Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Critique Session #2

Title: Poseidon's Trident
Genre: Action/Adventure
Name: Little Scribbler
Blog: www.littlescribbler.wordpress.com

First 250 Words

The earthquake hit at 12:05 am. If measured on the Richter Scale, it would have measured 10.0 - described as an “epic”, and would require one teraton of TNT to replicate. However, the majority of the force sent by the quake was absorbed by a single, oblong island, measuring 370 kilometres in diameter at its centre.

The effect was immediate. Flimsy wood houses were flattened instantly, the occupants either killed or running from the rubble screaming. Wooden walls toppled over, and domesticated animals - pigs, goats and horses - scurried off away from the city, seeking non existent shelter. Entire forests were unearthed, and large faults opened up, displacing large amounts of rocks and dirt.

Then, it was all over.

Of the original 10 000 inhabitants of the city, fewer than 300 were left alive. Seeking help, all made their way over to what used to be the city centre, stumbling over rubble, and crying for the loss of loved ones. They all stood there, waiting for someone, anyone, to take charge.

Finally someone did. Considered the best warrior in the whole city, Atlas stood tall, at a little over 1.9 metres. His long blonde hair was untidy, and his golden beard was stained red from a cut above his chin, caused from his falling roof. A similar cut sat on his forehead, also from falling timber. Standing on a pile of wood, he bellowed:

“People of this city! The Gods have sent a curse to us, for failing the capture of Athens. Our King and Queen are dead, and our houses destroyed. Many of us have been killed, and I have seen the curse from Poseidon!”

Readers: If you were an agent/editor, would you request to read more based on this sample? If not, at what point and why did you stop reading? What stood out as well done in this query/sample?


Unknown said...

I *loved* the first line. It is a dramatic way of starting the story, and hooked me instantly.

However, I think it might be working a little against you. When I read the exact time, and the Richter Scale, I immediately thought that I was in a modern world. The flimsy wood houses and farm animals (not sure I'd call them domesticated animals--usually I think of cats and dogs with that adjective) made me think the quake hit a small, perhaps 3rd world country within this modern world. It's not until the very last lines of this passage, where Atlas is speaking, that I realized we were dealing with an ancient Greek world, not a modern world and small country.

Because no one in your world would think in terms of 12:05am or Richter Scale, you might want to consider changing those lines to reflect your world.

By the end of this passage, the only character I really know is Atlas. I'm not sure if this is going to be the Atlas from mythology (it seems that way, given his body description) or just a character named after Atlas, but either way, he doesn't seem personable to me. By that, I mean that while I know his size (and from his speech, perhaps a tendency for grandeur?), I don't really know *who* he is. I know nothing of his personality--and most importantly, I have no emotional connection to him.

Starting with a tragic occurrence is *great* but I think you need to zoom in more on how that occurrence affected an individual so that I can become emotionally attached. It's like the difference between watching a news program of an earthquake, and knowing that your father/brother/best friend was *in* the earthquake.

Because of the confusion about setting and the lack of emotional attachment with the main character, I'm afraid I wouldn't read on. If you had a very strong pitch that showed me how unique this story is compared to others, I might read on--I'm a sucker for mythology, and if there were a strong enough hook in your story, I would be enticed by that, but would want some emotional depth to the characters very soon.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

First, I love your style. Very good writing and a riveting subject. But I agree with Beth that I thought it was a modern-day tale until I reached Atlas. Is he the MC? Could you start with the house falling on him, perhaps? If someone else is the MC observing Atlas we need to be with that person from the get-go. And I want to feel some emotion. This is one scary earthquake. Whoever the viewpoint character is, we should feel the terror. I can't wait to see what you do with this, though. I'm intrigued.

Bontemps said...

I like the epic start to the story and would have to read on to find out more about how it is going.
From what I read it wouldn't be enough to make a decision either way on requesting a full, as Beth said, very little character interaction occurs in the excerpt.

That may just be due to the limit of 250 words but combining the first 2 paras by reducing the technical detail (if it is set in the past) in para 1 and adding it to para 2 would give you more space in the 250 limit to develop the story on page 1. You could then later show how widespread the devastation is rather than tell us about it as the story progresses, as I imagine that it will be an important part to the start of your story.

I was also confused about whether it was modern or ancient times, this may have been deliberate; I just couldn't tell from what was there to read.

Perhaps you might consider changing the narrative viewpoint to give it more emotion. It looks like you've gone for Omniscient 3rd, when a subjective 3rd view would give the piece more colour and help the reader 'get into' the story more (yet also allow you a bit more scope than just through the eyes).

Maybe you could tell it from Atlas' point of view in 3rd person, or a chronicler of the times (ala Samuel Pepys)?

This would give it some distance but also allow their personal opinion to shine through (could be achieved with minor alterations to the existing work too).

It is also a bit unclear as to who he is talking to at the end. Did he gather a group, come across one, or is he just speaking aloud and declaring his intentions like a vow to the Gods?

A bit more detail is needed, and would give it more impact if you describe the crowd he is speaking to, their actions and emotional response to the earthquake.

Just my thoughts, disregard as required.
Nice work, L'il Scrib!

MeganRebekah said...

I commend you for sharing your work. I know how difficult that can be!

And I hated to say this, but I wasn't hooked. I would have stopped after the first paragraph when absolutely nothing happens except very techincal information that doesn't feel necessary or relevant. You give the exact time, the richter scale rating, the number of tons of TNT needed to replicate it, and how long the island is that got hit. That's a lot of unnecessary details. Where are the people that we care about? I want to care that someone got hit, not know how many tons of TNT will replicate the explosion.

Why not start with an immediate focus on Atlas?

Another key issue to be aware of is reptition. The word wood is used three times in this short opening. And describing Atlas uses two references to cuts on him, both from falling objects.

Good luck and keep working at it! Thanks for sharing!

Mim said...

I like that you started with the earthquake. Beginning with the action is a great way to draw in the reader. However I agree that it needs to be a little bit more personalized. I was going to ask what type of narrator you were going to have third person limited or third person omniscient. I'd start by describing the earthquake through the eyes of your main character, so that the events are meaningful to the reader.

I love the concept of the story, but I'd try to bring the focus on this horrible event to show how it is affecting individuals instead of just the society. For example instead of stating that it happened at 12:05 am, describe what the main character was doing, sleeping to be jolted awake in darkness. Then we can have a better sense and experience the sense of confusion and devastation that is happening.

I love mythology stories, so this sounds like it is going to be great. Thanks for sharing, it is a little scary. Your writing is very good. Good luck!

Eric said...

The beginning is interesting. Starting with the description of an earthquake is good, though the scientific details felt a little cold and vague (for example, I have no idea what a teraton is, other than knowing it must be a huge amount). I'd be interested in reading more, seeing how these people deal with the incredible destruction. Nice job.

Elana Johnson said...

I think you started the story too early. I think it should start just AFTER the inciting event (in this case, the earthquake) to let the reader wonder what in the world they've been dropped into.

So your first line doesn't come (for me) until "People of this city!" and the rest of his speech. You could add in the setting of flattened houses and stench of death and stuff. That would really make the reader turn the pages to find out what happened...five minutes ago. You know?

Just a thought. :)

Teri K said...

I liked the earthquake angle, and the fourth paragraph, where I learned that only 300 people survived, definitely caught my attention. It makes the story stand out from the ordinary.
Unfortunately I found the first two paragraphs confusing and too technical. If it were non-fiction I would have read on a bit. Assuming I didn't use non-fiction I would have stopped in the middle of paragraph two, because I thought it was about a recent earthquake.
Once I realized it was fiction I wanted to know if it was mythological, fantasy, or adventure. I couldn't tell.
I think you have the makings of an original, gripping story, though. I hope you keep working on it and share more later.

Blodeuedd said...

I thought as others had, that it was set in the modern world. And i got a bit bored, but the second half grabbed my attention when I understood what it was about. Still only 300 survived, hm, dunno about that.

Danyelle L. said...

Great opening line, but after that it fell apart for me. For such a traumatic event, it has little story time, if that makes sense. I think if you had what was happening as part of the story, rather than filling us in before what felt like the real story starts, it could be a lot stronger.

My opinion is that you're starting in the wrong place--either too soon or too late into the story. I would also watch the clues for the story that give us a sense of when this happened. When was the Richter Scale and TNT invented? When was the term coined?

All that said, you're very brave to do this. Best of luck to you. :D

B.J. Anderson said...

First of all, that's awesome of you to share your work. I think the concept seems very cool. I do think you could show the scene happening instead of telling us about it after the fact, and it would have more impact. Great writing!

Natalie Allan said...

Hi there,

A very gripping start, however, I'm not a science-y person and altho I know what the richter scale is, there was a little bit of terminology I didn't quite get. Altho this didn't turn me away from the story, I think perhaps by either explaining this or dumming it down, the less worldly reader (ie, me) could follow a lot easier.

Thanks so much for sharing I really enjoyed this and would like to read on more.

Trisha Pearson said...

I'm sensing a very intriguing story idea here! I think I would definitely read on to see what this Atlas fellow had to say. And I think the earthquake is a great place to start. I want to read on to find out what happens in the aftermath.

However, I would probably begin telling it all through my MC's viewpoint with very descriptive details so the reader can see it all through the character's eyes and feel the MC's emotions as he experiences the earthquake.

If all the technical information is important to your story, what about writing it as a prologue and then beginning your first chapter with your MC's experience of it? Just a thought....

Good luck with your story and thank you for sharing!

Steph Su said...

Oh man, I love the scientific facts. I love anything that makes me think the author is smart--but I think you should work on showing that intelligence throughout. I love the detached way that details are presented to us, but some of the adjectives and semantics used seem elementary, taking away from the eerily apathetic impact of the descriptions. Good luck! I'm definitely interested.

Anonymous said...

Everyone, thanks for your comments, I appriciate them.
Just FYI, the exerppt is the biginning of the prolugue, and IS set in ancient Greece. I probably should have included in the exerpt the time and date, which appears at the very beginning. Would that have helped you?
Once again, thanks for your critique. Especially Beth, for hosting this =). I admit that I agree with all of your suggestions. Thanks for maaking them clear.

Abby Annis said...

I think you did a great job describing the earthquake, but I agree with what others have said. This feels too detached. I want to experience it with the characters. If you could zoom in, it would definitely have more impact. Good luck!