“I Stopped Reading When…” Editor Critiques – Volume #8

ca_20150131_026Publishers, agents, and readers all make quick decisions about what they want to read. Below are my first impressions of twenty novel openings written by Novel Boot Camp participants.

I stopped reading (and ended the excerpt) at the point that I was no longer interested in continuing. I also included comments about why the story didn’t catch my interest.

Please play along by tracking which books you would want to continue reading. There will be a poll at the end of the post.

When determining whether a first page is indicative of publishable writing, these are the elements typically considered:

  • Voice – Is the voice strong, unique, and consistent?
  • Clarity – Is it easy to follow what’s going on?
  • Connection – Is the character easy to connect with?
  • Conflict – Is there conflict or the promise of conflict?

“I Stopped Reading When…”

1. Fantasy

The year is 1879. The season is summer, and the time is dusk.

 The scene is a pleasure barge, floating in the air 2000 feet above the city of Prague.

 On the open deck, a hundred ladies and gentlemen have dined while they were entertained by magicians, jogglers and singers, and soon the tables will be cleared away to give the guests space to dance.

 Already some of the men have left the tables and gone to the railing to smoke.

 One man stands by himself. Stein Hammer. A 33 year old Norwegian. Tall, with blond hair, fair complexion and grey eyes that, until a moment ago, was turned to the horizon, following a distant airship, heading north. But now, when steam drums beat out a pounding rhythm, he turned to watch the last act of the evenings entertainment: a dark-haired woman performing a dance in he Egyptian style.

 For a moment Stein allowed himself the pleasure of watching the dancer. Then he walked across the deck. He grabbed an empty chair and brought it to a table occupied by a grey haired couple; the man slightly more aloof than the woman.They stiffened as Stein placed the chair at their table and sat down.

 The man tilted his head back and looked down his nose at Stein. “I don’t believe I have the pleasure of your acquaintance. Sir.”

 “Sir,” said Stein.” I doubt it will be much of an acquaintance, and even less of a pleasure.”

Notes: This kept my attention throughout. It’s a good example of how you can use setting as a hook. You pull the narrative close to Stein just in time to avoid losing the reader’s interest and I’m assuming the dialogue that follows will introduce a conflict.

Verdict: Hooked

2. YA Fantasy

Giovanna ran in between crowds, not caring about the many reproachful glances she was receiving. She continued running, her long bushy hair, brown colored, swaying behind her, making her look as if an invisible person was pulling her hair. She cleaned a bit of sweat from above her lips, where a beauty mark laid, and shook her head at the people asking to see her eyes, which is the strangest thing about her. Giovanna’s eyes are a shining purple.

Notes: Opening with a character running is a trope and difficult to pull off well. Purple eyes are also a trope. There’s not enough originality to hook the reader.

Verdict: Not Hooked

3. YA Fantasy

Lucerne left abruptly, as she always did. A couple of mourning villagers were about to scold her, but decided against it. No one could tell Lucerne what to do anymore. Instead, they chose to shoot her disapproving glares in hopes that the guilt would send the message. They even whispered complaints amongst themselves when not listening to the eulogy.

 Lucerne gave them a friendly wave before skipping away from the masses of black that huddled around her home. Humming a tune, she ducked into an alleyway no respectable person would set foot in, then leaped over a fence and onto an aged canoe waiting for her on the other side.

Notes: I think there could be an interesting hook here, but currently everything is too vague for the reader to be sufficiently hooked. It’s not clear what’s happening or how the reader is meant to feel about Lucerne.

Verdict: Not Hooked

4. Historical

The big seaplane droned on towards the setting sun. Viewed from the front, the long wing of the Martin Clipper looked like a big hound with two long ears sticking out over a long snout. Four Pratt and Whitney propellers turned in unison, making a single sound. Every once in a while, number two slipped out of sync, slightly slower, producing an annoying change in rhythm. Flight Engineer Johnson, two weeks out of engineer’s school, ran to his panel and adjusted the controls to stop the noise. His two main tasks were to keep the engines running and in sync.

 Too late.

 The Captain turned and scowled. He sat with his arms crossed, light glinting off his gold wings, staring at the flustered man until the engines returned to their normal sound.

“Probably woke him up.” Johnson kept his thoughts to himself. The Captain was still annoyed. He glared at his Radio Officer, seated behind him at the navigators table. “Harris, did you make a position report to that vessel back there?”

 “Yes, sir. I just finished. She’s on her way to Auckland, too.”

The cockpit door opened as the other engineer walked in.

“Cap, there’s a funny smell coming from the rear cargo hold and I can’t find it. It’s not a burning smell, just funny. How about sending somebody to investigate?”

Johnson quickly stood up, hoping to check out the red head in the sheer white dress who boarded in Honolulu. She was a real looker.

Notes: I think the description of the seaplane will hook readers who like seaplanes but might turn off readers who don’t because there is no emotional or conceptual hook in the description. There’s no motivation, personality, or emotions from Johnson which makes it tough to connect with him.

Verdict: Not Hooked

5. Mystery

For one to say that it was a hot day was an understatement. The sun was baking as Smithy straightened up from the site which looked out over the cliff to what was the most beautiful view of the Blue Lake. He rubbed the rough stubble on his chin as he let his mind drifted from the heavy air of Saharan deserts to frozen rivers in Alaska.

“Sir!”

Smithy’s eyes flew open and he flicked his head back towards his working students and his travelling heart sank as it quickly realised the reality it was in.

Notes: The writing/wording is awkward in several places. “What was the most beautiful view” could just be “at the most beautiful view.” “Let his mind drifted” should be “let his mind drift.” I don’t recommend opening with the character’s mind drifting as it gives the impression there’s no reason you’re starting at this moment and thoughts are the only thing to convey.

Verdict: Not Hooked

6. Historical

On the private table in the Greyhound Inn sat a candle, a glass of wine, a pie, and a lace collar that the gentleman had removed from around his neck. His long brown tresses rested on the shoulders of a black leather cloak that was unbuttoned down the front, exposing a royal blue doublet of silk with mother-of-pearl buttons. Hanging on a silver chain around the diner’s neck was a miniature portrait enameled onto a porcelain pendant. His right hand caressed this exquisitely painted portrait of a splendidly dressed gentleman of regal bearing, to prevent it swinging foreword into the pie, while his left hand forked stake and kidney and pastry between his manicured moustache and pointed beard. So ravenous was his engagement with his pie that he didn’t hear the tall man in a threadbare military uniform limping up behind him with a navy dirk clutched in his fist. The dirk’s long blade rose to the ceiling, then flashed down in a long arch over the diner’s right shoulder to slash through the blue doublet just left of the pendant, and plunge deep into the gentleman’s chest. He slumped forward, pivoted on the dirk’s elaborately carved handle, and buried his face in his pie, then rocked sideways and fell to the floor, his vacated eyes staring through gravy past bits of pastry stuck to his eyelashes.

 The deceased gentleman was the Duke of Buckingham; the miniature portrait was of King James; and the assassin was John Felton.

Notes: I really like the details provided in this opening. I would break up the first paragraph to make it easier to read. I would expect the narrative to focus on the main character rather quickly after this introduction. The last line might work with your style or it might not, it’s tough to tell without reading the rest. The writing is strong enough that I would keep reading to find out.

Verdict: Hooked

7. Mainstream

Mr Mukerjee stood in the open door of his pharmacy watching the street.

“Any sightings yet?” Elly asked as she pushed her bike past towards her bookshop.

 His lower lip stuck out and he shook his head, his disappointment like a small child’s. Behind him, the store reverberated with loud rock music, an unusual choice for the quiet purveyor of condoms, toothpaste and direct delivered prescriptions.

 She left the bike against the brick wall and stepped down the two stairs to her doorway. When she first moved the shop into this unit, she thought the little round topped door was cute, the low picture window that just peeked over the sidewalk, the feeling of a snug little cave, was all sort of hobbity. Now it seems like bad ju ju, or feng shue, a door so small no customers could get through. She flipped on the lights and inhaled the perfume of dying paperbacks. She would have to dust again.

 Mr Mukerjee wasn’t the only one standing watch outside his shop. The butcher had put an ad up on the town website for “Rock and Ribs Sale.” All along Pondfield Rd, shopowners were making surprise appearances to watch for the town’s newest celebrity. Only the newspaper showed some restraint, not mentioning the new resident, but devoting several paragraphs to the presence of strange men lugging camera equipment up Sagamore Hill.

 Someone had moved into town, so what? It didn’t seem like something so big it should put the whole town out of whack. The guy was famous of course, rock and roll famous, but did a whole community of supposedly competent adults really have to lose their minds over it?

Notes: I would open with Elly rather than Mr. Mukerjee. This will help you to get the reader on Elly’s side and into Elly’s thoughts right away. This kept my attention, but felt a tad slow due to not being brought into Elly’s thoughts fast enough. Overall though, the voice is strong enough that I would continue.

Verdict: Hooked

8. MG Fantasy

Paiy 13th Ausonia Year 1941 – 22:34 pm

 The two girls stood side by side on the apothecary chest, silhouetted by flashes of light streaming through the only window in the metal treehouse. ‘What’s going on – can you see anything?’ Bo stood on her tiptoes and squinted, desperate to see something, anything, between the gaps in the sea of tightly packed trees, but it was useless, ‘DIDA!’ She yelled, ‘can you see anything?’

 ‘They’re back!’

 ‘Who’s back?’

 ‘CHIRAH!’

Dida jumped down from the apothecary chest with a thud, and threw a tatty looking bag over her shoulder, ‘COME ON!’ She urged, ‘WE’VE GOT TO GET HOME!’ Bo hopped down from the chest, threw on her coat of patched tweeds and eased her sockless feet into cold, strappy, knee-high boots. She didn’t grab her bag; there was no time, Dida was already half way down the ladder, ‘WAIT!’ She cried out. ‘HAVE TO FIND MUM!’ Dida called back as she sprinted ahead through the forest towards the Gorge. Bo followed, but as she neared the edge of the trees and the full horror of the Chirah rampage came into view she skidded to a halt, ‘STOP! DIDA!’ Bo screamed, but it was too late. Dida was a quarter of the way across the first, of three root-bridges, when a Chirah – one of the Kings black haired, talon-wielding monsters – saw her and gave chase. Bo stood, petrified, watching as the patrol soldiers swiped viciously at people as they ran past.

Notes: I really like the ideas in this opening, but I think you’re moving too fast. Slowing down to describe Dida and Bo would help the reader to connect with them. You’re jumping into the action so fast that many potentially rich details (the inside of the treehouse, the appearance of the Chirah) are skimmed past without enough description for the reader to visualize the scene.

Verdict: Not Hooked

9. Mainstream

Eden’s tangled hair trailed like a blaze of fire as she bolted frantically down the wooden staircase. Sobs from her little sister kneeling over her father were drowned by the angry screams from her mother, “You killed him! You filthy little whore, get back here!”

After leaping over the last two steps into the dim lit foyer, Eden glanced into the living room. It was an absent reminder of her sixteenth birthday that went unnoticed by her family.

“Where do you think you’re going, child?” Her mother screamed, “Get back here!”

Notes: The reader needs more time to connect with Eden before jumping into such a dramatic situation. Without that connection, it’s too easy to read this as melodrama.

Verdict: Not Hooked

10. MG Fantasy

The nameless princess climbed the Tower of Cochem castle and swept out onto the sunny parapet to give the late guests one more chance. The wind lifted her pointy cone hat off her head. She grabbed it on the first try. Her brothers had been angling hats with fishing line for weeks.

 Below the castle, a fluffy white mist cloaked the valley and the Mosel River. Striped tents of almost every color poked up through the blanket.

 Red, Yellow, Orange, Magenta, Indigo and Violet pennants streamed in the breeze.

 The princess frowned.

 No Black pennants meant no Blackfly royals.

 No Blackfly royals meant no christening party.

 She hoped they were only late. That was trouble enough.

 Lifting the hem of her brocade christening gown, the princess galloped down the stairs to the castle’s great hall. She had to keep her parents on task until the Blackfly family arrived. It had to be possible. She’d waited ten years for this day.

Notes: I found this a bit difficult to follow. I think you could be clearer about why she wants the christening party to happen and what it entails. The last line of the first paragraph is particularly confusing. Were they angling their own hats or other people’s hats? Does she agree or disagree with this practice? Why is it being mentioned at all?

Verdict: Not Hooked

11. Fantasy

John awoke covered in sweat as a scream came radiating through the darkness of the night around him, and a dull ache began to blossom behind his eyes. A near empty bottle of some amber liquid rested on the table next to his bed, and a short glass lay forgotten on the floor.

 The scream seemed to penetrate his mind. Reverberating and echoing like a screech in a vast hollow room. It was the reason for the whiskey from the night before. And the night before that. And as far back as John cared to remember. The room around him seemed littered with empty glass bottles hidden under discarded clothes or behind unused furniture.

Notes: Opening with a character waking up is a trope. Opening with a character drunk/hungover is very close to a trope. Alcoholic characters are very common so it takes a lot to stand out with this idea. I don’t think this is the best place to open your novel as I’m sure there are more unique elements than what is being presented here.

Verdict: Not Hooked

12. YA Fantasy

Only one thing was on Izzy’s mind as he hugged the fourth story wall of the school, if I make it out of this alive I’m going to kill Jack, kill him dead. Izzy peaked down at the ground. He knew better than to do a stupid think like that. As he regret his decision Izzy’s grip began to feel like he was trying to grab butter with a vice grip. Dead, dead, dead.

“Need a hand?” Jack asked, extending his own from within the fourth story window out to the edge of the building.

“You touch me you die,” Izzy quickly responded with a sharp hushed tone. With each word a crunchy morsel of stone landed in his mouth. He attempted to make his body become one with the face of the aged, moldy building. Dead, dead, dead.

Notes: There are quite a few typos so proofreading more carefully would be a good idea. The writing doesn’t feel strong enough even though where you’re starting the story could be a strong opening. “Crunchy morsel” sounds like a good thing to me (it makes me think of peanuts, crackers, candy, etc.) so unless he enjoys eating rocks, I would change this wording.

Verdict: Not Hooked

13. Historical

The summer of 1851 I boarded the steamship Belle Key for France. I looked out towards my beloved city of New Orleans and knew I would never return. It was a notion I dismissed both in my head and my heart. In my head, there were many reasons to return. I had just completed the first apartment rows in America, bordering the Place d’Armes, property I inherited from my father, and fought for from my husband. I had a great vision for the square,an American Place des Vosges. My buildings were complete, but more was to be done which would require my overseeing and insight, and of course the managing of tenants and rents would have required some presence on my part. Then there was Azalie, not only a cousin, but a sister, a confidante; my closest and dearest friend. Alone since the death of Aunt Victoire, she would have enjoyed her last years with us together, as in years past, spending our afternoons over cafe au’lait and pastries, sharing the latest gossip. I wouldn’t allow my heart to feel this was goodbye,that this visit would prove to be the last time I would see Azalie, yet I knew it to be true.

Notes: I think using an active scene would be stronger. This is a lot of information to put on the reader in the opening paragraph and none of it is particularly captivating even though the writing is strong.

Verdict: Not Hooked

14. Fantasy

A silver-fingered necromancer can ruin the best of days. Harlot, the king thought, staring at the portrait above the fire. Liver-eater, he mouthed at his deceased wife posing for the painter. And then there was the necromancer… the wench that told him that he was about to die just before she disappeared into thin air like a Hornpuffs snort.

 Over the last forty year’s barbarians had instigated rebellions in Hexad, neighboring kings had encroached on vital revenues and war-mongering behemoth beasts had shot burning arrows at his civilians. So far, none of those things had ever ruined a day. The necromancer however, she had ruined a sunny one like a wife ruins a whore’s orgasm.

 Every day, since meeting the silver-fingered prophetess, the king felt the knots in his spine propagate like potatoes. “The Thunderblood is coming to kill you. On the dawn of the solstice you will bleed from your throat until you are dead,” she said. He felt the knots bubble and spread, impregnating his neck like rock-troll fetus’s. He frowned at his locking body. He rolled his shoulders. “Who sent her?” He asked himself.

Notes: I like some elements of the voice a lot, but overall the first paragraph is a bit too hard to follow. I don’t think you really need to use “whore,” “orgasm,” or “fetus” in the opening page. I think it’s more likely to turn off readers than hook them because they seem like words chosen for their shock value rather than descriptive ability.

Verdict: Not Hooked

15. YA Science Fiction

Stray bullets killed the lights. That must be why it’s so fucking dark in here.

 I turn my head right then left, trying hard to keep quiet and make out anything fucking familiar. Lizzy’s high-watt blonde hair that could light up Baby Bel Alley in uptown Charlotte during a power blackout. That damn radioactive, never-dim watch on Nick’s arm that he never shuts up about. You’d think a twelve-hundred-dollars watch would go dark some times, hell, just so you could get some damn sleep. I guess it has. I can’t see it, nor the monster wheels that are usually spinning or shining or spinning and shining on Donia’s coupe.

 Nothing. Only the smooth, cold concrete against the flat of my back, and pitch black darkness. Solid black. Slick black. What about my iPhone? I examine my body for it. Nothing. No phone. No keys. No backpack. No fucking Glock nesting perfectly at home in the curve of my back. They all must’ve fallen off me during the ambush.

 I remember Roy Williams getting out of the passenger side of his truck. He moved slowly, as if he was some ancient Nubian king descending from his royal throne rather than a balding, fat-assed cocaine supplier. He snaked his way through a couple of gray concrete pillars and few tin barrels scattered around our Fifth Street warehouse floor. Three of his crew members crept behind him. Not one of them was Dahrue, Roy’s number-two man who only leaves Roy’s side to go . . .

Notes: While you can get away with cursing in YA, most publishers probably won’t want to see cursing on the very first page. I would reword the second paragraph to give the sentence fragments (starting with the second sentence) more context. They read a tad clunky/confusing right now. It seems like you’re gearing up to tell the reader everything that has led to this point which might work, but makes me wonder if you’re starting the story too late.

Verdict: Not Hooked

16. Fantasy

One hand pins both of mine to the cold wall above my head, the other is on the small of my back, ready to explore the willing and able real estate. Heaven knows it is not the first time I have let things go this far, and beyond. If it was not that I have to kill him (in the next 45 seconds, to be precise), I would have let it take its own course. He dances us toward the leather lounge suite, his body unmistakably sculpted even underneath his charcoal Armani suit and hand-made white Egyptian cotton shirt. His face very close to mine, hint of cinnamon on his breath. Beautiful eyes. For a moment I almost waver. Focus, Imelda, this is war. I give a very small lunge, just a few inches but enough. I twist and turn and duck. I am vapor, I am a monkey. I climb him like a harvester climbs a coco palm, just much faster, creating steps out of his bent knees, hips and elbows.

Notes: The writing is a bit awkward and difficult to understand in places. “I am vapor, I am a monkey” is confusing, especially because this is fantasy. I’m assuming you don’t mean literally, but the images aren’t working for me either way. This opening reminds me too much of erotica which is probably going to make it tough for you to set a fantasy tone.

Verdict: Not Hooked

17. YA Fantasy

The Queen’s eyes flickered over the permafrost, the swirling, icy rivers, the white-blanketed forests of Winterland…all encased in her tiny sphere of glass.

 With a graceful wave of a hand, the wintry scenes faded in and out from the orb’s cloudy depths. The Snow Queen’s sprites fluttered around the viewing glass as she flicked a forefinger. A lake froze over. She twirled her wrist, and the scene changed. A group of rustling trees became encapsulated in frost, turning them into ice sculptures. Then, the scene changed once more. A kemonomimi leapt into sight.

 As it scuttled along the permafrost, its rabbit ears perked up, testing for any sound of danger before breaking out into a full-bore run. The Queen curled her lips. The creature didn’t stand a chance. She raised a slender finger, ready to crush the creature’s efforts with a flick of her wrist.

 All of a sudden, she jolted from her throne.

 The Snow Queen narrowed her eyes at a new face emerging inside the sphere. The sprites swarmed her like a tempest; the chignon of her beautiful hair came loose, the strands now whipping in a relentless wind.

 No. It couldn’t be…not her.

 I jolted in my own seat, dropping the textbook that concealed my Winterland graphic novel inside as someone flounced past my shoulder. My eyes wandered away from my laptop, where I had spent the last half hour of lunch working on my Winterland fanfiction, to Olivia –aka resident Ice Queen of Charles Dodgson High.

Notes: You’re lucky because the first-person pronoun in the last paragraph caught my eye just before I quit reading at the second paragraph. Most readers, agents, and publishers hate “fake out” openings where a video game, book, dream, etc. are presented as the actual story. The main problem you will have with this is most readers won’t get past the tropes to realize that’s not the actual story.

Verdict: Not Hooked

18. Thriller

“She’s at Headstart,” said Debra, by way of reassurance. She patted the faded living room couch in open invitation. The coffee table was filled empty beer cans—some from this morning, some from last night. A Cringles tube lay on its side. She squinted around her cigarette smoke. “They won’t drop her back off until after three o’clock. We got time.”

Sam grunted. He wasn’t fond of kids. They made him nervous. He took off his tooled boots without bending down, dropped his jeans, and shimmied out of his white BVDs. He was careful to hang his work pants over the chair so his wallet was in plain sight. This wasn’t his first rodeo. Perhaps he made it too obvious. She smiled.

 He looked sheepish.

“You don’t have to worry ‘bout your money, honey,” Debra said. “The reason I’m a whore is because I ain’t a thief.”

Sam grinned, and took off his tee shirt over his head with one fluid motion.

“You work out?” Debra asked.

“Naw,” said Sam. “But I do work—don’t just stand around and fucking complain like most of the guys at Four Square.”

 “What do you do over there?”

 “Shovel shit, for now.”

 “What kind of shit?”

 “Shit that needs to shoveled.”

Notes: There isn’t anything likeable presented about either character which makes it tough to get invested in what’s occurring. There is also no clear conflict nor a meaningful emotion from either character which causes the dialogue to feel meandering.

Verdict: Not Hooked

19. Fantasy

The bar was crowded, but that was to be expected on quarter wing night. The burn was familiar and soothing. The acrid twins, vinegar and hot chilies, made her eyes water and her nose run. Two steps inside the building was far enough for her to know that several people were braving The Cock and Bull’s Signature Melt Your Face Wing Sauce tonight. It was the end of the semester and a college student’s wallet couldn’t afford to say no to cheap wings and beer at this point in the year.

 Kyra made a quick scan of the seating area. Every table was full to overflowing with customers cramming their last bit of socializing in before buckling down for finals and summer break. Less than excited about weaving her way through the maze of tables and bodies without a confirmed destination, she headed towards the big oak bar that dominated the left side of the building.

 When the bar first opened, it had been styled after a traditional English pub. It was an odd choice for this small southern town, but over the 30 plus years since opening, the University dominated town and it’s inhabitants had claimed and transformed it from an oddity into a local institution. The school’s colors and mascot were the main decor theme now. Slim panel TV’s had been mounted in strategic locations around the room, and old photographs of university sporting events, students, and campus scenes covered almost every leftover inch of the walls.

Notes: I don’t dislike the descriptions, but they are overshadowing the character, which gives the reader little to latch onto. What does Kyra want? What is her problem? Why should the reader be interested in her? The bar can’t be the hook because it’s not unique enough, so something about Kyra needs to hook the reader.

Verdict: Not Hooked

20. Science Fiction

He would have given his life to save her. If he’d been nearby, he would have blitzed his way through security to get to her. He would have caught her as she collapsed, knelt over her, pressed himself to her, commanded the toxins to abandon her blood stream. He would have healed her.

 He would have sensed the wrongness in the silver tray of decorated morsels, in that delicacy offered her by a child—a child. They’d sent an innocent child with an innocent gift to end her.

 He inhaled with a shudder, emitted a resounding groan, both guttural and reedy. He bent over the rain-soaked boulder, rested his forehead on its cold roughness.

 His wife. His life’s reflection. Not the stateswoman. His woman.

 He could have stopped the conference, interrogated the kitchen staff, halted all departures from the station, traced the poison to its source. She would be alive, not another victim of those civilized torturers. Murderers.

 On the opposite bank of the stream, a short frothing waterfall hid her memorial, the emblem bearing her name embedded among other stones like it. The funeral party: her entourage and local supporters, had gone, leaving him alone as he requested, his remaining family light years away.

Notes: It’s very difficult to open with such a dramatic situation because the reader doesn’t yet have empathy for the character. I would make sure to introduce a goal, motivation, conflict, obstacle – anything to give a bit more meaning to the opening page.

Verdict: Not Hooked

What Do You Think?

The last submissions will be posted tomorrow.

Workshop #2 submissions are open! So make sure to submit your opening by 8am EST Monday July 18th if you want to participate.

 

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4 thoughts on ““I Stopped Reading When…” Editor Critiques – Volume #8

  1. Bjorn Schievers says:

    #1 Damn that’s cool! This is probably the submission that has me the most interested in reading on so far! I can’t be certain till a few more pages into the book. But I think it’s a safe bet. 🙂 I assume this is magic punk?
    #3 I think you’re probably very close to a great opening. There’s definitely one or more questions in your opening and I’ve learned that’s a good thing.
    #4 Don’t give up. You write well, better than me. 🙂
    #6 Definitely really cool. Though as a non native speaker it took more effort than usual to get through this text, and I don’t think splitting it in two paragraphs would have made it easier on ME. I absolutely recognize your qualities as a writer, but I’m slightly confused that with this much description it passed. So for the record this is about me being confused and hoping someone explains it to me in more detail. 🙂
    #7 Well done.
    #9 I can’t tell you how to improve this opening, but I can see where you’re going at it does intrigue me.
    #14 I expect this to become very interesting.
    #17 I very much like the idea. 🙂

    • johnsonofdaw says:

      Thank you, Bjorn, I appreciate all comments, especially any that show me what is not easy to read. My excuse is that after writing something 100 times it’s hard to read it as a first-time reader would.

      If you can explain what confuses you (e.g. are the sentences too long?); or where I’m not making it clear what I’m talking about (e.g. is the historical context confusing) that would help me even more.

    • johnhansendk says:

      Thank you for for you kind words re #1!
      It is steam punk, but I’m glad you mention magic, because I want to avoid it! There is a super natural element in my story, but it is more like, for instance, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – there is only one magic/supernatural object, and it’s only activated once, and apart form that there is no other magic in the story.

      When I wrote “magicians”, I was thinking about the stage entertainer kind, like we have in our world. But I can see now, that introducing magicians (in a fantasy novel!) so early will give the reader the wrong expectation.

      Thanks again!

  2. John G. Dawson says:

    #8 1-3: Fantasy not my thing

    4. More polished than last year. Not immediately clear who the Captain is angry with and why. Where is the light that glints off the gold wings coming from? Last sentence redundant, Johnson’s hope is enough to get the picture.

    5. Skip.

    6. Mine. Ellen’s comments are well taken. I’ve written two openings to my novel (I presented the other one last year) and am trying to decide which to use. This one has more dramatic action, and it’s a real event, although the details are mine. The other one is completely fictional, but it’s more reflective of the novel, which is 90% fiction, with 10% integrating it with historical events.

    7. Ellen doesn’t miss much.

    8. Skip.

    9. “an absent reminder” ?

    10-12. Skip. What’s with the trend (stampede?) towards fantasy?

    13. What was a notion: returning or not returning? apartment rows in America = rows of apartments in America? You would hook me because it has the feel of a true story – and a remarkable one.

    14. Skip.

    15. The f-word in the first line usually strikes me as a cheap way to grab attention. In this case, it does go with a colorfully convincing voice. You might keep me reading to find out a bit more, but I suspect I’m not your target readership.

    16-17.

    18. Agree with Ellen.

    19. Sigh – why do I get the feeling I’m being left in the dust of history?

    20. I was wondering why such a value-laden story wasn’t gripping me – until Ellen explained why. Nevertheless, I would keep reading.

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