Blog 67: The Wisconsin Encounter, Part 1
Hello everybody, today we have a piece titled Wisconsin Encounter Part 1 by E-Memes on Writing.com.
December 7th, 1997, Rural Wisconsin. It was the early morning, around 3 AM and nothing out of the usual. A few State Police patrolling around the town. The Diner, called Minnie’s was open with a few customers. And everyone else was at home. But today was be truly changing for the town. A large silver object seemed to be headed straight for the Earth below, but… it wasn’t burning up in the Atmosphere like most meteoroids, no no, this was most defiantly not something made from simple space rock, no no it had to be a UFO. But was it even full of Aliens? Was it even meant for Earth? As the UFO was now being followed by a burning streak of fire coming from it, it crashed into a snow-covered plain, far from the highway. Surrounding the UFO were a few trees located on this plain. The nearest civilization would be a good 5, 6 miles. But if the aliens didn’t take interest in the humans, the humans took interest in the aliens.
As opening paragraphs go, this one doesn’t quite work as well as the author might want. Part of it is because the first half of this paragraph is dedicated to saying ‘everything’s the same as always/ is boring’, but exploring that concept doesn’t provide value in of itself both because it’s just the ‘small/sleepy town’ trope and because it’s only details that a reader would naturally supply on their own; the presence of an all-hours diner, the presence of police, the fact that it’s the middle of the night and more people are at home. These details don’t enrichen the story because mentioning them doesn’t add or change anything about it. The value in something like the first half of this paragraph would lie in providing contrast to the second half or in building an aesthetic. (‘Contrast’ here is the more artistic use where different colors are used in conjunction to make each other pop more.) The remoteness of this town (which isn’t the primary purpose of paragraph’s opening half) isn’t described in such a way to tell the readers why it matters. Contrast or conflict isn’t provided, so this description doesn’t augment or prepare the narrative of the aliens in any way.
The second option of ‘aesthetic’ could function both as another medium of contrast (sleepy town is disrupted by a shocking event) or as a means to flavor the story and provide immersion.
The ‘contrast’ (alongside the more functional uses of a small town allowing for more extended interactions before soldiers arrive) was probably somewhat the author’s intent, but then the questions returns to: what makes that contrast interesting? (This is an important element in theme/aesthetic as well. If you’re trying to build a theme, you want to understand what makes it appealing; is it warm and uninviting, cold and upsetting, unwelcoming? Theme is a story in pictures, emotions and impressions etc, but to achieve the best effect you want to know what you’re saying and why it’s interesting.) This is why these opening sentences don’t quite work, they’re not setting up a theme to attract and immerse the reader, but they’re also not preparing conflict or contrast that interacts with the aliens, it only sets the stage. Orienting the reader is important, but you can do that in an interesting and dynamic way. For instance, consider rearranging the paragraph so it opens with the UFO, have it fall through the sky and have it attract and interact with the people, draw them out of the diner or wake them up or may the police tell them to stay inside. All the elements remain largely the same, but now their dynamic and interactive, the UFO causes reactions instead of just existing alongside the initial opening. This structure would also be more active by nature since people are reacting, and it would explore the setting naturally without requiring the author to exposit everything he wants before actually beginning the story.
The other option would be to really think about the details you want to convey and find some that give the readers something interesting or visual to latch onto.
The second half of the paragraph functions better, though its efficacy is somewhat diminished by the fluff, like the mention of the trees around the crash site, which come across as random and irrelevant, and a few other phrases besides. Something else that could be improved on is the ‘talking to the reader’ sections, the ‘no no’s and ‘but was it even full of aliens’. My issue with them isn’t that the author’s talking to the readers/using a voice, it’s that the voice isn’t ‘saying’ anything. A ‘voice’ is a way of looking at events through a particular lens, it should change or add to the perspective in some way; the ‘no no’s the author implements don’t, and they’re not vibrant enough to indicate we’re being told this story by a ‘voice’ with a real personality behind it. The ‘but was it even full of aliens’ likewise doesn’t have any immediately visible personality or lens, but it also doesn’t change the story in its own right; we already know this is a UFO and, while we probably assume there’s aliens inside, asking if there’s aliens inside doesn’t change the scene because we don’t actually know if there’s aliens inside or not, meaning it’s neither an answer nor a new question, and so doesn’t really provide value. So, despite using the ‘voice’ the author doesn’t seem to have a specific vibe or goal their trying to achieve with it, which for me means that the ‘voice’ is little more than fluff. Now for the more technical aspects.
Sentence 1 December 7th, 1997, Rural Wisconsin
Aside from the ‘Rural’ needing to be lower case I would just consider changing this to a title card because that’s mostly what it is. This is mostly personal preference though, and the only technical reason I can give is that it reads like a title card but is included in the regular prose and so reads a little jarring.
Sentence 2. It was the early morning, around 3 AM and nothing out of the usual.
Two issues with this sentence, the first being that ‘it was the early morning’ is unnecessary since ‘3 AM’ conveys this, so having both is repetitive. The second issue is the ‘and nothing out of the usual’. There are two potential meanings for this sentence, the first being what it actually says which is ‘that it being 3 AM was nothing out of the usual’. I don’t think this is what the author meant to say, since it doesn’t feel like something that would need, or want to be said. I think the author intended something more like the second option “that nothing out of the usual had occurred.’ (The reason it technically says ‘3 AM’ was nothing unusual’ is because there’s only one verb in the sentence—the first ‘was’— so that verb applies to both phrases. You need a different verb to separate the second phrase from the first.) For the second meaning, there’s a few words missing. Side note, there also needs to be a comma after AM since that is an adjective phrase. (An easy way to distinguish the ‘adjective phrase’ here is that ‘around 3 AM’ is an expansion/clarification of ‘early morning’ but isn’t meant to affect ‘out of the usual’. So at the very least you would want the comma after rather than before.) As for how I would adjust this sentence, I would delete the ‘It was the early morning’ entirely and migrate ‘around 3 AM’ to join with the titled card sequence since it would fit there. I would try and move ‘nothing out of the usual’ to a subsequent sentence. The problem I’m having with that is that ‘It was the early morning’ functioned as the introduction to the story, and none of the remaining details really work for that purpose. Starting with any of the other details would feel random, which means I either have to devise a different introduction or use the ‘early morning’. So, if I have to contrive something, I would want it to be something that added to the small town setting the author outlined. With that in mind, I might try something like…
—It had been a quiet evening, not that anything unusual ever occurred here, and the only activity came from a few State Police patrolling the town and the diner, called Millie’s, which hosted a few customers.—
Or (A more purist rendition)
—It had been a quiet evening, not that anything unusual ever really occurred here. A couple State Police patrolled the town. The diner, called Millie’s, was open with a few customers, and everyone else was at home. — (In the original version the author had ‘A few State Police patrolling the town’ which is an incomplete sentence. ‘Patrolling’ is an adjective in that context, it needs to convert to ED to be a verb, otherwise the sentence has no verb.)
The main difference between these versions is that the first one in one entire sentence with a transition added between ‘occurred here’ and ‘police’ and that ‘diner’ was tied to be part of the same thought as ‘police.’ We’ll deal with the more minute changes in a moment, but the main reasons I like it being all one thought is for the smoothness of the sentence. The second version, with the sentence breaks added, feels more stilted to me, though we can smooth that out somewhat by swapping ‘it had been’ to ‘it was’, but even so in my head I want to read ‘the police’ and ‘the diner’ as a sequence of connected details instead of isolated ones. A secondary issue is that ‘not that anything unusual…’ doesn’t transition well into ‘the police’ since they’re not related to one another. So, even with the period, there’s a feeling of ‘topic jump’ between them that inserting a transition resolves.
The problem with the first version is that the additional words and combinations result in the sentence reading run-on. I think we can iterate on it though, deleting the ‘not that anything unusual ever occurred here’ and replacing it with an ‘as usual’ at the start of the sentence. (This might also have a secondary benefit; the phrasing of ‘ever really occurred here’ might be too assertive/hardline if the author’s trying to cultivate the impression of a small, sleepy town, which would want softer, more welcoming and lazy wording.) This would result in something like…
—As usual, it had been a quiet evening, with the only activity coming from a few State Police patrolling the town and the diner, called Millie’s, which hosted the occasional customer.— (I swapped the ‘few’ before ‘customers’ to avoid it echoing with the ‘few’ before police. ‘Only activity’ functions to replace ‘and everyone else was a home’. It neatly ties the ‘everyone else was at home’ in with ‘the police’ as ancillary information, achieving the same result without having to explicitly say and focus on it. The ‘Everyone else was at home’ is a phrase/sentence that crosses into stating the obvious, and you want to avoid stating the obvious because at best it’s unnecessary or repetitive and otherwise potentially tedious. I made the ‘diner’ lowercase because ‘Millie’s’ is its proper name.) Another notable change I made was converting ‘called Millie’s, was open…’ to “called Millies’, which hosted.” This was mostly necessitated by ‘only activity coming/came from’, but I also do think ‘which hosted’ benefited the sentence on its own. It converts the sentence to a more active structure and used a less generic/marginally more interesting word than ‘open’.
Sentence six (But today was be truly changing for the town.)
This is one of those ‘fluff’ sentences I mentioned above. It’s actual function is to hype up the story by telling the reader something exciting’s going to happen. Hype sentences in of themselves aren’t bad things, they’re great to end chapters on, but this one has two flaws. The first of these is that it’s immediately followed by the event it’s hyping, I.E a meteor/aliens arriving, which isn’t an event that needs hyping. There’s also no span of time or break between the story thus far and the aliens arriving so you don’t need a hype sentence to energize the reader to continue reading to the exciting event because that event happens immediately. The second issue with this hype sentence is that it’s hollow. This sentence is the author saying, ‘something exciting’s going to happen’ and that’s it. It’s artificial excitement. The best hype sentences tease the readers with something tangible, something they want or want to avoid, they foreshadow a conflict the readers are already invested in and understand. The hype sentence in its current iteration is missing an important element: why should we care that this town is changing?
For this hype sentence to work, the author would need to use the preceding 4/5 sentence to build an emotional attachment between the reader and the way the town currently is. Typically this would be a desire for it to either change or for it to remain the same (thus involving the reader in the story via emotional manipulation) or by expressing in the hype sentence why we should care about the foretold change.
All that aside, I maintain that the hype isn’t necessary here since the author is including aliens in the opening paragraph and so would advise deleting this sentence. If we preserved the sentence though, it would need a ‘to’ added before ‘be’ or for ‘was’ to convert to ‘would.’ I would also delete the ‘trully’ as unneeded hype. If this feels like it weakens the ‘changing’ too much, we can replace ‘change’ with a strong word like ‘transform’ that is closer to the desired impact. (Use the right word whenever possible, rather than supplementing the wrong one. A secondary benefit is that ‘transform’ would replace ‘for’ as well.) These changes would result in something like…
— But today would transform the town (forever).— (‘Forever’ is a cliché, but it does close out the thought nicely and does add in some more impact. I chose ‘would’ over ‘was to be’ because I just found ‘was to be’ more awkward.)
Sentence 7 (A large silver object seemed to be headed straight for the Earth below, but… it wasn’t burning up in the Atmosphere like most meteoroids, no no, this was most defiantly not something made from simple space rock, no no it had to be a UFO.)
This is another sentence that struggles somewhat with fluff and a few hypes words. The first phrase to address is ‘seemed to be’ which is primarily unnecessary since the ambiguity provides no value; the end result is the same and the ambiguity changes no reaction or opinion on the event because there’s no one experience that ambiguity. Whether the meteor ‘seemed to be’ or just ‘headed toward’ is functionally the same in this sentence, meaning ‘seemed to be’ is just fluff. It is also just a bit illogical since the persona saying ‘seemed to be’ is the author and the author knows that the ‘meteor’ is headed for earth.
The second phrase to mention is ‘headed straight.’ ‘Straight’ is another hype/supplementary word, it’s included to make ‘headed’ for dynamic and forceful, but it’s only needed because ‘headed’ is weaker than the author wants. Choosing a stronger, more violent/more appropriate, word removes the weakness. Something like ‘plunged’ might work or ‘blazed’, both of which have native connotations of speed, with ‘plunged’ adding an element of control loss and ‘blazed’ an undercurrent of destruction.
The next phrase is ‘burning up’, specifically the ‘up’ which weakens the flow of the sentence. The author’s using two words to describe one action, and this is often a sign that there’s a better word available. If we could get away with it, I might use ‘disintegrating’ because that inherently implies complete destruction, but it may lack the fire aspect. (the ‘atmosphere’ might be enough context for the readers to understand and see what the author intends.) We might also be able to simply delete ‘up’ since ‘burning’ is inherently destructive, but that may invite the misconception that the ‘meteor’ wasn’t burning at all. ‘Incinerate’ may be an acceptable solution since it’s a specific type of flame and more absolutely destructive. The fact that it’s a type of flame instead of the general term ‘burning’ means that ‘it wasn’t incinerating’ would only preclude specifically ‘incinerating’ rather than all types of ‘burning’.
Next we have the ‘no no’ and this really depends on what the author wants to achieve with their ‘voice.’ Having the two ‘no’ changes this comment from one of emphasis to showmanship and playfulness. The tone can change with punctuation. Periods and exclamations points would result in a more desperate tone, while ellipses cultivates a more pensive voice or reluctant. The lack of any punctuation means these ‘no’s are spoken quickly and without pause. If you wanted a litany to still be fast but maintain impact and emotional force, you would use commas because they would isolate the individual words, giving each of them inherent force. So this is all about what the author wants to say and I can’t speak about that with any certainty here. The playfulness doesn’t seem to fit the story so far, but I have only read one paragraph.
Not we have ‘most definitely’ (I assume the author meant ‘definitely’ since ‘defiantly’ doesn’t make sense outside of a more absurdist tone.) and this is another ‘hype phrase’ that I believe is unnecessary. ‘Not’ is an emphatic and forceful word because of its brevity, meaning and because of the hard T at the end. It’s rarely a word you need to supplement. The ‘most definitely’ could also be intended to hype the sentence meaning, that this was actually aliens, but that’s also not a revelation that needs extra oomph. They’re aliens, that mostly speaks for itself.
Next we have ‘something made from’ and I think this is unnecessary since whether something is ‘made from simple space rock’ or ‘is simple space rock’ is functionally the same, and it carries the same connotation of this being actually aliens.
We have the next ‘no no’ and my thoughts are the same as above. After that, we have the final phrase of ‘it had to be a UFO.’ My first thought is that this phrase might be unintentionally campy or cheesy (a result of how many conspiracy theories involve UFOs.) The second thought is less a suggested change than something to acknowledge and consider. Usually the unknown is more interesting than the known, a question is more likely to progress the reader forward than an answer. Now, keeping that in mind, ‘UFO’ is both an answer and an answer for which there was never a question. A phrase like ‘this was something else’ maintains the implications of aliens while adding a bit of ambiguity (which can be a good thing if used intentionally) and uses the reader preconceptions to conjure the connotations for ‘fear of the unknown.’ Functionally it says ‘we don’t know the answer yet, but the answer is important’ and that is an inherently interesting conflict. Yes the reader are likely to assume, and you are implicating, that it’s aliens, but they don’t know for sure and, probably more importantly, by leaving it ambiguous tell or imply what type of aliens they are; they could be violent or passivists, or not even be a ship but rather a weird chrysalis. Ambiguity invites questions, when you want them to understands this is a bad thing, when you want to entice them forward into the plot this tends to be a good thing.
(A large silver object plunged toward the Earth below, but… it wasn’t incinerating in the Atmosphere like most meteoroids, no, this was not simple space rock, it had to be a UFO.)
All my edits for this sentence. I deleted the second ‘no no’ as unnecessary since the first carries over effectively. For maximum rhythm impact I might break this into two sentences with a period/questions mark after ‘like most meteoroids.’ This would provide two benefits, the first by isolating the question/discrepancy you help to emphasis it and make it feel more important. The second is that by separating them you give the readers a brief pause to settle on the question before you answer it, instead of just rushing through. That break would result in this sentence feeling more earnest and serious, which may not be the author’s intent.
Sentences 8 (But was it even full of Aliens?)
For this sentence there’s a pair of general things to note. The first one is its somewhat ‘thematically contradictory.’ That’s not quite the right name but it will have to suffice for now. The author introduces the reader to a UFO, which implies aliens, then proceeds to ask/throw into doubt whether there are actually aliens inside. The doubt largely invalidates the value in introducing the aliens, changing the story from being about aliens to the possibility of aliens, except why not just begin with the possibility of aliens? It’s an interesting narrative (and it’s actually the one my edit of ‘this was something else’ begins) so why start a narrative just to correct yourself almost immediately after? (The issue isn’t really about the correction, but that there’s no narrative purpose to that correction.)
My second thought about the first sentence is a bit more meta. The sentence of ‘but was it even full of aliens’ hurts the story more than its helps. Why? Because there not being aliens in the ship, aliens to interact with or potentially be in danger from, is less interesting than there actually being aliens. So by suggesting there’s no aliens the sentence subtracts all the multitude of potential interactions and narrative they could have, but it doesn’t suggest any to replace them so it only subtracts from the story. If the situation were different and we were following a character in need of medical attention, possibly desperately, then the narrative becomes more impactful because it conjures the question ‘what will I do if they’re not there’ alongside all the other questions inherent to the sudden arrival of an alien species. What you end up with then is something that adds to the narrative soup of possibilities and conflicts and emotions. (simplicity can provide benefit if you want to give the readers a respite or a moment of safety, but we’re at the story and we’re trying to capture their interest.) Even so, there’s other ways to convey the concept without only subtracting from the narrative. You would do this by suggesting other narrative paths (perhaps instead of just saying ‘no aliens’ suggest a possibility that the ship is automated and either sentient or potentially for people who don’t have authorization to approach) or by highlighting underlying narrative elements to emphasize their peril, conflict or complications (for instance finding a way to subtly that the aliens inside would be injured and in need of medical attention humans are very likely unable to provide). Both of those alternatives suggest potential stories to the reader and so add interest, whereas the original just subtracts potential narratives.
In conclusion, I would either add context to this sentence or (if I proceed with the ‘something else’ edit) I would simply delete.
Sentence 9 (Was it even meant for Earth?)
No changes for this sentence, though if we delete the previous one we’ll have to migrate the ‘but’ over.
Sentence 10 (As the UFO was now being followed by a burning streak of fire coming from it, it crashed into a snow-covered plain, far from the highway.)
There’s a couple things to mention here, the easier being that ‘coming from it’ is probably unnecessary since its meaning is largely conveyed by ‘followed it.’ ‘Burning’ and ‘fire’ in conjunction is a bit repetitive since ‘fire’ by nature is burning, but phonetically adding in the burning improves the rhythm and sound of the sentence. The easiest solution for that would be just to change ‘fire’ to something else that would be appropriate like ‘smoke’ or ‘fumes.’
The second thing to note is how ‘far from the highway’ is a little bit disconnected. Our main reference/focus point so far has been the town, but by using ‘highway’ here the author uses a different reference point without explaining why they shifted. It’s not a huge issue in this context (though it could be a more significant problem in more complicated or nuanced scenarios) but it does leave the UFO’s orientation to the town ambiguous.
The final thing to note is how ‘As the UFO was…’ weakens the impact/energy of the sentence. The ‘as’ is a stand in for ‘because’ so a simplified version of this sentence would read ‘because a streak of fire started to come from the UFO, it crashed.’ (The ‘now’ indicates the streak appears in the as opposed to it having been originally present.) This sentence structure is the author talking about/explaining what happens instead of it happening. This sentence would be more dynamic and emphatic if we saw/read the events with active prose as they were happening. Instead of ‘ as the UFO was now being…’ it would be something like “Flames exploded from the object’s sides…” which propels the narrative with a violent verb to suit a violent and desperate change. This is an important distinction to remember if you’re trying to write a more violent or dynamic scene.
Just changing the words to be more dynamic wouldn’t complete resolve the sentence’s lack of force because some of it derives from the structure itself. We could write ‘As the UFO now blazed with a burning streak of fumes, it crashed into a snow-covered plain…’ ( I know we have the repetitive ‘fire’ issue again but this is just cobbled together.) The various events in the sentence don’t drive from one to the next so they resolve into a more explanatory tone. 9This may be what the author desired though.) A more fully dynamic sentence would be. “Flames exploded from the UFO’s back, manifesting into streaks of burning fumes, and it reeled, plunging sharply downward to crash into a snow-covered field far from the highway.”
Sentence 11 (Surrounding the UFO were a few trees located on this plain.)
This is a descriptive phrase, but it struggles with the fact that it comes out of nowhere and has no immediately evident relation to anything that’s transpiring. The lack of relevance in conjunction to it being inserted in the middle of action makes it feel random.
That aside, whenever you implement description you want it to matter, to mean something to the narrative. Or you want it to be visual, otherwise it runs closer to being boring than anything useful. Here, the mentioning trees about the UFO doesn’t provide narrative depth (though it potentially could if they disguised the UFO’s location somewhat) but it also isn’t written in such to conjure a vibrant image to fill the reader’s head. Thus, since it’s not overtly pursuing beauty or function it’s simply there, and so comes across more as fluff than an asset to the story.
Also, when you can have something or someone interact with whatever your describing that tends to make it feel more real and tangible.
Finally ‘located on this plain’ is entirely unnecessary. We know it’s a field and that their surrounding the UFO, there’s nowhere else they could conceivably be other than ‘located on this plain’ (excluding in more overtly fantastical settings.)
I think the best answer here would be to just add a mention of tree to the previous sentence like “crashed into a snow-covered field amidst a few trees, far from the highway” or (in my more dynamic rendition) “to crash through the scattered trees of a snow-covered field”
Sentence 12 (The nearest civilization would be a good 5, 6 miles.)
This sentence is either unnecessary or an example of how the ambiguity of ‘highway’ adversely affected the narrative. If ‘highway’ conveyed the author’s intent effectively then this sentence would just provide hollow specific to a concept the readers already understand (that civilization’s far away.) If this sentence exists to clarify that civilization’s quite distant then ‘highway’ doesn’t function as intended and needs to change. (the change could either be to express that civilization’s distant, or clarifying what the author wanted ‘highway’ to convey.)
This initial thought aside, this sentence’s purpose could be to transition/introduce the next one, but it doesn’t quite do that effective. The final sentence is about the humans taking an interest in the aliens, but six miles isn’t anywhere near enough of a distance to affect their interest. Or to explain/justify the alien’s lack of interest. So, this sentence doesn’t narratively prepare the next sentence at all, and as such (potentially) doesn’t fulfill its purpose in the story.
Sentence 13 (But if the aliens didn’t take interest in the humans, the humans took interest in the aliens.)
The only potential issue I see with this sentence is that there’s no prior indication as to whether or not the aliens took interest in the humans. So it’s somewhat a continuation on something that doesn’t exist. I think that was the purpose behind the previous sentence, it just didn’t successfully convey it. We would want something like “…5 or 6 miles, far enough for the Aliens to ignore the humans. But if the Aliens didn’t take interest…” which would resolve both the issue with this sentence and one of the issues in the previous sentence.
No final edit today just because there felt like a lot that was original author dependent.
If you liked what you read, check out the rest of the piece. https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2241214-Wisconsin-Encounter
If you liked my work, consider subscribing.