Sunday, 13 March 2016

Another offering from the OU online course I've been on recently. Reviewing other people's work, and the course itself, has helped me refine and clarify my thinking on writing in general. If it will only do the same for my own writing, I'll be proper chuffed.

Review: DBJ’s story “Fractures”

This story drew me in completely. I’m a sucker for “lone wolf”, “one against the odds” kind of stories, especially set in an unusual situation – time travel, alien worlds, different cultures.
    Opening with dialogue engages the reader straightaway. Even better when the words come as a shock – ‘a crack in the sky?’
    Anna’s character came out very strongly. We can see she is a leader; she knows what has happened to her but finds it difficult to explain to people with whose world she is unfamiliar. All this was indicated through her speech and actions, not by having a narrator explain things.
     The detective was less well defined but now I think more about it, the situation is new to him – bizarre, even – so it probably helps to show him somewhat thrown by it.
     Angela is the the third character, grieving, heavily pregnant, a mixture of emotions which begin to sort themselves out as she speaks and gets closer to Anna. Already you get the sense that she will be an ally, much needed in this new situation.That’s not easily done, showing a character beginning to change in a very short story.
     Dramatic action, as in  “he stepped back from the table and his hand went to his hip”, “ the chains snapped taut”, the cleanly-sliced camera, all work well because they are interspersed with relatively calmer dialogue and narrative.
     I think it would help if the detective’s speech contrasted more strongly with Anna’s measured, slightly archaic delivery. ‘Whaddya mean, ya came through a crack in the sky?’ and ‘Don’t gimme that shit! No more with the damn fractures!’
     While we’re on the fractures, just before that, if you transpose the phrases ‘killed by animals’ and ‘taken by the fractures’, you hear ‘fractures’ as the last word. That adds drama to the tec’s outburst.
     And you don’t need to tell us that “his expression was one of confusion.” I think you’re already showing that by what he’s saying.
     Still on the tec, it would create more of a gulf of understanding between Anna and him, if he always referred to her butchering tools as knives or blades. ‘You call ‘em tools, lady. We call ‘em knives. And knives kill people.’ They are tools to her; weapons to him.
     Last point on the tec: I couldn’t see how he got the idea she was asking for a lawyer. If you cut some of her long speech (remembering word-count) and add something like, ‘I will  speak only to someone who will listen to me,’ that might make it clearer.
     Now, to the creation of a different world and how someone from that world interacts with us. Fasten your seatbelt!
     As you say, if you invent a world, you have to know everything about it, or at least everything that will come into the story. But nobody would expect you to do that amount of work for a story of less than 1,000 words – and in the context of a writing course. I guess this is where some of the apparent contradictions come from. I ‘ve tried not to let them distract me from the story, but you’d have to think about them if you expand it into a longer work.
     And I think you should do that.
     First thing to decide is if this other world is alien to ours, or parallel, alternative, or our world in another time, either past or future. Future ones tend to be post-apocalyptic. I wasn’t sure about this aspect of the story.
     Anna understands the language of modern USA and the people who live there understand her, though there are minor differences. Has she dropped in through a time-portal from a hundred or more years ago? It seems not, because she is not familiar with the word “lawyer”. That word was in use in Middle English (from about 1100 AD). Is she then from an alternative universe where there has never been a need for lawyers? (Sounds like a good idea to me.)
     She uses words and phrases like “pointless exercise” and “procedure” which are modern usages. That was confusing.
     Anna’s people are “settlers”, which implies they came from somewhere else to build their settlements. Are they aliens who have somehow learned English, immigrants from 17th century Europe, or 18th/19th century New Englanders heading West? Well, Southwest.

DBJ, this is a great concept and a good story. I will add that if you do expand it, incorporating the other chapters you’ve written, look carefully at two episodes and how their technology, or her experience of it, might be reconciled: finding the rifle in the blind and coming across the “conveyance” on the road.

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