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  1. #1
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    Please give me your thoughts

    I would like some feedback on the following excerpt from my novel. Your honest opinion is important to me, Thank you.

    Chapter 1 - Confusion

    Brian Casey rubbed his eyes and tried to get them to focus on the screen in front of him. He’d been staring at it for hours and now he was going to have to pull a double shift. Working in the world’s largest financial data center drove stress levels off the scale. Double shifts just made it that much harder. His date with Jessie would not happen and he’d pay big time for that. Jim Rogers had better have a goddamned good excuse for not coming to work tonight or he’d pay too. Brian’s butt was numb. His five foot eleven frame weighed in at 200 lbs. and although he didn’t consider himself fat, the office chairs at UNICORE could bring tears to your eyes if you sat in them for too long. He got up and poured himself a coffee; he was on his third pot today.

    Wandering over to the window, he could see the entire northeast corner of the peninsula. San Francisco was beautiful at night and only the Transamerica Pyramid obscured his view. He could see the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The glow of floodlights created a golden aura around the bridge giving credence to its name, in spite of its red painted metalwork. The lights of the traffic on the bridge snaked out like a ribbon of white and red from one side to the other. To the east, at pier 29 the Embarcadero, he could see his Uncle’s restaurant. Always busy it was a great place to eat and the tourists loved it. He especially liked it because his Auntie D, as he called her, would never let him pay. He was supposed to be there now but he had to work late. He cringed at the thought of the bitching he would have to endure.

    He sipped his coffee and sat back down at his computer. Normally, he would spend his days simply checking credit card transactions. He checked spending patterns, looking for abnormalities in the way people spent their money and flagging anything out of the ordinary. For instance, if someone made an unusually large purchase with no real history of such extravagance, the computer would flag the transaction and he would contact the client to verify the purchase. It was all part of Unicore’s ID protection plan. However, for the past few months he and Jim Rogers had a different assignment. They had to watch only two files. ‘Scrutinize anything related to file numbers PA/8113131514416-474-75-8741 & PA/161181915141918-785-43-0174.’ Those were their orders. Send daily reports to head office and note anything questionable. He was not told what to look for but he guessed he would recognize it if he saw it.

    He had the files displayed on two separate screens. Nothing special stood out. Just routine stuff, phone numbers of calls made and received, credit card transactions, purchase orders, checks cashed, money transferred, payments made, Internet usage, Pay Per View purchases, emails; everything associated with the daily process of these individuals’ lives. He had seen thousands of transactions over the previous ten months. He did not know the name of the individuals nor did he know where they were located. He only knew the file numbers. Had he cared, Casey could have found out but he had no reason to care. As transactions popped onto the screen he would give it a cursory glance, click OK and move on to the next screen. It was robotic. He’d done dozens of these today and they were all starting to look alike. The phone rang. It was Jessie and as he suspected, she was pissed.

    “I thought we had a date, you promised” she whined.

    “We did, that is - we do baby. It’s just that I’ve gotta work late. I promise we’ll go out tomorrow night,” Brian countered, still clicking away.

    She kept at him. “You always say that but you’re always so tired we never go out I’m getting fed up with it.”

    “Look” he said, “I know you’re pissed but there’s nothing I can do.”

    A screen popped up that said “Are you sure?” He clicked OK.

    “I’ll be home at midnight. We’ll talk then.”

    “I won’t be here, you’ll have to talk to yourself” she snapped and hung up.

    The file disappeared from the left hand screen. Deep inside the central database at UNICORE, microprocessors calculated and juggled billions of bytes of information. A command given, the little black chips with their huge silver heat-syncs and fans whirring away began manipulating data. It was impossible; nevertheless, it happened. Maybe it was a power surge or a static charge no one knew or was aware of the consequences.

    Brian waited for the next screen to pop up. It never came. He began clicking icons frantically looking for the file. A sick feeling came over him. He didn’t know what he had just done but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. He kept on trying to undo his mistake but it was no use. He sat staring at the blank screen before him. Damn you Jessie, he thought, it was all her fault for being such a bitch. Why do you have to give me such a hard time?

    * * *

    Hammond hated being late. He always made a point of being the first to arrive at work but this morning he wouldn’t make it. A bad night, he thought, as he finished brushing his teeth. He hadn’t dreamt of Amy in months and now she came to him in nightmares. Living alone, there was no one to hear him as he woke up screaming and terrified at the images flashing through his subconscious. He missed his wife badly. At forty-eight, he was feeling very lonely. All he had was his business and the people who worked there but the loneliness persisted, and now the nightmares were back.

    Peter’s parents had passed away four years ago and Amy’s had already passed away before he met her. They had wanted children but the business had consumed all their time and attention. Now he wished they had taken time for babies. He regretted not having a son or daughter to carry on Amy’s memory. He finished dressing, kissed his fingers and touched them to the picture of his wife on the dresser, grabbed his jacket and keys and stepped outside.

    The cold January air hit him full in the face as he walked to his SUV. His breath fogged the windshield as he sat waiting for the car to warm up. Peter had a lot on his plate today and being late made him edgy. He hated waiting for the defroster to work so he helped it out by using his credit card to scrape the frost off the inside. Little curls of snow dropped and quickly began to melt as they touched the leather covering the dash. Satisfied that he could see well enough to continue he replaced his credit card into his wallet and pulled out of the driveway. “Damn” he cussed to himself noticing the fuel gauge was on empty. He’d need to get gas before going too much further.

    Hammond disliked self-serve gas bars. In his business, he couldn’t afford to offend a client by stinking of gasoline. He pulled into the full serve pumps at the gas bar just down the street.
    “’Morning Peter,” the attendant said as Peter rolled the window down. “You runnin’ late today?” He asked.
    “Yeah, Eddie,” Peter answered, “Just fill her up for me bud, I’m in a hurry.” Eddie stuck the nozzle in the filler tube and moved on to the next customer. When the nozzle kicked off, Eddie finished filling the tank and Peter handed him his credit card.

    “Be right back,” Eddie said as he scurried off to the kiosk. When Eddie returned, he had a confused look on his face. “ Er, ah, gee Peter I think somethin’s wrong. You’re card won’t work.” “What? You’re kidding right? I really don’t have time for this Eddie, don’t screw with me today, OK!” Peter wasn’t laughing.

    “No joke Peter!” Eddie shot back. “The card won’t work.” He insisted.

    Peter dug into his wallet.

    “Here” he said as he grabbed another credit card. “Try this.” ‘Maybe using a credit card as an ice scraper isn’t so smart,’ he thought.

    Eddie returned minutes later with a frown on his face. “Don’t get pissed Peter, this won’t work either.” He said tentatively.

    “You gotta be kiddin’ me! I don’t need this today Eddie. What the hell’s going on? I used that card yesterday, no problem. It has to be your machine,” Peter was beside himself. This day was not beginning well. “I don’t have time for this Eddie, how much is it?”

    “Sixty-two bucks” Eddie replied.

    Peter reached into his pocket pulled out his money clip to reveal three twenties and nothing more.

    “Damn, nothing’s going right, I shoulda stayed in bed. All I have is sixty.”

    “That’ll do” Eddie replied, the line behind Peter was getting longer and he wasn’t about to hold it up any longer over two bucks.

    Hammond drove off shaking his head and talking to himself.



  2. #2
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    Brian Casey rubbed his eyes and tried to get them to focus on the screen in front of him. He’d been staring at it for hours and now he was going to have to pull a double shift. Working in the world’s largest financial data center drove stress levels off the scale. Double shifts just made it that much harder. His date with Jessie would not happen and he’d pay big time for that. Jim Rogers had better have a goddamned good excuse for not coming to work tonight or he’d pay too. Brian’s butt was numb. His five foot eleven frame weighed in at 200 lbs. and although he didn’t consider himself fat, the office chairs at UNICORE could bring tears to your eyes if you sat in them for too long. He got up and poured himself a coffee; he was on his third pot today.
    Okay, take a deep breath. But bear in mind that everything I say pertains to matters of craft, not talent and potential as a writer, or the story.

    Think about why you read. Is it to learn about the story details, as you would a history? Are you looking for an overview of the situation the protagonist is living, or is it to be made to live that scene in real-time? Are you looking to be informed or entertained?

    I ask, because in this first paragraph you're presenting a report, given by an external, and dispassionate voice. In fact, it's so dispassionate that the reader can hear none of the emotion you would place in it as you read it back to yourself.
    Wandering over to the window, he could see the entire northeast corner of the peninsula.
    Again, this is you reporting. This time on on what he can see, not what has his attention. We're given a visual tour of the city, but that doesn't meaningfully set the scene because any action takes place where he is.

    What you're doing in this chapter is playing camera. But telling me that he can see a certain building doesn't make me see it, or make me know why mentioning it matters to him. And his seeing it is certainly not meaningful to the plot. You talk about the bridge, but why is he focusing in it? You never say, and he doesn't react to it in any way. So other than delaying the arrival of events that are important, what does the paragraph accomplish? Only to mention someone in his family we've not met won't be happy that he was working late at something we also know nothing about. But if it matters, let the reader experience that conversation with his aunt if and when it does happen.

    The primary problem you face is that you, like every new writer, are trying to crate a story, and are structuring it according to the writing techniques you currently own—the techniques we all leave school with.

    But did we learn to write as a publisher defines that skill? No, because those skills are part of a specific profession's craft, and so, are not part of the general skill set we're given in our schooldays. Our system of public education was instituted at the beginning of the industrial revolution. It turned out that since most people couldn't read or write, or do simple math, companies had to train their new employees, at their expense. So a system of public education was instituted to provide a trained labor pool. In other words, they were taught traditional three R's. And while that's been expanded, we still learn writing techniques that are author-centric, fact-based, and designed to inform. Great for reports and essays, but pretty well useless for entertaining a reader by making them experience the story moment-by-moment.

    That takes a different skill-set, one emotion-based and character-centric. Instead of telling the reader, " He’d been staring at it for hours and now he was going to have to pull a double shift," which comes from you, and is fact based, you could, in about the same number of words, have him react to looking at the screen by glancing at the time and shaking his head, then thinking about the time till he left for home, and how frustrating it was to be there. That would be his emotional reaction. Doing it that way the reader learns the same thing, so far as hours worked, but they also learn how he thinks, and how he feels about it, making him a living character, not the subject of a report.

    The bottom line is this: there are a whole host of things about any profession that are not obvious to the person, or anyone outside the profession. Fiction is no different.

    So, you have the desire, and a story to write. And since the story deserves the best possible telling, why not add a bit of professional knowledge to your tool kit? Like the proverbial chicken soup it can't hurt. And if you are meant to be a writer the learning will be fun, like going backstage at the theater.

    A couple of suggestions: this article, one I often recommend, is a condensation of one of the most powerful ways of placing the reader onto the scene. Chew on it, and play with it till it makes sense. Check some modern novels that made you feel as if you were living the story as you read asnd see how that author used it. And if it seems like something worth pursuing, pick up a copy of the book it was based on.

    You might also want to poke around in the writing articles in my blog for an overview of the various issues of craft.

    I know this wasn't what you were hoping to hear, but...

    Hang in there, and keep on writing.

    Our goal isn't to make the reader know the character is frightened, it's to terrify the reader.

  3. #3
    Rogue Mutt
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    Don't worry, George, Jay says that to everyone. Literally. Go through the archives if you don't believe me.

    Anyway, it's a decent start but there are some problems.

    His five foot eleven frame weighed in at 200 lbs. and although he didn’t consider himself fat,

    The exactly height and weight don't seem like something he would be thinking; that seems more for the benefit of the reader. You could start it at "Although" and not really lose anything.

    his Uncle’s restaurant

    Uncle should not be capitalized in this context. It would be if you said, "He had reservations at Uncle's Restaurant" or "He was going to meet Uncle Ben at the restaurant."

    PA/8113131514416-474-75-8741 & PA/161181915141918-785-43-0174

    They probably have files identified like that but it's really annoying to read through two long strings like that.

    heat-syncs

    heat sinks

    In the second scene you refer to the character as "Hammond" and "Peter;" you should pick one and use it consistently.

    “I thought we had a date, you promised” she whined.
    “Look” he said
    “Here” he said
    “Sixty-two bucks” Eddie replied.


    All of those you need a comma before the closing quote mark.

    I'm wondering if Brian and Hammond are going to meet at some point; if I were Hammond I'd be pretty ticked off.

  4. #4
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    Hey Rogue Mutt,

    Thank you. Don't worry, guys like Jay don't affect me. I checked him out and you're right. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate all the input I get both positive and negative. Nevertheless I did check out some of his comments and from what I saw, they all seem to lean in the same direction.

    I have taken your suggestions to heart and made appropriate changes. I agree about the file numbers. I never did like the way they read. That said at the time I created them I had a purpose for them but for the life of me I can't remember what. It should be noted that this is an unfinished work that I am finally getting back to after 3 years of life getting in the way.

    Your comments encourage me to keep on going and perhaps I will post the next couple of pages to see what people think.

    Thanks again.
    George

  5. #5
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    Don't worry, George, Jay says that to everyone. Literally. Go through the archives if you don't believe me.
    If course I do, because new writers, knowing nothing about the expectations and norms of writing fiction for the printed page use what they know, the nonfiction techniques we learn in our schooldays. And as a result, everything they write reads like either a chronicle of events or a transcription of them telling the story aloud, both of which will garner a rejection before the end of page one.

    The dog likes to think of himself as an expert on writing, but you may have noticed that you can't find any of his books in your local bookstore. So he's certainly not someone to tell you how to write for publication. Nor am I, since my total number of publishing contracts is only seven, all to small publishers.

    In fact, damn near anyone you encounter on the Internet writing sites is unpublished. So why not go to those who actually know, the publishers, the teachers, and the successful writers? With them you know that what they say works. With Mutt you have only his claim that it does, something his lack of publication credits refutes.

    Never forget that self publishing is like paying fo sex and then claiming to be a great lover.
    Thank you. Don't worry, guys like Jay don't affect me.
    Unlike Mutt, I pointed out where you can get professional advice, something I often did for my clients when i had my manuscript critiquing service. And unlike him, my advice comes straight from books on writing, agents, and publishers. Since you own only the same skill set your classmates do, you chance of success is no better or less than the average person. Seems to me that if you hope to practice a profession, learning how would be a good idea. And for that you go to the pros.

    Something to think about: Were the writing skills you were given in school useful for creating fiction for the printed word, most new writers would be either teachers or high school new grads. Teachers because they know the techniques they teach better than the students, and new grads because the techniques they learn are still fresh. But since they're not...

    In fact, if you look at the NYT best seller list, and look into the background of those who have a Wikipedia entry, you'll find that most of them have more training than having drowsed through English class.

    The short version:

    “Michaelangelo did not have a college degree, nor did Leonardo da Vinci. Thomas Edison didn't. Neither did Mark Twain (though he was granted honorary degrees in later life.) All of these people were professionals. None of them were experts. Get your education from professionals, and always avoid experts.”
    ~ Holly Lisle

  6. #6
    Rogue Mutt
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    If George really wants a laugh, he should go check out the sales rankings for Jay's books.

    Jay likes to act like he's doing something special by offering the same generic advice to everyone. Personally I think by 2016 most people know how to use Google and Amazon if they need generic advice.

  7. #7
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    Jay,

    This is not what I signed up for. I tried to be nice but it seems to me you're so busy looking for ways to argue with people, that you can't or won't take time enough to see if they actually heed any of your advice. Why don't you quit spoiling for a fight and start actually helping those who are searching for it.

    In Canada, we have a tire store - I'll withhold the name - that is more of a hardware store really. Unfortunately it has a reputation for hiring "pointers" - staff members who, when asked by customers for assistance in finding a product, simply point in the direction of the aisle, in which it may reside. They don't help really, instead of guiding the customer to the product, they simply point to where it might be.

    You sir, are a pointer. If you're so good, then prove it! Offer some constructive suggestions instead of pointing. You expound the value of your own virtues but when it comes to offering any real help you simply point and truly offer no more direction than a road construction flagman. In fact, I'm not so sure you're that good. At least a flagman actually performs a task that has a purpose.

    FYI - I don't have any classmates. I'm not a schoolboy romping around in short pants and carrying a lunch bucket to grammar school. If you had taken any time to read any of my other posts, you would know that - oh, no you wouldn't because even now all you have been doing while reading this, is formulating your response. Do the world a favour - Keep it to yourself!

  8. #8
    Rogue Mutt
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    A pointer! That's awesome. Is that store Canadian Tire? Their ads on Hockey Night always make me want to buy a bunch of tools I probably don't need.

  9. #9
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Spoiling for a fight is right. Read the thread "A Flash Fiction - Circle" in Writing Critique. I don't understand the man, myself. He sticks to his guns even when he has no bullets, the firing pin's bent, and the trigger is rusted fast.

  10. #10
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    Rogue

    You would be right. Except we call it "Crappy Tire."

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