A recent review

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Mike Dickson
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A recent review

Post by Mike Dickson » January 13th, 2011, 8:11 am

I received a critique outside of the board on a short story I had done for a class. I know this isn't the critique page, but this isn't a critque, but the result of the critique, and I wanted to see what people thought about the changes. Does it make the story better? If so, why?

My writing:
Commander Williams confirmed and I seconded the order to abandon. I followed him down the stairs to the deck to verify the crew was safe. As we drew near the side of the ship, we could see the crew lined up along the rescue boats. Commander Williams gave the order to abandon ship and the platoon leaders relayed the order. The crew boarded each boat lowering them into the water leaving the final boat for the platoon leaders, remaining officers, and the Captain. Keeping my eye on the bridge as I watched the crew the commander could see I wanted to go back. With a nod, I turned and ran towards the bridge.

The end result:
Commander Williams confirmed and I seconded the order. I followed him down the stairs to verify the crew’s safety. We drew near the starboard side, where the crew lined along the rescue boats. They boarded the boats and lowered them into the Pacific until one boat remained for us. With a nod from my commander, I turned and ran towards the bridge.

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polymath
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Re: A recent review

Post by polymath » January 13th, 2011, 3:31 pm

Though in first person narration, both excerpts are somewhat more open in narrative distance than I feel is a best practice. First person automatically has closest narrative distance and is one of its strengths.

A simple transposition of the first person pronouns for third person would show how remote the excerpts are. Third person would show the narrator isn't close to the place, time, persons, and events, nor closing on the narrative's immediate setting. In a sense, the narrative stands off as if from a narrator reciting the events from a place and time far removed from the emerging drama.

A workable rewrite is to show the unfolding scene's sensations as if experienced immediately by the narrator-protagonist, through aural and visual detail, if not also judicious olfactory, tactile, and gustatory detail. Then for each sensation or similar sensation cluster the protagonist's introspective, thought, cognitive reaction(s) to the sensations would further close narrative distance into the place, time, persons, and events of the drama.
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Re: A recent review

Post by Mike Dickson » January 13th, 2011, 5:00 pm

Polymath, I could use some more help here if you have time. Would you mind re-writing a couple of those sentences to a closer narrative distance? As an editor I know you don't like to impose your creative vision, but this is just over my head. I just don't understand how to get this any closer, or for that matter, even know what closer is.

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Re: A recent review

Post by polymath » January 13th, 2011, 5:50 pm

Narrative distance is a stumbling point for many a writer. Some precepts that might help. Narrative distance is closest to thoughts, next closest to sensations including the aural sensation of dialogue, which is frequently closer than other sensations experienced by a viewpoint character, and action descriptions, which by their nature are external to a viewpoint character. Introspection, conversation--dialogue, sensation, action. What both excerpts do is recite summaries of the circumstances or summarization.

DIANE'S SECRET writing modes in no particular pecking order, Description, Introspection, Action, Narration, Emotion, Sensation, Summarization, Exposition, Conversation, Recollection, Explanation, and Transition. Each individually, usually in more than one mode, has purposes, though Introspection, conversation, sensation, and action are most useful for closing narrative distance.

A rough recasting of the first sentence for closing narrative distance.

  "All hands abandon ship," Commander Smith said over shipwide intercom. (Dialogue, aural sensation perceived by the viewpoint character.)
   Waves lapped across the ship's pitched down bow. (Visual sensation perceived by the viewpoint character.) I concurred. It was time and past to get the crew into lifeboats. (Volitional thoughts--introspection of the viewpoint character.)

The next sentence might describe the orderly chaos of a division of crewpersons scampering to lifeboat stations as perceived from the viewpoint character's viewpoint. Say, from a broad visual sensation of crew popping out of manways to a focused sensation of one or two persons lowering a full lifeboat. In other words, closing in close to what the viewpoint character sees and reacts cognitively to. Narrative distance is close when a narrator reports from a viewpoint character's viewpoint or perspective.
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Mike Dickson
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Re: A recent review

Post by Mike Dickson » January 13th, 2011, 7:03 pm

Yea, I see it, I think, but I still don't get it, and will have to scratch out some time to study that aspect of writing as well as the rest of what I have planned for this year. I'm thinking this one can wait for a bit.

Thank you again for the clarity. I appreciate every bit of it.

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Re: A recent review

Post by sierramcconnell » January 17th, 2011, 4:02 pm

Mike Dickson wrote:I received a critique outside of the board on a short story I had done for a class. I know this isn't the critique page, but this isn't a critque, but the result of the critique, and I wanted to see what people thought about the changes. Does it make the story better? If so, why?

My writing:
Commander Williams confirmed and I seconded the order to abandon. I followed him down the stairs to the deck to verify the crew was safe. As we drew near the side of the ship, we could see the crew lined up along the rescue boats. Commander Williams gave the order to abandon ship and the platoon leaders relayed the order. The crew boarded each boat lowering them into the water leaving the final boat for the platoon leaders, remaining officers, and the Captain. Keeping my eye on the bridge as I watched the crew the commander could see I wanted to go back. With a nod, I turned and ran towards the bridge.

The end result:
Commander Williams confirmed and I seconded the order. I followed him down the stairs to verify the crew’s safety. We drew near the starboard side, where the crew lined along the rescue boats. They boarded the boats and lowered them into the Pacific until one boat remained for us. With a nod from my commander, I turned and ran towards the bridge.
I know poly already responded but I have one thing to say from a lay-reader's perspective...

Why are you telling me this?

Seriously. It's like you're just telling me something. It's extremely boring from a reading point of view. "I did this, then this, then this, then that over there, and then maybe I did some of that."

Okay. That's nice. BUT WHY. And for that matter, why should I care?

That's what it's lacking. There's absolutely, positively, NO feeling in it.
I'm on Tumblr!

The blog died...but so did I...and now I'm alive again! OMG.

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Re: A recent review

Post by Nicole R » January 17th, 2011, 4:57 pm

Hi Mike - thanks for sharing your examples.

I agree with Sierra - we need more feeling and sensation here. See Polymath's excellent example of close narration. While you have the step-by-step framework of the scene, you haven't yet brought in the actual mood of this rather desperate situation. What does it smell like (gas or other system malfunction)? What does it taste like (salty spray as they're loading the boats)? You get the idea :) These details engage the reader and build tension.

I think you might be worrying too much about capturing each and every little action - don't. Sierra is right, it starts to sound boring. Plus, you'd be surprised at how much readers will fill in the gaps for you. If you show us that the Commander has decided to issue an abandon ship order, you don't necessarily need to articulate that he issues it. We'll assume he does this, based on his decision. I actually think the critiqued version could be tightened even further to streamline the action and give you more room to add sensory description or thoughts that help us relate to the MC.

Good luck!

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Re: A recent review

Post by polymath » January 17th, 2011, 5:31 pm

I think Nichole R and seriamcconnell are both talking about the sixth sensation of narrative arts, after visual, aural, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory sensations, the sensation of emotional feeling, also one of the DIANE'S SECRET writing modes. It is stimulating reader emotion that is one of the prime purposes of a plot.

Emotion is harder to express and most important in writing compared with other sensations. The causal nature of portraying the other sensations and introspection, conversation, and action add up to create emotional sensation effects and reactions.
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Mike Dickson
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Re: A recent review

Post by Mike Dickson » January 18th, 2011, 4:52 pm

Thanks for responding Sierra, Nicole, and Polymath again. I find it really difficult to show feeling in my writing. I certainly lack experience when it comes to showing, versus telling, as many new writers' do, but it may be the most difficult aspect of writing for me to get a hold of.

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Re: A recent review

Post by Watcher55 » January 18th, 2011, 5:15 pm

Mike Dickson wrote:Thanks for responding Sierra, Nicole, and Polymath again. I find it really difficult to show feeling in my writing. I certainly lack experience when it comes to showing, versus telling, as many new writers' do, but it may be the most difficult aspect of writing for me to get a hold of.
I'll tell you what works for me - song lyrics and poetry - read and write them. Those you write don't have to be good; they're just good practice because it encourages you to play with word order and imagery. Pick an emotion and start jotting down verses.

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Re: A recent review

Post by polymath » January 18th, 2011, 6:21 pm

My hound dog done burnt up.
My pickup ran off with a Suburu.
My gal got religion.
My booze took a loop-de-loop.
The salt mine job washed out.
Unemployment won't pay the bills.
The landlord said get out.
My kinfolk said you ain't stayin' here.
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Re: A recent review

Post by Watcher55 » January 18th, 2011, 6:32 pm

polymath wrote:My hound dog done burnt up.
My pickup ran off with a Suburu.
My gal got religion.
My booze took a loop-de-loop.
The salt mine job washed out.
Unemployment won't pay the bills.
The landlord said get out.
My kinfolk said you ain't stayin' here.
I believe I'da given up after I lost my truck to a Suburu. :)

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Re: A recent review

Post by Watcher55 » January 18th, 2011, 6:45 pm

P-olecat poultices and
A-ngry wives with
N-ickel-plated nails
I-nscribing insults on my
C-alloused corneas

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Re: A recent review

Post by GeeGee55 » January 19th, 2011, 9:52 pm

Mike:

This is just my opinion, so feel free to disregard my comments if they're off base.

I'm not familiar with your story, but only with the two examples you've posted here. From such a small sample it's difficult to know if the changes improve the story as a whole.
There is a place for more distant narrative and choosing when to use more distance and when to move closer into the character's POV is something that comes with practice and lots of reading. Polymath's example is a good one. Giving sense details helps the reader feel as if he/she is experiencing the story along with the narrator. But, it's up to you, the author, to decide what should be close and what could just be narrated from a distance.

Did the person who offered the critique give a reason about why they thought these changes would make the story better? It's difficult, I know, to receive critiques which offer conflicting advice. Who is right? You are. Listen to your gut and your intuition.

As for getting feeling on the page: if you are engaged in the story you are writing, if you keep practicing showing instead of telling, the reader will be engaged. What does he feel and see and hear? And, I do not find your sentences boring. I think you have an interesting voice.

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Re: A recent review

Post by polymath » January 21st, 2011, 12:45 pm

Watcher55 wrote:P-olecat poultices and
A-ngry wives with
N-ickel-plated nails
I-nscribing insults on my
C-alloused corneas
Acrostic free verse poem form. Calloused corneas? Time for a cataract surgery or two? I'm reminded of gannets, whose subsistence on high diving for fish causes them to go blind from cataracts caused by their high speed Stuka dive bombing impacts with the water. Need, niche, and premature demise from it. What a way to live, and die.
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