that it's night, and the light in the room is faint. As readers, we can picture how he sits. Where the window is. What the stars look like. How dim the room is. With just one line a reader can set their own scene - fill in details of the picture.
Here's some basic ideas on how you could rework that whole section to show-not-tell. Instead of telling us that Daniel has found an ache, describe how it feels - it could be something as simple as 'Daniel's neck ached as he craned it to look around the room'. Your 'slightly oppressive claustophobic feeling' is far too long, and awkward. How about one word that sums up that feeling: 'Daniel felt trapped in the small, dark/poorly lit room.' However, the man is tied up after all - of course he'll be feeling trapped and claustophoic Never mind labouriously explaining how the light doesn't reach the corners - we'll get that feeling with a couple of words, and the lovely line about starlight. Next, Daniel's impression of a cell. The man's tied up, and your description of the room and its contents speaks for itself.
I found plenty of examples of telling-not-showing; if you'd like me to outline more for you, I'll happily oblige. Otherwise, I'll let you hunt them out.
Info-dumping: I suspect that whilst writing your story you were quite worried about your authenticity. Is it believable? Does this aspect, and that aspect, make sense? So you filled it in for us. Info-dumping is another form of telling-not-showing. Here's one of your prime examples:
'Two guards entered, wearing dark blue outfits and flat caps. Known as gunners, they were the only people in the City with access to firearms. Even officers didn't carry guns. Gunners were recruited from the most violent of the populace, and were given very little training. Officers relied them to have their orders carried out, and a large part of the fear of officers was born from the gunners' brutality.'
Believe it or not, we don't need to know. It doesn't matter how they were recruited, doesn't matter that they're the only ones with access to firearms. And if it did? Show us. We already know they're brutal - your action scenes attest to that. Here's a quick example of a short, sharp sentence to lead into the action:
'Two guards entered, wearing dark blue outfits and flat caps. Gunners'.
From there, you could lead carry on with an emotion:
''Two guards entered, wearing dark blue outfits and flat caps. Gunners. Daniel felt fear flood him.'
'Two guards entered, wearing dark blue outfits and flat caps. Gunners. Enraged, Daniel...'
Ok, it's obscenely late here, so I have to go to bed now, but I have lots more to say (lucky you :rolleyes: ). Be back tomorrow I hope to finish off.
July 15th, 2007, 02:13 PM
that's pretty much what i'm after... yeah keep going with the comments, it's all good.
like i said, it's set in a city that i want to write a novel about, so i had trouble with what to reveal and what to keep quiet..
the actual novel isn't so unoriginal, though i can see what you mean about this story coming off that way.
i'll pick through it for all the stuff you suggested, see what happens..
July 20th, 2007, 06:21 AM
Hi Mark...sorry I took a bit longer to get back to you than I thought. :)
Okies, next up, niggly bits. I have lots of niggly bits to be honest, but I'm not going to list them all. So I'll give you a select choice:
'Why am I here? Recent memories seemed to be missing. He thought hard. He remembered finishing work at the store, taking his day's money and leaving, but nothing after that. Was that today? Yesterday? Don't assume anything. He knew officers had certain abilities, but he wasn't aware that brainwashing was one of them. Still, how could he be sure?'
If you're going to have your character thinking, you need to denote his thoughts. Most people use italics. So it would read:
Why am I here? Recent memories seemed to be missing. He thought hard. He remembered finishing work at the store, taking his day's money and leaving, but nothing after that. Was that today? Yesterday? Don't assume anything. He knew officers had certain abilities, but he wasn't aware that brainwashing was one of them. Still, how could he be sure?
'Officers did two other things, other than law enforcement. They hunted deviants and potentials. Potentials were those with some inborn level of psychic ability, like Daniel. Once found, potentials were watched carefully by officers, and at some unknown trigger, they would be escorted away and never seen again. Deviants, on the other hand, were killed as soon as they were found. Those that thought too much, that showed ambition above their position, or a curiosity about the workings of the city, were taken to the catacombs and left for the skulls, the predators that hunted in the old tunnels below the city.'
HUGE info-dumping there. Huge. I can hear this whole thing saying 'Yup, that's right, that's how my world works. I'll let you know right off the bat'. Personally? I'd rather figure that out through events and other characters your protagonist experiences. It's ok if the reader doesn't know everything straight away. Better than ok really. I think you really need to nut out how you can show how your society works through the conversations Daniel has, and through the things he sees, remembers etc. Remember - this is from his perspective. He's not going to sit in a chair and say to himself:
'Officers did two other things, other than law enforcement. They hunted deviants and potentials. Potentials were those with some inborn level of psychic ability, like Daniel...'
because that makes no sense.
You also need to watch out for punctuation. Here's an example:
'A man walked in dressed in a long high collared white coat that reached to an inch from the floor, so that when he walked he appeared to glide across the ground.'
It should be:
'A man walked in dressed in a long, high-collared, white coat that reached...'
However, I think the whole sentence sounds kind of clunky. Also, you don't need to say that it's 'long' given that you go on to describe how it's an inch from the ground.
How about something like:
'The man who walked in was dressed in a high-collared, white coat that nearly touched the ground; he seemed to glide rather than walk.'
(Correct use of a semi-colon - it separates two whole sentences that are linked in some way, or it can be used to break up items in a list).
'The hat covered his ears and the sides of his neck, and would almost have been comical if officers weren't so feared.'
Put this back into Daniel's perspective - 'if he wasn't so afraid'.
'He very carefully lifted the trail of his hat as he sat, to avoid it getting caught against the back of the chair'.
Again, you've taken us out of Daniel's perspective. You're not in the officer's mind, so you don't need to state the reason. Just simply state:
'He carefully lifted the trail of his hat as he sat...' (without the 'very')
I suggest a close re-read and make sure you're staying in a consistent first-person perspective.
'Yes," affirmed the officer, his head motionless. "Daniel. You're quite a rare find. A potential and a deviant. We haven't had one of those in all the time I've been here. Well, not one that we've discovered anyway."'
This is a good starting place for simply showing the reader the significance, and the difference, between deviants and potentials. You've already started with this line: We know there's a difference, we know they're significant, we know that Daniel is both, and that that is rare so Daniel must be special.
While I suggest working in a way to 'show' your world through your story, I still don't think it's a good idea to hasten to explain everything, just want to make that clear. Softly softly.
At some point Daniel shifts quite quickly from fear to anger. I don't like that - it doesn't feel convincing or real. I think it might read better if, while still afraid, anger steals in and gives him enough courage to fight back, with the fear still very present.
'Yes, I did. The twelve of us, up here in our Spire, are basically immortal, although without sustenance we would be reduced to a dormant state. Similar to vampires, in a way, though it's not blood we need."'
Hum. Hm. The idea of a powerful entity possessing an officer and saying something cheesy like 'basically immortal' is just...bad. :eek:
I do like it however when he says:
'speaking personally with the cattle'
Much more in keeping with the personality of an evil entity than colloquially saying 'basically immortal'.
You use a lot of adverbs: 'ly' words. This is one of my pet bugs. It amounts, in many cases, to lazy writing in an effort to over-describe. Again, it limits the reader from forming their own feelings about a character's tone or actions. 'Ly' words can also weaken sentences. Some are fine, mulititudes are not.
'They moved to Daniel's chair and untied him, keeping a tight grip on his arms as they did so. As they roughly lifted him to his feet, one either side, he pushed forward as hard as he could, bracing himself on the chair.
He pulled free of the guards, and sprawled clumsily across the table.'
The two you have here you can do without. They have a tight grip on his arms, we know they won't be gentle. If you sprawl out of balance over a table, it's pretty clear it'll be clumsy.
'They moved to Daniel's chair and untied him, keeping a tight grip on his arms as they did so. As they lifted him to his feet, one either side, he pushed forward as hard as he could, bracing himself on the chair.
He pulled free of the guards, and sprawled across the table.'
With the removal of two 'ly' words, the action is faster and tighter.
It can get better with more changes:
'They moved to Daniel's chair and untied him, keeping a tight grip on his arms. As they lifted him to his feet, one on either side, he pushed forward, hard, bracing himself on the chair. He pulled free of the guards, and sprawled across the table.'
Have a play with the next paragraph, and see if you can come up with some other way of incorporating the guard's soundlessness. The image of the guard's mouth open in shock and pain is a good one.
Here's another example among many:
'The room was a huge, silent dome. The screams had stopped. Around the walls, sixty faces in sixty glass tubes looked at him, pleading mutely.'
It's self-evident that they can't talk. Also, if some of them are so damaged that they're 'crumpled sacks of flesh and bone suspended in fluid' is he even going to be able to recognise all of their expressions? Are they even capable of making expressions? Your first man is slack and exhausted. That doesn't equate to an expression of mute pleading.
Okies, done again. Hope it all helps.
July 20th, 2007, 01:04 PM
That was brilliant. It hooked me from the start.
I really enjoyed reading it. Now go write some more! :D
July 20th, 2007, 01:19 PM
Instead of telling us that Daniel has found an ache, describe how it feels - it could be something as simple as 'Daniel's neck ached as he craned it to look around the room'.
How's that showing? That's still telling us that his shoulder hurts. The same thing, only I liked his version better.
Showing it would be something along the lines of the protagonist grunting or the writer describing a facial distortion that would indicate pain.
Your 'slightly oppressive claustophobic feeling' is far too long, and awkward. How about one word that sums up that feeling: 'Daniel felt trapped in the small, dark/poorly lit room.'
I agree with that one. That particular sentence did seem rather awkward.
July 25th, 2007, 12:17 PM
thanks again for the tips, severn. I'm writing something else at the mo, but i might go back and edit this story with your comments in mind.
and thanks arash ... glad you liked it :)
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