What do you think? / Story Extract

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Chris95
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Wed Mar 24, 2010 2:29 am Post

Hey there,
I'm new to this forum, so; hello to everyone!
I've recently started planning/outlining a story, and while I'm still on completing the plot, I started writing the opening scene. I know people say it's no good starting to write before you have the plot all together, but then again there are people creating their plot by simply "writing".
I hope I could get some feedback from you guys on my first draft for the opening, and from what I've seen so far, you guys are pretty good at constructive criticism :)
Just a short note; I'm no native speaker, but I go to an English School for now about 4-5 years, and love writing in English.

Here we go:
______________________________________________________________________________________
The darkness was universal. With his forearms, he tried pushing the branches out of his way and flinched when a long bough flung back and gave him a slap in his face. Dazzled by the impact, he came to a stop and rubbed his cheek with the back of his hand. He let his eyes wander in search of any sign that would give him a clue about where he was, but there was nothing he could make out around him, except dark, dull shadows. Even in the total blackness of this place he would have recognised this area if it was somehow familiar to him, but it wasn’t. The piercing shrieks of the night creatures were the only proof for any existence of life around this place and broke the dead silence in odd intervals. 


He reached out for the thing that had hit him. With his fingers, he touched the cold branch. The texture of the bark was unnaturally smooth, as if it was covered by a thin layer of moss. With a quick turn of his wrist, he broke off a short twig and held it between his thumb and index finger. It felt rigid, but was assembled with a few dead leaves here and there.


A sudden, loud squeal above made him jerk and drop the twig. Stumbling backward he fell over a long root that reached out of the earth. He tried to get a hold of something around him in order not to fall. His fingers enclosed around a bunch of branches, but they bursted underneath his weight and he dropped down on his back. He moaned at the impact. A stump pain soaked through his body. The moist soil beneath him felt cold as he reached underneath his back with one hand. A stone, as big as his fist, emerged. Struggling to stand up, he decided to remain laying until the hurt in his spine would ease off. 

He tried to look to his sides, but the only direction the pain in his back would let him face was straight upwards. The slow movements of the almost completely naked branches on top of him were tranquillising and a soft breeze brushed through the remaining leaves in the trees around him, making him all the more drowsy.


His eyes were already have closed when another penetrating screech cut through the dense air. It was closer now, a lot closer, but it was the same one that had made him fall backwards into the dirt before. The scream was animalistic, but had something human to it that gave him goosebumps all over the body. There was nothing he knew to be similar to the intensity of the sound, nothing he had ever perceived that had been more repulsive and frightening to him. Anxious about the source of the sound, he lifted himself up from the ground, but only managed to sit up half way with the pain aching in his lower back. A faint breeze touched the back of his neck in rhythmical strokes. He felt something scrabbling in the dirt behind him. His breathing accelerated. Clouds of vapour escaped his nose and the white haze vanished in the darkness like haunting ghosts.
______________________________________________________________________________________

I think I'm using he, him, his etc. too often, but this could only be me. I don't want to use the characters name before the next scene/chapter, so tell me how you feel about that, and of course, the rest :)

Thanks in advance,
Christian
In order to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

Hu
Hugh
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Wed Mar 24, 2010 4:50 pm Post

Hi Chris,

Maybe it's just me but I need some context before giving any view worthy of the name.

Think about someone buying your book in a bookshop. Before reading any of the words in your extract, the buyer will know the genre (because of the shelf it's on), the title and the blurb. In fact the buyer will know quite a lot - many more clues to the story as a whole than you've giving us.

In other words, to judge your passage as a reader might judge it - which is really the only way to do so - we need to know more.

H
'Listen, some quiet night, when you've shirked your work that day. Do you hear
that distant, almost inaudible clicking sound? That's one of your
competitors, working away in the night in
Paris or London or Erie, PA.'

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Chris95
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Wed Mar 24, 2010 5:54 pm Post

Hey Hugh,
Thanks for your reply.
I understand the point you are making about posting something out of context, and it's hard to relate to the extract if you don't know the background story, but my actual reason to post this was to get some criticism on my writing style. This should be the start of the story, and my goal is to get some feedback about your first impression on it. Would you continue/Did it spark your interest? Is it to descriptive for a beginning? Does it start of to fast?
Like I mentioned before, I'm new to writing in this size (save a dozen essays for english class), and that's why it is hard for me to know how I'm doing.

Anyways, here is a short background:
The character who's in this forest is named Trystin. He is going to be harmed by some animal that tries to kill him, but he's able to escape from it (more background here but unnecessary for this). In the next chapter, he's going to wake up and find out all this was only a dream, until he recognises the bruises on his body. (Yeah, doesn't sound to original here, I know, but believe me, it is going to be.)

Thanks once more though, Hugh, I appreciate your thoughts on it :)

Chris.
In order to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

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vic-k
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Fri Mar 26, 2010 5:05 pm Post

Hiya Chris,
Welcome aboard the Good Ship Scrivener :wink:
This is just a quick word of hello, as I have to dash off again.

Your command of my language, appears to be as good a mine, if not better (some of the smart arses on board Scriv, would call that a backhanded compliment. Don`t believe `em!! :wink:).

There are a couple of point I`ll come back to later.
Cheers for now
Vic
As a professional, you, are your one and only asset. Without integrity you are worthless, but with it, you are priceless.

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Chris95
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Fri Mar 26, 2010 6:18 pm Post

Hey Vic,
I take that as a compliment in any way ;)
Thanks for stopping by here, can't wait for your feedback.

I've continued the first chapter/prologue (the extract is the beginning of that), and I'm really happy how it turned out so far. However, it is way to much to post here.
Finally, I've really gotten into the story, after weeks of planning and outlining. I think every writer knows that feeling :)

By for now,
Christian.
In order to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

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idrisamorris
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Fri Apr 16, 2010 9:11 am Post

Chris,

First off any start is a good one, it's a step in the direction that you want to go and there isn't a wrong way to move in the direction you need to to accomplish your goals.

Secondly I enjoyed your start, would be interesting to see where it goes, and no it wasn't to long. You should see my submission, LOL, I think I maybe should not have shared as much but hey... now I have to take my own advice. :D

One word of mentor-ship... you should have an author that writes the genre of subject matter you like and parallel yourself with them initially. Makes for a good training wheel for your pen.

Keep that pen moving my friend!!!

Regards,

im

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Chris95
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Fri Jul 23, 2010 6:21 pm Post

Sorry for being inactive for so long, I had some writing to do ;)
Thanks @idrisamorris for your compliment and advice, I think your idea of choosing another author to compare yourself to is a great thing, because you always have something to look up to, as long as you don't try imitating his style.
In order to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

IJ
IJB
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Sun Jul 25, 2010 3:35 pm Post

Hi there,

This is a good start: you have a good idea brewing and you're building up to something big very well.

However, I've picked up a few things that I think it might help for you to think about. This is with my editor's hat on. Hopefully you won't see this as mean - it's not intended that way.

Chris95 wrote:______________________________________________________________________________________
The darkness was universal. With his forearms, he tried pushing the branches out of his way and flinched when a long bough flung back and gave him a slap in his face. Dazzled by the impact, he came to a stop and rubbed his cheek with the back of his hand. He let his eyes wander in search of any sign that would give him a clue about where he was, but there was nothing he could make out around him, except dark, dull shadows. Even in the total blackness of this place he would have recognised this area if it was somehow familiar to him, but it wasn’t. The piercing shrieks of the night creatures were the only proof for any existence of life around this place and broke the dead silence in odd intervals. 



Either the blackness is total or it isn't. If he's dependent on other senses to get any idea of surroundings, as you suggest, then the sentence "Even in the total blackness..." is clunky, and doesn't work. Just say he has no way of knowing where he is.

Dazed rather than dazzled by the impact - dazzled refers to being blinded by light.

You might like to try working with shorter sentences, and think about syntax, if only for the first paragraph. That gives the reader time to take in atmosphere without concentrating on what you want the sentence to tell them.

You might, for example, introduce the sound of night creatures earlier, along with the sense of silence (deprivation of both senses at once), and then say separately "They were the only indication of life" and "they were the only sounds that broke the silence."
Chris95 wrote:He reached out for the thing that had hit him. With his fingers, he touched the cold branch. The texture of the bark was unnaturally smooth, as if it was covered by a thin layer of moss. With a quick turn of his wrist, he broke off a short twig and held it between his thumb and index finger. It felt rigid, but was assembled with a few dead leaves here and there.


This is technical, so feel free to ignore but having spent a long adolescence in physical geography the moss reference bothered me. Moss tends to be squishy or thick, not smooth. Bark, on the other hand, can be very smooth indeed.

"but was assembled" - verb check: "but leaves jutted/protruded/*Dee: got any good alternatives?* here and there."
Chris95 wrote:
A sudden, loud squeal above made him jerk and drop the twig. Stumbling backward he fell over a long root that reached out of the earth. He tried to get a hold of something around him in order not to fall. His fingers enclosed around a bunch of branches, but they bursted underneath his weight and he dropped down on his back. He moaned at the impact. A stump pain soaked through his body. The moist soil beneath him felt cold as he reached underneath his back with one hand. A stone, as big as his fist, emerged. Struggling to stand up, he decided to remain laying until the hurt in his spine would ease off. 



Instead of "He tried to get hold of" you could convey more intense action by saying "he scrambled for/grabbed desperately for something to prevent his fall."

Bursted - not a word, I'm afraid. Broke, snapped, cracked are all great words here.

Enclosed - again, try another verb like grabbed. "Enclosed" describes completely enfolding, not just holding onto.

Stump pain - Not sure about this. What's the pain like? Sharp/dull, throbbing/hard, brittle. Stump isn't an adjective.

"Struggling to stand up" - I'd continue by saying he couldn't. Flailing limbs is always a good one here! "Struggling to get up in vain, he collapsed onto the soft earth and decided to stay there until the pain in his spine subsided."
Chris95 wrote:He tried to look to his sides, but the only direction the pain in his back would let him face was straight upwards. The slow movements of the almost completely naked branches on top of him were tranquillising and a soft breeze brushed through the remaining leaves in the trees around him, making him all the more drowsy.


First sentence of this paragraph could probably be: "The pain was paralysing; he could do nothing but gaze upward."

Just say the branches were naked. Also, "calming" rather than "tranquilising", as the latter is mostly used in reference to the effect of drugs and is quite specific in meaning.

Drowsy - so far, there's been no reference to him feeling drowsy or sleepy. In fact, I'm aware of him being quite active. Might be best to do without the "all the more."

Chris95 wrote:
His eyes were already have closed when another penetrating screech cut through the dense air. It was closer now, a lot closer, but it was the same one that had made him fall backwards into the dirt before. The scream was animalistic, but had something human to it that gave him goosebumps all over the body. There was nothing he knew to be similar to the intensity of the sound, nothing he had ever perceived that had been more repulsive and frightening to him. Anxious about the source of the sound, he lifted himself up from the ground, but only managed to sit up half way with the pain aching in his lower back. A faint breeze touched the back of his neck in rhythmical strokes. He felt something scrabbling in the dirt behind him. His breathing accelerated. Clouds of vapour escaped his nose and the white haze vanished in the darkness like haunting ghosts.


Half not have closed.

I'd put a full stop after closer, a lot closer. That will add to the atmosphere, the urgency he feels.

"Animalistic" - not quite the right word (it relates to animalism, which is a lack of concern with anything but physical drives). Try playing around with words like bestial or raw. You might even swap it round to say the sound was "human but had a raw edge that sent goosebumps through him."

"Anxious..." - "Filled with dread, he scrambled up onto his arms. The pain in his spine sheered through him once again and he could lift himself no further." It's the same ideas, but shorter sentences give it a really choppy rhythm that convey urgency and fear.

"There was nothing he knew..." - This whole sentence could be summed up as "This was like nothing he had ever heard before."

I'd have thought at this point, his whole focus would be the sound. You might want to put the references to the breeze earlier.

His breath "clouded on the night air..." - This is subtle. If you're in the middle of terrifying the life out of your readers by building up to something big (and the oncoming sound suggests you are), keep sentences shorter, and prose limited to clear, single-word descriptions. Readers are at this point rushing over words to find out what's going to happen, so the smoother the ride, the easier it is for them.

My other thought was that his breathing and the cold air might have been introduced in the first paragraph so we already know that it's cold enough to see your breath. That way we can see what you're seeing better.

Chris95 wrote:I think I'm using he, him, his etc. too often, but this could only be me. I don't want to use the characters name before the next scene/chapter, so tell me how you feel about that, and of course, the rest :)

Thanks in advance,
Christian


Not using names is fine. Iain Banks doesn't touch names for ages in books like The Wasp Factory. We don't learn the name of the protagonist in Haruki Murakami's Dance Dance Dance until about two thirds of the way through, if memory serves me correctly.

Things it would be useful for you to work on start with, as far as I can see, ensuring that the words you're using mean what you want them to mean. Stop and think about the scene you're imagining, think about the words that would best convey it.

Have a look at your sentence structure, and think about sentence rhythm, as well. Read other writers, and not just in your genre but the best writers in every genre. When you're reading, take a look at how they describe what's happening. What words do they use and what words don't they use? How do they put sentences together so that you're just dying to read more?

Of course, the most important thing when you start is just to write. Writing is a craft you can learn, and you get better with practice, so if it feels like I've torn it all to pieces, don't worry about it. Just keep on writing and writing and reading and reading, and you'll get better quickly.

Take care, and keep going,

Joely
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Chris95
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Mon Dec 27, 2010 1:23 am Post

I'm horribly sorry I haven't responded earlier, but it seems that I didn't get any notification about your reply or I simply missed it. Anyways, I'm very grateful for your long critique, and I'll definitely come back to you on that as soon as I've found time to check everything in detail. Once more, I'm very sorry!
In order to live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.