19 December 2008

First Page Entry

Getting Noticed

All my life I'd known this was coming. That one day I'd hold this piece of paper in my hands. I hadn't known how badly I'd wanted it to be much, much later. I eased the thick paper back into the official black envelope and placed it on the console table. Blinking rapidly to keep tears at bay, I placed a finger and thumb on either side and squared it neatly in the centre of the slippery walnut surface.

I snatched my keys from the ethnic clay dish, a souvenir from my sister's endless travels, and stepped back into my routine. I took my normal drive to work, feeling less pleased with my choice of summery white gypsy skirt and blue blouse than I had been. I wished I'd dressed more sombrely.

In the office I collected a plastic cup of almost hot water from the dispenser and took it to my desk. It was quieter than I'd expected. When I sat down, I realised that I wouldn't be able to concentrate much. I only had three months left and all the things on my to-do list seemed pointless. I wondered why I'd spent so many years doing them.

Carole was next in. She sat down on the other side of the grey partition wall in a clatter of bracelets. Reaching behind her monitor to start her computer, she looked at me and smiled. "Hey, I got my notice this weekend. Feels a bit weird. What did you do?"

"Me too," I smiled back and my face felt like it didn't belong to me.

"What are you going to do? I know it's not something to make a fuss about but a couple of my friends got theirs too and we thought we'd have a party. A bit of a send off." Carol turned her eyes to her screen and tugged at a lock of dark hair at the back of her neck. She'd just had it highlighted.

"That's a nice idea." I said. "Quite a few people I know have had their notice recently and I didn't get to say goodbye."

"Does it seem to you that it's getting earlier?"

"My parents were both in their sixties when they went. I guess I always thought I'd have so much longer."

The office was busier now. John came up to us, swinging a plastic drinks tray. "Who's on notice?" he said, "I got mine Saturday."

For the most part, I think the writing is quite sound. Its direct simplicity appeals to me, and the duplicity of the title intrigues me, especially since it's so quickly tied in. Some of the word choices confuse me, such as "ethnic", mostly for their lack of specificity. There also was a line early on which I had to read a couple of times. But helping a writer choose a more perfect word or sentence structure in a near-perfect story is part of an editor's job. What we look for, if we really like the story, is easily fixable issues.

I would tag all dialogue this early on. This isn't because I lost track of who was speaking, but just to get names and characteristics entrenched in readers' heads. Also, I don't know the narrator's name. The simple solution is to insert it into dialogue.

As for content, the "notice" strikes me like winning the "Lottery" did in The Island, in which clones were harvested for organs. Or perhaps they're headed off-world? In the hands of a lesser writer, not knowing almost immediately would frustrate me, but this writer has integrated the "secret" so seamlessly into the plot, I don't mind. Caveat though, I'd mind if it lasted the entire story. That's a plot device that's overdone and out of style.

Based on what I see here, I'd definitely read on.


lesleylsmith said...

Thanks for playing author. The writing here is good. Kudos!
The first paragraph here is excellent and it ties in beautifully with the title. This editor is quite intrigued.

In paragraph two, there are starting to be too many adjectives for my personal taste ethnic clay dish and summery white gypsy skirt, or maybe Editor Betsy is right and they're too vague. What's ethnic? What's summery white? But these are minor nitpicks.

I'm intrigued by so many people in the office getting noticed and the hints that they are all going away in some kind of final fashion.
I agree with Editor Betsy in that I would want to read on.

An editorial note: if, as Betsy and I suspect, the noticed folks are being euthanized (for population control or organ harvest or food) or forced to emigrate, this had been done quite a bit in spec fiction. The author should give the story a twist in some way to make it original.

David E. Hughes said...

I, too, like the double meaning in the title and the first paragraph. The author has set up the conflict at the outset. My concern would be Bet's and Lesley's point about originality. Right now, it feels too much like "Logan's Run" (for those who know the old 70s TV show--or was it a movie?) or the classic short story "The Lottery". Remember, originality scores big points with us here at E-spec. My other concern is the office setting. As I think I've said in earlier posts, its hard to make office settings interesting (at least to me).

writtenwyrdd said...

I have to agree that this is very competent writing, but I thought the first three paragraphs were too vague. Just a tiny bit more specificity would make a huge difference. Saying she dreads the notice which means X, for example. by the end of the entry I get the feeling only she thinks it's a bad thing; but no one else seems bothered by it. So I felt the need to have just that little bit of clarification I mentioned to make the opening really grab me.

Boudica said...

Thanks for all the feedback. This piece didn't get finished - largely because I couldn't find a way to do it that wasn't overdone. I agree with everything that's been said - good to know how it can be improved.