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11 Feb 2013 - yankorro - The Slim Black Rectangle Ch 1,2


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Hi, here's my first post here. (I see now that i put the wrong name in the filename, should be nm whitley and not yankorro). Anyway hope to hear from you all. Typical opening chapter questions:

Do you get a feel for the character?

Is there mystery that you want to know more about?

Is there too much/little info about the story world?

Are there any egregious speedbumps stylistically?



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I like this opening. The pacing is quite good and you give us some nice glimpses of worldbuilding without any egregious info dumps.

I especially liked the scene in the repair shop(it did have a weird name though--was that supposed to be German?), the atmosphere in that scene was spot on.

Some smaller things did bother me, however.

In the scene where the cops are checking Dimas's ID, there is a confusion of pronouns. Everyone is just a he or a him and it takes you out of the story when you have to go and look at the context to see which way a sentence makes sense. It may seem clumsy writing to use names constantly, but the reader will hardly notice and it's almost always better to err on the side of clarity.

Then there was this bit:

“Did they give him the helmet?”

Dimas stabbed at a chunk of protein and nodded. The Weir 2, or ‘the helmet’ as it was commonly known, though it more resembled a baseball cap than a helmet. An electroencephalogram to register spikes in brain activity triggered by images. “I doubt they found anything.”

This is a small, but ugly bit of infodumping because it breaks POV. This reads entirely like the narrator explaining what the helmet is, not Dimas thinking about it.

Some advice on formatting:

It seems you're trying to follow standard manuscript format, which is good. There are however two little problems with your formatting. First of all, you're missing the page header. The page header should be right-justified and read like this:

last name / one important word from your title / page number

The other thing is a rather subtle issue that I myself only recently learned about. You should avoid typographical quotation marks in your manuscript and use straight ones instead. See here on how to change it if you're using MS Word.

It's always easier to write about problems than it is to write about things done well, so please don't think that the proportions of this critique spent on praising and criticising are indicative of the quality of your work. I liked this opening and hope to read more from you next week.

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Overall, this was a very solid and enjoyable piece of work. I got a good feeling for the sort of dysopian atmosphere of the colonies. The only issue I had was that the placement was a little vague, and you don't say much aside from it's a colony. Is it on the moon? Asteroid? Farther out in the solar system? Not a big point, but maybe worth mentioning here just to settle the location a little more. It would help me visualize how much on the frontier this town is. You tell how his family was relocated to one part of the colony to another, but I can't get a good feel for how far that was, or how hard it would have been to transfer. Is there an atmosphere? I assume not because he came through a dome.

The characters are quite good and real, with good reactions. There weren't any big infodumps. You have a lot of information to get across, but do it in a timely manner.

For some reason, there's a distinct lack of question marks on pages 12 and 13, with the disscussion with the shopkeeper. Some are fine to convey questions that are more statements, but here there are several in a row.

Last, it took me a few minutes after I finished reading to realize the Slim Black Rectangle is probably the object in the second chapter. You might adjust that depending on whether you want it to immediatly resonate with the reader or be hidden for a while longer.

The other thing is a rather subtle issue that I myself only recently learned about. You should avoid typographical quotation marks in your manuscript and use straight ones instead.

Interesting. I didn't know about this either. But from most things I've read, not as many agents care about those little formatting things anymore. A lot of them just say to put it in Times New Roman when you submit.

I'm looking forward to reading more!

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i agree with Syme about the helmet. It does break POV and pulls us out. And I am a little bit confused why the helmet is relevant.

I also agree with mandamon about your placement being vague.

You make references to earth and and things terrestrial but there is a bit of a learning curve as you throw out several new places. This is fine if it is a completely alternate universe and therefore not needing an anchor to earth but it sounds like Earth has a place either in the present or in the history of this universe. To throw the reader a bunch of new places without anchoring them in reference to how/where earth is involved is confusing and leaves the reader floundering around a bit trying to get their footing in your world instead of focusing on what you want them to focus on.

From there, the monorail to Kota Baru. Home. The landscape rolled by, a relentless parade of unfamiliar sights: vast geodesic greenhouse complexes sprouted up from nothing, faceless new fiberglass tenements rising timidly over on the broken ruins of old ones. Nothing was in its proper place. Some things were no longer where they were supposed to be, others had cropped up where they didn’t belong.


I am confused by the language in this paragraph. How do greenhouses sprout from nothing? What are the "some things" that are either in the wrong place or no longer there?

Instead of helping me get a good solid feel for your world this paragraph seems to wander vaguely about trying to imply that things have changed -but i didn't really know what what they were before. But the apparent changes that feel depressing (is that the right emotion you are trying to convey through Dimas?) don't really shine through because they aren't solid enough.

Perhaps if you mention the others but highlight more in depth one specific thing that has changed to Dimas's eyes and let him dwell on how much it has changed and why he finds it depressing. I think it would lend a little more solidarity to your world while at the same time giving us a little snippet of "Dimas development".

Interested in the new girl. Although if she knew he was coming home why is she so terribly shocked when he actually shows up at her door? I can understand anger and obviously there is history there but i got the feeling she was shocked more than anything else.

Interesting chapter. Looking forward to more!

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Thanks all! You're already giving me ideas on where I should slip in clues and where not--and you're exactly right the spatial orientation is a little too vague. I reckon if I clarify some of the points I can get away with my intentional atmospheric vagueness on some others.

Also, point taken with regard to the bit about the helmet, I'm gonna try mixing it into the dialogue to avoid the jarring POV shift.

Looking forward to reading and posting more. Cheers!

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