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Make-Believe (trial beginning)

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  #31  
Old 03-08-2015, 01:35 PM
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Hi Azmacna,

Love your style of writing, even if I am not quite sold on the story you have presented here. I think you and I have similar approaches to writing.

I have a few suggestions below, but my main issue is the substance. I am not sure if what is presented here would make me want to read on. There is some intrigue and I get that you are using a well-known phenomenon like insomnia to introduce fantasy elements, which I think is a great idea. I just think it needs to be done with more activity going on.

There is also the weird shift from the bedroom to the thoughts of an 11 year old boy. The story, from this point, feels less like prose, more like an info dump (i.e. backstory). It switches back, I note toward the end, but the intervening paragraphs attenuate what is already a slow pace into a crawl.

Originally Posted by Azmacna View Post
Make-Believe.
Tick. Tock.

A fat, black space pressed down on Jacob Gray (I think a "colour" surname jars with the "fat black space") as he lay frozen beneath the bed sheets, listening to the rhythm of a wind-up alarm clock. The anchor tapped against the escapement wheel like metallic insect legs probing inside his skull, seeking out the throb at his forehead. With tired eyes, he tried to pierce the opacity that swaddled his face and stuffed a box he called ‘bedroom’ but the ceiling, the light shade and attic hatch were entombed, rendered invisible by the night. There was nothing tangible to anchor his thoughts, just marked time and a blank canvas for his imagination. His skin prickled as he felt his imagination uncoiling, stretching from its slumber. A face? A hand? Breathing? (used an unusual word like anchor twice in one para, consider another word for either one)

He had no idea how long he had laid there, but he knew it had been too long (consistent tense). It had always been the same: his mind winding down, his eye lids burdened and droopy, his body longing for retirement, but once alone with the dark, insomnia and torment. (I would consider the use of past perfect here, this can be re-written with more immediacy in just past tense)

Tick. Tock.

As the first bead of sweat trickled down through his eyebrow, he pulled the bed sheets over his face and tucked the excess into his nape, adjusting it for the tightest possible fit, so that the stretched blankets formed an extra layer of hot skin. It wasn’t long before the scent of freshly-washed sheets no longer comforted him and he twisted sideways to curl deeper into the heart of his linen womb (watch repetition). Here he sought momentary solace before the grip of the night grew tighter. (I feel you have mixed your original metaphor here, is the night an oppressive downward force, or a squeezing vice-like hand?)

As his body warmed, a chill snuck up upon him from the edges of the mattress, where the sheets had been tucked tightly. The tick-tocks of the impossible clock were as loud as ever, tapping at his minds eye but he refused to visualise it. He knew that once he had, the clock would never stop and the night would last forever. ‘The clock doesn’t exist’, he thought, ‘The clock isn’t real.’

Tick.
...............Tock.
.....Tick.
.................................Tock.
....................Tick.
...........Tock.

Once upon a time there was a lonely, little, 11 year old boy. Bullied at school and ignored by his family, he was forced to think himself unlike-able. He couldn’t relate to other people for some reason (cop out phrase, I would remove as the reader doesn't care why and this point) and viewed the world from his bubble, rather like an alien would scan this green planet from its spacecraft.

Then, after a doctor had prodded him (remove) and questioned him, he was given pills They made him sleepy and crackled in his head like Coco Pops. Slowly and surely he stopped observing the world from his bubble and instead found interests within. He knew it was called a mind, and he knew it lived between his ears, but everything seemed so foggy and broken there. (not sure what this sentence is trying to do - it feels like it is supposed to be humorous, but I don't think it's needed).

Over time, he could feel a weight swinging in his head, like the pendulum in Mother’s Grandfather clock, only back and forth instead of left and right. It made him feel quite dizzy. Not a falling over dizzy, just an on-a-ferry dizzy (not sure what is meant by this; some readers might, but not this one). By the time he was 12 years old, he had worked out that if he swayed back and forth with the swinging weight, he could ease the feelings of dizziness. It wasn’t long after this that he also realised he could help even more by holding his head tightly between his hands.

At 14 years old, all meaningless things had been dispensed with: cleaning his teeth, combing his hair, washing his face, changing his clothes … getting up for school or going down stairs to face the unnerving quiet from his family. Black and grey were his colours of choice. They never said ‘look at me’, they said ‘I’m not here,’ and he liked that.

The years stumbled by, one long day after another, never once leaving anything behind except another ‘X’ on the downstairs calendar. Words that had gone unheard before began to register in the fog. One such word was ‘anti-social’ which he took to mean ‘not very nice’. It was a hurtful word coming from his aunts and uncles, but he took it to be the truth; after all, if enough people said it often enough, it must be true. Another word was ‘psychoses. It was a word associated with him but just a meaningless collection of syllables without context. A quick Google soon gave it context though and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

He used to hear voices and see things before his visit to the doctor (he still did, but no where near as often as he had before the pendulum). He never used to think he was anything special though. That was the part that had him stumped. Labels had become a pet hate of his. He was used to ‘lazy’, ‘weak’, ‘stupid’, ‘scruffy’, ‘coward’, ‘four-eyes’, ‘dip-shit’ but ‘psychosis’ seemed such a deeply seated label that he worried he’d never be able to wash it off. At least education, exercise or contact lenses could solve most of the other labels, but ‘psychosis’ was him. How could he scrub him from himself?


All of this feels like back-story and serves to slow the pace down. Now I wouldn't get rid of it all, but think about the necessary elements and perhaps squeeze them into no more than a paragraph. The rest can be bled to the reader later on.


He sat on the edge of his bed and dropped his hands from his head, looking at a photo hanging on the wall of him when he was 10 years old. The skin was smooth and blemish-free, the ruddiness of a healthy boy; the eyes bright, glistening and hungry; the lips soft and un-kissed. He was now a thousand miles away from that photograph, caught in a fuzzy web of confusion and uncertainty. At least the cell he existed in before was of his own making. Here, right now, in this time, at this point on the calendar, (over-written, on purpose I assume, but I don't think it fits with your freer flowing and descriptive style) he had become the prisoner of a label, and medication the jailer.

He walked over to his bedroom window and opened it. Beyond the roofs and beyond the roofs beyond those, he could see a strip of orange where the sky met the earth. It was distant but closer than the photograph. From his pocket, he plucked a tiny plastic container and rattled it once. Then he threw it as far as he could out into the world.

“Fuck you!”
I think there is great imagery and descriptive grandeur in this piece. This alone would keep me reading, but not for long. There is definitely intrigue here.

Hope that I have helped in some small way and look forward to reading more

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Azmacna (03-09-2015)
  #32  
Old 03-09-2015, 12:15 AM
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Thanks risk10, I'll have a better look at this when I get home from my placement.

edit: I will definitely consider most of your suggestions but that 'once upon a time' section is going to stay. I just need to get it right. It IS a summery as you have pointed out. I don't want to begin the story that far back but at the same time I feel I need to give an indication of who Jacob was back then. That section hasn't been proofed yet. I simply added that to give readers an idea of the flow after the Tick-tocks. The story is called 'Make-believe' and so I want to reflect the two meanings in the first chapter: make-believe as in your typical children's story, hence 'once upon a time' and make believe as in making people believe what they are seeing (an illusion). When he's younger he thinks it's all in his imagination but when he gets older he realises it isn't.
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  #33  
Old 03-09-2015, 03:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Azmacna View Post
edit: I will definitely consider most of your suggestions but that 'once upon a time' section is going to stay.
Totally your choice - you know where your story is heading and what needs to be revealed to the reader. I will say that I feel the back story requires tightening up. An example is the line 'The years stumbled by...": I think this is too wordy and that you only need convey the MC's apparent psychosis is altering his demeanour.

Anyway, good luck with continuing your story.
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  #34  
Old 03-09-2015, 04:16 PM
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I concur- I'm waiting on the next installment. I will volunteer as a beta reader... I'm not as good as others at critiquing, but I'm sure the story would be a fun read.
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  #35  
Old 03-10-2015, 01:19 AM
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Originally Posted by risk10 View Post
Totally your choice - you know where your story is heading and what needs to be revealed to the reader. I will say that I feel the back story requires tightening up. An example is the line 'The years stumbled by...": I think this is too wordy and that you only need convey the MC's apparent psychosis is altering his demeanour.

Anyway, good luck with continuing your story.
I've had a change of heart on that 'once upon a time' section. I think I'm going to make it more active and change the tone slightly. Perhaps start it with 'There was once a little boy' which gives me the same 'in' without the forced suggestion of a fairy tale. And I'm not bothering with that new opening line. I don't know why I thought it was a good idea to do that to be honest! I can't agree with 'the world stumbled by' being too wordy though

I'll give you a rough outline of the first chapter so you can understand why I'm structuring it this way, and remember this structure is ONLY for the first chapter (or prologue ... I haven't decided yet). I want cuts as you would see in films and I want them to be pretty quick and snappy. Opening is insomnia and the fear of the night, then we move to the back story when he's 11. I do this because the dream he has is going to be dialogue at the psychiatrists. The third scene is him falling out of his dream, struggling to wake and finally bursting through with a 'revelation'. The fourth scene is as I said at the psychiatrists in which he relays that 'revelation'. That's chapter one. This will be the first time he feels he has proof of control over what he sees and dreams.

So: Insomnia/fear > Childhood > Snap from dream > psychiatrist/Dream/revelation.

The revelation is very simple but he feels it's important. He often finds himself in a half sleep half awake situation [as a kid this filled my nights with terror. It still does sometimes]. He senses that someone is sitting on the bed. He can feel the weight. His hands contort and twist as be begins the painful process of waking and his shoulders lift from the bed. Then he feels something placed on the bed beside him. He cannot see who is sat on the bed and he cannot see what was placed on the bed. The difference this time is that he knows it's a woman and knows she places a handbag beside him. He realises that he is the narrator and creator of this moment between sleep and wakefulness. He'd always thought it was just a dream before. Of course the psychiatrist is going to convince him he's mistaken and that he's just adding detail after the dream, as many people do.

I'm really looking forward to writing this conversation!

Originally Posted by daes13 View Post
I concur- I'm waiting on the next installment. I will volunteer as a beta reader... I'm not as good as others at critiquing, but I'm sure the story would be a fun read.
It's going to be a while I'm afraid. At the moment my brain is filled with facts and important things I must remember. I'm currently working towards getting a job in a care home which is shoving my imagination to one side in favour of the more boring concept of 'saving data'. I went back to this last night to see if I could progress it and it just wouldn't come.
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  #36  
Old 03-10-2015, 07:04 AM
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Well when you do my offer stands.
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  #37  
Old 03-10-2015, 10:24 AM
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Here's a slight reworking of the opening scene. Better or worse?

Tick. Tock.

A fat, black space pressed down on Jacob Gray as he lay frozen beneath the bed sheets, listening to the rhythm of a wind-up alarm clock. Its ‘anchor’ tapped against the ‘escapement wheel’ like metallic insect legs probing inside his skull, seeking out the throb at his forehead.

He had no idea how long he laid there, but he knew it had been too long. It had always been the same: his mind winding down, his eye lids burdened and droopy, his body longing for retirement, but once alone with the dark and its quiet insistence, insomnia and torment.

With leaden eyes, he tried to pierce the opacity that smothered his face, stuffed a box he called ‘bedroom’, but the ceiling, the light shade and attic hatch were entombed, erased by the night. There was nothing tangible to cement his thoughts, just marked time and a blank canvas. He felt his imagination uncoiling, slithering from the shadowy corners of his mind, brush in hand.

Tick. Tock.

A bead of sweat crawled through his brow, as if the metal insect in his head had broken free of its bone prison and now investigated the contours of his cheek, searching for his ear and re-entry into his mind. He pulled the bed sheets over his face and tucked the excess into his nape, adjusting it for the tightest possible fit, so that the stretched blankets formed an extra layer of hot skin. He found sanctuary in the scent of freshly-washed bedding, savoured the sudden image of white sheets snapping on a taut washing line, but it was merely a brief distraction from the torturer within. Comfort lost, he twisted sideways, curled deeper into the heart of his linen womb.

As his body warmed, a chill snuck up upon him from the edges of the mattress, where the sheets had been tucked tightly. The tick-tocks of the impossible clock grew louder, tapping at his minds eye. He resisted visualising it because he knew that once he had, the clock would never stop and the night would last forever.

‘The clock doesn’t exist’, he thought, ‘The clock isn’t real.’

Tick.
...............Tock.
.....Tick.
.................................Tock.
....................Tick.
TOCK.
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  #38  
Old 03-10-2015, 01:56 PM
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I like this better- the metallic insect digging through his eyebrow is beautiful.
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  #39  
Old 03-10-2015, 03:24 PM
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Originally Posted by daes13 View Post
I like this better- the metallic insect digging through his eyebrow is beautiful.
What about using 'canvas' and then 'brush'? Too much? Or too vague?

There was nothing tangible to cement his thoughts, just marked time and a blank canvas. He felt his imagination uncoiling, slithering from the shadowy corners of his mind, brush in hand.
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Old 03-10-2015, 03:27 PM
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Not if it's relevant in a symbolic way later.
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Old 03-11-2015, 02:42 PM
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It's now fully rewritten but I've not changed much about the 'once upon a time' section, just a few words here and there and what I consider a better conclusion. Still not happy but certainly happier.
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Old 03-13-2015, 06:12 AM
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Ok, so has anyone got a suggestion on how I can avoid naming the character at the beginning of this piece? I quite like the introduction of his name at the end of section two.

A fat, black space pressed down on the 25 year old
That sound like a cop out to me but it could just be me. Oh, God, I can feel another rewrite coming on.
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Old 03-13-2015, 06:32 AM
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Pressed down on "its victim"?
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  #44  
Old 03-13-2015, 08:26 AM
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Originally Posted by daes13 View Post
Pressed down on "its victim"?
Mmmmmm ... that has potential but still feels a little like I'm deliberately hiding it from the reader. It's definitely given me another possible way in though.
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Old 03-22-2015, 12:19 PM
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Ok, change of plan. I've decided to make that flash back a complete chapter, but I've also decided to keep the lead in as 'tick tock'. Now, my question is, if I do that, how many chapters (if it's more than one) can I get away with before I lead it back into the present with the 'tick tock'? I was also thinking of using the 'tick tock' as a way of flitting between relevant scenes in that flashback. I don't intend to ever use them again once we're back in the present and the story begins in earnest.
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