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  1. #1
    Brandon Cleveland

    800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)

    The year is 2666, and the main character is just coming back from a trip in Australia. Here are his first experiences once back home.

    Welcome, Citizen, the beautiful woman in the train's windows tells me.

    Even for a two dimensional AI representation, she's a sight for sore eyes.

    I get up and stretch my whole body out, as if I'd been on the transport for hours, as opposed to mere minutes. But itís been a long trip Ė two hours, with layovers.

    The cab starts to empty out, and I watch as people push each other in a frenzy to make it off the train first. Not that I know what the big deal was.

    They canít be anything other than tourists. Came to Philadelphia to see what a real n-Build's supposed to look like. Little do they know that once they get off the train, they'll be beating the doors trying to get back on and go back to wherever they came from.

    Smells of the city began to sweep inside the train as the last of the passengers leave. A mix of bleach, ammonia and iodine. For something that smells so clean that it can be overwhelming, the city's a dirty, dirty place.

    But then again: there's no place like home.

    Once all the passengers are off, and they start saving stills into their memories, I make my exit.

    It's easy to forget how busy the city is. Even from the slightly elevated platform of the train's exit, I can see a hundred thousand people, at least.

    Giant displays mark every square inch of every wall in advertisements, and even the poly-plastic walkway isn't free of them.

    Abstract music of all types play from all directions, and Saturday night in the Reagan is in full swing. Any other night, and I'd be out on the town with everyone else, but itís been a month since I've been home. I even missed the genetically modified freaks with eyes in their necks and hands.

    I'm just getting back from Australia, and I look like it. My beard's a tangled mess and my hair hasn't been combed since I left. No one even looks twice.

    Everyone from the train appears to have scattered within the dense crowd, off to their sight seeing and memory snapping and what have you.

    Just as I'm off to disappear into the crowd myself, I do catch someone I recognize from the train. Itís a younger guy; same lad from Frisco or somewhere, talking about how Philly was ripe for the taking. Iíve heard smaller talk from better men. Itís him that breaks through the mass of people, naked as the day he was pulled from his birth chamber. I smile to myself at the situation.

    He runs - faster than anyone should - past me and up the three steps to the platform. He beats on the black shuttle's entrance, tears streaming down his face, pleading to be let back on.

    Not even five minutes in town, and he's already been robbed of the clothes off his back. I only imagine what would've turned out had he been in the sub-section of the N-Build, where he surely would've been demeaned in every way possible.

    The robbery, like every offense, whether murder or illegal gene modification, is punishable by life imprisonment. But the hardcore thugs of Philadelphia don't care. Who knows what the kid was thinking, but whatever it was he tried, its a sure bet he won't do it again.

    Satisfied with the night's entertainment, I disappear into the sea of people where the sounds of the boyís cries are eventually drowned out.

    I've lived in the Reagan - one of thirty massive buildings that made up Philadelphia - for almost twenty-five years, and sometimes I still get lost. I reach into my trench coats inside pocket, and pull out a dusty piece of plastic that has the same dimensions as a playing card.

    I hold my thumb to it, and after a second or two, blue light forms the words WELCOME, CITIZEN, along with my personal information - name, address, height, and weight. I hate how long the start up sequence on digital units takes. Even when the new models come out, it never improves.

    Finally, the PDU prompts me for instruction. I put the plastic device close to my mouth and say home. Suddenly, the light becomes liquid like and the words that were once a welcome screen and my personal data melt into each other and start to form shapes that make up the path to the closest direct transport to my apartment's section.

    The cityís so massive; I sometime forget where the direct transport to my place was. Sure, any lift in the city would get me there, eventually. Finding the right one can make the difference between ten seconds and ten minutes.

    My position shows as a white dot in among blue outlines that represented the vendors and restaurants on the way.
    The Personal Digital Unit, or PDU, was the life line of any UA citizen. Besides navigation assistance, it functioned as identification, as well as a financial and communication device. The units as government subsidized, so I guess I can't really complain about it.

    I'm so into paying attention to the PDU, I don't notice the dense crowd of idle humans in the middle of the freaking walkway. Of course, I slam into one of them.

    She falls forward a little bit, and I fall back. We share stares until her eyes forfeit and she turns back around and faces the crowd.

    "Hey," I say. The @!#$ could've at least apologized. She says nothing. I mean, who the hell stands in the middle of a busy walkway? No sooner do I poise the question to myself that I notice that the forty or so blokes she's facing are wearing matching robes.

  2. #2

    Re: 800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)

    The first five pages of your story are the most priceless real estate in your entire manuscript. You've used up four and nothing's happened. Cut to the chase.

  3. #3
    Brandon Cleveland

    Re: 800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)

    Great, I think. A hundred thousand religions in the city, and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine feel they have to spread the word in the zones with the heaviest people traffic. If that's not enough, most of them use unnecessary voice amplification so anyone within a hundred feet can get an ear full.

    The one I bumped into, she must head the congregation. Her robe was gold and the others wore black. I noticed a little badge on her sleeve that the others didn't share; and the dozens of idiots that faced her stood in a line, shoulder to shoulder, twenty or twenty-five people across, with her in the position to address them all.

    Where are the cops? Surely somewhere where they're unneeded, I suspect. Of course their excuse is that their job isn't to dictate street traffic. Fair enough - I've watched enough of these gathering to know that they could get interesting, quick.

    I can walk through, or even around the obstruction in the street. But instead, I have one of those feelings in my gut, you know, where something worth watching is going to happen.

    I'm still standing behind the pastor as she starts to ramble on about nothing noteworthy. I dig into my trench coat and fumble for a cigarette. With a suck on the filter, the other tip of the cigarette ignites in an orange glow.
    Three minutes into it, and just as I'm about to make my way through the group, what happens? The pastor, or what have you, reaches into her robe and pulls out a long piece of machinery that resembles a laser cannon of sorts.

    I look at the group, and they all stand still as if she didn't pull a weapon from inside that golden robe. As large as it was, it must've been attached to her leg or something.

    Nonchalantly, she presses a few buttons on the device, and a decent sized display presents near the weapon's grip. I notice her group of subordinates on the screen, a live image of what's in front of us.

    Cigarette still clinched in my teeth, I smile a bit. A shame none of the tourists from the trainíll see this. I knew something interesting was going to happen.

    With a few taps on the screen, the angle zooms out and the two rows of her congregation are visible on the screen. Another few taps later, there are markers on each one of the bodies, forty-seven total.

    My attention redirects to the group of forty-seven, still silent and motionless. I take the last pull of my cigarette, and before I can exhale the steam from my lungs, the woman with the cannon presses the INITIATE option on the cannon's display screen.

    At once, forty-seven beams of light come from the weapon's barrel, and they cut through the crowd with precision, dropping all of them at once.

    A disgusting mess it makes. You'd think, with the pooled resources of forty-eight blokes, one could afford a laser cannon that at least cauterized the wound. Not so, not at least with these ex-morons.

    Bits of bloody matter litter the walkway, though thankfully not on me. Unfortunately, before I can step through the dismantled bodies, the idiot turns the weapon on herself - in her mouth of all places. Her lips sizzle as they engulf the already hot barrel, which must hurt like hell, and she and taps the INITIATE button.

    There's a reason why the weapon's disclaimer says to use it at range. Instead of the beam of light shooting right through the top of her brainless skull, something malfunctions; and not only does her head explode, but so does the upper half of her torso Ė all over me.

    God damn it. I just had this outfit cleaned up. My last pair of slacks - out of the three I took for my trip - and someone goes and blows their better half all over it.

    Only myself to blame, I suppose. No one forced me to sit there and watch that crap. I wrestle with myself on whether to search what's left of her robe for her PDU and transfer whatever credits she had to me. If it came down to questioning from the police, it'd be justified.

    Then I think about that cheap ass excuse for a laser cannon, and figure she spent her last credit on it. Probably isn't even worth my time. At least I avoided getting any on my face and hair.

    No sooner than I get through the mess of robes, blood and flesh, I hear the custodial bots whizzing through the crowds of people. Funny how fast the bots can come after the event, yet am I supposed to believe that the police couldn't have gotten there before she pulled the cannon out?

  4. #4
    Clayton Lindemuth

    Re: 800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)

    This is incredibly wordy. Well, not incredibly. You've avoided an adverb for every verb and adjective for every noun, but you still waste space. A simple example: "the woman tells me" vs. 'the woman says." "I get up and stretch my whole body out" or "I stretch". "The cab starts to empty out" vs. "the cab empties".

    Every sentence uses a lot more words to communicate the meaning than are necessary; the result is that your reader, wading through syllables, says 'screw it, there's nothing going on here.' That's problem number one.

    Because of problem number one, very few readers will even notice problem number two: nothing happens. You have a lot of clever scene building here, except there's no scene. The smells, the people, the setting. Got them covered. But the lean language of action, conflict, and tension are nowhere. The result: no interest.

    So, find the inciting incident, and start there. Or better, right after it. Make the first words compelling. Make the reader feel like he's found himself on a rocket. Make him furious to look out the window to see where he's heading. Anything less means the creeps who read your first few pages to decide if they want to publish you get bored and move on to the next manuscript to see if that author has managed the art of building tension.

    Between the first two sections you've posted, there is no compelling action. There is no tension. No conflict. You can't point to bumping into a woman after a thousand words as compelling action0, conflict, or tension. Stylistically, it is incredibly wordy. But the deeper problem has to do with structure. Your reader isn't going to give you as much time as I did. Your reader will think, "this is the same sci fi world I've seen a thousand other places. Why isn't anything going on?"

    You have a ton of clever, futuristic scene building here. Nix it. Save it for later, and use it within the context, and as support for, the action. What is the story? Remove everything that isn't action, and then only add back in what is absolutely essential context for the action. The rest of it, the reader can do without. Whether you think you're writing sci fi, romance, thriller, lit, the bottom line is that a reader wants something to happen. He doesn't want to read a writer who is masturbating on a piece of paper.


  5. #5
    Barbara KE

    Re: 800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)

    The world you're creating sounds very interesting and I like many of the details you've put in. But I agree with the others - the beginning of the book has to 'hook' the reader. If the details are not important to the main story - leave them for later.

    For example, the whole section about the PDA. You spent 200 words talking about how the PDA words and how large the city is. I like the description but it slows the story down. Hold it for later.

    Same with the guy from Philadelphia that was robbed. That's another 200 words.

    And I personally would tighten up the prose. For example:

    God damn it. I just had this outfit cleaned up. My last pair of slacks - out of the three I took for my trip - and someone goes and blows their better half all over it.

    I would change it to...

    Damn! My last clean outfit and someone blows their better half all over it."

  6. #6
    nom de plume

    Re: 800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)

    Brandon, i read the first piece you posted in this thread. Again, it's an improvement over what you posted some time ago.

    I'd like to suggest you spend a few hours in a library and read the first page of a number of books. Then ask yourself whether you'd want to read more of each book or not and what makes you think that way.

    For me to be interested in traveling along with your protagonist through a journey of many pages something needs to happen early on that invokes my curiosity/sympathy. I haven't felt this here.

    I don't know what you mean by a two-dimensional AI representation; whether it's just a poster or something more high-tech. Since you brought up as your first sentence why not let it work for your protagonist? Share with the reader a reaction the image provokes. It might remind him of Lorna who sent him packing five years ago and he still isn't over it or it might make him horny or a number of other things.

    I think you try to establish that this world is brutal, dirty, overcrowded, etc. So, it might be interesting if you let this main character relate strongly to this AI representation. It would tell us he feels more at ease relating to something virtual than real people.

    I'm just guessing and offering some ideas (I don't know your character or the plot).

    Other posters say nothing is happening here. Actually, the scene about the guy from Frisco being robbed represents a lot of action. Yet, when i read it, nothing really registered with me. Again, this has the potential of being a great example of this distopian world but you don't go into to the point that we "feel" the scene. It's not a big deal to your character because "he smiles to himself" (to himself is not necessary). As a result, we don't care either and we think "hey, writer, give us some action."

    Just my reaction of reading this. Feel free to disagree completely.

  7. #7
    nom de plume

    Re: 800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)

    Brandon, i just wanted to expand on my comment about the assault/robbery. This scene really has great potential. It could be a real treat to start with somewhere on page one (maybe the second paragraph). The problem in the existing excerpt is you and your character show up just after the action is finished. It makes us wonder whether your character is always going to show up when the action has already taken place

    How about your character lingers at the station to buy a pack of cigarettes or something. When he comes out, he notices a great commotion and he goes to check it out. We hear thugs shouting and cursing. We see an indifferent crowd that just stands there out of curiosity and some among them actually cheer on the thugs. Then your character recognizes Rob, the guy from the train. He immediately jumps to his defense but, of course, the thugs outnumber him and he ends up with a shiner. Rob runs off naked but shouts a thank you to your character. Don't tell this scene; show it.

    This is a lively scene to write about. It could show us some important traits of your character: he has guts, wants to help the underdog, is different from the rest of the population. We'll relate to this character with his large bruise or black eye. We'll also trust that he will deliver for us in the next scene no matter what might take place in it.

    Just a thought.

  8. #8
    Brandon Cleveland

    Re: 800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)

    The protagonist is an anti-hero of sorts - unwilling.

    There's so much swirling around in the city, that it's every person for their self.

    Citizen, a private eye, is just getting back from Australia, and he has the intent of going home and drinking until he passes out. Then, all of a sudden, this impartial, self worrier is tossed into this situation where he witnesses the assassination of the President, and he's led around the city and eventually out of the country, all on the whim of a potential mastermind.

    He's not a hero, and he's not a villain. He fits nicely in between, and he has the average mentality of the twenty-seventh century Earth - he doesn't give a @!#$ ... to a point.

    When he's eventually forced to care - when his evening is disrupted - he's not happy about it. He's not happy about the situation, and that makes him even colder.

  9. #9
    Corey Griffith

    Re: 800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)

    Well, I gotta tell ya, brother. For my money, I liked it.

    Yes, a little on the wordy side, but Im willing to read through it to see what happens next.

    I love the description of the city and it's inhabitants. I differ a little from the previous responders here in that I dont mind if you spend 200 words on the PDA. Im a bit of a nerd so I find it pretty cool.

    Now, keep in mind, I've never been published and I've never completed a novel (Im working onthat) so my opinion here is probably one that doesn't matter.

    But I know what I like to read. And I like to read what you've written.

  10. #10
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: 800 words of the first chapter of my manuscript (99% complete)


    Your post time stamped 14:59 gave interesting information about your character. That's what your reader needs to know in the first few pages. Clear enough that s/he likes your protagonist and dramatic enough that s/he can't wait to turn the page.

    You gotta get to the chase. Right away. And you have to do that while telling your reader most of the info re your MC.

    Hope this makes sense.

    Keep on.


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