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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Putting Down Roots - does it hook you?

   
Author Topic: Putting Down Roots - does it hook you?
Grayson Morris
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Here's the first 13 of a new story, 1600 words in total. Does it hook you?

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The air is breathable, and the xenoanalyzers didn't fingerprint anything ominous in the shuttle's initial samples, just a fine mist of airborne pollen and the usual carbon-based pathogens. They're all new, of course, but across two hundred and ninety worlds, the Okimund has never found an organism that didn't fit known DNA barcodes well enough to shelve it in among familiar species. Some of us think that means another, older race once colonized the planets in our corner of the universe, long before ours started leaving Terra to look for new worlds. If they did, they died out everywhere but Terra. We've never found even a trace of an intelligent species. But everywhere we go, life looks like life as we know it: full of recognizable DNA.
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Ethereon
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I'm interested and would probably continue reading based on the info given. However, it is a lot of setting/world information, and I'd be more hooked if you showed me a bit about the character too.

[This message has been edited by Ethereon (edited October 28, 2010).]


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alliedfive
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I find myself a little adrift here. I could do with a name, or a setting, or a conflict to ground me in the story. Right now, it's hard to tell why you're starting here, or where "here" is, and that makes it hard for me to be hooked.
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FreeThinkingRob
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Everything fits together nicely and the science is all plausible, nothing wrong there.

I'd agree with Ethereon about wanting to know a bit about the character. And it is a lot of telling and not much showing. Is this going to be all first person narrative?


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alliedfive
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One more thing.

Your opening sentence works against you. Especially this part: "the xenoanalyzers didn't fingerprint anything ominous"

Rather than giving us a hook of conflict, you're almost letting us know that there's nothing unusual going one, which makes me not care.

[This message has been edited by alliedfive (edited October 28, 2010).]


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Twiggy
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It would more be interesting if something more out of the ordinary was found.
Good world setting, but can you give us more to get into than a world please?
Character, setting, conflict; a bit of each would be nice.
Good luck with this

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sojoyful
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I tried to focus, but I found myself skimming, which is a signal that this is mostly setting/background and not forward motion. I suspect that your very next sentence/paragraph is where the actual story starts.

Also, in the course of skimming, what my brain latched on to most was the first and last phrases. They were:

"The air is breathable."
"...everywhere we go, life looks like life as we know it: full of recognizable DNA."

You have handicapped yourself here, because you're basically telling the reader that there is nothing interesting or out of the ordinary going on.

Try starting the story where the action begins, and the post a new 13. I'll look forward to seeing it!


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Osiris
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The science sounds solid, I'm a biologist working in genetics and it is extremely believable to me that DNA be recognizable throughout 290 worlds.

I believe the "ordinaryness" of the DNA here is being used to set up the discovery of some mysterious, very unusual, DNA samples. I could be wrong but that's the feeling I get from the first 13, and that mildly hooks me.

I think whats missing are some concrete details. What is the conflict? Who are the characters? There is a lot of telling, but it would be stronger if you showed the process of discovery. Show a character using the zenoanalyzer on whatever planet they are exploring. Show the characters reaction to yet another ordinary find. Is he/she dissappointed? Working in this action will allow you to show the details you are currently telling about, and I think this will give your opening a bigger punch.


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WouldBe
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I agree with the consensus. Good world but a bit info-dumpish. Maybe the story should start somewhere else. Osiris' comments are encouraging about what you've got cooking.

This line I think would be improved by clarifying 'they': If they did, they died out....

This is a little awkward: ...life looks like life as we know it:...
Maybe something like, life looks much the same:...

I wonder if 'shuttle' gives the right impression. It's a generic term, but it's also a well-known space program that's about to end.

Good luck with it.


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DavidS
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Pretty much on the same page as everyone else here. I think it would work better with shorter, sharper sentences. The first sentence particularly, as you're trying to drag the reader in.

WouldBe mentions the work shuttle. Looking at that I think you could just cut the word as part of tightening up the sentences:
"There was nothing ominous in the initial samples,..."

A slight hint at what's not normal, as opposed to what is, would be good.

Having said that, I like the direction the story seems to be taking and would most likely read on.


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Brendan
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I'm with the others above. But I'll add a smaller, technical point.

quote:
They're all new, of course, but across two hundred and ninety worlds, the Okimund has never found an organism that didn't fit known DNA barcodes well enough to shelve it in among familiar species.

"never found" and "didn't fit" is a double negative, which confuses a lot of people. However, this additionally had a qualifier on the second negative, "well enough", that makes it even more confusing.

Another question, why use the term "barcodes"? To me, that made me think it was some sort of shopping. A word like profile may be better, unless there is something I don't know about to make it authentic science.


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Grayson Morris
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Thanks, everyone, for the excellent feedback. I'm going to start the story elsewhere and post a new 13 in a new thread.

FreeThinkingRob - yes, the whole story is in first person.

Osiris - oh, how wonderful to have a geneticist here. Would you be willing to read the entire story (about 2K) for science content? I think I've got it right, but I'm not in that field myself.

Brendan - "barcode" is the term used for the 648-base-pair section of mitochondrial C01 gene DNA used to identify animal species. (Have I got all that right, Osiris?)

Again, thanks a million, all....new 13 coming up.

[This message has been edited by Grayson Morris (edited October 29, 2010).]


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Osiris
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Hi Grayson,

My training is actually in neuroscience, but I got into genetics via the Human Genome Project's need for people with general biology and computer background. I work in bioinformatics, basically meaning I analyze DNA on a computer screen. I am more involved troubleshooting of wholesale sequencing and not so much in the details of individual genes.

Your description of a barcode is a specific type of barcode. In general, it does not have to be the C01 gene (though it most commonly is) but mitochondrial DNA is a good source for a barcode gene because mDNA mutates at a fast rate, which allows for differentiation from other organisms. It would be hard to distinguish organisms by their DNA if you chose a gene that is well conserved across organisms.

In any case, I'd be happy to read your story, though I have a bit of a backlog of both revision and critiques to do for a number of people. Feel free to e-mail it to me at your leisure.


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