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  1. #1
    RM Stanberry
    Guest

    Feedback, Please

    I'm new to the Writer's Net. I would like feedback on the opening scene of a suspense novel I am attempting to place with an agent. First, an item that bear explanation. Most of my characters have tags, as is common in military Special Forces. The whys and wherefores of the tags are brought out later in the story, along with names and descriptions of the characters.

    I have Kevlar body armor, so fire away.

    Northeastern Afghanistan

    A spectacular place, this vibrant green valley nourished by a glacier-fed braided river, enclosed by red-orange mountain walls rising a thousand meters or more to bare rocky summits. Higher still, the Pamirs and Hindu Kush, serious mountains all, dominated the skyline from the north around to the southwest with many peaks above seven thousand meters; white granodiorite crags rising above snowfields and glaciers shining in the summer sun.

    Down in the valley, the village of Zibak seemed abandoned. The enervating high-altitude had had driven everyone indoors. Not even the pack of gaunt, scabrous village dogs moved in the middle of the day. Out in the fields, robed men laid down their scythes and sought shade under the trees along the river, as did scattered flocks of grazing sheep.

    On one of the summits above the village, four men lay in an artfully camouflaged hide. Several nights ago, they had covertly staged into a high, uninhabited valley ten kilometers to the west. Aided by global positioning satellites, they had night-walked goat tracks to this place.

    To the men under the camo tarps and netting, the view had become commonplace and the days had passed agonizingly slowly. Forced indolence made worse by the fact that they couldn’t leave the hide during the intensely hot days. Even at eleven thousand feet altitude, solar radiation on the bare summit drove the air temperature inside to well over a hundred degrees. At least they had ice water to drink during the day, as their water bottles froze solid every night.

    Sam Colton drifted in and out of that state between asleep and awake, only dimly aware of Snapper’s incessant bitching. Too hot, too many bugs. Especially the biting flies that swarmed up from the valley below as soon as the sun evaporated the morning frost. The flies bedeviled all of them equally. But according to Snapper, they especially liked him. For the hundredth—or maybe the thousandth—time, Snapper told everyone this was his last trip, life’s too short for this sh*t. On the last point, the others heartily agreed. Life’s too short to have to listen to this sh*t.

    Bagman, behind the spotting scope, stoically ignored both Snapper and the cloud of flies that carved chunks of fresh meat from his few patches of exposed skin. Then he perked up. “Chopper incoming, Whambam.”

    “I hear it.” Sam Colton lifted an eyelid. “Snapper, shut the hell up. Places, everybody.” He sat up, wiped the sweat out of his eyes and fumbled in the rucksack he’d rigged to carry camera gear, part of the standard intelligence collection loadout. He clicked the big zoom telephoto lens into the Nikon digital camera body. Careful to keep the lens well shrouded under the camo tarp and netting over their hide, he turned the zoom ring back to open up the field of view. Searching, he caught a flicker of movement to the northeast—upvalley toward the Tajikistan border—then an old ex-Red Army Mi-8 Hip with a faded red cross on the nose wobbled into view, buffeted by swirling updrafts generated by midday heat.

    Sam zoomed in to the limit of the lens. The sharp optics put him right in the cockpit with the pilot. Sam panned to follow the chopper’s flight path as the helicopter slowed and transitioned to hover. The camera clicked continuously as Sam centered on a hawk-faced man standing in the open side door, arms braced against the turbulence, robes flapping in the rotor wash.

    Bagman had moved around to the south side of the hide. He pitched his voice to carry over the rising concussive thump of the helicopter. “Vehicle coming up valley on the Faizabad road, Whambam. GAZ 66, maybe. Stopping now…two men getting out…long gun. Sniper team, looks like. Truck’s rolling again…out of sight around the ridge below us now.”

    Colton moved over next to Bagman, followed Bagman’s pointing finger and found the sniper team. The camera clicked softly as the sniper and observer donned ghillie suits, preparing to move into the boulder field on the west side of the river. Sam studied the sniper; how he carried himself, how he held his arms out to the sides, how his neck and his head seemed the same size, how the block-shaped torso seemed the same width from shoulder to knee. Familiar, but Sam couldn’t place him…then he did.

    …Camp Perry. Sam thought. …What’s the name? S-something. Sam took a deep breath and centered, slipping into icy blue water, putting himself back there….

    …A bulky, green-bereted man kneeling on a mat, then flowing to prone behind a heavy black bolt action rifle with a long, large-belled target scope…and the announcer saying, “…our next competitor is US Army Special Forces….”

    Sam whispered, to no one in particular, “I know the shooter. Camp Perry. Stebbins. SOF sniper.” Sam watched the team settle in. As soon as they stopped moving, they disappeared, the ghillie suits blending perfectly with the rock.

    …Ambush? Sam wondered. With a practiced eye, he estimated the distance between the boulder field and the village. Four-hundred meters or so. Easy shot.

    …Or maybe just insurance.

    Without further direction, Sam’s team took their assigned engagement positions. Bagman relinquished the spotting scope to Yoyo, and then moved to the rear of the hide on security overwatch. If a kid herding sheep stumbled on them, Bagman would handle it. If bin Laden appeared and called in mortar strikes, Bagman would handle that too.

    Snapper, the team’s countersniper, finally stopped bitching as he went down behind the big Leupold tactical scope on his M24A3 .338 Lapua Magnum. He fastidiously set out his ammo, range cards, note pad and pencil, water bottle. On the range cards, he had drawn a diagram of the valley with major features with bearings and distances to each feature. Now he noted the time of day, wind speed and direction, and current temperature, then stilled in that way that snipers do, when they try to slow both breathing and heart rate. Yoyo, team commo specialist and medic, settled in beside Snapper with the spotting scope. If the sniper had to shoot, Yoyo would call the shots.



  2. #2
    Smiling Curmudgeon
    Guest

    Re: Feedback, Please

    RM,

    My comments in the body of your material are in CAPS. I'm not yelling. Just making them easy to see.

    I think your tale should start with---

    Northeastern Afghanistan.

    On one of the A, INSTEAD OF ONE OF THE. THAZZ CUZ I'M SUGGESTING YOU CUT OUT/MOVE EARLIER STUFF THAT REQUIRES MINOR CHANGES. summits above the village, four men lay in an artfully CONSIDER DELETING "ARTFULLY." YOUR READERS WILL BE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW A CAMOUFLAGED HIDE IS ARTFULLY DONE. camouflaged hide. Several nights ago, they had covertly staged into a high, uninhabited valley ten kilometers to the west. Aided by global positioning satellites, they had night-walked goat tracks to this place.

    If you're irrevocably wedded to the opening description, work it into the tale. Drop your reader into the action. Get her/him into the story. Paint the backdrop after your reader's pulse is up.

    You wrote, "Even at eleven thousand feet altitude..." It's elevation, not altitude. A nit, I know.

    The paragraph starting, "To the men..." makes this reader feel as if I'm a million miles away, looking down at the scene. Get me into it. Consider going directly to the paragraph beginning with "Sam Colton..." That's more likely to get your reader into the story.

    I liked "Life’s too short to have to listen to this sh*t." The setup for it was nicely done.

    I don't have time to read further.

    As I scanned the rest, though, I noticed examples of places you're being more wordy than necessary. One example, you wrote "well over a hundred degrees." That's not awful, but it's a case of adding words when you don't need to. Your reader knows it's hot if you say "over a hundred degrees," 'Nuther nit.

    A general comment is that I didn't see a thing that shows me what the central conflict is. Yeah, there's the conflict at hand. But there wasn't much to make me care about the characters. It's we did this, we did that. I'm not suggesting you turn the tale into a deep literary introspective. I am suggesting you make me care about at least one of the characters. Is Colton worried he's having a heart attack? Is he pissed off about being so hot?

    I know, I bitched a bunch. But I'm not intending to sandpaper your Kevlar armor.

    Others may have better comments.

    Feel free to ignore.

    Cur

  3. #3
    Karen Campbell
    Guest

    Re: Feedback, Please

    Hi, RM. And I don’t think you’ll need your Kevlar with me, because overall I liked this piece. Your details are specific enough to place me in the hide with Sam and I’m pretty thrilled to pick up the new word of “hide”. I’m a sucker for being taken to another place by a writer who presents the place with confidence.

    But I also agree with Cur that your descriptive opening doesn’t serve you well. Either start in the hide or tighten the description to give us a brief view of the setting and soon-to-be-threatened village. In my opinion, you’re telling us about the village and the valley, not showing us what Sam sees. Can you show us the valley in language Sam would use? Honestly, I have no idea what “granodiorite” is and “enervating high-altitude” could be simplified to “heat”. You get the idea. And it may just be me, but after using ellipses with abandon in my earlier writing, I have now become paranoid and only use them when I’m convinced a period won’t do. Just my opinion.

  4. #4
    Chris Anderson
    Guest

    Re: Feedback, Please

    I experimented with rearranging some of the opening to keep the nice description but get right into the setup and action quicker. Just my opinion.


    "...white granodiorite crags rising above snowfields and glaciers shining in the summer sun. To the FOUR men under the camo tarps and netting, the view had become insipid, and the long, slow days were agonizing. (BUILDS TENSION AND TWISTS WHAT SHOULD BE A BEAUTIFUL PLACE INTO SOMETHING UNCOMFORTABLE. ALSO "AGONIZINGLY SLOWLY" IS AWKWARD...)

    ON ONE OF THE SUMMITS, THEY lay in a camouflaged hide. Several nights ago, they had covertly staged into a high, uninhabited valley ten kilometers to the west, AND aided by global positioning satellites, they had night-walked goat tracks to this place. FOR MANY (how many?) DAYS THEY HAD ENDURED forced indolence made worse by the fact that they couldn’t leave the hide during the intensely hot days. Even at eleven thousand feet altitude, solar radiation on the bare summit drove the air temperature inside to well over a hundred degrees. At least they had ice water to drink during the day, as their water bottles froze solid every night.

    Down in the valley the enervating high-altitude had had driven everyone in village of Zibak indoors. Not even the pack of gaunt, scabrous dogs moved in the middle of the day. Out in the fields, robed men laid down their scythes and sought shade under the trees along the river, as did scattered flocks of grazing sheep. YOU DON'T NEED TO SAY IT "SEEMED DESERTED"...YOU SHOW IT SEEMS DESERTED IN THE DESCRIPTION VERY WELL.

    Sam Colton drifted...


    The rest seems really good and it definitely has me interested as a reader. There are a couple spots that could be cleaner, but to me it seems pretty solid.

  5. #5
    Stephen Holak
    Guest

    Re: Feedback, Please

    If you're an unpublished writer, perhaps the switch from an omniscient narrator / zooming in to Sam's third-person POV isn't one to attempt in your first story, and to be honest, I think you're better served with starting with Sam's drifting in and out of sleep -- and if you feel the need to work in a little setting detail, work it in from his POV with a little show-not-tell. I would drop a few dozen redundant adjectives too.

    There are a few occasions where the POV is ambiguous, and even switches altogether. Very few authors attempt POV switches during a scene, and even fewer can pull it off (Louis L'Amour comes to mind). I would simplify things and narrow your focus to Sam's POV, and start another scene if you want to switch.

  6. #6
    Stephen Holak
    Guest

    Re: Feedback, Please

    Sorry, I also meant to add that you did catch my interest with some action and dialog, and there's some promise there.

  7. #7
    L Bea
    Guest

    Re: Feedback, Please

    Welcome RM,

    The beginning paragraph is full of fragments and bogged down -- and almost made me stop right there. But I pressed on. Overall, I really enjoyed it.

    I think you could chop quite a few descriptors. They actually weaken it and slow it down. One that really jumped out at me was fastidiously. That just didn't match the scene to me.

    Bea

  8. #8
    RM Stanberry
    Guest

    Re: Feedback, Please

    Thanks to all. Your efforts are appreciated. I plan to rework it, both to start the action earlier,and to eliminate the unnecessary descriptors and POV changes. As to the ellipses, I use them to denote thoughts, rather than continually say he thought, "Blah, blah, blah." What is your opinion on keeping the italics and eliminating the ellipses?

  9. #9
    L Bea
    Guest

    Re: Feedback, Please

    Traditionally, ellipses are used to omit words within a quotation. However, The Chicago Manual of Style states, “Ellipsis points suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion, insecurity, distress, or uncertainty.”

    When using them in that way, it should be done sparingly. It gets old fast if they're rampant.

    Bea~

  10. #10
    Rogue Mutt
    Guest

    Re: Feedback, Please

    Come on, it works for Dan Brown.

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