Looking for help trimming the fat from my horror prologue!

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zendavis
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Looking for help trimming the fat from my horror prologue!

#1 Post by zendavis » Thu Nov 13, 2014 2:14 pm

Original: 313 Words

The children of Berkley Heights will die tonight. Their warm blood will melt the fallen snow. It will stain the white powdered streets and their flesh will be eaten by what preys on them this evening. You may fight. You may survive. But that will not be true of everyone in this neighborhood. Death is coming and it aims to dine well tonight.

The storm tonight is thick and heavy. That is good. The snow will make the children easier to track. Run little babies. Run. You cannot hide. The smell of your fresh souls hangs in the air like the aroma of pig fat on an open flame. You will be found. But please try. Try and save everyone. Try your best to survive and endure. The game is always a little more fun when they fight.

Tonight Berkley Heights is average in every single way. It is average in the way most small towns are average. But this will not be true in the morning. When the sunlight peers over the ice laden tree tops and the first of the screams start. When the boy with his head severed from his shoulders is found lying dead in the middle of a street. When the parents begin to count heads and wail as their numbers come up short. When the world hears of what has happened here. No. Berkley Heights will never be average again.

The time is 8pm. The bloodshed is due to start any time soon. And you dear friend. You will be the cause of all this carnage. This blood will be on your hands and at this moment you don't even realize it. You think yourself small. You think yourself inconsequential. But by night's end you will be Queen Composer and it will be your baton that orchestrates this forthcoming symphony of horror. Please stand for your applause.

New: 266 Words (15% reduction)

The children of Berkley Heights will die tonight. Their warm blood will melt the snow and stain the white powder filled streets as their flesh is eaten by what preys on them this night. You may fight and you may survive but this will not be true of everyone. Death is coming and it aims to dine well tonight.

The storm tonight is thick and heavy. This is good. The snow will make the children easier to track. Run little babies. Run. The smell of your fresh souls hangs in the air like the aroma of pig fat on an open flame. Please, please try to save everyone. The game is always a little more fun when you fight.

Tonight Berkley Heights is average in every single way but this will not be true in the morning. When sunlight peers over the ice laden tree tops and the first of the screams start. When the boy with his severed head is found lying in the middle of a street. When the parents begin to count heads and wail as their numbers come up short. When the world hears of what's happened here. No. Berkley Heights will never be average again.

The time is 8pm. The bloodshed is due to start any minute now. And you dear friend. All this blood will be on your hands and you don't even realize it. You think yourself small. You think yourself inconsequential. But by night's end you will be Queen Composer and it will be your baton that orchestrates this forthcoming symphony of horror. Please stand for your applause.

____________________________________________

I'm adopting a hard rule to cut all the fat while maintaining the tone and intent of the original passages. Is the new edit underwritten or does it read better?

Thank you,
Zen

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Re: Looking for help trimming the fat from my horror prologu

#2 Post by Shaples » Thu Nov 13, 2014 3:16 pm

Welcome to the forums! :D

I think your trimmed version is both an improvement and a step back, surprisingly for similar reasons. Cutting out some of the very short sentences (or merging them into longer sentences) definitely improves the pacing of this excerpt. I think editing:
You will be found. But please try. Try and save everyone. Try your best to survive and endure.
down to
Please, please try to save everyone.
gets the same idea across much more efficiently and feels a bit punchier.

That said, I think your use of short, declarative sentences is a defining feature of the voice of this introduction, and in a few places, merging short/medium sentences into long sentences for brevity winds up breaking the cadence of the piece as a whole.
Their warm blood will melt the snow and stain the white powder filled streets as their flesh is eaten by what preys on them this night.
just doesn't have the same sense of rhythm of the original
Their warm blood will melt the fallen snow. It will stain the white powdered streets and their flesh will be eaten by what preys on them this evening.
I suppose my advice would be to focus specifically on trimming unnecessary repetitions of words or ideas while paying close attention to your rhythm. For example, I think trimming down the "Tonight Berkley Heights" sentence was a good choice, but you really need a strong lead in to the When/When/When sentences to make the use of fragments feel more intentional. If it were me, I would change it to "Tonight Berkley Heights is average in every single way. This will not be true in the morning, when sunlight.../When/When" to give it that tumbling, rhythmic repetition.

Judiciously placed commas can help longer sentences feel more rhythmic as well, but with such a distinctive style, I would be wary of letting any sentences get too long without a specific purpose.

Hopefully this helps! I think you're on the right track!

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Re: Looking for help trimming the fat from my horror prologu

#3 Post by RotGtIE » Sat Nov 15, 2014 4:47 am

The most consistent problem which jumps out at me is your negligence in failing to make use of any form of punctuation except for the period. You have somehow managed to avoid using any commas, semicolons, or hyphens anywhere in this passage (save for one comma in your revision), and while I understand that this is a direct result of your intent to stilt the internal monologue of your deranged narrator, I think you can still achieve the desired effect, perhaps even improve upon it, by reworking your sentence structure to include all of the literary and grammatical tools at your disposal.

But far be it from me to leave you with vague and generic advice like that. I'm going to do my best to give you the impressions I had when reading this, and what I would do about it if it were my prose. Let's dig in.
The children of Berkley Heights will die tonight. Their warm blood will melt the fallen snow. It will stain the white powdered streets and their flesh will be eaten by what preys on them this evening. You may fight. You may survive. But that will not be true of everyone in this neighborhood. Death is coming and it aims to dine well tonight.

The children of Berkley Heights will die tonight. Their warm blood will melt the snow and stain the white powder filled streets as their flesh is eaten by what preys on them this night. You may fight and you may survive but this will not be true of everyone. Death is coming and it aims to dine well tonight.
Well, that escalated quickly! Fuck Berkley Heights, right? I never liked that place, either. Gas is too expensive and there's nowhere good to eat.

...So, that introduction was pretty damn abrupt. One thing that strikes me about this paragraph is that the narrator appears at first to be speaking to himself or to a nonexistent audience (the reader), but towards the end, it seems that he is instead addressing someone more directly involved in the plot. It is obvious that his audience is not present, but who is he addressing, exactly? The children in general, or some specific character in this story? I would recommend clearing this up at the start. A line like "Weep, children of Berkley Heights, for your bright and promising futures shall be bitterly extinguished in this terrible night." would make it clear if he were addressing the children. But if he's speaking to a specific character whom he plans to manipulate into enacting his slaughter, I might instead use something like "Rejoice, insignificant one; your life of mediocrity will soon be at an end. Come! Let us conduct a bloody orchestra to play for the vermin of this nameless backwater. We shall enrich their meaningless lives with the spirited drama of tragedy! I shall be your silent mentor from the shadows, and you shall be at the fore, my instrument of death."

Alternatively, you may want to consider holding off on the bottom line until, well, the bottom line arrives. You know how these mustache-twirling maniac types are - can't be bothered to get to the point until they've waxed poetic to their vain satisfaction. A guy like that might start off with a bit more subtlety and a slow rise in sadism when addressing his victims-to-be. Something like "Dusk empties the streets of Berkley Heights, as it does at every other ordinary day's end. Run home, little ones; your warm suppers and cozy beds await you. How unfortunate for you that tonight will not be so peaceful, so serene, so God-damned ordinary as those nights to which you have grown accustomed." comes to mind. This lets our narrating freak really warm up the engine and show us just how much anticipation he is having for whatever the hell he's got planned for tonight. Note the italic - I don't know your character from squat, but the thought of a guy who would see fit to murder a whole bunch of children and make some dramatic pre-game speech to himself about it makes me think that maybe he's got some serious issues just simmering beneath a facade of posh grandeur. You know what psychopaths with delusions of grandeur tend to do? Crack. Just one little line like that - an outburst of crude language indicative of some deeply-seated frustration - tells the reader a whole lot about this guy. If you want a lot of bang for your buck, seize opportunities like this to develop a large amount of character in a small amount of words, and it will leave an impression on your readers.

As for the blood-stained/melted snow, I found that to be a bit jarring. I read about snow being melted and then stained and all I can think about is how you could stain something that you melted. It messes with my brain and throws me off. Now I'm distracted thinking about how maybe some of the snow got melted but then the blood cooled off and I guess there was enough of it to stain some of the rest of the snow after it got cold but before it coagulated and now I'm not thinking at all about how there's a psychopath about to murder a bunch of children in the night. I'm thinking about stupid technical shit. I'm completely distracted. That's not where you want me to be - you want me to be thinking about this crazy motherfucker and what he's up to. You want me to be impacted by his casual disregard for human life; you want me to be disgusted with this monster who thinks that the most appropriate time to wax poetic is when you're about to kill a bunch of kids. Keep the focus on what a sadistic freak this guy is, and don't let me get distracted by weird technical details.

Again, when he addresses the "you" who "may fight and survive," I'm not sure who he's talking about. Is he talking about the person he's going to manipulate into doing this, or is he advising the children in general? This isn't the kind of uncertainty that creates suspense, it's the kind that creates confusion and makes me think about things which are distracting me from the monologue. I don't like thinking. Don't make me think. Also, starting with "You may fight and you may survive" and then ending with "but this [survival] will not be true of everyone" is grammatically awkward. At first it appears that the subject of this sentence is "you," but the second clause seems to rely on the "survival" or the children being what "this" is referring to. It reads like you're changing your subject in the middle of the sentence. Might want to restructure or reword this sentence.

Let's continue.
The storm tonight is thick and heavy. That is good. The snow will make the children easier to track. Run little babies. Run. You cannot hide. The smell of your fresh souls hangs in the air like the aroma of pig fat on an open flame. You will be found. But please try. Try and save everyone. Try your best to survive and endure. The game is always a little more fun when they fight.

The storm tonight is thick and heavy. This is good. The snow will make the children easier to track. Run little babies. Run. The smell of your fresh souls hangs in the air like the aroma of pig fat on an open flame. Please, please try to save everyone. The game is always a little more fun when you fight.
Tracking runners in a storm? A thick and heavy one? Seems like a pain in the ass, to me. Limited visibility, tracks getting covered up and obscured by freshly fallen snow; hell, if I were a sociopath aiming to murder a bunch of kids, I think I'd postpone my genocidal plans until the damn storm passes!

And there it is; I'm distracted again. All I can think about is how hard it might be to track down victims in a storm and whether tracks left in the snow would be enough to offset that difficulty. Do you need this storm? If so, that's an easy fix - storms tend to obscure vision and sound, which means that it's going to be easier for our guy to escape notice while going about his grisly business. Screams will be drowned out (heavy rainfall is excellent for this as well) and it'll be easier to flee in the event that he does pick up any pursuers. If the storm isn't needed, then sure, those tracks will be much more useful for all that tracking he's going to be doing.

He's still doing the tracking, right? Or is his puppet going to be doing that for him? This is another good opportunity to clear up some things about who he's talking to and what he's planning for them. I don't mean to say that you should give away the plot if it's not meant to be given away yet, but you can still make it better known who he's talking to by saying something like "Fear not, my prodige, for our victims will leave many trails by which you shall find them." would make it clear that he's still talking to a specific character. But if he's taunting the children, he might say "Run, children. Flee with what pathetic little strength you have in your legs; your tracks will betray you to me no matter how far you go. You cannot hide from my sight."

I personally prefer your first draft here, where he begins his encouragement with the word "but." It matters. This guy just detailed the inevitability of his victims' deaths, so it's fitting that he should indicate in some way that any words of encouragement in his monologue are there despite and in direct contradiction to the hopelessness he just tried to communicate to them. This is one place where I wouldn't compress multiple sentences into one. The stilted speech helps a lot here. What confuses me is that he again seems to be addressing all of the children at first, and then appears to address a single, specific character by saying "Try and save everyone." There's no way he's telling everyone to try and save everyone, unless his mind is quite a bit more deranged than I'd first thought! If this guy is going back and forth between addressing one character and then addressing all of the children, then that is going to have to be identified much more clearly. I find myself stumbling over these switch-ups and it makes me go back, re-read the passage, and think "oh, I guess this is where he's talking to the individual character again." I'm too lazy for that. Don't make me be not lazy.

Pressing on.
Tonight Berkley Heights is average in every single way. It is average in the way most small towns are average. But this will not be true in the morning. When the sunlight peers over the ice laden tree tops and the first of the screams start. When the boy with his head severed from his shoulders is found lying dead in the middle of a street. When the parents begin to count heads and wail as their numbers come up short. When the world hears of what has happened here. No. Berkley Heights will never be average again.

Tonight Berkley Heights is average in every single way but this will not be true in the morning. When sunlight peers over the ice laden tree tops and the first of the screams start. When the boy with his severed head is found lying in the middle of a street. When the parents begin to count heads and wail as their numbers come up short. When the world hears of what's happened here. No. Berkley Heights will never be average again.
I think you have once again done a disservice to the passage by compacting those first three sentences into one. The average nature of Berkley Heights is obviously a subject which draws the narrator's attention, apparently in contempt or disdain. This is an opportunity for character development. I want to know more about this. Depending on what the guy says, he could hint at whether his motivation for doing this is specific to this town or its children (or parents, since he knows he'll be making them suffer at the loss of their children), or if he just hates the mundane. The reader doesn't know, but this reader is particularly thirsty to find out more about what makes our villain tick. You don't have to completely quench that thirst, but you can get a lot of mileage out of whetting it with a hint or an aside to give us a glimpse into what he is thinking.

When the sun peers over the treetops, the sun is the subject of the sentence. When screaming begins in the same sentence, I have to stop and remind myself that the sun does not have a mouth and cannot scream. This is another example of hopping from an explicit subject to an entirely different and merely implied subject in the same sentence. It's a bad habit, and it stems from trying to write creative sentences and taking that desire too far. While we're at it, make those treetops ice-laden, not ice laden. Without the connecting hyphen, I read both of those words as though they are independent of each other, when they are actually meant to work in tandem as a single adjective. Realizing my mistake, I had to re-read it to be clear on the meaning you were going for. That messed up my pace when reading this passage. Don't mess up my pace.

That severed head part is bothering me for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is too specific for its place in the narrative. We know that this creep is planning some fucked up shit, but we don't know exactly how fucked up until it actually happens. If you're writing a horror story, I would recommend saving the shock of a beheading for when the beheaded body is actually discovered. If you state it ahead of time and fail to deliver, then you're just being a tease, and if you state it ahead of time and do deliver, then you spoiled it for the audience instead of letting them discover the gruesome scene at the moment of maximum impact. The second reason is that you use the word "head" in the very next sentence, and besides being a redundant use of your vocabulary, it also makes me have to stop and think about whether the adults are counting heads which are severed or performing a headcount. I have to get to the end of that sentence before I realize that the context of the word "head" has changed dramatically, and it confuses me until I reach that point. That pulls me out of the narrative. I'm once again distracted thinking about counting heads and whether they're still attached and I'm no longer thinking about a villain's sadistic speech.
The time is 8pm. The bloodshed is due to start any time soon. And you dear friend. You will be the cause of all this carnage. This blood will be on your hands and at this moment you don't even realize it. You think yourself small. You think yourself inconsequential. But by night's end you will be Queen Composer and it will be your baton that orchestrates this forthcoming symphony of horror. Please stand for your applause.

The time is 8pm. The bloodshed is due to start any minute now. And you dear friend. All this blood will be on your hands and you don't even realize it. You think yourself small. You think yourself inconsequential. But by night's end you will be Queen Composer and it will be your baton that orchestrates this forthcoming symphony of horror. Please stand for your applause.
Eight, eh? I think maybe that detail is a little too technical for a poetic internal monologue like this. Here we are talking about blood-stained snow, suns peering over treetops, and all of a sudden I'm smacked in the face with a number. You know what numbers make me think of? Not poetry and narratives, that's for damn sure. Unless there is a very important reason for the inclusion of this kind of detail, such as to illustrate that the villain is extremely particular about details such as time and measurements, I would opt for descriptive words rather than throwing a numeral in the middle of your prose.

Our badguy of the hour barely starts to describe the individual character whom he is now obviously addressing. Why does he skimp out on the details now? He's clearly very focused on this person's character. He completely disagrees with the notion that this character is small or inconsequential. Why does he think that? Could he elaborate here? What makes him so sure he's right about this person? Again, we don't need the whole thing given away at this point, but this is a great opportunity to develop both the villain and the character he is speaking to. This is a chance to describe one of your characters in the words of another one of your characters. It gives the audience a perspective beyond that of the third person reader, and they'll gobble that up.

Queen composer? Do you mean conductor? You mentioned a baton, so a conductor is what comes immediately to mind. Maybe she composed the horror and is also going to conduct it? What a Renaissance woman. And now I'm distracted again. I think you have too much in mind for this to be once sentence. You've got the night's end, the queen composer, her baton, and a symphony of horror, which is apparently forthcoming. Kind of a lot of stuff jammed in there. Might want to break some of this up - I think this idea deserves more length than you gave it in this passage. Also...Queen Composer. Even if you mean Queen Conductor, it strikes me as a strange title. Consider something like "And you, my little plaything, you shall be the conductor of tonight's bloody symphony. Take your place at the podium, and guide your orchestra to a thundering crescendo of horror. And when all is done, take your bow and partake in the wailing woes of the mourning, for such will be your rightful round of applause." The words you want to use are heavy with meaning. Let them have sufficient space to breathe and influence the reader. It'll be worth the extra effort.

Well, that's my take. It's a whole lot of amateur opinion, and I don't have the context that is the rest of your story surrounding this passage, so that's the limit of my ability to contribute. Hopefully you'll find it helpful regardless.

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Re: Looking for help trimming the fat from my horror prologu

#4 Post by zendavis » Mon Nov 17, 2014 4:46 pm

Shaples wrote:Welcome to the forums! :D

I think your trimmed version is both an improvement and a step back, surprisingly for similar reasons. Cutting out some of the very short sentences (or merging them into longer sentences) definitely improves the pacing of this excerpt. I think editing:
You will be found. But please try. Try and save everyone. Try your best to survive and endure.
down to
Please, please try to save everyone.
gets the same idea across much more efficiently and feels a bit punchier.

That said, I think your use of short, declarative sentences is a defining feature of the voice of this introduction, and in a few places, merging short/medium sentences into long sentences for brevity winds up breaking the cadence of the piece as a whole.
Their warm blood will melt the snow and stain the white powder filled streets as their flesh is eaten by what preys on them this night.
just doesn't have the same sense of rhythm of the original
Their warm blood will melt the fallen snow. It will stain the white powdered streets and their flesh will be eaten by what preys on them this evening.
I suppose my advice would be to focus specifically on trimming unnecessary repetitions of words or ideas while paying close attention to your rhythm. For example, I think trimming down the "Tonight Berkley Heights" sentence was a good choice, but you really need a strong lead in to the When/When/When sentences to make the use of fragments feel more intentional. If it were me, I would change it to "Tonight Berkley Heights is average in every single way. This will not be true in the morning, when sunlight.../When/When" to give it that tumbling, rhythmic repetition.

Judiciously placed commas can help longer sentences feel more rhythmic as well, but with such a distinctive style, I would be wary of letting any sentences get too long without a specific purpose.

Hopefully this helps! I think you're on the right track!
Thank you for taking the time to help me out. How is this? I tried to incorporate all your suggestions.
The children of Berkley Heights will die tonight. Their warm blood will melt the fallen snow. It will stain the white powdered streets and their flesh will be eaten by what preys on them this evening. You may fight and you may survive but this will not be true of everyone. Death is coming and it aims to dine well tonight.

The storm tonight is thick and heavy. This is good. The snow will make the children easier to track. Run little babies. Run. The smell of your fresh souls hangs in the air like the aroma of pig fat on an open flame. And please, please try and save everyone. The game is always a little more fun when they fight.

Tonight Berkley Heights is average in every single way. This will not be true in the morning when sunlight peers over the ice laden tree tops and the first of the screams start. When the boy with his severed head is found lying in the middle of a street. When the parents begin to count heads and wail as their numbers come up short. When the world hears of what's happened here. No. Berkley Heights will never be average again.

The time is 8pm. The bloodshed is due to start any minute now. And you dear friend. All this blood will be on your hands and you don't even realize it. You think yourself small. You think yourself inconsequential. But by night's end you will be Queen Composer and it will be your baton that orchestrates this forthcoming symphony of horror. Please stand for your applause.

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Re: Looking for help trimming the fat from my horror prologu

#5 Post by zendavis » Mon Nov 17, 2014 5:23 pm

RotGtIE there' s a lot great feedback here! Thank you! I'll do my best to implement as much of it as I can! I wanted to keep this section brief because after this the main story starts and I wanted to dive right into it. Do you think the pacing is too quick?

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Re: Looking for help trimming the fat from my horror prologu

#6 Post by Shaples » Mon Nov 17, 2014 6:38 pm

Oooh yeah! You really hit the nail on the head with the pacing in this version - it makes the whole passage very creepy, and it has a great, building rhythm that culminates in the "Queen Composer" sentence at the end. The changes you've made are subtle, but (I think!) quite effective.

One more thought I've had on a second pass: In the second paragraph, there's a bit of inconsistency in who the narrator is addressing. In paragraphs 1, 3, and 4, it's "You" - the reader/player, but in paragraph 2, it shifts a little, to "babies" and a collective "your" (your souls = everyone in the town) before going back to "you" (should try to save the town). It took me a minute to be able to put my finger on what felt off about that paragraph because it's subtle, so I hope I'm explaining it well. Basically, it feels like our creepy voice over is glancing away from the Queen Composer for a moment, when the rest of the passage does such a good job of slowly zooming in on her.
The smell of your fresh souls hangs in the air like the aroma of pig fat on an open flame.
The souls bit is easy to fix, just take out the "your" and it goes right back to the more objective narration in the rest of the passage.
Run little babies. Run.
The babies are a little more difficult, because this sentence is more active (telling someone other than the narrator what they should do right now), rather than an objective statement of what is currently happening or what is about to happen - and it's the only sentence in the whole passage that's like this. It's creepy, but it stands out as different. Maybe something like:
This is good. The children will try to run, but the snow will make them easier to track.
I'm sure you could reshuffle it better than I did; the point is to keep the focus on the You and maintain a sense of objectivity/inevitability. The narrator KNOWS these things will come to pass; that's part of what makes it so chilling.

Anyway, this is clearly down to nitpicky polishing stuff, so take this with a grain of salt. You've done a great job tweaking and refining this into a brief but eerie and very enticing introduction. It sets up the tension and creep factor really well, and makes me really curious to see how this hellish night is going to play out - as well as "my"/the reader's role in it. I'm definitely interested in seeing where the story goes from here!

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Re: Looking for help trimming the fat from my horror prologu

#7 Post by zendavis » Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:13 pm

Thank you for all your help Shaples. It's been wonderful!

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Re: Looking for help trimming the fat from my horror prologu

#8 Post by Shaples » Tue Dec 09, 2014 6:37 pm

No problem! :D And I see that there's more now, hmm ::goes to read::

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