18 November 2008

Game Entry #1

My comments in red.

Plasma rifle at the ready, Private Ralf Bein stalked down the center of the potholed road, taking his turn on point and not liking it one bit. The street was empty of civilians, which was a bad sign, making Ralf wonder if they knew something his patrolling ranger squad had not, as yet, discovered. That the rangers had also started taking random rifle fire in the last few minutes added to this genius assumption. So far it was nothing his armor couldn't handle--because little short of depleted uranium slugs or plasma could penetrate imperial battle armor with a single shot, and the outmanned and outgunned rebels weren't that well supplied. But the deserted streets and the steady pling and whine of bullets zinging off Ralf's gear was unnerving, to say the least, especially how the sound echoed between the buildings like angry insects.

"I feel like I've got a big glowing target on my helmet," he muttered on his team's sideband.

"You do," his team leader, Private Lassanog, replied on the same channel. "I jiggered your camofield myself, newbie." Gallows humor blossomed with the right fertilizer.

"'Whatever It Takes'." He murmured the Imperial Ranger motto instead of rising to the bait.

Love the first line. Think about all the things we learn from it:
Plasma rifle (sci-fi) at the ready, Private (ah, military sci fi) Ralf Bein (character name--preferably the protag) stalked (tough guy, are you?) down the center of the potholed road (setting detail indicating age and decay to their surroundings), taking his turn on point and not liking it one bit.(We're in his POV--confirming he's likely the protag. It also adds a bit of foreshadowing and tension.) All in all, very deftly done.

And if this writer can do all that in the space of so few words, it gives me hope that I'm in the hands of a competent storyteller. We do have a few unneeded words in the next sentence: as yet. Some folks might call this "voice" but it's actually repeating information we can glean from the verb. This is a perfect example of how and where to cut. Two words might not seem like much, but if you cut two words from every sentence in a 4000 words story, it adds up. I see unneeded words like this a lot.

The rest of the graph is set-up rather than forwarding the plot. But I'm thinking it works ok, I'm willing to keep reading and see what happens next, because the set-up acts as foreshadowing. You want to be careful about going too far with set-up. If a story needs a few pages of set-up then either the story is too big for the form or you didn't start it in the right place. Or you're just pleased as punch with your world and don't know when to say when. :)

On a personal note, which enters every editor's head, I'm thinking: Cool. Military Sci Fi. I love that! I never see enough of it either.

Gallows humor blossomed with the right fertilizer. While that's a nice line, I'd probably cut it. It overshadows the dialogue, which to my mind overshadows the story--the action. It's not a deal-breaker though, unless the authorial intrusion continues. You could kill on the same channel as well. We're in Bein's head so obviously he wouldn't hear it unless they were speaking on the same channel. (At this point you might be thinking I'm inflicting my style on the author's. Well, yeah, a little bit. That's part of an editor's job.)

I'd switch the tag to the front of the last line of dialogue so the reader knows what this means, and insert Bein's name. We've got two male speakers and presumably more will chime in at some point.

I'm not sure what the story is about quite yet beyond a basic "army" vs "rebels", but hopefully the next page will enlighten me further, and I'm expecting that this mission is directly related to the main problem in the story.

Overall, this one earns a Keep Reading.

Please feel free to chime in on comments, but be kind and diplomatic. Thanks for playing!!!


lesleylsmith said...

Interesting first page. Kudos, author. Interesting comments from Editor Betsy. :) I have to say macho guys with guns is just about Betsy's favorite thing! If he happened to lose his shirt and show off his considerable muscles and if he happened to have long hair--described at length--Betsy would be hooked. :) I kid Editor Betsy.

FYI, this editor would keep reading, too. Based on the first page, I'm guessing this author knows how to write a competent story. If there is a decent plot arc, this would probably get put in hold-for-voting. However, it has to have something special to get picked for publication.

David E. Hughes said...

Thanks for being one of the first brave souls to submit to our little experiment. While I agreed with Bet's overall comments, I did not have quite as positive a reaction. I agree that the first line did set the story well, but I thought it could have been better. "Plasma rifle" seemed a bit too trope for me--I'd consider some different, more distinctive vocabulary there. Also, "stalked" is a good verb, but it does not in the end tell us what is going on--we do not get a sense of the character's goal or purpose. The second sentence is passive voice, and I would have liked to have a better idea here what Ralf is trying to accomplish before this set-up language.

lesleylsmith said...

Oh dear. Betsy's hot, Dave's cool, and I'm warm. Hhm... That's true in more ways than one. :) Where was I? Oh, yeah. I was talking about our reactions to the first page. This is a perfect example of how subjective editing is!

writtenwyrdd said...

Thank you all for the kind comments! And I love seeing how you all think about the writing. Very educational for me.

I've never written military sf before so it's a new thing for me. This was supposed to be a short story, but I am figuring a 25K-30K novella length is in the future.

"Or you're just pleased as punch with your world and don't know when to say when." Guilty. I keep trying to rein that in but have to keep editing stuff back out again. Also, and I figure all writers do this, you write in details that are cool as you think of them and have to remove them later for reuse elsewhere. Sort of an in-text memo to self.

Again, thank you all for the comments!

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, and on the plasma rifle, I didn't want to use a cool slang name so that it would be identifiable. But I deliberately chose plasma as the 'ammo' because I firmly believe it is likely to be commonplace for weaponry in the future. I can see how I ought to consider a different name, though. *dons thinking cap.*

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I really think he would just call it a rifle, unless he carries a couple of weapons and needs to differentiate it in his mind. But that's a fine balance to tread between POV and informing the reader.

Charles Gramlich said...

Plasma rifle is one of those things that tends to orient SF readers. I kind of liked it.

lesleylsmith said...

I agree with Charles. Plasma rifle tells us right away that the piece is SF. :)

I guess depleted uranium is already used as armor-piercing projectiles because depleted uranium is so dense? (Depleted uranium is less radioactive than other uranium, such as natural or enriched.)

sylvia said...

I agree that plasma rifle gave me something to hold onto. I really liked the opening in terms of how it set up the location for me (physically and temporally).

"I jiggered your camofield myself, newbie."

When I got to this line, I mentally stepped back a little bit. I didn't quite know what was meant and for the first time, I felt an outsider. The next three lines didn't give me any reassurance, so I'd be reading on a bit more carefully from here.

It may well work within the further context, I just wanted to mention where I mentally backed off from the story.

six blocks east of mars said...

"You do," his team leader, Private Lassanog, replied on the same channel. "I jiggered your camofield myself, newbie."

I like this sentence as is, with "newbie" at the end of it. I infer the team leader dislikes Bein so much that he refuses use his name, and I expect the reason for that dislike to be revealed later.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

Interesting. I took it the other way--that Lassanog is teasing Bein because he does like him. Huh. I did like the line. I like figuring out jargon and lingo in spec fic.

writtenwyrdd said...

Actually, these terms, jiggered and newbie, are current military slang. Used 'em myself in the military. I relied heavily on my own Army experience for the jargon and slang, and most of it is accessible. That is feels sf to most readers is a bonus!

sylvia said...

Then I take it all back. It's clearly just me - and to be fair, I'm not much of a military sci-fi reader (I didn't even make it through Old Man's Army) so I'm simply not the right audience.

I liked seeing the emotional responses to the sentences, clearly that worked well.

Great stuff WW :)