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View Full Version : Except From A Chapter In My Manuscript. Slightly Graphic So Beware. 600+ Words.



Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 05:19 AM
Something small I wrote for backstory. Just a small excerpt, a serious critique would be helpful, just don't chew my head off! hehe.


Roberto sat by himself. With his his knees to his chest, a protective apron, used in lab research, covering him like a blanket. Roberto stared emptily across the room, his head resting on the corner wall as his eyes scanned the destruction before him. The makeshift lab he worked in had been decimated. Lab equipment shattered, machines broken, glass strewn across the floor leaving nothing uncovered. Thousands of calculations ran through his head as he tried to understand, what went wrong? His words of question and misunderstanding turned to insult as he realized the consequences his actions today would cost him. With every second he recognized another detail of the scene that laid before him, his heart sunk lower and lower until if felt as if he was falling from thousands of feet in the air to his death, his stomach churning and somersaulting in fear and denial. His passions turned to ash, his dreams turning to smoke, and all that was left was a dying flame of sadness, consuming him faster and faster as his heart fell to the floor shattering like the glass that surrounded him in realization. Roberto’s empty eyes began to tear up, his dry eyes blinking in irritation, as his tears fell onto his cheeks. A dark spot appeared on the apron, a red liquid slowly soaking the grey colored material. Roberto’s silent tears turned into soft sobs as the red liquid began to seep into the protective garment, coming from his body. His quiet sobs now loud gasps, his heavy breathing turning his lips blue as he quickly lifts his apron showing a bundle of cloth underneath being clenched close to his chest.

All I see is red
“No,” at first his denial was soft, covered by his heavy breathing, “NO, NOO.”

Roberto’s voice boomed even louder than before, his body frame shook as he screamed in horror at the bundle of cloth in his arms. His body shifted forward onto his knees as he held a white blanket soaked in red. His screaming climbed louder and louder until the entire room rang from his tenor voice. Inaudible grunts and gasps wracked Roberto’s chest with tension causing his head to spin with nausea, his eyesight growing dark, his eyes moved rapidly side to side as he tried desperately to make sense of the object in his arms. Roberto slid onto his side, cuddling the bundle. His feet shifted amongst broken glass. Roberto’s body had been impaled several times by thick shards. Blood steadily staining his torn undershirt, as well as everything around him.

A small arm fell from the inside of the bundled cloth, Roberto now holding it tighter to his chest. His mind screamed in fear, the tight squeeze of his arm the only hope Roberto had to save what he held. The body of a newborn child wrapped and shredded from shrapnel. The child began to fall apart as Roberto’s eyes began to twitch rapidly, his mind beginning to fade in and out of consciousness. He laid himself on the ground, his earlier sobbs robbed from his chest. He laid in a small puddle of his own blood, mixing with the salt of his tears. Roberto’s eyes became transfixed on another victim of the explosion. A woman. She laid in a bloody mess across the room From Roberto. Her Long, black hair covered the woman’s face. her once white lab coat now burnt brown and stained red. The woman’s body positioned on her stomach, her head facing the ceiling. Broken and tortured, Roberto fell apart, his despair, his realization, his guilt became insatiable as his mind became covered in darkness.
The sound of crumbling walls and flickering fire echoed in the distance, mirroring Roberto’s heart as reality fell apart around him. In a soft voice Roberto whimpered out three words.

“I am alone.”

Abubakar
June 3rd, 2016, 08:58 PM
Well one of the things about excerpts is that they're hard to judge .As they are only fractions of a complete work, I can't say that there isn't enough info or that your characters aren't well fleshed out .

I suppose I can judge some other things though .

I'll start off with this :


Roberto sat by himself. With his his knees to his chest, a protective apron, used in lab research, covering him like a blanket. Roberto stared emptily across the room, his head resting on the corner wall as his eyes scanned the destruction before him.

The second "Roberto" is unnecessary .You can just use "he" .I think it's better too .


His words of question and misunderstanding turned to insult as

In this case it's just a minor error ."Insults" instead of "insult" .

On the plus side I like how you described the character's mental state/despair .

Mermaid
June 3rd, 2016, 09:02 PM
It is a stand alone flashback. And thank you!

Sent from my SM-G920P using Tapatalk

sigmadog
June 5th, 2016, 09:35 PM
"Decimated" is a word I always have trouble with. In common usage, I suppose it is synonymous with "destroyed", but it galls me to see it used that way (this is a personal thing, so take it with a grain of salt).

The roots of the word decimation mean "to remove a tenth". It comes to us from a form of punishment used in the Roman military. From Wikipedia:



A cohort (roughly 480 soldiers) selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten; each group drew lots (sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing. The remaining soldiers were often given rations of barley instead of wheat (the latter being the standard soldier's diet) for a few days, and required to camp outside the fortified security of the marching camp.

Because the punishment fell by lot, all soldiers in a group sentenced to decimation were potentially liable for execution, regardless of individual degrees of fault, rank or distinction.



So even though we often use it to mean general destruction, it really only means destruction of 1/10.

Pedantic, I know. But knowing the history of the word, I can't NOT have a problem with it being used for "total destruction". It's like trying to un-see the monkey.

I think you did a good job of depicting the interior drama of Roberto coming to realize the resulting horror of his actions. I felt very much in Roberto's frame of mind. So that is very good.

I'm kind of confused by the order of events, though. At first Roberto is sitting with his knees to his chest, then the blood appears on the apron. But if his knees are at his chest, there would be little room to hold the bundle, and no indication is given that he is holding anything. I mean, at first we have no indication that there is anything else, then suddenly this bleeding bundle turns out to be a baby that he apparently was holding all along? Is that a correct reading? This confused me.

I understand you want to keep it mysterious as to where the blood is coming from at first (is it Roberto?) but I just had difficulty making the transition from the assumption that Roberto was bleeding to the reality that it was, in fact, a baby he was holding, because even after a second reading there where no subtle clues that there was anything he was holding.

I think that part needs to be adjusted to account for the presence of the baby earlier (preferably without being too obvious so the mystery of who is bleeding remains in the first few lines).

Make sense?

JustRob
June 5th, 2016, 11:40 PM
I was initially inclined to make the same comment as Abubakar about the repetition of Roberto's name, but then realised that you did it so much throughout that it created an emphasis of identity that may have been intentional. Only you know what was intended by it.

I also agree with Sigmadog about the pedantically precise meaning of "decimated" that I might have mentioned myself had he not, but my solution would simply be not to use the word for a few more decades, if I had that long, so that people can decide what it means nowadays. It's one of those words that sounds good regardless of what it really means, so people are tempted to use it. In effect in general terms it meant an act that wasn't particularly destructive in itself but was effectively ruthless.

I was thrown by "His quiet sobs now loud gasps, his heavy breathing turning his lips blue as he quickly lifts his apron showing a bundle of cloth underneath being clenched close to his chest," as it appears to be a temporary shift from the past to present tense, although the sentence structure makes it unclear to me how one would categorise it.

Overall I did feel that this piece's meaning was too obscure for me and that perhaps it was only part of something.

P.S.

"Roberto’s empty eyes began to tear up, his dry eyes blinking in irritation, as his tears fell onto his cheeks."

At first I mentally pronounced the word "tear" the wrong way, which didn't help. To lessen the impact of the repetition of "tears" after using "tear" earlier I would suggest changing "his tears" to "those tears".

InstituteMan
June 6th, 2016, 04:30 AM
There's a lot to like here. I hope that this is a start to a story, as it's a great example of 'starting in the middle.' As a beginning, this does a good job of setting the stakes high, while leaving more than a bit of mystery as to who these characters are and what happened to them.

A few quick thoughts and suggestions:

- What Sigma said about the word "decimated." Yes, I'm a pedant (but not just on this topic).

- You didn't go overboard with adverbs, but those little devils always need to be pared back in every revision. Adverbs feel good in the first draft, but they are usually a sign you need a better verb to communicate what you mean. Does blood "slowly" soak an apron, or does blood "ooze" instead?

- On the topic of parts of speech, some of your adverbs felt like you were trying too hard. You're evocative when you keep it simple but intense. For example, "the child began to fall apart" is gripping even if it is simple. On the other hand, calling guilt "insatiable" is distracting (especially when the guilty character has had so little time to satiate the guilt).

This is a solid effort, and well worth continuing. Thanks for sharing it!

Jay Greenstein
June 6th, 2016, 06:25 AM
I found the repeated naming distracting, as if you didn't trust the reader to remember who you were talking about. Remember, the third person equivalent of "I" is "he," not Roberto. So once you identify him, and he remains the one in the spotlight...
His words of question and misunderstanding turned to insult as he realized the consequences his actions today would cost him.Saying this, he has already realized the consequences. It would seem reasonable to mention them, since he's our protagonist and we need to see things as he does. Instead, though, you drop in:
With every second he recognized another detail of the scene that laid before him, his heart sunk lower and lower until if felt as if he was falling from thousands of feet in the air to his death, his stomach churning and somersaulting in fear and denial. His passions turned to ash, his dreams turning to smoke, and all that was left was a dying flame of sadness, consuming him faster and faster as his heart fell to the floor shattering like the glass that surrounded him in realization.So in two run-on sentences you repeat the same thing, over and over—and never tell the reader the consequences. So...you made your point. You drove your point home. You buried your point under the dirt. You smashed your point to smithereens. :???: You just might be overdoing it, because while the reader is wading through that prose, not a blessed thing is happening of consequence. And after all that gnashing of teeth we have:
Roberto’s empty eyes began to tear up, his dry eyes blinking in irritation, as his tears fell onto his cheeks. A dark spot appeared on the apron, a red liquid slowly soaking the grey colored material. Roberto’s silent tears turned into soft sobs as the red liquid began to seep into the protective garment, coming from his body. His quiet sobs now loud gasps, his heavy breathing turning his lips blue as he quickly lifts his apron showing a bundle of cloth underneath being clenched close to his chest. So he flails into despondency, and then we get eighty-nine additional words describing him crying?

Forgive me, I hate to say this, but I think that, given that the entire sequence could be condensed into, "Oh my god, what a mass. This is an absolute disaster!" you're hitting the purple prose point.

Look at what it does to your reader's view of the character. Someone apparently destroyed his life's work and he cries. No thought of "who did this?" No anger at who did it, just self-pity. And, he hasn't found the body yet, so we repeat it all.

Here's my point: You're working very hard to make the reader know the depths of his despair. Not a damn thing wrong with that. But you're trying to do that as an outside observer describing his emotions. But while that will make the reader know them, it won't make the reader feel them.

Part of why is that they can't hear the emotion in the narrator's voice, as you do when you read. Nor can they see it on the narrator's face. And the words, alone, carry no inherent emotion. Moreover, when you, as an external storyteller speak of his thoughts and emotions, because you're neither in the story or on the scene, you're either making it up or a mind-reader. In neither case can the story seem to be happening as we read. Instead, it's being described.

It's not a matter of good or bad writing, it's that you, the author, is telling the reader a story. And that wouldn't change were you to use first person, because an external narrator can only tell, be they the author or the author in wig and makeup pretending to be the character. And that narrator lives at a different time from the protagonist, and so cannot appear on stage with the protagonist. The problem with that is that it informs, but doesn't entertain.

And that, as it so often is, is my point. Our goal isn't to make the reader know. It's to make them feel. We want to make the reader know the scene as the protagonist does, in real time. So instead of dwelling his sorrow, as you did, place the reader into his viewpoint. As a parallel example of what I mean:
- - - - - - - - - - -
Roberto stepped through the lab door into a scene straignt out of hell. The lab, which should be a scene of order and science, was gone, replaced by a jumble of smashed glassware and equipment. For a long moment he stood, his mind trying to rearrange the nightmare view his eyes insisted on presenting into something reasonable. But it was real, and as that became clear his legs failed him and he crumpled to the floor.

It was gone. All the work had been wasted, his hopes as shattered as the scene in front of him.

But why. An accident? He dismissed that. Shocked he might be, but the thing that made him what he was, was at work analyzing the scene and finding patterns. There had been no explosion. This was deliberate. The pattern of damage said that someone, perhaps more than one person, had systematically destroyed every piece of equipment.

Then, before he could even speculate on why and who, the magnitude of the event, and the consequences of it, overcame all rational thought. For a time he just sat, head shaking and tears streaming

But tears and self-pity accomplished nothing, and there had been people in the lab around the clock. Hopefully, they were safe, and could shed light on what happened. But then his brain, back to functioning again, found order in the picture before him. A foot,with part of a leg attached, lay half buried under broken glassware.

Shit!
- - - - - - - - - -

Not great writing, and not your character. It's just a quick demo of another way of presenting the scene. Notice that at no time does the narrator appear on stage. Instead, it's what the protagonist notices and his reaction to it. He sees the chaos and his reaction is to lose control of his limbs and collapse. Need we say more? His reaction is obvious, and because it took only a moment to read it, it has more impact than a paragraph of breast beating. So we had a motivation and his reaction.

The next line continues his reaction, as he realizes the extent of the destruction (and so do we), and relates it to his feelings, giving it more emotional power.

Next, he tries to deduce the cause by analyzing the scene, as you and I would. And as he notes and analyzes we do the same, in parallel, because we're using the same data. And in doing so we get a better look at the lab, through his eyes.

And the view overloads him. Need we know every nuance of his grief? Or is it enough to know that it prevented all rational thought and caused him to weep? Fewer words = more impact because in the reader's mind it happens faster.

Remember, what we could see in a film in an instant takes more time on the page, so to limit the amount of reading, which would slow the action, we present only what matters to him, as it matters to him.

Perhaps he lay there unable to function for twenty minutes, perhaps ten seconds. Does it matter how long? Not in this case, so I rubber-banded time to bypass what amounts to more-of-same description.

What next motivates him is what he sees when rationally reasserts itself and he returns to his normal, methodical self. In this case, I turned that against him by having him notice the severed foot—to give the impact of it on him—and followed that with his reaction, which I hope rings true to what the reader would say were they in his situation.

Make sense?

In creating that scene I used what are called motivation/response units (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/scene.php). They approximate the way we live our own lives. Used well (and I make no claims that I do it all that well) they can make the scene very real for the reader. The article I linked to is a good condensation of that technique, and explains it better than I can. It's worth learning because it takes advantage of the greatest strength of the medium: we can take the reader where film can't go, into the head of the protagonist. And that places the author in the prompter's booth, invisible to the reader.

Bear in mind that nothing I said has to do with your talent or potential, or even the story. It has to do with issues of craft that no one ever mentions during our school years.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

InstituteMan
June 6th, 2016, 03:56 PM
To echo Jay, more showing and less telling is good advice. An omniscient third person narrator can tell the reader what is going on in a character's head, but it's still better to show as much of the emotion as possible.

Bard_Daniel
June 6th, 2016, 08:18 PM
A very interesting piece. I read until the finish without interruption and I think you have something here. You may want to, as others have mentioned, show more and tell less- as I found this was something in your story that you did a lot.

Interested in where this goes! Keep on writing!