1865 - The Toolshed - 300 words

Phyrebrat

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#1
I'm trying to get a balance between info and Calloway's POV here in the opening section to the part of my WIP that's set in Virginia.

It's a fake place, analogous to Jamestown, and Fort Battery is being re-purposed as a slave auction for the (much worse) 2nd Middle Passage period of the Slave Trade. I've not made this clear as to me that's just the historical setting. I've chipped away at the 600-odd words to make them a touch over 300 and I wanted a quick acid-test for infodump. I'm wondering how deep a knowledge of slavery or the Civil War a reader would need, but I'm kind of hoping context would answer that. Does it?

Calloway is the POV (along with a Quaker) in this era, although Lázaro Rocha - essentially his new boss - is an MC in the overall story. The book will be well underway before this section, but I'm concerned that its introduction is a bit oh-he's-just-apprehensive-about-meeting-his-new-boss-where's-the-hook-y, as well.

Warning: Contains offensive racial terminology.

Thanks

pH

Calloway stared at the empty staging area of Fort Battery. The halved tree trunks forming the perimeter fence towered behind the platform, their points spearing the endless blue haze above. No one was going to get over those, but these fool n****** were tenacious and he’d not put it past them to start burrowing. After all, there were tales of the Volta ones living underground.

It wasn’t the slaves he was worried about, anyway; the new Administrator was an exacting son of a bitch who’d made demands on the layout of Fort Battery way before he was due to arrive. If the stories from Augusta were to be believed, the young ex-Union Captain was as likely to give him thirty strips just as much as the negroes. Not that he resented the appointment of the Administrator; he could do without the responsibility himself - the pleasure of flogging these animals had long worn off and now he just wished they’d behave - but since the law for the handling of human stock had been standardised, things were…what a dad-rat mess.

Maybe the change of scenery would calm them when they started arriving.

He laughed at the thought…

The breeze outside the barricade stirred up dust clouds that every now and then billowed over the top like a Springfield’s puff, but inside was calm as if the wind dare not blow over the land; even now, out in the open air atrium, as the site lay waiting for its administrator, staff and stock, a heavy pressure bore down on him.

A bad sign...

In a few hours he would know if the auction site passed muster. In a few hours he would fix his face and set his jaw. In a few hours he would meet Lázaro Rocha.

Damned stupid name, anyway.
 

Gonk the Insane

A.J. Grimmelhaus
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#2
My knowledge of slavery and the Civil War is pretty light, but I followed the gist of everything well enough.

I'm concerned that its introduction is a bit oh-he's-just-apprehensive-about-meeting-his-new-boss-where's-the-hook-y, as well.
There was more info than character, but it's a short piece, and when reading it I didn't think, damn, where's the hook or anything like that. I think the balance worked well as a set-up for Lazaro's introduction and gave useful background on the location of Fort Battery. It was short enough that I don't think you have anything to worry about in that regard.

A couple of small points:
the young ex-Union Captain was as likely to give him thirty strips
I wasn't familiar with "strips", but guessed from context and was sure in the next sentence when you mentioned flogging, but perhaps "lashes" might work better?

what a dad-rat mess
Um, I have no idea what a dad-rat mess is - I'm assuming terminology from that era? The meaning's clear enough from context though so you probably don't need to change a thing.

In a few hours he would meet Lázaro Rocha.

Damned stupid name, anyway.
Ooh, I really like that!:)

Nice work, pH(y)
 

Toby Frost

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#3
I think that works very well, and tells a lot in what it doesn't say, if you get my drift. It is difficult to write about unpleasant times without becoming pornographic or appearing not to grasp the nettle, and telling the story through a morally-dead functionary is a good way to do it - and probably quite realistic.

The "dad-rat" thing worked for me: it did make me imagine him as a bit of a comedy Texan, which probably isn't the plan, but I think it marks him as someone from another time, without making him too hard to follow. I don't think it's too much of an infodump.
 

Wruter

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#4
Works for me too. Can't fault it, really.

On a minor note I did notice the ellipses - none of them seemed necessary, which got me thinking about how I tend to use them like this too (as pointed out by @DG Jones ) so I looked it up in this guide by a professional fiction editor, The Story Polisher: Ellipses, which says:

unless you're writing in first person, you should avoid using ellipses outside of dialog, as it will make your prose seem overly informal and disjointed.
So I learned something here anyway.
 

Dan Jones

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#5
Echoing others, can't fault it, but agree with Wruter that the use of ellipses where you've put them is at best off-putting, at worst incorrect.

I wouldn't worry about infodumps here (it's not), and I'm guessing this is waaaay into the book at this point?
 

Brian G Turner

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#6
Calloway stared at the empty staging area of Fort Battery.

^ As Calloway isn't really doing anything in this sentence, IMO it would be better to cut him out and simply join the descriptions together. Or, if you do have Calloway in, at least have him doing something, preferably in a way that engages the environment being described - striding by the fence, or sat by it chewing tobacco.

The halved tree trunks forming the perimeter fence towered behind the platform, their points spearing the endless blue haze above. No one was going to get over those, but these fool n****** were tenacious and he’d not put it past them to start burrowing. After all, there were tales of the Volta ones living underground.

It wasn’t the slaves he was worried about, anyway; the new Administrator was an exacting son of a bitch who’d made demands on the layout of Fort Battery way before he was due to arrive. If the stories from Augusta were to be believed, the young ex-Union Captain was as likely to give him thirty strips just as much as the negroes.

^ IMO would be better to give this administrator a personal name, if not already done so. Title-only is generic and impersonal, yet Calloway's impressions of this figure are of a personal nature.

Not that he resented the appointment of the Administrator; he could do without the responsibility himself - the pleasure of flogging these animals had long worn off and now he just wished they’d behave

^ Even if, as a sadist, he's lost pleasure in this, surely hard discipline remains a duty and Godly responsibility?

- but since the law for the handling of human stock had been standardised, things were…what a dad-rat mess.

^ Calloway seems wishy-washy and noncommital in his thoughts here.

Maybe the change of scenery would calm them when they started arriving.

^ If he's experienced in these matters and dulled to the experience why would he think such a contrary thought?

In a few hours he would know if the auction site passed muster. In a few hours he would fix his face and set his jaw. In a few hours he would meet Lázaro Rocha.

Damned stupid name, anyway.

^ Why is it a stupid name? If he's experienced with collecting fresh slaves won't he have at least heard the Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian names of the individuals and companies providing those slaves?


Something I really noticed is how often you use semi-colons and em-dashes, and they can cause the prose to stutter or become breathless - if you replaced these with commas and full-stops, the prose may run smoother.

Otherwise, not bad at all.
 
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Phyrebrat

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#7
Great feedback, everyone! Thank you. Very interesting about the ellipses as I never knew that, but it makes so much more sense.

It's also a little frustrating not knowing whether what I've written is any good so in light of the general positives you've all said is a bit of a surprise. But a nice one.

Bryan, I take your points. My reason for withholding his name (and why it's 'damned stupid') is because it's not a WASP name (as Lázaro is not white...). I'll see what I can do.

I'll give it a look over for the punctuation you mention. I know I'm far too fond of semicolons! My own thinking and talking style is often parenthetical and I know this manifests in my writing as run-ons and such.

I'm out and about today so will try and reply properly asap.

As always, your comments have given me great perspective, all.

Thanks.

pH
 
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#12
Good scene, I liked it.

Maybe the change of scenery would calm them when they started arriving.

He laughed at the thought…

*Maybe the change of scenery would calm them when they started arriving. He laughed at the though.*

Perhaps change Springfield to musket for the sake of clarity. Not everyone would know that a Springfield is a type of firearm, but most people have heard of a musket. Just a thought. :)
 

Phyrebrat

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#13
Just a comment on strips - that would be stripes surely?
Pam, I'm sorry I missed your reply and am only seeing it now. Thank you for reading it and commenting. Strips is correct, as it happens, it was called this in the south as opposed to 'lashes' etc.

Perhaps change Springfield to musket for the sake of clarity. Not everyone would know that a Springfield is a type of firearm, but most people have heard of a musket. Just a thought. :)
Thanks, Adam. It was initially musket, but it just seemed so... I don't know, the best word I can think of 'cliched', when I was researching for an alternative, I happened upon 'Springfield' because it was the most common type of musket used at the time. I started pondering whether Calloway would call it a musket or a Springfield and ended up deciding on the proper name. I'm not dedicated to Springfield, though, and would be happy to change it to musket.

pH
 

cyprus7

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#16
I think the longer sentences reflect well the monotony and waiting around for the new admin to arrive.

way before he was due to arrive.
Perhaps a more specific reference to the time since Rocha started to make his influence felt might match the mounting pressure he is under?
 

HareBrain

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#17
Coming to this rather late, sorry, but then I'm only going to echo what others have said: reads very well and doesn't feel dumpy at all, but the ellipses seem a bit over-done. I like the specificity of "Springfield", but then I happened to know what one was. I don't know if the benefit for readers who do is going to outweigh the confusion for those who don't.
 

tinkerdan

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#18
also coming in late to add to the pondering of strip
A lash and a strip seem to be the same part of a whip
so if a lashing might come from lash of a whip
then a stripping might come from a strip of the same
but I'd rather have neither in spite of the name
 

Steven Sorrels

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#20
Having lived only a few hours away from the general area you are writing about for most of my life, I enjoyed the read. You seem to have a decent feel for the attitude held by many during that particular dark spot in our history, as well as setting up for the introduction of Rocha without being info-dumpy. A few things...

...was as likely to give him thirty strips just as much as the negroes.
I believe the term is actually "stripes" or "lashes", but the message is clear enough that this is only annoying to anal-retentive people such as myself :ROFLMAO:

what a dad-rat mess.
I know what is meant, but please reword this. It hurts my eyes, and my heart.

I would also caution against overuse of ellipses. They seem a bit abundant.

All in all, lovely little excerpt!
 
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