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Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :

below is the cover 'blurb' for the series and the back cover 'blurb' for the first novel in the series...

Saga of Three Stars --- A Five Novel Science Fiction Series

Life abounds in the Universe with every hospitable niche occupied, much primitive, some complex and occasionally intelligent. The abundance of life leads to fierce competition for resources and produces strange encounters. Three species among the stars, one of which is human, are destined to meet.

On Earth, Middle Eastern fanatics launch a nuclear strike, shattering the world’s economy. The massive electromagnetic pulses from the nukes cause everything electronic to fail, and as the pulses spread out through the cosmos, they attract the attention of the alien Qu’uda.

Meanwhile, far, far away, on the now-decadent world of Hool, the upstart Hive-Mother, Suh-Joh, seeks to reestablish Hool’s former technological brilliance. Willing to violate the proscriptions of the ‘Way-of-the-Mother,’ their all-encompassing religion, Suh-Joh opens the forbidden archives and retrieves all-but-forgotten technologies their world once possessed

Collapse (blurb)

After the nukes fall and the economic system collapses, raiders drive the newly widowed Taylor MacPherson from his home. Along the way, he provides sustenance to a group of starving refugees. After many setbacks, he leads them to establish a bastion of democracy in a sea of chaos and near-anarchy. Tested in fierce battles with brutal warlords, Taylor establishes a society in which the rule of law prevails. Proud, fierce and free, they begin to restore civilization. However, unknown to them, just as the first buds of the restored civilization emerge, the massive space ship of the alien Qu’uda draws near to Earth…


Kuybyshevskiy, Tadzhikistan, mid-21st Century

"Will they work, Kharim?" Ibrahim bin Salih wore a white full-length robe of an orthodox Wahhabi. Sweat beaded on his corpulent face.
"They'll work, I swear." Kharim knew his project would turn the tide of the war against the infidel.
"If they do not, many shall seek your head," Ibrahim said. “The Society of the Sword of Saladin has no more money for you.”
Ozone from hot electronics mixed with the sour odor of unwashed bodies and day-old curry. Light from a late afternoon sun pierced cracks in an ill-fitting door. A wheezing air conditioner struggled with the heat from a half dozen technicians and racks of humming electronic equipment.

I'd appreciate your comments.

Thank you!


Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :

Nice set up, nice opening. The opening has about everything you need I think. Good use of the senses while describing the setting.

Not much more I can say about except to ask. Humans are supposed to be one of the species in space but it sounds like humans haven't made it to space yet. Or is that to come or did you mean one of the intelligent species.

Interesting idea but if you know you have five books does that mean all of them are written?

Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :
Hello, LDWriter2;

Thank you for your comments.

The five novels are completed. Humans and aliens come in contact, as a result, the humans acquire knowledge that unlocks access to space (specifically – aneutronic fusion technology).

And yes, I’m looking for an agent.

An excerpt of one of the novels gained Honorable Mention in WotF – it was my first entry.

Remember the first rule of writing… Write!


Posted by MDBHarlan (Member # 9557) on :
Wow! That must have been a lot of work. I liked your cover blurb. My suggestion would be to watch all the new vocabulary right at the beginning, names etc. Maybe start with part of the description then go right into the dialog. I love the use of smells.

I'm new at this and noticed that many people start with dialog so if I am messing with some rule in my suggestions just ignore me.

Posted by hteadx (Member # 6563) on :
It wasn't clear whose point of view we are in. Adding another line in the second paragraph might help clear it up. I think the second paragraph clearly shows your voice.

[This message has been edited by hteadx (edited July 06, 2011).]

Posted by KathiS (Member # 9542) on :
Good start. I found the pacing of the last paragraph a bit too repetitive. Maybe combining some of the images?

~ kls

Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :
Hello, hteadx;

ah, I tried to make the POV clear in the second sentence when Kharim answers Ibrahim thusly:

"They'll work, I swear." Kharim knew his project would turn the tide of the war against the infidel.
(italics added around 'knew,' which establishes you - the reader - are in Kharim's head)

Here I let the reader into Kharim's evil mind, thus establishing him as viewpoint character. Maybe it didn't work...

KathiS - the last three sentences are to clearly establish setting and also give the reader a glimpse into the world in which Kharim lives. Suggestions on how to eliminate the 'repetitive' character would be appreciated.

Remember the first rule of writing... Write!

Posted by MAP (Member # 8631) on :
I suggest reordering things. Set the setting first by moving the last part about about the ozone and unwashed bodies first. Also describe the setting from Karim's POV. Showing us what he notices will give us a sense of setting and character at the same time.

I think a little deeper POV would make this a whole lot more interesting.

Just my thoughts. Good luck with this.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited July 07, 2011).]

Posted by hteadx (Member # 6563) on :
I actually had a full edit of your first 13, but KDW reminded us we weren't supposed to do that. This is my full critique with suggestions.

"Will they work, Kharim?" Ibrahim bin Salih wore a white full-length robe of an orthodox Wahhabi. Sweat beaded on his corpulent face.
To help with POV you could try writing this with Kharim watching Ibrahim wipe the sweat with his wahhabi robe. That way you can also show what Ibrahim is wearing with the simple action. Starting the conversation after establishing the POV will help build context for the conversation.

"They'll work, I swear." Kharim knew his project would turn the tide of the war against the infidel.
I would just have Kharim say what he is thinking. It makes him more sinister and helps reduce the redundancy of him saying it and than re-telling it as his thoughts.

"If they do not, many shall seek your head," Ibrahim said. “The Society of the Sword of Saladin has no more money for you.”
Holding off Ibrahim's response until after the following paragraph will help add tension to this scene and gives Kharim a reason to start describing the place. A simple "Ibrahim said nothing" is transparent enough to hold off his reponse.

Ozone from hot electronics mixed with the sour odor of unwashed bodies and day-old curry. Light from a late afternoon sun pierced cracks in an ill-fitting door. A wheezing air conditioner struggled with the heat from a half dozen technicians and racks of humming electronic equipment.
You could add Kharim's POV into this scene, but if you establish his POV earlier I wouldn't touch this paragraph. After this paragraph is were I suggest you add Ibrahim's response.

Just my take.

[This message has been edited by hteadx (edited July 07, 2011).]

Posted by KathiS (Member # 9542) on :
In regards to the last three sentences and my pacing comment:

Ozone from hot electronics mixed with the sour odor of unwashed bodies and day-old curry. Light from a late afternoon sun pierced cracks in an ill-fitting door. A wheezing air conditioner struggled with the heat from a half dozen technicians and racks of humming electronic equipment.

Just changing the sentence structure or combining two sentences might help. I'm not saying this is necessarily better than what you have but this is an example:

Ozone from racks of hot electronics mixed with the sour odor of a half dozen unwashed bodies and day-old curry. The late afternoon sun pierced cracks in an ill-fitting door that didn't help the wheezing air conditioner, already struggling with the oppressive heat.



Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
I'd say cutting out unnecessary words would make the story seem leaner and more taut. Don't tell us anything we already know, or can easily infer from context.

For example in the series blurb, we don't need to know any of the exo-ecology lesson we get until the third sentence: The abundance of life [in the galaxy] leads to fierce competition...

This takes us right to the point.

I'm not sure why we need to know that the fanatics are "Middle Eastern"; I suppose that little factoid will attract some readers but others might see this as a signal that the story is somewhat cliche (which we can't tell yet of course).

Likewise, I think we can take it for granted that an EMP that knocks out all the electronics in the world is "massive". All things being equal, the author who communicates the same amount of information in fewer adjectives has done a better job. In fact I think this sentence can focus more on the effect of the EMP on the Qu'uda, mentioning the loss of electronics everywhere in passing. This promises a story that gets to the point quickly.

I see the paragraph on the Hool as potentially problematic, since it contains so much world-building and jargon and we aren't even into the story yet; this is blurb. I'd focus on the essentials of the conflict here and reduce the jargon to what is necessary to identify the teams in the contest.

On the thirteen line fragment, I'd like to point out the last paragraph:

> Ozone from hot electronics mixed with the sour odor
> of unwashed bodies and day-old curry. Light from a
> late afternoon sun pierced cracks in an ill-fitting door.
> A wheezing air conditioner struggled with the heat from a
> half dozen technicians and racks of humming electronic
> equipment.

This is a very nice piece of writing, in my opinion. I think you could lead with it.

The dialog that follows it is OK, but does not stand out quite so much. Putting us in the mind of Kharim might not be what you want, unless Kharim is the POV character. Even if he is the POV character, his thought about turning the tide against the infidels is nothing we can't more or less figure out on our own, so this might be a case of less-is-more. Again it's a somewhat obvious and even maybe cliche thought to put in the head of a Jihadi terrorist, so you might lose it and focus on making the dialog more taut.

Along the same "less is more" lines, what other kind of Wahabbist is there beside an *orthodox* one? Yes, it's a nit picky point, but this is a scene I think that might benefit from a spare treatment.


Posted by Osiris (Member # 9196) on :
I'm going to tread as lightly as possible here, I don't wish to stir up controversy, but being of Middle-Eastern and Muslim descent, had I picked up this book in the store and read the back flap, I'd have returned it to the shelf and walked out the store. I know many people who would do the same.

MattLeo is absolutely correct, though I'd say he understates the case. In fact, an entire book was written about this cliche in Hollywood (Reel Bad Arabs by Jack Shaheen,which is summarized by the short movie, Planet of the Arabs, available on youtube). There is a reason you see fewer and fewer movies with 'reel bad Arabs', its because its been beat to death.

That is all I'll say on the subject, now on to the finer points. As MattLeo said, Wahhabi is orthodox, so there is no other kind.

Arabs running around calling people infidels is also very cliche. Consider giving him a concrete and personal reason for his motivations. Extremism is a bad response to bad conditions, so consider how this character's life has led him to adopt the attitudes he holds today.

'Saladin' is an anglification of Salāh-ed-Dīn-e Ayyūbī, so I don't think an Arabic speaker would use the word as 'Saladin' unless he/she was speaking to an English speaker.


Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
Osiris focuses on some issues I wanted to raise, but needed more thought.

A good villain is understandable. A great villain is sympathetic. At the extreme he may even be a kind of twin to the hero, matching him virtue for virtue and coming up only one short.

But I don't think these Jihadi weapons geeks are villains. I suspect they're much less than that. I think they're expendable stock characters who will be disposed of in the prologue, throwaway villainous cannon fodder ordered straignt from central casting. In fact, note that they have B.O.; they aren't just A-rabs; they're *dirty* A-rabs.

So are cardboard cutout, non-believable stock characters a problem? I think it depends on the author's aspirations.

As I pointed out in the discussion of openings, Madeleine L'Engle opens up *A Wrinkle in Time* with the stock phrase, "It was a dark and stormy night," but then goes on by dint of thought, work and talent to spin that into sheer poetry.

But I think there's a market for writing that is not as thoughtful as that. In fact, I think there are plenty of people willing to buy a pastiche of cliches that reinforce their twisted and bigoted world views; which put a heroic facade on their ugly insecurities. As with any other genre writing with inflexible conventions (e.g. romance), there is a certain art to becoming successful. Within the confines of the formula, some authors manage to stand out.

But what even the stand-out authors don't do is question the conventions of the genre. A romance author doesn't make the reader think, "Maybe Mary Sue doesn't need this Byronic rogue to make her life complete. Maybe she should look inward to find the inner strength to live life on her own terms." No. The idea that Mary Sue can be a complete,fulfilled person without her designated soul-mate is the *faulty premise* which the story will disprove. That's easy, because in the story world the author is pulling the strings.

A similar question might be asked if *this* story. Given the audience it is intended for, can the author raise the possibility that these jihadis might have some legitimate grievances, or some admirable points (the "magnificent bastard" is a great antagonist archetype), or even recognizably human characteristics (being Arabs, they aren't likely to pat the dog, but they *could* like horses)? If these are points that can't even be raised, then we're dealing with a stock story element of the genre that can't be altered. Then these jihadis can't be recognizable as human beings; that would break the story. They're just an instance of a repeating motif of the Evil Alien; bit players in a tragic story that will be recapitulated (with heroic success) in the struggle against Al Qu'uoda.

By making these baddies Muslims, the author doesn't necessarily mean that all Muslims are like this. But if he uses them as totally stock Muslim baddies, he'd be catering to a certain view that Muslims are by default terrorists until proven otherwise. And there is a market of people who have this world view and will pay to be flattered for having it.

So it boils down to the author's aspiration. Is he reaching for an inspirational tale of universal values? That will somehow leave the reader a better person than before he read it?

If so, the author should steer clear of stereotypes other than to subvert them. He should use *fictional* groups where he needs an archetype. This is the great advantage of speculative literature after all. Tolkien's orcs represent *all* corrupted humanity, not any particular nationality or race. If he made them, say, Jews, he'd be saying too much and too little at the same time. He'd be drawing attention to his own opinions about Jews, instead of universal truths.

On the other hand, if the author is merely seeking a market, he might find one with a less than inspirational story. One that is well-crafted enough to give it's ideological payload credibility with those who'd like to believe it.

Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :
Well, Osiris, I believe you are being ‘thin-skinned’ or overly sensitive.

Even within the Wahhabi sect, there are divisions, as demonstrated by Osama bin Laden’s militant version. In addition, the Wahhabi religion regards all other religions as being ‘infidel,’ including Shia and certain Sunni sects as being infidel and calls for their destruction. The use of the term ‘infidel’ is commonly used by Arabs (in Saudi Arabia) to describe Christians. Tolerance by the Wahhabi to other religions is almost non-existent, as contrasted to Christian tolerance of Islam.

In addition, the use of the term ‘Middle Eastern fanatics’ is justified because of the never-ending stream of men and women from that area who are willing to blow themselves up for a religious cause. What else is this behavior other than fanaticism? Extremism isn’t caused by ‘bad conditions,’ as evidenced by the leadership of al Qaeda coming from wealthy families.

And yes, I know who Saladin was, and yes, I’m writing for English speaking peoples, which justifies the use of the anglicized name of the great Kurdish warrior who fought the Crusaders and founded the Ayyubid Dynasty in Egypt. I did so because his name is more recognizable in that form.

Relax, this is fiction and these thirteen lines are just part of the opening setup for an apocalypse, and the antagonist (a music-loving, psychopathic Hell’s Angel) has not even set foot on stage. Kharim (an Iranian) is on stage for only one-half of the first chapter... This novel is not about Arabs.

Remember the first rule of writing... Write!


Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :
Hello, Matt;

This is my response to your first set of crits:

Yes, cutting unnecessary words does make writing better. I struggle with that all the time. As for the series blurb, that is for five novels, which covers significant territory. Take more away, and, well, I’m not sure it would alert the reader as to what is coming. I’ll take another look.

In this novel, somebody had to blow up the world. I just picked on ‘Middle Eastern fanatics’ because nobody would believe the Russians would do it anymore. Besides, who else has a major belief that the end of the world is a good thing?

As for the size of the electromagnetic pulse that makes everything electronic to fail? Well, consider cause and effect – it isn’t that everything electronic fails because of an EMP – it’s the other way around. So, I’m forced to indicate the size of the pulse, right? The pulse comes first. And it would have to be very massive.

As for leading with the last paragraph (thank you for the compliment!), gee, I’m not in the same class of writers as James Lee Burke. I don’t think I could get away with it.

As for the distinction to the degree of orthodoxy within the Wahhabi, see my comments above to Osiris. There are lighter shades of pale as well as darker shades of night.

Thank you for your comments. I will take another look at the dialogue to see if I can make it ‘edgier.’

Remember the first rule of writing… Write!


Posted by Osiris (Member # 9196) on :
I don't believe I'm being 'thin-skinned' at all. Take my comments like you'd take a critique and try to see how they related to writing and craft.

You might be writing for an English audience, but your characters will be more authentic if they don't sound like they are talking to an English audience in their dialog, especially when they are not talking to an English characters. It is a sort of variant of the "As you know, Bob..." thing.

I'll agree to disagree with you on all your other comments, since KDW would likely not want this hashed out here.

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Thank you, Osiris. Your forebearance and diplomacy are greatly appreciated.

Edited to add: a critiquer can only offer opinions and suggestions, and the author is free to ignore them. Arguing with them is frowned on here.

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited July 13, 2011).]

Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :
Hello, Matt;

This is my response to your second crit:

Yes, you’re right, the ‘jihadi geeks’ (as you so elegantly put it) are expendable characters. In fact, they’re on stage for only one-half of the first chapter. So, there’s no reason to get one’s undies in a bunch over them. I'm not picking on the Arabs.

Gee, I hope you weren’t implying that I was using a “pastiche of clichés” to express my “twisted and bigoted world views,” and that I’m putting a “heroic facade on my ugly insecurities.”

That seems like a lot to derive from a thirteen-line opener to a novel. If you were implying this, I'd consider it to be ‘argumentum ad hominem.’

I really hope this wasn’t your intention.

Your discussion of genre writing made me feel like I was back in freshman English class. I think I understand some of the basics of writing. I even get paid to lecture at writing conferences.

If there is any ‘ideological payload’ to my writing, it is the celebration of the western world’s love of liberty and justice. As for stereotypes, well, you’ll just have to read my novels to find out. (Are you an agent? If so, you might profit from reading my novels – hint, hint!).

Thank you for your thoughtful comments and insight.

Remember the first rule of writing… Write!

p.s. check on the usage of it’s and its


Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
mbwood, perhaps I read MattLeo's feedback incorrectly, but I thought he was talking about possible readers and not about you.
Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
Kathleen -- I was talking about potential readers, specifically how this opening scenario will limit the appeal of the story.

But I do have a message for Malcolm. I have my disagreements with what some people try to do in the 13 line crit exercise, but you *can* tell a surprising number of things from it. What I can tell in this case is that you can write a heck of a lot better than this.

How do I know? Because in the last paragraph you put us into the senses of the people in the scene. That's huge. That's voice. That's what Bertie Wooster would call "the real Tabasco". It made me sit up and pay attention, which is quite an accomplishment. The representation of jihadis themselves is not so impressive. They're stock characters doing stock things and thinking stock thoughts. We most definitely aren't in the heads of real people here. We're dealing third hand stuff we've all seen before. It's like having an Irish guy walk on and say "Begorrah!" Or a black guy calling a white guy a "jive turkey".

I understand that you aren't picking on Arabs or Muslims, and that these are just throwaway characters (see, I figured that out without reading the whole book!). But in fact I think this makes it worse. These Muslim stereotypes will walk on, destroy civilization, and walk off. If they were the focus of the book, you'd have room to add depth and nuance to them. Their infamy will live on in your universe, and stand for all Muslims everywhere.

Now a lot of Mormons here would probably be pretty concerned by a book which opened up with a portrait of a crazy guy who calls himself a Mormon and lives up in the hills with his ten wives, but in the course of a whole novel we'd almost certainly see him come into conflict with actual LDS church members. That would make the portrait credible,and certainly more interesting as we get into his rather weird world view. But if he walks on, kidnaps a young girl, and walks off, people would feel justly offended, because that reinforces what for ignorant people is the *essential* idea of what a Mormon is.

Of course there *are* people like that who call themselves Mormons, just like there are greedy money-grubbing Jews or black men who rape white women or cold, amoral Chinese criminal geniuses. But people like Fu-Manchu are wildly atypical of their ethnic groups. Here I think common decency and art require the same thing. It's cheap and easy to pull one of these stereotypes out of the bag because you don't have to do a lot of work explaining what they're about to the reader. But you'll lose thoughtful readers, like Osiris, and me, if you don't try harder.

And I know a lot more about what you're up to than what I learn from the 13 lines, because I have your blurbs. I know what you're aiming to do is to write an inspirational and exciting adventure story. If so, you should write up to your aspirations in both craft and in character.

If these jihadi guys are throwaway guys doing throwaway things, why bother with them at all? You've got maybe 100K words to inspire us, thrill us, and make us set our own aspirations for society higher. So why bring out the stock characters doing expected things? Either skip right to the story, or make the every word and character in the story count.

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited July 13, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited July 13, 2011).]

Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :

Without trying to get into the political discussion even though I partially agree with mbwood about that. The fact is fanatic Muslims are on people's minds these days. They really are out there just like a few years ago Communists were really out there and they were used as stock villains in thrillers as well as SF. During and for a while after WWII it was the Nazis. I think it was Hienlein who wrote a book about Nazis on the moon.

So even in today's PC age this is not at all unusual.

More later I have to time right now to finish this, but i got half of what I wanted said.

Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :
Pardon me, I'm not trying to be argumentative but this is a debate that can influence our writing.

But mbwood could have used the Chinese, Israel trying to take out the Iran Nuclear program but being almost too later and setting off five Nukes, or a group of heavy duty environmentalists who want to rid the world of as many people as possible and getting the survivors back to just the basics- there are environmentalists who think humans are a disease on the earth, or aliens that set off the EMPs or an Israeli-Arab war with Nukes being set off on both sides. But there will be people who will be offended at each of those Stock Villains including the aliens.

I'm sorry if people are offended but no matter what we do someone will be, including if we do nothing.

As to the rather or not it would make his writing better--- I really don't know. Best sellers use stock villains including fanatic Muslims and aliens who are almost a cliche. And these days you can say the same thing, as was said about his use of fanatic Muslims, about most groups he would use. (Shoulder shrug) Sometimes it's taking a chance no mater what you do.

Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :
Hello, LDwriter2;

Thank you for your comments
Yes, sometimes when writing, I need a ‘prop’ to introduce a scene, a mood, a conflict or just a setting. For this, I use ‘cardboard characters’ – y’know, something or someone brought on stage just long enough to effect a transition. This was the case with the first novel of the series – the apocalyptic event, which led to the post-apocalyptic society, which had to deal with ALIENS! Yikes! Now, let me see who will be offended by my treatment of the Aliens?

All kidding aside, there was something missed by my critiquers of the first thirteen, which is:
Kharim is an Iranian, and as such, a Shia. Now, a Wahhabi and a Shia are definitely not ‘comfortable’ with each other. So, Kharim is likely to have Iranian or Afghani helpers, with whom he would be more comfortable. This (unfortunately) confounds the assertion I was using (quote) *dirty* A-rabs as villainous cannon fodder from central casting. Sigh! How disappointing. As an aside, Ibrahim (the Wahhabi) has compunctions about using the nukes…

Anyway, LDwriter2, thank you for your thoughts and support. As I said earlier, it is fiction, and as such, should entertain, not arouse political ire.

Remember the first rule of writing… Write!


Posted by Osiris (Member # 9196) on :
Kharim is an Iranian, and as such, a Shia. Now, a Wahhabi and a Shia are definitely not ‘comfortable’ with each other.

Kharim is an Arabic name, more commonly spelled Kareem, so unless you give a hint that he is Iranian, the reader will believe he is Arab. It would be authentic to make the distinction as Iranians are ethnically Persians and many hate being called Arabs.

Also, 8% of Iranians are Sunni.

Forget for a moment that I told you about my personal background.

As writers, regardless of the politics, it is incumbent upon us to research our settings to make them as authentic as possible. Fiction should always strive to feel authentic to its readers. When an Iranian character has an Arabic name, it comes off as unauthentic to readers who know the difference, as does when a character speaks using words for the audience as opposed to the character he is speaking to.

Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
I think you overestimate my political correctness. In a contest between art and hurt feelings, art wins out in my book. *Lolita* is offensive to a lot of people, but as far as I'm concerned they can lump it. When a good piece of writing offends people, I'm on the author's side, because good writing reveals things you haven't thought about before. When a lazy piece of writing offends people, I'm with the the offended people, because they've been disrespected for no good reason other than the author couldn't be bothered to get things right.

Now let me talk about YOU, Malcolm. None of this applies to you yet because we're talking about a draft, and this kind of issue comes up all the time in drafts. Dialog may be wooden; plot usually has major holes; characters are often stereotypes. That happens to all of us, and is not a sign we are lazy writers because this is a draft. I'm giving you heads up that I think your opening scenario is going to cause you problems gaining an audience.

So what I don't want to do is to harden your position here because you think I'm calling you a bigot. I'm not saying you are a bigot, or insecure. I'm saying that you've selected an opening scenario that takes very thoughtful treatment and thorough research to carry off credibly.

I understand that this is a work of entertainment, but it still has to be believable, otherwise you lose the intelligent and educated readers. Almost every detail you bring into this scenario is going to open a can of worms. It's nice that you recognize there are both Shia and Sunni Muslims, but anyone who knows anything about Islam would find a Shiite and Wahabbist extremist working together on a bomb something that takes a lot of explaining. I think this is typical of such apparently simple but actually complex scenarios; they don't work until you've put a lot more work into them than you expected.

The craft issue I see here is that you don't have room to pull this scenario off in a prologue. One of the most common faults of early drafts is failing to launch the story in a timely fashion. Agents look askance at prologues, and while plenty published books have them, they tend to be short. You have maybe two or three thousand words to explain the whole thing. That also include straightforward issues of logical consistency; you have to explain how this group manages to launch a strike of the required scale. It can be done of course, but can you do it on a word count budget?

Another craft issue is evoking the feeling you want in readers consistently. I'd need to see more of the opening chapter, but the scenario is bound to evoke a variety of responses, not all of which serve your story. I'd have to see the full opening chapter to judge this, but I think it'll be hard to engage readers in this scene, which is populated by unsympathetic characters who are going to be gone after its finished, and whose conclusion is forgone for anyone who's read the cover blurb.

But if you can do it, more power to you.

I want you to understand I'm not pursuing a political agenda here. When I critique I'm *always* on the side of the author. My goal is to help you reach your goal for your manuscript. I think if I were an agent, I would be unlikely to look further than the scenario before moving on. There's the political correctness angle, of course, which would be a headache I don't need; but mostly because of my doubts this could be pulled of in a fresh and compelling way. But again, if you think you can do it, and you can convince an agent to read the story, good for you.

Good luck.

Posted by LDWriter2 (Member # 9148) on :
mbwood there is reason to not start a fire storm- of any type- but at the same time as I said that could be hard not to do at times. Some of the biggest writers in the past didn't seem to be too concerned about it. Either way it's your choice so do what you want or think is best.

And Osiris has a point a believe. One should be as accurate as possible but at the same time would most readers of this care or even notice if a name wasn't exactly right, It's like their words are being translated into english after all. And if the readers don't care should we be accurate anyway?

Matt if that point was for me... I could very well be overestimating your political correctness. I am a bit touchy on that after reading and hearing what many PCers say. But I tried to address it as a writing concern with just a slight touch with the political aspects of the conversation. There is some stuff Osiris said I disagree with but this isn't the place for it. And mbwood dealt with some of it.

I think your concern for the craft issue and the laziness of some writers is a good point.

[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited July 15, 2011).]

Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :
Hello, Matt;

It’s difficult to judge the quality of writing in the first thirteen, except by the immediate and visible faults or errors that jump out. To infer beyond that as to plot development, characterization and dialogue is a leap. The opening, where the ‘hook’ must work, is difficult and requires multiple tries. What you have read from me works for some, but not all. An editor said that it’s almost there but not quite. He wasn’t willing to take on five novels from an unknown.

As for a prologue, I recognize that published authors can use them, however, breakout writers – fuggedaboutit! So I did.

As for judging a writer’s ability, well, maybe the first chapter is required, maybe more. Perhaps that’s why agents like to see more than the first thirteen lines… Right? And are we, novice writers, better able to judge writing than agents who look at more of the writer’s product? I think not. At least, I cannot. Yes, I can see quickly if a writer violates the standards and practices of the craft – those writers aren’t ready for prime time. It becomes more difficult with writers who do have a good handle on their craft. Then their ability to plot, develop characters and present intriguing dialogue is put to test in the pages that follow.
These are some of the things that I talk about when I give presentations on writing, things learned over the past twenty-some years of writing fiction and attending writing workshops.

If you want to read the first chapter, I will send it to you. I would be interested in your response.

Remember the first rule of writing... Write!


Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
Go ahead and send me the chapter, if you'd like a more detailed critique.
Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :
Hello, Matt;

First chapter sent.

Posted by Tryndakai (Member # 9427) on :
So, I read a few of the above comments (for the rest, TLDR ) but I'm gonna change the subject a mo' from where it's been for the last few, and just say that I *really* liked your last three or so lines, MBW. The whole smell/sight/sound thing that I frequently harp on in my critiques was pulled off quite convincingly right there. It's true that you've got some very stock-seeming characters there, but it doesn't bug me as of yet. You are, after all, inside the head of Kharim there, and so should have ample opportunity to show a bit of individualism from his before he disappears, if only to keep fleshing out your world nice and convincingly. The comments above about accuracy, research, and credibility certainly do sound useful, and could pad your stock characters with a bit of steel to help prop up your general setting, if applied judiciously. After all, we don't want the "prologue" to become so long that it needs a sixth novel to carry off, do we?

And on that last note--perhaps it would be easier to sell your first novel as a stand-alone, since selling a series as an unheard-of author is so difficult. Can you conceive of the first installment of your epic as its very own entity, imagining that the rest of the books must be cut away, never to return? If it can stand alone like that, leaving room for the sequels without making the reader feel like you've missed some blatant loose threads, then I'd bet it would be easier to sell. The succeeding books can always be sold under a later contract, and perhaps even for a better deal, if the first does well. Plus, that way you could keep your query to a single blurb, and not scare off potential editors.

Much luck with your story.


Posted by mbwood (Member # 9525) on :
Hello, Tryndakai;

Thank you for your comments and (blush) your kind words.

The characters on the ‘first thirteen lines’ disappear (actually vaporized) before the end of the first chapter and the novel moves quickly onto its central theme, which is life (conflict) in a post-apocalyptic world.

Your question about whether the first novel can stand on its own without any reference to the following novels is a good one. I took a look at the ending and concluded that the ‘teaser’ ending of the first novel (to lure the reader to the next novel) should be removed for a stand-alone.

At this time, I’m using excerpts from the novels as entries in WotF contest – my first entry (relatively unpolished for the contest) did receive an Honorable Mention. I do have another entered in 2011Q3 contest, and have joined the 2011Q4 group to get critting for another entry. We’ll see how that works out.

So, back to this first thirteen. Maybe I could ‘stiffen’ these characters who are on stage first. I’m more inclined to look for a way to inject more tension and conflict on the first page to set the hook.

Again, thank you for your thoughtful (and complimentary) comments.

Remember the first rule of writing… Write!


Posted by Tryndakai (Member # 9427) on :
You're very welcome. Much luck again, with WotF entries and with publication.

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