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march 6th 2013 - nm_whitley - The Slim Black Rectangle Ch 3,4


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Hi folks, sending a little late in the week I know, hope someone gets a chance to see this.

In the first two chapters, our protagonist Dimas returns to the orbiting space colony where he was born, having been exiled to Earth after a failed revolution on the Colony, carrying with him a mysterious device. He's met by Colonel Vaz, an old man connected with the Resistance in Exile, who gives him an envelope full of money to give to Thaïs, the wife of Dimas' friend Riki, also exiled on Earth. After an abortive attempt to charge up his device's battery at a back-alley chop-shop, Dimas knocks on Thaïs' door, and is greeted by a slap in the face, then invited in for a drink...

Let me know anything: doubts, gaps, plotholes you see, and also what you think about the set-up for the "story within a story". Thanks!


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I'll start right with comments on this one, and then go into what I thought.

First sentence...I had to open up the previous chapters to find out who "her" was that Dimas followed. Obviously it's been a while since I've read the last chapter, but you may want to include Thais' name again, since you don't mention her name until the 4th paragraph.

Pg1: "an antique digital clock ticked off the seconds"

-It doesn't actually tick, then, does it? Not a big thing, but this sentence pulled me out of the story while I thought about it.

Pg1: "She let her jaw drop to speak again but said nothing."

-Minor POV error. 'Her jaw opened to speak," or "Dimas saw her mouth open," but don't tell what Thais is thinking about doing.

Pg2: "Dimas about his mother, his sister, the house, and Thaïs about her job working in the Colonial branch of some dirtside bank, worrying with her finger at a patch of dry skin under her left eye as she spoke in her peculiar High Colonial dialect plagued with Terrestrial tics from her private-school background."

-this is a really long sentence and I got lost reading it.

Pg11: This is part 2 already? Makes me wonder how many parts there will be. You might just leave it as Chapter 4. I note you also switch to first POV. This can be tricky.

pg 13: "Riki took a step back from the doorway, shouting What in the hell...?"

-even though this is technically dialogue (and I'm not sure whether the whole thing should be in quotes or not) Riki's direct speech should be in quotes. So should the little man's speech.

-yeah...after that point you go into full dialogue. You really need quotes in this.

pg 14: ...Ok, now you've got the man telling a story to Riki, whose story is being told to Celia, in the story you are writing...I have no idea how many quotes need to be in this.

Pg 15: "Are you kidding, said Riki, of course I know who she is. If you don’t know, Berihun was the new Chief Administrator who had just been chosen to represent the Colonial Authority on Earth."

-here you're pulling out of the story-in-story to give side info to Celia. It's a little confusing.

Pg17: When he got back that night there was a crowd of neighbours clustered near the open elevator door, muttering amongst themselves with serious looks on their faces. “I heard a sound, did you hear a sound?” or “I heard a loud noise, like wha-bam, and I came out to look,” they were saying.

-Now you use quotes?

Pg17: "Debating whether the poor man had jumped or been pushed. Riki went to the stairwell and started climbing.

He had grown to like Wellington, and now that someone had thrown him down the elevator shaft..."

-First he's debating, then he's sure of what happened to Wellington.

So overall, I still like your writing style, and the environment you've created. Your prose is polished, except for some quibbles over quotes. But the more I think about it, the less I like the story-in-story.

First for the confusion in how it's told, but that can be fixed.

Second, the change from 3rd to 1st gives us a different view of Dimas' personality. In 3rd, I got the sense he was a terse, laconic, ex-military who was on a mission. Now he's spinnin' a yarn for the young'un to help 'er get to sleep. forgive the horrible slang, but that's sort of the old-man-on-a-porch impression I got. I think it's much more in line with the creole/latino atmosphere, but doesn't fit with the first look at Dimas.

Third, the point where this story is told derails the larger story you're telling. In the first two chapters, Dimas is escaping guards to get back into a restrictive colony, trying to make a black-market deal on a strange piece of technology, and then visiting the house of a woman who's probably in some sort of trouble. It's tense and exciting. Then we suddenly pull up a chair and have storytime to a little girl. Yes the story is related, and I can see where it's going, but I think we need to understand the characters a lot better before we sit down for a long yarn with them. I think titling "Part II" so early on accentuates that sense of the story completely changing.

I'm still interested in reading more, but I want to get out of the story and get back to what's really happening. We can have an interlude after getting over the hurdles of Part I and know generally what the story is about. Right now, I have no idea, except that it itcludes a slim black rectangle.

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Hey, thanks for your input. just to clarify, the novella is in three parts: part one which is just chapters 1-3, part two which is chapters 4-11, and part three, chapters 12-15. Which is not very symmetrical I guess, or maybe it is in a way. Who knows.

Also, the notes on the punctuation are instructive. Partly I did it to differentiate the 3rd and 1st person narratives, and partly to indulge my more literary aspirations a la Jose Saramago, C. MacCarthy (neither of whom use quotation marks), etc. :) Good catch on page 17!

I'm most concerned though with your comments as to voice, ie Dimas in 3rd person as the laconic vet versus Dimas as the friendly storyteller. do you suppose I could dial back either or both of those just a little bit to avoid such a stark contrast? I mean, I like the idea of him acting differently with the girl than with everyone else, but maybe you're right, it is too different from what we know about him so far.

Again thanks for your input, very helpful! I'll do my best to have a look at the latest installment of Seeds of Dissolution soon! Cheers ~NMW

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just to clarify, the novella is in three parts: part one which is just chapters 1-3, part two which is chapters 4-11, and part three, chapters 12-15.

I forgot this was a novella. The part timings make more sense, but for such a short story, you might not need to even make the differentiation. I assume 4-11 is the story-in-story? This would be a large chunk of the book then. I would make sure it reads well. On that note...

partly to indulge my more literary aspirations a la Jose Saramago, C. MacCarthy (neither of whom use quotation marks)

Again, this makes more sense now. I would still be careful, as they are both published authors. Not including the quotes might only set your agent's/editor's teeth on edge. Personally (and this is just me talking, so no offense), I really don't like that style--it seems lazy and pretentious because it makes the reader work hard to figure out what's going on rather than just enjoying the book. On the other hand, other people do like it for the easy, storytelling vibe. It's your story.

On the last point, Dimas' voice, I would make the 3rd person voice closer to the 1st person rather than the other way around. It seems to me to fit better with the environment you've created. I think it could be fixed relatively easily, with a few comments thrown in here and there, and maybe a sentence about how he settles into a different mindset to tell the story to Celia. You could even say that he purposefully smooths out his rough speech to not scare her (as the story is about her father being in danger...)

But I think it could be fixed, and without too much difficulty.

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