New opening - YA SF

Discussion in 'Critiques' started by Jo Zebedee, Apr 21, 2016.

  1. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee Come away, oh human child - Waters and the Wild

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    This is the first, fairly rough draft, to an existing story. What I'm wondering about (along with the usual clarity, hook etc) are two things:

    1. The use of the pronoun it - does it work or confuse. (Not sure what to do if it confuses)
    2. This is the opening to a YA SF - high end YA, so 16-18 age range - but it starts in an old mind. I wonder is it suitable for YA, or if any of it feels too adult.

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    It was a bustling evening, the last of the warm sunshine bringing people out to the cafes and bars. It put its head back and closed its eyes, listening to the restaurant sounds – the clatter of glasses being cleared up, sizzling as tapas arrived at the next table, voices calling to each other in warm, mellow tones that somehow suited the warmth.

    This was perfection. This planet, so far from the shipping lanes, would not be the first place to look for an alien. Even if that changed…. It concentrated on the feel of its new body, the tightness of the skin, the depth of its breaths that made its chest rise and fall. It felt right to be this shape.

    Satisfied, it got to its feet and threw some coins onto the table. It had taken the knowledge it needed, the understanding of the currency and food, as quicker as it had learned to savour the feel of the now-night air, the touch of clothes on its body. Already, it understood what it was to be human.

    It left the bar and paced through the streets of the town, coming off the main street at a set of half-hidden steps. It ran up them – it was so easy to move in this body, no heavy stinger dragging behind it. So freeing.

    Taking a right, then a left, it slipped into a narrower street. Houses loomed on each side of the street, old-bricked and slanted, as if the street had secrets that must be kept. It stopped at a faded green door. The memories it had taken earlier had considered the door important. They’d considered it home.

    It touched the door, a slight tap-tap of will, and the catch gave. The door swung open. It stepped into a dark hallway and took a moment to allow its eyes to adjust. Humans did not have the night-vision it was accustomed to.

    It started to climb the stairs, but stopped as a door opened downstairs.

    “Jose, is that you?” The mother’s voice was querrulous. “Did I leave the door unlocked?”

    “No, Madre,” it said, turning. “I let myself in.”

    Her frown told it something was wrong. It searched the memories it had touched, but nothing indicated why. It hadn’t thought to look closely at keys and locks and doors.

    “Why Madre?” she asked. “Why so formal?”

    Panic welled in it. She knew something was wrong. She knew Jose was wrong. If she knew she could tell.

    The shifting took a mere thought. The woman’s mouth fell open as it took the stairs in a single bound, its stinger coming around. It took her in the shoulder, and she cried out, the small cry of a child. She fell, hard, eyes staring upwards. Already the poison would be spreading.

    It stood over the woman. Her eyes tracked him: nothing else moved. It took its time, enjoying the familiar sensation filling its body. It was time to kill.

    It brought its stinger up, admiring the long point. The venom didn’t complete the kill – it merely brought the foretaste. It ran the stinger up her body, between her legs, over her breasts. If she’d felt it, she’d have thought it a lover’s hand.

    It imagined the fear wracking her. Her eyes met its, looking from it to the door, worried circles of knowledge. At last, the stinger was against her throat.

    “Sorry, Madre,” it said, and stabbed. Blood gushed, splattering the walls, the floor, the door, its body. It threw its head back and relished the kill and no one came near the house. The night deepened, and the street held yet another secret.
     
  2. Cat's Cradle

    Cat's Cradle Time, now, to read...

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    Jo, just a quick thought - with the emphasis on 'it' as the pronoun...your first two sentences start with the word 'it'. Could you rework the first sentence, deleting this bit: It was a bustling evening...just start with: The last of the warm sunshine...?
    It's a small thing that you'd likely notice on the second writing of this, but just thought I'd mention it, CC
    (I just used 'it' twice in that last sentence...it's a hard word to avoid!:))
     
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  3. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee Come away, oh human child - Waters and the Wild

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    Good plan. I need to reduce as many non its as I can... :D
     
  4. Ray McCarthy

    Ray McCarthy Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.

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    Put a name instead of it if the critter is genderless? If it doesn't have a personal name (Tibbles or whatever), then call "it" "the <species name>" rather than it?

    Unfortunately English doesn't have a non-gender singular pronoun.
     
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  5. DG Jones

    DG Jones Partying like it's 1999 - I mean, 2000 - posts

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    I agree with CC - the first line is a bit "It was a dark and stormy night..." for me :rolleyes:, and given what follows you could do without the discrepancy.

    I see what you mean. The use of "it" in the second line is definitely jarring (for me), but one gets used to what you're doing after that. There are two potential problems in my eyes. The first is that "it" by definition is a third person pronoun, so you're using a perspective that feels outside of the character you're writing. Now I know we ordinarily use s/he in the same way, but by that time we're already anchored to a specific character by their name. So here we're forced, as readers, to view this person not from behind the eyes, but as outsiders.

    To take this further, when a "normal" character is portrayed in close third, the use of the name obviously is a reflection of how that character views themselves. Kare is called Kare because Kare knows he is called Kare. By naming this character "it" you're showing us that this character views itself as something nameless, definitely something non-human (which becomes apparent), and possibly something without an identity or individuality of its own - maybe some sort of creature that's part of a hive? So there's something interesting there to be played with, though whether you're intentionally setting out to achieve these points or whether it's just my overworked mind looking too deeply into it, I can't say.

    Your main problem therein, IMO, is going to be nailing down empathy for a character without a particular identity. Nameless characters have been done before many times, but usually from the perspective of humans who are outsiders (Invisible Man springs to mind but there are probably loads more). Critically they're still humans, though, and here your character is twice removed: it's inhuman (literally and figuratively, given its savage killing of the Madre character) and doesn't even have a name for itself. It'll be hard to build up a rapport with the reader from there.

    This meandering train of thought probably doesn't help either way, but just my thoughts.

    It's nicely written, of course it is, and despite my thoughts above it is a great hook; alien thing getting used to human form/skin, but getting caught out and causing a death. There's intrigue there, certainly. I just wonder for how long you'd be able to keep up the lack of identity. But you'll figure it out ;)
     
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  6. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee Come away, oh human child - Waters and the Wild

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    @DG Jones
    Does it help if I say that most of the book isn't from its perspective, but the human characters? (I think it has two other small pov sections later, probably totalling 2000 words max?)
     
  7. Ray McCarthy

    Ray McCarthy Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.

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    It would be clearer if it was referred to by its species name, if it's not sentient?
     
  8. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee Come away, oh human child - Waters and the Wild

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    I use the alien elsewhere. It's a renegade and shifts identity when needed.
     
  9. ratsy

    ratsy www.scifiexplorations.com

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    I found the it a little off-putting, but if it is only around as a POV for a couple sections I think I'd be okay with reading that.

    I do like the sound of the story. Cat's made a nice point of the start, and I do like the feel of the first paragraph. It gives a nice, quick feeling for the setting
     
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  10. Kerrybuchanan

    Kerrybuchanan Delusions of Grammar

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    I think the hook is great, but I second CC's comment.

    A couple of thoughts: warm and warmth both in 1st paragraph

    The use of 'it' worked really well for me, but did lead to a slightly excessive use of the word (notice how careful I'm being to avoid using the two-letter gender-neutral pronoun?). However if this POV is not dominant in the story, I can't see a problem.

    Lastly, if you're looking for a beta, count me in. I love this so far....
     
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  11. Cat's Cradle

    Cat's Cradle Time, now, to read...

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    I've read this again, and it works well for me...I like this. I don't read YA often, but the tone seems fine to me, from what I know of it.
    And the fact that it's an old mind, I think, shouldn't be a problem, because it's an old alien mind...and if the YA readers know this is SF, I think they'd be cool with that (and not expect an alien murderer to be their own age...especially if it's alien enough).
    I agree with you...write around (write out) as many uses of 'it' as possible, and you'll eliminate opportunities for confusion.
    Wow, you can write just about anything, Jo! Impressive. :) (I've only two chapters left of 'Sunset', and I've loved the book!)
     
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  12. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee Come away, oh human child - Waters and the Wild

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    Hmmm, for some reason insert quote isn't working, so bear with me.

    @Kerrybuchanan Lastly, if you're looking for a beta, count me in. I love this so far. - I take it you worked out the story, then. ;) (I'll chat to you when I'm done - it would need to be a swop and I'm pushed for time these days. :))

    @Cat's Cradle Wow, you can write just about anything, Jo! Impressive. :) (I've only two chapters left of 'Sunset', and I've loved the book!)

    not so sure about that! This one has been about two years in the writing, it just kept stalling. But I think I've nailed it now.

    (Phew, that's really lovely. I'm nervous about feedback on this one, because I really, really like it and, um... if it bombs in the reviews then I need to revise my taste-monitoring...:D)
     
  13. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    The use of terms such as "it" and "alien" keep us distant - the being gives signs of having some sense of identity, but as the writer you hold us back from that. I'm sure there are other novelists who get away with that sort of POV use, but I would suggest you come back and revisit this at some point, and ask whether there's a stronger way to pull this off for greater effect.

    The issue of the kill didn't sit right with me - the satisfaction of killing seemed to come from nowhere, and the sexual element I personally found gratuitous - but might actually be the sort of detail to titillate a wider reading public, even though the question is whether the being would really relate to sexual images in the same way.

    As for the opening of a YA - I think the trend is to jump straight into the protagonist from the opening. Readers invest in the first character they're put into, so if the alien POV is the first one a reader experiences, then this is the one they'll expect to follow more of - and this could be to the detriment of the protagonist you actually want the reader to care more about.

    Good stuff though, and am simply thinking aloud.
     
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  14. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee Come away, oh human child - Waters and the Wild

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    Cool stuff. The reader is supposed to be distant. And yes, the sexual undertone was the bit I was wondering about. It's more that it takes pleasure from the kill, and wasn't what I was planning when I wrote the scene. In other words, the Nasty Alien made me do it. :D

    I'm hoping, given that it's only 600 words and I'll clearly show in the query who the main PoV character is, and that there is an alien, I'll get away with it. It could be one of those where if it gets no agent responses, I try again with the original start.

    Gah, don't you just love this business? :D
     
  15. SciFrac

    SciFrac WIP me into shape!

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    What benefit does the reader have by keeping distant? I understood the use of the pronoun, but you're trying to straddle both knowing its mind and keeping us at arm's length. This felt inconsistent knowing its internal thoughts while constantly referring to itself as it. I like coming from an alien's perspective though, and I think most YA readers could get into a story like this.
     
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  16. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee Come away, oh human child - Waters and the Wild

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    Because I don't want it to feel human. Also, for story purposes I want the sense that being in its head is really quite unpleasant - hence the distancing. Does that make sense?

    So, yes, I want you to know its head, but I don't want it to feel like a comfy, human head to be in.
     
  17. DG Jones

    DG Jones Partying like it's 1999 - I mean, 2000 - posts

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    Yes, if this is being inserted into a piece of work that's already established it would definitely work. As a prologue/chapter 1 I'm 50/50 about it. It's still a good hook.

    Hmm. This explains much, but how to convey a sense and feel of non-humanness in human terms? In the excerpt you've stated the creature feels "panic"; it can "imagine" and it seems to have some sort of empathetic ability ("it imagined her pain"). It's certainly an interesting problem.

    Funnily enough, I'm going to have an extremely similar problem very soon. There's a single chapter coming up in my WIP which will be from the POV of a robot, ergo a non-human, although one fitted with "digital" emotional capability. We should compare notes :D
     
  18. Kerrybuchanan

    Kerrybuchanan Delusions of Grammar

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    Not necessarily. I'm finding my writing head has abandoned me at the moment, so reading others' work might help me recapture the excitement and magic I need. If this is the story I suspect it is, I've been desperate to get my sticky mitts on it. :D
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2016
  19. HareBrain

    HareBrain Bunny of Wonder Staff Member

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    I didn't have a problem with the "it" or distancing; it was intriguing enough to overcome that. One small thing that didn't quite ring true to me, though, was the idea that it would feel more free without the dragging weight of its stinger. Nature doesn't equip creatures with appendages that drag; it gives them the muscles to make use of them (though these can weaken, of course), and a stinger would have plenty of muscle because it would need to be able to move it quickly. It would make more sense, to me, for the creature to feel that something was missing.
     
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  20. SciFrac

    SciFrac WIP me into shape!

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    Okay, so you might accomplish this by making the alien have fewer human feelings, like what DG mentioned about panic or fear. And I agree that inserting this POV later in a book is better than starting with it. I assume you're not?
     
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