On the afternoon before my sixteenth birthday, my grandfather commanded me to ascend the Tower of Sages with him, the highest place in the city of Hebora. We watched the setting sun, and as the last wash of twilight failed he seized my arm. “There! Do you see it?”
A silver spark lay suspended just above the horizon. “What is it?”
A chill more bitter than the desert night gripped me. “What must I do?”
“You must take your father's war bow, and eagle-fletched arrows,” he said. “You know these things?”
The wind blew the tent flap closed behind David. "Hebora?" Elvis stood. "Hebora." "Tonight?" Elvis poked him in the chest. "Tonight." David accepted a small scroll from Elvis's hand and slid it up his sleeve. "May I see the marshal about a horse?" "No, and you will take our last Heboran piglet." "A burlap sack, then?" Elvis settled at his desk, dipped a feather in an inkwell then turned his eyes to his writing. "Tuck the pig under your arm. And don't drown in the river."
An hour and a half later David stepped from the thin trees at the base of the South Tower and stood in the torch light. He thrust the black-snouted piglet high above his head.
The city stank worse than usual tonight, and not because I was on Sixth Street with its homeless gryphons and sh*t-eating micro demons. It wasn't the ogre gangs either; the police did a sweep a week ago to thin them down. No, this stench was something new and not like anything I'd smelled before in Hebora.
Stepping out onto Hebo Lane where dilapidated hovercabs flitted past, I opened my leather jacket and unbuttoned my shirt to expose the gills on my torso. The mutation that endowed me with the seventh and eighth senses with which I can perceive the quantum underworld was useful, if not convenient. What I sensed told me it was going to be a long night. A malevolent form of Chaos was choking the city and would destroy it before dawn. If I was going to save Hebora, I needed help.
The wind gusted, and the wounded finch was tossed fluttering in its wake. The frail scroll tied to its crippled leg tore along one trailing edge, changing the character of the rune it bore.
Faint lights winked beneath shifting veils of fog, and the finch espied the black spires of the city. Darting between volleys of rain, it alit with relief and exhaustion upon the protruding lip of a granite gargoyle who leered over the parapet bearing the sigil the finch had been commanded to seek. The deed accomplished, the finch raised its head to sing.
And the gargoyle's jaws crushed it between serrated teeth.
The torn scroll drifted down to the night-shrouded streets of cursed Hebora.
[ October 23, 2013, 12:05 PM: Message edited by: History ]
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Pitchfaud Road's easy wagon trail ended at Crygiver Plane. Beyond the Gulch Ruin, the donkey track faded into Tappen Parch. Their handler took the animals back the way they'd come. After the Short Pump trading outpost, beyond Triggerwood Groves and its brittle limb dead falls, and Hastole Rapids, the watercourse dry, farther than the Three Canyon ford--at the Dead Dome Pass, the thirsty bearers turned back. Shane Conlow and Gwen Barboy trudged on, bound for Hebora Crater, days alone across the Maulted Edges porting their mining equipment by stages. They stopped on the rim among jutted crags, warm earth under their metal soles these hundred years after the thousand-ton rock puckered the city. The crater still smouldered. Sunrise painted the black rim’s gold, silver, and copper splatters a fiery light.
Not sure if I got the length right (but it's similar to other entries' lengths). If it's too long I can pull out the sentence or last line of the sentence about the cranes.
The Price of Freedom
The great fire eagle soared high above the canyon city of Hebora. It’s brilliant yellow and orange feathers flashing brightly against the sky. The piercing eyes searched over the abundant prey to find an easy catch.
All along the cliffs of Hebora men in rags, like tiny ants, moved about, busily working the massive quarry of hard black rock. Giant cranes lowered rough-hewn stones down to the canyon floor amidst the multitude of clanking and yelling of men at work.
Suddenly, the great bird folded it’s enormous wings and fell like fire from heaven towards the edge of the plateau above the cliffs. It climbed slowly, but triumphantly back into the sky leaving the rest of the screaming, terrified workers in the chaos below.
One man, however, squinting up through the bright sunlight wore a grin on his gaunt, sun-burnt face wider than the eagle's wings.
These are thirteen lines according to my MSWord, though there is some difference in that and the box on this browser.
A Question of Jurisdiction
A shot bounced from the boulder I hid behind into a copse of bladder trees just below me and Venny on the scree-filled slope. I drew my sidearm. "You didn't say the guards would shoot with no warning, Venny!"
"I told you they didn't like strangers in Hebora, Mack," the Heboran said, flashing a smile at me. If not for her mustache of thin tentacles, she could have passed for a pale human. "You notice she wasn't shooting at me."
"How about convincing them to cease fire? I'm with you, remember? I'm not looking to profit from the moving city." I stole a glance at the Heborans guarding the cave entrance. Another shot threw debris from the boulder in my face and I dropped back down. "This wasn't our deal."
"Sure it is," Venny said, "I said I'd get you into Hebora."
Hebora was the city of the dead. Strange shadows slipped over rooftops, and hung from the barred windows. Even the sky scrapers had bars lining the windows, as if iron were enough to keep the shadows from coming in. The real defense was music. My earbuds sent the shadows scurrying as I waved at a mouse chewing on the shoe of a long fallen citizen. I sang along after that, hoping my voice would find someone. Someone more than skulls and shadows. Underneath the city, a pipe clanged. I heard the music then, the deep and resonating bass of a thousand men singing the same three words over and over. I ducked within the nearest building. My apartment was only seven doors away, but the Singers were too close. The building was unlocked. That should have been my first warning.
I backed into the alley, hugging the dripping brick wall as I waited for the black form to pass. The shadowy figure, silhouetted in the darkness by orange streetlights, slid by. My back felt like the shiny streets, slick with cold sweat and, after waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I fled.
I made sure the three locks were secure on my front door and grabbed a beer from the fridge. I let out a deep sigh and sat down hard on my ancient couch, turning on the TV, anxious for the football game to begin--anything to erase the near-paralyzing fear that drove me home.
The hair on my head rose as I sensed someone else in my apartment. From behind me I heard the words, “Luke Devon, I am Pardith Avermath, and have come to escort you to Hebora. From this point, on this plane, you are dead.”
“No, really. Tell me again, how do you lose a city?” Japheth’s voice materialized a second before his body. As the imp languidly settled himself onto my control console, I dove for the lockdown key. He poked at one of the buttons, disappointed.
The faint scent of ozone trailed through the cabin after him. For good measure, I shut off the atmospheric alarms, too. With a thin smile, I swung my chair to face him. “I didn’t lose it.”
He craned his long neck to peer out the viewscreen at the asteroids tumbling by. He lifted his hands off the console one by one by one to examine the lighted panels, as if evidence of my home, Hebora, might be hiding beneath his multi-jointed fingers. When he looked back at me, his craggy face split into a wide grin. “Uh, huh, whatever you say, boss.”
In Hebora, nobody comes to live. This is where people come to die. Most of them don't know it, though.
Erik walked the streets of Hebora. It was a city made entirely of back alleys: narrow, winding tunnels through a maze of brick walls, always shining and dark with rain. He liked walking on nights when he couldn't sleep, which was most nights anymore. At night, the people of Hebora let you see who they really were.
He came around a bend in the labyrinthine alleyway and found two guys and a girl huddled around a burning tire. They were all hard angles made of black leather and silver spikes, and they glared at Erik with cold eyes like he didn't belong. Which was true.
Erik had no intention of dying; he had come to Hebora to kill.
The crowd before me is an ocean, their hushed whispers lapping at my feet, drawing me ever closer to drowning. I hide behind a podium that comes up to my chest, just shy of my pounding heart. On the top corner of the podium is a symbol I know well - a circle and a line, trailed by three dots. It is a dandelion, the emblem of the generation ship Hebora. I run a finger over the simple engraving.
A memory comes to me. It is my first visit to the organic garden, and my father takes me to a small glass display with flowers that look like snowy white globes. “These are dandelions, Ryan,” he tells me. “Look closely. See how dandelion heads are actually made of hundreds of individual filaments? Those are its seeds. Hebora is a dandelion seed carried afloat on astral winds. We are a light for humanity, flying across the universe as far as hope can reach.”
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Here are my comments and votes. Such good entries, I really would love to read any stories that come from this challenge. Great creativity evident in this batch of openings.
Right of Passage
I love the feeling this gave me as I read it. Had a very high-fantasy vibe, and it promises an epic tale to come. I’d definitely read on to find out what happens to our 16 year-old hero/heroine. I do wish I knew whether our narrator is a boy or a girl, and I wish I knew the MC’s name, which could clear up the gender question. Speaking of names, didn’t like Ur-Hebora. Grandfather’s terse response did not answer the question of what the spark was to any fraction of satisfaction on my part, so I couldn’t share the chill it apparently engendered in our MC. I’m quite sure that we’ll get there further along, but my initial reaction was underwhelming. Still, I’d continue.
Love the humor in this. Rapid-fire dialogue is an unconventional opening but not a deal breaker, especially with the later revisions adding more framework to support the conversation. I’m expecting a fun read here, and I’d certainly ride along for a while. My only worry with this first 13 is that right now, David seems very stupid. Why does he accept without question what seems like reprehensible treatment from Elvis? I have a hard time liking stupid MCs, but hopefully David will reveal himself to have some brains later on. Or maybe the pig will?
Not on My Shift
Really good setting development in the first paragraph. Loved the image you put in my head of homeless gryphons roaming a city street. The second paragraph gave me setting disorientation for a minute. Hovercabs and torso gills clashed with my earlier notion of a place filled with mythological creatures. It’s a strange world you’ve got going here, a little bit unsettling, but maybe that’s a good thing. I liked the voice; it felt very like the narration from a vintage hardboiled-detective story. I’d read on.
Lost in the City of Souls
This definitely sets a brooding and ominous tone. Didn’t see the bird’s demise coming at all, nice bit of shock there. Really vivid descriptions – loved “Faint lights winked beneath shifting veils of fog…” Gorgeous, evocative writing. A question that came into my mind is whether a crippled finch would sing. I’m not an ornithologist, but I don’t think I’d want to sing if I was hurt and I’d just flown a difficult journey through a storm with a scroll tied to my injured leg. I know, I’m over thinking, applying human sensibility to a fictional finch. In terms of the challenge criteria, I wonder who the requisite Heboran character is. The gargoyle? I’d definitely read on with the expectation that other players will present themselves soon.
Painstreak on the Rim
So, a late title change? I certainly get a strong sense of setting here, and the determination of Conlow and Barboy is made clear via their arduous trek. I liked seeing the two reach Hebora Crater, with its deposits of precious metals promising the aforementioned paystreak. The many proper nouns were a bit overwhelming for me. I counted eleven capitalized names in the first two paragraphs, not counting the characters’ names. Are all of those place names imperative to the story, or could some of them be replaced by more generic labels? Some nice phrasing, like …”hundreds of years after the thousand-ton rock puckered the city.” I’d read on for a while.
The Price of Freedom
You presented a pretty powerful visual of the fire eagle soaring over the quarry. I have a clear image of the ragged workers scrambling to avoid being the bird of prey’s dinner. Are the men enslaved? It would seem so. Are their overlords unable to deal with the eagle, or do they just not care about losing a man here and there? The last sentence was intriguing. Some of the writing needs polish, but I would read on to learn why the man had a grin on his face amidst such despair.
A Question of Jurisdiction
A good start here. I’m interested in the world you’ve created, with its bladder trees and tentacular natives. You’ve definitely met the criteria of establishing setting, introducing a Heboran resident, and immersing me into the opening scene. Nice work. That said, I’ve got to mention that the first sentence bothers me. So many prepositions. Could it be condensed somehow? Love the casually relayed information that Hebora is a moving city. Really makes me want to read more.
A Dark Transparent
A strong and intriguing opening. I liked the urban setting and the first person POV. You make me want to know why the MC is living in what seems like a largely abandoned city and who the Singers are. I was a little bit thrown by your double reference to music. First it’s a source of solace to the character, and she sings aloud apparently hoping to reveal herself to another person. Next, she hears music that obviously terrifies her, and she tries to hide from the people singing. I think more information about why the second instance of music is ominous would help. I definitely want to know what is going to happen next, especially with the enticing last line.
Defender of the Dead
I liked the set-up: first we’re plunged into a frightening alley where the MC is trying to avoid a sinister figure, next we’re safe behind a triple-locked door. Except we’re not. Love the name of Luke’s escort – Pardith Avermath? Awesome. So, the opening does not begin in Hebora, but it’s a safe bet we’ll end up there with Heboran home-boy Pardith. So many good questions in my head from this 13. Why is Luke suddenly dead to his world? Why is Pardith taking him to Hebora? What’s going to happen there? Good, good stuff.
Nicely done. I was engaged from the get-go. A spaceship with a resident space imp? Reminds me of the old Star Trek series, and that’s a compliment. Then, we have the mystery of the MCs lost home, the city of Hebora. Is the city on a planet that’s gone missing, or is Hebora located on an asteroid? Wish I knew the POV characters’ name and gender. Reads like a woman, but I’m not sure. This 13 promises a fun and polished story with a sharp protagonist who solves the present problem with – or in spite of- his/her magical sidekick. Would I read on? Oh, yeah.
Everybody’s down on omniscient POVs these days, but I’m not one of the haters. I like your opening statements as a means of giving the reader some privileged information, but I wish those first three sentences were in past-tense since the rest of the 13 are. I do wonder why Erik is living in Hebora if nobody comes to live there. I’m also confused by the statement about people of Hebora letting you see who they really were at night. Huh? Are they different in the day? Some good description in the last paragraph – I could clearly see a trio huddled around a burning tire, all in black leather and spikes. BTW, I’m pretty sure that a tire fire releases all sorts of toxic gases, but maybe the trio doesn’t care? To read on for much longer, I’m going to need to see the MC doing more than walking around observing things. Which could very well be imminent with the fume breathers, right?
Fall From Light
I like the setting, the world you’ve created here. A casino under a clear dome that offers a front row seat to a killer aurora. Really nice, very creative. My interest grows with the information that the MC was present during a recent assassination. It all seems pretty much tell right now, though, and I’m wanting some show. I also think that dropping the “Hi” in the first sentence wouldn’t hurt. You’ve got me intrigued by your world, but I want the story, please. I’d read on for a while in hopes that things started happening.
Message to Hebora, A.D. 21XX
Love the dandelion motif. Love it. This is a grand beginning, with lofty prose, and it promises that the story to come will surely be dramatic, heroic, and perhaps tragic. Is Ryan a young man? The name implies such, but the descriptions from the narrator (hushed whispers, pounding heart, hiding behind a podium) strike me as more feminine. I definitely want to find out what dilemma Ryan faces.
1st place = Rehoming Fee 2nd place = Defender of the Dead 3rd place = A Question of Jurisdiction
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I really liked the tone shift. I'm enjoying some nice, pretty visuals, and then BAM! The bird is crushed! No real character yet, but I'm okay with that because the opening tells me, "this author is having fun playing with this, and it looks like it's going to be a fun ride."
2nd place: Not on my Shift
I really liked the setting. Good work done world building really quickly. The contemporary criminal monsters struck me as cool. "The mutation that endowed me with the seventh and eighth senses with which I can perceive the quantum underworld was useful, if not convenient" strikes me as a bit heavy-handed and info-dumpy, but obviously it didn't bother me that much, because you got my vote for second place.
3rd place: Defender of the Dead
"My back felt like the shiny streets, slick with cold sweat" great, evocative line. I like the concept, "dying" on our Earth (I assume) so he can go somewhere and do a job of some sort. The concept caught my fancy. The name "Pardith Avermath" was a bit of a turn off to me, but that's just because I'm not a big fantasy reader and that name tastes a little too fantasy to me. That's just a matter of personal taste, obviously.
Honorable mention: The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora. I liked the rats line at the end. Clever, dramatic, and fun.
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Lots of good stuff here that promise a lot of interesting stories.
1st Place: The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora I liked the multi-level conflict, character introduction, Hebora introduction. Probably the closest to my perception of the ideal Hebora story (I am a fantasy writer, after all)
2nd Place: A Dark Transparent Good evocative image of the city. Liked the multiple perils and the ‘oops’ aspect of the hook.
Third Place: Not on My Shift I wasn’t thrilled about the extra senses, but the beginning held the great promise of a wild ride through the story.
Title: Lost in the City of Souls Title choices are really dependent on what kind of stories one likes and the title would draw me in to read further even more than the opening.
Critiques: Right of Passage I think the first line sets the scene, but it is passive compared to what follows in the dialogue. The spark is a bit too vague for me, but the hook was very good
The Displaced I seemed displaced after the interchange. The tags aren’t definitive enough for me and the opening seemed to drift enough that I didn’t get what was going on. I think there are too many unlinked elements here that can be removed (i.e. getting the horse from the marshal) I have no idea why David needs to thrust a pig in the air while he has something in writing up his sleeve. I’m not sure I’d want to read on.
Not on My Shift Micro demons are interesting. ‘Sixth Street’ puts this, in my mind, into the present and that comes early, only to be confirmed by ‘hovercabs’. I had a hard swallow at ‘seventh and eighth’ senses and felt that might be better introduced later when you had a chance to settle into things… but the hook certainly amped up the urgency and would draw me in.
Lost in the City of Souls An interesting start, but a crippled finch doesn’t grab at me to read on. Great imagery, but I didn’t ‘connect’ with the story. I think this needed the hint of an unanticipated recipient to make it really draw me in.
Dry Streak on the Rim Too many place descriptions bogged this one down. The return of part of the party is mentioned twice (donkeys returning and thirsty bearers.) I especially liked the images in the last two sentences, but I didn’t sense a strong hook other than their journey was difficult. Why are they there? That’s what will bring me into the story.
The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora Other than a confusing tag (“So that’s it?” Aza’s companion asked.) That made me pause to think if the one who said it was the prince… I liked this. Good visuals. Maybe a little light on the urgency, but I felt the last sentence to be an appropriate slap in the face and that would draw me further. I would have thought that the Prince would know about having to blend in before he stood on the city wall, looking down, though. Good use of the trigger.
The Price of Freedom Some technical issues slowed my reading. Punctuation and the word ‘multitude’ in the second paragraph, might not be the best choice… perhaps a word meaning clatter or cacophony or something. My one question, is the grin or the face wider than the eagle’s wings? Certainly a good image of the eagle grabbing a miner.
A Question of Jurisdiction I found some spatial problems here that stopped me dead. First of all, how do you hide behind a copse of trees that are below you? How come the moving city has a cave for an entrance? I did like the tiny mustache of tentacles, but what would they possibly be used for? Great sense of urgency and the relationship is established in the first 13.
A Dark Transparent There is a lot going on here, perhaps a bit too much to process. I wondered how earbuds would be loud enough to send shadows scurrying. If a pipe clangs underneath the city, why would that alarm someone who only had seven buildings to cross. I would have thought the reasonable thing to do would be to run… maybe she indicate the men are very close. What was really good with this opening was the concept of the shadows carrying threats and the singing men. For me that really brought out the desperation that the MC felt. Lots of potential here.
Rehoming Fee I had to struggle a bit to figure out what was going on. The “I didn’t lose it,” would have worked better, in my opinion at the beginning of the second paragraph, making her retort a bit more snappy. I didn’t get the hook, but I looked forward to more of the interchange. One more note, how many fingers do you know of that aren’t multi-jointed?
Outlander I liked the tone of this. The hook was a good twist. The image of the trio was stark and effective. The only thing that held me back is that the prose just didn’t seem to flow. The second sentence sort of contradicts the hook… ‘he liked walking on nights when he couldn’t sleep’ That takes away from Erik’s mission to kill—to me anyway.
Fall from Light This has a Jack Vance feel to it, which I really liked. The hook is at the talk of recollection. I felt that the introduction didn’t quite get me into the story enough, so the transition seemed overly abrupt.
Message to Hebora, A.D. 21XX Although we are put into a place, I don’t have an inkling of a problem or hook of any kind. Hebora is a generational spaceship that is viewed as a dandelion. Now what will happen? What is the speech about? Maybe a hint would bring this beginning into bloom.
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I took that this is a setting challenge to mean setting emphasis or milieu in Orson Scot Card's M.I.C.E. principle. Further, I base my estimations of which entry works most for me on degree of curiosity-invoking mystery implications expressed in part or whole by setting features: time, place, and situation.
kmsf "The Displaced"
MattLeo "Right [sic] of Passage"
History "Lost in the City of Souls"
I favor titles that express a thematic feature that promises the action to come, one that's more of a do-process statement than a happen-process statement or a to be-stasis statement. In other words, a title that expresses what the story is about thematically, accessibly, and tangibly without prematurely telegraphing the dramatic action.
Setting challenge title that works most for me: teflonmail "Fall from Light"
The liminal aspect of falling from light, a place in terms of setting, implies a change from one state to another will happen due to the protagonist's doing.
When I read this, I feel a little disoriented. I do not know what to picture. Did they *climb* the towers? Did they take an elevator? The stairs? Why the *chill* at the name Ur-Hebora? I stumbled over going from the name giving him (or her?) a chill, only to be followed by "What must I do?" Until that point, I had thought Grandad was showing him something.
This was edited twice since I critiqued the original in my documents file for this challenge. That said:
There are no definitive records of how "old" the name Elvis is, and many theories where it derived from, but, it is associated with modern times. The word Marshall (while dating into the middle ages) tied to the name Elvis made me think of the Wild West (around the time of the Indian Wars) and I had to re-reimagine everything when David began writing with a quill. So, I'm totally confused at the time/setting. With all of the added words only the quill tells us anything related to their surroundings. Desk is a bland term, and it doesn't confirm time. What kind of trees am I picturing? What does the south Tower look like?
The piglet is a hook, in a comedic sort of way, because we are all wondering what Elvis is doing with it.
#2 for me.Not On My Shift:
I like the first line, it gives personality, establishes the genre, and gives me a contemporary feel with the language. I also love how the first paragraph is crafted to continue the voice and the hook. Well done.
I can't picture dilapidated hovercrafts flitting past. I think that is a tell versus show moment. "flitted doesn't connote the disrepair that dilapidated does. And the second sentence is clunky, stilted. I think this is information which could be explained by showing it applied. IMHO the gills' senses could be *shown* working. If they taste the underworld or something, it wouldn't disrupt the pace.
I'm hooked. I would definitely read on.
My #3: Lost in the City of Souls:
There is some inconsistency (IMHO) in the wind "gusting" enough to "toss" the finch about in flight (wound not described) and the "shifting veils of fog." In my experience, wind blows fog off. Relief and exhaustion can be shown.
Love the gargoyle eating the bird. I'm left wondering why the bird was killed before the message could be delivered. And why allow the message to flutter to the street, if it was meant for him? Am I to assume this is due to the character change of the rune?
Dry Streak on the Rim:
Too steep of a learning curve for my tastes. A lot of names in this(Putchfaud Road; Crygiver Plane--did you mean plain?; Gulch ruins; Tappen Marshes; Triggerwood Grove; Hastole Rapids; Three Canyon ford; Maulted Edges) and they distract me from its direction. Triggerwood Groves, the Gulch ruins, and the Maulted Edges don't evoke imagery for me, and I have no map to relate distances in relation to each other or relevant places. In the last sentence of the first paragraph, you mention animals: what animals? The animals are "pack animals?" (After having read it through this is what I determined.) What kind of beasts are used for burden here? For some reason "the thirsty bearers" seems to be missing something. I had to read this through a couple of times for me to get that they were--perhaps that's on me, but, I really thought they were something else at first. Maybe establishing this is an "expedition" at the outset, and showing the characters and their frustration before giving me a list of places might have worked better for me.
Also, no one is "from" Hebora.
The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora:
From the first paragraph: I get a picture of the town, but not the sentries (how primitive or futuristic they are) or the wall. Is it a wooden palisade? Mud brick? Stones? Then what meat? Chicken, beef, ham, lamb, snake, squirrel, rabbit and fish all smell different--and I realize fish have differences among them, too.
Aza's companion = Prince Firas, but I had to back up and re-imagine it. Also, Aza corrects the prince, but it is not illustrated which pronunciation the prince used: He-BOR-a; Hebo-RA, Heh-BORA, etc...
The Price of Freedom:
The PoV is distant--omniscient-- and the focus on the eagle does not make me feel it's important, rather...meandering. Thee repeated misuse of the possessive of "it"--its not it's--stands out. I see no reason for the quarry men to go running because of a bird diving. Is it really burning or just diving like a fireball? Men don't clank, do they? And if you show what they're doing, you don't have to then say they are working.
I do not understand why the bird, in the middle of a dive "climbed slowly." And if it swooped and then climbed, I do not understand why the workers were concerned. And what made the action triumphant?
What difference does the smiling man make? Is he an ornithologist?
My current favorite. #1:
A Dark Transparent:
I struggle with the: "My earbuds sent the shadows scurrying" comment. "Sang along" with what?
Wondering why the door being unlocked should have been the first warning.
Defender of the Dead:
Is the wall dripping or something dripping off it? What form does the shadow have? Man? Lizard? Bird? Fish? Cthulhu? Shadowy and silhouetted together become redundant. Last sentence of the first paragraph has two similes in it; neither work for me. One is odd (back feeling like shiny streets?) and the other cliché (what seemed like an eternity). I think the sentence is stronger and cleaner without them (My back was slick with cold sweat. I fled.). Then you go from "fleeing" to "getting a beer".
You avoid saying what the character is afraid of--but he obviously knows, so your cheating the reader. What doesn an "ancient couch" look like? If he is nearly paralyzed with fear, I don't buy his reaction is to sit down and have a beer and watch football (soccer OR American). It just feels wrong.
The last paragraph feels more like a non-sequitor than a twist or hook. I'm wondering if he is supposed to know he's dead and is avoiding this, or, if not, what he was running from.
Doesn't take place "in" Hebora.
It took me a couple of looks to get this was "Re-Homing Fee," and when it caught on, it became my favorite title (channels Philip K. Dick):
Is Japeth an imp? If not, what's the imps name? Where are they that the narrator has a control panel? I'm sort of confused with the controls and the cabin, and whether it is important right here.
"Thin smile" violates PoV.
Asteroids tumbling by? Why is there no urgency? How come the asteroids are not impacting? Where is the cabin? Is the cabin like the Tardis?
Strong hook in the opening, then it seems to wander purposelessly through the next paragraph. How can a city be made entirely of back alleys? Wouldn't they then become narrow streets? How can the walls be shining and dark? Hard to imagine. What does "the people of Hebora let you see who they really were" mean?
The third paragraph confuses me: The "all hard angles made of black leather and silver spikes" gives me pictures of odd golem-like creatures.
Fall From Light:
The opening sentence sounds like someone standing up at an AA meeting. The first paragraph is all tell, and info-dump. I think, after reading the second paragraph that the only important information in the first paragraph is the Assassination of Hoban Montambi (and it could be distributed in the second paragraph).
Message to Hebora, A.D.21xx:
The crowd is an ocean? Whispering water is a cool idea. Metaphoric language is confusing in Science Fiction and Fantasy readers. Okay, the image: What does "a circle and a line, trailed by three dots" mean? A circle with a line through it? A circle with a line above it? A circle with a vertical line before it; after it or under it? A circle with a horizontal line before after or under it? I don't relate it to a "dandelion," and had to re-imagine it when it was explained. but I did like the hook of Hebora being a generation ship.
The "ship's" organic garden? Or another one? I don't know how much of a short story hook this is, but the memory sequence works well, it elicits emotion.
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quote:Originally posted by wirelesslibrarian: Speaking of names, didn’t like Ur-Hebora. Grandfather’s terse response did not answer the question of what the spark was to any fraction of satisfaction on my part,
FYI "Ur-" is a prefix which means "primordial", or "original". It's originally from German, and has only been common in the English language for the last fifty years or so.
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Doesn't tell me anything about Hebora and feels fairly generic. The call to action is solid but the rest isn't enough to draw me in.
No setting established and no reasons for the pending action. What's with the pig? Tell why it's significant right up front. No secrets.
Lost in the City of Souls
I like the surprise of the gargoyle eating the finch, but the description was too convoluted in its language for my taste.
Dry Streak on the Rim
Too dense with unfamiliar names that mean nothing to me. Also, nothing to connect me to the characters or a sense of the story to come or action to come. Nothing to draw me in.
The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora
Nicely done. Both setting and character established. The dry humor of the last line makes me like Aza. I would certainly read on.
The Price of Freedom
Not bad. Honestly, I'd like to see this lead with the character introduced at the end. Give me the person that KNOWS something. They're much more interesting.
A Question of Jurisdiction
A little maid-and-butler dialog and the characters don't particularly grab me. I'd like to see more personality to pull off an opening like this.
A Dark Transparent
The prose feels a smidge rough, but I love the setting and sense of story you establish so quickly and thoroughly. I would definitely read on.
Defender of the Dead
First, what was dripping on the brick wall? Second, the jump from, 'I fled' to suddenly being in his apartment really threw me. And if someone is being pursued like that, I'd think there should be some thought as to why, not just 'I think I'll have a beer and forget it'. The final hook is good but what comes before doesn't make sense.
I like this but two things bother me. First, for the sake of this challenge, I get no sense of what the city of Hebora is like. Outside the challenge, this doesn't bother me. Second, the last line of dialog could be better. I would read on.
The whole bit with the people in the alley seems unnecessary. I think you could present this more effectively setting up his hunt rather than utilizing static description.
Fall from Light
I don't know why this guy's story is important, and I don't know why it's being told in retrospect. The heavy descriptions don't sound like they belong to the voice of this character, either.
Message to Hebora, A.D. 21XX
Not sure I love the quick descent into flashback, but this is nicely written and holds promise so I would read on.
1st - The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora 2nd - A Dark Transparent 3rd - Rehoming Fee Posts: 1993 | Registered: Jul 2009
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This has been a great deal of fun! You guys are great.
1. RIGHT of PASSAGE I just like quests. This beginning sets the ball rolling. The first 13 here are clean, and the first person POV is done in such a way that he is just going to lay out the story nicely without trying to evoke an emotional response from me, the reader. That may sound like a contradiction, but with first person POV there is always the danger of saturating the narrative with bravado, or affected indifference at the expense of dramatic action. I expect a cleanly narrated quest. At any rate, I placed this entry at the top of my list. I don't like the title. It feels like a gimmick. I'd read further.
2. Lost in the City of Souls I liked the cinematic feel of this beginning, and I like what is intended here. This beginning is constructed such that the action of the story flows forward. I think it is a bit over-loaded on the adjectives and adverbs - they detract from the forward momentum and intensity. Consider pounding on that first sentence until the passive voice is out of there. I'd read further for the story if the "modifier" words were trimmed.
3. The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora Again, I just like quests. And the tension is great. I expect an adventure where Prince Firas and Aza both change internally. I'd read further. Not using the prince's name in his first dialogue tag jarred me from the picture. I don't like the title because it feels intellectually cute.
Best Title: Fall from Light For the reasons extrinsic gives.
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Right of Passage This starts out well with setting the scene. I felt, however, that there was an opportunity missed by not adding more description along with the later dialogue (maybe there were constraints with the 13?). As examples: I'm told the MC felt a chill, but I don't feel it, or feel why. What is the relationship between the grandfather and the MC - or, for that matter, between the MC and his father - is it loving, antagonistic, duty-bound? The hook comes a little late.
The Displaced I appreciated the humor in this one. I also appreciated that you edited in more details to go with the dialogue. It helps me very much to have a sense of position in the world, as well as giving more clues to the characteristics of Elvis and David.
Not On My Shift Excellent world building. I love the mishmash of sci-fi and fantasy and the personality that comes through with the narration. My only nit is the sentence including - "with which I can perceive the quantum underworld." It's just a little too thick, especially since I know how smooth your writing can be
Lost in the City of Souls Fabulous double hook, both with the gargoyle eating the finch and then leaving us wondering who is going to be finding that altered scroll. Writing was convoluted in a few places (especially the sentence including - "who leered over the parapet bearing the sigil the finch had been commanded to seek.")
Dry Streak on the Rim An interesting premise at the end. However, this is far too bogged down by place names. I understand the desire to give history and a sense of a long journey, but it really does nothing either to help me understand and connect with the characters or to give a strong hook.
The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora Fantastic lean prose. I love how you incorporated so many senses in so little space. The same competence was apparent in the instant recognition of the kind of relationship shared by Aza and the prince. The last line was just icing on the cake.
The Price of Freedom Very panoramic opening, and a unique setting with the quarry. Good hook at the end - I'm interested to know if the eagle is meant to be a signal, a rescue, or a vendetta fulfilled for the MC.
A Question of Jurisdiction Interesting idea, both that Hebora/the entrance to Hebora is in a cave, and, did I catch it right, that the city moves? Also, nice description of Venny. The first sentence has a lot going on for one sentence.
A Dark Transparent Good worldbuilding. I'm intrigued by the use of music both as a ward and as something to fear depending on who is using it. Also an interesting mix of real-world (earbuds) and mystical elements. A few nits. I think the first sentence is superfluous, and could/has been shown by the latter descriptions. I was also thrown out of the story a bit wondering why she was (and what was the significance of) waving at a mouse.
Defender of the Dead It's been said here more than once already, but the dripping wall is really distracting Besides that, good job. I can picture the relief that would come from finally getting to a place you think is a safe haven, and also the panic when you realize it's been compromised.
Outlander The first sentences sound like a pitch line. Not sure they're needed. Good use of description to help us see the city. Loved the 'hard angles of black leather and silver spikes.' Not sure the hook hooked me enough.
Fall from Light Great setting here with the possibility of a lot of interesting characters and interesting things happening. However, it seems to be a flashback which diminishes from whatever suspense I might feel. I already know someone ends up assassinated. I already know the MC survives. It almost seems that you're setting the MC up as a bystander (i.e. What would Hunger Games have been like if it was told from Prim's perspective watching Katniss on the screen?). Maybe that's not where it's going, but tread carefully. There's a lot of potential here.
Message to Hebora, A.D. 21XX Some beautiful imagery in this one - 'hushed whispers lapping at my feet.' I like the idea of the dandelion representing humanity (are we really that weedy?). Not sure about the transition between the immediate emotion of the first paragraph and the flashback of the second. Maybe I'd like a little more of a hint in the opening of why Ryan is standing on that podium?
1st Place: The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora 2nd Place: Not on My Shift 3rd Place: A Dark Transparent
Here's my top three, though the decision was a tough one. I judged the entries based on the presence of the following factors: a location named Hebora, a character who lives in Hebora, and general interest. Since so many of these entries were great, I ended up falling back on "general interest" much more that I probably should have.
1st - Rehoming Fee - RoxyL
I was drawn in by the concept of 'losing a city', and then this phrase won me over: "As the imp languidly settled himself onto my control console". An interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy. An interesting image of languid imps.
2nd - The Opposite of Heaven is Hebora - wirelesslibrarian
Fantasy is really my first love, and you really brought this scene to life. I could not only picture the setting, but also journey that Aza and Firas must have had up to this point. Your last line is also an excellent way to include that character from within Hebora.
3rd - A Question of Jurisdiction - InarticulateBabbler
A great action scene, which I admit is difficult for me to write. I didn't stumble on any part of this scene, and the dialogue felt natural. The idea of Hebora being a moving city really piqued my interest too.
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First of all, outstanding entries everyone; I think this is the best crop of 13-liners I've seen yet here. It takes me a long time to critique, so I'll start with the first seven. The remainder I'll do tommorow.
1) THE DISPLACED: I really liked the first version of this much better. It pared away all the story mechanics to expose the comic situation. The problem was it went on a bit too long. Here you've taken the amusing rhythm you had going and buried in workman-like dialog mechanics.
Funny is all about rhythm. Think about how a joke might sound told by a stand-up comedian in a language you didn't understand; it's kind of like poetry. You could tell the guy is telling joke, rather than giving a lecture on economics, just by the rhythm, e.g. A guy walks into a bar and orders a shot of scotch./The bartenders says, “We don't have any scotch.”/The guy says, “Then I'll take bourbon.”/“We don't have any bourbon either.”/“Well what about rye, then?/“Haven't had rye in here for weeks.”
See, I've got a rhythm going here, but if I don't break it up soon it's going to outstay its welcome. It's already almost there. Then the joke won't *sound* funny, it'll sound tedious. So my very next line should change things up.
Here's something to try: take the text of THE DISPLACED and run it through Google's English-Swedish translator, then hit the audio play button. Does it sound funny?
Humorous writing is a high stakes, and the bigger your bet the bolder you have to act. You can bury an ironically arched eyebrow moment in a wall of text, but if you hand your guy a pig and tell him to swim the river and bluff his way past the armed guards, you've got to strip down the writing until the joke is as exposed as the protagonist.
2) NOT ON MY SHIFT I think you're trying to give us a little too much to work with. It reminds me of those Bollywood movies where besides the impossibly handsome Hindu couple there's a major Sikh character and a major Jain one, both sympathetic, and everyone who's forked over his 150 rupees goes home happy. So what have we here? A sci-fi/noir/urban fantasy. What's there not to like?
The problem is that rather than packing each kind of story experience into 13 lines (which is nigh impossible), you've telegraphed them by choosing words (“mutation”, “ogre”, “underworld”) jammed together into cross-genre portmanteus (“hovercab”, “homeless gryphon”, “quantum underworld”). In other words it's all promise but little deliver as of yet. So I'd say take it slower; concentrate on spinning out the scene without blowing so many genre dogwhistles. Pick one reading experience and use that as the foundation of the scene, gradually bringing in genre motifs. I think the noir elements in the set-up are strongest, so you might start by shoring them up. Noir is about atmosphere; painting vivid, moody settings. So Hebora stinks. What does it smell like? If it's worse than usual, what exactly is the difference.
3) Lost in the City of Souls I want to point out how much better your second draft was than your first. In this case, squeezing your opening into 13 lines really sharpened the writing, and it made the clever story set-up (the garbled rune) much more apparent. That was lost under the words before.
The grotesque twist with the finch was a bit “on-the-nose” for me; I may be wrong, but it feels like heavy-handed foreshadowing. You've got the atmosphere right, I don't think we need to punctuate it with an ironic punchline, although that's a matter of taste.
4) Dry Streak on the Rim I like the setting you've chosen. We've got the prospecting element from the title and the arid atmosphere, which new-world folks associate with mineral wealth. That immediately gives purpose to the people in the story, and a suggests we might see a number of possible conflicts involving greed, suspicion, frustration and stubbornness. You've given us two named characters, which means we have the raw materials for the plot here. They're of opposite sex, which suggests the possibilities of other overtones to a sitution that's already pregnant with possibility.
Altogether this is one of the better jobs of up-front marshalling all the elements we need for a story I've seen, so much so that I'd probably read on, not because we know the conflict the protagonist faces (we don't even know which of the characters is protagonist yet), but because I'd want to see where you're going with this rich stock of story elements.
I found the placename dropping a bit distracting. I found eleven place names in thirteen lines. The names themselves are good, but I think you're past the point of diminishing returns. I like the kind of “opening camera shot” narrative distance here, which works with the universe-of-possible-stories thing, but the scenery is buried under placename signs.
5) THE OPPOSITE OF HEAVEN IS HEBORA.
Ah, the proud master and knowing servant routine; Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. There's a bit of a cliché issue with the old protagonist gazing down upon the city routine, but it works to get the basics of the story.
As with extrinsic's entry, the strength of this entry is you've given us all the elements to drive a story, right here in the first thirteen lines. Two characters in a situation. In fact you've narrowed the universe of possible stories down quite a bit in comparison to DRY STREAK. And that's just a little bit of a problem for me. I feel I understand the nature of the conflict between these familiar characters so much I can anticipate how it's going to play out. Aza and Firas feel generic to me.
I know introducing two chracters, explaining their conflict and making them pop as individuals is a ridiculously tall order for 13 lines. I'm not asking for everything, I'm looking for just a hint of differentiation. Maybe a sensory detail noticed; a flash of personality, maybe even the way the chracters dress. Just a detail or two that shows you're going to make the archetypal chracters and setting feel real and individual.
BUT, and this is important, this entry shows one of the most important things I look for in story openings. It's confident, to the point, and un-cluttered. Based on the cleanness of the opening I'd probably read on to see what you do with it.
6) THE PRICE OF FREEDOM
Minor copy editing point: the second sentence should be a semi-colon seprated clause (grammatically it modifis “soared”). Likewise apostrophe-s is the contraction of “it is”, not the possessive of “it”, which is written “its”. This is basic stuff.
I think for most part you have the right picture in your mind for opening the story, but not the right words. The words you use don't do the picture justice. You want the picture to “pop” in the reader's eyes, but that's impeded by obvious, stilted or awkward word choices. Don't despair! This is the heart of the craft, and you've set yourself a task in which flaws will be obvious. This kind of opening is very close to poetry.
Let me try to point out some examples that could be better.
“GREAT fire eagle”: the adjective “great” is workable here, not bad so much as unremarkable. If you take “great” out of this sentence, does it change much? Not much, because of the default image of an eagle in our mind's eye has a kind of spledor; it's gilding the lilly. So by using an adjective here you've sacrificed brevity for nothing. So I'd leave out the adjective, OR choose an adjective which magnifies our default image (“glorious”), OR choose one which cuts against the image (“moth-eaten”, “baby”) OR anything that adds something we don't automatically assume (“hungry”, “talking”, “enchanted”).
“It's [sic] BRILLIANT yellow and orange feathers flashing BRIGHTLY...”: note this redundant, like saying “great, big eagle”. There's simply no way for brilliant orange and yellow feathers to flash OTHER than brightly. So this adds nothing to our quest to make the image pop off the page.
“... like TINY ANTS...” : This is OK, but it's kind of hackneyed. We've heard it too much. Consider how much better a less used image might work, e.g. “... men, spilled like poppy seeds across the breadth of the vast quarry...”
“MASSIVE quarry”: an obscure way of saying “large”. How does “MASSIVE” help us picture the quarry? Is it a deep one where ship-sized blocks of stone are chipped away from tall stone ledges? Or is it an *extensive* quarry where thousands of men hew countless cobblestones to pave the streets of Hebora?
“GIANT cranes lowered rough-hewn stones...”: “giant” is somewhat weak. Does “giant” mean big enough to lift an automobile? Or big enough to lift the Queen Mary? In an odd way, the stones being lifted may tell us more about the size of the cranes; e.g. “lowered rough-hewn stones the size of houses”. The consruction of the cranes might help, e.g. “Great cranes, trussed with the trunks of giant spruce trees driven deep into the ground, lowered rough-hewn stones the size of ships...”
“... amidst the MULTITUDE of CLANKING and YELLING of men...” is phrase is a thicket of misplaced modification. First of all, what is a “MULTITUDE of CLANKING”? You add two clankings together and you get a bigger clanking. I have feelign that “multitude of” belongs with “men”, not “clanking and yelling.” In any case, where is the clanking coming from? It's kind of disemboided; are the *cranes* clanking? Is it the sound of hammer on chisel? Also “yelling” is a bit off; it makes me think of men arguing, not signalling to each other. So I might re-arrange the sentence, thus: “Giant cranes lowered rough-hewn stones down among a multitude of shouting men, accompanied by the ring of hammer on chisel.”
“SUDDENLY, the great bird...” Another example of a superfluous modifier, in this case an adverb. Since you have painted us a static scene, any change is naturally perceived as “sudden”. Also, what other way do eagles have of diving but “suddenly”?
“One man, however, squinting up through the bright sunlight wore a grin on his gaunt, sun-burnt face wider than the eagle's wings.” Awkward and complicated sentence with too many modifiers. What does “however” tell us? Also note how far “wider than the eagle's wings” is from what it modifies (“grin”). Also that's obvious hyperbole that doesn't help us picture the grin. Streamline this sentence, choose less ornamentation and make it count. Help us picture where the man you're describing is in this “massive” scene too. For example, “On the rim of canyon, a gaunt man sat astride a lean horse, watching the scene with a crooked grin.”
So to conclude: you've got the right picture, but you've got to work on the craft to bring that picture to life.
7) A QUESTION OF JURISDICTION
I like the comic interplay of Mack and Venny, the treacherous adherence to the letter of a promise is a nice characterization touch.
The sample is marred by a few prose glitches. It's tricky to match modifiers; for example what is on the scree-filled slope? The copse? Venny and Mack? There's an awkward chain of prepositions here “behind into just below on”. The use of the simple past “hid” rather than imperfect “hiding” also makes this a bit more confusing as we're not sure at the point we hit whether “hit” is the start of a verb or verbal phrase.
I think what the opening sentence means something like this: “A shot hit from the boulder I was hiding behind and bounced into the bladder-tree copse that stood beneath the scree-filled slope I was pinned down on.”
Note I'm not sure where Venny is. Since she's a native and apparently not being attacked, she's apparently not cowering behind the rock with Mack. But she's close enough to have a conversation with Mack, so what about stray bullets and ricochet? How to picture this scene is a serious shortcoming that undermines the clever scenario you've come up with.
1. The opposite of heaven is Hebora 2. Message to Hebora 3. Question of Jurisdiction Title: The opposite of Heaven is Hebora First line:“No, really. Tell me again, how do you lose a city?” Rehoming Fee
Posts: 1201 | Registered: Jan 2008
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OK, here are my remaining six critiques. My vote follows in my next posting.
–--- 8) A Dark Transparent
Well, I do very much like the concept for the setting. But I feel like you're selling a bit harder than I like. So we start with “Hebora is the city of the dead.” Well, fine, then we go to “Strange shadows...” and I feel a little bit put off. Why? Because “strange” is vague; it doesn't really help me know how to picture them, or how to feel them, or why to feel that way; it's what I call hard sell – an assertion that's not backed up. You could say the shadow was eerie, which tells me how the narrator feels about it. You could say it was meager and wavery, which tells me how it looks. You could tell me that these were shadows with no visible sources, which tells me they're supernatural. But telling me the shadow s “strange” tells me nothing. You just said “Hebora is the city of the dead.” Shadows that move there are inherently uncanny, so you *could* just say “Shadows sliped...” This allows the reader to supply the adjective, which may be the most atmospheric choice of all.
Some of my issue with this has more to do with the limitations of 13 lines than anything else. You've given us a lot to chew on in 13 lines:(1) Hebora is the city of the dead. (2) It's haunted by uncanny shadows. (3) Some people apparently still live there, but they've barricaded themselves in. (4) Music is magical. (5) The city is a non-functioning charnel house; nobody is picking up the bodies. (6) Narrator is out looking for other people but not having much luck. (7) There are bad guys using music-magic too. (8) Protagonist's situation: avoiding musical bad guys. (9) Hook: protagonist's house isn't as s/he left it.
It's lot to cram into 13 lines, and I think maybe it crowds out your opportunity to show us how you can make the atmosphere come to life. I think you've demonstrated a wonderful knack for selecting story ingredients here, you just need more space to work with them.
9) Defender of the dead
I have a few technical issues with this entry. First, I don't know why to be afraid. Note this is *very* different from not knowing what's going on. I don't insist on understanding everything that's going in in the first half page. For example, suppose your protag turns down dark street and notices footsteps following him. He can't see who or what they are, but he can hear them. We – and the focus character – have no idea what's going on, but we understand why the character is afraid. Here the character apparently knows why he is afraid, but you don't tell us. That might work in the middle of the story, but it's a tough sell up front, where we might suspect that even you don't know what's going on.
Second issue is metaphorical misfire: “My back felt like the shiny streets...” ??? In general I think figurative language in openings is an atmosphere buzz-kill; I as a reader feel like my head is taken out of the scene and put to work decoding what the experience of having a back like a shiny street might feel like. It might help to choose a more apt set of modifiers, e.g., “My back felt like the filthy, rain-sodden streets...” Even so it might be better to skip the metaphor and stay in the sensory experience of the narrator, e.g. “My back was slick with code sweat.”
Third issue: scene transition. One paragraph the protagonist is cowering in a dark alley the next he is on the right side of his apartment door setting the locks. This is in effect a scene transition. It's not in general necessary to stage manage every move a character makes from point A to point B: in fact it's often wisest to skip over those bits. But in paragraph one you have your narrator in stark terror; getting out of that situation is a big part of selling it. If it just evaporates it doesn't feel right.
Fourth issue: emotional transiation. Getting a beer and looking for some mind-number TV is the right move here, but “anything to erase the near-paralyzing fear that drove me home.” doesn't sound quite right to me, like it's incomnpletely imagined. Narrator is no longer experiencing *acute* fear as he's flipping channels, he's experiencing the refractory after-effects of fear. What do those feel like? Or perhaps we could fix this y saying “anything to erase the memory of the near-paralyzing...” Oh and “near-paralyzing” sounds a bit wishy-washy to me.
Fifth issue: vague, out of body sensations. The narrator “sensed” someone else in his apartment. It's true there is an uncanny sensation of somebody being present who isn't necessarily there, for example people who experience night terrors, or mountain climbers in near-death experiences imagining phantom companions. The problem is that it's hard to conjure; harder than just a few raised hairs. Something concrete like a creaking floorboard might sound more credible.
I did like the hook, although “plane” gave me just an instant of mis-recognition (airplane?).
10) Rehoming Free
I have to confess that you immediately are running into a prejudice of mine against stories where the hook is that the author is mixing genres (e.g. “Vampire vs. Werewolf – the Space Opera). I say this as a total hypocrite whose last major story was a Hollywood screwball comedy/space opera pastiche, so you can totally believe me that I'm turned off when I see *other* people doing it!
I'd like to get a sense of how big Japheth is, so I can visualize him. Also, I'm a little confused by the lockdown button; is it lock out button? So the imp is not contained, he's just prevented from playing with the controls.
Also “with a thin smile, I swung my chair to face him.” is a bit shaky. POV question – how dos he know his smile is thin? A “sour smile” I can understand in first person narration, but unless the protag is an accomplished actor he has no idea how fat or thin his smile is.
“Multi-jointed fingers”: **looks at own fingers** Aren't most fingers multi-jointed?
Overall this is a technically competent and workman-like entry. You do a good job of setting up the comic conflict between the narrator and his diabolically insolent servant. The problem is that these two characters still feel a bit “stock”, like I've seen them before. I'm not totally intolerant of that; one of the attractions of genre writing is that you get a lot of pre-fab pieces you don't have to explain at length to the reader. But the protagonist and his foil need to stand out, so what I'd like to see is some hint of customization, of particularization of these characters; if not in the first 13, somwhere in the first page or two.
This by the way is my complaint with cross-genre pastiche; juxtaposing A with B doesn't count as creativity; you've got to synthesize something new from them while fulfilling the reader expectations for each genre. So when a writer signals right away that he's doing genre bending, I'd like to see signs that he's not relying on that alone to carry the story.
This is tough one to critique; it's all about atmosphere and reaction to atmosphere is deeply subjective.
The opening paragraph is an old-fashioned cold narration start where a disembodied narrator hands you a conclusion on a platter with no evidence to back it up, then proceed to layer on the atmosphere. That's fine, but my initial reaction was that the first paragraph needs to be just a bit pithy; to come across more like a sharp punch rather than the beating of a drum. It's a consciously shaped piece of rhetoric, which is fine, but it sounds a bit too much like what it is.
Imagine you've been looking for someone who can tell you about Hebora. At last you find someone, and you've been plying him with drinks and slowly working you way up to the subject. At last you ask him, “So what about Hebora? What is it like?” He sets down his drink, looks you and the eye and BAM. There it is, your opening paragraph.
The point is that I think the opening line would work better if it sounds like something someone would actually say off the top of his head, rather than as the opening statement in a high school debate.
Notice how you gradually close the narrative distance; we pull in from ten thousand feet to hover just above the head of Erik as he he walks the streets. It might be better to put the stence about about Hebora's back alleys before Erik, to emphasize the zoom-in effect. Note that “... the people of Hebora let *you* see who they really were” actually steps back a bit; invisting the reader to imagine himself in Hebora rather than inside Erik's head inside Hebora. Maye “...the people of Hebora let *him* see who they relly were.” Just a thought.
The enounter with the three alley dwellers. Try to picture this; he comes round the corner in the dark alley and encounters a tableau you've set for him: two guys and a girl huddled around a fire inside a tire. It feels abstract though, again as though you are setting up the situation for the reader; it might be good to close the narrative distance more and let the reader experience it through Erik's eyes.
Picture yourself as Erik, approach the corner. What does he see, hear and smell? Does the fire throw light around the corner? When he turns the corner does he see “ two guys and a girl huddled around a burning tire,” then notice the way they're dressed? Or does he see three figures in leather and spikes around the fire, then notice the fire is a burning tire (maybe he smelled it already) and that one of them is girl.
Just some suggestions about building the atmosphere. Rather than bringing us in from ten thousand feet to hover ten feet over Erik's head, you might consider going all the way into Erik's head, sharing his impressions in an order that's physically plausible for him to experience them. This is a more fashionable style of narration these days. Personally I find unremittingly hot narration a bit claustrophobic; a character's head is a nice place to visit, but I don't want to live there for the entire story. But I do like a story where the narrative distance has some dynamic range.
12) Fall from Light
In my opinion, first person narration is harder to do acceptably well than third person. The reason is that every word in the story has to be characterization; has to tell us something about the narrator.
One of the most fundamental characterization issues with a first person narrator is this: what is his motivation in telling us the story? What is his agenda? Think of the Ancient Mariner buttonholing the Wedding Guest. What is he up to? At first he seems to be insane; he is compelled to tell his story and that mad compulsion works a spell on the unwilling Guest, forcing him against his will to listen. A narrator's compulsion works on the reader too.
What I see here is something that mars a lot of first person stories; an interesting situation with an un-interesting narrator. Why is he telling us his story? What is his compulsion? He sounds like a clerk who has been invited to address the Rotary Club's weekly Thursday night dinner. He starts by introducing himself and giving his background – but it's generic. That's how anyone would introduce themselves if their reason for speaking was that they'd been asked to give an address to a bunch of people they didn't know.
You are using Kotor as a conduit for your story set up, not depicting him as a character compelled to tell a story.
But what if we start the story with a paragraph consisting of just a single phrase from the opening of Kotor's Rotary Club address:
quote:I was there when Hoban Montabi was brazenly assasinated. <end paragrph>
In other words, make Kotar grab the Wedding Guest by the lapels and force him to listen to a harrowing tale of damnation and redemption.
13) Message to Hebora
I like the opening situation a great deal; it is a nice mix of something everybody can understand – anxiety over public speaaking – and an exotic setting – a generation ship.
The first paragraph didn't work for me; it's too elaborately self-conscious, full of metaphors for my taste. This is a pet peeve, an issue of personal taste I suppose; but elaborate figurative language right in an opening always strikes me as phony-sounding, especially in first person narration. It *might* work if the narrator *was* a phony; a charlatan or snake oil salesman, perhaps.
I'd like to see this start with the second paragraph, perhaps just adding the public speaking bit (e.g., “As I step up up to the microphone, a memory comes to me...”).
By the way present tense works pretty well here, I thought. It usually sticks out as awkward.
Small technicality: a podium (from the Latin word for foot) is strictly speaking a platform the speaker stands upon. The lectern he stands behind has mistakenly been called a “podium”, and by repeated use the error has probably become acceptable. I don't condemn people for saying “podium” when they mean “lectern”, but be aware that other people do.
--- Phew! That was a lot of work, and I've got 20K words from Dr. Bob to critique! Sorry Dr. Bob, I'll get right on that now.
Wow. My first Hatrack challenge win! Checking that one off now, which brings lose 20 pounds to the top of the list. Maybe I'll skip around a bit.
Congratulations to Sheena and Dr. Bob, and thank you Owasm for putting on this challenge. As mentioned previously by others, the quality of the entries was really outstanding. I'd be happy to read any and all that turn into complete stories. What about a Hebora anthology?
Posts: 108 | Registered: May 2011
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Mazel tov, Librarian. I believe only the winner is required to complete the story for the rest of us to plunge knives...um, I mean compassionately critique.
As for an anthology...I have always said I'd support and contribute to a Hatracker anthology, in appreciation for the benefits I've received from being a Member. However, each time this has been broached, it has been presented as too complicated and too time-consuming (see extrinsic's proposed and dropped "business plan" for such a venture http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbwriters/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=007539#000000 ). I may be just a simple country doc, but I can't see it being such a big deal; but I simply have no e-publishing experience to say so. Again, if anyone ever takes on this puppy, let me know.