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Author Topic: First 13 For Dystopian SF Novel
DaveBowen
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Here are the first 13 lines from a novel roughly titled, "Wal-Merica, The Country You Shop In." I'm two chapters in, and trying to decide where to focus my energy. Would you read more?

Third Swing:
Caleb’s hands shook as he held the rifle. It was his first Black Friday dragooned into service on the front line. He was fifteen, and terrified. On a normal shopping day the crowd would listlessly stroll the hundred yards from the outer gates and file through the much smaller main entrance. Black Friday was no normal shopping day. For some, it was a matter of life and death. Saving hundreds on a Korean cloned organ or an adorable, useful giant milking hamster could make or break a tight-pressed family. The hordes would swarm through the outer gates, hell-bent for savings. Caleb waited nervously behind the revetments. The man-high trenches, bristling with spikes and barbed wire, were not a guarantee of safety.

Second swing:
Caleb’s hands shook as he held the rifle. It was his first Black Friday dragooned into service on the front line. He was terrified. On a normal shopping day the crowd would listlessly stroll the hundred yards from the outer gates and file through the much smaller main entrance. Black Friday was no normal shopping day. For some, it was a matter of life and death. Saving hundreds on a Korean cloned organ or an adorable, useful giant milking hamster could make or break a tight-pressed family. The hordes would swarm through the outer gates, hell-bent for savings. Caleb’s hours of practice in the basement firing range would soon be tested. He was good at hitting targets, but targets didn’t bleed and scream.

First Swing:
Caleb’s hands shook as he held the rifle. It was his first Black Friday on the front line. He was terrified. On a normal shopping day the crowd would listlessly stroll the hundred yards from the outer gates and file through the much smaller main entrance. Black Friday was no normal shopping day. For some, it was a matter of life and death. Saving hundreds on a Korean cloned organ or an adorable, useful giant milking hamster could make or break a tight-pressed family.
Soon the hordes would swarm through the outer gates, hell-bent for savings. Caleb’s job, along with the others in the revetments, was to carefully pick off leading shoppers in the hope that their falling bodies would slow the mob, preventing a full-blown lemming crush at the choke point of the main doors.

Thanks,
Dave Bowen


[This message has been edited by DaveBowen (edited December 29, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by DaveBowen (edited December 29, 2009).]


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Lionhunter
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That is... interesting.
The future of Black Fridays is... interesting.
Caleb's job is... a little what the eff?
You know, i think this beginning is good, you really cram a lot of future info on common things we have today, but with a dark twist to them.
The only suggestion i have is how you show Caleb's job. Now, i'm not saying you should change it, but from what i understand he kills people, right? And if that's the case, that is the biggest what the eff from these 13 lines. But i'm thinking that you could show that when he actually shoots someone, i mean don't tell us, show us. But it's not really necessary, more like a personal preference.
The title is a little downer though... not sure about that.

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silverberry
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I agree with Lionhunter. The opening is intriguing. But, instead of telling us what Caleb is about to do, just go through with him doing it. It may appear as if the impact is delayed. But it would be stronger if we actually get to see Caleb not only do it but see him making the decision to do it. Keep up the tension of suspecting-but-not-quite-knowing-what-he's-gonna-do-and-wondering-whether-he'd-actually-do-it.

Leo


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DaveBowen
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Looks like I need to edit to make it clear that front line is a once-a-year duty, not Caleb's normal job. It would be a bit harsh if just going shopping every day risked a bullet. Thanks...your puzzlement (and perhaps mild revulsion) is helpful.

Dave Bowen


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DaveBowen
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So if I excise the Telling-And-Not-Showing part and move on, I have:

Caleb’s hands shook as he held the rifle. It was his first Black Friday dragooned into service on the front line. He was terrified. On a normal shopping day the crowd would listlessly stroll the hundred yards from the outer gates and file through the much smaller main entrance. Black Friday was no normal shopping day. For some, it was a matter of life and death. Saving hundreds on a Korean cloned organ or an adorable, useful giant milking hamster could make or break a tight-pressed family. The hordes would swarm through the outer gates, hell-bent for savings. Caleb’s hours of practice in the basement firing range would soon be tested. He was good at hitting targets, but targets didn’t bleed and scream.

Would you read on? Would I read on?? Has the holiday shopping simply taken its toll???

Thanks,
Dave Bowen


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Lionhunter
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Again, this is just personal preference, so you may ignore it, buuuuuuuuut... cut the part with "targets who scream".
Instead, and i remind you, this is just how I would do it so i may be wrong, but anyway: show us Caleb loading the rifle. Show us Caleb putting the rifle against his shoulder. Show us Caleb choosing a target. Show us him pressing the trigger. And then, when the first shopper falls down, we, the reader, understand what the hell he was doing, and then you could tell us about his thoughts on this, and an explanation for it, from his inner perspective.

And yeah, i'd read on. Off to bed now, it's 4 AM here.

[This message has been edited by Lionhunter (edited December 29, 2009).]


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Edward Douglas
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I actually like the way this reads. I can "see" the unfolding scene from Caleb's POV and that's good enough for me. The part about targets "don't bleed or scream" is cool, but are we sure about that. Maybe the "targets" in the basement are shoplifters, hee hee hee.

I would read on because I want to understand why anyone would go shopping on Bleak Friday and risk being shot.

One nit: the second and third sentences might do better if combined with "and". "...and he was terrified."


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silverberry
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The new version is not an improvement. Just because you can only post 13 lines here doesn't mean that any suggestions apply to the 13 lines only. When I suggested to show the shooting action, I meant it to go over more than a single paragraph.

Besides, I don't think you need to explain what a Black Friday is. Everyone knows that. The explanation only weakens the opening, making it drag--and making the reader subconsciously wonder why you have to explain the obvious.

Leo

[This message has been edited by silverberry (edited December 30, 2009).]


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Dark Warrior
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I like the first version. The barb wire and trenches was a nice descriptor.

I think the opening sentence would be a nice spot for expansion. Particularly, I was thinking it would have been good if he described how it was hard keeping the sites lined up. Accomplishes the same goal of the first paragraph, and also adds to the conflict by showing he isn't just holding a gun, but has it aimed in on people while also giving us depth into him and his nervousness.

My opinion, don't try to make changes based on every crit. Let them all roll in, vet what works for your story and what doesnt, then taking everything in context do a rewrite.


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silverberry
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Btw, it would help if, while showing him shoot, you give room to as many senses as possible: from the obvious visuals of the victim-to-be (what if it's a child? does he get to choose? then show the choice!), to the slippery feel of sweaty skin on the trigger (and fear of pulling it, perhaps!), to the heartbeat and a visceral feeling in the gut, to the feeling of the pressure as the trigger is pulled, to the sound of the gunshot (sharp and echoing--or perhaps resonating as a gong from far away, as if he turned himself out for the shot, to remain sane), to the acrid smell of gunpowder (perhaps with some kind of a simile with the smell of death?). There are many ways to "round out" the experience, making it appear to the reader as if he/she's right there, with the main character--or even in his shoes.

Leo


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ScardeyDog
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I like the third swing opening, it pulled me in. It really gives no indication that he is going to shoot people to reduce the size of the crowd though. I thought he was just working security, in case of a riot/stampede.

quote:
Caleb’s job, along with the others in the revetments, was to carefully pick off leading shoppers in the hope that their falling bodies would slow the mob, preventing a full-blown lemming crush at the choke point of the main doors.

Why would they kill the leaders? They will easily fit through the doors if they are ahead of everyone else. And if this happens every year, why would anyone move ahead of the pack and get shot?

I don't know what a revetment is, but that's not a big deal.


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MrsBrown
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I'm having trouble with the premise. Planning to shoot people to minimize their deaths? Isn't there a more humane way to control these people? Desparation does not automatically create a death wish. Perhaps if the killing isn't planned up front, but rather just a possible requirement that the guards trained for, along with general crowd control techniques.

The character's personal dilemma is engaging, but I would not read on based on this society's unrealistic (IMO) hardball solution.


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JSchuler
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I would read on, you've got me interested. However, I also see the problem some others are having, and you might not keep me for long. The situation of shooting over-enthusiastic shoppers is really extreme to the point of absurdity. Now, there's nothing wrong with going for the absurd, but I don't think it meshes with the fear this boy is experiencing. Adding to this disconnect, your title leads me to expect something that, while likely a social commentary, is also quite playful. So, when I read your first 13, I feel as though I'm being dragged in two separate directions. Personally, I hope the absurd aspect of the story wins out.

Now, to something more nitpicky, is "dragooned" really the word you want, instead of "pressed" or "drafted"? The notion that a bunch of cavalry is needed to force an unarmed fifteen-year-old civilian to defend a store does fall under the absurd category though.


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Nagrom
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I like the idea of lampooning the Black Friday shopping crush phenomenon, and explaining why it's frequently a matter of life or death to shop there, as you do, is pretty important, given people apparently risk being shot by security.

Your third swing no longer mentions shooting some leading shoppers to slow the crowd, but I assume that's because it no longer fits in the revised first 13 lines. I wonder, though, why a market that can build revetments, trenches, and barbed wire couldn't create a different mechanism to slow the crowd. Maybe it's because life is so cheap in this world?


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