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Leng
May 13, 2006



Ccs posted:

I'm looking for feedback on the opening section of my novel. A lot of people have looked at it and I got a few sparse notes but I had one recent viewer that had an issue with almost every line. I was so thrown by the reaction that I'm now second guessing my ability to string a sentence together or construct a scene at all. Wondering if people here will have similar reactions.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/...dit?usp=sharing

Feel free to comment on the doc or quote sections here, though as I just learned trying to copy from Google Docs into a forum post leads to very strange formatting issues.
I'll also take a look at the next few things posted in this thread that people are looking for feedback on, as long as they're not too many pages.

Thirding that I really liked this. I didn't have much to add on top of what has already been commented inline, so I just made two notes of my reactions as a reader. If you need beta readers later, let me know, I'd be game for this.

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Leng
May 13, 2006



I had a look when you first posted the link last week. My eyes glazed over pretty quickly and my brain went, this is way too hard to comment on. Here are some thoughts after rewatching Brandon Sanderson's 2020 lecture on plot (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrIogch5DBU) and a second pass.

The lecture I linked specifically addresses hooking readers with plot. Sanderson may not be your cup of tea, but he is very good at explaining the basics of craft: your opening makes certain promises (tone, story) to the reader and it's on you as the author to convince them to keep reading by giving them a sense of progress towards satisfying payoffs (i.e. delivering on the promises you made at the beginning).

Here are the tone and story promises I get from your opening:
  • Lots of epistolary journal entries from a not very interesting protagonist (the Prince)
  • The whole thing seems like it's going to be in omniscient third present tense with a detached narrator voice that isn't to my taste (note: that's personal preference, others may like it)
  • The journal made me expect fantasy (Prince, Guard, Help) but it quickly becomes clear that it's a modern setting (cars, guns, gas station, batteries, photos, concrete) without any of the typical hallmarks of urban fantasy. So now I'm very confused about what genre I'm in and therefore what kind of story I should be expecting
  • The prose is rough and difficult to read. You specifically mentioned going for style, but I'm not sure what effect you're deliberately going for. At any rate, running it through the free Grammarly online checker:

    That's a lot of issues for such a short excerpt. I'll leave some in-line comments in your Google Doc as an example.

I have no idea what your story is about. This "useless Prince" gave...some orders? To Guard and Help who then did stuff that pissed off the mob and the Errants and they're now on the run. The Prince seems to be a whiny delusional rich kid that Guard and Help (understandably) don't respect.

Why should I care about these characters? Why should I keep reading? My answer to both of those questions are "I don't know" and that's not a good thing for your opening.

Leng
May 13, 2006



animaldog posted:

The narrator isn't quite omniscient and they despise the prince, in a way they are Guard's internal monologue.

Ok, this is the missing piece!

animaldog posted:

Guard is the only reasonable character but he has no morals. A pure self-interest machine.

<snip>

Is the way I introduce them bad, or are they just not interesting? The way their personalities interact are fundamental to the story so if there's something wrong there I'm not sure if I can fix it.

It's more that I had NO IDEA that we're supposed to be in Guard's head. Your current opening is written in such a distant third that I mistook it for omniscient. Get closer, so that it's really clear who the POV character is. The journal entry is actually a red herring, because it made me assume that if we were in anybody's head, it was going to be the Prince. That was really off putting since he's unlikeable, incompetent and uninteresting.

I'd suggesting watching this Sanderson lecture on characters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NCiuI6F5O0 - he talks about figuring out where your characters sit on 3 different sliding scales (likeability, proactivity and competence) and how that will change over their character arc.

If Guard never develops morals over the course of the story, that decreases his likeability so you have to make up for it with his proactivity and competence - it's ok to have an unlikeable character if they are always doing badass and interesting things. If Guard does have an arc that ends with him developing some morals, then you'll need to show that he's got some hope of overcoming that flaw.

That is your hook: Guard has the world's whiniest and most incompetent boss who just destroyed the kingdom. Somehow, he's got to keep his Prince (a ridiculous idiot rich kid who is completely out of touch with reality) alive for the ??? (insert period of time) drive across a rioting country over the ??? (insert direction) border to seek refuge with the closest ally while fighting mobs and dangerous Errants.

Everybody knows somebody like the Prince - whether we've worked for them, been bullied by them, had some aspect of our life ruined by them - and we all hate them. That makes your reader immediately identify with Guard.

Having a clear goal (direction of nearest ally) - and knowing how far away it is/how hard it is get there - establishes your stakes and gives me an idea of what the progress will be.

We also then have a number of clear conflicts established:
1) conflict with the Prince - he's so incompetent that he's bound to blow their cover and Guard can't get rid of him for (insert reasons)
2) conflict with the mob
3) conflict with the Errants - they're armed and dangerous

There wasn't enough in your opening for me to understand what the specific issue with #2 is, but you get the idea. I look forward to seeing your next version.

Leng
May 13, 2006




Works fine and I'm happy take a look over the weekend, though I might not read all 20k words. What sort of critique are you specifically looking for?

EDIT: Alright, a quicker read of your 20k words than I thought it would be! Since you haven't specifically said you wanted a line critique, I'll just give you general comments (bear in mind that I don't normally read this genre unless you count Cassandra Clare).
  • Overall good story and plotting, I like it. I appreciate how you circled back on things introduced earlier throughout the extract you shared.
  • What I like best about your prose is your description - the strong imagery really appeals to me
  • That said, I think you could work on tightening the prose as sometimes you repeat the same idea in multiple paragraphs in the same chapter. Martha and bungalow vs cottage is one example
  • I would suggest you really reconsider the little italicized epigraphs. I felt they detracted from my experience of the story, mainly because the first one literally opens with the sentence "It was a dark and stormy night" and the second one seems to be just setting that could easily be done in the main body of the text rather than as an epigraph. So as a reader, I'm cringing at the first one (which is the opening paragraph of your novel–not a good thing), learning that it's a fluffy summary of what I'm about to read (and not just the chapter but the entire book apparently!), so when I get to the second one, I decide to skim it (if not skip it entirely)
  • However, having read your whole extract, I'm going to guess that the epigraphs are what Martha is seeing over time, or it's a ghost puppet master or something like that, and presumably the epigraphs gives us some clues as to why ghosts are now appearing in force so we can try to figure it out as we go along
  • If I've guessed correctly, then I think you need to do something a little differently with these epigraphs. They seem to be written by some omniscient narrator (the voice is distinctly different to Martha's if it's her seeing these things) and the other problem is it's happening RIGHT BEFORE the chapter we're about to read. If you want me to figure out the clues, then you need to help me understand that there are clues here to be figured out. Consider:
    - whether you've placed these epigraphs in the correct spots; do they need to be epigraphs or should you do cut scenes in the text?
    - Do I need to see these in chronological order, reverse chronological order, some other order? Could you pair them with chapters thematically rather than literally?
    - Is it better to group a few together or to spread them out so sporadically?
    - Do you need to start off with one, or would it be better to place it later, once we know there is a mystery and we can have fun recognizing the opening scene?
    - Should I just be recognizing the scene, or is there entirely new information in these epigraphs (thanks to them being seen by someone attuned to power, etc or whatever) that I didn't see when we saw the event happen earlier?
  • Finally, I felt like the beginning started off a little slow, even though I think structurally the prologue is the right choice. It felt like I was reading about a drug addict driving a reluctant friend to a rave for way too long before I got supernatural stuff happening, and then the punchline was really the moment when Tom asked "Do you have any jobs going?" - after that point, the job interview doesn't really add anything in the way of characterization or setting that your opening chapter in the office doesn't do (since your joke is Unit 13 operates like every other bureaucratic organization). The best characterization you did with that kind of moment is when Tom's sitting in Taylor's office panicking about padding his resume and not really wanting to be a field agent.
There are some word choice, grammar, punctuation, etc issues in what you've posted but it's readable right now so I would still be focusing on getting the pacing, structure, tone, emotional reactions right. My suggestion would be to do another pass for these kinds of things and get line critiques on the next version.

Hope that helps and is what you were looking for!

Leng fucked around with this message at 03:56 on Oct 24, 2020

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