1. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    Impact?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Chaos Inc., Aug 20, 2014.

    I've got a reveal in my story and i want it to have some impact when the reader gets to it. Here's part of the paragraph including the sentence in question.

    "Something tickled his cheek and he sat up and wiped his face. The clump disintegrated into a fine dirty powder in his palm as he rubbed his fingers together. Then he froze. Beyond his hand he could see where he was, in a scorched forest and surrounded by scores of smoldering corpses."

    If you could focus on "Beyond his hand he could see where he was, in a scorched forest and surrounded by scores of smoldering corpses." The purpose of this sentence is to give the illusion that the character's focus is on his hand but then as he looks past it he realizes something that causes him to freeze. This would be akin to a camera shot on the hand while the background is too fuzzy to make out but then it briefly comes clear. Then on the "in a scorched forest and surrounded by scores of smoldering corpses" There's a far shot of him sitting in a scorched forest surrounded by scores of smoldering corpses.

    Question one: Is the "and" necessary? When I drop it I feel that the corpses are surrounding the scorched forest not the character even though I feel it reads really well.

    Question two: Did I format the section properly to get my intended impact?
     
  2. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Overall, it works well. The cinematic idiom of shifting focus from foreground to background is pretty straightforward and it accomplishes exactly what you want.

    Question one: yes, "forest surrounded by scores" implies that the forest is surrounded by scores. The comma in the sentence should actually be a colon. A colon serves to separate a part of the sentence from another part that substantiates or clarifies it. In this sentence, a colon should separate "where he was" from that which substantiates "where he was". "in a scorched forest..." substantiates "where he was".

    Question two:

    Try the exercise of writing exactly what you visualize, exactly as you visualize it, in the exact order that you visualize it:

    Something tickled his cheek. He sat up. He wiped his face. It was a clump of fine dirty powder. He rubbed it between his fingers. It disintegrated in his palm. His hand faded from his focus and his surroundings came into focus. He froze. There was a smoldering corpse on the ground in front of him. There were scores of corpses spread around to his left, to his right, and into the distance in front of him.

    They covered the ground of a forest. All the trees were charred.

    Then worry about making it sound pretty and natural.

    The reason I changed the order of the elements of the surroundings from "forest → corpses" to "corpse → corpses → forest" is for immediacy. If my hand faded out of view and I looked forward, then the first thing I would focus on would be the single gruesome object in front of me. Then I would focus on the rest of the gruesome objects, then on the gruesome environment.
     
  3. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    It might interest you to know that the effect you are referring to is called a "rack focus".

    As far as the verisimilitude of the scene, I feel that it would be more visceral if we saw the shapes ourselves, as readers, and then saw them coalesce into cadavers. Breaking it into several sentences.

    On the other hand if you want to keep it one sentence then this is your seminal moment in the book I would work on that sentence a lot, and punch it up real good. Right now it's just any sentence, but it has the potential to really be somebody!

    The and is pretty necessary, otherwise it's too much commas.
     
  4. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    I originally did something similar to that before arriving at this. He looked at his hand then saw something dark in the background that caught his attention. Then he realized where he was. I think I want to keep the most gruesome part last so it doesn't distract from the rest of the description. I've done that, read something early in a sentence then get caught up in it I don't recall the rest of the sentence. If that's just a problem I have, I have no qualms about reversing the order for others.

    I also briefly thought it was a semicolon but I hate using them improperly.

    Here I see you did this "He rubbed it between his fingers. It disintegrated in his palm." and I wrote "The clump disintegrated into a fine dirty powder in his palm as he rubbed his fingers together." I essentially went into passive voice right?

    I should have done "He rubbed the clump in between his fingers and it disintegrated into a fine dirty powder."?
     
  5. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    While the question is still pending on the subject, I also have this sentence.

    "A sudden sensation of excitement jolted to his fingertips as he saw slight shift in form through the obscuring mist. (He saw a slight shift in form through the obscuring mist and a sudden sensation of excitement jolted to his fingertips.)"

    I think the first one is passive while the one in parenthesis isn't. Which do I go with?

    I think my story is spattered with sentences like this.
     
  6. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I get what you mean that you want to save the punchline for the end of the sentence in order to avoid making the rest of the sentence forgettable. However, I do not think that would make the forest as forgettable as you think, and I would prioritize capturing the scene itself (the nearest object in the foreground is the most noticeable part of the scene) over engineering the sentence to be remembered the way you want.

    "The clump disintegrated into a fine dirty powder in his palm as he rubbed his fingers together." is in the active voice. However, the rubbing is the cause of the disintegration. I generally find cause and effect is communicated most strongly when the cause is mentioned before the effect. Your most recent version of the sentence works well.

    Likewise, "A sudden sensation of excitement jolted to his fingertips as he saw slight shift in form through the obscuring mist." is also in the active voice, but the effect precedes the cause. Let's see how it works if the cause and effect are reversed and some other things are changed (namely eliminating "he saw" which is filtering):

    "The blurry dark form shifted slightly in the mist. _____'s fingertips suddenly tingled and felt warm."

    Hmm. I like the general structure of describing the external stimulus first, then describing the internal reaction to it. It is a motivation-reaction unit. It feels more natural. Not sure about the wording. What do you think?
     
  7. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    Hrm. The "sudden sensation" sentence is at the top of the paragraph so I need to be able to transition from waiting around for something to come by to that thing coming by. I want to avoid the over use of "Suddenly there was..." in the story so I can bank it for maximum use later, although, I used it here anyway.

    "Through the obscuring mist there was a slight shift in the forest's structure. A dark object passed within a break in the deep shadows between the white barked trees. Excitement shot down Dryden's arms and his fingers tingled in anticipation.His eyes followed where it should have emerged but it appeared from behind a closer copse (cluster of trees)."

    I think this works. Using "excitement" is a tell. I could show by using "a jolt" which is how I describe getting that first hit of adrenaline.
     
  8. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good call on avoiding the word "suddenly". "jolt" or "shot" conveys suddenness without an adverb.

    The overall structure of that last paragraph works well. Some uber-picky notes:
    • "obscuring" as an adjective of "mist" does not add information -- if only dark, blurry forms are visible through it, then it meets the definition of "obscuring".
    • Not sure if "within" is the right preposition to describe motion from one end of a space to another -- something passes through a space.
    • Is there really enough visibility to tell that the bark is white?
    • There is still a more tangible way to describe an adrenaline rush (see below).
    • "it should have emerged but it appeared" interrupts the flow. It actually took me a while to figure out that "where it should have emerged" refers to the tree where Dryden expects it to reemerge -- I thought it referred to the tree where Dryden thought it had originally emerged from. "but" just gets in the way -- a paragraph break communicates a break in thought more effectively.
    Let's see if this works (and I try to maintain a transition from scene-setting to the sudden action):

    The trees were blurry shadows in the mist. Something passed through a gap between them. Dryden's heart palpitated and a tingling warmth shot down his arms into his fingertips. His eyes followed the blur toward the tree where it disappeared. He waited for it to reemerge.

    It jumped out from an even closer copse. The structure of its body was visible now.
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Re the order of things the character sees - don't put the gruesome bit last ONLY because you want the reader to remember the rest of the description. Because seriously, if it's impact you want - that is impact. When something has impact, it SHOULD push everything else to the background. By deliberately avoiding that in favour of the reader seeing a forest (and what's so special about that? Why does he have to know NOW he's in a forest rather than a few lines later once you've established the gruesome scene?) you necessarily forfeit impact.

    As for your question about passive voice - there's a time and place for the passive voice. If you want to slow the narrative down, give that sense of the character not being too connected with his surroundings, then I think passive voice is excellent for that.

    It only depends on what you want to achieve. Then choose the most fitting device for it. And if passive voice achieves the effect you're going for, then use it.
     

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