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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » 1st 13 Soul of the Machine (working title)

   
Author Topic: 1st 13 Soul of the Machine (working title)
wetwilly
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First 13 for a novel. I'll leave it at that; I'm interested in first impressions that aren't influenced by any explanations from me.

I'm perched on a brown metal folding chair in the middle of a giant nest of neon wires running from patch bay to patch bay all around me. The blue glow from the screen in front of me tints my skin a sort of unnatural, dead gray. The air in my garage is a strange mix of sharp smells: solder and flux, electricity burning, old dried sweat. I run my tongue around my mouth, trying to get some saliva flowing to wash away the sour taste of amphetamines, but I'm dry. I swirl a mouthful of lukewarm coffee around my mouth and spit it back into my cup, which helps for a minute.
The magnifiers on my head make me look vaguely toad-like. Unfortunately they only focus my eyes; my mind is totally scattered, and the goggles can't do anything for that.

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ForlornShadow
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This is a very descriptive paragraph, but its lacking action. All I get from it is someone sitting at a computer in a garage. What's on the computer screen? Why, in fact, is this scene important in the story?

I do like a lot of the descriptions. The lukewarm coffee stands out to me. I'm also interested in why the characters mind is scattered.

I would clean up the paragraph a little, make it a little more tense, add a little action. When I say action I mean something moving the plot forward, not ninja fight action, although that would be funny.

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jawood
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I think that this much description could be spread out over the space of several paragraphs, enhancing the action instead of delaying it. Few questions that are brought to mind:

It seems that he's doing a lot of work in the nest of wires, why is he sitting in something as uncomfortable as a folding chair?

"tints my skin a sort of unnatural, dead gray" cut out the sort of. The sentence will give stronger imagery if you cut out passive sounding things like that.

Are the mix of smells strange to him, or would bey be strange to an outside observer? If it's normal to him, let the reader come to the conclusion that it's an odd mix.

I like the description of how he tries to get the taste out of his mouth, and the goggles.

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Lance Conrad
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This was hard for me to picture, a little bit. Very descriptive and with some nice images in there. The phrase "perched on a brown metal folding chair" was quite vivid. I admit that I don't know what a patch bay is, so you lost me there, but then by the end when I heard about the amphetamines I didn't really know if the neon wires were real or hallucinated. My best mental image guess would be someone obsessed enough to be forcing themselves to stay at work and on task, though that image doesn't quite match being perched on a brown metal chair. I see more a dirty lab coat leaning on a table. Just some thoughts.

I would keep reading but I would be expecting some clarification rather quickly.

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wetwilly
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Thanks so far, people. Feedback helpful, as always.

Jawood said:

"tints my skin a sort of unnatural, dead gray" cut out the sort of. The sentence will give stronger imagery if you cut out passive sounding things like that.

***Note: what follows is not meant as an argument with your feedback. I would never do that. I'm just sharing why I did something you dinged me on (which I agree with), and asking if you think the trade-off is worth it.***

I included that stuff (and it shows up pretty often throughout the narrative) as a means to characterization. It's a first person narrator, and he's the kind of person who does constantly hedge what he is saying with qualifiers like that. He's unsure about a lot of things in his life, and this was one way to show that aspect of his character. You're saying that the qualifiers weaken the imagery. I'm leaning toward thinking that the trade-off is worth it, but I was just wondering about your (or anybody else's) thoughts about that. Do you find it annoying, or that it weakens the descriptions and overall storytelling? Do you think it would ruin the story for you?

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Tryndakai
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Interesting question, on whether the hedging adds or subtracts . . . I think perhaps, if it's meant to add some characterization, you should make it a touch more obvious. As it is, it just sounds like sorta weak writing, but doesn't actually stand out enough for me to *notice* it. (I didn't, my first read through, personally.) On the other hand, if you want that kind of hedging to be part of the MC's "voice," then I'd try a few tricks like pulling it out of the flow of the narrative to hang more of a lantern on it. i.e.:

"The blue glow from the screen in front of me tints my skin an unnatural, dead gray. Sort of."

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Tryndakai
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As far as the possibility of too much description and not enough action . . . perhaps the solution could be as simple as changing the sentence structure of a few lines? In particular, the first three lines seem to have the same structure, which quickly makes the feel of the text drag a bit. Consider changing, for instance, the sentence about smells to him actually *smelling,* for whatever reason. I dunno. [Smile]

The only other thing that bugged me was the line: "
The magnifiers on my head make me look vaguely toad-like."

Because it seems like a p.o.v. shift, almost. Unless he's looking at himself, it seems an odd comment to make.

So far I'm curious. [Smile] There's not a "hook" yet, per se, but the set-up is odd enough that I'd keep reading to find out where you're going with it. [Smile]

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Noah Fregger
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I started a story similar to this once and sent it out. One of the things i heard back was, when using first-person, the story can't be told in present tense because that's impossible.

So i went back and changed all the tense, like he'd said. When the story was finished, i got my hands on the Hunger Games novel and discovered that she told the friggin' story in first-person and in present tense!

I was a little irritated by that.

So keep your tense the same and don't listen to anyone who says otherwise. (I don't think anyone here did.)

I trust the following paragraph will answer the questions the others were hinting at.

Being a mechanic myself, those are all smells I'm deeply familiar with. Luckily I'm not a fan of coffee. Monster on the other hand....guilty as charged.

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Noah Fregger
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If I were to share something constructive, however, I think you might benefit greatly from reassembling a few sentences. I feel it makes it easier on the reader.

When writing in first-person, i try to say "me" as little as possible. I think it comes off a tad elementary in that way; and it's challenging to find a clever way around them.

I'll give you an example of both:

Perched atop a brown metal folding-chair, I sit within a nest of neon wiring - the blueish hue from the screen before me tinting my skin an unnatural, dead-grey.

I shortened two sentences into one here (hope you don't mind)

I think it's easier on the reader and not so daunting a task as before.

I changed "blue glow" to "Blueish hue" but that's just a matter of taste.

Hope i was helpful.

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