Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Offer up your page (or query) for Nathan's critique on the blog.

Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby Nathan Bransford » 29 Oct 2010, 09:30

Okay! You all remember how this works. Below is the page up for critique. Feel free to chime in with comments, create your own redline (please note the "font colour" button above the posting box), and otherwise offer feedback. When offering your feedback, please please remember the sandwich rule (Positive, very polite constructive feedback, positive). In order to leave a comment you will need to register an account in the Forums, which should be self-explanatory.

I'll be back later with my own comment, and I'll update this original post with a link to my comment in case anyone wants to click to it directly. There will not be a separate thread, just this one.

And if you'd like to enter a page for a future Page Critique, please do so here.

As of this posting there were 543 pages up for critique. The random number generator at random.org says.....

420!!

Congrats to surlyjason, whose page is below:

Title: Psi-kick: Red Utopia
Genre: Sci-fi Crime Thriller

There is no sky in the New York Arcology. In this expensive neighborhood, a long orange plasma tube on the high ceiling substitutes for the sun. The foreign light is hard on my tired eyes even with my HUD sunglasses. The morphing lenses are currently tinted to “hangover dark”; inside a heads-up-display is scrolling local police bulletins. Most cops forego the glasses display in favor of a neural wirejob, but Psi-kicks don’t like to implant things in their heads, so I go with the spiffy shades.

Like most of the middle class, I sleep only eight hours a week, but for me it’s long overdue. There’s no rest for a Psi-cop when another young girl has vanished. Same Modus Operandi as two previous in the last 48 hours. En route I found the missing girl’s picture and provided it to the press; it’s already being broadcast on every news node, Worldweb domain, and holovid in North America, if not the civilized world. Not one burly thug sitting in a ghetto porn theater has escaped word that this fourteen year old girl has been kidnapped.

Nevertheless, as before no reliable calls, no promising tips. Nothing.

It’s best that Michelle and I got out of the Psi-kick dormitory. The rage that’s in me now would have everyone there on edge. As is, I feel a little sorry for Michelle. She too is Psi-kick, and trying real hard to hold in tears of frustration. My emotions on top of that aren’t doing her any good.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby surlyjason » 29 Oct 2010, 09:45

Yay!
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby ted » 29 Oct 2010, 10:15

I like the hard-hitting feel and vividness of this opening. Instead of defining his world and backstory, the protagonist provides a few environmental details and then spells out his situation: he's a Psi-Cop who has to deal with a rash of kidnapped girls.

The voice is compelling, and phrases like "hangover dark", "ghetto porn theater" and "the rage that's in me now" go a long way toward making the protagonist multi-dimensional and colorful. I also like the way Michelle is introduced. The protagonist is thinking about her in the context of the situation and the effect his own actions are having on her. So the main character implies he'll be fighting internal demons as well.

For me, this opening puts things in motion and says "come along for the ride... I'll explain what's happening what I get a chance... don't forget to duck." Great start.

*****

There is no sky in the New York Arcology. In this expensive neighborhood, a long orange plasma tube on the high ceiling substitutes for the sun. The foreign light is hard on my tired eyes even with my HUD sunglasses. The morphing lenses are currently tinted to “hangover dark” great!; inside a heads-up-display is scrolling local police bulletins "is" doesn't work with "bulletins"... maybe "local police bulletins scroll inside my heads-up display"?. Most cops forego the glasses display in favor of a neural wirejob, but Psi-kicks don’t like to implant things in their heads, so I go with the spiffy shades. good -- uses a detail to start defining the protagonist.

Like most of the middle class, I sleep only eight hours a week, but for me it’s long overdue this doesn't sound right... how can a weekly cycle be "overdue"? Maybe "but mine went up in smoke this week" or something like that?. There’s no rest for a Psi-cop when another young girl has vanished. maybe a paragraph break here. Same Modus Operandi as with the two previous in the last 48 hours. I found this a little jarring... and "previous" seems orphaned. Maybe "That's three in the last 48 hours -- all with the same MO." En route I found the missing girl’s picture and provided it to the press En route to where? And the change to past tense here is awkward. Maybe "The picture of the missing girl that I found and sent to the press is already being broadcast..."; it’s already being broadcast on every news node, Worldweb domain, and holovid in North America, if not the civilized world. Not one burly thug sitting in a ghetto porn theater love the sequence of hard sounds here has escaped word that this fourteen year old girl has been kidnapped. the two uses of "has" slowed things down for me. Maybe "hasn't heard that this 14-year-old girl was kidnapped."

Nevertheless , as before we've got no reliable calls, no promising tips. Nothing.

It’s best that "a good thing" using "best that" made me think you were heading into future tense Michelle and I got out of the Psi-kick dormitory. The rage that’s in me now would have everyone there on edge. As it is, I feel a little sorry for Michelle. She too is Psi-kick, and trying real hard to hold in tears of frustration. My emotions on top of that aren’t doing her any good.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby ReenaJacobs » 29 Oct 2010, 10:34

Congrats, SurlyJason. :) And thanks for offering your piece up for critique.

I thought this work was well written in terms of grammar and punctuation, very easy to follow. You've also done a good job adding plot to the first few words. I know girls are missing, so it gives me a sense of what the story will be about. Good job.

My concern is it's very straightforward--just the facts, which makes the piece less engaging than it could be. Toward the end, it delves into the emotional state of the character(s), but I don't feel it. Is it possible to show their mental states rather than telling.

I know the excerpt is just the first 200 words. However, I find myself wondering if the character is male or female. I originally had male in my head, but toward the end I wavered--male or female?

One additional suggestion is to consider starting with what your character(s) are doing rather than a description of their environment. As it is, I know the facts surrounding the situation, but I don't know the character much at all. By starting with your character(s), you can weave the descriptions of their environment in a more interactive way. Rather than the environment just being, it'd be how the characters affect the environment or how the environment affects the characters. You did this a little when you talked about the sunglasses. I feel like I'm rambling, so I'll give an example. "I put on my HUD sunshades to mute the bright colors of the orange plasma tubes. With no sky in the New York Arcology, the foreign lights were typical in the expensive neighborhoods and harsh on my tired eyes."

It's pretty much what you said, but the order of the sentences are different, and I'm sure you could write it better than my example. What I'm saying is, if you start with your characters' actions then elaborate, it might make the piece a wee more engaging.

Quick summary: Grammar there, Plot there, but could benefit with a bit more show.

Again, thanks for sharing your piece.

Reena
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby bcomet » 29 Oct 2010, 11:36

Hey, congrats on your excerpt getting to go!

I love it. It's tight and gives me a lot of information that is interesting to me and (important) not too much.

I want to read further.

The only thing that tripped me up were the last two sentences. I had trouble believing that a cop was fighting
back tender emotions or tears. Maybe there's a reason, but would they still be on duty? Most cops seem to be trained
to stuff those tender, teary reactions. They swallow it down, transfer it to a "let's get to work" attitude (thinking Saving Grace where there were all these upsetting things the police had to deal with. There was a lot of toughing up and expressing of upset through alcohol.) But, hey, there may be more around the corner that explains that. And that's just two sentences that confused me.

I think overall that this is a terrific piece of writing and a fab beginning.

Well Done!!
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby Danimal98367 » 29 Oct 2010, 13:12

Pretty good start and I would keep reading. I'll echo the earlier comment about starting with a character focus rather than the environment. Knowing it's a future-y world isn't as strong as the peeks at character we got. The details are delicious and perhaps they are fine when the reader has more than just the 250 words (like at least the next 1250 for context and flow), without seeing the next page I would have to encourage you to focus heavy on Michelle and the narrator.

This line was frustrating to me: "Nevertheless, as before no reliable calls, no promising tips. Nothing." Particularly the red part. It stumbled me and I had to read it twice just to make sure I actually got it. It felt like I missed something. It's the transition of "nevertheless" that I think is unnecessary.

We've got cops, Psi-kicks, and Psi-cops. We don't know what the Psi adds to people (and shouldn't yet) but I felt a little overewhelmed by categories of characters rather then just the characters.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby Sara007 » 29 Oct 2010, 14:03

Congrats, SurlyJason!

First of all, I think you do a great job of writing in the style that's reflective of the character and genre. Before the character speaks/thinks anything, I can already tell it's a tough-guy/cop/crime story. It's really great that you're able to convey/reinforce that style so well in this staccato-type tone.

Secondly, I'm impressed with your creativity in imagining this weird and different world.

Third, even though I don't read that much in this genre, I like the hook you provide. I want to know more about this kidnapped girl and I really hope your MC's able to get her back! Yeah! :)

In terms of tweaks, I think Reena and Ted's ideas (above) about altering how the character experiences the environment are awesome. I concur. Although I actually thought your "just the facts, ma'am" style reinforces the police/tough guy genre. So I'd leave that, assuming that's what you're going for.

Additionally, I might consider the following:

(As per Reena, above) I put on my HUD sunshades to mute the bright colors of the orange plasma tubes[color=#0000BF] that substitute for the sun. With no sky in the New York Arcology, the foreign lights were typical in the expensive neighborhoods and harsh on my tired eyes.[/color] The morphing lenses are currently tinted to “hangover dark”; (Nice - love the hangover detail - lol) local police bulletins scroll inside my heads-up display (as per Ted). Most cops forego the glasses display in favor of a neural wirejob, but Psi-kicks don’t like to implant things in their heads, so I go with the spiffy shades. For me, the word "spiffy" feels forced...like the MC is trying too hard to seem cool - or maybe flippant, but it actually feels awkward and forced to me. I'd just delete the part after "heads," and end the sentence there (sorry, I don't know how to do strike-through on here). It's clear that he's wearing shades.

Like most of the middle class (I'm confused by this class reference - especially after the Psi-kick and Psi-cop references - that's a lot of new info in a short span of time. Are there upper, middle, and lower-class Psi-kicks? And Psi-cops? As well as humans? What does "Psi" mean? Is this class distinction a key part of the plot? If so, will it be developed/explained later?) I sleep only eight hours a week, but for me it’s long overdue. (Do non-middle class Psi-kicks need more or less sleep? Why? How does this contribute to/strengthen the plot? Or is it just that this poor Psi-dude is sleep-deprived and exhausted and you're showing his dedication to his job/concern for the kidnapped girl here?)There’s no rest for a Psi-cop when another young girl has vanished. (Nice - like his dedication/concern/humanity) Same Modus Operandi as two previous in the last 48 hours.(Is "MO" the best description here? Maybe "As with the previous two in as many days...) En route I found the missing girl’s picture and provided it to the press; it’s already being broadcast on every news node, Worldweb domain, and holovid in North America, if not the civilized world. Not one burly thug sitting in a ghetto porn theater has escaped word that this fourteen year old girl has been kidnapped. (Nice description. I can picture this in my mind)

Nevertheless, as before no reliable calls, no promising tips. Nothing. ("Nevertheless" feels a bit awkward to me. Maybe "And yet, no promising tips, no reliable calls")

It’s best that Michelle and I got out of the Psi-kick dormitory. The rage that’s in me now would have everyone there on edge. As is, I feel a little sorry for Michelle. She too is Psi-kick, and trying real hard to hold in tears of frustration. (The "trying real hard" feels awkward to me. Maybe smooth it out with "She too is Psi-kick, and barely holding in tears of frustration." Although - just to play devil's advocate, how come the chick resorts to tears while the big strong guy gets angry? That feels a little trite...can't they both be just mad? Don't alienate the female readers :)) My emotions on top of that aren’t doing her any good.

Overall, great start! And again, kudos on your creative imaging of this foreign world! That is really cool - and something I could never do :)
Last edited by Sara007 on 29 Oct 2010, 14:11, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby Nathan Bransford » 29 Oct 2010, 14:04

I think this page has the makings of a strong voice, and it's clearly a novel bursting with ideas. Nearly every sentence is introducing a new concept, and there's a lot that's intriguing - an artificial sky, gadgets, and things psi-. My main concern is that it while this page succeeds in immersing us in a world, sentence-to-sentence I found the experience of reading a bit choppy.

Choppiness can result from a few different sources. It may be that one sentence and idea not really flowing to the next sentence and idea, or it can be that one thing flows to the next too much, resulting in a stream of consciousness feeling but without a clear overarching purpose. It leaves us with the feeling, "Where is this going?" and without an overall context it can be hard to track.

In this case I think it's mainly the latter. We're in the character's head, but we don't really have much of a sense of what he's doing in the beginning or why we need to know so much about the glasses in the first paragraph when they aren't really factoring into the story. I had a bit of a hard time following the progression of descriptions and details. I felt a bit shut out from the world and just wasn't getting into the flow of the novel.

There also is simultaneous over-explaining and underexplaining, which made things a bit confusing. We're told it's an "expensive" neighborhood at the same time that other details go unexplained (like what a "psi" is). This made the narrative perspective a bit ambiguous. Who is the narrator's audience and how much does the narrator assume the audience knows?

Lastly, my feeling is that in fiction semi-colons should only be used as an absolute last resort. It's a very rare situation where a period or comma-and wouldn't make for a smoother reading experience.

Lastly lastly, I think the title should perhaps be re-thought.

Nevertheless, I like the ideas here and think this world has potential.

Title: Psi-kick: Red Utopia
Genre: Sci-fi Crime Thriller

There is no sky in the New York Arcology. In this expensive neighborhood should "expensive" be shown instead of stated?, a long orange plasma tube on the high ceiling substitutes for the sun. The foreign light is hard on my tired eyes even with my HUD sunglasses. The morphing lenses are currently tinted to “hangover dark”; inside a heads-up-display is scrolling "inside a heads-up display is scrolling" reads awkwardly local police bulletins. Most cops forego the glasses display in favor of a neural wirejob, but Psi-kicks don’t like to implant things in their heads, so I go with the spiffy shades. I found this opening paragraph a bit choppy, and I think it's because I'm not sure why we need to know so much about the glasses right off the bat. It doesn't seem to fit the story, and the progression from artificial sky to glasses to there are things scrolling inside (but what specifically doesn't seem important) and then explaining why the character is wearing the glasses instead of a neural wirejob. I'm just not sure it feels like a logical progression for a first paragraph, and I wonder if the explanation about the glasses should come elsewhere, when their role in the story comes into play

Like most of the middle class, I sleep only eight hours a week, but for me it’s long overdue. There’s no rest for a Psi-cop when another young girl has vanished. Same Modus Operandi as two previous in the last 48 hours Not sure what "Same MO as two previous" means. En route I found the missing girl’s picture and provided it to the press; "and" or a period here. Semi-colon awkward it’s already being broadcast on every news node, Worldweb domain, and holovid in North America, if not the civilized world. Not one burly thug sitting in a ghetto porn theater has escaped word "has escaped word" reads awkwardly that this fourteen year old girl has been kidnapped.

Nevertheless, as before no Neverthless, as before no" reads awkwardly reliable calls, no promising tips. Nothing.

It’s best that Michelle and I got out of the Psi-kick dormitory. The rage that’s in me now would have everyone there on edge. As is, I feel a little sorry for Michelle. She too is Psi-kick, and trying real hard to hold in tears of frustration. My emotions on top of that aren’t doing her any good.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby J. T. SHEA » 30 Oct 2010, 00:39

One person's 'staccato-type tone' is another's choppiness! And I do like the title! There's no accounting for taste...

This first page has promise, literally. Questions deliberately raised, and some deliberately not answered until later. What's an arcology? In what way is the neighborhood expensive? Psi-cops are a standard SF trope, and an interesting one, echoing the use of psychics by police forces in our present time.

Same modus operandi? Another promise. I don't need to know the details now, but I do need to know them sooner rather than later, and they need to be worth the wait. Likewise the references to the middle class and the eight hours a week sleep. Likewise the narrator's gender. I assumed male, but that's not specified yet. Likewise the narrator's personal involvement in this kidnapping case, and his/her relationship with Michelle. I think trying to finalize all those details on the first page would overstuff the page.

Ted put it well. 'Come along for the ride...I'll explain what's happening when I get a chance...don't forget to duck.'

'Nevertheless, as before no reliable calls, no promising tips.' I take it there should be a comma after 'before'?

Thanks to Surlyjason, Nathan, and all commenters.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby ReenaJacobs » 30 Oct 2010, 08:54

I'm with J.T. on a lot of issues. I liked the title. It's short and catchy. If I picked up a novel with that time (cover has to be eye catching also though), I'd think "Red Utopia? Hmm....I wonder" and pick it up and at least read the back blurb. I'm not a crime fan though, so you'd lose me there. So like J.T. said, taste. :)

Arcology was a new word for me. I looked it up and see it isn't made up. But then it goes into the issue, will the common readers know what it means? And is the entire book going to be filled with obscure words. I'm not sure about most readers, but the idea of needing a dictionary by my side to decipher a book doesn't leave me with fuzzy feelings. :) But then it could be worse. I've followed a series where the author fills the book with made up words and acronyms. Irritated the hell out of me, but I endured because the story line was interesting enough (at least the first few novels in the series).

The MO thing, I figured we'd get to it soon enough. In fact, I figured we were on the way to the crime scene, and it'd all be revealed. But then bringing it up early, turns it into foreshadowing. In my mind, foreshadowing should be subtle. The reader shouldn't even know the clue is there until the actual event occurs. Then it's, "oh! I remember something about that mentioned earlier. I didn't even put two and two together until now." But that's just me. :) I found that reordering sentences can fix a lot of problems. Instead of putting the MO thing at the top, move it after "Nevertheless, as before no reliable calls, no promising tips. Nothing." Sure, this line lacks details, but it explains a little about what the MO is.
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby wilderness » 30 Oct 2010, 10:41

I like the fast-pace. You get a strong sense of the hard-boiled voice right away -- like a mix of Bogey and Total Recall :) Still, I agree that some of the sentences read awkwardly -- the ones Nathan pointed out above, but also I felt some of them had too many adjectives to take in. Consider:

Not one burly thug sitting in a ghetto porn theater has escaped word is unaware that this fourteen year old girl has been kidnapped.


A fast-paced flow works better when you are using short, clipped sentences. We have to take in a lot of new technology and details about the world, so simplify what can be simplified -- the adjectives I suggested removing above are just distractions, IMO.

Great job in including some of the details of the world too. I liked how you mentioned the orange tube replacing the sky and even the display on the sunglasses. I agreed that the phrase "heads-up" feels awkwardly thrown in there, although I do get a good sense of what you mean. Maybe try to rearrange that sentence so that heads-up reads a little more smoothly within it. And with the sunglasses v. neural implants -- I think the neural implants might better be introduced later. As for "psi", I say give us a hint via context what it means because I'm really not getting one. You don't have to fully explain it, but it's better if we can guess the gist. These details are *so* tough to introduce at the right moment, so don't be discouraged! I think it's one of the main challenges to writing sci-fi.

Sounds like a fun, hard-boiled sci-fi. I think the title is fine if you're going for "hard" sci-fi as opposed to "soft" sci-fi.

Good luck!
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby rose » 30 Oct 2010, 11:55

Nice, intriguing opening. I too, liked almost everything about it and would read further. Congratulations and good luck.

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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby J. T. SHEA » 30 Oct 2010, 15:59

More good questions, ReenaJacobs. Most common readers probably will not know what an arcology is precisely, though many may guess it's a place, in the sense of a political district or large habitat, or both. That's another thing I don't think we need to know exactly on the first page. I trust the author to explain in good time. An entire book full of never-explained obscure words would, of course, be disastrous.

Technological terminology can be alienating, but I am still surprised commenters did not understand what the prefix 'Psi-' meant. As SF novels go, this one is quite light on such terminology in it's opening page.

The many readers who hate science fiction will likely toss the book aside after the first paragraph, not to mind the first page, but there's no helping that. I classify my own WIP as Steampunk or Dieselpunk, but I've made it as accessible as I can, and I hope to appeal to a broad range of readers, most of whom may never have heard of Steampunk or Dieselpunk.

Incidentally, a pair of architects have designed an arcology to be hung from San Francisco's Bay Bridge. Now THAT should be a very exciting place to live, particularly during an earthquake!
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby surlyjason » 30 Oct 2010, 20:53

Thanks to all you readers (past and future). I’ve had a few beta readers, but you guys have focused in on some different items. It’s always interesting to see what new readers think!

~Jas
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Re: Page Critique Friday 10/29/10

Postby Daniel_Lane » 31 Oct 2010, 11:02

Being a Hard Sci-Fi fan for the past 35 years, I tried to look at this from a genre based perspective. All the words for me were standard for any hard core sci-fi. Nothing out of the ordinary. The "odd" words used would be something that an author can expect a typical reader of the genre to know. I read someone's comment about the alienation of the female readers. I understand that concern, but at the same time think it's good for the author to stick to their genre and not try to water down their text in order to be more appealing to a wider variety of readers. Sci-fi readers expect a certain feel to their books, a certain level of complexity of words, action, character development and scientific possibility in what they read. If it's not there, the readers will feel blase about the book and in all likely hood, avoid that author in the future.
Nathan commented about the need to rethink the title. It's not the most exciting title I've read, but as is common in the sci-fi and fantasy genre, it seems like a title designed to be a part of a series. Many sci-fi authors write books in a series. The creation of a socio-political structure of an entire world, or group of worlds is a huge undertaking. Authors spend so much time creating a world and culture to inhabit that world(s) that it makes more sense for them to continue on that track than to create something completely new for each book. They need to take into account the readers. If a sci-fi fan likes the world and what happens there, they will follow a series based there with almost religious ferver.
Then there is the writing style. I got a strong feeling like I was reading something from the old Film Noir era. Very "Mike Hammer" or something of that sort. The choppy feel of the narration fits that very well. (Hopefully that was the authors goal). The one issue I had was the first paragraph was almost too descriptive of the details of what the character was doing/feeling. There were too many ideas in the paragraph that it didn't have a flow. Where as the other paragraphs didn't have that issue. They got the ideas across and you get a pretty clear sense of the job the character is doing, how they feel about it and you get an initial introduction to another character. Some of the punctuation/phrasing could be smoothed out, but over all a nice job.
After reading this, knowing it is in the works and is a first draft (?), I know I would give the book a read. The story line has definite potential, and I would love to see where the author takes it. (expecting quite a few twists and turns...)
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