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 MY WORK ZOMG

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Mr.Doobie
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PostSubject: MY WORK ZOMG   Wed May 07, 2014 8:58 pm

So right now I'm attempting to write a full-length, dystopian, pseudo-post apocalyptic, sci-fi jawn that right now I'm roughly calling "Trans-human". One of my biggest problems with sci-fi writing is how static the prose feels. So my writing style has developed into me playing rather fast and loose with sentence structure and grammar. I don't particularly like to waste my audiences time and would rather show my worlds and characters I build in action than take time out to explain things like this.

I want constructive criticism. I've pretty much been asking everyone I know IRL for advice but most reactions are kinda blandly positive and don't really pick apart what I've written. I'm asking for this here.

And so, without further ado...

Trans-human wrote:
Prologue
The Sun is a Star the Earth Only Orbits
The moment that Dawn had seen the black hulks rumbling across the plains she ran inside the compound. She ran to her Mama, but Mama already knew about the strange things fast approaching just like everyone else already knew and they were all frantic, long legs bustling around her, bumping her aside without apology, eyes hard, taut mouths overflowing with prayers or desperate questions or even more desperate commands. Everyone was getting the guns but it wasn’t Saturday. Dawn was confused and no one looked at her not even fleetingly and she had to dodge and duck under moving legs constantly or get roughly nudged aside and all the hot words were white noise and she couldn’t find Daddy. These were the same serene, white halls she had known her entire life but suddenly it was all boiling over. Squirming in her gut, Dawn knew this must be the dark days that her Daddy warned of every Sunday, carried by animate, alien shadow fast cutting through the sickly haze of the yellow plains that had always been familiar to her. Dawn could feel the Earth begin to groan under her feet. She could feel tears in her eyes and her breath was coming faster and faster so she ran with her hands over her ears trying to block all of this out through the winding halls of the compound to her room where she slammed her door hard against the rumbling ground, her mom and family shouldering guns hurrying scared and angry around her, the dark creatures coming on her home faster and faster until they were nearly on the doorstep and the ground was shaking more violently than ever. The sound of her door slamming shut paled in comparison to it all so Dawn walked unsteady to her mat in the corner and crawled deep inside her sleeping bag and zipped it all the way closed and huddled inside her knees curled under her chin and her hands still gripped tight over her ears and trembled with tears leaking down her face.

Suddenly, everything went still. That moment hung suspended for who knows how long but it was far too long.
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Harley Quinn hyenaholic
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PostSubject: Re: MY WORK ZOMG   Thu May 08, 2014 1:37 pm

Here's a tip I read while looking around self-editing tips - remove two little words.

'Was' and 'were'. Wherever you can possibly do so, take them

Example:

"The screaming Silver was being raped by Knuckles and the white hedgehog wished he had never been born."

"As Knuckles raped the screaming Silver, the white hedgehog wished he had never been born."

So subtle... but the first makes you feel like, oh well, Silver's not being raped any more, right? He got out of it, and it's over. The second... it's only seconds ago. It's still going on. Oh my GOD can you just hear him screaming with every agonising thrust from that thick red cock into his tight white ass?

Also, you might want to break up your paragraphs a bit more often; they feel a bit chunky and tiring.
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PostSubject: Re: MY WORK ZOMG   Thu May 08, 2014 3:43 pm

Prologue's title smacks of Panic! At the Disco.

Overwrought prose that doesn't tell me anything. I have to fight to keep my eyes on the words before they get bored and wander off.

Giant-ass run-on sentences. I get that it's intended as a stylistic choice to convey the chaotic thoughts of a frightened kid, but it's not really doing it here. Part of that is the word choice; high vocabulary doesn't gel with a child's panic. The rest of it is the way you launch straight into it. Without a slower pace to start out with, it doesn't really work. It just looks like bad proofreading.

Advice: Slow the fuck down. This is a premature ejaculation of a prologue.

Quote :
The moment that Dawn had seen the black hulks rumbling across the plains she ran inside the compound.

Hold the phone, who is Dawn? The only thing that you wind up telling me about her in this whole thing is that she's a little girl and she's scared of what's happening. What is happening? I don't know, and apparently neither does she, so I'm not going to find out, either.

What kind of compound? Anything can be a "compound" from an underground bunker network, to a fenced-in training complex, to a mansion with outhouses.

Tell me about Dawn, her family and the compound before kicking off the apocalypse or whatever's going on. I need to have some kind of sense of who these people are before I can give a rat's ass about them, and I need to have at least a vague familiarity with where they are.

Take the trailer for Mass Effect 3, for example:

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Here, we see a little girl playing, with little details like the fighters flying overhead to partially establish the setting. She's doing something, even if it's just minding her own business and chasing bugs with a toy. It sets her up as a person, cutting to the real fighters in the air shows that she's part of the same setting as them. Then it cuts to the big nasty Reapers killing people. It quickly tells us that the Reapers are trouble, they're in her world, so when it cuts back to her and we see one looming over her, we know that she's in trouble.

In short: Who are they, what do they want, and where are they? The most important of those are the first two, but the third helps a lot.

Quote :
She ran to her Mama, but Mama already knew about the strange things fast approaching just like everyone else already knew and they were all frantic,

This is something that should've been talked about already. Hell, you could have the family discussing this when, coincidentally, It Happens.

Quote :
long legs bustling around her, bumping her aside without apology,

Fair enough, but:

Quote :
eyes hard, taut mouths overflowing with prayers or desperate questions or even more desperate commands.

Highly self-contradictory.

Generally when we talk about people's eyes being hard or hardening, they're angry, tough, callous, hardening the fuck up, or otherwise about to be mean and all fighty-like. It does not really jibe with fear, which is what most of this sentence implies. Wide eyes do.

Mouths moving enough to be "overflowing" with words can't be taut. Someone with a taut mouth and hard eyes is done talking, they're about to lay a motherfucker out. Someone rapidly praying, asking "desperate" questions or giving "desperate" commands is probably not about to do anything more useful than shit their pants.

Quote :
Everyone was getting the guns but it wasn’t Saturday.

Since we haven't already established that it's normal to break out small arms on Saturday, this doesn't help paint the picture, it only confuses and distracts.

Quote :
Dawn was confused

It's usually best not to come right out and say these things, going instead with something like "nothing made sense" or " she couldn't make sense of it." Also, the timing is off: We've already established that this is a rapid, abnormal, confusing situation. Saying "Dawn was confused" at this point is like saying "Chloe was irritated" after she's already thrown her desk over.

Quote :
and no one looked at her not even fleetingly and she had to dodge and duck under moving legs constantly or get roughly nudged aside and all the hot words were white noise and she couldn’t find Daddy.

Wasn't she running to Mama?

Quote :
These were the same serene, white halls she had known her entire life but suddenly it was all boiling over.

This is the wrong time to call the halls serene. What's boiling over? Do people running in the halls resemble a pot boiling over, or is it something about the halls themselves?

Quote :
Squirming in her gut, Dawn knew

Either something is squirming in her gut, or her gut's squirming. Dawn cannot squirm in her own gut.

Quote :
knew this must be the dark days that her Daddy warned of every Sunday,

Again, this needs to come before.

Quote :
carried by animate, alien shadow fast cutting through

"Animate" is too vague and redundant. Unless the shadow is doing something like undulating or otherwise changing shape as it moves, we can tell it's moving by "fast cutting through."

Quote :
the sickly haze of the yellow plains that had always been familiar to her.

Again, a description that needs to come before all this. Our protagonist has gone inside; unless she looks back outside, what's going on out there doesn't immediately concern us.

Quote :
Dawn could feel the Earth begin to groan under her feet.

"Groan" isn't typically a sound associated with the ground. Metal under stress, sure. But not ground, which usually "rumbles" (as you've described it later). If it's groaning, we need a description of what that sounds like since we don't have a frame of reference for it.

Quote :
through the winding halls of the compound to her room

"Winding" typically indicates a spiral pattern. A building with "winding" halls would be too chaotic in feel to have serene ones.

Quote :
her mom and family shouldering guns hurrying scared and angry around her

What are they hurrying to do? Their guns are shouldered, are they leaving the room?

Quote :
the dark creatures coming on her home faster and faster until they were nearly on the doorstep

Is there a window? Is she looking out of it? Unless she sees this, it doesn't belong in a part told from her perspective.

Quote :
That moment hung suspended for who knows how long but it was far too long.

Yeah, I'm really not digging the constant run-ons.

I get that you want to dive right into the action and let the worldbuilding happen organically while things are actually going on, but it just doesn't work. You'll either slow the action down too much to make people understand what's going on, or you'll just have a vague spurt of prose that doesn't tell us anything, like this.

What we're left with here is a snapshot of a standard "bad guys are coming to the sanctuary" scenario, devoid of any other context, with the added bonus of being mechanically difficult to read.

EDIT:

For another example from a game trailer, the live-action Skyrim one. It's pretty much the exact scenario to start with that you're describing here.

[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

We actually don't know much about anyone here, but what we do see of them is important. They are clearly terrified; their actions favor reckless flight (even knocking oil onto a fire), at 0:27 we hear a growl, and at 0:28, something has knocked a guard off the goddamn wall. Bad shit is going down. It's a bit easier here since it's a visual medium, but since we can't see what you're imagining, you need to describe it for us.

It's not married to any one person's perspective. All kinds of people, even animals, are shown. Things are actually happening, even if a lot of it is looking into the sky and fleeing. And you know what? All of it is setup, for one guy. And it works.

This one dude just kinda stands there, not giving a single fuck, while everybody else is out of their minds with panic. This instantly tells you he's different from everyone else, even if he's not even doing anything yet. The camera stops giving us rapid cuts to different people. The visual pace has slammed on the brakes, even as the story continues rapidly. All he does is clench his fist, draw his sword, and step forward to face the still-unseen threat. This tells us he's probably the goddamn hero of this scenario, and finally, the threat revealed as a big fuck-off dragon.

The important thing to take away from this is that even the ordinary peasants are not cardboard cutouts. There's the little kid, the mother with the baby, old man, guards, horses... all of them reacting in a clear, similar way. Not identical. Some seem to stand numbly while most flee. Even the guards are different. You get a sense of actual people, not disembodied, taut, overflowing mouths with guns.

There's even a guy ringing a warning bell in the trailer... we actually have no idea where Dawn was when she saw "the hulks" and started running back to the compound, or how long ago that was. Did she see the things first? Is there an alarm?

Part of the problem with that is that we've already identified the threat as "black hulks" from the get-go. We need to know why something that might just be a set of misplaced boulders in a landslide (for all we know) has her running in such a state. But she saw them, we're locked into her perspective. We need to know what she saw.

Your narrative is focused on one little girl who's running around clueless, which makes it impossible to tell us what's happening. All we know about the threat is that it's apparently a bunch of big shadows that shake the ground, but can apparently be fought with guns? The actions of the very vaguely-mentioned people are inconsistent. There isn't anything to really indicate how concerned we should be, because the same people are described in contradictory ways. When you're going for fast-pace development in medias res you cannot waste a second being vague. You can start with an action scene but you cannot retroactively flesh out the story during the action scene. You don't have time for it.
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Mr.Doobie
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PostSubject: Re: MY WORK ZOMG   Thu May 08, 2014 9:10 pm

Thank you, Penguin. You have given me the most substantial and helpful criticism I've gotten yet. You told me what I'm doing wrong and why.
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Maximilia
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PostSubject: Re: MY WORK ZOMG   Fri May 30, 2014 2:21 am

One other thing that wasn't mentioned (Penguin did a good job of breaking it down specifically, and Harley's tip about the passive past tense verbs is a good one) is that when writing action sequences, if you wanted to start out with an action sequence, try to write shorter sentences. For example:

Huge run-on sentence wrote:
She ran to her Mama, but Mama already knew about the strange things fast approaching just like everyone else already knew and they were all frantic, long legs bustling around her, bumping her aside without apology, eyes hard, taut mouths overflowing with prayers or desperate questions or even more desperate commands.

would become something like:

Shorter sentences wrote:
Dawn ran to her mother. Mama grabbed her hand when she saw her. "We have to go," Mama said. She rushed Dawn along, heedless of the people they bumped into. Her little legs couldn't keep up, but she ran. Everyone kept looking up to the sky. Dawn knew they were scared. Their fear infected her, a crazy wildness bubbling up inside. Mama jerked her arm painfully. "Come on, come on, baby girl. Run!"

Obviously, that prose isn't ready to be published or anything either. It just illustrates that the urgency is more present in the second, with the shorter sentences. A person reads them mentally almost imagining they're out of breath, cause when you're out of breath, your sentences come out staccato, broken up, short. Break things up with dialogue too. Big blocks of prose send people to sleep, and they skip over big paragraphs.
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Penguin
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PostSubject: Re: MY WORK ZOMG   Tue Jun 17, 2014 12:23 am

Mr.Doobie wrote:
Thank you, Penguin. You have given me the most substantial and helpful criticism I've gotten yet. You told me what I'm doing wrong and why.

Cool. I was a little concerned about overdoing it in my usual style. Keep at it, though.
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Mr.Doobie
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PostSubject: Re: MY WORK ZOMG   Mon Jul 07, 2014 2:22 pm

well I overdid it on the prologue and everything you said was more or less stuff I was thinking, I just wanted a second opinion. I've had writers block on this one recently, though, because I'm just having a lot of trouble wondering where, exactly, to begin. Because I'm not satisfied starting there.

See the basis of the story is a group of homeless vigilantes in a dystopian future that think of themselves as superheroes actually meet someone who is superhuman. That's Dawn. Eventually it's explained how but basically she's the ultimate endgame of transhumanism, someone who has formed a symbiotic relationship with self-replicating, intelligent nanites that basically give her old-school Superman strength (power so vaguely defined it's essentially godlike).

It's coming down to me not entirely sure who I even want to be the main character. Could I really make it Dawn when part of the story is essentially the question of whether she has completely surpassed her humanity? Because at a certain points it becomes a deal where she's no longer bound to a singular human form and nearly clairvoyant on top of her being practically immortal because it would take total and complete annihilation to destroy her because the nanites self-replicate rapidly and also repair her own cells like Wolverine on steroids.

But yeah I'm really not sure if a character on that level can really be the main character because at a certain point the audience will have real problems relating to her.
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