I have 17,000 words so far in a story that is truly stretching me. It is a novel that will stretch back into the biggest battles in history and make you ask continually, "Was a Cicatrix there?" That is, if I can ever finish the bugger.
Genre: Fantasy, and I would like feedback on the first 13 and more if you are interested. Who would ever turn down help if it is offered? Not me.
13 lines from a Word document is below. Not sure how it appears on your screen, but if it is longer than 13 lines, please forgive and ignore any more than 13. Not my intent to break rules...
He put his right hand into the scanner as the electronic voice instructed. He felt the warmth of the machine as it scanned not just his fingerprints but his palm print as well. He hated the next part, and he winced just as he always did as the metallic teeth, like a saw blade, scratched from the base of his palm all the way to the tips of his fingers. The teeth peeled the top layer of skin off his hand—a precaution against anyone trying to beat the fingerprint scanner with some kind of synthetic.
What you are guarding is more dangerous than nuclear weapons…
Next was the retinal scan, first the regular, then a blast of cold air almost hard enough to push him back from the scanner, drying out his eye and forcing him to hold his eye open with his fingers to make sure his eye didn’t close. If it closed, he
All right. Here is a quick critique, hard (but well-intentioned) and fast.
First line: Name the character "___put his hand into the scanner..." I find this is one of the biggest novice mistakes at the opening of stories.
Second line: Wordy. Unless this is a new experience and he is accustomed to scanners that only scan fingertips and this is important to the story, then merely state "it scanned his hand from palm to fingertips."
Third line: Repetitive regarding "palms to fingertips". Perhaps combine and contract this with line two or better yet, omit line three completely and add "Metallic teeth peeled a line of cells from the top layer..." to line four.
Fifth line: Unclear. Who is the "you" referring to? The unnamed protagonist or the machine?
Sixth line: Not a fan of listing action, as in "Next was..." Show me. Does he lean into a retinal scanning device? Is it cold? Does it tingle or vibrate against his skin before the blast of cold air hits his eye (which is a glaucoma exam not a retinal scan by the way)? Or perhaps the device extends from the wall and glums onto his face or a pulsating linear beam of light flash across his eyes (or, it seems, one eye)?
Seventh line and following: Do you mean to suggest the scanning system is not the best in technology despite the terrible weapon it guards? That it will inadvertantly deny access because someone blinks? With all the care you describe admittance takes, it would seem the system designer would have accounted for blinking. [Side note: It might be interesting if the scanner not only matched retinal patterns but confirmed retinal blood flow at body tempaerature just in case some thief or terrorist cut off a hand or plucked out an eye to gain access.]
Other thoughts: The hook is that the behind the door is something "more dangerous that nuclear weapons." I'd like to know more about this, how horrible it is, even if indirectly, to really set the hook. As is I don't have enought information to make me care.
The setting in which the opening occurs, as well as the protagonist (and why he has access), are unknowns.
The opening conflict of the protagonist hoping to avoid remedial training by holding his eye open during scanning doesn't reall grab me.
I like the idea of a top security area, a device worse than nuclear weapons, and a protagonist who is a bit of a schlemiel (think clumsy carp).
Hi Lance, Here are my two cents, for what it's worth:
I don't understand the line "What you are guarding is more dangerous than nuclear weapons..." Who is saying that, the machine? Is he recalling someone else's words to him? I'm assuming because of the word you, that the line does not reflect his own thought.
I also think the phrase "first the regular" is vague. What is the norm for retinal scanning? You should probably describe that, at least a little, or take it out.
Also, there is repetition of the word eye in the next couple of sentences. Try not to use that word specifically more than once.
It probably wouldn't hurt to comb through this looking for extra words to be cut, also. For example if this story is third person, we know the character is the POV character so saying things like "he felt" isn't really necessary.
But I like it. I want to know what on earth he is guarding that could possibly be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Also, I realize since this is just the first thirteen, that some of my questions may be answered soon. It's hard to critique the first 13 because of this, I think.
Posts: 118 | Registered: Jan 2012
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I'm giving my feedback without reading the other feedback so my thoughts won't be influenced by what others have said, so sorry if I repeat things that others have already said.
I like the amount of personal detail, and the amount of this guy's personal reactions to the scanner and stuff. I'm getting a sense of this guy's character, and I'm able to envision what's happening right off the bat.
Peeling the top layer of skin off is cool. A nice addition to events that are otherwise pretty standard fare for sci-fi (retinal scanners, etc.) That makes your version stand out to me as cooler than the average "guy going through a bunch of identification machines" scene.
"What you are guarding is more dangerous than nuclear weapons…"
Why did you go 2nd person here? This doesn't make sense. I don't know who is saying/thinking it to whom. Quite confusing, and pulled me right out of what was a nice visual flow in my head. Also, if you fix that issue, in my personal opinion it would have more punch to it if it was its own paragraph (as it is) but with a simple period at the end rather than an elipsis. Just a nice, short, punchy statement addressed to the reader that would, in my opinion, have a nice impact. Again, once you get the "disembodied 2nd person speaker" issue worked out.
The blast of air in the eye with no blinking is another nice detail. Sounds excruciating, and puts me right in the middle of feeling it in my mind.
Overall, very nice. It hooks me, except for that one problematic line.
Posts: 1232 | Registered: Dec 2003
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I know this has been said and it's annoying but I have one question to ask. Is the 'what you are guarding is more dangerous than nuclear weapons...' line in italics in your document? If it isn't the italics can mean that its a flashback or memory of what is being said. Other than that I am interested. Who is this guy? Why is he guarding this? What is behind the door? I'm not so good at the thirteen line thing because I like to read into books and stories before deciding to continue or put a book down. I hope I helped in some way.
Posts: 58 | Registered: Feb 2012
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Just to answer some of these, the "What you are guarding is more dangerous than nuclear weapons" is italicized in my writing, though not here. It is the first half of a quote he has heard over and over again, and show's the speaker's bias since he is guarding a collection of Who's, not What's.
The scan that blew air onto his eye was to dislodge any contacts worn by the person being scanned, so the retina would be scanned, then scanned again while air was shot at the eye to show any change. Obviously something I should explain more fully but probably not in the first 13!
Posts: 15 | Registered: Aug 2012
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To show italics, bracket the italcized words with bracketed i and /i codes.
To indicate to the reader that there is a quote the character is remembering, use quotation marks.
"What you are guarding is more dangerous than nuclear weapons"
Again, naming your protagonist would elimiate this confusion:
"What you are guarding, protagonist is more dangerous than nuclear weapons"
A puff of air to dislodge contacts would need be fairly strong and has the problem of (1) impairing legitimate access for contact-wearers [you going to make them all wear glasses or explain how no one needs contacts anymore?], and (2) causing blinking and disrupting the access procedure with your indicated threat of remedial training.