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jamesbondsmith

Reading Excuses-21032022-Jamesbondsmith-Elites 1-V,L

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Hi,

Submitting the opening of my novel. Currently it’s the first two and part of the third chapters, but it’s occurring to me that any of them may make a decent opening.

I had a few things I wanted to get opinions on, but any other feedback you have would be good too.

I was really trying to create a sense of place within the superhero genre that isn’t just New York or some other US city, as I feel that setting is saturated in the genre. If anyone has been to Perth, Western Australia let me know if I captured it, and if you haven’t then let me know if the place has been built up ‘from scratch’ for you, so to speak.

I wrote different parts of this over several years, so if you notice inconsistencies in tone/voice let me know.

Also, I call it a ‘novel’ but I’m actually stuck below the ‘official’ wordcount cutoff for a novel (39000 words out of 50000), so if anything screams out for expansion let me know, but I’m not sure it’ll be apparent this early. It’s ‘finished’ in terms of having a beginning, middle and end written but it needs more.

I had to cut the third chapter short for this submission. For context, the rest of the third chapter deals with

Spoiler

Zac being kidnapped by an unknown organisation and thrown into a van with each of the other characters introduced in the second chapter.

 

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Congrats on putting this out there for us to chew up! It's a big step forward toward a finished story....

General opinions on setting: The setting doesn't matter to much to me, and I've seen plenty of superhero stories set outside of New York. That said, Australia's a nice change, so I'd say go for it. I've never been, so I can't tell you if you captured it. I think @Silk has, though?

So first off, the first chapter is so different from the rest I'd call it a prologue. I was interested in the character, but I guess he got killed at the end. I was hoping to see him pop up later, but if not, I'm not sure what the point was compared to the rest of the story.

As to the other chapters, looking at what happens in the rest of chapter 3, I think you could easily nix the other POVs at the beginning of this story and focus only on Z. That would give a lot of time to build his character and become attached, so we are "taken along" when he's kidnapped. Right now I didn't have any more attachment to him than to the others, and I don't really know where the story is going. Expanding on the character side might also give you some more content to write.

Hope this helps!

 

Notes while reading:

pg 1: large description in the second and third paragraphs. I'd prefer some character building rather than descriptions right off

pg 1: "They had neglected"
--who? This is vague.

pg 2: don't really need a description on how electronic information can be in a small package
.

pg 2: "an apparently unprofessional, but still lethal place"
--not sure what this means.

pg 2: Okay...wondering if M is dead since it's sort of strange to have a POV character die in the first chapter.

pg 4: I'm waiting for this to get to the point by now. We've got a lot of description about this new character, but he hasn't done anything yet so I'm not connected to him.

pg 5: okay, I guess he's getting superpowers? The first chapter was a lot more interesting to me.

pg 6: the flashback doesn't really move anything forward for me. The resolution of the fight is given in the present, so could the whole thing be in "real time" or could he just sum up the fight rather than having a flashback?

pg 6: Another kid getting powers, but I'm not sure where this is going yet. In the first chapter, there seemed to be fulyl developed powers already out in the world. Why are kids getting powers a big thing?

pg 6: “Lemonade?” 
--nice transition.

pg 7: We now have four different POVs in 6 pages. I'm not sure where this is going because I can't attach to any one character.

pg 8: +1 for queer content, but now five POVs?

pg 9: Well at least this is a repeat POV, but I'm having trouble remembering which kid this was.

pg 10: so there's some good character building through here, but I'm still not sure where the story is going.

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8 hours ago, Mandamon said:

I think @Silk has, though?

I've spent a bit of time in Perth, yep, and I'm working on this crit next :)

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Only realized today that this ended up in my spam folder. Hoping to get caught up on it and the others this weekend!

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15 hours ago, C_Vallion said:

Only realized today that this ended up in my spam folder. Hoping to get caught up on it and the others this weekend!

Yeah, I keep having to rescue submissions from my junk folder.

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2 hours ago, jamesbondsmith said:

Yeah, I keep having to rescue submissions from my junk folder.

Weird, I got this one just fine. The only one I've had issue with is Mandamon's-from-Iceland, That said, I've whitelisted everything that comes from the all [at] readingexcuses [dot] com  mailing list, maybe worth doing for those who are finding it a consistent problem?

Anyway, congratulations on your first sub! And, as another member of the writes-about-superheroes-who-don't-live-in-the-US club: high five!

I think you've got some nicely tense sections here that serve fairly well as an introduction to the novel.The first chapter and the various characters discovering weirdness in the second chapter both worked pretty well in this regard.

My first thought on hitting Ch2 was that that's a lot of POVs.The first chapter felt like a prologue, because the POV character dies (??) and because his story seems extremely divergent from the rest of the characters we're presented with in the next chapter, so I was fine with the POV switch here. In the second chapter the multiple POV switches were a little tough to swallow. By the end of the chapter, I'd sort of understood the premise of Ch2 as a sort of panoramic introduction, as in, a whole bunch of people start experiencing weird-but-related stuff at once and the story is about exploring what happens to them. (If so, though, Em and Je seem to break the pattern, as they have had stuff happening over a period of time, as opposed to Z and Jo who have a very discrete moment of weirdness.) Depending on how the rest of the story is handled, I think this could work, if you keep it snappy (which you did), if you give us some strong emotional touchstones to hang onto with each character (more on that in a sec), and if you give us a strong followup to the weirdness (which I did not get from the first half of Ch3 but it sounds like is in the second half). But it's also worth considering whether you need this fast POV switching or whether it might work better gradually introducing POVs so readers can have time to get invested in the individual characters. Especially if the characters are brought together fairly quickly, the second one might be a more effective way to keep readers on board.

The biggest thing that was missing for me was a sense of emotional stakes for each POV character; I got maybe a bit more sense of this from Je, who had her relationship with her girlfriend, but the rest seemed rather emotionally detached from the things that were happening to them. I've called out a few specific places in my line-by-lines where it felt like these were missing.

As for the setting: Caveat that I only spent a few days in Perth specifically, and that was in 2017. There were definitely a few details that captured the setting - more in relation to the rural parts of the setting (the beach, the bushes, those types of thing) than the urban parts - but for the most part it felt like it could take place in any small town. So while I do think the chapters were a little description-heavy in many places, where you do describe things,  don't be afraid to go for landmarks and things that make the city visually distinct!

Also I'm guessing at least some of the POV characters are Australian? I hope we get to see that in their voicings a little. (Am I saying that because I would love to watch this group try to interpret, I don't know, "Gonna to to the servo and then grab a few stubbies"? You can't prove that.)

As I read:

Hm. If I were going to rob a bank, I’m not sure a pencil skirt is the attire I’d pick.

“He always imagined it as a tentacle…” Not sure what “it” refers to here – his ability?

P2 “…the trigger on her pistol” This seems pretty understated considering he’s just been shot. Having a physical sensation to ground us – the gun going off, the pain of the bullet, something – would be really helpful I think.

I also really wanted to feel invested in the characters before the agent’s betrayal. Right now it doesn’t mean much, because I don’t know why it matters. Was M expecting this betrayal or is this a total surprise? Is there an emotional component to this betrayal or is it all business? Which of these characters should I be rooting for?

P4: Partway into the chapter. I don’t draw a hard line around showing the characters in their usual routines as some do, but a page and a half into Z’s introductory chapter, I’m starting to get antsy. There doesn’t seem to be any change in routine for him, nor does he appear all that fussed about going through his normal routine, so I’m wondering what the emotional stakes are.

“and the signs… promised that snakes would be around” heh, I like “promised” here. Nice little bit of character.

How close is he to the beach? The beach seemed to be a fair distance away at the start (he notes seeing the ocean in the distance) but here he turns onto a path and is there right away, close enough that he can smell the seaweed.

P5 Reference to J’s swollen lips is the first indication that the flashback we just got actually happened recently; I had thought it was a long time ago. When his scene first started I’d had no idea he was injured at all.

P6 “He could investigate this later” struck me as an off-key reaction; that’s a really understated way to  react to discovering you don’t have hands. “He had revenge to exact” works as an explanation, I suppose, if he were really focused on that, but his reaction being split between “hey this is weird” and “hey this is great” didn’t quite sit right for me.

P7 I’m not sure what has actually happened to J other than the pain in her fingers. This is the only “event” where it’s not clear what’s actually happened.

P9 the transition to Chapter 3 was a bit rough for me, I think because there’s no acknowledgement of the weirdness that was the focus of the last chapter.

Uh did Perth have dancing clowns? I must have missed this when I was there?

My mind is wandering a bit during this description of the mall. I think some description is helpful, but if it’s not describing something really distinctive (and I didn’t go to this mall while I was in Perth, so can’t comment if it feels accurate) and/or setting us up for the action of the chapter, too much description just bogs the narrative down.

P11 “…all white walls and wooden frames.” This the first time we’ve encountered something that seems like a landmark (at least that I recognize) and, the distinctive setting of London Court might be worth a little more description because it’s so visually distinct. I would still caution against too much description, and I think the description you do provide should also ideally provide us a little bit more information about the POV character or his emotional touch stones (the signs “promising” snakes is a great example of this) but in this specific area, there is probably room for a little more.

 

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Welcome :D

It's always nerve waking waiting for critiques, sorry it took me so long!

 

In terms of tone, I have to say that the third chapter seemed the most polished and was the most pleasant to read, for me at least. The earlier sections have some great parts but the style didn't read as easily.

When taken all together, these sections have an effect similar to the start of the Heroes series or the first x-men film. If you are setting up for an ensemble with interconnected futures that could be a useful cue to the reader of what kind of story this will be. 

A few specific parts:

Chapter 1:

"She fired two more shots into M's torso..." This feels oddly clinical compared to what comes before it, like we've suddenly taken a huge step back from the main character.

Chapter 2:

"First rays of sun..." "The only person not to notice..." feel free to ignore, this just snagged me. With this phrasing, it seems like every person in the town is up at dawn and looking at the sky except for this one person.

"Immediatly struck by a wall of heat." I love the ways you describe the weather and heat through different perspectives. 

"A dotted line sectioned..." I'm not sure what they are doing with the lines.

"Turning on the spot, he was bearly able..." I get what happened, but it took a couple times through. 

"If she could approximate a hug..." Word choice reads a little oddly here. 

 

General:

The setting is really well done. As you said, it's more work setting a story in unfamiliar places but I think you make it pay off.

You mentioned in the email that you are looking for places to flesh out. Looking back on the characters, the invisibility character could perhaps benefit from some more time/words.

So far I'm on board with all the characters, but I'm not rooting for anyone yet. @Mandamon makes a good point that you could skip to chapter three and let the reader find their feet with that MC if you choose. 

 

Thanks for sharing!

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I never got this sub. Would you be willing to shoot it to me over DM?

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Overall:
Welcome and congratulations on your first submission! 


It’s been quite a while since I’ve read anything featuring superheroes, so it’s nice to see that coming through here :) 

After reading this section, I am definitely interested in seeing where this is going, but feel like I could use a better sense of the story direction and scale in these first chapters.
The description is detailed and well done in many places, but leans toward slowing things down by having a little too much of it right at the start. Sticking with the more vivid descriptions and trimming down the rest would probably be a big help in making sure the pages aren’t dragging without losing the fun of an interesting setting. 

I love multi-pov stories and have wrestled with a lot of different challenges related to them in my own writing, so I know how tricky they can be. Especially when it comes to introductions. I’m a little concerned here about not having enough of a framework at the start to know where to place the multiple povs.  We get the existence of at least one superpowered person in Chapter 1 (though it also hits me as more of a prologue), working for mysterious …people? Organization? Not sure. We get that there’s at least one person either working against him or trying to stop him, but not having a sense of who he’s working for or what’s driving him makes it hard to get a sense of what’s actually going on in that scene. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away from it. M is betrayed and is left dead or near death, but we don’t have any sense of what that means for the characters discovering their powers in the next scenes. I assume either M or MD’s organization is going to recruit the other pov characters, but I think we could use a couple more solid details in there to hang some guesses on, even if we’re being set up to be wrong about them. 

I also really like the idea of a superheroes finding their powers story, but I think the medium of written fiction makes it tricky to introduce characters in quick snippets and still have us remember who they are. I ramble about this a bit in the LBLs, because being married to someone whose storytelling medium of choice is audiofiction, I think a lot about pros and cons of different mediums for given stories.  

Individually, the detail and characters and the hook of power-discovery could be effective, but each section being short and not having a sense of the greater framework yet makes it harder for me to get my bearings for how they all tie into the overall story. 

Without knowing that the MCs all come together in the “thrown into a van” scene you mention, we don’t have much sense of direction. I almost wonder if following one pov until then, then doubling-back with a series of “earlier that day” flashbacks might tie things together better without losing the opportunities to show the power-discovery moments (and providing more tension to things that seem like everyday, taken-for-granted moments).

Beyond that, I am wondering how you’re going to fit 4 povs into 40k words while giving each character some sort of arc.  I recently heard someone explain multi-pov novels as multiple, intertwined novels. And while I could probably hem and haw on my feelings about that summarization for days, I do think it is a good idea to keep in mind for a very rough sense of word count, because each significant pov character should have their own conflicts, arcs, etc. which will need page space to be conveyed. 

And now, based on @Sarah B's comparison to X-Men and Heroes, I sort of want to go watch them and see how those handle character screentime and plot arc balances…

Pg 1:
We get some solid tension in the first paragraph, but the amount of description in the second dissipates it pretty quickly. It’s good description, but it’s pulling us away from the sense of urgency.
“For f’s sake.” Other people are probably less concerned about this, but too much profanity gets to me pretty quickly if it’s just used to express that something bad is happening, so seeing this in the first line of dialogue makes me cautious of how extensive it’s going to be. 
Also, agent makes me think that she’s some sort of spy or something similar (something on the “good guys” side), so I’m confused as to why she’s breaking into bank vaults. Or why M is.
I don’t think a holster in a blazer would be an effective conceal carry option for women’s business clothing. Even if it’s a custom tailored blazer. In general, you’d want a handgun strapped to the body for quick access and minimal risk of the outline showing or someone noticing when they bump into her. A waistband conceal-carry holster probably isn’t going to work with a pencil skirt, but a belly band holster of some sort, covered by the blazer is probably going to be more stable and more accessible than trying to get a pistol out of an internal blazer pocket.
Also, a taser is mentioned, but we don’t see any reason for it to be in her hand. Did they just knock out a guard somewhere?
“Noisiest floors…” That would be the shoes. Women’s dress shoes are horribly loud on anything that isn’t carpet.
The description of how he thinks about his ability is good here. Easy for the reader to latch onto and follow, though I’m not sure about the single quotes formatting-wise. Makes me think too much of someone standing there doing air-quotes, which feels silly.
Pg 2:
“size meant nothing…” This feels like an odd detail to mention. I think it’s going for a “it could contain anything” feel, but I keep getting stuck on the idea that flash drives do have storage limitations, which makes the idea of size meaning nothing seem inaccurate. 
“They could hear…” pov jump. If we’re in M’s head, we don’t know what MD hears. 
“…trigger on her pistol.”  The phrasing here could be clarified to make sure the gun is appearing on-page before the trigger is pulled.  Lifting an arm and pointing a gun are two different pictures for the reader to have in their head, and while there’s a place for being coy for a reveal, only mentioning the pistol after the mention of the trigger-pull feels out of order to me here. 
Also, how does he not see the pistol? Pistols aren’t massive, but they’re not small enough to be easily missed. And she’s probably still going to be shooting two-handed unless there’s a really good reason for her not to be. Far better control if there’s any chance of him putting up a fight.
“’…digital barrier.’ MD hissed…” I hadn’t commented on this above because I’d thought it was a couple typos, but if you’re tagging dialogue with a saidism ( “he said”, “she replied”, “they snapped”, etc.) there should be commas instead of periods at the end of dialogue lines. https://thewritelife.com/dialogue-tags/  
You could also switch up the sentence structure a bit when it comes to dialogue. In general the dialogue tags you use through here flow well, and I wasn’t getting caught up on them, which is a good thing, but it’s something you may want to keep an eye on. Too many saidisms, or too much parallel structure when it comes to dialogue can make the pacing drag. 
I’d like to see more of M’s reaction to being shot. 
I think some of the blocking/setup of the shooting has to be reworked for MD’s ruse to have a chance of working. Especially if they’re close enough to have their footsteps audible. M’s been shot multiple times to the point of being near death.  Chances are, he’s not going to have shot her after having been shot three times. 
If she’s trying to play the harmless captive, she should probably be the one shot first (and scream then), to then have supposedly wrestled the gun away and shot him multiple times. This will probably also go back to the question of her weapon-carrying choices, because if she had any sort of holster (especially if he doesn’t), or is carrying any spare ammo, or still has a taser, that immediately makes her story fishy. And I don’t think anyone with any basic gun safety knowledge would advocate for carrying a loaded handgun in a blazer pocket without a holster. Though I now want to check on that with a friend of mine who conceal-carries regularly. 

Pg 3:
After the initial teenager descriptor, sticking with pronouns might make things a little clearer.  “The croaky voice groaned as the figure hauled itself…” this sentence makes it hard to tell if we’re just talking about the teenager or if there’s another person. As long as he’s the only one in the scene at the start, using additional descriptors is going to add confusion.
I feel like I’ve been nit-picky about a lot of things, but the detail of a lot of the description is good. You’ll just want to make sure there isn’t too much of it before we’re hooked into the story.  I especially like the ringtone alarm description.
Is this YA or adult? The teenage pov here suggests the former, but the two f-words in three pages shifts toward the latter. 
 “of the cricket…” I feel like there’s a word or phrase missing at the end of this sentence. 
42 C seems…very hot. Might be worth adding some brief context on where this falls compared to normal temps for the area (is it average or unseasonably warm) and maybe call out the location here. I have no problem with forcing Americans to deal with Celsius, but some context for what 42 C means to the character might be helpful for those who aren’t as familiar. As someone who lives in an area where almost no one has AC in their homes because we rarely get temps above 90F  (and when we do, it’s miserably humid and the town is sending out “check on your neighbors” e-mails), the idea of someone casually mentioning a forecast of 42C sounds, to me, like a terrifying hellscape. 
Of course, after all of that, the beginning of the next paragraph gives us that context. I’m not sure if that’s close enough to prevent the terrifying hellscape image if I wasn’t reading in critique-mode or not. 
“viscous paste” I would associate this with humidity, not dry heat, but that could just be my skewed temperature perception.
There’s a lot of scene/setting detailing here, and it’s well done, but I think you can get away with just a couple of those details and still get the basics of the setting across without sacrificing pacing.  Cricket, skinks, and Celsius temps are enough for me to be intrigued by the setting without needing too much further digging into it right at the start when we want more of the characters’ goals and motivations. 

Pg 5:
Aaaand we’re 3 F-words for 5 pages. If I were reading this in a book, I’d be getting a little frustrated with it. 
The new pov jumping back to a flashback after two paragraphs is a bit sudden. Especially when the scene ends up being almost more flashback than present narrative. 
Pg 6:
I like the idea of the text transition between scenes, but I’m not sure it comes across as well in text as it would in an audio or visual medium. In audio/visual mediums, you can merge the dialogue of one scene into the next and have other cues for the scene break, but in text, you need the line break to indicate the scene change, and that’s also going to create a larger visual break in anything you want to carry over, so the transition isn’t as smooth.
 Pg 7-8
The multi-pov setup as you’re doing it here is another thing that is trickier in this format than it would be in a tv show or movie. In something visual, you can see the setting (location, weather, time of day, etc.), the number of people, and emotional cues in expression (plus other things I’m probably not thinking of) all in an instant.  In text, you have to introduce each of those things to ground the reader in the scene, which takes up page-space. Once we know the characters, there are shortcuts that can jump into those scenes more quickly, but with these really short introductions to characters and scenes we haven’t seen before, it’s hard to get bearings in an individual pov before moving on to the next one. 
Pg 9:
Again, there’s a lot of good setting-defining detail here, but I’d find it easier to absorb if I already had a sense of who Z is and what his story goals are.

 

There’s a lot about this submission that I enjoyed and it promises a story I could enjoy reading. Just some structural hurdles getting in the way here at the beginning.


Interested in seeing where things go from here! Well done!

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Just saw I got the sub. Sorry for being so late!

Overall

I think this started out relatively strong and then wandered with way too may POVs. The general rule I've been given before is to make sure you get readers invested in a POV before you move them to another one. I was okay with the first one as I found it engaging. The second I wasn't invested in before it switched. And by the third I'd just given up. I assume you are going for a sort of Heroes situation. There are things you can do in a visual media that are a lot harder with written words, and also may just be a bit above where you're writing is at right now. Not that you shouldn't try! We get better for trying. But right now I think you're not landing the multiple POVs.

As I go

- there's some awkward tense changes in that first paragraph

- pg 1: the woman's outfit seems like a very poor choice for a robbery

- pg 2: No-one’s dumb enough to fall for a technopath missing a digital barrier <-- I don't know what this means

- pg 4: scene setup here is going on long. the first chapter had some decent tension and you had my attention. But extended descriptions of suburbia aren't holding my attention

- pg 5: 3rd POV in one sub. You've lost me. I want to get invested in each before they get swapped and right now I only sort of care about the first guy, and he's dead

- pg 6: and another POV. I'm lost and floundering

- at this point I started skimming to see if I could find a hook that would bring me back into the story

 

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the feedback everyone. Sorry I'm responding late, work is hectic right now even without getting called to cover shifts all the time.

I'll take on the critiques, but I do feel like some questions might be answered later on in the piece. Would people prefer to see it in 5k word installments, or to see the entire piece at once? That might help with structural issues people brought up.
To refer to some recurring comments, M is dead in the opening (my thought was kind of like ASOIAF where the POV character in the intro dies), but MD is a minor recurring character. As for MD's outfit, I'm not really much of a fashion type, but I imagined her as attempting to blend in with corporate environments ('corporate kidnapper chic', I call it later) and there is a scene where the quartermaster for her organisation is trying to put her in impractical clothes.

Edited by jamesbondsmith
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