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  1. #1
    Brandon Cleveland

    An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    I've been working on my query letter, and its been suggested that I post an 800 word sample here.

    My book is a science fiction/mystery/suspense based in the 27th century, where extra terrestrials live among humans, and the only prosperous nation the United Americas, composed of the whole western hemisphere. The main character, Citizen, is led on a journey where he discovers the planet and its politics are more twisted than he could've imagined.

    Chapter Three – Fin Fang Boom
    With a verbal command, the transparent walls of my office faded to black, and I finally had the privacy that I had craved for a month. Of the twenty-five billion people that lived in the UA, twenty-four point eight billion lived in a major American N-Build.

    The N-Builds were what cities like Miami, Mexico City, and Detroit used to be. Dating a hundred and seventy five years back and even up until now, all major cities were razed and the massive, cloud piercing N-Builds were constructed in their place. The population of lesser metropolitan and rural areas was transferred into the N-Builds upon their completion. The new dwellings were an upgrade for some and a downgrade for others. The homeless now had homes and the line between rich and poor had been completely blurred.
    Everything outside the N-Builds was used as space for resource reproduction to accommodate the growing population. How anything grew or prospered under the brown clouds over most of the country baffled me, but I didn’t need to know how it worked. It was common knowledge that every registered UA citizen who wanted shelter had a private home; every citizen had food in their home.

    The two hundred million people who didn’t live in the N-Build for whatever reasons, purposefully kept their lives difficult. They used dirty electricity and drank dirty water. Instead of the ability to take the lift or order food through the feeds, they relied on stolen goods from the government’s food farms. I guess it had something to do with tradition, but I personally couldn’t understand it.
    As I sat down in my gel chair, my mind went back to the Micah who had called twice in less than an hour. It was strange enough that he used government hard lines to contact the office, but the fact that he encrypted both calls had me confused. The callback could – and would - wait until the morning. Absolutely nothing could spoil the night of drinking and brain maiming channel surfing I had planned.

    The feeds resumed after another verbal command, and there were seven displays dedicated to the demonstration. The view from space was awe-inspiring; the protesters appeared as an ocean made of people. It was amazing how peaceful everything looked.

    According to the ticker, only a couple thousand deaths were attributed to crowd mismanagement. Of course the Indo-Chinese government would publish the figures; I mean – what was five thousand out of fifty million. Their government was a credit to the planet, or at least they thought. The IC officials could’ve prevented even one death had they a reasonable explanation for their unwillingness to accept assistance.

    The thirty billion folks in IC were in bad shape had been so for the last hundred years. Not only were births out of control, so were the mortality rates for all age groups. The old United States addressed that issue before its reconstruction years ago when couples were allowed one birth per household – although it took an overpopulation epidemic for them to instill such measures.
    Ten years back, when I lived under Uncle Adam’s radar in Seattle; I heard rumors of the Chinese government throwing bodies into waste plots before launching the lot into the sun as if they were everyday garbage. There was a lot of potential truth to that and anyone who paid any attention to any news feed.

    Between the ages of eighteen and thirty, I traveled the planet in search of something I never found. To this day, I don’t know what it was I sought, but I made my way to the Far East, and it wasn’t nearly as pretty as the advertisement claimed it would’ve been. I remember the first time I saw their high rise apartment buildings; faceless structures a thousand feet in the air, packed to the brim with those lucky enough to have a stable income - mostly government workers paid in shelter and food rations.
    I remember before I found my calling, I’d spend nights in the worst parts of America’s under cities, sharing stories of the brutality I witnessed first hand. The smell of Beijing made the air in the Philly’s industrial zone resemble potpourri in comparison, and the water was as black as the night sky.

    The cries of starving babies at night were enough to go mad from. I knew beforehand what I was walking into, but nothing, even the virtual history tour I took before landing, was going to prepare me for those couple nights I spent in the outskirts of Beijing. Where I expected pilgrims making camp in the hills, I found societal rejects living in barren wastelands. Lush green hills turned rocks as sharp as razor lasers and as black as night. It was all a result of the global warming epidemic from forever ago. Cannibalism ran rampant, out of necessity - not dysfunction. Their people were in such a bad way, they laid claim to eat their next of kin upon their death, if only to fill their swollen stomachs. There were no domesticated or wild animals in America, and I expected to see at least something of the sort in the East. I came to found out that all creatures not human had disappeared into extinction long before I went there.

  2. #2
    Joe Zeff

    Re: An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    Your writing is very dense, almost verbose. There must be something simpler than the oft repeated "verbal command." Also, this is nothing but exposition, giving us background but not, so far as I can tell, advancing the plot. The only part that looks at all interesting is when you speak of traveling, and that's just telling, never showing. I'm both a reader and writer of SF and I couldn't get through it.

    If this excerpt is typical of your book, it badly needs rewriting; if not, give us something that is. My suggestion is that you give copies of your MS to friends (sometimes called "beta-readers") who's literary taste and judgment you trust, have them critique it and then rework it with their suggestions in mind. Lather, rinse, repeat as many times as needed to make it the best book you can.

  3. #3
    Brandon Cleveland

    Re: An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    Yes, I suppose that was a bad excerpt, especially if a reader doesn't know anything else.

    Do you mind reading another sample, this is from the same chapter, but with a bit of dialogue.

    Sooner than I could reach for the digital assistant, the crowd hushed as a woman walked to the podium. I couldn’t have been sure who it was, but security was heavy. Rather than ponder her identity, I chose to alternate the feed to its next channel.

    Channel two was a three-quarter isometric view, and I could see everything from the crowd to the podium, albeit from the top down. At least from that perspective, I got a sense of the numbers present. There were anti-extra terrestrial protests daily, dependent on the region of the UA. To see more than ten thousand people on each side would count as an astounding turnout. I instructed the system to count the number of individuals present on screen, and according to its estimation, there were fifty thousand people on each side. It immediately became apparent that nothing was typical about that gathering.

    I switched to the third channel, which was a side shot of the speakers and the crowd, which gave me absolutely nothing, it was too far back to get a good look at who held the floor.

    The fourth and fifth channels were perspectives on each side of the quieted crowd. Annoyed, I skipped over them immediately.

    The sixth angle was dead on. It lacked audio and subtitles, but the picture was clear enough to positively identify the podium speaker. I had no reason to doubt it, but it was the twice voted in President of the United Continents. Since the audio was muted and since I wasn’t well versed in lip interpretation, I was left in the dark concerning anything about what she was doing there.

    The muted vocals had become frustratingly annoying, and I couldn’t handle the stress any longer. A real time hologram of Liza shutting the systems down appeared on my desk.
    “Hey, Liza –” I said as I took another drink of my scotch.
    "I'm making my way out pretty soon, so what is it?" she asked.

    “I need you to do something for me really quickly,” I said, as I winced at the idea of her response, half expectant of her to kick open my office door.
    "Are you serious?

    “A couple minutes ago, you were adamant about getting drunk and blowing the night off," her e-self said, with a slight digitization in the voice. "And may I add that your nicotine rations are spent for the night, so I wouldn’t be so quick to dump those half smoked butts!”

    “Christ,” I said. To talk through the video communication system had become a burden, and I didn’t want to waste time on small talk. There was no telling where the source of the feed was from, and it only made sense to track it before it dissipated. “Just get in here!”

    My voice never yelled, so when it did that night, she knew I meant business. Before I could take another sip of my drink, she was right in front of the desk.
    “Okay,” she said with a lit cigarette in her mouth, probably to add insult to my injury. “What could be important enough for you to scream?”

    "Well, Liza - it seems that we've intercepted a feed,” I said.


    “Well for one thing – it was one I didn’t look for; it just kind of showed up. That means someone patched it into me, and I'd like to know where it came from and who sent it."

    After a few moments, Liza chimed back in.

    "Boss, I got something that will make you wet yourself, so I hope you've an extra set of pants, or at least wearing a pair that are capable of self cleaning ..." she said.

    "Just get on with it," I interrupted, as I was already on the edge of my seat.

    She continued. "The feed is definitely live, the speaker is definitely the President, and the source is definitely encrypted," she said, almost excitedly. "Whoever sent this to you meant to, but for what, I'm not sure.”

    She paused for a moment while she accessed additional information. “Have you ever heard of a ‘National Presidential Feed Act?”

    Of course I had. It was a closed circuit feed system that every hacker in the world had tried to access at one time or another.

    About a half century back, a nameless front runner for the UA presidency built her campaign around honesty, something the almost broken UA was in bad need of. Amazing how three months before election, her sexual deviancy was exposed in motion picture form, across multiple feeds in the UA.

    Despite that seemingly career defining moment, she won the election against then current President Jamison Alderman by a margin of thirty percent. No one went as far as to call it an upset.

    It didn’t help that he his own video on the national feeds. To this day, no one could identify who leaked and distributed the footage of Alderman and his inspection of a synthetic narcotics plant. He was never prosecuted for his actions, but his public image took a hit that it never recovered from.

  4. #4
    Joe Zeff

    Re: An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    Candidly, I skipped down to the dialog because it was just as over-written as before. I really don't want to be offensive, but it almost looks like you have a rule not to use one word where three can be forced in.

    "The muted vocals had become frustratingly annoying..." could easily become, "The noise was starting to bother me..." Just as many words, but nine syllables instead of fifteen. Not only that, it uses simple words instead of $5 ones. Remember: your goal is to entertain your readers, not impress them with your vocabulary.

    I can't speak for anybody else here (and wouldn't if I could) but I wouldn't want to read a book written like this. If I were an agent and asked for a partial, I'd reject it before I'd finished the first page. You probably have a good story here, and it may well be worth publishing, but it's not ready for prime time yet, and until it is, don't even think about querying!

  5. #5
    Finnley Wren

    Re: An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    I agree with all that Joe has said above, Brandon, but I also think it ain't half bad for a first draft. The first thing I'd say is you need to find an appropriate place to drop in some of this background material, ideally somewhere that revolves around the plot. For example, you can't leap from, "I finally had the privacy I craved for a month," and then leap into a long and drawn out description of what an N-Build is (for no apparent reason.)

    Now, I like the concept of the N-Build, but you gotta work that and everything else futuristic into the plot somewhere. Maybe he is a P.I. chasing someone who has escaped from the N-Build and then you can say what it is. And there has gotta be somewhere natural in the plot to work in those large population figures.

    A couple of examples of "first drafti-ness" in your writing:

    Dating a hundred and seventy five years back and even up until now

    Perhaps say, Beginning a hundred and seventy-five years ago and through the present day

    who didn’t live in the N-Build for whatever reasons

    If it ain't important enough for even you to tell us some of the reasons, why is it even in there at all?

    So it looks to me like you have completed the easiest part . . . finishing the book (tongue planted firmly in cheek). And you even did it the right way, just writing and writing and worrying about the rest later.

    Well, now it's later, and you need to take all of the "data dump" that you've dropped into the narrative and try to find a place to work it naturally into the plot. Your hardest work is ahead of you.

    But that being said, I liked it and encourage you to make it better.

  6. #6
    Finnley Wren

    Re: An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    I said as I took another drink of my scotch.

    I said, as I winced at the idea of her response,

    I interrupted, as I was already on the edge of my seat.

    Like I said, I like it, but your hardest work is ahead of you. Look for patterns like the above in your writing and break things up a bit. It is entirely possible there are other crutches such as "as I" throughout your manuscript.

  7. #7
    Brandon Cleveland

    Re: An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    I was told that using "ing" wasn't a good thing, so I replaced it with "as I"

    for example -

    [i]I said, taking another drink of scotch</I

    what would you guys suggest? should I use "taking another drink of scotch" as opposed to "as I?"

    All the help would be great.

  8. #8
    Finnley Wren

    Re: An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    Best I can tell you is that dialogue tags such as "he said" are supposed to be invisible. Ideally, in long patches of dialogue between two characters, they shouldn't even be necessary - it should be apparent who is saying what to whom. So anything you do to embellish those tags - such as the examples I cited above - run the risk of bringing attention to them.

    I'm not saying that in every instance your use of "as I" is inappropriate. It just struck me as something that stood out.

    One thing you might wanna do is to grab a couple of books from your favorite writers - maybe even those books that inspired you to write this one - and open any of them to a random page. Look at the way they use (or don't use) dialogue tags, and how they blend in some of the characters actions ("I winced," "I took a sip,") with their own dialogue. That's something I always find exceedingly helpful.

  9. #9
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    A few comments---

    The first excerpt appears to be 100% back story. Even though it's in your third chapter and you've presumably already hooked your reader, it's a lot of back exposition. Find a way to break it up in mesh it with the rest of the tale, or find a way to put some oomph in it.

    As an aside, your style tends toward a fair number of phrases which need hyphens. "Half smoked" is but one example. Learn when they're needed.

    The second excerpt didn't do much for me. For instance, the first part is channel surfing. Why does your reader need/want to know all that. It seems superflous. If it ain't, jazz it up.

    For me, your style is stilted, at least one arm's length removed from your narrator. An example is "My voice never yelled". Huh?

    I prolly sound harsh. Don't intend to. Writing's a tough gig. Don't be discouraged. But DON'T query! Dive back into your mss.


  10. #10
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: An excerpt from my completed manuscripts third chapter, advice please

    I'm with wren re tag lines.

    Many/most writers use them. One of the things worth trying is to write with no tag lines. It's a very instructive exercise. I was beaten about the head and shoulders to never (as in NEVER, YOU WORTHLESS MISBEGOTTEN RAGGEDY OL' CURMUDGEON!) use tag lines. I'm not suggesting you, or anyone, go that route. I am offering the notion that your craft will improve if you practice writing without using 'em.


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