Thursday, September 1, 2011

First Page Shooter #11--REVISED

Sci Fi Dystopian 138,000 words

New Text:


General Lucian Devereaux strode the Cliffhanger’s halls with anger pulsing in his temples like a second heartbeat. He paid little attention to the two men in black and their captive who hung his head and dragged his feet as though half-asleep. The men saluted the general as they passed him, then continued to the top of a descending staircase. It whirred to life, taking the prisoner into the abyss that was the concentration camp’s dungeon.

After pausing to straighten the collar of his deep green jacket, Lucian walked on. Despite his rage, he needed to remain presentable for the upcoming conference – as presentable as he was for every event he attended. He tried slicking back that unruly strand of hair that hung over his right eye, but it remained untamable as ever, doing nothing to help his mood. Frowning, the general stepped onto the main staircase and murmured, “Tenth floor.”

Work days at the Hanger were never pleasant, but today’s happenings had nearly driven him to the edge. Lucian tightened his grip on the parchment in his hand.

The tenth floor, like the eleventh and twelfth, was reserved for the most important military figures. He didn't bother knocking before stepping inside the conference room.

Dim lighting rendered Lucian momentarily blind. 3-D projections of paintings flickered inside depressions in the walls, giving the room a muted glow. Two seated military figures awaited Lucian around a table.

“Well?” he asked them.

“No luck, General Devereaux,” said Acker in his high-pitched voice. “Whoever this rebel is, he’s keeping a low profile.”


With Suzie's Comments:


According to the author, we're starting with a different scene as a first one, and we're in the perspective of the main character this time.



General Lucian Devereaux strode the Cliffhanger’s halls with anger pulsing in his temples like a second heartbeat. "Pulsing" gives the same impression as the second heartbeat simile. He paid little attention to the two men in black and their captive who hung his head and dragged his feet as though half-asleep. Again, the image of him is strong without the repetitive figurative language. The men saluted the general as they passed him, then continued to the top of a descending staircase. It whirred to life, taking the prisoner into the abyss that was the concentration camp’s dungeon. The staircase "whirred to life"? I'm confused... After reading this paragraph a few times I think I have an accurate portrayal of what's happening, but it took me a few reads to figure it out.  

After pausing to straighten the collar of his deep green jacket, Lucian walked on. Despite his rage, he needed to remain presentable for the upcoming conference – as presentable as he was for every event he attended. He tried slicking back that unruly strand of hair that hung over his right eye, but it remained untamable as ever, doing nothing to help his mood. Frowning, the general stepped onto the main staircase and murmured, “Tenth floor.”

Work days at the Hanger were never pleasant, but today’s happenings had nearly driven him to the edge. Lucian tightened his grip on the parchment in his hand.

The tenth floor, like the eleventh and twelfth, was reserved for the most important military figures. He didn't bother knocking before stepping inside the conference room.

Dim lighting rendered Lucian momentarily blind. 3-D projections of paintings flickered inside depressions in the walls, giving the room a muted glow. Two seated military figures awaited Lucian around a table.

“Well?” he asked them.

“No luck, General Devereaux,” said Acker in his high-pitched voice. “Whoever this rebel is, he’s keeping a low profile.” 


My main question here, is why did we start with this scene: Him walking to the conference room. Why not start with the conference? Why not start with a scene to show whatever is making Devereaux so mad? I feel like I'm waiting for something to happen.


If this scene is important as a starting point, I'd rather get more of a concrete image of what happens to the prisoner in the first paragraph as well as imagery about Cliffhanger (what does it smell like in a place like that? sound like?--there are a lot of possibilities), and then get right to the conference room.


I'm not sure I care that he's wearing a green jacket or that he needs to be presentable or that he has an unruly strand of hair hanging over his right eye--is this stuff important for an opening scene?


And rather than be told "work days at the Hanger were never pleasant"--I want to see it instead.


Original Text:

It was said that nobody knew how to reach the doors of the black tower from the outside – nobody but generals Acker and Devereaux. Officer Myron Kline had been flown in with a jet, and though the tower's sentries were ordered not to shoot on this occasion, he hadn't felt at ease until making contact with the ground.

Sunset was approaching, but the overcast sky trapped the sun's glow between layers of mist. The sea churned under low, thick clouds, licking the sides of a cliff that protruded over the water like a blade of steel. The young officer’s uniform was damp from the sea’s spray, but he barely noticed this as he strode towards the cliff’s peak. There, rising into the clouds, loomed the tower made of lustrous black onyx.

Repressing a shiver, Myron now noticed how closely it teetered to the raging waters below.

On the other hand, he could see the appeal of building the tower on such a treacherous terrain: it ensured a difficult time for those foolish enough to attempt escape. The camp hadn’t been baptized Cliffhanger for nothing, and he was now one of the few who knew the reasoning behind its name. A slip of the tongue concerning the Cliffhanger meant heavy punishment under the orders of General Devereaux, but the young officer had no intention of making such a mistake now that he was in the general’s employment.

He'd already sworn the oath of silence, and those who broke it didn't live to tell the tale.

With Suzie's Comments:

First, a note on word count. 138k is borderline too long.  It does depend on genre, and this one didn't say what it was, but when you have a long word count, make sure that every scene is developing the character and pushing the plot forward. And maybe go through and make sure you are using words to their best advantage. You don't want to be saying something in 20 words when it can be said just as well in 15.

It was said that nobody knew how to reach the doors of the black tower from the outside – nobody but generals Acker and Devereaux. Officer Myron Kline had been flown in with a jet, and though the tower's sentries were ordered not to shoot on this occasion, he hadn't felt at ease until making contact with the ground. I'm not sure I like the first line--I like it in the sense that it's a good line, but I don't like it as an opening. I don't know what the black tower is. It's black and it's a tower and if no one can reach the doors it seems sort of ominous, but because I don't really know enough, I think that I don't feel the trepidation like I should. Plus, two last names of two guys not on page have just been thrown my way right before introducing a third name, presumably the character I'm following. It might be more beneficial to open with a line about Officer Myron Kline and what he sees approaching the black tower--show me what it is please--and then tell me no one knows where the doors are and that's why he's been flown in by jet. Then the introduction of the tower PLUS the sentries orders (omg!) will make me feel as nervous as Myron.

Sunset was approaching, but the overcast sky trapped the sun's glow between layers of mist. The sea churned under low, thick clouds, licking the sides of a cliff that protruded over the water like a blade of steel. The young officer’s uniform was damp from the sea’s spray, but he barely noticed this as he strode towards the cliff’s peak. There, rising into the clouds, loomed the tower made of lustrous black onyx. This is a nice descriptive paragraph, but I still don't know what the tower looks like. How/Where is he striding if he was being flown in? Also, some of the descriptive words here are counterproductive to setting the tone. This seems sort of pretty to me. But if the tower is supposed to give Myron shivers (like it does below), I want a creepy description of the area. It could even be sort of pretty but contrasted with the black toward, it looks wrong.  I don't know but lustrous black onyx says pretty jewelry to me, not creepy ominous tower.

Repressing a shiver, Myron now noticed how closely it teetered to the raging waters below. Raging waters? I thought they were licking the cliffs, that seemed calm to me.

On the other hand, he could see the appeal of building the tower on such a treacherous terrain: I need more evidence of how the terrain is treacherous it ensured a difficult time for those foolish enough to attempt escape. The camp hadn’t been baptized Cliffhanger for nothing, and he was now one of the few who knew the reasoning behind its name. What reason? Did I miss something? A slip of the tongue concerning the Cliffhanger meant heavy punishment under the orders of General Devereaux, but the young officer had no intention of making such a mistake now that he was in the general’s employment.

He'd already sworn the oath of silence, and those who broke it didn't live to tell the tale. I really like this last line--it's in my opinion the best line of the excerpt, and because of it I think I'd turn the page and read one more to see if my interest could be grabbed. This line gives me the sense of danger and intrigue. I want to know what he has to be silent about!

16 comments:

TirzahLaughs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TirzahLaughs said...

TirzahLaughs said...
It's a bit chunky to me. It has a lot of words but isn't telling me very much that interests me. I feel very distant from the writing. I'm not afraid. I'm watching it all from a distance.

I think Suzie is right in her suggestions. I can't see much of the scene and the overall mood waffles.

I think with some small rewrites the author could turn this into a scene that is harder hitting and more intriguing. But what do I know?

Right now, it would be one I put back on the shelf.

:)

Tirz

Robert Michael said...

I think the writer has promise, but I can see from the excerpt why the manuscript has 135,000 words. I know sometimes that I struggle with this. It "sounds" like beautiful writing--flowing, lucid, grammatical, poetic. The problem is, it doesn't tell the story in a way that grabs the reader.

When I edit my writing, I have to recall the movie "A River Runs Through It" where Tom Skerritt tells his son (the writer and narrator of the story) to edit his writing assignment by cutting it in half--and then half again twice more!

Key elements in this scene make for an exciting tale and the challenge in this genre is to create the scene, build the world, while telling the story.
The only other advice I would give is to watch the overuse of adjectives. As Suzie pointed out, sometimes the image evoked will contradict the tone and intent you were attempting. Adjectives are not quite as bad as adverbs (if you see one, kill it, according to Mark Twain), but they do need to be necessary. A good test: take out all the adjectives in a sentence, read them and see if it improves the sentence.

I would read this writer's work in hopes that the story would pick up just because the writing seems nice. Good luck!

Alex said...

I liked the whole thing.

I like the first sentence a whole lot too. No one but two generals knowing how to reach the doors of an ominous tower from the outside says loads.

It doesn't matter that you don't go on to talk of the generals further you don't need to, it's militaresq, now you know the names of the men in charge and how they run their outfit. Secretive.

The looming tower of lustrous black onyx rising into the clouds does not invoke thoughts of "pretty jewelry" to me at all. It's clearly a large foreboding and impressive site no skimping went on during construction is what I get here.

I was taken in.

By the way for anyone querying I am running a weekly reader based query critique on my blog.

http://boxingwithpencils.com/query-critique-kissing-the-lion/

Email your query and critique others so we can post yours after the first ones emailed have gotten enough feedback.

Giora said...

Suzie, it's interesting to read how you dissect the first page. Looking forward for mine ..:)

sara said...

I liked it, but agree with all of Suzie's comments about the description. Clouds liking like blades of steel made no sense to me (that might just be me, though!) and I had to stop reading to figure out what that would look like before giving up and continuing on.

Technically, I didn't love the 'it was said' opening, but I like idea of it. I was hooked from the get-go. Too many names in the first few lines confused me, and it took a while before I realized Myron was the protag, but that's easily remedied.

My only other thought is that I really associate the Myron with my grandfather's generation, which is why it didn't occur to me that 'the young officer' was Myron right away.

All that being said, I would definitely keep reading. I'm intrigued! Great job!

Alyson said...

I rather liked it, especially this line: "Sunset was approaching, but the overcast sky trapped the sun's glow between layers of mist." I think the "chunkiness" that many readers have taken issue with could be easily sanded down by streamlining the flow of sentences, like the first:

"Nobody knew how to reach the doors of the black tower from the outside--nobody but Generals Acker and Deveraux." Immediately we become less distant as readers, less removed. The tower is no longer hearsay, it's there, and its looming.

Minor, but in the second paragraph, "sea spray" doesn't need an apostrophe. In your description of Cliffhanger, I'd make it more apparent that it is simultaneously beautiful and dangerous--if you don't want to make the landscape look ostensibly creepy, that is. It makes the landscape doubly treacherous.

Alyson said...

Also, guys, the "blade of steel" description seems to be about the tower over the water, not the clouds themselves. The author should probably straighten out that sentence. It's too busy in terms of similes/personification.

earth said...

I really liked it, especially the sentence about the sun's glow being trapped in layers of mist. That, and the low, thick clouds, plus the description of the cliff, all gave me a feeling of something creepy, scary, dangerous. I'll read on to find out more about the tower and the MC.
Good job.

Me said...

I think I'm going to be in the minority ...

I really didn't like it. There's little wonder that it's coming in at a whopping 135k when the opening is so strewn with overly described areas, and (as suzie says) not enough of what's important.

I felt that the second paragraph was pretty much pure cliche. It didn't convey creepy or sinister and felt like it (the style) had been imitated from other work.

The confusing mix of lapping/raging water tells me that the author doesn't really know the setting and, as a reader, I'm not inclined to follow if I have no trust in the writer.

I apologise if this sounds harsh.

africa2asia said...

It is an interesting start, I would like to know more about this tower and the young officer.
I agree that it would be more gripping if the writer 'showed' the tower and environment through the officer's eyes - give the reader his thoughts and feelings.

Reagan Philips said...

My interest was piqued. I thought the flow was good, but I agree with Suzie's comments.

The mood was a little confusing at first, and had to think about the character names a little more than I like to.

I can see how a few words could be snipped away in just this opening that could probably be applied to the whole piece to make the overall word count more appropriate. I think it has potential.

But I'm no expert. :)

havenwriter said...

'It was' stops me every time.

anonymous said...

I submitted my first page shooter back in april, and while I'm really enjoying the posts, I no longer want mine to be considered. Are we allowed to retract our submissions? I know you already have hundreds to consider.

Beth said...

Part of the art of good storytelling is getting information/events down on the page at the right time and in the right order. Never is this more true than on the opening page.

This piece has some intriguing nuggets of story, but reading it gave me the feeling of a camera that keeps jumping around and changing its focus. You can start with a wide shot and gradually zoom in, or you can start close and zoom out, or you can keep the focus tight throughout, but what you don't want is to skip around and zoom in and out.

Just as an example of what I mean, the POV shifts from outside narrator (referring to Myron as "the young officer") and Myron's own POV ("Myron noticed how closely it teetered...") and then back to "the young officer again."

Also, the tower is the main image--the object around which everything else swirls--yet it is barely described. The camera focuses on the sea, the sky, the cliff, the officer. There's a jet somewhere that someone flew in on. Characters are named who are not present.

IMO, your opening would be better served by cutting out the background information and simply starting with Myron's POV and Myron's arrival. Describe what happens, but don't comment on it. Not yet.

But do keep the last two lines. That's your hook.

Beth said...

P.S. The metaphorical blade clearly refers to the cliff, not the clouds or the tower. However, I had trouble with that as an image. I have never in my life seen a cliff that looked like a steel blade and I can't imagine this at all.

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?