02 November 2009

First Page Critique Game

Treaty Station

The fool was still following him. Kyle took a corner table, with his back to two walls, commanding a view of the whole bar.

The table was made of polished wood, but the perfectly even grain betrayed it was vat grown. It made little sense to ship trees from the surface of a planet to a space station.

Kyle swallowed some of his rum and coke, ice cold with just the right amount of bite going down. The barroom was built for tourists, but it had atmosphere all the same. The bar itself took up a little less than half the front wall. Next to it was the red door he had heard so much about, with ‘HUMANS: DO NOT ENTER’ in large black letters. Each of the walls to the left and right had one door leading out to the station at large, and one restroom. So far, the Mazoids had used the ladies room with no complaints from either species. There were several rows of tables at the rear of the room, and more in the unoccupied area to the side of the bar. The curvature of the floor underneath was hardly noticeable – an inch or so for the whole room.

Five minutes later a man sat down a couple of tables away and buried his head behind a newssheet.

My issue with this is that while you're creating an intriguing SF world, I'm wondering what happened to the fool following Kyle and why that's not foremost on his mind. He's thinking about a vat-grown wooden table, whether his drink has enough rum, and the practically unnoticeable curvature of the floor. I don't buy it. So I feel we've got a little bit of POV slippage here. Either that, or Kyle doesn't care that he's being followed, he knows he can handle it - which might be indicated by the word "fool". But then, if he doesn't care, why should I? That device can kill the impact of the hook. It also feels a bit like bait-and-switch to throw a hook in the front line and then launch into description that really doesn't give us much important information but that he's on a space station.

So the discrepancy bothers me. A more interesting treatment, should all this information prove necessary, might be to have him concerned over his tail while creating an obstacle out of the description. Maybe he's got a talkative bartender or tourists discussing the decor and he's thinking "Shut up, where's that damned tail, fuck, he could sneak up on me at any moment in this crowd." Or even add in how he feels about that. Maybe the crowd is good cover for his escape or dang it, there's kids in there and he can't let them get hurt. Or even, No matter, they're just aliens. Expendable. Maybe if bullets are flying (or lasers or what-have-you) he can worry over what that will do to the space station walls, or thank the gods he's in a lawless place because if he's found in a fight while on parole back on Santon 5, he'd be screwed...

Obviously the possibilities are endless.

In this way you can make scenes work for you in multiple ways, thereby saving valuable real estate: give information about the setting (description), demonstrate the story problem (initiating incident), how your character reacts to the incident (POV and voice), offer obstacles (heighten tension) and then show his reaction to the obstacles, too (forward the plot, characterization).

So my feeling is that your scene can definitely do more work for you.

Thanks for playing! The queue is empty, so if you want me to do another page, my time is freed up now that the issue is out. You can send it after you go read the new issue! :)


lesleylsmith said...

Thanks for playing, author. We appreciate it. I thought this piece was well-written. In particular the first paragraph is very hooky. There are some very intriguing aspects to the description such as the 'red door he had heard so much about...HUMANS:DO NOT ENTER' and the 'Mazoids'. Kudos! I'm intrigued and would want to read more.

I do think Editor Betsy has a point, though, that all the description deflates the tension of the first paragraph. For example, at this point, the table is irrelevant to the story, right? ...Unless the protag is going to throw the table at the tail or something? :)
Similarly, who cares about the doors, unless the protag is going to use them?
Description should always support the story and not exist for its own sake.

It appears the author has a consistency issue? He takes a table and then immediately is drinking a run and coke? Where did it come from?
Speaking of description supporting the story...it's excellent that the author uses a specific drink--we should always write specifics. But a run and coke is pretty mundane drink. What about something more exotic that helps build the world (and does he throw the drink in the tail's face?--otherwise, why is he drinking in the middle of a mission?)

I'm guessing the man with the newssheet is important...
Good luck with this piece!

David said...

Thank you very much - if I get rejected from the market I've currently submitted to, I'm going to think what I can do to sharpen this.