This is the first 13 of a scifi short story (2000 words) set in future U.S. It is actually written for the PARSEC SciFi and Fantasy Short Story Contest (www.parsec-sff.org/contest.html) I'm looking for a couple of people that want to read and bloody it up for me.
Jake loved the smell of the weight room. The intoxicating mixture of metal and sweat made him feel powerful and helped him to forget how crappy his life had turned out. Most of the time, he lifted with his eyes closed to heighten the effect, but couldn't stop himself from peeking out once in a while to scan the room. No matter the pleasure, he couldn't let go of a lifetime of caution. He watched Carly from the moment she walked through the door. She threaded her way past the men and machines, looking out of place in her business suit and high heels. Shrugging off the appraising looks with an obvious show of distaste, she finally stopped before Jake and waited. Jake knew his sister, she would stand there waiting until hell froze over or he finally acknowledged her -- whichever came first.
Right. I must be in picky mood today. I wouldn't take my comments personally as an attack. Keep that in mind.
quote:Jake loved the smell of the weight room.
Already, I don't care about this character. Weight rooms never smell nice, in my opinion. Surely, there's a better reason for being in a weight room? Perhaps the smell reminds him of something good earlier in his life. But to say that he loved the smell of the weight room just for what it is, well... that troubles me as a reader.
quote:The intoxicating mixture of metal and sweat made him feel powerful and helped him to forget how crappy his life had turned out. Most of the time, he lifted with his eyes closed to heighten the effect, but couldn't stop himself from peeking out once in a while to scan the room. No matter the pleasure, he couldn't let go of a lifetime of caution.
Okay, now I'm really freaked out by this guy. Still, that last sentence says tons about this guy's personality. It's a good line. I feel it should come first.
quote:He watched Carly from the moment she walked through the door.
And you tell us afterwards that she is his sister? This is way too late. I thought you had something really good happening until I found it was his sister. I thought Carly might have been a love interest -- someone he pined over while he was alone... I strongly urge you to say she is his sister immediately, or your risk other readers drawing the same conclusion I did.
Overall, the writing is solid. But I'm not hooked (and not because I don't care about the POV). I'm not hooked because there is nothing that makes me want to see what happens next. No conflict, no sense that something is going to happen or change. Just a guy enjoying himself in the weight room and watching his sister come in. Fairly tame, in my opinion. Still, "the lifetime of caution" almost put me into the story, but then you raised my ire by misleading me with Carly.
Hello. I'm going to join HSO in the picky club i'm afraid.
I didn't mind the first bit. Some people are strange & may like the smell of a weight room. People associate feelings pretty strongly with smells according to some science programs i've watched. So maybe this is ok. I'd probably try & say that he the smell made him comfortable & allowed him to bond with the room or something though, rather than he actually liked the smell.
I agree about the bit that HSO said you told us Carly was his sister too late. There is a rather dissappointing line in it for me too - 'Jake knew his sister'. Well yeah, like most people know their sisters. I mean you cant really miss them, unless you were separated at birth or something. Maybe the line should go something like 'Jake new his sister all too well'....or 'jake was used to the way his sister expected attention'. Or something like that.
Please could you give us more info about what the story is about too. Maybe i'd feel like I wanted to read more if I knew what was happening. Maybe I need a synopsis or something before reading this first passage.
Sorry dood. I'm a lot worse writer than anyone on these boards anyway, seeing as I've not even finished 1 thing yet. So dont take my comments too harshly eh?
[This message has been edited by benskia (edited March 23, 2005).]
Thanks for the feedback. Neither of you sounded all that picky, just helpful. Yeah, I can see how not knowing she is his sister at first may throw the reader off -- easily fixed. As for the conflict, it is introduced in the next sentence -- maybe a little late -- I wanted the reader to get a snap-shot of Jake and his sister before throwing him into it. I'm sure this passage can be tighten up to get it there quicker. Yeah, the dude loves the smell of sweat -- go figure. benskia, In this story, court battles are fought by gladiators instead of lawyers and Jake is a retired fighter who owns his own gym. His sister is delivering a message that starts the conflict rolling.
Posts: 266 | Registered: Mar 2004
First off, the stuff that's been said but is worth restating: The first thing anybody thinks when a female character walks into a room and a male character is watching her: LOVE INTEREST! We have got to know that she's his sister right away, or we feel cheated. I don't mind Jake loving the smell of the weight room--although "intoxicating" is going a bit far, IMO--if it connects him to a memory, since smell is the strongest stimulus of memory we know of. (Think about the smell of crayons or play-dough, for example.) But it would be good to know what memory he links that smell to. And if you don't know what that memory is, here's a good opportunity to flesh out your character a bit! I'm with HSO in that the most intriguing thing you've got here is that he has lived a lifetime of caution. But since this is a short story, you don't have as much room to set things up before we get bored and go read something else. I need to see that something is unusual about this meeting with his sister, or whatever the conflict is going to be, within the first thirteen lines, or I'm going to give up.
There wasn't a whole lot else that I noticed. This sentence:
quote:The intoxicating mixture of metal and sweat made him feel powerful and helped him to forget how crappy his life had turned out.
was awkward, especially the last bit about his crappy life. Also, a minor technical detail, I think you want a semicolon after "Jake knew his sister" instead of a comma.
Other than that, I like your writing style. Just take me somewhere with it, and you'll be all right!
Here is an update, taking your comments into account:
Jake loved the smell of the weight room. The soothing mixture of metal and sweat helped him to forget how crappy his life had turned out. Most of the time, he lifted with his eyes closed to heighten the effect, but couldn't stop from peeking out once in a while to scan the room. No matter the pleasure, he couldn't let go of a lifetime of caution. He noticed his sister as soon as she walked through the door. The only time Carly came to see him was when Vera was in trouble. He watched as she thread her way past the men and machines, looking out of place in her business suit and high heels. Shrugging off the appraising looks with an obvious show of distaste, she finally stopped before Jake and waited. Jake increased the pace of his workout, eyes tightly closed, determined to hold on to his tranquility for as long as possible.
Jake noticed his sister as soon as she walked into the weight room. The only time Carly came to see him was when Vera was in trouble. He watched as she threadED her way past the men and machines . . .
. . . Jake increased the pace of his workout, eyes tightly closed, determined to hold on to his tranquility for as long as possible.
-- I am less interested in him because of the last line. It makes me see him as a real coward. If he decided to get in one more set, to make her wait, because he's annoyed at her, that wouldn't bother me so much.
I think it's ok to have a character with unsympathetic traits, but I want something about him that I *like* before I'll invest much in reading about him.
[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited March 24, 2005).]
As someone who loves the smell of Darkrooms (especially the fixer) and didn't mind the smell of his wrestling gym (though it stunk to high-heaven and low-hell), I can completely sympathize with this guy and his love of the smell of the weight-room. I think that it really helps to define him, and I like it.
Though it is clearly important "No matter the pleasure, he couldn't let go of a lifetime of caution." seems a bit forced to me. I just doesn't fit in smoothly with the surrounding sentances. I'm sorry that I don't have any comments regarding how to tweak it.
Finally, I must disagree with wbriggs. Jake doesn't seem cowardly to me. Just because someone treasures tranquility is not a sign of weakness. His sister is portrayed as a strong woman, yet he is willing to make her wait for those extra few moments of peace. Because he is willing to do it, he isn't weak. But, because it takes work, he isn't especially strong either. He lands right in the middle, about where most of us are.
Over all, I like it, and will be willing to critique it in whole.
Dude, you have the pleasure of being my first crit. First, It looks good. I would keep reading. But... For some reason "Most of the time, he lifted" dosn't sound right to me. How about: He like to lift... Also if the "The only time Carly came" sentance could be the second to last giving Jake a reason to ignore her. And lastly if he wanted to hold on as long as possible why hurry? It may make him seem more in control. Hope that helps.
[This message has been edited by jimmyjazz951 (edited March 26, 2005).]
Much better. I don't know what to think about the last line, after people have had so many different views on it. My first thought was that, simply by trying to hold on to the tranquility, he lost it. Actually, he lost it as soon as his sister stepped into the room, since she disturbed his workout by just showing up.
So it really depends on what your character is like, and that's up to you to decide.
I shall pleasantly disagree with everyone who insists the woman be instantly revealed as the sister. I found myself wondering, "Who is this? Business suit? Is it his lawyer? His business manager?"
Gentle readers, I pose the question to you: what makes us eager to have any woman character sifted out and immediately identified as to whether or not she is the main love interest? Such things are not so tidy in real life and would take some of the fun of exploration out of our characters' lives I should think.
The point of your opening is to hook the reader into continuing to read; I think the question about the woman's identity provides a bit of lead in as we try to figure out who she is. I might even suggest building that suspense a tad as you introduce her, with something like "Dressed in a business suit, the woman walking through the gym looked out of place..."
Also, regarding the smell in the gym... while someone who loves the smell of a gym seems a little odd, you can quickly turn that sentence into something that is a good hook with a little work.
Smells are deeply connected with our emotions and our memories. I think we could relate to the character more if the spin was more about how the smell is triggering a good memory or a feeling of well-being for the character, rather than the fact that it's gym sweat.
Inferring that this smell triggers a positive memory for him also hooks us into wondering what it was? What was this formative experience for the character?
Okay, for those who disagree, I'll explain why I feel the sister should be mentioned right away.
POV. When this woman walks in to the gym, Jake is going to recognize her as his sister that instant. He's not going to inwardly say, "Hey that woman is out of place." He's going to think: "My sister looks out of place dressed like that."
Therefore, by holding back that information, it's only creating false suspense. The POV rule is: If a character knows something, so should the reader. Building up false suspense only creates annoyance in a reader when the suspense resolves.
Now, if this scene (or any scene) were written in omniscient, you could get away with misleading the reader by using omission. But it's not omniscient. It's in Jake's POV. So, you absolutely must be honest in writing what Jakes sees, thinks, and knows. No tricks, no false suspense allowed. One way of real suspense development is through character interaction, and having those characters unsure how to deal with a person, place, thing, or event, impending or current.
[This message has been edited by HSO (edited March 27, 2005).]
I remember critiquing someone's story (not here). A woman was being stalked. At the end of something like the page 30, the stalker caught her, and she kissed him, because he was her husband and they were playing a game.
Since I was with the writer, I was nice and didn't rip the story into shreds and burn it on the spot.
I think that if he is a gladiator then that should be the opener. Maybe description of how some of his old wounds hurt when he starts lifting the weights? Maybe focussing on the dread he has because his sister is bringing him a dueling contract?
Posts: 245 | Registered: Feb 2005
This is my first post to this forum, and since I haven't posted my introduction yet, I should tell you that I read a lot, but I'm not in general a fan of SF/Fantasy. That might partly explain why your fragment caught my interest more than about 95% of the 30 or so fragments I've read.
For what it's worth, I liked the first revision better than the second. It doesn't bother me that the protagonist likes the smell of the gym - that piqued my interest. As for "knew his sister", I think it's clear that you mean "knew his sister deeply" rather than "was acquainted with his sister", and your statement raises some interest as to what kind of relationship they have. It _might_ be better to say right away that the woman is his sister. I understand HSO's point and it is a good one, but it doesn't bother me that you put it off 3 sentences. When you don't say anything misleading, it doesn't feel to me that you are tricking the reader.
I'm hooked on these questions: . Why does he like the smell of the gym? . How is his life crappy? . Why did he have a lifetime of caution? . What the nature of his relationship w/ his sister? . Why is she in the gym in a suit?
These points don't hit you over the head like some of the wilder SF/Fantasy stuff, but for me they are a lot more intriguing. And for me the questions about his sister and what she wants are somewhat weaker in the second version.
[This message has been edited by Beauregard Doumitt (edited March 27, 2005).]
[This message has been edited by Beauregard Doumitt (edited March 27, 2005).]
Don't mind that he likes the smell of the gym. It defines the character. I do mind that so far, this appears as just a regular gym with a regular jock doing his thing. Bor-ing. How about a little hint at something darker going on here? Like the person who suggested old wounds aching.... How about letting us see a nasty scar in the mirror or maybe some bloody clothes cast off in a corner? Not overdone, but just enough to make us wonder...maybe this isn't just a regular gym after all. And the sister thing. I don't mind that you describe her as attractive and that all male eyes turn toward her as she walks in, but I would identify her as Sis right up front, BUT do it in a more natural way. By that I mean, have them exchange some flippant but affectionate dialogue, like a real brother and sister might exchange under the circumstances. Something like, he says, with a whistle, "New shoes, Sis? Hot! What rich stuck-up client were you trying to impress today?" And she says, "Someone who's going to get you out of here and back on top, Big Brother." This would allow you to 1)peg her as attractive, but 2)also a sister and therefore no love interest and 3)establish their relationship. That aside, if you don't get a hook of interest in my mouth pronto, I'm not taking the bait. Sci Fi readers want to know there will be something cool, or at least a strong hint at it, right from the start. I must admit, thought,I like your story idea. It has possibilities. Good luck, Judith
Posts: 142 | Registered: Jan 2005
I like him liking the smell of the gymn; I like the smell of both the weightroom and wrestling room (not that I'd want aroma candles made in those scents, of course; I like the associations, and I think that's what you're getting across just fine here).
I agree in principle about identifying the sister immediately, although I didn't feel the first way you had it was too bad. I agree that the sentence about the lifetime of caution feels forced; you could probably make it simpler and more snappy. Something like "...scan the room. Caution was a habit in his old profession." It also lets you sneak in a little information about your background.
I don't mind him trying to hold on to his tranquility; it may be futile, but it is very human. It does seem odd that he increases his pace to do so, though.
On the whole I like this, though. Your concept is good, and your lead-in doesn't try to shock us with a strange setting, but gets us into through characters that we can at least recognize and find interesting. If you're still looking for readers, I'll take a look and try to get it back to you within a few days.
Thanks for all the input. I just returned from vacation, so I will send this out to those that were interested in reading. It is still a draft, so please give me any input that seems appropriate.
[This message has been edited by Dude (edited April 04, 2005).]