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  1. #1
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    Page one revised. PANDORA'S BOX

    Hi again.

    I took some time to digest the advice I was given on my last writing sample and worked up the courage to give it a second shot. Here’s my rewrite. I welcome any and all criticism.

    Alone in his laboratory, William Prescott Smith was finishing up an entry in his journal. The trials he had run that morning were the most promising yet. With some tweaking of the production parameters, the composition of this latest electrode might just turn out to be the key to success. He was recording some personal reflections on the test results when his friend’s voice rang out from the open doorway.

    “You’re working too hard, William. Time for a break.”

    “James. Good timing; I’ve got fresh coffee. Sit. Sit down.” He gestured toward a small wooden table with mismatched folding chairs.

    James Jefferies sat as William picked up the coffee pot and two mugs, abandoning his work station on the bench behind him, but bringing along his lab journal.

    “It’s goldenrod,” said William, “Nice, huh?”

    “What’s goldenrod?”

    “I thought I saw you admiring the upgrade to the shim I’m using under the short leg of the table. The color of that paper is called goldenrod.”

    James looked down at the folded, yellow-gold sheet of paper and said with sarcasm, “It’s stunning. Only you could take pride in using a prettier wad of scratch of paper to stabilize a wobbly table”

    The table stood in stark contrast to the gleaming laboratory equipment surrounding it. It bore multiple layers of paint – white covered the yellow that covered the blue that showed through where chips and scratches marred the surface.

    “You know, you could manage a more permanent fix for this rickety, resale-store reject. Or for that matter you could manage a new table, couldn’t you? The price would be an insignificant fraction of the uncertainty in the cost of your lab equipment.”

    “The quality of lab equipment matters,” said William. “The table… not so much. I gots my priorities, dawg,” he added, making a weak effort to mimic the speech of an inner city drug dealer.

    “And they don’t teach English here at Cal Tech?”

    William just smiled. He was watching James more carefully, now, having noticed the excitement behind his eyes. Wouldn’t make a good poker player, he thought, his tells are too obvious. James was likable enough -- boyish good looks, curly blond hair, prominent chin, pleasant smile – but as easy to read as a neon sign. Clearly, he wanted to be asked “What’s new,” but William decided to wait him out and see if he wouldn’t just open up. It was a challenge. Who’d blink first?

    As they sipped their coffee, the silence grew and was on the verge of becoming uncomfortable. William was about to break down and say “Spit it out,” but then he smiled internally. He won the waiting game. James spoke.

    “I’ve got some good news.”

    William nodded.

    “Share it. Please.”

    “We’re going back to the moon and I’m assigned to the team that’s going to make it happen.”



  2. #2
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    Nice idea and decently written, but it would profit from a little more lead-up (foreshadowing?) to the punchline, which kind of comes out of nowhere.

  3. #3
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    n.p.: Agree with simba this is decently written, but you've got about two manuscript pages which, except for the last sentence, are devoid of tension. The opening pages of a story constitute the most important real estate in the novel. An agent will decide, based on those few pages, whether to give the full manuscript a read. Same goes for an editor who might buy the book. Same goes for customers browsing in a book store. Those pages have to pull the reader into your universe, trap him, and make him clamor for more. What you have doesn't do that.

    In an earlier post, I gave you a couple of references for writing texts that might help you learn the techniques that can achieve tension, setting, character and more. I also thought—based on what little I know about your story—that you might be opening the narrative too early in the chronology of things. Here's why:

    Your central conflict is between your protagonist William and the alien Keepers. In your story, the Keepers are guided to earth by a signal emanating from the moon; yet your opening refers to an upcoming voyage to the moon, which I'm guessing occurs way before the Keepers get here, and hence, way before the action starts. You cannot afford to spend your opening pages laying the groundwork for the story; the sooner you get William and the Keepers both on stage, the sooner you get to the good stuff. You must dive into the deep end of the pool, ASAP. Bring in the back story later, if at all.

    At the risk of telling you something you already know, let me refer you to yet another text, "Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting" by Syd Field. Don't let the title throw you; this easy-to-digest treatment presents the concept of the three-act play (the basis of practically all Western literature since the Greeks erected their first stage), including set-up, turning points, confrontation and resolution. The paradigm he presents is built around the 120-page screenplay, but the principles apply to the novel format as well.

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited by jayce; 03-22-2012 at 03:55 PM.

  4. #4
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    JUST MY OPINION, FEEL FREE TO IGNORE:

    Let me show you something. You might like it, you might not.

    You wrote:

    Alone in his laboratory, William Prescott Smith was finishing up an entry in his journal. The trials he had run that morning were the most promising yet. With some tweaking of the production parameters, the composition of this latest electrode might just turn out to be the key to success. He was recording some personal reflections on the test results when his friend’s voice rang out from the open doorway.

    And it's not bad. But it could be tighter. Here's how I'd edit this. The stuff in bold is what I would cut. The stuff in italics is what I would add:

    Alone in his laboratory, William Prescott Smith was finishing up an entry in his journal. The trials he had run ran that morning were the most promising yet. With some tweaking of the production parameters, the composition of this latest electrode might just turn out to be the key to success. He was recording some personal reflections on the test results when his friend’s voice rang out from the open appeared in the doorway.

  5. #5
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    Simba - Thanks for the suggestion.

    Jayce - Your point about burning up valuable space is well-taken, but It's going to require some learning on my part to effect the kind of change you are talking about. Thanks for recommending references. Willingness to keep going doesn't help someone who has no direction in mind.

    I can't tell you how much I appreciate the attention you have given this.

  6. #6
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    Structure, structure, structure. When you learn the three-act concept, the scales will fall from your eyes. Syd Field is not the only source, he's just one of the easiest to follow IMO; there are many others, for it's a much cataloged topic.

    I still like your premise, so hang in there. Good luck.

  7. #7
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    Thanks leslee. I guess I need to place more value on brevity.

  8. #8
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    Only if you want to, n.p. I don't know your book. Maybe the more chatty style is appropriate. To me, it looks like extra words. It's your call.

  9. #9
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    You can bring out tension in practically any situation, and yes, there should be tension on every page. Here tge tension is between one character who wants to know something that the other character is in no hurry to tell.

    Bring that out - it's all you've got.

  10. #10
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    n.p.,

    This certainly more readable than the last version. I still have comments. It'l likely the compulsion is part of the DNA or writerly people.

    Alone in his laboratory, William Prescott Smith was finishing up an entry in his journal. The trials he had run that morning were the most promising yet. With some tweaking of the production parameters, the composition of this latest electrode might just turn out to be the key to success. He was recording some DELETE SOME personal reflections on the test results when his friend’s voice rang out CONSIDER ENDING THE SENTENCE HERE. from the open doorway.

    “You’re working too hard, William. Time for a break.”

    “James. Good timing; I’ve got fresh coffee. Sit. Sit down.” THIS IS A NIT, BUT THERE'S NOTHING TO SUGGEST WILLIAM LOOKS UP OR SWIVELS OR WHATEVER WHEN HE HEARS THE VOICE. WHAT I'M GETTING AT, IS WHETHER WILL CAN SEE THE PERSON WITHOUT MOVING OR LOOKING UP. He gestured toward a small wooden table with mismatched folding chairs. NICE TOUCH.

    James Jefferies sat as William picked up the coffee pot and two mugs, abandoning his work station on the bench behind him, but bringing along his lab journal. THIS IS A TIDGE AWKWARD. WOULD IT BE STRONGER IF YOU WRITE SOMETHING LIKE, " JAMES JEFFRIES SAT AS INVITED. WILLIAM ABANDONED HIS WORK STATION AND PICKED UP THE COFFEE POT AND TWO/A COUPLE MUGS. UNLESS IT'S IMPORTANT FOR WHAT COMES ON THE NEXT PAGE, I'M NOT SURE YOU NEED TO SAY HE BRINGS HIS JOURNAL.

    “It’s goldenrod,” said William, CONSIDER A PERIOD INSTEAD OF A COMMA. OTHERS MAY DISAGREE WITH ME. “Nice, huh?”

    “What’s goldenrod?”

    “I thought I saw you admiring the upgrade to the shim I’m using under the short leg of the table. The color of that paper is called goldenrod.” I LIKE THIS A LOT. NICE DETAIL AND INSIGHT INTO A PERSON WHO MAY BE SOMEWHAT ECCENTRIC.

    James looked down at the folded, yellow-gold sheet of paper and said with sarcasm, THIS IS SORT OF A NIT, PERHAPS. BUT IT'S ALWAYS BETTER TO SHOW THAN TELL. YOU'RE TELLING YOUR READER THAT JAMES IS BEING SARCASTIC. (ALSO, I'M NOT CONVINCED SARCASTIC IS THE WORD YOU ACTUALLY WANT. IT HAS A NEGATIVE CONNOTATION, AND I'M NOT SURE THAT'S WHAT YOU INTEND HERE.) FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH, I THINK JAMES'S COMMENT IS FINE WITHOUT MENTIONING SARCASM OR ANYTHING ELSE. “It’s stunning. Only you could take pride in using a prettier wad of scratch of paper to stabilize a wobbly table PERIOD”

    The table stood in stark contrast to the gleaming laboratory equipment surrounding it. THIS IS AWKWARD. IF THE EQUIPMENT SURROUNDS, LITERALLY SURROUNDS THE TABLE, HOW DID JAMES FIND HIS WAY TO IT. I'M SURE YOU THINK I'M BEING EXCESSIVELY PICKY. PERHAPS I AM. BUT EVERY WORD YOU TYPE COUNTS. PERHAPS SOMETHING LIKE, THE TABLE STOOD IN STARK CONTRAST TO THE GLEAMING EQUIPMENT IN THE LAB. It bore multiple layers of paint – white covered the yellow that covered the blue that showed through where chips and scratches marred the surface.

    “You know, you could manage a more permanent fix for this rickety, resale-store reject. Or for that matter you could manage a new table, couldn’t you? The price would be an insignificant fraction of the uncertainty in DELETE THE UNCERTAINTY IN the cost of your lab equipment.”

    “The quality of lab equipment matters,” said William. “The table… not so much. I gots my priorities, dawg,” he added, making a weak effort to mimic the speech of an inner city drug dealer. I DON'T THINK WE'RE FAR ENOUGH INTO THE TALE FOR THIS TO WORK. WILLIAM COMES ACROSS AS PURE GEEK. NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT, BUT WHY DOES HE ATTEMPT TO MIMIC THE SPEECH OF A DRUG DEALER? YOUR READER KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT WILLIAM. WHY DOES HE ATTEMPT TO MIMIC? IS THAT MADE CLEAR ON THE NEXT PAGE? EVERY SENTENCE YOU WRITE NEEDS TO LEAD SOMEWHERE, POINT TO SOMETHING.

    “And they don’t teach English here DELETE HERE at Cal Tech?”

    William just DELETE JUST smiled. He was watching CONSIDER WATCHED INSTEAD OF WAS WATCHING James more carefully, now, having noticed the excitement behind his eyes. THIS SENTENCE IS A BIT STILTED. "HAVING NOTICED" IS WHAT CAUSES ME TO SAY THAT. IS THAT INTENTIONAL? Wouldn’t make a good poker player, he thought, his tells are too obvious. James was likable enough -- boyish good looks, curly blond hair, prominent chin, pleasant smile – but as easy to read as a neon sign. Clearly, he wanted to be asked “What’s new,” but William decided to wait him out CONSIDER ENDING THE SENTENCE HERE. YOUR READER KNOWS WHAT "WAITING HIM OUT" MEANS. and see if he wouldn’t just open up. It was a challenge. CONSIDER DELETING THIS SENTENCE. YOUR READER KNOWS IT'S A CHALLENGE. ONE OF THE MANY THINGS A WRITER NEEDS TO LEARN IS WHEN TO TRUST THE READER. Who’d blink first?

    As they sipped their coffee, the silence grew and was on the verge of CONSIDER THE SILENCE GREW, VERGING ON becoming uncomfortable. William was about to break down and say COMMA “Spit it out,” but then he smiled internally. He won the waiting game. James spoke. THIS IS AWKWARD. YOU HAVE WILL SMILING INTERNALLY (WHICH IS AWKWARD WITHIN AWKWARD.) BEFORE JAMES SPEAKS. DOES WILL READ MINDS? JUST GET TO IT. THEY SIPPED COFFEE, LOOKING AT EACH OTHER. THE SILENCE VERGED ON BEING UNCOMFORTABLE. WILLIAM WAS ABOUT TO SAY, "SPIT IT OUT." THEN JAMES PUT HIS CUP ON THE RICKETY TABLE.

    “I’ve got some good news.”

    William nodded.

    “Share it. Please.” WILLIAM HAS ALREADY INDICATED HE'S INTERESTED IN WHAT JAMES WILL SAY. YOU COMMUNICATED THAT WITH "WILLIAM NODDED."

    “We’re going back to the moon and I’m assigned to the team that’s going to make it happen.” FINALLY, SOMETHING ACTIVE, INTERESTING.

    CAPS off. This is a good step in the right direction. Learning to write isn't much different than learning other complex tasks. Many beginners (I don't know whether you're one) don't realize that writing is a complex task for most of us. There are many nuances.

    This beginning isn't likely to get your dream agent to read more. Nothing happens until the last line. Everything above is setup. Some of it is okay. But you can't wait until the end of the second page to set the hook. You gotta get the hook in my cheek on page one. It doesn't even have to be the main hook. But you do have to make me bleed to read.

    Don't hesitate to ignore. And, don't be discouraged. As I said somewhere above, writing's a complex undertaking.

    Cur

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