1. MizukiUkitake

    MizukiUkitake New Member

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    Grammar Alice's hair

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MizukiUkitake, Dec 14, 2016.

    So, my mom says this flows poorly, I beg to differ.
    Since she's not a writer, and gave me some very..... poorly structured suggestions... I've decided to ask the forum, since everyone here writes. Questioned parts will be underlined.

    Already dressed in her uniform, Alice adjusted the amber red hair she kept up in a ponywrap as she walked to the bus stop. With it up like this, her hair stopped at the middle of her back, and if it wasn’t just right, it would come apart and reach her butt, something her boss was ridiculously strict about. No, he didn’t care if they had their hair loose, or up, nor down, all that mattered was that it did not reach past the middle of their back. Some of the employees theorized it was because his late wife kept her hair that length, and he wanted to pretend the pretty girls were his wife. It certainly explained why he would stare at some of them, or touch their waists.

    She smoothed out her green dress and apron as she took her seat on the bus, steel blue eyes looking out the window in thought. Every day seemed to be more or less the same these days. She was a year and a half away from graduating high school, but nothing seemed to be moving forward. Same classes, same job, same people, day in and day out. Alice needed a change of pace. Perhaps she could work on that starting Monday.

    As the bus zipped past a small patch of woods, something caught Alice’s eye. For a moment, reality seemed to slow down, as her eyes locked with the bright blue eyes of a man with solid white hair, standing among the flora. Before she could take in any more detail, the bus’s movement broke her eye contact with the stranger, and he seemed to disappear behind the trees. She turned and tried to look back, but there was nobody there, and the small section of oak and pine vanished quickly behind the other cars.

    She sighed and shook her head, turning forward. It must have been her imagination. If she was hallucinating from poor sleep, she’d have to get herself into a right mind before walking into the cafe. Her boss wouldn’t allow her to interrupt work because of altered vision; she’d likely be fired.​

    • "the amber red hair" - According to my mother, this description implies she's "borrowing someone else's hair, or wig".
    • "ponywrap" - Previously, I had "ponybun" here, but it seems we cannot come to an agreement on the name of this hairstyle. My mother believes that such a detail is highly unimportant, as it doesn't matter if I envision her to look that way, so long as I can write in a way that my readers will understand.
      [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    • "With it up like this, her hair stopped at the middle of her back, and if it wasn’t just right, it would come apart and reach her butt, something her boss was ridiculously strict about." - Apparently, this is also a needless detail. She implied the entire paragraph was pointless, though it's something that will be called back on later in the story (both the boss's inappropriate behavior, and the strictness about hair, that is). Mom suggests I write something like "Her odd boss was very serious about how the girls kept their hair. Because of its length, if Alice's hair came undone, it would reach the small of her back.". I don't feel as if this suggestion holds the same feeling.
    • "standing among the flora" - She didn't understand the word "flora", so I explained it as "flowers, bushes, plantlife in general". Because there are no flowers or "groundcover" mentioned, Mom suggests this is poorly worded.
    • Final paragraph - According to Mom, this entire paragraph makes no sense from a psychological standpoint. "If she thinks she's hallucinating from LACK of sleep, not POOR sleep, she should be freaking out, not worrying about if her boss will freak out", is what she says. In my head, what's going on is she thinks for a moment "Am I hallucinating?", but decides it's more likely her imagination, just her eyes playing tricks on her. If she is starting to hallucinate from a poor night's sleep, she'd have to snap herself out of it before it affected her work.

    So that's all I have. Please tell me what you think. If I need to fix something, I can fix it so long as it gets the message across.
     
  2. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Your mother is right.

    Your mother is a gem.

    She'll tell you the truth about your writing, which is something that many mothers don't; it's usually "Wonderful, darling! You're so clever!" and then you hit reality when your wonderful writing gets shredded in the real world. Plus, she's telling you what's wrong with it.

    Like any critiquer, she won't get it right every time, and the final decision as to what goes into your finished work is yours alone, but listen to her, discuss it with her, and don't throw a strop that she's not fawning on your greatness.
     
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  3. MizukiUkitake

    MizukiUkitake New Member

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    I understand that. There's parts in there that are actually fixed from her suggestions, but these are things I feel need a second opinion.
     
  4. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I agree that it's important about the hair. Maybe not so much the colour, but how she's wearing it and WHY. However, it's easily fixed. (Aside from the colour, which I also think reads in a clunky way. That hair colour is usually referred to as auburn, isn't it? Or something similar.)

    Why not try breaking your sentences up differently, and focusing on what's really important here? I'm with your mother ...I had never heard of a ponywrap until now. However, if it's a term that most people understand, fair enough. However, it's WHY Alice is wearing it that way. And why she's worried about it coming undone. The way she's wearing her hair is an important issue, so make sure none of your readers will be scratching their heads saying Ponywrap? What's that?

    If it were me, I'd wait to mention the hair colour later on in the story, because it's really not important in this scene, and the fact that you've used an odd way to describe the colour is very distracting. That bit, plus the confusion about 'ponywrap' stopped me cold. I might not have continued reading past that point, if this had been a real story I'd picked up.

    Here's my version of that first paragraph—just to illustrate an idea of what could be changed, not to dictate how it should be written. Again, I think the focus is important. This boss seems very weird indeed, and it's Alice's anxiety about displeasing him that the reader should take away from this intro ...not the strange colour of her hair, or the fact that she is 'already' dressed while she is out on the street, or the current name of her hairstyle, etc. Your last sentence is perfect, though, and will lead us straight into the meat of the story. (I presume this, anyway. The boss's activity will have some bearing on this story?)

    Dressed in her uniform, Alice walked to the bus stop, adjusting her (amber red ponywrap/ponytail) to make it more secure. With her hair in a pony (tail/wrap) it hung only to the middle of her back, which was a requirement for her job. If her hair worked loose from the (elastic, clip, scrunchie), it would fall to her butt instead, and this was an issue her boss was ridiculously strict about. No, he didn’t care if his employees wore their hair loose, or up, or down. All that mattered was that their hair never reached past the middle of their backs. Some of the employees theorized it was because his late wife kept her hair that length, and he wanted to pretend the pretty girls were his wife. It certainly explained why he would stare at some of them, or touch their waists.

    I think your mom picked up on the fact that this opener could use some work. Don't make the writer's mistake of dismissing somebody's feedback who senses a problem but may not be able to articulate what is wrong. Unless you feel your mom is always out to nitpick or make you feel small—whereupon you should not be showing her your work at this stage—do take on board that she's uneasy about how this reads. And work from there.

    I'd say she also has a point about the 'flora,' which reads clumsily, and stops the reader cold. If the bus had passed a field full of cows, would you have said 'a field of fauna?' For that matter, if the white-haired man is indeed a man, he IS fauna. So you have fauna standing in the flora? I know it sounds ridiculous, but if you're going to revert to the Latin generic term for plants, then be consistent. :)

    The way to take a critique is not so much to expect the critique giver to solve problems for you (although some of them will) but to expect them to point out the problems. They are your readers, and if they think something is clunky or doesn't make sense, it's a good idea to look at their problem area and see what you can do. Your goal is for your NEXT reader to just skip happily through that section and not see any problem with it at all.

    This is different from allowing somebody else to tell you what kind of story you should be telling. That's entirely up to you. But HOW you tell the story will impact on your readers, and they won't know what you mean unless it comes across in your words.

    This story start isn't bad at all, and you've thrown us a few things that are interesting indeed. The weird boss, and of course the man Alice glimpses in that little patch of woodland. Just be careful about odd word choices, which require explanation. Amber red. Ponywrap. Flora, etc. These make a stuttery start.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2016
  5. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I have to say, your mom might not be a writer but she's a remarkably good beta reader. I agree with the majority of her critiques. I think tightening things up would absolutely help with the flow. For example, I'd edit the first sentence this way:

    Already dressed in her uniform, Alice adjusted the amber red hair she kept up in a ponywrap her hair as she walked to the bus stop. With it up like this, her hair stopped at the middle of her back, and if it wasn’t just right, it would come apart and reach her butt, She'd styled it as usual so it hung no lower than mid-back, something her boss was ridiculously strict about.

    For me, it reads weird if a character's physical attributes are described in a way that doesn't come organically out of the action. If the fact that she has red/amber/auburn hair is important, there should be something in the story that reveals that fact. Just stating her hair color with no context feels a little off to me, like it's very important to you that your readers picture her exactly the way you see her in your head. It took a long time for me to realize that as long as your readers are getting the details that are important to the story right, if they picture your MC differently than you it really doesn't amount to a hill of beans. I once got very upset when someone made a fancasting suggestion for one of my MCs, and it was a RL actor that was just about the polar opposite of how I'd described Nate thus far (it didn't help that the actor is on my irrational hate list). Now a few years later I could really care less how they picture my characters as long as they're consuming and hopefully enjoying the book.

    As for the ponywrap thing, again, the point is that her hair doesn't go lower than the middle of her back, and that this is a requirement of her employer. The whole part about how it will fall down if it's not secured properly is common sense and IMO doesn't need to be elaborated on.

    There's more I could critique, but I think that's better suited for the Workshop forums.
     
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  6. malaupp

    malaupp Active Member

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    My mother is similar and she can get very nitpicky about word usage. Things like "You used the word 'fall' here, but I think 'cascade' would be better with the imagery you're going for." But she has a masters in English, so I usually listen.

    As for your mother's critique, I have to agree. As this is an opening paragraph, you want to catch the reader's attention right away. This might be a taste thing, but long winded descriptions of a character's appearance always put me off. I can't count the number of times I completely gloss over a paragraph because it's all about the protagonist putting on makeup.

    While I agree it is important to note things about her boss and his creepiness, you can do it in a much shorter way, such as Laurin Kelly suggested.

    As for the flora, it's more of a subtext thing for me. Each word comes with a sort of tenor along with its meaning. If you wanted to emphasize the character's intelligence, then flora would work. But if you wanted to emphasize that she's just a normal, down to earth character, then I would shoot for something simple like "plant life" or "underbrush".

    When it comes to the final paragraph, the phrase "If she was hallucinating from poor sleep," comes across like she doesn't know how well she slept. If she did sleep poorly the night before, I would just say it outright. Something like "It must have been her sleep-deprived brain playing tricks on her."
     
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