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A couple of sentences I know, but like the way they work. all feedback welcome...thanks.

The train left the town and a scarecrow appeared, standing in the centre of a large, ploughed field. Surrounded by birds, it was sodden and beginning to rot, with It’s head hanging forward and its arms outstretched like some sort of agricultural crucifixion.

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  • I'm going to start with the two clauses of the first half of the first sentence: "The train left the station" - ok, but what train, and what station - "and a scarecrow appeared" - wa-wa-wa-wait! What? This opening sentence is - I presume - supposed to act as a cinematic pan-through of the setting: a train, probably of the steam variety, pulls towards the camera as it rises, billowing steam; and as we pass through that cloud, we turn, not towards the town where this happened, but away from it, ot a ploughed field, where a scarecrow comes into view.

    But, the problem is, we are dealing with prose. Not cinema. We are not a camera being given a sweeping time-setting panorama to drop quickly into the primary subject. We are reading words, to build up a picture from the slightest fragments, the barest outlines.

    Yes, this same effect can be achieved in prose, but it's got to be done more delicately, panorama-place-person-emotion at half a sentence each.

    As you're not doing that, you're not getting to a person but an object (unless the scarecrow is alive), I have to say: Lose the train. Lose the station. They add nothing but confusion.

    Next, let's take the word "appeared." Are you saying that the scarecrow popped into existence from nowhere? One moment, the filed is empty, the next, not? I presume this isn't the case, and it's part of your attempt at a cinematic entrance.

    Now, moving on… "large"? It's not particularly informative. Obviously, we don't want an exact measurement. So it might be useable, but is there another way to describe it that will do some sort of double duty? Tell us about the protagonist/PoV?

    Also, the same with "surrounded by birds." Are they scattered about the field? Are they flying circles about the scarefrow? Perched on it having a party? I don't know. You've told us all of those, and none, in three words. Ity lacks specificity.

    The same with "beginning to rot." Beginning to is one of thos meaningless phrases that doesn't describe what it is attempting to say. It's like: "He started walking across the room." How much action is covered in the "starting to"? Once the first foot touches the ground and a step ahs been taken, it's well beyond starting. Butlifting that foot to take a step isn't necessarily starting. The start - the beginning - is an ambiguous point event. Tell us, instead, about split threads of whatever sack it is made from, of mouldy straw poking through.

    Should I even mention the stray apostrophe in "its"?

    Then, that ending beat, "like some sort of agricultural crucifixion." Ok, that's both brilliant and terrible at once. "Agricultural cruicifiction" is the beautiful part - and, I suspect, the reason you like this pair of sentences - but you ruin it with the first part. It's not "some sort of"… It is an agricultural crucifixion.

    I'm not going to offer a rewording at this point; there are too many questions regarding intent for that.

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    • Rick, thanks for your feedback. I'm sorry to say that your presumption about how we are seeing the train is wrong. these are two sentences from a paragraph inside a chapter (the chapter is actually called 'The train journey'), contained in a wider novel. the train is firmly contextualised before this sentence, so the reader already knows which town the train has left and who is on the train and why they are there. the reader is also aware that what is being described is the view from the window seat of a first class carriage. I take your point about 'some sort of,' before agricultural crucifixion. But when you said it is an agricultural crucifixion, again I have to disagree. it really isn't... its just a scarecrow tied to a cross in field.

      hope that clears up some contextual stuff....and again thanks for taking the time to critique my input. much appreciated.

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      • Makes perfect sense, Dave. I was reading it as opening sentences, rather than something in the middle of a piece, so the lack of context…

        As Kate says, below, the PoV - the random onmiscient details - could be an issue, unless it's an integral part of your style.

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      • I love the rhythm to this first sentence. I think you've got the start of something great here.

        Like Charlie, the 'it was sodden' also made me think of the field at a glance, so I would be careful with that pronoun. I also agree with Rick that 'agricultural crucifixion' is excellent, but cut the 'some sort of'. Rather than 'appeared', you might say, 'Lucy looked out of the window to see', or something to direct the reader's eye.

        It's amazing how much we can get out of just two sentences. It certainly isn't necessary to answer every question the reader might have (it's going to form part of a larger paragraph anyway), but being as specific with the description as possible helps.

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        • Ben, thanks for the feedback, much appreciated. very positive and constructive. cheers man.

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        • Hi Dave - Love 'Agricultural crucifixion' - it's great when you discover a phrase that is so simple and clean and yet works so beautifully.

          Have to say I agree with a lot of Rick's nitpicking, although as you've pointed out, taking a sentence out of context can lead to all sorts of misinterpretation.

          I am particularly bothered by those birds. Are they crows pecking at the black soil, wheeling flocks of lapwings or maybe even seagulls if you're near the coast. I think a little more detail would go a long way in creating a great image.

          The other thing that struck me about this, is that you need to make sure you're describing this in terms of what your observer would see/know. So, from the inside of a train, seeing a scarecrow in a large field, how could the observer possibly know it was 'sodden' or 'beginning to rot'. You'd see a sagging head and that fabulous outline you've conjured so well, but the rest I'm not so sure about.

          It is fascinating how much you can get out of a few sentences. Hope some of the above is food for thought. Thanks for posting.

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          • Kate, thanks! great feedback. a little later in the paragraph, more description reveals the extent of the scarecrows' decomposition. I think I included it for the reader more than the guy observing it from he train. He can see its rotting, (its stuffing is also coming out at its stomach). I take your point about the birds...here's a bit more from a couple of sentences further on:

            -The birds that filled the field all around the dead scarecrow called out mercilessly at the deceased bag of rags, its hands half hanging off and its chin down on its chest, they crowed and called ceaselessly.

            Deafeningly unafraid.-


            I think the fact he's a scarecrow and I use the verb 'crowed' gives the reader clues that the birds are crows, (or corvids of some sort).

            again, thanks for the help xxx really is appreciated.

            (ps. I like 'dead scarecrow' do you?)

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            • This feels as if we're moving into POV territory. Cawing definitely tells us what the birds are, but from a train, you wouldn't be able to hear the birds. So you're using an omniscient narrator to give the reader details the POV character wouldn't know. 

              Does that tally with the rest of your narrative? Do you often move into this omniscient narration or are you usually in a close third person POV? All these depend on what you can get away.

              Flipping complicated this writing!

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              • I don't know! I'm just making this stuff up as I go - hahaha. I flip all the time, to add colour and depth...im just trying to spin a yarn. I know it might bite me on the bum in the end but I'm not all that interested in being technically good. I know I've got to be technically good enough, and I do make mistakes based on my inexperience. I'm hoping that'll improve. but yes I'm a guilty flipper,  and yes its flipping difficult not to be...

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                • :D

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