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2012 07 02 - Jack the Halls - Touching Metal - Chapter 02

Jack the Halls

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Here's the second chapter in my current novel Touching Metal.


A man in a Hawaiian shirt (with his newest wife in toe) is at a carnival food court, staking out his target - the young vendor of a nearby corn dog cart. Frustratingly, he is powerless to act against his target until his benefactor gives him the green light.

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Aha! Here is all the explanation from Chapter 1 that I was missing! Unfortunately, this feels more like an infodump chapter. The first half is all thinking about "this is how the universe works" to explain to the reader. I think some of this information could be spread back to chapter 1, to make the learning curve a little lighter.

After the midway point, when the infodump slows down, I much prefer the setup in this chapter to the first one. I think both are written well, but here the characters feel real and reacting to their situation. I like the concepts of the Great Roman Church and the Great Library as well. Now, in retrospect, S.O.M. felt a little stiff.

I think there's also a little too much overlap in the two chapters, or maybe it's just in the wrong order. Having S.O.M. see Oti's and Roman's meeting, and THEN getting the full story sort of seems backwards. As the all-powerful reader, I like to see the setup, and then a new character reacting to something he doesn't understand. Then I get to feel superior that I know what's coming and he doesn't. Maybe it's just me...

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think this chapter (with less infodump) could come first, and then in chapter 2 we get the tension of S.O.M. deciding whether to kill these likeable characters we've just met, since Oti and Roman are a lot more sympathetic than S.O.M.. I already want them to win over him...

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The first thing I notice is early, the use of Politician and Lawyer, I was thinking it was a typo. Maybe, "Politics. Law. Those were the two fields the monks…." the rest of it will still flow, just a slight tense change.

I'm with Mandamon on this one, with regards to the story starting to enter an infodump segment.

I was tossed out of the story with the reference to I.D.T. and was going backwards trying to see where I missed the reference.

So I'm going to reference the podcast here, and call the little girl in a blue dress a gorilla in the phone booth, at least to me. At this point I was thrown out of the story, yeah she served for a pretty funny joke, but why is there a little girl with bodyguards?

Okay so I continued and now I see it wasn't an idle reference, but the break between finding out the girl's name, and her importance had a lot of exposition.

Just a thought but it might throw your readers out of the story. I'll admit to reading through that section faster hoping to find out about the girl. I felt satisfied that the conspicuous character didn't just disappear, but I was tossed out of the story, thinking she had been dismissed.

I got to the end of the chapter and enjoyed it greatly. The premise of her befriending him and his reaction, where he just says, well, I guess she's a friend, and I can use her for my own ego really worked for me. It felt very in character and exactly how someone in his situation would react.

I missed the first chapter, but I don't think I missed much, this felt like it could have been a good first chapter. I got enough of a feel for their world, and the system just from their conversation, so I felt that a great deal of the exposition could be cut/moved to later.

If they are going to leave this planet, then the descriptions and backstory of the place seem somewhat unnecessary. Or even have Roman open up a bit to Oti, and have him explain some of his backstory through dialogue. If she's a nobleborn, then he'd have an excuse to tell her about a lot of the exposition that he is doing, if she's trying to learn about life on the streets, that might be a good way to tell the reader at the same time.


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One of my first impressions from this is that there is a lot more world building in this chapter than in the first one. However, a lot of the world building came across, to me, as a (pleasant version of) an info-dump. Most of the beginning is about the monks, and the pressure related to "drugs", and what-not, and why Roman enjoys his job. The occasional words he actually says serve to break it up some, and it does help reinforce how he can do his job by rote and think about other things, but it still seems a little info-dumpy.

There is more interaction between people as well, which improves the beginning of the story. I notice that this one technically goes back in time before the first chapter, although it's hard to critique it too much, because it doesn't stand out and it doesn't really cause any difficulties in understanding the order of events. However, it did give me a bit of a pause when Oti appears and Roman didn't seem to know her, since in the first chapter we see them interacting and learn that she had been visiting often. However, it is cleared up eventually, and like I said, it didn't really through me off too much. However, it may be something you'll want to be aware of as a potential speed bump for the reader.

I wasn't too surprised by the turn of events that Oti was supposed to befriend someone out there, but it was a little surprising to learn that it had been a class lesson (or experiment), instead of a dare by one of her classmates. Of course something had to happen to make the relationship not work out as it appeared. However, I wasn't completely sold on Roman's reaction. I think a little bit more introspection when he finds out may help things out a little bit.

Also, there was what may be considered a POV error:

She [Oti] swallowed her rising guile.
Since the chapter is in Roman's POV, he may not know the last part. (Also, are you sure guile is what you mean? Perhaps bile instead?)

The desire to run away is also somewhat standard here, although I didn't think that was a bad thing. Oti seemed to have a decent reason for wanting to run away, anyway, although with her resources I would think she might be able to have a plan beyond "leave". Perhaps we get that in a future chapter?

Overall, I have to say that the world building really stands out so far as the most enjoyable part of the story (even with the semi-info-dump presentation). I'm eager to learn more about the world and how it works, which is a good thing. I assume in the next chapter or two, we learn more about the Great Library, and having it presented in terms of a sinister organization is interesting. The monks training lawyers and what-not is another really interesting aspect to the story, as is the reference to food as "drugs" (although I still think that one could be a bit better explained in the first chapter).

The part that is lacking for me so far is the hook to get me reading further. Right now, I'm not particularly attached to the assassin from chapter 1, to Roman, or to Oti. While the assassin and Roman have interesting backgrounds and situations (and Oti might as well, but we don't know as much about her), and they have some goals, they don't have the barbed hooks in me that makes me want to read and find out what happens to them next. Granted, I'm not disliking them, so I'm not saying I'd be putting the book down and stopping here either. It's just something to be concerned about.

The other one item of potential concern has more to do with the plot. In this chapter, most of the background and plot, while well-presented, are somewhat common. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not one who has to have originality in all of my books; I love Simon R. Green stories, for one, and yet a lot of those stories end up sounding kind of similar to one another.) However, the concern I have is that it will hang together well enough to be satisfying in the end, along with all the other things that are going on. In fact, some of the Simon R. Green stories may be a good analogy, because a few of them I can think of are wonderful on the world-building and a little light on the plot, but they are still fun. So in the end, I have nothing bad to say about the plot so far, but maybe a few qualms about problems that may be looming in the future chapters.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I don’t really have much to add to what’s already been said. To me the biggest problem in enjoying this chapter and the character of Roman is the info-dump nature of this chapter. There’s just too much information at the wrong point in the story – all of this should be spread out and shown rather than told. Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got some interesting setting stuff going on, but it should be spread around more.

I won’t go into the overlapping timelines between this chapter and the last one, since it’s already been covered, but I do want to say that going back in time so soon really slows things down and, combining that with the info-dumps, it makes the chapter too slow. As a reader I don’t care enough about the S.O.M. or Roman at this point to keep on reading if things continue like this like this. I need a hook.

On a different timeline note, there’s also the sense of an inconsistent flow of time in the chapter itself, after Oti trips the old woman, but before she meets Roman. You’ve got an info-dump section here which is so detached from the two surrounding scenes it’s like Roman is in a completely different place and time. This threw me out of the story for a bit, trying to fit it in.

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