Author Topic: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...  (Read 28486 times)

C.C.Benjamin

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Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« on: February 27, 2007, 10:06:18 pm »
Hi Everyone.

If this is horribly inappropriate, please accept my apologies, but I am just starting to get back into creative writing after a long haitus and I would like some opinions on my work.

There is a general theme and purpose behind them.

The site is http://intotheaether.tripod.com/

Thanks in advance,

Carl.

Troo

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2007, 10:54:07 pm »
That's a whole heck of a lot of colour in the first two paragraphs of The Cairn. In fact, I see colour all over the place. I don't have the time to do an in-depth critique, and this probably isn't the forum for it anyway.

At least you can spell!  ;D

C.C.Benjamin

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2007, 08:08:58 am »
That's a whole heck of a lot of colour in the first two paragraphs of The Cairn. In fact, I see colour all over the place. I don't have the time to do an in-depth critique, and this probably isn't the forum for it anyway.

At least you can spell!? ;D


Hi there!  There is a lot of colour and texture in The Cairn...but that is kindof the point of that tale!  Any critique would be excellent, I look forward too it, thanks!

I am the sort of person who could spell "a" wrong...thank god for spell-checkers, I have no idea how they wrote anything pre-computers!

Troo

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2007, 11:57:31 am »
Well, see, all the colours actually put me off reading it through completely. I wound up only skimming it, and the colour words just kept leaping out and beating my eyes. If your writing's putting a reader off, there's probably nothing to worry about. If it's putting lots of readers off, it's time to worry.

Bryn Llewellyn

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2007, 02:43:06 pm »
I should like to critique part of this work.

?The forest rolls out before the wanderer. It is green, verdant despite the baking heat, and epic. There is a smattering of crisp blonde leaves among the lush canopy, belying the early start of autumn.?

This opening paragraph has many classic mistakes: green and verdant mean the same thing, so use one word, or preferably none, since the reader will understand that a forest is green; heat is hot without being baking; leaves are not blonde; why does the start of autumn need to be early?

?The uniform height of the trees creates a vast jade blanket under the yawning azure of the sky, interrupted only by a single, fierce white orb. The wanderer?s cape waves gently behind him, blown by the breeze that rustles his faded old tunic.?

?vast jade?, ?yawning azure?, ?fierce white?, ?faded old? ? an over-emphasis on doubled adjectives. One of the most basic rules of writing is to use such descriptive words only when required.

?Despite the waning summer, the searing sun beats down oppressively on the wanderer, and so he pulls the front of his worn hood down a little lower to shade his face.?

Waning summer is not the same as early autumn. The sun need not sear ? people understand that at this time of year it is hot. If the sun beats down, why is it also oppressive?

?He stands on a dry and dusty beige outcrop of rock, almost atop a mountain, and surveys the vast expanse of the forest?s canopy beneath him. Each tree is gargantuan, two hundred feet tall, with a coarse trunk as thick as a house. He can see the first of them at the bottom of the steep slope ahead, treacherous with loose stones and cragged handholds.?

Dry is already dusty; vast expanse ? you have already pointed this out. If you tell the reader how high the trees are, why call them gargantuan also?

This work displays most of the classic errors of writing. You overuse adjectives and have not established anything about your main character.

You will doubtless be wondering if I can do better. I am an author at the earliest stage of his career, so am in no position to laud my own meagre abilities, but here is how I opened my novel ?The Rat And The Serpent?:

?Night was at hand and it was time for me to hunt for food discarded by the citidenizenry. I stood up, my tattered parasol sending a shower of soot around me, then limped down Blackguards? Passage to the Hippodrome. My crutch thudded against grime-encrusted paving slabs. Between the din of the Hippodrome and the chaos of the harbour further south was a good area to search for scraps, but that fact was known to scores of other nogoths like me, each with their own territory, each nursing their hunger like an ulcer in the belly.?

Note that here I make one of the mistakes you have made, namely a superfluous use of the word tattered. But note how the main character of the novel is established. Note how the particular details of this opening paragraph set a scene ? in your opening paragraphs you use details, but they are so general as to convey nothing. Mine describe a person. This is crucial. Your reader has to grasp a main character immediately ? preferably in the opening line.

This leads me to the subject of opening lines. Mine was written to intrigue the reader with mystery. Your main character is unknown after many words. All we can see is landscape. Your first line exudes blandness.

I sincerely hope that this critique helps. I myself received many critiques of my early work, all of which pointed out my weaknesses. These lessons I hope never to forget.

Offline Stephen Bacon

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2007, 09:28:34 pm »
Bryn,

I really enjoyed the critique. I actually learned quite a lot myself.

CC - I hope you accept the criticism in the right way. As a novice writer, we should be as grateful for such interest and help.

C.C.Benjamin

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #6 on: March 01, 2007, 02:19:46 am »
Hi there Bryn,

I really appreciate the time you have taken to read and critisize, but I do have a few counterpoints:


I should like to critique part of this work.

?The forest rolls out before the wanderer. It is green, verdant despite the baking heat, and epic. There is a smattering of crisp blonde leaves among the lush canopy, belying the early start of autumn.?

This opening paragraph has many classic mistakes: green and verdant mean the same thing, so use one word, or preferably none, since the reader will understand that a forest is green;?


That sentance probably would have read better as "it is verdant, despite the baking heat, and epic".


heat is hot without being baking; leaves are not blonde; why does the start of autumn need to be early?


I am afraid I don't really understand your point here; heat can be hot without being baking, leaves can indeed be blonde (very fine, thin, crisp leaves) and autumn happens to be early because for the purposes of this story, it is.  If the reader is not informed about the extreme temperature, how are they to know?  Just saying "heat" doesn't tell the reader just how hot and unbearable it is. 

Telling the reader it is late summer/early autumn, in my opinion, fleshes out the world a little more.  There are seasons, time passes, things change and the world moves on.  It's not just a static world built around one event (in this case, the story).


?The uniform height of the trees creates a vast jade blanket under the yawning azure of the sky, interrupted only by a single, fierce white orb. The wanderer?s cape waves gently behind him, blown by the breeze that rustles his faded old tunic.?

?vast jade?, ?yawning azure?, ?fierce white?, ?faded old? ? an over-emphasis on doubled adjectives. One of the most basic rules of writing is to use such descriptive words only when required.


agreed, a few of these could be cut, but this is a short story and not a novel, so perhaps some intense scene-setting is required?


?Despite the waning summer, the searing sun beats down oppressively on the wanderer, and so he pulls the front of his worn hood down a little lower to shade his face.?

Waning summer is not the same as early autumn. The sun need not sear ? people understand that at this time of year it is hot. If the sun beats down, why is it also oppressive?


See, this - like before with the criticism of the decision to make autumn early and the leaves being blonde - seems akin to saying "why make the heroes hair ginger when it should be brown?"

The sun need not sear, but it does. 

Have you ever been to a desert?  I have, and I can honestly tell you "oppressive" is the only way i can actually describe the heat.  it literally pushes down like a weight.  This is not a warm afternoon in france, this is a 40 degree saharah-desert style heat.  I don't feel that would be emphasized enough by just saying "it was hot, and the sun shone on the wanderer, so he pulled his cowl down further".




?He stands on a dry and dusty beige outcrop of rock, almost atop a mountain, and surveys the vast expanse of the forest?s canopy beneath him. Each tree is gargantuan, two hundred feet tall, with a coarse trunk as thick as a house. He can see the first of them at the bottom of the steep slope ahead, treacherous with loose stones and cragged handholds.?

Dry is already dusty; vast expanse ? you have already pointed this out. If you tell the reader how high the trees are, why call them gargantuan also? ?


I am afraid i have to disagree - dry is not necessarily dusty at all.  A dry, alpine mountain is vastly differnent to a north american desert rock formation.

How big is gargantuan?  I'd want to have a rough estimate at least.

This work displays most of the classic errors of writing. You overuse adjectives and have not established anything about your main character.

The fact that I have established more about the location rather than the character should hopefully imply that it isn't who he is but where he is. 

You will doubtless be wondering if I can do better. .

Honestly, I wasn't.  I critisize Ben Affleck constantly, at every given opportunity (like this one) in fact, but I don't think I would actually be a better actor.  Keanu Reeves, however, is a totally different matter altogether.

Its not whether you can do better, it's whether you enjoyed the twist at the end.  :)

?Night was at hand and it was time for me to hunt for food discarded by the citidenizenry. I stood up, my tattered parasol sending a shower of soot around me, then limped down Blackguards? Passage to the Hippodrome. My crutch thudded against grime-encrusted paving slabs. Between the din of the Hippodrome and the chaos of the harbour further south was a good area to search for scraps, but that fact was known to scores of other nogoths like me, each with their own territory, each nursing their hunger like an ulcer in the belly.?.

Just to say, I think the last sentance, at 49 words, is a little excessive.  The optimum length of a sentance should be around 20 words, I believe.

Note that here I make one of the mistakes you have made, namely a superfluous use of the word tattered. But note how the main character of the novel is established. Note how the particular details of this opening paragraph set a scene ? in your opening paragraphs you use details, but they are so general as to convey nothing. Mine describe a person. This is crucial. Your reader has to grasp a main character immediately ? preferably in the opening line.

I do not believe your use of the word "tattered" is superfluous in the paragraph you posted.  It is information we otherwise would not have and it helps build the character - if he can't even afford a new parasol, he must be pretty damn poor. 

I notice you wrote your extract from the first person perspective in the style of third person.  I found it a little grating - people don't talk in that way, so in my opinion, I think it would work better from third person.  People don't give that amount of detail when talking to each other, and it reads as if it were a spoken piece, rather than a diary.  I may be wrong there, but that's just the impression that I got.

Nitpick -  "citidenizenry".  Is this a world-specific phrase (Citi-denizen-ry) or a misspelling of "citizenry"? 


This leads me to the subject of opening lines. Mine was written to intrigue the reader with mystery. Your main character is unknown after many words. All we can see is landscape. Your first line exudes blandness.

The main character is meant to be enigmatic.  There are plenty of things in his description that lend an air of mystery to him.  Your main character is not meant to be enigmatic.  He is meant to be one with which the reader can identify and care about.  The main character is unknown at the end of the story, because he isn't the star of it.

It is a question of what does he find in the forest.


I sincerely hope that this critique helps. I myself received many critiques of my early work, all of which pointed out my weaknesses. These lessons I hope never to forget.

It does.  I have made a number of alterations based on your opinions (which will be updated shortly) - thanks again for your time and effort and good luck with your own writing!


Bryn Llewellyn

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2007, 09:47:31 am »
First of all, 'sentance' is spelled sentence.

You have missed a number of the points I made. The most important of these is that you do not grasp that in the opening paragraphs of a short story or novel there is no space for adjectives or 'intense scene-setting', whatever that is. Everything must be subordinated to the task of establishing character and tone to the reader. All you are doing is exploring your own imagined scenario in your own time, which is of interest to you but of no interest to your reader. Your reader needs a character, and a hook. You have provided neither.

My point about the seasonal information is that 'late summer' is a different time to 'early autumn'. You used both, showing that you do not know the date of your story.

There is no need for a rough estimate of 'gargantuan'. The word conveys all the information required.

I can assure you that there is no optimum length for a sentence.

Citidenizenry is a world-specific word.

Now we come on to the question of your enigmatic character. You cannot begin your work with an enigmatic character. Characters become enigmatic once the reader is aware of them, that is, once they are aware that there is mystery. This cannot happen when the reader first encounters the character since, for there to be enigma, there must first be foundation. It simply shows that you know nothing about your main character. You will never sell a story or novel that begins with a characterless character.

As for the choice of first-person narrative and style, this was chosen for reasons of authorial voice. If you read the book, you will learn more about the man, and why I chose that particular style.

With all due respect,

LLEWELLYN

Troo

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2007, 11:26:57 am »
Thanks to Bryn for taking the time to do what I've been too busy for. His critique is excellent, and covers much of what I would have said.

CC, there is no place in writing for fragile egos. A critique is not there for you to argue about or make counterpoints to. It's there for you to read, absorb, and take from it what you will. People are offering you genuine advice formed of their own opinions, and if you ever submit yourself for publication you'll go through exactly the same process, but with a single editor who has better things to do than spend days discussing his / her opinion with you.

There's an excellent book by Rachael Stock called "The Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published" which, if you're based in the UK, it's well worth your time reading. It gives excellent insight into the expectations of editors, including the magic balance of "how good your writing is versus how much hassle you are to deal with".

Ultimately everyone who spends as much time as Bryn has critiquing your work has done so because they would genuinely like to help you improve. Nitpicking and fighting with these people shows vast disrespect for time and effort given freely, and makes them more reluctant to help you again.

Learn to take advice for what it is: Advice. You can either learn from it, or you can discard it. But don't bite back at the person who gave it.

C.C.Benjamin

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2007, 02:35:29 pm »
Thanks to Bryn for taking the time to do what I've been too busy for. His critique is excellent, and covers much of what I would have said.

CC, there is no place in writing for fragile egos. A critique is not there for you to argue about or make counterpoints to. It's there for you to read, absorb, and take from it what you will. People are offering you genuine advice formed of their own opinions, and if you ever submit yourself for publication you'll go through exactly the same process, but with a single editor who has better things to do than spend days discussing his / her opinion with you.

There's an excellent book by Rachael Stock called "The Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published" which, if you're based in the UK, it's well worth your time reading. It gives excellent insight into the expectations of editors, including the magic balance of "how good your writing is versus how much hassle you are to deal with".

Ultimately everyone who spends as much time as Bryn has critiquing your work has done so because they would genuinely like to help you improve. Nitpicking and fighting with these people shows vast disrespect for time and effort given freely, and makes them more reluctant to help you again.

Learn to take advice for what it is: Advice. You can either learn from it, or you can discard it. But don't bite back at the person who gave it.

Troo,

Please don't patronise me.  I was not "fighting" or "biting back" at Bryn at all.  It is useful to be able to discuss points civilly, which is exactly what I have done, knowing Bryn would be happy to reply.  I do not have a bruised or fragile ego, I am merely after information. 

Carl





Offline CarolineC

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2007, 05:15:04 pm »
Hi Carl - can I throw in a few points too?  Now, I'm coming at this from the angle of a reader, rather than a writer.  I've published a few reviews and articles, but my fiction writing - well, let's just say it hasn't got me published yet!

From the reader's point of view, I have to agree with Bryn about the over use of adjectives. Of course, there's nothing wrong with some adjectives where necessary, but too many just puts me off reading straight away.

But I can certainly see your point that if the place/setting is more important than the character, there's no problem with emphasising this aspect. However, I agree that it really does need a "hook". I'm a lazy reader. If something doesn't grab me in the opening paragraph, then I'm tempted not to continue with it. Could you somehow change the opening round so that you've got an event occurring which grabs your reader, who then becomes aware of the setting and it's importance?

The problem is, when you write, you have a vision in your head of what the setting, etc. should look like. But the trick is not to describe this image in such detail that it transfers into the mind of your reader - this just won't work as we all develop our own imaginary pictures which are unique. What you need to do is write so that each reader is able to form his/her own picture. It may not be identical to your picture, but it needs to work for each reader. Now, that's much easier said than done - and is probably one of the reasons why I'm not a fiction writer!

The other reason I'm not a fiction writer is my own problems with characterisation. I tend to have great ideas for a story/plotline, but when it comes to creating a character who will interest the reader, I just haven't got the knack. I wonder if you, Carl, find this a problem too?  I'd certainly welcome some advice myself, from those who know, about how to create interesting and believable characters.

You're doing just the right thing in seeking advice/critique like this and taking it on board. And I think your response to Bryn's critique shows that you are considering it, and not just dismissing it. The person who dismisses feedback isn't going to be able to improve (and I can say that with authority in my "day job" as a teacher!).

And please don't worry about Troo and think that she's being patronising. I've done a bit of work for them over at Pantechnicon and she's a very helpful editor who knows her stuff (not that I'm "crawling" or anything - I really mean that!). And I hope you don't feel I'm being patronising either. There's a particular knack to giving constructive criticism online, without the richness of a verbal communication channel. It's quite easy to misinterpret comments, and I'm sure anything said on this board is meant in a constructive and helpful way.

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Offline joshua rainbird

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #11 on: March 01, 2007, 05:17:15 pm »
The Cairn

Bottom line: it lacks pace and the first line does not hook the reader into the story.
In the opening sequence the description of the surroundings heavily outweighs the character of the wanderer making it difficult for the reader to feel any resonance with the protagonist.

I would like to see some more originality, succinct description and a character that has motives and desires within the first paragraph. All I see is a man in a brightly coloured forest holding a sword and occassionally clambering over rocks.

HOWEVER,

Mind over Matter is stronger.

It starts with the tension of a card game and with an uneven game. One of the characters seems to be gloating.
Pace is slowed a bit by over description and I don't like 'silky, platinum robes' ideas of sheet metal don't strike me moving slinkily.
Like Bryn I would suggest you trim down the adjectives and think twice before you use the word 'and'.
(But when used sparingly double adjectives can have startling effects if they convey two disimilar ideas, like: the sweet, rusty flavour of undercooked flesh.)

One thing that lets this piece down is that the crowd seems to move in unison- specific behaviours might add more depth, for instance A does this whilst B does that.

But the important question that you constantly have got to ask yourself when you are writing is:

What am I bringing to this story/page/line that will excite the reader with its originality?

Best wishes
If wishes were horses then we'd all be eating steak.
Jayne Cobb, Firefly.

But ... if fishes were courses then we'd all be eating hake ...

steven pirie

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2007, 05:35:04 pm »
That's the big problem with online critting; it's so easy for the critter to appear to be lecturing/patronising and just as easy for the crittee to appear overly defensive. It won't happen when this Internet thingy becomes touchy-feely?:-)

Troo

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #13 on: March 01, 2007, 07:11:27 pm »
That's the big problem with online critting; it's so easy for the critter to appear to be lecturing/patronising and just as easy for the crittee to appear overly defensive. It won't happen when this Internet thingy becomes touchy-feely :-)

*Gives Stephen a good touch-up*


Hur hur hur  ;D

steven pirie

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Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
« Reply #14 on: March 01, 2007, 07:32:22 pm »
Oo-er, I'm all interfered with...

I didn't say stop  ;D