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Reading Excuses 20150504 Godtown Chapter One


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This is the novel I've been working on for about two years. I'm on my fifth draft. Here's the thing: I recently read a book about landing an agent, which stressed the importance of the opening. So I freaked out and cut the opening in half. None of my beta readers liked it. This is the original opening, and I was hoping to find some ways to make it better. Thanks in advance! 

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Ok, I laughed out loud at Zeus hanging up on Hades. That was the point I was completely sold on the premise.


I did find myself mentally hesitating when Hades says he never liked sleeping. So, the chapter opens with him waking up? This doesn't sit right with me. Not to mention that Zeus calls at 4am, Hades describes the city being "quiet at night", and then he meets Prometheus in the "evening air" atop the grassy mound. I can't quite tell what time it is, and this also disrupts my suspension of disbelief.


I'm really curious to know what sort of Enemy could rout the combined might of every Greek god. This is an awesome hook for me, as a huge fan of mythology. Just make sure not to pull a Mass Effect with how they built up the Reapers early on ;)

Although, the thought occurs to me that if ever a deus ex machina were a reasonable plot device, it might be in this particular story.


"That's when I knew something was wrong." -- damnation, me too. This whole scene with Hades and Zeus conversing is very well done.


The revelation that Hermes was dead in the park, putting the phone conversation at the beginning into perspective, was just plain awesome.


"Do you know what's on the other side? Because I don't." -- Again, as a huge fan of mythology, this was a major "Oh sh-" moment for me. Fantastic!


"The Ennead will be here soon." -- Oh, so when Hades said "every single god", he meant: Every. Single. God. Pavlov has rung my bell, good sir.



I'm confused. Your beta readers didn't like the halved opening? I hope that's the case, because I absolutely loved it as it is. I feel out of my league in trying to analyze how to improve it. Perhaps the pacing, but I lack the ability to determine what should or shouldn't make the cut, and to me it all seems to belong. It seems a well assembled puzzle, and all of the pieces just feel right. Golly.


The only suggestions I might offer are to consider pruning the second and third paragraphs. Perhaps combine them after thinning them, and just focus on Hades answering the phone?


Also, perhaps consider cutting any of the paragraphs mentioning Charon. I feel like Hades could just head down and get his car himself. That way, the scene still helps set the modern mood, as it were, but Charon doesn't really do enough to justify introducing him there. Nice touch using him as the valet though! Maybe keep that concept and reuse it later?


I'm absolutely ready to read more!

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Thanks supersoup. My beta readers didn't like the edited opening I did, which cut out this opening in half. I'll definitely look into pruning the second and third paragraphs, and also maybe cutting some of Charon's scenes (although Charon does play a small-to-medium sized role in the rest of the book). I'm glad you liked it  - especially as a fan of mythology (who would be the target audience). Thanks for the feedback! 

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Here are the comments I made while reading.  Supersoup has a lot of good points.  I didn't mark it down while reading, but I also enjoyed Hades' relationship with death and the afterlife now vs. in the past. 


I don't think the first chapter was too long, but I can see points where your readers might not have liked it as much.  But that's what you're here for!  I think this can easily be a strong entry if you work on the problem that your readers note, but also make sure you keep the parts that everyone likes.



Some notes:


pg 1: "My realization didn’t stop the shrill ringing sound however. I turned on the light and saw the source of ringing."

--repetition of "ringing"


pg 1: "Relieved as I was that he was no longer engaged in the acts Charon had so aptly described"

--not sure if this was a mythological reference we were supposed to get, or something you're explaining later.


There is lots of "name dropping" of gods and demi-gods on the first page.


pg 1: "And I do mean all three of them.” The three dogs looked up from their bed to me with temporary interest before even they laid they laid back down and fell asleep. "

--Eh?  There's only one Cerebrus.  I assume you're going to explain later, but it's a little confusing here.


pg 1: "And I thought I was a dark one "

--"the" dark one?


pg 2: Charon hands Hades the keys twice.  I thought he was a driver, but then Hades drives himself. (I'll second Supersoup's point above that you could cut Charon at this point. He doesn't add anything).


pg 2: You capitalize "Enemy," but we don't have a reference for why this would be capitalized.


pg 3: "I fought the memories of her they brought"

This seems awkward.  Giving us "her" doesn't really tell us anything.


pg 4: "The guy who stole fire from the gods to give to man"

you could remove "to give to man"


pg 4: "The god of the underworld, failing to recognize a corpse, I thought. I must be out of practice."

--good line.


pg 5: a "pallid" expression doesn't really make sense.  Pallid just means pale.


pg 5: "But all of us knew from the War there no was no seed in Hermes’ brain "

--this seems awkward


pg 6: "helped me up like an infirm old man"

--this makes it sound like Zeus is the infirm one.


Overall, I liked the concept here.  The prose needs some more polish.  I've marked some of the parts here, but there are several sentences using passive voice, or with awkward wording.

Past that, I'm interested to see where this is going.  I can see lots of questions dealing with how the Gods are now like mortals and what that does to them.  There's a bit of "name dropping" at the beginning, to throw the reader into the story, which sometimes reads a little too blatant.  

The only other concern I have is writing personalities for such well known characters as the Greek gods.  I'm not saying it can't be done, but you run into people saying "that's not what X would do," before you get a chance to show the personality you've created.

Anyway, I'm interested in what happens next!
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I really like the structure and pacing of this opening scene. I didn’t feel as if there were any extraneous details that warranted cutting it in half. The whole scene almost has a film noir quality to it that I really enjoyed, with the late night phone call and the body in the park, and that tone is very interesting when combined with Greek mythology. I think it could work well as long as you really dig beneath the surface and explore some of the deeper implications of such a genre mash-up. The danger of something like this is that it could feel gimmicky if done wrong. I’m of course curious about how the gods came to live in the modern world, which I trust will be explained when you give more detail about the War. One thing I’m already wondering is why these 1000+ year-old Greek gods would use a phrase such as “bigger fish to fry”. Details like this, if explained well, could really add some dimension to the story. If you gloss over them, however, that’s when it runs the risk of seeming like a gimmick and lacking depth.


While I feel like the structure and concept are really good, I agree with mandamon that the writing itself does need some polishing overall. There were a few repeated words that mandamon pointed out (“shrill” and “ringing”), and awkward sentences that could stand to be rephrased. Have you ever tried reading your writing aloud to yourself? Some people swear by it, and it can help a lot with ironing out some of the awkward sentences. I think that approach might work particularly well since it’s in first person.


Since you said you're planning on submitting this to agents, I would love to hear what kind of feedback you get from them when the time comes! If you feel like sharing, of course. Good luck!

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Thanks for the feedback Mr. Wednesday. The very next chapter reveals some details about the war and where the gods are. I'll definitely try reading this aloud - that might be just what this needs. I'll also let you know any feedback I get from an agent . . . I've got a couple lined up and I'm planning to send this out while I'm working on something knew. 


PS - I also like your user name. I was obviously inspired by American Gods, but I have to say the short story "Murder Mysteries" was really what got me thinking about this story.

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Detailed comments below, made while reading, so apologies for any duplication with others. No wait, I don't apologise, because you want to know how many people notice the same stuff. However, I did enjoy this. No problem with the opening, your beta readers are all bonkers. Agree with Mandamon that the prose need polish, but don't we all.

I'm looking forward to the next instalment.


Decent first paragraph with nice last line, although I think "make sure it did" would sound better.

I don't know what acts Charon described, so that line made me feel left out of some in-joke.

I'm not going to search for it, but didn't a Cereberus have three heads, but only one rectum?

"...thought I was the dark one of the family..."

Why are War and Enemy capitalised? Not sure there's a basis for that.

You say city of gods a lot.

Great line about lack of opportunity for the former lord of the underworld. I do like the idea that he is unemployed and I guess many of the others are too?

As an idea, I am intrigued. At first, I was concerned that you were treading heavily on the territory that Piers Anthony explored at length in his Incarnations of Immortality series. His first booth has the lead character accidentally kill Death, the rules being that the murderer must take over Death's duties.

There's something up with hedge continuity of the man holding the light. Are there two men, one in the em distance and one close by?

There's a repetition of "behind me" when Zeus appears.

It feels like you are over-explaining things in some places. There's no need to explain why he's still wearing his pyjamas, for example. Also, I felt that the liken about Prometheus being released was a bit on-the-nose, but I appreciated you probably need that. My point is, allow the reader to work stuff out rather than spoon-feeding the everything.

I've noticed a handful of words missing, like "a couple alternatives" and "much the chagrin". Big no-no in submitting, I would have thought. Don't you use grammar checker? It will scoop all these things up, I think it's as useful as spellchecker and a must for writers. We really should use all the tools available to make us appear more professional. Using spellchecker makes everyone look like they can spell!!!

"All night long" seems out of place. He's only been in Zeus' company for 10 minutes, surely.

Your addition of "the messenger god" at the end of this section takes all the punch out of it. It's a great line as just "It was Hermes." I think you have to assume you are dealing with a literally savvy audience, and they know who Hermes and Prometheus are. If you have to explain, I wouldn't do it there.

The April Fools line is frivolous. I didn't care for it at this dramatic moment. I don't understand 'But' he was still dead. Why the 'but'?

Continuity issue, the lantern is put out by a wave of the hand, then moments later it's still fading.

That ending is a bit annoying. I don't mind a cliffhanger, but it seems that the biggest impact would actually be from the next line. At this point you're leaving the reader lacking information, rather then leaving them thinking about the consequences of whatever the favour is.

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Having now read the other comments, I'd like to endorse some of them. I also enjoyed the film noir tone, and thought there were some nice zingers. Coincidently. the good-lady-her-indoors and I watch The Maltese Falcon last night. Must say that The Big Sleep is a superior film, but it made me think that I hope you have a classic femme fatale to appear in the coming chapters. Mary Astor knocks it out the park in MF.

Mandamon and I both commented on polishing. If you're going to submit to agents you might want to consider getting an anal retentive grammar junkie to track-change some suggestions on that front. That's me volunteering, by the way.

Like Mr. W., I would be very interested to hear what feedback you get from agents. In fact...,

<Silk, are you listening, can you hear me? What about having a sticky thread on the forum page called something like "Rejection Junction", where people can post experiences of submitting their work to publishers and agents? We do a lot of critiquing on here, and it would be fascinating to know if our feedback in any way chimes with what professionals say about RE stories that cross their desks.

I think such a page would also act as encouragement and be instructive for those of us with almost no experience of submitting our work, and be a repository for contacts and opportunities.

Thoughts anyone?>

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I wholeheartedly agree with Robinski, right down to the name of the thread. Also, I forgot to mention my thoughts on the cliffhanger ending but I agree on that front as well. There's a really good episode of Writing Excuses that deals specifically with cliffhangers, in which Brandon and Dan describe two basic archetypes. Allow me to bastardize them for the benefit of the group:


The first, and less effective according to the podcasters, is when a character hears a knock at the door, walks nervously towards it, opens it, and...the chapter ends, never revealing what was behind the door. This pulls the reader forward by simply withholding information and is widely considered to cheapen the suspense and the payoff. The second, and much more effective method, is when the author actually shows what is behind the door and makes whatever it is interesting enough that it raises more questions. A mysterious package, a character who was previously believed to be dead, etc. That way your reader's interest is vested in the reaction of the protagonist rather than the simple gathering of information.  I feel like the equivalent in your story would be having Zeus actually tell him what the favor is at the very end of the chapter, and having that request be intriguing enough to draw the reader into the next chapter.

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Thanks guys! I'm going to give it a verbal read-through tomorrow, and I've already incorporated most of your suggestions by now. I probably won't submit anything for at least another week or two, so I have plenty of time to work on it. I'd definitely be willing to submit any feedback I get from agents in a "Rejection Junction" thread (it sounds like something out of Schoolhouse Rock . . . and not a place I want to visit) throughout the process. Thanks for all the feedback! 

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  • 3 weeks later...

where to start... I really enjoyed this, it has a nice balance of humor and seriousness.

Firstly I want to say that first person pov usually is off putting to me, but you use it well enough that it was absolutely no trouble at all this time.

Secondly, I love Greek mythology, and think its involvement in a story is a good hook for most readers. But I might suggest that you favor vagueness when recounting the mythology, for example; I had always heard that Prometheus was tortured by an eagle not vultures, who ate his liver not his kidneys every day. Whichever story is more popularly agreed on as the official legend doesn't matter, and hearing a version slightly different than what you know isn't terribly off putting(at least it wasn't for me), its just something you might want to be aware of.

As far as the characters go I think you've done a great job so far! Every story I've read involving gods and goddess portrays them as physically dangerous and powerful. But this is really refreshing, because the gods in your story have lost their physical and magical powers, but have gained political and social power. Personally I love this idea, especially if the mention of Ra(which is the falcon headed Egyptian god right?) is hinting that gods from many mythologies all find themselves in godtown and relatively powerless.

I am excited to hear more of the backstory, and to see how a society made up of gods would interact(you really go my attention when Zeus said "They’re coming and it’s probably best someone with your talents not be seen hanging around a dead body.”. It's a cool thought that the god's powers from their old lives would effect what rules or laws apply to them, and how severe the punishment may be.)

anyway, great chapter, hope to see more soon!

@Robinski: I upvoted supersoup's post, so at least there is no harm done now haha

Edited by LerroyJenkins
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