Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wednesday Worldbuilding Workshop: Description implies narrator focus

Welcome to week seven of the Wednesday Worldbuilding Workshop! This week's entry comes from Domini. As I generally do, I'll start by taking a look at the excerpt from a world-entry point of view, highlighting in blue the words that give me worldbuilding information.

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Clink.

Grrrratttte.

Clink.

Tv-v-v-v-v-v-er.

Clink.

Eirabeth spotted it first. It came from the portalvast out of the Sundown Gate, bronze head forward with a spelled torch protruding from its mouth to light the way, crawling up the rail rungs hand-over-hand and dragging its ironwork carriage behind on its belted treads. "Papa," she said, shoving at her father's legs with small, chubby hands to get his attention, as green and yellow lights whirled above the gate in a frenzy. His hand descended to rest on her head for a second, but he paid her no real notice.

Junamay, Eirabeth's elder sister, did though. She followed her youngest sister's gaze and spotted the portalvast engine coming down the platform, and her eyes went nearly as wide as a Fridan's. And then she screamed.

Clink. Tv-v-v-v-v-er. The rail crawler's matte metal hand drew back above its head to its greatest height, then dropped like a steel weight to latch onto the next rail and drag itself forward. Then the opposite arm was levered high, only to drop and drag the machine forward again. Then it stopped, and waited.

"Hi," Eirabeth said, because the portalvast engine had a face.

Copper-orange irises set in white ceramic eyeballs rolled towards her in their sockets, but the rail crawler's lips were sealed around the butt end of the torch, and it did not speak. Its head, fused to its neck, which was in turn fused to its shoulders, was unable to move left or right.

"For f***'s sake, shut the screeching child up," a Portalvast Magus snapped, striding down the platform, her thin young body encased in a skin-tight banded leather bodysuit. Her fingers dangled at head-height for a toddler of Eirabeth's age, and the tips of her finger-carbinettes glowed like waiting embers. Connected to the gauntlets were lesser copper cooling fins on the arms, and a network of tubes and framework anchored the weapons to the larger primary cooling fins on her back, which made the air shimmer and distort with heat where they arced in a great sweep above her narrow shoulders. Her head was covered by a silver helmet swirled like a snail's shell, and only her mouth and lips and tip of her small upturned nose were visible, uncovered by the breathing mask that dangled by a thong, although a waxy line around her cheeks and over her nose showed where it would seal when strapped tight.

The adults gave her a wide berth, even though if the magus hadn't been a magus, and therefore steeped in contaminating potent mal, most of them would have considered her barely more than an upstart with unwarranted and unearned authority.

"Mama, it doesn't have legs, where did its legs go?" Junamay blubbered at their parents in terror, totally missing the appearance of the Portalvast Magus.

Eirabeth hadn't missed the magus, but when her young mind briefly compared the two tantalizing and exciting things, the rail crawler won out, because it was paying attention to her with that strange, orange-eyed gaze, and the magus already had her back to everyone. "It doesn't have legs," Eirabeth echoed, her own eyes taking in every detail of the humanoid engine the carriage was attached to. "It's playing wheelbarrow." And she pointed at it, if that would make what she was seeing clearer to everyone. The shoulders of the machine were visible, and the ribcage and waist, but its body disappeared into the carriage portion halfway through the buttocks, and it used its arms for locomotion.
***

The world entry is interesting for this one, because Domini chooses to open with onomatopoeia. I'm not sure why, but Clink and Grrrratttte give me the distinct sense that I'm in a human world. More mysterious is Tv-v-v-v-v-v-er, which already throws me off any easy assumptions I might have made about the world I'm in.

The next piece of information comes from the name Eirabeth. This tells me that we're in a fantasy human environment. Further refinement of our sense of place comes from the unexplained word portalvast and from the approaching object with its bronze head and spelled torch. This is a place with machines (bronze) and magic (spelled) - already I'm suspecting steampunk. This hypothesis is further supported by the rail rungs and ironwork carriage. The people are quite human, though, as evidenced by the child calling, "Papa," and by her small, chubby hands. I get one rather intriguing piece of social information from the description, "as wide as a Fridan's." There is no hint of what a Fridan might be within the excerpt as given, but I'm already curious about it.

Now we'll take a look at the excerpt again, this time with my comments introduced in brown. These comments are mostly a think-aloud for me, and are not intended to be corrections. I hope they will be helpful to you.

***
Clink.

Grrrratttte.[This onomatopoeia is interesting. It puts me in an English-based human world, probably because I know how idiosyncratic onomatopoeia is, and how it varies between cultures. Other readers might not be so quickly situated by it.]

Clink.

Tv-v-v-v-v-v-er.[This is an unfamiliar sound, not a common onomatopoetic word. Now I'm looking for unexpected things.]

Clink.

Eirabeth spotted it first. [So we're in a fantasy world.] It came from the portalvast [I wonder what this is.] out of the Sundown Gate[Is the Sundown Gate somehow related to the portal of "portalvast"?], bronze head[this fits with the clanking sounds] forward with a spelled torch [I wonder about the word "spelled," which makes me think of spelling.] protruding from its mouth to light the way[this makes me think we may not be in Eirabeth's point of view, as it implies the intent of the robotic thing], crawling up the rail rungs hand-over-hand and dragging its ironwork carriage behind on its belted treads.[lots of detail on the appearance of the thing] "Papa," she said, shoving at her father's legs with small, chubby hands to get his attention, as green and yellow lights whirled above the gate in a frenzy.[what does this frenzy imply? Does it mean emergency, or something else specific?] His hand descended to rest on her head for a second, but he paid her no real notice.[Here I see confirmation that the point of view is omniscient. I wonder who the narrator is.]

Junamay, Eirabeth's elder sister, did though. She followed her youngest sister's gaze and spotted the portalvast engine [this gives me a speck more information about portalvast, but not enough for me to feel certain I know what it means.] coming down the platform, and her eyes went nearly as wide as a Fridan's. [Simile #1. Interesting. I wonder who the Fridans are, and who is drawing this comparison.] And then she screamed.

Clink. Tv-v-v-v-v-er. The rail crawler's[this is the second term you use to describe the thing.] matte metal hand drew back above its head to its greatest height, then dropped like a steel weight[simile #2. Steel weights sound like they must be common.] to latch onto the next rail and drag itself forward. Then the opposite arm was levered high, only to drop and drag the machine forward again. Then it stopped, and waited.[this whole paragraph is about the machine and its mode of movement. You're putting a great deal of focus on it. This makes me guess that it's going to be very important.]

"Hi," Eirabeth said, because the portalvast engine had a face.[This is very charming. I get a distinct sense that this girl is too young to have developed proper fear of/respect for the thing.]

Copper-orange irises set in white ceramic eyeballs rolled towards her in their sockets, but the rail crawler's lips were sealed around the butt end of the torch, and it did not speak. Its head, fused to its neck, which was in turn fused to its shoulders, was unable to move left or right.

"For f***'s [This is interesting, a very real-world swear word which makes me think this must be some alternate Earth steampunk world] sake, shut the screeching child up," a Portalvast Magus [This fits with the magic implied by the torch, and the word "portalvast" recurs, still rather vague in its reference] snapped, striding down the platform, her thin young body encased in a skin-tight banded leather bodysuit. Her fingers dangled at head-height for a toddler of Eirabeth's age, and the tips of her finger-carbinettes glowed like waiting embers. [simile #3. This implies to me that these are weapons.] Connected to the gauntlets [gives a feel of knight armor] were lesser copper cooling fins on the arms, and a network of tubes and framework anchored the weapons to the larger primary cooling fins on her back, which made the air shimmer and distort with heat where they arced in a great sweep above her narrow shoulders. [again, much attention given to details of the workings of this outfit.] Her head was covered by a silver helmet swirled like a snail's shell,[simile #4] and only her mouth and lips and tip of her small upturned nose were visible, uncovered by the breathing mask that dangled by a thong, although a waxy line around her cheeks and over her nose showed where it would seal when strapped tight.[I wonder who is making all these detailed observations.]

The adults gave her a wide berth,[fits with the train images] even though if the magus hadn't been a magus, and therefore steeped in contaminating potent mal, [interesting; this seems like it might be the underlying basis of the magic system because of the way it's introduced. "Contaminating" is also interesting.] most of them would have considered her barely more than an upstart with unwarranted and unearned authority.[why?]

"Mama, it doesn't have legs, where did its legs go?" Junamay blubbered at their parents in terror, totally missing the appearance of the Portalvast Magus. [So this seems to say that the magus is normal enough to her, and the robot itself may be too, but she's traumatized by the fact that this one has no legs. Or is it that the robot itself upsets her?]

Eirabeth hadn't missed the magus, but when her young mind [I conclude that the narrator is not young] briefly compared the two tantalizing and exciting things, the rail crawler won out, because it was paying attention to her with that strange, orange-eyed gaze, and the magus already had her back to everyone. [mind you, the magus' back seems rather dramatically adorned.] "It doesn't have legs," Eirabeth echoed, her own eyes taking in every detail of the humanoid engine the carriage was attached to. "It's playing wheelbarrow."[This is another very Earthly phrasing.] And she pointed at it, if that would make what she was seeing clearer to everyone. The shoulders of the machine were visible, and the ribcage and waist, but its body disappeared into the carriage portion halfway through the buttocks, and it used its arms for locomotion.[Much of this you have already said or shown through the earlier descriptions.]
***

Domini, thanks so much for submitting this. I enjoyed it, and I find there's a lot of cool stuff to be curious about here.

One of the things I notice as I read through is that the narrator gives a lot of attention to the details of the mechanical objects (the robot, and the magus' equipment) even though neither one takes any action other than arriving during the course of the excerpt. I'm noticing some repetition of information about the robot, particularly, which probably isn't necessary. Whenever a lot of words are devoted to the description of an object or person, that object or person takes on additional significance in the mind of the reader. I found myself thinking, what is the significance of the robot's arrival? And what is the significance of the magus' arrival?

The omniscient narrator here works just fine to convey what's going on, but I'm not sensing that this person has an identity. I found myself looking for evidence of that identity, and I found it in just a few places, as when the narrator calls Eirabeth "young." Similes are also a great clue to the narrator's identity, which is why I went through and counted them. I came to the tentative conclusion that the narrator was an older individual who was internal to this world. The amount of description of the machinery did somewhat run counter to this, however (if we consider that what is normal will generally get less attention).

Developing a clearer sense (even if it's quite basic) of the narrator's identity will help shift focus onto the drive of the story's central conflict. It should also make it easier to express the relative significance of objects and events. Fewer words will be needed to envision the objects we're seeing, and more can be used to flesh out mysteries like the portalvast, the Fridans, and the social status of the young woman acting as portalvast magus (all of which are things I'd really like to have a stronger sense of, because they're fascinating).

Thanks again for submitting, and I hope you find these comments helpful. The constructive discussion is open!