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8/18/14 - CommandanteLemming - Millenial Reign


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I'm uncertain what the protocol here is, especially since this wasn't cleared before hand, but I read the story and giving feedback seems the principled thing to do. If that's not the case, I apologize.




Commandante, welcome to RE. This is pretty good for a first submission, far above my first. I will disclose that this is not my usual thing--near-future stuff hasn't ever done much for me--which means that I am not your target market (read: my notes aren't as important as I think they are).


The premise of cultural mutability, about what changes and what stays the same and--more importantly--how that affects people is really cool to me. However, in my experience that tends to be through some massive event, a catalyst for exploration. Obviously that wasn't here, nor should it be. Most books don't start with that big a bang.


That being said, what does transpire doesn't do much for me. The characters seem paper figures for a plot device, which can be tolerated if there's a really strong plot. The dialogue is wooden and doesn't flow; it doesn't feel like a natural conversation between two people; it feels like something someone wrote. The whole thing feels more like a Hollywood production, leached of verisimilitude.


Prissy's reaction to the baptism seems like a cue for really dramatic history, but I cannot fathom something so awful that makes a stalwart adult burst out of a ceremony. There may be something, but low drama like that makes a big promise that you really have to follow through on.


Similarly, Nina's promotion feels like a Hollywood conveyance of small-town life rather than the real thing. I live in Kansas and my entire life has been in small towns. Yes, there's a huge amount of pride when somebody finally gets out, but it's rarely in a big speech format. Your mom tells everyone at the supermarket, your dad brags in the only bar. And again, that huge move from local to national only exists in Hollywood. While suspension of disbelief is a-okay (this is a SFF forum, for Chrissakes), you're asking a lot right off the bat. 


By no means am I saying to quit submitting--it's only through continual effort that we improve--but a lot of the issues I have are typical of new writers. Keep working and posting (though you should probably verify with Silk in the future).

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Welcome to the group, and kudos for having the courage to subject your writing to the opinions of strangers.


Overall, I agree with a lot of what jParker said. I think there's an interesting theme here, I like the idea of using journalists to explore the near future (Transmetropolitan is one of my all-time favourite pieces of sci-fi), but I don't have any idea at this point what the focus of the story is going to be.


As a general thing, it felt like you were writing what you would see in a film, rather than writing in the style of a novel. So for example when we meet Nina you initially refer to her as 'the woman' until the phone call gives us her name. But why not just call her Nina from the start of that scene? After all, she's our point of view character. That way of telling the story means that you're also leaning on the dialogue for exposition, which makes it clunky in places, though in others there are good naturalistic touches.


Some of the introductions of characters involve detailed descriptions of their appearance that are more a list of clothes than something stand-out. This makes some of the descriptions long enough to interrupt the flow, and doesn't make the characters distinctive. One or two telling details each time might have been more effective.


A few more specific things:


Why set up the family in the first scene before shifting focus to the other woman? I was just starting to take an interest in them when they became irrelevant.


Prissy explaining Dan's baptism reference seems unnecessary - you've given Dan a neat little bit of dialogue, and written that and the context well enough that readers can work out what he means. Trust your own writing and the intelligence of your readers.


Nina's dad's speech to the diner feels like too much detail on the back story. I'd recommend trimming it down a lot. You can get away with implying the details of past events, not having someone tell them all.


At present I'm most interested in Prissy. While her reaction to the baptism felt a bit over-done it was an interesting and telling character detail. I'm intrigued to find out more about who she is, what happened in her past, and how Nina is going to fit into her agenda.


Ways to slip in more technology:

Why a phone for the alarm? Could people be using earbuds or tiny bracelets or something like that in place of smartphones by then?

At the diner, have one or two pieces of future-modern equipment in among the old-fashioned stuff, looking out of place and reminding Nina how backward the rest of it is - her response to that could also show something about her character.


Looking forward to seeing where this goes.
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Slightly off-topic, but commenting on this story made me realise how much this group has improved my reading and critiquing as well as my writing. Reading what jParker had said helped me refine and focus my thoughts on the piece in a way I couldn't have done a year ago.

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Welcome to Reading Excuses!


Generally, I have the same sorts of comments as jparker and andyk.  I forgot you were going for near-future by the end of the submission, so if that matters at all for the story, then yes, it's a good idea to incorporate more.  Like andyk says, cell phone technology is a great place to start.  You could also change Prissy's motorcycle to something more "green" powered, or something as simple as LED lights in the church illuminating stain-glass windows.  If you want a good example of near-future technology, watch the movie "Looper."  It has a lot of good stuff, like modern-day automobiles converted to solar power.


Some comments:


Your first paragraph has a very long sentence.  I would consider separating it to make it easier for the reader to get into the story.
Pg 4: there's already been two pairs of family with "mother," "father," and squirming children, so it's starting to sound a little generic.
Pg 4: "Unable to withstand the sheer cuteness of her portraitist, the woman smiled..."
--I'm guessing this is in 3rd person omnipotent POV?  Also, this is a very over-the-top description.
Pg5: I can't tell if Prissy is being sarcastic and overly sweet, or if she actually talks that way.
Pg 9: "I just watched an act of mass child abuse."
--This seems...a strong objection, even for someone who doesn't like churches.  The babies weren't harmed in any way.
pg 10: "It rang off the side of a Green Bay Packers popcorn tin..."
--This makes me think of a physical thing, not a sound.
Pg 10: "of Dr. Spock as portrayed by Leonard Nimoy"
My nerd sense is tingling.  Dr. Spock is a child psychologist.  MR. Spock is the character on Star Trek.
Pg 12: and the first chapter is in limited 3rd person POV.  There's a switch from the prologue, which is okay, but something to watch for.
Overall, this is decent beginning to a story.  I won't even begrudge you the lack of a SciFi or Fantasy element...
I'm interested in where the characters are going.
Two concerns.
The way you describe Prissy and the way she acts seem to be different to me.  She acts like a unsophisticated teenager, but she's described as a tough-hitting journalist.  I assume we will find out more on this later.
Some of the dialogue and description seems...saccharine.  There's a lot of okay hunkey dorey sort of stuff, so I'm wondering if that is the style for the whole book, or just what's happening at the beginning.
Things like this:
"He gave his daughter the longest, tightest hug he could as he broke down in tears"
Seem overly happy.  I'm left wondering when the horrible monster is going to jump out.  I think I'm saying the same thing as jparker here with respect to small towns.
There's a couple typos and missed quotation marks, but you can pick those up on an edit.
Interested to see what happens next week!
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Also off-topic: andyk, I'm continually amazed at what I pick up while reading nowadays.  Pretty much every book I read gets a Reading Excuses edit in the back of my mind with all you guys chiming in about plot, setting, and character problems--it's hard to turn off, and it also makes me aware of some of the crap writing that gets published, or how many rookie mistakes get past editors!

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Thanks everybody for all the feedback! There's a lot of good stuff in there that neither I nor my in-person writing group picked up on the first pass. I think the stuff about some of the characters being "paper figures" rings true - especially as Appleton is actually a new location for me and most of the characters there end up being bit-parts in the larger narrative. I'm only planning to spend two chapters in Appleton before dumping Nina into the main narrative, but I want that time to count. 


I do have a number of questions. 


1. I'm very interested in feedback on the random family at the beginning. Their presence is totally random compared to the rest of the prologue but they need to be there for reasons that don't come up until later in the story. Originally, they were at the back end of the prologue and Dan bumped into them on his way out of the church. They work a little better at the very beginning, but still not well. So any thoughts on where to put them or how to integrate them?


 2. If I'm not planning to spend much time in Appleton, how much time should I devote to painting it without bogging down? I think I definitely miffed it here, as everyone assumed it was a one-horse town. The real-life Appleton, Wisconsin has 72,000 people and forms the core of "Fox Cities Metro Area" which has 225,000 people. It's a smallish rust-belt city with an industrial past and a not-so-industrial present. I wouldn't mind spending more time on detail, but I also am worried about slowing down my pace before the story moves to it's main setting in Washington, DC. 


3. As a corollary - I'm wondering how much explaining I need to do in order for Nina's "Hollywood promotion" to make sense. Right now it asks far too much in terms of suspension of disbelief. However, in my backstory there is a reason why she's being considered for this promotion (she stumbled face-first into a major national scandal revolving around an Appleton-based politician that forced her to make appearances on national TV as a subject-matter expert). There's also a somewhat malevolent reason that Priscilla often hires doe-eyed naifs as opposed to more seasoned reporters, but you're not all supposed to know that yet ;-)  However I work it out, Nina's naive attitude about big-city journalism is a major plot point, so I need to preserve that without being too cute.  


This entire sequence in Appleton is an addition to help explain her - originally I started with  Nina's first day on the job in Washington and threw her straight into the fire. I'm worried about backing up farther as the story isn't about Appleton, but I need what happened in Appleton to make sense.


4. Rest assured that the main tone of the story is not this sappy - normally the prose is cynical and sarcastic. But I'm trying to figure out how to paint Nina's (relatively) idyllic existence in Appleton and her extremely tight-knit family at the diner without going over the top. Also, while her dad's speech is too much as is, I do kind of want to show in a benign way that he has one major flaw.  He loves the limelight too much, is prone to speechifying, can be overly grandiose, and is overly comfortable with the idea that he is a minor local celebrity - at least to his mob of regulars. It doesn't become apparent until later that he may have passed this trait on to his otherwise humble daughter. 



As for all the rest of it...great stuff and thanks for reading. I'll probably inflict one more chapter of hopeless sappiness on you next week if I get the chance - but hopefully you'll start seeing where it's going. 

Edited by CommandanteLemming
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My two pence worth.


1. If you can make the family relevant to how the central character of the scene is feeling and what she's thinking then that might work better. Maybe thread them through the background of the scene and use them to help her reflect on what she's thinking and feeling.


2. If you're not spending much time in Appleton then does it matter how accurately you depict it? That aside, I wouldn't spend long on it - if not much is happening here then don't draw it out.


3. I had no problem with Nina's promotion. As it happens just as we're first introduced to her it's one of the basic facts about her life and a trigger for plot, so I didn't have any reason to question or disbelieve it. If you want to show more about her journalistic background and the reasons for her hiring it can come up later, but you don't need to dwell on it here.


Extra point: I thought it was clear enough that time had passed.

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I thought time had passed, but I didn't suspect 19 years.  That would fix some of the discrepancy between prologue Prissy and Chapter 1.  I wouldn't put in "19 years later" but  you can make it apparent as the story progresses.

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1. I have to reference Robert Jordan on this one. Apocrypha states that back when Eye of the World wasn't yet published, he and his wife were fighting about this character. The character wasn't really well-developed but Jordan insisted that he would become really important in later books. His wife countered that if he kept bogging down the story, there wouldn't be any later books. 


The character got scrapped and merged into other protagonists.


Frankly, if you spend so much time on this family that I lose interest in the story, it doesn't really matter. How big is this event that the family is involved in? Are we going to be able to see them sufficiently so that it doesn't come out of nowhere? Basically: can you pare them away and still have it work? If not, it really depends on what function they serve, e.g. Buddy Pine versus Gollum.


2. Andy hit it on the head. If we're not going to be there, minimize the detail. Nobody cares about a place they're not going to see.


3. You can do the exposition by throwing her straight into national politics. Have her react in a naive, innocent manner when maybe she shouldn't. If push comes to shove, have a character comment on how she's not in Kansas anymore (because it's close enough to Wisconsin when you're on the Seaboard).


5. I got the hint. It's generally a safe assumption that your readers are clever. Date stamps are plenty; even just having references to the older Priscilla suffices. There's enough that anybody who's struggling can go back and get the realization.

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I think there is some good stuff in this first submission but, as others have said, I think it is weighed down by some problems and a great deal of (seemingly unnecessary) detail, such that the reader has to work pretty hard to get to what’s important.


JP captured a lot of my specific feelings about the piece, and also the encouragement that I too would want to emphasise – keep writing, revising, submitting – take the comments that you agree with, but also keep what you believe is right.


I had a lot of detailed comments (I hear you all groaning!), but I’ve binned those in favour of a few quick bullets, but before that, a comment on the science bit and consistency.


Interesting opening to Chp.1, but watch the sound references. If you’re going to use “refracted” then saying “rang off” is jarring, when “reflected” would be the equivalent scientific term. Similarly, I think you need to stick to the scientific language if you’re using it, so the ringing (sound waves) would refract “around” a boundary, rather than “off” it. And I would say the sound was “transmitted through” the cardboard cut-out”.

  • I was confused over who was taking the photograph (page 2)
  • Good teenage dialogue, don’t care if it’s stereotyped (page 3)
  • Like the Church de Soleil line – very good (page 4)
  • Style very elaborate
  • In Late, Out Early – irrelevant dialogue ending phone conversation (page 10)
  • Everyone’s turned up to 11, when drama/excitement comes up there’s nowhere left to go
  • Time stamp is distracting and seems irrelevant – why not just have years?

It’s great to have new blood (muah ha-ha), delighted you’ve joined and look forward to reading more of your stuff.

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