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AdrianBraysy
April 7th, 2018, 06:21 PM
Title: A Little Corner Behind the Frontal Lobe

I can only begin to scratch the surface of what really happened that flowery summer morning of last year. Truth be told, it pains me to recall those memories, as if they were a dormant genetic disease, that better not be awakened.

As a concept artist for horror video games, it is my job to evoke the most horrific emotions possible out of our consumer. And yet, nothing I have conjured up so far ever came close to the amount of dread I felt on that day.

To recall the memory in the most accurate way, I shall begin with the dream I had before I woke up that morning. It began with me, staying at my mother’s house as a child. I must have been about seven, or maybe eight. At that age, fantasy is often hard to distinguish from reality, mostly due to the fact that the child has not yet experienced enough of real life to have a clear picture of what it contains.

In retrospect, I realise this dream was most likely a combination of real memories, and fantasies conjured up by my unconscious, though it is still unclear to me which one is which.

Is this dream, my mother stood with her back turned towards me. She was chopping onions, but for some reason I felt frustrated for not knowing whether she also did it as a way to ignore me.

The act of her ignoring me was not unwarranted. At that age, I had a tendency to get needy, and craved a considerable amount of attention. Perhaps it was my unconscious telling me: “Stop being such a (insert noun for whatever clingy people are called).”

But in the dream, I was a kid. I did not know at the time I was being clingy. I walked up to my mother, whose name was Linnea, and began tugging at her skirt.

Nothing happened.

At first, I felt angry. Then I thought: Maybe I just didn’t tug hard enough. I tried again. “Mommy, look at me!”

She maintained a blank, empty stare in her face as she chopped onion after onion, to a point where she had chopped enough for at least three dinners.

I was worried. Thoughts ran through my head like a speeding train. Was she angry with me? Had I turned invisible? What if some alien had taken over her body, and it wasn’t really my mother at all?

She soon turned to me and…

Now that I think of it, maybe it wasn’t even a dream. My sense of time hasn’t been the best sense that event.

Anyway, she turned to me, and while she did smile, her smile was devoid of anything resembling parental love. It was unnatural. In a normal smile, one side of her mouth would go up more than the other, but this fake smile was perfectly symmetrical.

Jack of all trades
April 8th, 2018, 11:55 AM
This is mostly telling. And I got to the end without knowing the main character.

It feels like you're rushing to get to the nightmare part. Maybe, instead, help the reader identify with the MC.

I do wonder what's going to happen, so that's a good thing.

AdrianBraysy
April 8th, 2018, 01:56 PM
This is mostly telling. And I got to the end without knowing the main character.

It feels like you're rushing to get to the nightmare part. Maybe, instead, help the reader identify with the MC.

I do wonder what's going to happen, so that's a good thing.

Thank you! I agree for sure. I'm thinking of adding a bit about the narrator's/main character's day in his current life. For example, show a scenario where, even though he is productive at work, the past still haunts him. Perhaps make his past memories the reason behind why he is a good artist when it comes to horror games.

Jack of all trades
April 8th, 2018, 05:45 PM
Thank you! I agree for sure. I'm thinking of adding a bit about the narrator's/main character's day in his current life. For example, show a scenario where, even though he is productive at work, the past still haunts him. Perhaps make his past memories the reason behind why he is a good artist when it comes to horror games.

Sounds good!

H.Brown
April 8th, 2018, 05:50 PM
My advice would be to swap any words that state what the character is feeling with words that conate the feeeling without stating the characters mind set, for example instead of saying I was worried you could write, Trembling as thoughts chased each other around my head... it draws the reader into the action while also conotating the character's emotional state. I hope this helps, as I enjoyed the overall premise of this story and would be interested in reading a redraft. :)

Blackstone
April 10th, 2018, 04:15 AM
Hola Adrian,

I am glad to read some of your work.

Kind of along similar lines to previous comments.

I have a very short attention span when it comes to reading books by writers I do not know and I need to feel immersed quickly, otherwise I feel alienated and ultimately bored. We have to assume our readers are like that because otherwise we are narrowing the pool of who will get through to the meat. This is 300 words, so tiny relative to an 80,000 word plus novel, and yet already I feel a drag.

Since the subject matter is not intrinsically boring it is the execution that is the problem. Based on this excerpt, you can write coherently and clearly have ability however I don't feel there. I feel very much like this is being told to me second hand. I get the distinct feeling of being separated, like a blind person being told about the weather. Certain things I can detect but most of it goes straight through. Coupled with that is your tendency to use 'steroid language' riddled with adjectives and one-liners, some of which are frankly tautologous.


She maintained a blank, empty stare in her face

Blank and empty both mean roughly the same thing, so why use both words? Why say 'in her face'? Is there another part of her that might be staring? No, of course not. It's a minor issue but it's symbolic of the entire problem with this story thus far. Not only are you telling me how this person is looking without giving me a clue why (I can deal with that, since its an excerpt and I understand the suspense factor) but you are doing it in the most dull way possible using two words that mean exactly the same thing to over-engineer a description and try to make me interested.

On the other hand, the onion-chopping does interest me, especially if the onions can be made somehow poignant. Onions make people cry, right? But a small child will most likely not understand that, so instead of the 'blank empty' why not have her cry and having the tears from the onion and the child's confusion as to what mommy is crying about be the source of tension and creepiness?

I'm not suggesting you do that, understand, since I have basically no idea what this story is actually about it may well not be what you are going for. I bring it up simply to illustrate an example of how tension can be created through actions (onion chopping) and reactions (crying) to create a visceral sensation (confusion, fear) that can subsequently be understood and shared-in by the reader.

AdrianBraysy
April 10th, 2018, 09:25 PM
Since the subject matter is not intrinsically boring it is the execution that is the problem. Based on this excerpt, you can write coherently and clearly have ability however I don't feel there. I feel very much like this is being told to me second hand. I get the distinct feeling of being separated, like a blind person being told about the weather. Certain things I can detect but most of it goes straight through. Coupled with that is your tendency to use 'steroid language' riddled with adjectives and one-liners, some of which are frankly tautologous.



Blank and empty both mean roughly the same thing, so why use both words? Why say 'in her face'? Is there another part of her that might be staring? No, of course not. It's a minor issue but it's symbolic of the entire problem with this story thus far. Not only are you telling me how this person is looking without giving me a clue why (I can deal with that, since its an excerpt and I understand the suspense factor) but you are doing it in the most dull way possible using two words that mean exactly the same thing to over-engineer a description and try to make me interested.

On the other hand, the onion-chopping does interest me, especially if the onions can be made somehow poignant. Onions make people cry, right? But a small child will most likely not understand that, so instead of the 'blank empty' why not have her cry and having the tears from the onion and the child's confusion as to what mommy is crying about be the source of tension and creepiness?

I'm not suggesting you do that, understand, since I have basically no idea what this story is actually about it may well not be what you are going for. I bring it up simply to illustrate an example of how tension can be created through actions (onion chopping) and reactions (crying) to create a visceral sensation (confusion, fear) that can subsequently be understood and shared-in by the reader.


You make a lot of good point. I guess, fir me, my biggest weakness has always been in describing things. I think that order to make you feel more "there" I should probably focus more on all five senses, and not just what the main character sees.

In terms of using two words that mean the same things, I think this is due to the fact that I have a hard time thinking of interesting ways to describe things. Plot and character arcs have never been a problem for me, but the execution can be.

Good advice though. I agree with pretty much all of it.

Sync
April 15th, 2018, 12:42 AM
Hello

For me, this was told from too great of distance. I couldn't get attached, because the mc was faceless, emotionless.

At the start, you began reflective, I didn't mind that if for a short bit, but then you went reflective about a dream, then a dream that maybe wasn't. I had nothing to take from that.

The writing was fine. Your loss of focus in the first sentence almost lost me. I thought, what did a flowery summer have to do with all this?' apparently, nothing. So you might consider not to infringe on your story, with what you think it needs, and instead rely on what it says it needs.

Seems like small things, but they are all connected.

I would read other pieces of yours, I just found this didn't work.

Thank you for sharing

Sync

Jay Greenstein
April 15th, 2018, 06:21 AM
I can only begin to scratch the surface of what really happened that flowery summer morning of last year. Truth be told, it pains me to recall those memories, as if they were a dormant genetic disease, that better not be awakened.

As a concept artist for horror video games, it is my job to evoke the most horrific emotions possible out of our consumer. And yet, nothing I have conjured up so far ever came close to the amount of dread I felt on that day.

To recall the memory in the most accurate way, I shall begin with the dream I had before I woke up that morning. It began with me, staying at my mother’s house as a child. I must have been about seven, or maybe eight. At that age, fantasy is often hard to distinguish from reality, mostly due to the fact that the child has not yet experienced enough of real life to have a clear picture of what it contains.

In retrospect, I realise this dream was most likely a combination of real memories, and fantasies conjured up by my unconscious, though it is still unclear to me which one is which.What you're doing is recording yourself telling the story in person. And because you are, as you read, it works. For you, each line calls up images, and ideas from the story that reside in your mind, and brings your performance into your mind. But what about a reader? For them each line calls up images, and ideas from the story that reside in your mind. And can that bring your performance to their mind?

See the problem? When we tell a story in person, how we tell it—our performance—matters every bit as much as what we say. In person your golden voice mesmerizes as you use intensity, cadence, tone and a thousand other tricks of the human voice. As you tell the story you add emotion through facial expression, eye movement, gesture, and body language. But none of that makes it to the page. Only the words do.

Take my favorite example, a simple line of dialog: "You truly are a bastard, Mr. Kismin. You truly are." How did you read it? As deadly insult? High praise? Somewhere between? Could you tell that I meant it to be a doctor giving the result of a DNA test? ;)

Without more than the unadorned description it's impossible to tell how you should read it. Had you been able to either hear or see my performance you would know. But on the page the narrator's voice holds only the emotion inherent to the wording and the punctuation. So it's not a matter of good or bad writing. It's because in our school days they don't tell us that each medium and writing discipline requires different methodology, as dictated by the strengths and weaknesses of the medium. And because when you read the performance is there in your mind you—like pretty much everyone when they come to recording their stories, doesn't see what a reader will. And in that case we end up using a skillset inappropriate to the medium. As Mark Twain so wisely observed,“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Not good news, I know, but it is a problem you share with pretty much everyone who comes to writing fiction, and it's curable, so it's no big deal. Some time spent acquiring the tricks of the trade can do wonders. We have articles on this site, and there are more on the net, some of them even mine. My personal recommendation, as it so often is, is to go to the pros. Their advice may not be perfect, but it does work for them. And the public library's fiction writing section is a smorgasbord of viewpoints from publishing pros, successful writers, and noteworthy teachers. And while you're there, you might want to look for the names, Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham, or Debra Dixon. They're gold.

In the specific, it's not an easy book, and at times is a bit dry, but Dwight Swain's, Techniques of the Selling Writer, is a very good intro to the nuts and bolts issues of writing fiction that sings to the reader. It is an older book, and probably not in most libraries these days, but it is the best I've found.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

Elenita
April 16th, 2018, 03:15 AM
You mentioned this is the beginning of a short story--it depends how short the story is going to be. If it's going to be under 2000 words then I think this scene should be half as long, going straight into the nightmare scene without the first few paragraphs of narration and set up. I guess I'm the kind of reader that prefers opening scenes to grab my attention immediately, explanation later. The ending lines are very good, though, the thing about a symmetrical smile being creepy provides a great visual.

Ranom3x
June 10th, 2018, 08:03 PM
I did like it :) it caught my attention and you ended too soon I want to know what happens next.

My only note would be some minor spelling and grammar errors. But nothing a quick re-read can't fix. Though I'd recommend Grammarly I use it and it's helped me a lot more than the stock spell and grammar checker.

Guslar
July 6th, 2018, 10:03 PM
My advice would be to swap any words that state what the character is feeling with words that conate the feeeling without stating the characters mind set, for example instead of saying I was worried you could write, Trembling as thoughts chased each other around my head... it draws the reader into the action while also conotating the character's emotional state. I hope this helps, as I enjoyed the overall premise of this story and would be interested in reading a redraft. :)

I completely agree.

His writing style is good and has a natural flow to it, which is only broken and feels "mechanical" and too descriptive when he explicitly states "I felt xyz". Surrounding ambient is not only available in movies and videogames. Words can paint the best atmospheres if done right ( and if the writer has talent, of course ).

For example, in stead of "I felt angry" it's possible to describe a reaction due to anger, like:"My face got red with anger" or "I wanted to to scream because she ignored me" etc. It certainly transfers the information about the presence of emotion, but also paints it in a more interesting way when you talk about the consequences of an emotion or feeling rather than the feeling itself. I think ( though I might be wrong ) that people more relate to the consequences of emotions ( because they matter precisely because of what they do to us ) than to emotions themselves.

Also, I'm of the opinion that if you want to make someone's cold heart more disturbing, it's best to use short statements, like:"Her face was blank" or "She made an obviously fake smile" or "...a doll-like smile". Now that creeps the bejeebers out of me, especially if it's your own mother being cold towards you. That's... hell, man...

Guslar
July 6th, 2018, 10:10 PM
You make a lot of good point. I guess, fir me, my biggest weakness has always been in describing things. I think that order to make you feel more "there" I should probably focus more on all five senses, and not just what the main character sees.

In terms of using two words that mean the same things, I think this is due to the fact that I have a hard time thinking of interesting ways to describe things. Plot and character arcs have never been a problem for me, but the execution can be.

Good advice though. I agree with pretty much all of it.

I'd suggest looking into ambient oriented music and/or video games ( yes, even those, as they've become really artistically valuable in the past decade ) in order to understand how you can describe things without describing. Dark souls video games are the best example of painting a dark, hopeless ambient without telling the player absolutely anything directly. It's about having all the tiny little details in sync with the mood you'd like to describe ( like the lighting for sculptures or photographs ). Once you start thinking about those details which indirectly describe, instead of thinking how to describe something correctly, you'll have no problem with description.

AdrianBraysy
July 15th, 2018, 09:47 AM
I'd suggest looking into ambient oriented music and/or video games ( yes, even those, as they've become really artistically valuable in the past decade ) in order to understand how you can describe things without describing. Dark souls video games are the best example of painting a dark, hopeless ambient without telling the player absolutely anything directly. It's about having all the tiny little details in sync with the mood you'd like to describe ( like the lighting for sculptures or photographs ). Once you start thinking about those details which indirectly describe, instead of thinking how to describe something correctly, you'll have no problem with description.

Lol. I just thought it was funny you mentioned that. Dark Souls (and Silent Hill) are my favorite games. Kind of goes back to what Hemingway said, about implication being a powerful tool. Show me a dead body in a trunk, and I'm shocked for a few seconds. Tell me about a rotting smell coming from the car, belonging to the wife of a misding friend who I know cheated on her, and I'm intrigued.

Dino_Gonzalez
August 2nd, 2018, 10:34 PM
the voice already seems logical, when talking about the childhood dream, and because the type of job, I get the feeling that something changed him or her into that. I DONT THINK THERE IS A NEED TO BE TOO LITERAL IN THE WRITING OF IT. they seem to be justifying things as they are older, things like "I understand because I was." I think this is the main hook, this kind of unspoken parts you're already lacing together. its a good base start

ParadoxBrother
August 12th, 2018, 12:14 AM
I believe that people have put this a bit more eloquently before me, but they are right. The narrative is there, this makes a good draft for the intro to a story. However, one thing that really captures a reader's attention is through a lot of detail. What you have here is a really good basis, I applaud that and I feel like this could lead off into a lot of things in terms of a story. However, one thing that's important to remember about drawing in readers and helping them relate to your character is sense. In my classes, we were always taught to show, not tell. To help show the reader what we wanted to convey, we would work with all five of the senses if we were able to. This intro scene would be a really nice scene to put them to work, especially in dreams if this was one.

An author is able to put themselves, and subsequently the reader, into the shoes of the character. With you telling the story with a first-person narrative, this is a good way to really get intimate with your main character's thoughts and her processes. When it comes to detail, you, of course, don't need to give every little thing a line of its own, but it would still be helpful to "zoom" into certain important details. This lets the reader understand what's important, and give a better visual of the story.

Back on the topic of senses, I suggest adding perhaps a few of these to describe the scenery.
Sight: Objects in the house/kitchen, colors, lighting, small details
Smell: The chopped onions, the natural odor of the house
Hearing: The knife on the cutting board, things outside, the character's footsteps, breathing, heartbeats (perhaps?)
Taste: Onion in the air?
Feel: Temperature, tension, the fabric of the mother's skirt

It's just a start, but this has the makings to be an incredible story. All you need is a little detail to fatten up the paragraphs. I'd love to see what else you have in store, the intro has a lot of suspense and mystery, you captured the childlike wonder excellently. Do persist with this!

epimetheus
October 10th, 2018, 11:06 AM
Just to expand on the onions: maybe describe how they make the child cry, how they sting the eyes. Could weave this into an ambiguity about how the child is feeling - crying because of the onions or because of frustration? Could also have the mother turn around with pointedly dry eyes, strange in the context and also hinting at the emotional detachment seen in her fake smile.

hubriscomplex
February 19th, 2019, 03:31 AM
As a concept artist for horror video games, it is my job to evoke the most horrific emotions possible out of our consumer. And yet, nothing I have conjured up so far ever came close to the amount of dread I felt on that day.

This seems kinda weirdly placed. Idk if the MC being a video game artist will be important for the rest of the story, but if it isn't, I say take it out or rewrite it. That's just my opinion though

Darkthought
February 28th, 2019, 09:56 PM
I believe that people have put this a bit more eloquently before me, but they are right. The narrative is there, this makes a good draft for the intro to a story. However, one thing that really captures a reader's attention is through a lot of detail. What you have here is a really good basis, I applaud that and I feel like this could lead off into a lot of things in terms of a story. However, one thing that's important to remember about drawing in readers and helping them relate to your character is sense. In my classes, we were always taught to show, not tell. To help show the reader what we wanted to convey, we would work with all five of the senses if we were able to. This intro scene would be a really nice scene to put them to work, especially in dreams if this was one.

An author is able to put themselves, and subsequently the reader, into the shoes of the character. With you telling the story with a first-person narrative, this is a good way to really get intimate with your main character's thoughts and her processes. When it comes to detail, you, of course, don't need to give every little thing a line of its own, but it would still be helpful to "zoom" into certain important details. This lets the reader understand what's important, and give a better visual of the story.

Back on the topic of senses, I suggest adding perhaps a few of these to describe the scenery.
Sight: Objects in the house/kitchen, colors, lighting, small details
Smell: The chopped onions, the natural odor of the house
Hearing: The knife on the cutting board, things outside, the character's footsteps, breathing, heartbeats (perhaps?)
Taste: Onion in the air?
Feel: Temperature, tension, the fabric of the mother's skirt

It's just a start, but this has the makings to be an incredible story. All you need is a little detail to fatten up the paragraphs. I'd love to see what else you have in store, the intro has a lot of suspense and mystery, you captured the childlike wonder excellently. Do persist with this!

I just wanted expand on ParadoxBrother's excellent post and to help you narrow down the sorts of things you want to focus on for your description.

What you choose to describe, especially when operating in the first person, can be a tremendous opportunity to characterize your protagonist. Allow yourself to become submerged in your character. Place yourself behind their eyes. What are they focusing on? Why is it that they notice these particular things? The things that grab your protagonist's attention can tell the reader a lot about the sort of person they are dealing with.
Description can be a daunting task. Just remember that it isn't necessary to describe every little thing, but just what the PoV character would notice.

BornForBurning
May 4th, 2019, 05:31 AM
(insert noun for whatever clingy people are called).
Someone used this phrase already, but this is an example of telling at its finest. Just use a good descriptive noun/adjective!

her smile was devoid of anything resembling parental love.
Another great example of telling and not showing. Describe how her smile looked, how it felt. Paint a picture in the reader's head. This is the intro, you really need to drag the reader in and set a decent tone.

I think you have a good core idea weighed down by dreadful implementation. I can definitely feel a lot more once the nightmare gets going, even if it is clumsy. Remember that if you are bored when writing a story, the audience will almost certainly be bored while reading it.

Alpine
May 22nd, 2019, 08:23 AM
I liked this start and would have read more if there were more to read! Though for myself it would certainly be more engaging with (as others said) there were more showing, less telling.

killerbees
May 22nd, 2019, 03:49 PM
Too much telling my friend. Also I like the pacing though but it fell flat for me. I liked the line tugging her skirt though.