The Formicide Gang [work in progress]: the bullshit thread

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The Formicide Gang [work in progress]: the bullshit thread

Post by SirMustapha » Sun Jun 07, 2020 7:53 pm

I decided to create this thread not to ask for you folks to read and give opinions (though, of course, you're welcome to do that), but because, honestly, this novel has been driving me crazy. I have made more than one attempt to "finish" it, but I was never confident on it, and every time I went back to it, I realised it wasn't good enough. I realise I have to somehow commit to this work fully, so this thread is mostly to create this feeling of commitment, so here it goes.

The genesis of this story actually dates back to 2000 or 2001, when it was still a semi-fanfic. Since then, I reworked it as a fully original piece of fiction, and kept it lying around, making changes and adaptations here and there, until I decided to change it more drastically. I haven't decided on a definitive title; the previous Portuguese title was "A Normal", which is a horrible pun with "The Normal One" and "Abnormal", but it's too silly and flimsy and doesn't reflect the weight this story has gained over the years. In a brief description, it's a coming-of-age sci-fi/thriller hybrid, with a whooping 8 main characters, and concerns a two week period in a beach house. The story is written in first person, but she's also partly omniscient, and I'm still thinking of how to explain that in the story itself (in essence, the story was written in collaboration with the narrator's friends, but because of her psychic ability, she's able to read people's memories better than they themselves can).

One of the most important changes that I'm doing in this story concerns the characters' ages. Originally, they were mid-teens, and the parents that own the house were present in the story. I decided to make the main characters older and get rid of the parents, so I can further explore the themes of growing maturity, insecurity, sense of belonging, sexuality and generational conflict with more freedom. Just as I'm reworking the story itself, I'm also investigating the characters' backstories and their motivations, so I might also publish some sketches, studies and parallel stories in a near future--none of which I'd demand you to read, but, well, it'll be here.

What I'm putting up right now is just the initial chapter, narrating the first day of the story. Nothing very significant plot-wise happens, but I wanted to flesh out their conversations and interactions, to right off the bat display and work out some of the growing conflicts and situations. I did this translation to English in part to revisit this chapter with fresh eyes, and figure out some changes, which were already done and incorporated into the translation; but none of this is definitive. So don't read this expecting this to be final. It may be, but I wouldn't bet on it. Also, expect a very dialogue-heavy story. I've shown that I can walk the walk, but can I talk the talk?

EDIT: New version uploaded, now up to chapter two. The main sci-fi plot still doesn't advance much, but the characters and their dynamics are still being developed.
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by c_nordlander » Tue Jun 09, 2020 9:57 am

Everything you've said about this story so far makes me intrigued. And revisiting old ideas is one of the joys of art, in my opinion. I like stories about telepathy, and the whole concept is good. I don't mind your old title (I'm a fan of double meanings like that), but if it's not appropriate for the story, that's your choice. (Plus, it may seem more meaningful to me, as a non-native speaker.) Titles are hard. When they come, they come.

I've only read the first two pages so far, but your writing is still improving. Especially the protagonist's feelings towards the sea are written in a great way. You've made the idea of inborn, involuntary telepathy feel really convincing: it's not a skill, and it can be more of an obstacle than anything positive. It's too early to tell how I feel about the
Spoiler
I'm gonna have to read more. But I'm definitely interested so far: the protagonist feels real and interesting, and like I said, you have very good writing.

On a purely translation level, I caught a couple of in/on mistakes ("on the same direction" should be "in", for example), and the word "ignorable" feels *slightly* off in English: probably not incorrect, just a bit weird. I can't think of a better one right now, though. Maybe "negligible"? Then again, the weirdness might be what you're after. Either way, they're only a couple of tiny issues.
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by SirMustapha » Wed Jun 10, 2020 4:54 pm

Thank you for the comments, Chris! I'm always appreciative of your efforts to contribute to my improving. For me, I felt it was important to showcase the narrator/protagonist in a tangible way, so I'm glad I had that idea for an opening scene instead of the original "hey, here's a brief description of who I am, now let's move on to the actual story", which I felt was very pedestrian and flat.

The ant plot (I don't think you need to spoiler-tag it, because it's a very central point in the story) is one I'll have to considerably rework, because, in essence, it's a pretty outlandish idea, but I want to handle it with seriousness and appropriate gravity, even though, in the end, it serves more as a catalyst to the development of the characters and relationships through the story. I guess critics would analyse this and say this plot is only an allegory for the coming-of-age, and I... guess they wouldn't be too wrong, but I want it to be more than just allegorical. But indeed, in this case, the sci-fi/suspense works in favour of the characters, not the other way around.

As is usual to my style of writing, the previous version was rather dry in terms of descriptions, and that's also something I'm trying to work on, so feel free to criticise the stylistic aspects. This story is, in large part, a love letter to the beach of Rondinha (or "Small Round", in my personal mythology), and the majority of places and landmarks mentioned in the story are real (e.g. the hotel is the same place mentioned in Treasure Hunt). So, I want to make justice not just to the real place, but to my personal memories of that place and that time.

I'll also try not to forget the grammar issues, and have them fixed when I publish the next version. ;)

EDIT: I was kind of in two minds about this, but I realise that, since the story does go a little deep into some cultural and social aspects, I may add some footnotes to things that could be confusing to foreign readers; but, at the same time, I don't want to bog the reader down with information that might not be strictly relevant to the story. I will give this some consideration as I go on working.
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by c_nordlander » Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:59 pm

She seems very real and fleshed-out to me so far. Even the weird things about her, like the telepathy and her weird skin condition, are written so that they feel plausible.

I am interested in seeing where you're taking the ant plot. To be as honest as I can, while I enjoyed your old version of this story and thought it was well written, the ant thing is... really hard to write without it feeling like a horror B-movie. But I need to read more before I can judge it, positively or negatively. Seems to me like you have a fair judgement of the plot and its potential risk of silliness.

I'm totally not surprised to hear that this is set in the same resort as "Treasure Hunt". :D

Ah, to footnote or not to footnote... I've run into that question myself a few times. You do what you feel like. I for one will be happy to tell you if anything seems unclear to me as a foreigner. :)

Really want to read more, but needless to say, I don't have a massive amount of free time during the week. I definitely will do, though.
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by SirMustapha » Fri Jun 12, 2020 2:20 am

The second chapter is now available on the updated attachment. I only did this so quickly because the Portuguese version is already written up to the sixth chapter. Still, doing this translation, a lot of dialogue has been added to the story, helping flesh out the characters and their relationships, as well as a little bit of their social and familiar background. I've added footnotes when necessary, especially when they discuss particular bits of Brazilian culture.

Also, I came up with the "Rita Rapadura" bit right as I was working on that bit, and I really like it now, and will try to use it throughout the story.
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by c_nordlander » Sat Jun 13, 2020 9:59 pm

Just read a couple of pages more. I'll hold off on saying more until I've read more, but the description of the big house is very easy to visualise, and the dialogue is nice and funny. I have a feeling I may find it difficult to get my head around so many new characters, but I'll wait and see. So far, still enjoying it.

Couple of grammar issues:

"Inside the van, there were Chico and Débora": this type of phrase sounds better without the "there"; "hung around together" would be better as "had hung around" (yes, it's not grammatically logical, but English is like that). Similarly, "who knew them for a while now" and "went to that beach since he was a kid." "Daniel only couldn't make sense of the fireplace" is a bit weird; I'd change it to "The fireplace was the only thing Daniel couldn't make sense of" or similar.

Also, I much prefer for people to write out e.g. "fourteen" instead of "14" in fiction (unless you're talking about the year or similar), but it's not strictly incorrect (unless it's a number below 12).
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by SirMustapha » Sun Jun 14, 2020 2:41 pm

Thank you again for the comments and corrections. I fully agree with you about the numbers, and I have been replacing them with their written out alternatives. The siblings' ages were a lapse on my part, and they'll be fixed.
Regarding the wealth of characters, I do want to see how this will go along through the story. There are scenes that emphasize their personalities more individually, or their interactions a little more closely, and I've been thinking of creating new ones. But overall, I do want to create the impact of the feeling of being a teenager and arriving in a place filled with new, excited young people--which is a situation I have been in a few times before. Also, I have tried to hint at some very important character traits and tensions even in those initial scenes, so there's a a mix between atmospheric chatting and actual development.

Since I imagined this as a "bullshit" thread where I could just throw in things that help me advance this story, I'll put some of that random stuff in spoiler tags, so they won't create too much clutter, or create the feeling that you have to read all this. Check it out if you're curious, but don't feel obliged.
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by c_nordlander » Sat Jun 27, 2020 9:53 pm

Up to page 12:

Heh, Carlos and Rosa! Nice way of slipping in a little reference to your other story, without it feeling too obtrusive for those who aren't familiar with "Treasure Hunt".

"Daniel walked in lazy steps, following Débora and Lígia, following the trail towards the walkway by the beach." Feels like this could be rephrased a bit to avoid having two "following" in short succession. It's a nice sentence otherwise.

I'm still enjoying this. The dialogue is over all great: I'm getting a good feel for the characters, at least Lígia, Débora and Daniel. It'll probably take me a while to get to know them all. There are plenty of funny or arresting lines. Lígia's and Daniel's musings about the sea struck a chord with me: whenever I've been near the sea or a lake, I've had a tendency to view it as a huge animal that may be non-hostile, but that you can't disregard.

Descriptions are straightforward and just the right size to give me a clear mental image. I'm still enjoying the trick of having Carol narrating scenes where she's not present, and then interjecting her own thoughts just when I'd started reading it as a straight-up third person account. Some turns of phrase grabbed my mind: "The blurry and faded vision of childhood nostalgia makes such descriptions inevitable."

Technical nitpicks: "She calls me like that for years" should be "she's called me that for years" (never realised before that the past tense doesn't really make sense in this type of phrase); "in some irrelevant channel" (of the TV) should be "on"; "stood behind" is a bit of an odd phrasing (I don't know whether you intended it to sound unusual, or you meant "stayed behind"); "for tiny problem to trouble him" is either missing an "a" or should be "problems" (though I like the description); "worry with that" should be "about that"; "at worse" should be "at worst".

I haven't looked at the pictures yet, but it's cool of you to post them. I'll keep reading when I have the time!
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by SirMustapha » Sun Jun 28, 2020 6:03 pm

I should probably start reading my translation before I post it here. :P I mean, I'm pretty sure I could spot more than half of the mistakes myself... except for the prepositions, of course. Can we please fix English so that "in/on/at" are all interchangeable? I never asked much!

Other than that, I'm happy the dialogue is working so far, since so much of the story depends on it, and I've really been working on finding the "voice" of each character. And that includes the voice of the narrator too: I'm getting a feel that her style of narrating changes subtly depending on what she's talking about; e.g. she tends to be less concerned about descriptions when talking about the people, but she grows poetic when her affective memory is activated, and she tends to get "conversational" when she becomes insecure. I'm still searching for a balance, because I don't want any aspect to become overpowering. Though I am being way more generous with the poetic descriptions than I usually am.

In general, though, my focus tends to shift from aspect to aspect as I work on this, and I can never give complete attention to everything as I write a scene. Even in this early bit, there are some very spur-of-the-moment changes I made, but that were the result of ideas maturing in the back of my mind; Chico calling Eduardo "Grass" is an example of that. In fact, I originally thought he'd have a nickname for each person in the group (yes, he's pretty much Spike in Bridle Gossip). One joke I want to incorporate is Ralf saying "Grass" as an attempt to fit in, but being oblivious to the reason of that nickname. In fact, one idea I had is that Chico secretly resents that nickname. Originally I just found it funny for a character to have a nickname that's confusingly unrelated to his real name, and it struck me that this nickname might've been given by a rather mean spirited teacher and he hates it, but is too insecure to admit it. But yeah, that one's cooking in the back of my mind as well.

Right now, I've been writing fragments from the last act of the novel, because they're really going around my head, and some things I write in those scenes inform changes made in the early chapters. That's why I struggle with the idea of publishing a novel in pieces; I wouldn't be able to do that without making massive revisions later on. I'm not going to translate and publish those fragments out of order, because, without the build-up of the story, I think they lose all power. I want to invest in the slow cooking drama and conflict, and see how it can be weaved even into the prosaic and lighthearted dialogue scenes, but especially when the alien invasion act kicks in. There'll be plenty of changes to that plot, because I want it to reflect the overarching themes and conflicts of the story.
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by SirMustapha » Sun Jun 28, 2020 11:50 pm

So, as I told before, I was unsure about the story's title. Deep inside, I wanted a title that somehow represented the story as a whole, not just one person or one story aspect, and I wanted something humorous but not in a "ha-ha, how clever" way. Also, I have this feeling that the best ideas are those that seemed to be hiding in plain sight, right under our noses, and we never noticed them not because they were too obscure or clever, but because they're obvious.

I mean, the most obvious elements in this story are this group of teenagers and an ant plot. We have a group of kids who are facing off against ants. A gang that fights ants.

The Formicide Gang.

I admit, that title works better in Portuguese, because "gangue" is only used for a literal group of criminals, or with the connotation of a bunch of no-gooders. I can see in my head that one of them, most likely Chico, jokingly gives that name to the group, as it sounds menacing and ridiculous in equal amounts.
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Re: Untitled work-in-progress novel: the bullshit thread

Post by c_nordlander » Thu Jul 02, 2020 10:22 pm

Gah, forgot to post, but I like The Formicide Gang. Sounds like a cheesy children's adventure novel. :)
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Re: The Formicide Gang [work in progress]: the bullshit thread

Post by SirMustapha » Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:29 pm

I've been stalling slightly with the progress of the story, mostly because I've hit a point where I planned a lot of changes to the original story, and it takes much more effort to come up with the next lines. Also, I've been thinking about characterisation and backstories for the characters, and some things may require a few changes to the first few chapters. Still, nothing definitive.

I've pretty much adopted the title as, if not definitive, then at least a strong candidate. In Portuguese, it sounds to me like the right combination between goofy and menacing. In English, indeed it has that "children's adventure", which makes it extra funny to me, considering the mature themes the story touches on as it goes. I also started plotting the floor plan for Eduardo's house, as I realised I needed to visualise the space for the story. I had a rough image of it in my head, but I felt this could lead to inconsistencies. Also I just realised that this beach house never had any mention of hammocks, and the characters are depicted as staying indoors much of the time, but, well, that's because I tend to stay indoors much of the time. So there's something to revise in the near future. ;D

I've pondered about Chris's comment about the "B-movie" nature of the sci-fi plot, and these days I remembered that the origin of this plot is... even sillier than that. I don't know if I ever told that story here, but I thought I'd lay it here for future reference. Also, spoiler'd because spoilers.
Spoiler
So, yeah. Just throwing some stuff here as usual.
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Re: The Formicide Gang [work in progress]: the bullshit thread

Post by c_nordlander » Sat Aug 01, 2020 9:21 pm

Way, way late, but I read the rest of chapter 1. Really liking it so far (and I love that you posted the story behind how you came up with the idea; as a writer, I can't get enough of finding out how other people come up with their stories). Please keep posting supplementary material like that if you want to.

This always sounds cheesy, but as a North European, I'm really enjoying the local colour, with things like the lagoon. The description of it is excellent.

"had a natural formation" sounds a bit cumbersome, though I get the meaning.

"his disposition and promptness": "disposition" feels a *little* bit off here; I get the meaning, but it may be better in Portuguese.

"rested about 3 feet above the surface" isn't incorrect, but very formal (compared to "resting" or "that rested"). Also, I'd prefer writing out numbers below 13 using letters.

"whole two whole weeks": typo, or intentionally funny? It is funny, just wanted to alert you to it in case it was unintentional.

Their conversation after returning from swimming flows well and has lots of funny lines.

"Lígia’s eyes went wide, catching their reaction with the side of her eyes" feels a bit weird, not sure what you're describing in the second part of the sentence.

Again, love your descriptions of the landscape and weather. They have nothing that needs improving, IMO. The description of Débora is also very good, and you work it in at a suitable moment.

I like how you show the contrast between the older characters' foul-mouthedness and Rita's sensitivity. You treat both sides fairly, while still showing that that kind of situation can be upsetting.

I love the scene of Rita bonding with Daniel over music. It feels realistic and not overdone. Also, Graham got a gramophone (EDIT: spelling) a couple of weeks ago, and I know he'll love this description. :D

"for a few brief moments" is a tiny bit trite. I'd cut the "brief," but that's of course up to you. The rest of the description is great, as usual.

Another good bit with Rita's feelings about the older characters' profanity.

The last couple of pages are great, with good (and sometimes hilarious) dialogue, and a nice ending to the chapter.


So I'm definitely enjoying this so far. It's definitely slow-paced (except for bringing in hints of the upcoming events, like Carol and the mention of the ants), but it doesn't feel bad for it. This is definitely a character-based story, and just hanging out with them and getting to know them is enjoyable for the time being. (Which I guess puts the reader in Carol's position... :o ) I'll willingly admit that I have a problem getting used to a lot of new characters, and I'm not going to lie and say that I've *completely* got the hang of all your characters yet, but I'm getting there. So far, they're all sympathetic and quite well-rounded, and you capture both their conflicts and harmony. Nothing feels clichéd or over-dramatic. The descriptions (both of people and places) are well-written and don't slow the story down.

No real negatives that I can think of, just a few awkward sentences (and in several of those, I can't tell whether that's just a language issue). I do need more time to be able to tell some of the characters apart, but judging by this chapter, that won't take long.

I'm looking forward to reading more when I have the time.
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Re: The Formicide Gang [work in progress]: the bullshit thread

Post by SirMustapha » Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:49 pm

And now comes the time for "Hooray, Chris has read the chapter! :D" vs. "oh, crap, Chris has read the chapter! :o"

As usual, your points and nitpicks on language are useful and super important (I don't know why I keep this habit of writing numbers with digits; I'm willing to blame my software developer background), especially the constructions that are clearly not thought up in English. I like to think I'm getting better at it, because the dialogue is full of colloquialisms and I'm making an effort to make them flow well in English, but whenever something slips through the filter, it's important for me to see it and fix it.

I'm proud that the scenery descriptions are working, especially since this has been a long-standing weakness of mine, but I find that I had fun looking for these spots where the prose could gain a bit of colour, and letting my imagination fly a little higher than usual. I feel like there's a wannabe poet in me that needs to be liberated from time to time, though never letting go the leash. ;D The character descriptions is something I need to be careful with, because I want to make sure there's at least one paragraph describing each character, and I'd be mortified if I let any inconsistencies slip through. Also, there will be some relevant conversations and points about their ethnicities, so it's important to make this clear from early on.

That first chapter was quite important in thinking about Rita's personality and behaviour traits, and I took care to depict her in a way that's neither judgemental nor apologetic (though, well, this applies to all my characters). I could imagine at some points that a hypothetical reader could judge her very badly, but, well, that's the reader's fault, isn't it? I can't be entirely responsible for the social/moral judgements the reader will make (for one, I'm sure my mum would hate lots of things about this story, but I ain't changing a thing because of that!). But yeah, I had fun sinking my teeth into the more "annoying" aspects of her character, and putting myself in her position and feeling the things she feels. One thing that does worry me is that her character arc through the story could be interpreted as me "correcting" her "flaws", and I can only hope I'll have the sensitivity and care to avoid suggesting that this is the "intended" interpretation. ... perversely, I need to avoid feeling too protective and paternalistic over her, because that would seriously undermine her development... and because I realise I'm a 35-year-old writing about teenagers, and I realise it can look a little creepy. :P

Overall, loads of thanks for making it to the end of the chapter and writing that commentary. Also, the gramophone makes me super excited, so that was cool to hear too. :D
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Re: The Formicide Gang [work in progress]: the bullshit thread

Post by c_nordlander » Sun Aug 02, 2020 6:06 pm

SirMustapha wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:49 pm
That first chapter was quite important in thinking about Rita's personality and behaviour traits, and I took care to depict her in a way that's neither judgemental nor apologetic (though, well, this applies to all my characters). I could imagine at some points that a hypothetical reader could judge her very badly, but, well, that's the reader's fault, isn't it? I can't be entirely responsible for the social/moral judgements the reader will make (for one, I'm sure my mum would hate lots of things about this story, but I ain't changing a thing because of that!). But yeah, I had fun sinking my teeth into the more "annoying" aspects of her character, and putting myself in her position and feeling the things she feels. One thing that does worry me is that her character arc through the story could be interpreted as me "correcting" her "flaws", and I can only hope I'll have the sensitivity and care to avoid suggesting that this is the "intended" interpretation.
I know exactly what you mean. I have nothing to add.

Your characterisation comes off as honest. They feel like credible, real teenagers to me, so I wouldn't worry about the potential "creepiness" of being an adult writing about them. I definitely get the feeling that you respect them and don't look down on them.

Also, I realise now I spelled "gramophone" wrong in my previous post. :doh:
But if you're not convinced that I'm invincible
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I'd love to lay this rivalry to rest!


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