24 November 2008

entry #3

Number Three!

*In the late 20th century came the internet. From the internet was born
"Chat." And Chat led to cybering, to online sex between parties who sat at
home in their comfortable chairs and typed reciprocal erotica and porn to
each other on their computers.*

*In the early 21st century Chat became virtual reality. Chatters plugged
directly into their HEVE--home electronic video entertainment
interface--created characters from the data streams, and inhabited virtual
bodies in a virtual world. The online sex was better. Sometimes when
people were locked virtual skin to virtual skin they could almost forget
that they weren't actually exchanging bodily fluids.*

*By the mid 21st century mundane reality was still boring, but virtual
reality was no longer good enough. *

--- from "Sex: The New Story of an Old Act."

There were two vampires, a shapeshifter in semi-human form, a sword-witch, a
demon named Baell, and a dozen sluts of various persuasions and genders on
the battlements when Boone came on. And the low sky was like ice from the
vac-shield, a half solid, shifting weave of thin light that kept black space
away from the surface of the Sea of Tranquility.

Just a mention on formatting. Some people use * to designate italics. I had a rant on my failing vision and exhaustion all prepared, but in the interest of saving time: which is easier for you to see?
*Italics* or Italics? Might be email formatting in this case, but I do see it in regular submissions.

With the quote, you've just started a story with what is essentially backstory. I think this history/set up could be relatively easy to show via action, and you want to start a story where the story starts. Savvy? Additionally, the writing in the excerpt and the setting premise are not quite special enough to grab me. I see various forms of internet/future sex in stories fairly often. I'm not saying don't use it, though, because those stories can be interesting.

If the story is well-done and makes it past the vote, I'd probably ditch the quote in editing. Problem is, during voting we tend to pick the stories that: A. are so great we don't care how much work they require, or, even better, B. are great and also need the least amount of work. (We're editors. We're lazy. Just ask Gremlin.)

Things do take a turn for the better once the story proper starts. We got a fun cast of characters and setting details: a guy named Boone (which, since he's named, I'm assuming is the MC) and they're on battlements. Cool. Maybe they're under siege or at war, so it sets up conflict. I like the "dozen sluts of various persuasions" because it feels a bit like a slur, and that shows me Boone's bent. Not sure why the next sentence starts with a conjunction. It doesn't seem connected to the previous, though the details are interesting and reinforces the futuristic sci-fi. I don't have an entirely clear picture of the surroundings, but in the first graph, that's okay. This author also shows he might be able to write in this graph, undoing the damage done with the quote. I'm willing to read on to find out more.

To show you I'm not damning all quotes: my latest short story starts with a short quote from Roman times. But see my issue with the quote? It takes up a lot of real estate, so it must really count. I don't believe that's the case for this one.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that I only read the first page of submissions. I tend to read 3 pages. If it's promising, I skip to the end to see how that works before reading on. (It's not entirely true. Occasionally I read all the way through--forgetting my method--and that bodes well for a story. I will advocate that story.) But I know for a fact that many editors do only read the first page. Some book editors and agents only read the first page. So the first page is important stuff, yo.

I've got more entries, but I'm out of town for a few days, so I'll do another when I return. More pages please! Talk this up!


lesleylsmith said...

Kudos, author, for having the guts to play! ;)

This editor really did not like the quote in the beginning--if we can't figure out what's going on without some Encyclopedia Sexua entry, the story is no good.

However, once we begin the story, it is very promising! The cast of F characters is intriguing. I enjoyed the sluts reference and interpreted it differently than Editor Betsy; I thought it was humorous.

The description of the sky was also excellent. It reminded me of "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." from Neuromancer and adds an SF dimension to the piece. I would be excited to read more.

David E. Hughes said...

I would also read more, but with a skeptical eye. This author hasn't grabbed me yet, but the premise is promising enough for me to see what happens next.

I agree that the quote was a turn-off. I'm not against quotes at the beginning of stories (esp. short ones), but quotes that are used to "tell" backstory rarely work. They often suggest that the author can't think of a better way to convey the information to the readers. Quotes that ultimately relate to the theme or introduce the world without "telling" can work really well.

You may decide I'm a sticker about passive voice--and you're right. Starting the story with passive voice ("There were . . .") is a another turn-off for me. In fact, the word "there" at the beginning of a sentence is usually indicates that the sentence can be written better no matter what the topic or situation. In this instance, a better sentence might be "Two vampires, a shapeshifter in semi-human form, a sword-witch, a demon named Baell, and a dozen sluts of various persuasions and genders leered down from the battlements as Boone approached."

As you can see, I also replaced "came on". I don't know what "came on" means in this context so another verb choice would be better here as well. (I suppose you could be going for a sexual double entendre here, but its not working for me if you are).

Note that the next sentence is also passive voice. It's harder to create active descriptions of setting, so this was less troubling for me. However, a possibility might be: "Boone squinted at the sky, which sparkled like ice from the vac-shield . . ."

So why would I read on despite the flaws? They are fixable (i.e. or edit-able). In contrast, we don't see too many stories with vampires, sluts, shapeshifters, and other strange creatures in the first sentence. If you can write a weird, compelling, and original story, we're usually willing to work with you to polish it and make it publishable.

lesleylsmith said...

Yeah, Editor Dave hates the passive voice. One of my fave authors, Ms. Connie Willis, has passive-voice-itis, so I sort of like it.

If you're sensing from this exercise that Editor Dave is a stickler for good prose, e.g. no adverbs, no passive voice, etc. you would be right. I think this must be from his misspent youth...Isn't your bachelor's in English, Dave?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I agree with my fellow editors' assessments. The passive bothered me less because I would see how the writing shapes up. And I don't always count "there was" as pure passive -- sometimes it works for prose to set a conversational tone.

No worries, though, I do have my own pet peeves and sticking points. No doubt they'll come up as the game progresses. :D

laughingwolf said...

some neat characters, eventually... but the intro lost me