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Author Topic: A short piece I wrote today  (Read 1137 times)
Abracabella
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« on: July 03, 2014, 12:28:49 pm »

The Mechanical Tree

The mustard yellow steam filled every crevice as it danced through the intelligent air, on its perilous way to join the smog of the outside world. Its wispy thread-like movements appeared almost out of place in the small room, which it was slowly filling, although one could almost sense its overwhelming wish to be accepted by the numerous mechanical wonders piled high in the tiny brick-built workshop.

She’d finally created what had been dancing through her mind for a decade. True, it had taken years to perfect, but here it was, in all its glory, just waiting to be shown off to a discerning crowd. The world had never seen anything like it and Anna-Louisa was sure it would result in her finally bring her the fame she so desired. Taking off her large stovepipe hat, she fanned the yellow steam towards a small metal vent hidden in the wall. She coughed as the yellow vapour interacted with her lungs, its uncertain smell unlike anything she’d ever created before.

Anna-Louisa was a great inventor. Daughter of the famous scholar Anthonius Raven, she was gifted in the art of engineering with creativity. Although only twenty five, she’d already created a clockwork wasp, flying blackbird and steam-powered horse. The men and women of London knew of her talents, but as yet, nothing had granted her the fame she so craved. The skies of her home town, filled with the ashy towers of progress, sought to prize learning as the greatest priority. Inflated leather dirigibles, with their wooden vessels full of travelling academics, floated calmly above the city, the occasional silky blue and cream striped hot air balloon adding romanticism to the bustling buzzing centre. Massive machines, powering the universal language of knowledge, worked away noisily as the city breathed in the hazy air that came from the pursuit of perfection.  She was living in the age of invention, when everything was made to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Her city was continuously humming with the sweet sound of movement, its cloudy machines puffing along to the serendipitous songs of progress.

Fastening the leather strap on her goggles, she peered into the heart of her creation. Built by her masterful hands, the goggle lenses allowed her to see past the steam, right down into the very soul of her design. Large cogs turned slowly, their oily interactions with smaller offspring designed with the greatest precision. The sounds emanating from the marvelous machine, although worldly and human, almost seemed as though they originated from another place, far across the universe – a dream world formed deep inside the imagination. Carefully, she allowed one hand in to the workings, holding her breath as the small metal instrument, clutched between two fingers, carefully placed a brass chain back onto its parent sprocket.

The machine was finished, ready in all its glistening glory. Sealing the brass door with its leather strap and buckle, Anna-Louisa moved away from the giant structure, her goggles providing a clear view through the thick smelly fog. She looked up at the design, its form almost filling her small workshop – she gasped as its beauty overcame her senses. The mechanical tree, fashioned almost entirely from brass and copper, stood regally in its position, its metal bark gnarled and aged with wisdom. Metal branches, extending from the massive trunk, spidered their way through the hazy air, their every intricacy carefully crafted by the hands of Anna-Louisa. A smile etched itself onto her face as she listened to the tinny ticks and taps that kept the machine alive. Every five seconds, a small safety valve released a whistle of mustard yellow steam, its uncertain aroma reminiscent of Mother Earth herself. She watched with fascination as the repetitive sounds arranged themselves into an orchestra, their metallic routine writing the machine’s very first symphony. Tick, tick, whizz, pshhh, tick, tick, whizz, pshhh – her mind formed a melody as the rhythmic echoes bounced through her ears.

Flattening her long oil-stained petticoat, she walked to the lowest branch, her worn brown leather boots creating a scuffing sound as the hard soles made contact with the workshop’s wooden floor. Anna-Louisa peered through her brass goggles, reaching up to touch the small yellow object protruding from the end of the lowest metal branch. Her eyes focused as she held the branch between thumb and forefinger, cradling the tiny miracle in the palm of her other hand. Switching her goggles to magnify, she stared at the yellow leaf growing from the end of the branch. Beautifully formed, organic veins crisscrossed its surface, carrying their magic through its mystical form. Nothing metal grew from the tiny leaf and Anna-Louisa could see it was completely pure. Gently releasing the branch from her careful grip, she watched as the leaf shone golden in the candlelight, its origin as mysterious as invention itself.

Bel Ravenne     3/07/2014
« Last Edit: July 04, 2014, 08:32:01 am by Abracabella » Logged

Cogs and wheels and sprockets and springs
Metal and leather and beautiful things
Brass sculpted treasures, copper and lead
Your ideas are alive, though your century's dead

CPT_J_Percell
Board Moderator
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« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2014, 10:06:59 am »

Well I found it interesting but the biological growing from the mechanical leave me (IMHO) disbelieving.
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Abracabella
Deck Hand
*
United Kingdom United Kingdom


All stars are there to shine!


WWW
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2014, 01:13:48 pm »

Well I found it interesting but the biological growing from the mechanical leave me (IMHO) disbelieving.

Why do you think I did it? What does it symbolises?
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CPT_J_Percell
Board Moderator
Zeppelin Captain
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England England


The werewolf Airship Captain.


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« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2014, 02:55:06 pm »

Well I found it interesting but the biological growing from the mechanical leave me (IMHO) disbelieving.

Why do you think I did it? What does it symbolises?

Dunno, but it reminds me of the old saying that: "Nature will always find a way."
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Thalesia Turnblood
Snr. Officer
****
United States United States


One bathtub scene, coming right up!


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« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2014, 05:55:21 pm »

From a craft perspective, I'm going to say that you are doing a good bit more telling than showing. Don't, for instance, tell me that she's a great inventor and filled with pride. Show me from her pov that all of the recognition she'd received paled before the dream of the monument they would build to her greatness. Show me how she perceives and thinks about her greatness and achievements.

And to keep from wandering into omniscient pov where some unseen narrator tells me how she looks and what she does, show me everything she sees, thinks, and feels only through her experience, her visceral reactions, and her language. Deep, limited 3rd forces you to write in a way that makes readers care about the character.

Interesting concept and the beginnings of a good character!
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Reality is messing with my fiction.
Have Coffee, Will Write
Abracabella
Deck Hand
*
United Kingdom United Kingdom


All stars are there to shine!


WWW
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2014, 10:21:09 pm »

From a craft perspective, I'm going to say that you are doing a good bit more telling than showing. Don't, for instance, tell me that she's a great inventor and filled with pride. Show me from her pov that all of the recognition she'd received paled before the dream of the monument they would build to her greatness. Show me how she perceives and thinks about her greatness and achievements.

And to keep from wandering into omniscient pov where some unseen narrator tells me how she looks and what she does, show me everything she sees, thinks, and feels only through her experience, her visceral reactions, and her language. Deep, limited 3rd forces you to write in a way that makes readers care about the character.

Interesting concept and the beginnings of a good character!

I totally agree and am working on this already. The above piece was written for a writers' club and it went down a storm. Tonight I spent 2 hours planning my autobiographical piece - I will be telling from first person. Thank you!
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Narsil
Immortal
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United Kingdom United Kingdom



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« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2014, 11:45:13 pm »


I think you've got a good feel for language and creating atmosphere. Ijn particular you have done a very good job of creating a rich scene in a few paragraphs without labouring the detail.

There are a few issues...

- I'm not sure who the narrative voice is supposed to be it seems a bit like self praise disguised as a third person rather than a true objective narrative. There are ways in which this can work but in such a short extract it sounds a lot like the character is writing their own biography in their head, this is ok in itself but it needs the context of a broader narrative to know if it will work or just become annoying. This detatched first person style can work but it dos get hard to maintain over a whole story unless you shift the perspective somehow.

- There are one or two cliche's slipping in....to me any mentions of 'goggles' do seem a bit like a concious nod towards 'steampunk' genre writing by numbers.

-Similarly lines like  her worn brown leather boots creating a scuffing sound as the hard soles made contact with the workshop’s wooden floor seem a little superfluous...there is loads of good poetic description in this passage but this seems a bit irrelevant. Unless a characters clothing is of particular significance to a storyline I should be able to work it out for myself.

Having said that these are relatively minor points in what is a very well written passage Smiley
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A man of eighty has outlived probably three new schools of painting, two of architecture and poetry and a hundred in dress.
Lord Byron
Abracabella
Deck Hand
*
United Kingdom United Kingdom


All stars are there to shine!


WWW
« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2014, 02:06:38 pm »


I think you've got a good feel for language and creating atmosphere. Ijn particular you have done a very good job of creating a rich scene in a few paragraphs without labouring the detail.

There are a few issues...

- I'm not sure who the narrative voice is supposed to be it seems a bit like self praise disguised as a third person rather than a true objective narrative. There are ways in which this can work but in such a short extract it sounds a lot like the character is writing their own biography in their head, this is ok in itself but it needs the context of a broader narrative to know if it will work or just become annoying. This detatched first person style can work but it dos get hard to maintain over a whole story unless you shift the perspective somehow.

- There are one or two cliche's slipping in....to me any mentions of 'goggles' do seem a bit like a concious nod towards 'steampunk' genre writing by numbers.

-Similarly lines like  her worn brown leather boots creating a scuffing sound as the hard soles made contact with the workshop’s wooden floor seem a little superfluous...there is loads of good poetic description in this passage but this seems a bit irrelevant. Unless a characters clothing is of particular significance to a storyline I should be able to work it out for myself.

Having said that these are relatively minor points in what is a very well written passage Smiley

Thank you for your honesty and kind comments. The story - if one could call it that - will be woven around illustrations, third person accounts, a diary, maps, etc. It will be almost like a scrapbook of my life in 1855. I understand what you mean about goggles, the problem is, my character genuinely does wear them! I don't want to be cliched, so what can I do? The clothing is of particular significance - as will be revealed later - so I will be keeping that as central. I am glad so many of you have taken the time to read this prequel to a larger project. I have 6 weeks semi-holiday time when my pupils break up for summer, so in-between the odd lesson, I will be drawing, writing, designing and possibly even... tinkering!  Cheesy
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RodDuncan
Gunner
**
United Kingdom United Kingdom



« Reply #8 on: July 09, 2014, 01:21:27 pm »

I like the idea of maps, illustrations and pieces of text being used together in a scrapbook/journal type arrangement. A very creative project.

If you wanted to edit this piece, I would suggest you comb through and cut out a fair percentage of the adjectives. That may condense the writing without losing any of the atmosphere.

The other thing you might consider trying is to search for any bland verbs and replace them with words that are more precisely descriptive. For example 'walked' is fairly bland in the sentence 'He walked across the room'. It could be replaced with 'scuffed' or 'sidled' or 'advanced' or 'thundered' or any of hundreds of other possibilities that would give us more of a sense of the manner of the movement. You do already have some great ones in there, but there are a few places where it might be strengthened. 

I hope you don't mind my making suggestions.

Good luck with the project.
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Abracabella
Deck Hand
*
United Kingdom United Kingdom


All stars are there to shine!


WWW
« Reply #9 on: July 09, 2014, 02:08:20 pm »

I like the idea of maps, illustrations and pieces of text being used together in a scrapbook/journal type arrangement. A very creative project.

If you wanted to edit this piece, I would suggest you comb through and cut out a fair percentage of the adjectives. That may condense the writing without losing any of the atmosphere.

The other thing you might consider trying is to search for any bland verbs and replace them with words that are more precisely descriptive. For example 'walked' is fairly bland in the sentence 'He walked across the room'. It could be replaced with 'scuffed' or 'sidled' or 'advanced' or 'thundered' or any of hundreds of other possibilities that would give us more of a sense of the manner of the movement. You do already have some great ones in there, but there are a few places where it might be strengthened. 

I hope you don't mind my making suggestions.

Good luck with the project.


Course I don't mind. I've been pulled up on adjectival use before, so I understand this well. When I draw, in addition to writing, I find I use them less - lucky for you guys this book will be mixed-media.

Thank you for your interest and the kind suggestions!

Bel Grin
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Antonus Fudge
Gunner
**
United Kingdom United Kingdom



« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2014, 04:09:47 pm »

Hello,

Nice work! Are you looking for critique on this, or just to present it to us for reading? If the latter, I liked it. If the former - if you have a view to getting published at some stage, for example - it looks like other respondents have covered off the key areas. Just by way of illustration, however, I'd like to draw your attention to the following:

The standout bits:

- the atmosphere - but then, it's steampunk, I'm here, so I'm going to like it.
- "its cloudy machines puffing along to the serendipitous songs of progress" - fabulously theatric image rendered in a highly lyrical phrase.
- "a smile etched itself onto her face as she listened to the tinny ticks and taps that kept the machine alive." - nice onomatopoeia! I love a SP world that ticks.
- "the repetitive sounds arranged themselves into an orchestra, their metallic routine writing the machine’s very first symphony. Tick, tick, whizz, pshhh" - see above; nice imagery.
- "Switching her goggles to magnify" - subtle, inventive and clever manipulation of what could easily be a SP cliche. It's probably the only mention of the word "goggles" you need.

The works-in-progress:

- Unnecessary words - you can convey the same picture using less: for eg. "The mustard yellow steam filled every crevice as it danced through the intelligent air, on its perilous way to join the smog of the outside world" - (bold could be deleted). But is the movement of the air genuinely perilous? And join doesn't add anything, because the joining is implicit in the air's movement. On a side note, what is meant by "intelligent" air?. Also, re: "when everything was made to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing." If it's made to be that way, then it is that way, which has more of a sense of permanence to it, as a phrase.

- repetition: " it danced through the intelligent air" vs "she’d finally created what had been dancing through her mind "; lots of "brown leather" stuff. Dancing things and brown leather is a good image but be mindful not to overuse it!

- empurplement: Ah, empurplement, my old friend; the noble "art" of weighing down perfectly workable text with a thousand pointillised crystalline images of yesterday's shatter'd sorrows. In other words, overdoing it with some hyperflorid text. It can be quite subtle (I call that bemauving), as in: "She coughed as the yellow vapour interacted with her lungs, its uncertain smell unlike anything she’d ever created before." Does something that puts me in mind of mustard gas "interact" with lungs? Yes, yes, it does, but it's a bit of a non-word, because so much more happens. Trust that your reader will know that gas, when inhaled, goes into the lungs, and just have your protagonist "cough and splutter as she inhaled the unfamiliar yellow fume" to put the image in their head. I appreciate that you might want to put as much attention to detail into your sentences as you might when assembling your Tokyngton's "Galvanic Butler" but the mechanism is quite different. Don't over-describe, as it interferes with the pace of the narrative.

- show vs tell: someone above mentioned this. This is a kind of shorthand where, rather than depict something before our eyes (showing), the writer simply tells us that it is so. "She was living in the age of invention" - great, so let's see some fabulous inventions; "the occasional silky blue and cream striped hot air balloon adding romanticism to the bustling buzzing centre" - I agree, but just a cream and blue balloon against a velvety sky that framed the bustling streets could evoke those sorts of romantic feelings in us. Don't so much tell us what to feel as inspire it in us by the sheer vibrance of your imagination (which is very vibrant indeed!). Inspire it in us mercilessly. Make our hearts break when we leave the scene, or when the story ends.

- Cliches: I think of cliches as sort of narrative placeholders. I have brass goggles and cogs and bizarre mechanical men and something called the "Clacking Birds" - somewhat akin to your clockwork blackbirds - in my mind's eye too, but as I go back over my story, I simply describe them differently when I get to them. Try reading the sentence out loud and stopping when you get to the cliche - sometimes the mind supplies a perfectly good alternative, presumably as a matter of unconscious habit.

Last but not least: the plot. What's happening? She's building a mechanical tree, but why? There are all sorts of guides knocking about about plot and scene-setting: motivation-response units, goal-conflict-resolution and all that. From this I have got alot of fantastic atmosphere and excellent brassware, but next, to get them properly hooked, the reader would need to have some emotional investment in the goings-on. If, as may be the case in a short piece, she is just building it as a labour of love, then the prose needs to reflect that too.

Overall, I enjoyed it immensely! Good show!
Logged

~ * ~
RodDuncan
Gunner
**
United Kingdom United Kingdom



« Reply #11 on: July 11, 2014, 04:31:00 pm »

'Bemauving' Definitely the finest word I have read today!
Smiley
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Abracabella
Deck Hand
*
United Kingdom United Kingdom


All stars are there to shine!


WWW
« Reply #12 on: July 11, 2014, 08:04:36 pm »

Hello,

Nice work! Are you looking for critique on this, or just to present it to us for reading? If the latter, I liked it. If the former - if you have a view to getting published at some stage, for example - it looks like other respondents have covered off the key areas. Just by way of illustration, however, I'd like to draw your attention to the following:

The standout bits:

- the atmosphere - but then, it's steampunk, I'm here, so I'm going to like it.
- "its cloudy machines puffing along to the serendipitous songs of progress" - fabulously theatric image rendered in a highly lyrical phrase.
- "a smile etched itself onto her face as she listened to the tinny ticks and taps that kept the machine alive." - nice onomatopoeia! I love a SP world that ticks.
- "the repetitive sounds arranged themselves into an orchestra, their metallic routine writing the machine’s very first symphony. Tick, tick, whizz, pshhh" - see above; nice imagery.
- "Switching her goggles to magnify" - subtle, inventive and clever manipulation of what could easily be a SP cliche. It's probably the only mention of the word "goggles" you need.

The works-in-progress:

- Unnecessary words - you can convey the same picture using less: for eg. "The mustard yellow steam filled every crevice as it danced through the intelligent air, on its perilous way to join the smog of the outside world" - (bold could be deleted). But is the movement of the air genuinely perilous? And join doesn't add anything, because the joining is implicit in the air's movement. On a side note, what is meant by "intelligent" air?. Also, re: "when everything was made to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing." If it's made to be that way, then it is that way, which has more of a sense of permanence to it, as a phrase.

- repetition: " it danced through the intelligent air" vs "she’d finally created what had been dancing through her mind "; lots of "brown leather" stuff. Dancing things and brown leather is a good image but be mindful not to overuse it!

- empurplement: Ah, empurplement, my old friend; the noble "art" of weighing down perfectly workable text with a thousand pointillised crystalline images of yesterday's shatter'd sorrows. In other words, overdoing it with some hyperflorid text. It can be quite subtle (I call that bemauving), as in: "She coughed as the yellow vapour interacted with her lungs, its uncertain smell unlike anything she’d ever created before." Does something that puts me in mind of mustard gas "interact" with lungs? Yes, yes, it does, but it's a bit of a non-word, because so much more happens. Trust that your reader will know that gas, when inhaled, goes into the lungs, and just have your protagonist "cough and splutter as she inhaled the unfamiliar yellow fume" to put the image in their head. I appreciate that you might want to put as much attention to detail into your sentences as you might when assembling your Tokyngton's "Galvanic Butler" but the mechanism is quite different. Don't over-describe, as it interferes with the pace of the narrative.

- show vs tell: someone above mentioned this. This is a kind of shorthand where, rather than depict something before our eyes (showing), the writer simply tells us that it is so. "She was living in the age of invention" - great, so let's see some fabulous inventions; "the occasional silky blue and cream striped hot air balloon adding romanticism to the bustling buzzing centre" - I agree, but just a cream and blue balloon against a velvety sky that framed the bustling streets could evoke those sorts of romantic feelings in us. Don't so much tell us what to feel as inspire it in us by the sheer vibrance of your imagination (which is very vibrant indeed!). Inspire it in us mercilessly. Make our hearts break when we leave the scene, or when the story ends.

- Cliches: I think of cliches as sort of narrative placeholders. I have brass goggles and cogs and bizarre mechanical men and something called the "Clacking Birds" - somewhat akin to your clockwork blackbirds - in my mind's eye too, but as I go back over my story, I simply describe them differently when I get to them. Try reading the sentence out loud and stopping when you get to the cliche - sometimes the mind supplies a perfectly good alternative, presumably as a matter of unconscious habit.

Last but not least: the plot. What's happening? She's building a mechanical tree, but why? There are all sorts of guides knocking about about plot and scene-setting: motivation-response units, goal-conflict-resolution and all that. From this I have got alot of fantastic atmosphere and excellent brassware, but next, to get them properly hooked, the reader would need to have some emotional investment in the goings-on. If, as may be the case in a short piece, she is just building it as a labour of love, then the prose needs to reflect that too.

Overall, I enjoyed it immensely! Good show!

Thank you so much! It is part of a longer piece - to be revealed! Your comments are spot on. Thank you :-)
Logged
Narsil
Immortal
**
United Kingdom United Kingdom



WWW
« Reply #13 on: July 12, 2014, 01:38:55 pm »


I think you've got a good feel for language and creating atmosphere. Ijn particular you have done a very good job of creating a rich scene in a few paragraphs without labouring the detail.

There are a few issues...

- I'm not sure who the narrative voice is supposed to be it seems a bit like self praise disguised as a third person rather than a true objective narrative. There are ways in which this can work but in such a short extract it sounds a lot like the character is writing their own biography in their head, this is ok in itself but it needs the context of a broader narrative to know if it will work or just become annoying. This detatched first person style can work but it dos get hard to maintain over a whole story unless you shift the perspective somehow.

- There are one or two cliche's slipping in....to me any mentions of 'goggles' do seem a bit like a concious nod towards 'steampunk' genre writing by numbers.

-Similarly lines like  her worn brown leather boots creating a scuffing sound as the hard soles made contact with the workshop’s wooden floor seem a little superfluous...there is loads of good poetic description in this passage but this seems a bit irrelevant. Unless a characters clothing is of particular significance to a storyline I should be able to work it out for myself.

Having said that these are relatively minor points in what is a very well written passage Smiley

Thank you for your honesty and kind comments. The story - if one could call it that - will be woven around illustrations, third person accounts, a diary, maps, etc. It will be almost like a scrapbook of my life in 1855. I understand what you mean about goggles, the problem is, my character genuinely does wear them! I don't want to be cliched, so what can I do? The clothing is of particular significance - as will be revealed later - so I will be keeping that as central. I am glad so many of you have taken the time to read this prequel to a larger project. I have 6 weeks semi-holiday time when my pupils break up for summer, so in-between the odd lesson, I will be drawing, writing, designing and possibly even... tinkering!  Cheesy

One thing to bear in mind is that, although you as a writer might have a very vivid and detailed image in your mind of a particular scene or character, it's not always necessary to describe every detail to the reader. Often this is a case of picking out the elements which are  the most important and evocative so you are creating and impression rather than a forensic description. Similarly when choosing words, especially adjectives think about both their specific 'dictionary' meaning and their more subtle connotations. Having a depth of understanding of the vocabulary you use is hugely important in producing convincing writing, there is often a  temptation to try to use a 'literary' vocabulary but it's more important that you use language that you are comfortable and familiar with so that you can convey precisely what you are trying to say. Good writing should be considered but not over elaborate just for the sake of elaboration or adopting a literary style.  

Good writing is about communicating well with the reader, this means that you need to manage the flow of information and be able to convey the nuances of a situation as well as its simple physical attributes. This is particularly true of fantasy and sci-fi genres where the writer typically has a huge amount of original research material that they want to share with the reader. However you do need to be careful that this doesn't end up weighing your story down. The research should enhance the story rather the story being a vehicle for the research.

Of course there are plenty of example where the background colour is what makes the story...Harry Potter being the obvious one but this only works when there is a skilful balance between plot characters and background. You need to be especially careful to make sure that the research drives the story rather than getting in the way. A classic flaw is introducing a piece of magic or thechnology at one point which could easily solve a problem which occurs later but is ignored or clumsily suppressed.

To pick up on the specific point of the goggles. It's fine if your character wears goggles but think about how they work with the story, why are they worn ? If they're for protection use them to show that what the character is doing is dangerous, or perhaps magnifying or illuminated goggles could show that the work is delicate and fiddly.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2014, 10:27:11 pm by Narsil » Logged
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