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See if the above poster hooked you:

Every time someone doesn't read the first part of this post, Rick Santorum eats a kitten and your post may be frowned upon.

Idea stolen from Critique Circle.

The writer will post no more than the first 500-1000 words of their work (unless you desperately need to finish a sentence, I guess). If it's a script, the first four pages should suffice, since 1000 words is about four pages in most books.

The reader is pretending to be an editor going through the slush pile, and will stop reading the excerpt if they lose interest. The reader will post to say if they stopped reading, why/ why not, and offer suggestions. The critique doesn't have to be detailed, but please at least offer some advice.

Every time someone doesn't follow the second part, Rick Santorum eats five kittens and your post has a 90% chance of being ignored.

FRIENDLY REMINDER: As the title of the thread implies, if someone posted an excerpt before you, please critique it before posting your own. If you skip someone, you lose the right to whine if someone skips over you. People that have been skipped, feel free to post a polite reminder if you're getting concerned. Reading 1000 words and leaving a few comments shouldn't take too long. And look at it this way: if you critique it yourself, you don't risk waiting forever for someone else to do it for you (this thread takes occasional naps) and you don't have to hope the critiquer doesn't have an excerpt of their own to post right after.

A SHORT NOTE: By hook we mean the first thing the reader sees of the story, not necessarily some sort of inciting incident. Your beginning can be slow and steady, but it still counts as the hook because readers can still be interested by something that moves slowly as long as something is there that gives the reader a reason to keep going. So if you have a prologue that meets or surpasses the word limit, don't stick your first chapter underneath it.

DISCLAIMER: This isn't a hardcore critique thread, so don't try to milk a detailed critique for your first chapter. That's why we have the word limits. Just think of this as a preliminary screening process for serious problems so you can get started on making your first impressions sparkly and awesome.

edited 20th Aug '12 7:46:48 PM by SnowyFoxes

 301 JHM, Sat, 18th May '13 8:31:19 AM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up] I have to say, the first bit caught my attention. Normally I'm not huge on that kind of "sailors in space" science fiction thing, but the way that you framed the matter caught my attention. Maybe because you weren't overly jargon-y, but enough so to catch my attention.

There are a few small missteps in the phrasing of the second section, grammatically speaking; while acceptable in speech, "was" for "were" after "if" ought not happen. Similarly, you really should preface "older than Rollins" with "he was, " given that you add "he" later in the same sentence. Consistency of voice is key here. Unless we are literally hearing this character's thoughts (of a form), you will want to keep a certain flow and timbre.

Also, that should be a period after "Rollins smiled, " and that bit about Hunter grinning should either be cut around with em-dashes or moved. To grin is not a sound, merely a gesture. You do stuff like that a few times. It irks me.

All in all, I really dig this, but you have to be more careful in your proofreading and tonal editing.


Now, to my own disastrous attempts at fiction writing. This scene is way, way out of context, but I like it and I want to see how people feel about it, so here it is:

Caterling's ears twitched. Something had moved behind him, something quick and nimble, a break in the dead forest air. He spun around in a trice, pulling out his dagger and tensing and relaxing his claws. He wanted something quick and bloody. His nerves felt bare and worn to the wire; only violence could keep him from tearing at his own flesh.

"You show me yours, I'll show you mine." His attempt to shout resembled shredding paper. The force of it hurt, but he felt full and sharp with the sound.

His gaze darted from tree to tree. He grew agitated: No movement, no sound. Just a heavy body of silence laid flat across the ground, a corpus of wet needles and ailing trunks. The quiet stank of pitch, which mixed nastily with the smell of his own vomit, blood and urine. He felt prickly with an inner heat, and twisted the handle of the dagger in his fingers.

"Come on, you fucking—" He cut his imprecation short when he spotted his quarry. Not a mere ten yards away, a figure stood. It wore a shabby hood, loose tunic and threadbare trousers, all once dark blue, now faded to a dull grey. Caterling's ears perked up.

"You're a right fast one, aren't you? Trying to hide from me. Make sure I don't catch you."

"No, " the figure said.

Caterling's expression soured. "No?"

"I have no need." Quiet, uninflected, entirely expressionless.

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"I do not fear you."

The assassin snorted. "Do you fear death?"

"I am death, " the figure said.

Caterling stared for a moment, then began to laugh. It was a low, grating noise.

"Do you really fancy yourself to be Death himself?"

"No, but I am a death."

The laughter tapered off.

"I expect you to say that you are my death."

"Yes."

In a second, the assassin charged the figure. He made less than ten paces before he noticed that he could not feel below his shoulders.

The quiet circled and closed.

edited 18th May '13 8:35:41 AM by JHM

 302 Masterofchaos, Sat, 18th May '13 10:07:38 AM Relationship Status: In Lesbians with you
Best idol
[up]

Disastrous? This was actually really good! I really love your descriptions and the dialogue-especially the assassin's. Really had been hooked there.

I honestly don't see anything to complain about, which is always good. Keep up the good work.

Alright, time to do the opening of the sequel of my book.

They were dead.

They were all dead.

John, Riku, Abeiyuwa, and Adam were dead.

Everyone laid in a pool of their own blood. Their glassy, unblinking eyes stared directly at the horrified Nick, who could only shiver in terror. His friends, his mentors; they were all brutally murdered in front of him. They tried to save him, and they ended up overwhelmed.

And he did nothing but watch.

“Aww…” Simon said with a smirk, lightly kicking Adam’s body. “Don’t feel so down, kid. You’re next.”

He heard the sound of the dog’s growl, and his face grew in horror as they came at all sides. There was nowhere to run.

“Don’t worry. I’ll kill you before you feel the bites.” Simon then said, lifting the gun. He pulled the trigger, and everything went white.

A calm woman’s voice then echoed through his head; “Nick, dearest, time to wake up.”

edited 18th May '13 10:08:16 AM by Masterofchaos

 303 JHM, Sat, 18th May '13 10:59:25 AM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up] Thank you. Caterling and Evan (the grey figure) are both terribly fun to write.

As to critique... I was not hooked because I really think that you need to drastically revise your phrasings. You use various forms of "horror" and "terror" when they are self-evident in the situation, and your quotation etiquette is way off. I also question the use of the dream frame, although that is more personal sensibility than technical critique.

Also: "Lay, " not "laid."

I could give you a revised version to demonstrate possible reforms, if you are interested...

edited 18th May '13 11:01:17 AM by JHM

 304 Masterofchaos, Sat, 18th May '13 12:08:49 PM Relationship Status: In Lesbians with you
 305 JHM, Sat, 18th May '13 6:55:24 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
 306 Wheezy, Sun, 19th May '13 2:06:35 AM from Tampa, FL. Again.
(That Guy You Met Once)
JHM

I did read the whole thing, but if I was an editor, I probably wouldn't publish it, mostly because even though it's well-written, it seems to be the start of a Cliché Storm.

For example, the protagonist's an assassin. Most fantasy authors don't seem to get that "assassin" is almost never a job title.* I can't imagine that anyone would need enough important political figures dead for a quarter of our characters to make a living that way.

A few more random notes:

You use mixed metaphors sometimes. I'm still trying to figure out how someone shouting could seem like torn paper.

Shouldn't that be "a quiet stink of pitch?" And "corpse" would be a much better word than "corpus."

But I did like you you pointed out that "I am a death" is a kind of laughable phrase. I thought that was just a badly-worded sentence on your part, at first.

Masterofchaos

Your writing's kind of awkward, and I think there are way better ways to introduce your character roster than having them die in a dream. Nightmare Sequences have to be really well written, or else they come off as an artificial form of horror - trying to scare the reader without anything actually being at stake or anything that would change the plot happening. ...Which, I think, is why you found yourself trying to reinforce that the character was scared in hopes that the audience might feel something.

Side note: However, very good on you for having a Nigerian character - or in fact, a modern African character at all in a story that isn't about poverty, resource wars or famine. Seriously, no one does that.

Anyway...

- Pg. 1 -

Laurie Connelly’s dream journal covers the span of just one week.

That’s because, unlike most people who keep similar diaries, she wasn’t trying to document all her dreams, just to record the story told over a specific set. And what it lacks in longevity, it makes up for in detail.

However, read alone, it’s impossible to make sense of. To understand it, some context is needed.

- Pg. 2 -

Laurie never cared for reality. She dealt with it, but that was all.

The maze of tract houses, big box stores, and chain restaurants she’d spent her life in had long since lost her interest. The endless news of wars and terrorism from the outside world had gotten old just as fast, and she couldn’t have cared less about all the fashion trends, boy bands, and singing contests that seemed to define culture these days.

She was never one to focus too much on herself, either - and when she did, she tried not to talk about it. She couldn’t even bring herself to find her daily life interesting, so why would anyone else? It baffled her how some people could go on for hours about their favorite foods, their dogs, or their petty arguments with whoever.

And she wasn’t interested in whatever divine abstraction might be up there, or in joining the debates on what happens after death, or whether humanity was inherently good or evil. Like a lot of her generation, she suspected there was none, nothing would happen, and we’re probably evil, but she didn’t care much either way.

She preferred to turn her focus to other worlds.

To her, writing fiction was the smartest thing humanity ever got into. She was awed by our ability to create brilliant new universes from words, pixels, or polygons, let anyone step into them and meet people just as real and relatable as any in real life, and sometimes make the experience more beautiful and moving than anything she’d seen in her eighteen years in meatspace.

Dreams had always fascinated her for much the same reasons, but until that week, none of hers were worth writing down. On the rare occasions she remembered them, they were always nonsense. If there was any meaning to pull out of them, it was hidden so deep that not even in her most pretentious moments could she claim to be able to find it.

...Except for that one from last year where she was staring at a brilliant orange mushroom cloud erupting into the sky and in the last few seconds before she was burnt to a sticky black lump, she wept tears of joy.

That one was obvious, and she was disappointed that her subconscious wasn't more creative.

edited 19th May '13 2:07:34 AM by Wheezy

 307 Morwen Edhelwen, Sun, 19th May '13 5:09:03 AM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
@Wheezy: Very interesting, and the last line certainly made me laugh! I'm intrigued and would honestly love to read more.

Here's the first part of my steampunk novel, Fafnir's Bane. (Warning: Tolkien references. What can I say? I'm a Tolkienite).

Chapter 1. Durin’s Forge

Regin, Hreidmar’s son, was then come to Hialprek; he was the most skillful of men, and a dwarf in stature; he was wise, cruel, and versed in magic. Regin undertook the instruction and bringing up of Sigurd, and bore him great affection.

I held the firewood close to my chest with my left arm and walked down the path. The birds were calling to each other in the trees and there were rustling sounds and animal footsteps as I walked closer to the forge. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, and the clouds still covered the sky like a blanket.

Even though it was summer, Regin made me collect wood for his forge. The fire had gone down only a few hours ago, and he’d been forced to stop working on the mithril shirt he was making. Chainmail rings take a lot of work especially when they’re made of mithril, which is what elves call it. “Some people would literally give their eyeteeth for it.” he says. Humans call it dwarves’ silver. It’s the same stuff in dragons.

I sighed loudly and swore. An old dwarven curse. “Motsognir’s ax!” Why couldn’t he do it? Then I’d have more time to practice archery. My aim was getting rusty. He said that because I was his adopted son, I had to help him out. His idea of what “helping out” means is “have me collect wood every time he needed some.” I guess I kind of understand why he does that, but it doesn’t make me want to do it any more than I already do. I’d rather practice archery or chess or languages or something else except gather firewood.

Now that I was about seven miles away from the forge, I could see the village in front of me. Most of the houses were made of sod or stone, with birchbark roofs and runes carved on the doors. You can tell who’s dwarven and who’s human by checking if there are runes on the door and a bottom staircase which looks like it doesn’t lead anywhere.

They’re dwarven if there’s a staircase. Those stairs lead to underground rooms where valuable stuff’s stored and extra guests sleep. People hold ceremonies in there too. Dwarves love stone houses, runes and underground passageways. Regin says the runes are for protection. If you don’t have them burglars will think it’s easy to break into your house. “Then they might curse you, and your family might die or you might get in an accident.”

I tightened my grip on the wood as I got nearer to home. The stone door under the right window opened instantly when I pushed it, recognizing my touch. It’s carved with runes saying “This is the house of Regin son of Hreidmar of the House of Durin and his foster son, Sigurd son of Sigmund of the House of the Volsungs. A curse on strangers who enter without leave.” The fire glowed in front of me as I entered the hall. I adjusted the front of my shirt near the buttons and took off my shoes. “I’m back!” I yelled, rushing into the passageway. The dim light was just enough to see where I was going.

“Sigurd?” Regin said in Dwarvish. His voice echoed down from a few doors back. I guessed he was either still working on whatever he’d started this morning before I left the house, or he’d started on something else. The mithril shirt lay half-finished next to him. Its rings gleamed in the dim lamplight behind the half-open door, making me think of great hoards of treasure in halls under mountains. “That you?”

“Sure. Who else would it be?” I called back. Does he think someone would break in or something? By Sudri, he was suspicious of everything. Who’d come to a Dwarven village like Durin’s Forge? Or to a house like this? We’ve got nothing here except smithing tools and a money bag with just enough to live on. Maybe they’d want to steal the mithril though. It’s rare.

“I’m here.” he said. “In the forge. Come in.”

I walked out of the front room and down the corridor to the big room opposite my and his bedrooms, and sat myself down on a stool, which was one of the only pieces of furniture in the room other than another stool behind the bench, which he was sitting on. There were parts on the bench. Legs, hooves, eyes, bits of manes and tongues. From steam horses. They’re made of steel and lab body parts, but they act like real horses that don’t need to be fed much, because they have an “off” switch in their necks. The manes have curves in them like real ones.

There isn’t much light in there. Just a lamp on the bench next to a pile of tools. It’s enough for him to work in. It’s like a dwarven mine. Even has the stone walls. The room is full of piles of stuff; metal, tools, little objects he makes to sell for extra cash, toys. He looked up from his hammering straight at me, his eyes peering out through his long black hair and the braids in his beard. His hair goes down to his shoulders.

The only way he and I look the least bit similar is our dark complexions, some of our facial features and hair. He’s “much tougher than any human, ” and is shorter and stockier than me, even though he’s tall for a dwarf. It’s more obvious now because of my growth spurt. His hair is much straighter than mine, with grey hairs, and his eyes are green. “Nearly everyone of Durin’s line has them. Not my sister Lyngheid, however. She took after my grandmother, my father’s mother.” That’s what he said when I asked. I have an Afro and dark brown skin. Since last month my beard has grown in. I’m going to tie it in the middle the way he does his.

I showed it to him when I first saw it. He got a bit weird for him. Sentimental. “So my little Siggy’s grown up! You’re a man now. A few years ago I was teaching you how to write and use a sword and tucking you in bed.” Then he looked at me really closely. “I expect a lot more of you now that you’re an adult. You’d better not make any stupid mistakes and be a credit to me.”

I promised him I would.

“So, how are you, kid? Just put the woodpile down here.” He wore overalls over his long dark blue tunic and leggings with a black belt.

Dáin was there. He has long red hair and doesn’t braid his beard, just wears it loose. “OK.” I said. I set the pile on the floor and the ax next to it, then wiped the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand. For the next few minutes the only sound in the smoke-filled room was Regin hammering and Dáin pumping the bellows. He’d been doing that since I’d come in.

“Hey.” I said to Dáin.

No answer from him.

“Don’t worry, Sigurd. I had to wait five years until he talked to me.” Regin said. “You’ve got to prove yourself first. And that can take a long time. One day you’ll get something. Maybe even soon.” “OK?” He suddenly got up from his chair, pushing it away to the side, against the wall. “Leave us, Dáin.”

After Dáin walked out of the room, Regin walked over to the door and gestured to me to follow him over to the bench. Then he made me sit down on the stool Dáin had sat on and looked around the room, opening all the drawers and closets and looking out the window, then gazing back inside the drawers. He knelt down, looking everywhere as if he thought someone was hiding in the forge.

I almost laughed. It would’ve been funny if I hadn’t known that he was completely serious. His face looked even more grim than usual. And that’s saying something. He usually looks like that, but this look was different. He looked like he was going to battle. For a while I saw a flash of what he must have looked like when he was younger, before he had me to look after. I suddenly remembered a line: The lord of silver fountains shall come into his own… It was from a book, something he’d read to me for the first time when I was three. He looked as if it reminded him of something. But when I looked at him he picked it up again and the look disappeared as he went on reading. He probably thought I hadn’t noticed. When he finally finished the book, he looked drained and tired and flopped down onto his bed.

edited 21st May '13 5:57:32 AM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
 308 JHM, Sun, 19th May '13 1:56:47 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up] Hmm...

Strictly speaking, there are few other suitable words for what Caterling does. The closest equivalent would probably be the modern term "hit-man, " but given that the period is a little bit early for that—roughly predating WWI, but in a very different timeline—and it doesn't really describe what he does, or even what he thinks of himself as. "Mercenary" does not cut it, given the paramilitary implication, and simply calling him something like "murderer" would border on the redundant.

I would also be remiss to call Caterling anything like a protagonist. He is antagonistic even to his allies, and generally a pain in the neck; furthermore, while he is alone in this scene, he is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things: One lone nutcase in a very large ensemble of people all across the moral spectrum.

The tearing paper bit is very literal: His voice has that wrenched, crackly timbre.

It would not be "a quiet." I am referring to the quiet of the place itself, of the palpable lack of sound and motion. The only cogent sensory experience is one of overwhelming scent.

"Corpse" would be laying it on thicker than I already am, although I probably should change the word to something slightly clearer.

Using "death" as a countable noun in that way is a nod to a concept that doesn't really have a good translation in English: The ancient Greek notion of the keres, or lesser deaths. I reference it earlier in the work, so it functions as a call-back, but it definitely sounds silly without context—which Caterling highlights.

Finally, this is actually very late in the story. Or halfway. Ché pas. If the editor wanted to dismiss me for sounding cliché, they would do it long before this happens.

I guess I sound like I'm being defensive here, and I guess that I am, but I think that you really missed what I was going for entirely. Is that my own fault? Yes. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't rub me the wrong way.
 309 Morwen Edhelwen, Sun, 19th May '13 3:02:20 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
[up] Any comments on mine?
The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
 310 Snowy Foxes, Sun, 19th May '13 6:22:54 PM from ´ ಠ/// Д ///ಠ` Relationship Status: Heisenberg unreliable
Teehee.
It might help if you follow the rules and trim that down to 1000 words.
Detectives have bad posture because they always have a hunch about something.
 311 Morwen Edhelwen, Sun, 19th May '13 6:49:11 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
[up] Done
The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
[up] Open office gives me a word count of 1, 484.

You’ve just woken up. From your cotton bed, all you can hear is the quiet, thrumming pulse of the engine of the gondola.

You turn towards the porthole of your cabin. The sky above the Harasai desert is still but a dark violet. You stare into the outside world. Even in the dark, the desert still seems bright to you, like a frozen, golden sea. You still feel sleepy, so you close your eyes and try to go back to sleep.

You can’t, though. You feel uneasy, like someone may be watching you. You turn your head and look. Nothing there, as always. You’ve felt this way ever since you came aboard. Perhaps it’s time to get up, you think, so you sit up and trudge towards the bath.

As you clean yourself up, you remember how long it’s been since you came aboard this steel and glass monstrosity. This sand ship, your father said, is one of the finest of its kind. Powered by green thaumaturgy, using energy from the sun, this gondola travels as fast as the vultures cruising between oases and holds every luxury a nobleman like him can afford. Only the best for his only child.

You dress up and leave your cabin. You head to the garden deck. Maybe you can find some fruits, vegetables, and roots to cook in the kitchen, you think. You love cooking, your alchemy, your lovely talent, your greatest joy in life. As you walk, you bump into the captain.

“Oh, good morning, your lordship. We did not expect you to wake so early, ” he says to you in a respectful tone.

“Yes, to you as well, ” you respond. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, please do not apologize, your lordship. There is no need.”

“Oh.”

“Indeed, it seems strange, even unseemly, for a noble’s son such as yourself to apologize first.”

He stops himself. “Oh, my lord, I apologize for being so disrespectful. I did not mean to-”

“No, please, ” you say, “I understand what you mean.”

“My pleasure, your lordship.”

You cough. “Are you fine, your lordship?” he says, “You seem paler than usual.”

“Yes, I’m fine, ” you say. You cough even harder.

“Are you sure? Your father did send some medicine-”

“Yes, ” you say firmly, “please stop. I’m fine.”

“Of course, my lord. In any case, you father left them inside your cabin in case you need it.”

“Of course he did.”

“Farewell, your lordship.”

“To you as well, captain.”

He turns to leave. You remember something.

“Wait!” you call out to the captain.

“Yes, your lordship?” he asks.

“When will we arrive at the Great Cavern, captain?”

“We shall arrive soon, in a day or two perhaps, ”

“Thank you, captain.”

You look around. No one else seems to be following you. You continue on your way to the gardens.

You walk through the kitchen. Everything’s still quiet for now. You can already hear people moving around, though. You guess you have a couple of hours before the breakfast buffet. You pass through to the terraces. No one notices.

here's a part of something i want to continue. how is it?

[up][up][up][up][up]

hm, interesting, i'm not sure what to say. maybe less description? less meandering sentences? i don't know. nice start though.

edited 21st May '13 12:13:39 AM by Passerby

so much to do, and yet... here, it feels like one cannot do anything but lie here and sleep forever.
 314 Wheezy, Mon, 20th May '13 11:59:04 PM from Tampa, FL. Again.
(That Guy You Met Once)
[up] I'd tell you, but you didn't critique Morwen Edhelwen's story. Fix that.

[up]x6

Saying his voice was wrenched and cracking would probably be better than straining a simile.

Also, I did misread that "the quiet stank of pitch" line. However, it's also kind of a weird description, because silence doesn't have a smell. "The forest stank of pitch" would be kind of bland, I know, but it would be clearer.

Also, I was obviously assuming that was the intro, since I thought this thread was for intros, but knowing it's further into the book cleared it up.

edited 21st May '13 12:08:53 AM by Wheezy

 315 The Mana Thief, Tue, 21st May '13 2:55:30 AM from Melancholy Hill
Moonshine Wizard
@Morwen Your story didn't really catch my attention. Most of that is probably my dislike for Tolkienesque settings but the description stood out as awkward. It's more like a play by play record of what the character saw/heard rather than a description, if that makes any sense. It feels like you're trying to write a set amount of description for each object and then moving on without editing it to read well.
"I drank the blood of angels from a bottle, just to see if I could call the lightning down."
 316 Morwen Edhelwen, Tue, 21st May '13 5:51:38 AM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
[up] Thanks. I'll work on that.
The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
i don't want to sound like an attention whore, but can anyone tell me how mine is?

[down][down] hey! i edited my first comment to critique! >:|

edited 21st May '13 9:01:46 PM by Passerby

so much to do, and yet... here, it feels like one cannot do anything but lie here and sleep forever.
 318 Jimmy T Malice, Tue, 21st May '13 3:17:48 PM from Top lane Relationship Status: THIS CONCEPT OF 'WUV' CONFUSES AND INFURIATES US!
[up] It certainly hooked me. The setting seems interesting, the description is good, and I'm intrigued as to what the Great Caverns are. One thing I really disliked was the second person narration. It just seems awkward; it would be better in a more normal first- or third-person voice.

Here's the first scene from the prologue of a novel I'm working on at the moment called Heaven's Eye:

Awareness returned slowly as Sylvane Vanadis awoke to find herself in a new world. The chamber she stood in was cold, silent and dark until a dim yellow light flickered on above her head, illuminating the cupboard-sized metallic pod. A misty reflection of herself, tall, dark-haired and clad in a grey patient’s gown, wavered in front of her.

A click echoed loudly in the chamber, and the wall in front of her swung open to reveal a small room with grey ceramic walls lined with lockers and lit by the same yellow safety lights. Concrete columns slanted inwards as they reached the ceiling and formed angular archways. The room was warmer than the pod, but the air was filled with the pervasive sound of warning klaxons. The facility was under attack, whether from outside enemies or simply by the omnipresent forces of entropy. Even the power of the perpetual capacitance generator could not last forever.

Memories drifted back to her as she stepped out of the pod. She had been sealed inside for what felt like mere seconds, but entire aeons could have passed in the blink of an eye while she was sealed beyond time.

The purpose to her exile returned to her mind, and a single tear dripped from her eye. So much had been lost, and what lay outside could only be a remnant of a remnant.

But she had a purpose – that was the most important thing. A purpose was all that mattered.

Sylvane strode over to the row of lockers on her left and placed her thumb upon the lock of the first. The biometric device beeped a few times, and then the locker clicked open. It was a smaller version of the stasis chamber she had been held in, and could hold her possessions indefinitely, provided that the power did not fail – as it seemed to be doing.

The locker contained four things: her clothes, her backpack, her staff, and a gun. The gun was just for emergencies, of course. With the power contained in the crystal atop the ornate brass staff, she could deal with almost anything that was left in this forsaken time. She stowed it inside the backpack.

She took her time to get changed into her proper clothes; a few minutes could not possibly matter compared to the countless years that must have passed for the generator to have run down. Once clad in jacket and trousers, she slipped on the backpack and prepared to step outside. This chamber had held admirably, but how would the rest of the facility have coped with the ages?

The door to the chamber slid open with a pneumatic hiss, and Sylvane walked out into a scene of devastation.

The central hall was architecture on a truly huge scale; almost too large for the eye to take in all of the detail. It was only about fifty metres across, but it stretched on to the left and right for at least a kilometre and upwards for the same distance. The whole facility was underground for added security – how better to survive the ages than by hiding beneath the earth? The hall was lined with infrequent walkways and balconies like the one that Sylvane stood upon, which were attached to revival rooms. The pods themselves were stored in the remaining walls in every available spot to conserve space.

The stasis facility had been pristine when Sylvane had first entered it. Now the metal walkways were collapsing and stained with rust, and nature had started to reclaim the place. Blotches of lichen grew upon the walls, and climbing ivy entangled the railings. The vaulted ceiling far overhead was marred by a great breach; a hole through which sunlight streamed and made her blink. It hadn’t been long since she had seen sunlight, but it was still surprising and pleasant after the revival room’s dull glow.

How am I going to get out? Sylvane thought.

The lifts would be out of commission beyond a doubt, if the power levels were critical enough for her to be woken with no reason given. She could at least have solace in the fact that other people were stored here too. Any help would be appreciated, given the magnitude of the threat that she faced. The upper levels were a good place to start, if she could make her way to the control centre.

She began the long trek upward, ascending a set of stairs nearby. The first revival room she came across had no pod waiting to be opened, and the control panel’s buttons were jammed. There was no hope of operating the machinery to bring a pod into place for revival. Definitely on her own, then.

Fear of what might happen if she failed overcame her fear of what might lay ahead as she forged onwards. The gods did not look lightly upon failure, but even the wrath of Proteus would be nothing compared to what would happen if this mission was not fulfilled.

Vines grew thickly across the door to the main staircase. A trifling obstacle, but troubling nonetheless. Sylvane gripped her staff tightly, and reached out to the well of mana energy within its crystal. A light beam would take care of these vines with ease, but the revival process had left her too weak to perform such an advanced spell.

Simplicity was the key. She cast a fine web of energy, gathering what little heat was around her and concentrating it onto a single point – the vines. They promptly burst into intense flame, burning and shrivelling away within seconds. She still retained enough control to prevent the fire from spreading too far. Fire was the simplest of the elements to manipulate, but it was unpredictable and volatile. Fireballs and such parlour tricks were the domain of unskilled sorcerers.

Sylvane ascended the stairs, becoming increasingly concerned at the signs of decay. Perhaps she was the only one who had escaped. Everyone else would remain trapped here until the power ran out, and then they would be entombed in the very pods that had sustained them for all of this time.

Had any of the Steel Paladins survived? Just one of them to assist her could be a boon indeed.

She carried on, onwards and upwards, clear in purpose, and prepared herself for the task ahead. The gods were on her side, and she would not fail.

It seems a lot like sci-fi from this excerpt, but it's really more like science-fantasy or something.

edited 21st May '13 3:41:40 PM by JimmyTMalice

"Steel wins battles. Gold wins wars."
 319 JHM, Tue, 21st May '13 3:35:11 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up] You made no critique of anyone else's work. You broke the rules. So I shall refrain.

@Wheezy: The paper thing is another recurring motif, with respect to Caterling's voice: His throat was slashed many years ago, resulting in his voice having a strange timbre that resembles the crumpling and burning of paper. It also ties into his personality: While far from stupid, he is, shall we say, a book-burner. The more hoarse and strained the sound becomes, the closer that it reflects this.

The whole thing about the quiet as a physical object is, I guess, a little strange. I might change it, but I like playing with words like that, as you might have noticed...
 320 Wheezy, Thu, 23rd May '13 4:18:49 PM from Tampa, FL. Again.
(That Guy You Met Once)
[up][up]

Spelling, grammar, and syntax: Pretty much perfect. No complaints there.

Your prose is kind of purple, but even though that trope personally irritates me, I don't think most fantasy readers would be bothered by it at all. You also use Antiquated Linguistics sometimes (e.g.: "aeons"), which is odd, but it works.

Also, after "provided the power did not fail, " I would change "as it seemed to be doing." to "but that's exactly what it seemed to be doing", or something like that.

Overall, I would keep reading.

edited 23rd May '13 4:19:09 PM by Wheezy

 321 Stillbirth Machine, Thu, 23rd May '13 4:55:29 PM from The Womb ov Impurities
Heresiarch Command
@Jimmy T. Malice: I like it. I really get a sense of the future shock and calculated caution within a fairly concise package. It sounds like it's on the cusp of an immense reveal and the start to a realm-spanning tale and I would also continue reading it.

There weren’t many things that scared a diplomat past a certain point, seeing as their mission often involved them going in unarmoured, unarmed, and sometimes unsupervised and into the den of the enemy. Of course this changed when one was surrounded by heavily armed and armoured soldiers and wasn’t actually going off to meet the enemy but rather a sort of “nomad state”. Like a light in the dark, they guided him through these blurring corridors of flesh and steel. Encased within silver metal suits, self-powered performance-enhancing units, known to most as “powered combative suits”, complex on-board computer systems revealed the sprawling internal lay-out of the hive ship but only this long-winded path was marked as of immediate importance.

A nagging, recurrent itch was scratched and eyes darted from crevice to crevice, sometimes meeting with eight more or small shapes silhouetted against the black, dark but not dark enough to melt into the unknown. As formal as he looked alongside his high-tech bodyguards, he felt out of place here in a realm still under the grip of the primal and the primitive. A small part of him shuddered in revulsion and looked down on those who crept above, skittering away like creatures only mere factions of their size. All of their advancements in integrated biological technology and near eldritch machinery seemed nonexistent, like a grand facade, an elaborate propaganda campaign, one that was quickly peeling away with each successive step he took.

The short but discomforting journey brought them towards the door on the other end of the meeting room. A few of those barbaric looking creatures stood against the walls, statue-like yet simultaneously too vivid in his mind to be some piece of cut-up rock. Those eyes did not turn to examine him but he knew they did not need to. It was only when one of them moved, slow and careful, did it become fully real to him rather than embedded in the twilight horror in his mind. His two bodyguards, only just a bit more expressionless than the mask-faced bugs, muttered a muffled, electronically garbled words. In English he made out the same old dull details he’d shoved to the back of his mind in this dreadful trip.

He had to recollect himself, pull himself together as the common grunt would say, as a far more dangerous beast than the apparent “civilians” he had passed by lay waiting inside. Clearance to proceed, instructing the soldiers to await outside, there were video cameras watching them – all of these reminders of his diplomatic mission, one he was technically alone for, flew over his head as he churned away within, dredging up the words he’d rehearsed and the mask of his own to obscure his own emotional state. Here he was, a man, a human, 40 years of age, hair creasing back into a field of grey-white while the discolouration of a fast approaching seniority beginning to stake out its first claims on the last vestiges of his now-gone prime. He wasn’t quite the bright eyed child, swinging his styrofoam sword into the looming dark of the basement but he felt like it, blinding bravery excluded.

The filmy layer peeled away and he thought it reluctant to do so. The sitting form of a voivod looked at him with eyes that for once, he knew where they were looking. The creature was nearly little more than a black looming mass, the subdued shock on his calculatedly impassive, hairless face saying nothing, unlike the first fragments of precipitation forming at his hairline. Then, the creature was not a beast but a man – not hunched over the table like some massive rove beetle uncomfortably crammed onto a chair, but merely leaning forth, just as a man like his own might deep in thought.

He walked forth to take his spot, eyes constantly locked on those of the fearsome commander and his stony look. The meeting commenced.

Only Death Is Real
 322 Morwen Edhelwen, Thu, 23rd May '13 7:08:13 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
[up] Strong and intriguing beginning. The small details (combat units) make it clear that this is science fiction.

Here's a revised version of the beginning of Cuba Libre, a steampunk sci-fi novel I drafted last year, about a teenage clone of Che Guevara in a banana republic Cuba. This part doesn't really have that many steampunk elements yet, just setting up characters and establishing setting.

Che Guevara Serna,

Somewhere near Guantánamo, Oriente Province

Monday May 6

The news on Radio Rebelde this morning was about the riots on the street near the military base over immigration and the drug business.

They’ve been going on for weeks, and are the only thing we hear about when Celia or Fidel wants to hear the news from the radio just above the sink on the kitchen counter in the apartment. The radio’s contrabrand.

Fidel got it just last month and puts his wages in a red box decorated with Mickey Mouse. It’s a small one, with a brown lock.

They always listen to the news about the riots. Celia because her cousin Miguelito lives in town, and Fidel because his other job’s up there. He sells bolita tickets part-time at a bodega near the docks.

“A street fight which began last week as a struggle between groups of freelance smugglers over payments for shipments and arrests due to trafficking of cocaine to the U.S. has become a battle extending from the capital to over the American border. Our sources also believe that anti-American sentiments are a factor in the rising violence. The chairman of the Habana syndicate has stated that he will attempt to deal with the violence, and Habana police and private enforcers are being deployed to Vedado as we speak. American police are also planning on crossing the border on 24-hour patrolling duty at the docks.

It is meant to maintain the blockade, according to the FBI chief. Captain José Castro, head of the PNRC’s La Habana division, says that the work of eradicating illegal smuggling is constant and requires international assistance. It does not only concern Cubans. In Guantanamo, the leading syndicate of the area, the Oriente Syndicate, is working to prevent illegal immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic crossing the bay. In the last four months, the number of illegal immigrants has increased.

The government plans to house more of them in Guantanamo Bay detention camp. On that note, Tomás García, the PAU’s presidential candidate, plans to run on an increased border control and anti-illegal immigration platform. He believes that this will help crack down on the unrest and lead to long stability for this country.”

There was more, but I didn’t get a chance to hear much, because just as I started to really hear everything, Celia’s big brown hand shot out and turned the radio off. She and Fidel are both black, with dark brown skin, full lips, and thick black curls. She’s always oiling her hair and she has hazel eyes (she’s mulato like me) while Fidel’s are brown. I look a little like them -I have dark eyes like Fidel- but my skin’s lighter than theirs. Which is kind of ironic given that my name’s Che.

The TV was switched on to NNRC (Neuva Noticia Revolucionario Cubano, or New Revolutionary National Cuban News). So I got to hear it twice. “Contracted enforcers working for casino owners and city police officers have been deployed to La Habana’s Vedado district in order to deal with the escalation of last week’s street disturbance. The president and the Commissioner for Narcotics Trafficking want to assure you that everything will be under control and that a presidential address is planned for later this month to discuss this issue, a move which could lead to reforms in immigration and trafficking.” The reporter’s ls sounded like rs and the other way around in his Habana accent.

edited 23rd May '13 7:11:11 PM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
Impudent Upstart
Hope its OK to revive this thread. My apologies if you guys aren’t looking for feedback on these openings any more since it looks like it’s been awhile.

@Jimmy T. Malice: I’d definitely keep reading based on this beginning. You did a good job of crafting an interesting setting and filling it with enough detail -such as the passing comments about gods and parlor tricks- to make me want to know more without making it a chore to read through.

If I had to make a suggestion: maybe give the main character a detail of memory or two, especially when she cries that single tear. Maybe the name of a friend she knows she won’t see again or something? Seems like the sort of thing that might be on her mind at that point, and would help create a more personal interest in the character herself. Other than that if I were to nitpick I might try rewording in a couple of places, but nothing jumped out at me.

The writing style was nice: My attention was on the story and not the words, if that makes any sense. As I said before: I’d definitely want to see what happens next.

@Stillbirth Machine: Overall, yeah: I’d want to keep reading to see how the meeting goes. However, the phrasing of some of your sentences confused me. I think I understood what you were trying to say in each of them, but it took me out of the story a minute to figure it out, and if I wasn’t as interested in sci-fi I can see someone just giving up on it. The first thing that stood out to me was that sometimes plurals didn’t match: For example, in the very first sentence, I would make ‘mission’ ‘missions’ because, well, I’m assuming diplomats go on more than one in their careers. The second is wordiness. Hunt down unnecessary words and eliminate them.

My second read through was much more enjoyable than the first because I already kind of knew what was going on.

Also: in the second to last paragraph, when you talk about precipitation on his brow… pretty sure you meant perspiration?

That being said, you did a good job of making me picture a creepy, foreboding atmosphere and of introducing sparing details without explaining things in an ‘info-dumpy’ way. You give me enough to have some idea of where I am, but leave enough unsaid that I want to read more to figure out some of the rules of this world. The bit about the diplomat fighting with a Styrofoam sword was a nice characterization touch as well.

@Morwen Edhelwen: This is an intriguing set up, but I’m not sure how far I’d get. It would depend on how much longer the ‘newscast’ sections go on, I think. It’s a good device for providing some information about the setting, but giving a word by word report has the potential to become boring. Perhaps the news sections could be relayed from Che’s point of view, so we only get the details he picks up on, or his interpretation of the events? Or if not maybe try to trim down the news segments. I liked the non-radio bits just fine, just the right amount of detail, though I was confused as to what the red Mickey Mouse box had to do with the contraband radio.

Also a side question: Wasn’t ‘Che’ just Che’s nickname? So, is Che this clone’s given name, or is it his ‘nickname’ as well?

OK. Here's the first scene of the story I've just gotten around to finishing:

Lilith was picking herbs for dinner when she noticed an unusually large rabbit watching her. Pausing in her work, she regarded the creature. The rabbit stared back at her, an ear twitching. Normally Lilith was fond of rabbits, no matter how much Victor derided them as garden-destroying pests, but something about this one unnerved her. It was the nature of such creatures to flee when spotted, or at least attempt to hide. This particular rabbit, however, didn’t seem at all perturbed at being seen. Wiggling its nose, it hopped towards her, crushing several ferns under its bulk. Lilith leapt to her feet, at once alarmed and struck by the absurdity of her fear. After all, it was only a rabbit. The creature bounded toward her again and, with a squeal of surprise, Lilith dropped her basket and backed away. The creature took another leap and Lilith ran, her elfin feet carrying her nimbly through the branches of the forest. She ran along roots and jumped over rocks leaving hardly a leaf bobbing to betray her presence. The rabbit pounded after her, snapping a path through the undergrowth as it pursued her.

The startled girl soon reached a clearing, shaded by the branches of a gigantic tree growing in its center. She ran between a pair of beehive shaped huts that squatted, like mushrooms, among the tendrils of mountainous roots that grew from the base of the tree. At the top of the root ridge stood Victor, holding a basket of ripe fruit from his prized orchard. Lilith wasted no time scrambling up towards the one eyed gardener, who blinked in astonishment as she hid behind him.

“Eh? What’s the matter?” he barked, glancing sharply from her to the forest. Lilith, still struck by how absurd it would be to admit what chased, merely pointed at the creature that squatted, so bold and unrabbit-like, between two of the huts.

Before either gardener or pest could react to each other, a high, rasping cough echoed through the clearing. All five eyes turned to stare at the entrance of a small cottage, built into a cavernous hollow that opened between two of the tree’s largest roots. An old man stood there, leaning on a gnarled, black wooden staff that seemed almost twice as thick as the arm that held it. One would have been excused for thinking him a scarecrow, his brown limbs nothing more than dried out branches and his beard a bit of sheep’s wool, had it not been for the bright green eyes that flashed above his protruding peak of a nose.

“What’s all this commotion about then, eh?” he demanded his high, reedy voice carrying all about the hollow. His eyebrows jumped an impressive height, disappearing under the hood of his cloak. “I asked you to fetch water, Victor. And you, Lilith, this is most unlike you.”

“Look!” Lilith said, pointing to the monstrous rabbit. The old man turned in time to see the bob tail of the rabbit as it fled back into the woods. The green eyes narrowed and, faster than a frog’s tongue, the old man sprang forward, swinging the staff that seemed too thick for his feeble arms to carry. Lilith’s eyes followed the staff’s movement, to the forest. The rabbit had vanished, in its place the bare back of a young man was quickly lost under the trees.

“Eitri?” Lilith called.

“I sent him to get the water, ” Victor said, “He’s been neglecting his chores for magic again.”

“The upstart, ” the old man said, leaning on his staff, “He’s been experimenting. I shall have to have words with him. Not that it does any good. Sometimes I wonder if our Eitri’s any common sense at all. The boy seems steadfast on refusing to learn anything practical.”

“He’s never turned himself into a rabbit before, ” Lilith said.

“He’s never done any of his chores on time either, ” Victor murmured, “now that’s a trick I’d like to see him master.”

But Lilith was already scrambling down the roots of the tree, all fear forgotten.

“Go and bring the fool back Lilith, and see that he doesn’t forget the water!” the old man called. “Tell him if he does, I’ll give him long ears and a bob tail again, this time, permanently!”

“I shall!” Lilith called, turning briefly to wave. Once again her body slipped through the forest, her ears alert, until she heard muffled curses coming near the lake that sat below the great tree. Making her way between the branches, she peered down the shore to see her brother hastily pulling his robes about him. He stood up, still scowling, and held his hand over a twisted piece of wood that lay in the mud. Glaring, he nudged it lightly with its feet.

“What are you doing?” Lilith asked, emerging from the shadows to approach her brother. Eitri directed his scowl towards her.

“Why’d you have to run?” he demanded, his empty hand still held over his staff, “I wanted you to help me change back without getting them involved. Now Master’s sure to lecture me about being impatient again.”

“Sorry, ” Lilith said, shrugging. “You scared me.”

“Scared of a rabbit, ” Eitri muttered, “pathetic.” He glared at the staff, which refused to rise on its own, and finally slipped his foot under the reluctant piece of wood and kicked it upright. Catching the side of the staff he leaned against it, staring out across the water. Lilith sat beside him on the root of a tree, dangling her feet in the water.

“Master says you need to bring the water.”

“I know, I know, ” Eitri sighed. “I’ll fetch it soon enough. I wanted, ” he added, “to bring it all in one trip. That’s how I ended up…” he fell silent with another scowl.

“As a rabbit?” Lilith asked.

“Yes, ” Eitri glowered. “It was supposed to be an elephant.”

edited 16th Jun '13 6:24:36 PM by LittleBillyHaggardy

Nobody wants to be a pawn in the game of life. What they don't realize is the game of life is Minesweeper.
 324 Morwen Edhelwen, Mon, 17th Jun '13 4:39:01 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
[up] Yes, Che was Che Guevara's nickname and the clone's given name.

TBH, I don't either! grin But I'm confused. What do you mean by point-of-view?

Is Eitri's name from the dwarf in the story about the forging of Mjollnir?

edited 17th Jun '13 4:40:46 PM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
Impudent Upstart
By his point of view I meant we are told Che’s impression of the radio broadcast, like he’s giving a summary of what he is listening to. We are only told the details that stand out to him, rather than a direct, word-for-word transcript of the news itself.

And yeah, I got the name ‘Eitri’ from the myth (Though I actually first encountered it while playing Age of Mythology, though that was based on the myth itself.) He isn’t based on the dwarf though, the name just seemed ‘right’ for his character.

Nobody wants to be a pawn in the game of life. What they don't realize is the game of life is Minesweeper.
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