As yet untitled, Urban Fantasy, 1,215 words

  1. Mith

    Mith Confused

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    Hello one and all, I was just wondering if you would be ever so polite as to cast your eye over this little offering? Many thanks...

    This is the beginning section of the opening paragraph of my WiP, and it's still just as rough as a cats tongue at the moment. I was hoping you could tell me how you think it flows and if any of it, such as the dialogue, feels forced. Of course other helpful hints are always most welcome. So please be as brutal as you wish ... I can handle it!

    Without further ado, chapter one.


    *****

    I flashed the gold invitation at the bouncers on the door and breezed past them, displaying every right to be at the night’s event, the attractive blonde in the little black dress who accompanied me certainly didn’t harm my image. Once inside the doors and into the large reception hall I rescued two flutes of champagne from a roaming waiter, smiling broadly as I did so. God I loved infiltrating the homes of the stupidly rich. We strolled arm in arm toward the grand staircase that dominated the hall, enjoying sips of champagne as we did so.

    “I’m sorry sir, but the upstairs is off limits to guests,” a burly bouncer in a too-tight suit informed me.

    “Ah not a problem, I just wanted to see if the stairs were real marble,” I smiled a winning smile at him. My blonde date quirked an eyebrow, the bouncer eyed me like I was simple. Well if he thought that it was possibly a good thing, it might swing suspicion away from me later on, not that that was really a problem.

    We wandered away, joining the queue for the ballroom, the main hub of tonight’s party. I slipped an arm round my dates waist, basically claiming her as mine to deter the looks she was garnering, she wasn’t mine though but appearances have to kept up. Also to show her off, she was after all a stunning woman.

    “Marble staircases?” She whispered in my ear.

    “First thing I could think of,” I shrugged. “And it’s not a lie, I do have a strange fascination with staircases.”

    “Have I ever told you that you’re odd?” She asked with a little laugh.

    “Plenty of times Amy, plenty of times. It’s why we’ve stayed friends for so long, you need that oddness in your life.” She belly-laughed at that, attracting quite a few stares.

    “First time you’ve ever brought me on a job though,” another whisper. “Should I feel privileged?”

    I shrugged again, flashed another smile and kept on walking, following the line of designer clothing. We passed into the ballroom and gasped along with everyone else at the décor, though I suspect my fraudulent gasp of air was in stark contrast to the rest of the well-dressed herd. They say money is never a substitute for class and boy did this place prove that saying correct. The trappings were all there; marble floor, Greek looking columns dotting the room and lots of expensive looking furniture, but the décor was gaudy, an offence to the eyes, like an interior designer on an acid trip had run wild. God, spare me from tasteless morons.

    We moved to an unoccupied bit of wall where we could observe the room easily. In the corner nearest to us a DJ with an angry red pimple between his eyes was setting up his equipment. Judging by the house owners I wasn’t expecting him to belt out any Beethoven or Mozart, and when the first beats of a popular Hip Hop track blasted out I knew my judgement was still spot on.

    “So what’s the plan then,” she whispered in my ear.

    “Well I’m going to finish this glass of champagne,” I lifted the glass for effect. “Then we’re going to circulate the room a bit, so everyone can notice you. Then once you’re firmly in everyone’s minds I’m going to sneak upstairs, find the master bedroom, raid the hidden safe and appropriate what we came here for. Simple enough?”

    “When you lay it out like that. Just don’t get caught, ‘kay!”

    “Never happened yet, sure as hell isn’t going to happen tonight, so just relax and look attractive.” She laughed and slapped my arm. I smiled back at her, keeping up the deception that we were a happy and in love couple. Maybe there was just a touch of regret that we weren’t.

    I’d known Amy for ten years, which was pretty much the whole of my remembered life. We’d met when she tried picking my pocket on a busy London street, back when I was still trying to make sense of the world I’d woken in to. The fact that I hadn’t immediately turned her in to the police led to the tentative beginnings of a friendship that I now treasured. It was also thanks to Amy that I’d come into contact with a few people who weren’t exactly living life as law abiding citizens. This was the first time I’d ever had her accompany me on a job though, so I was a slight bit nervous on her behalf. Not that I thought anything dangerous was going to happen on this particular jaunt though.

    “Ready to mingle a bit?”

    “Sure, let’s do this.”

    We moved off, strolling casually in a clockwise direction, occasionally passing pleasantries with beautiful, vapid people. Ok I’m slightly exaggerating there, not everyone we met lacked for brains, but there were enough of them to set my teeth on edge. Throughout our little walk we kept our eyes on our unwitting hosts, who surveyed their guests while seated on a pair of custom built thrones, I kid you not. I shook my head, bloody footballer’s and their wives give them a bit of money and newspaper columns and they think they’re damn royalty.

    “Isn’t that just the most stupid thing you ever saw?” Amy sniggered beside me.

    “Well not quite the most, but it’s definitely up there amongst the other ridiculous things I’ve seen!” I rolled my eyes. “Let’s go say hello.”

    “What? Why? They don’t know us, won’t they be suspicious?”

    “Relax, they probably have no clue who half the people here are. Besides it’s rude not to say hello to the hosts of the party, and I’m not in the mood to be rude tonight … well not yet anyhow.”

    Without waiting to see if she was keeping up I ambled past several partygoers, making a beeline straight toward the ‘king’ and ‘queen’ of the night. I heard her sigh and just knew she was rolling her eyes at me. I smiled widely and stepped up to the thrones with my hand outstretched to the ‘king’

    “How you doing mate? Good to see you again.” I met his dull, disinterested eyes as he shook my hand with a very limp grip. “This is Amy, my other half,” I beckoned her over.

    “Yeah good thanks, cheers for coming,” the voice was as dull as the eyes, he must have been a pure joy in his post-match interviews. He leaned his head forward so Amy could kiss him on the cheek. “Hi, how you doing?”

    “Oh I’m brilliant tonight, what a great party!” She was practically bouncing up and down as she spoke, definitely a good actress this one. She was off to the ‘queen’ next, hugging and gushing over her outfit. If I hadn’t known better I would’ve said she’d been born doing this kind of thing. I stepped away and waited for her to finish being the airheaded party girl.

    “Right, we’ve been polite, now let’s get this job done and leave this freak show,” she said, giving me another quirk of the eyebrow.

    “Agreed,” I said. “Be back soon. Have fun with the rich kids,” I grinned. She stuck her tongue out and shooed me away.
     
  2. Judderman

    Judderman The Iceman cometh

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    It is a promising start. Straight into an interesting scene. A few minor points below (I am not a writer by the way).

    There is quite a few grammar peculiarities. The very first sentence should be broken up. I don't think the part about the blonde can follow a comma. The last sentence on the 3rd paragraph could also be misread. There is a few long sentences like that.
    I'm not sure anyone sane would belly laugh when told they need some oddness in their life. But maybe there is some old joke in there between the characters or more likely she is just trying to attract attention which actually makes more sense as I read further.
    Correctly assuming a DJ isn't going to play Classical music is not much to boast about or be satisfied about. But perhaps this character is one of those arrogant folks who likes to think themselves intelligent but is not really at all. This is setting him up as unlikeable early on.

    So they are getting the girl noticed and then he is going to leave her on his own while he does the robbery? People may wonder where he has gone.
     
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  3. Mith

    Mith Confused

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    Thanks for the response :)

    As I said it's still very rough, still in first draft, so it does need a bit of tidying up.

    I hadn't intended the character to come across as unlikeable, definitely a bit arrogant, sarcastic and amoral though. Obviously there's more to the chapter where I can show some of that, as well the actual robbery, so hopefully more of the character can shine through there.
     
  4. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    Okay. First thing, grammar. I am not enough of an expert to correct every bit, but I do know enough to find your comma and tag usage a little offputting. Sorry if this sounds like me being an arse, but its not uncommon for people to shrug and walk on by a critique where the grammar and spelling haven't been fixed.

    It also helps you because it means people get down to the meat of the story and what's working and what isn't, rather than spending all their time with the grammar.

    I'm not a big fan of these Really In The Moment starts, so take my comments with a pinch of salt. I want to get to know the characters first and foremost. Right now, I'm not getting a connection to the character. You've had a good stab at it thanks to the strong narrative voice and there is a decent sense of character but I think it could be a lot stronger if the character spent last time judging the tastelessness of pro footballers and more time talking about what he feels and relating what he sees to his own experiences. The only time he really does that is when he talks about Amy, which is my favourite part of the extract here, even if there is something of a breaking of the "Show Don't Tell" thing here.

    There's two other big things that aren't working for me here

    One is I don't really understand the situation. To be fair, you don't have to tell everything in the opening 1250 words and its good to give the reader questions, but the balance is off for me. What's so special about what's in the vault? And if there is anything truly that special, surely the security is good enough that one stunning blonde isn't going to provide enough distraction just by walking around. Or is she going to do something else? Surely there's enough people with cameras out at a footballer's party that its an issue? Its not like you're not hinting at a whole lot still to be revealed with this guy who woke to the world ten years back.

    The other thing - closely related in places here - is that there's a lot of style but not a lot of substance. There's not a lot of detail, or sense that he's staring at a real world. What type of champagne? What type of designer wear? What do the people look like? Where in the country are we? What's the occasion? It feels a bit like a movie or play script, where we've got the words and are relying on the pictures to tell us the rest. But we don't have pictures and we don't have the words to construct them. Right now, the situation doesn't feel real to me, and neither do the characters.

    I think you've got a potentially interesting scenario here. But its not working for me because there's not enough detail about the people, the situation, the place, and so on. And while I like the voice, its a bit overwritten in places, and that's taking up words without anything happening, which isn't helping.

    Speaking of prose, there's a few word repetitions here. You don't need to say champagne twice in the first paragraph for example.

    I hope this helps.
     
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  5. DelActivisto

    DelActivisto Purple Prose award winner

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    It's good and there's a lot to work with here. It's fun, bouncy, and it makes you want to know what's going to happen next. I highlighted the things that bugged me towards the beginning, and then ignored the rest of the errors if they were the same. There's a slight habit of making run-on sentences here. These are easy enough to fix - simply delete a comma and add a period and capitalization. For instance, "the voice was as dull as the eyes, he must have been a pure joy in his post-match interviews." is a run-on sentence.

    Also - we never found out what the MC's name was, or why they were here. These are important things that many writers are advised to either front-load, or that notwithstanding, indicate as soon as possible. There's a lot of good dialogue here, but there's no tension because we have no idea who's bad, what they're about to do (something wrong/illegal/morally questionable from the sound of it), or why they're about to do it.

    I'm also getting the idea that these people think rich people have stuff handed to them on gold platters, and generally do not like them and secretly deem themselves superior. Not sure if you're going for that, but they do come off that way. Overall good job, look forward to seeing more. :)
     
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  6. Brian G Turner

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

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    I think there's a lot of promise here and I did like the setup. Word use stumbled a few times, but as I'm presuming this is a first draft I won't focus on that.

    What I did really notice was a lack of general direction. They've gate-crashed a party - now what? What's their purpose in being here? What's driving this event? While it's good to raise questions in the reader's mind, these should be about where the story is going, not about the basic set-up.

    You do try to intrigue with the staircase, and then state outright that this is a prelude to a robbery - but there's no sense of tension, excitement, nerves on edge - no sense of a plan formed or forming, eventualities being processed, possibilities being considered. Meaning that the robbery can remain simple, but when we're in the character's shoes we should feel a little more than just contempt.

    And after introducing that idea you kind of fall into a routine of chatter - it strikes me as killing time - but you can summarize that the character finds the conversations boring, rather than subject us to them at the very moment we should be feeling a tingle of tension.

    So, overall, not bad at all with some nice flourishes, but could do with some judicious tightening - both to help it flow more smoothly, and give us a little more tension to draw us in.

    2c.
     
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  7. SPoots

    SPoots Well-Known Member

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    Hey, good to see some urban fantasy, I'm a sucker for the genre.

    I like the characters and I don't think the dialogue is forced. While I know this is a rough draft, I will say to be careful with the commas. There are a lot of times where I felt the sentence could have been broken up a bit to make it flow better, or maybe even split into two sentences.

    I'd also say, the opening feels a bit rushed. I know you're going for in media res, but I don't feel any sort of build up or connection to the characters. You refer to Amy as just being an attractive blonde so much before giving us her backstory that it is hard to view her as anything more than that shell.

    I'd recommend reading Death Masks or Skin Games by Jim Butcher. Both of these feature party scenes that have some pretty good character moments. While they're not the openings, you do get an idea for the characters themselves, from the way Harry Dresden goes for the buffet and sticks out like a sore thumb, even in his tuxedo, and interacts with the guests.
     
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  8. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

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    I'm mostly in agreement with the above. My immediate reaction though was that the amount of times we hear about a "stunning blonde" before she gets a name is a touch Len Deighton circa 1973. By the time you name her she's already been relegated to eye candy, then we learn she's the MC's friend, and he's having inappropriate thoughts about her, and he hopes the entire room will be having similar enough thoughts to run a diversion for a heist. Personally I'd like them to have a better plan, and for her to come across as an important character from the first paragraph, not as a semi-nameless Bond girl. That more than anything made the piece feel dated to me.
     
  9. Mith

    Mith Confused

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    Thanks guys, every point you've all made is much appreciated :)

    @The Big Peat you're not being an arse at all don't worry about that :) I'm usually pretty tight with the grammar so I get where you're coming from there. In my defence it is a first draft so I was just writing pretty much as it came to me. As for the lack of detail, I was trying not to get over descriptive and instead I slipped the other way.

    @DelActivisto Thanks for all the suggestions, they have been noted and implemented. As for the MC's name, I hadn't had a situation in that segment where I felt it could be used naturally, none of the conversations so far have required the use of it. His name is first mentioned right at the start of the next chapter, though I can see if there is any way to give the reader his name before that.

    @Brian G Turner Thanks for reading through. You are right, there is a lack of tension, but that was a bit deliberate. I wanted to give the impression that he was blase about the whole thing, it's something he's done a lot before and has the skills and (over) confidence to not get caught, basically luring the reader into believing that this job is easy before springing trouble on the character at the end of the chapter.

    @SPoots I'll with you there, I'm definitely a sucker for a good UF story. It has been pointed out that I do need a bit more detail and depth in the opening segment, so I'm going to look at that and see how I can give these people a bit more life. If you forgive me for going a bit off topic here ... any party that has Dresden in attendance is one to be avoided at all costs, it leads to serious injuries, both physical and financial...

    Again thanks everyone, you've definitely helped!
     
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  10. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    On the one hand, cool idea. On the other hand, really difficult idea to execute.

    The problem is that, being genre-saavy, we know its not going to be easy. Because if it was easy, it would be boring, and you wouldn't do that in the first chapter. We know its a bluff. And I don't think trying to bluff your readers when they can see the rabbit ears poking out of the hat is a great way to start a book.

    If you write this really incredibly well, then no one will see the rabbit ears because they'll be too busy marveling at everything. But I think there's very few people who write that well.

    At which point I think you have to play with the bluff. One way would be to have him be overconfidently blase about a particular threat, lampshading to us what's going to happen, and it happens and its funny.

    A possibly better way is to have him be overconfident about a threat, then blindsided by something completely different in the robbery, meaning everyone gets surprised. You can still drop the original threat on him later in the chapter (or even book) for a laugh and/or demonstration that he is competent in some ways.

    A risky but potentially awesome way is to string the bluff along for the entire chapter. Everything does go right. He really is that good. And then he reaches the safe, takes the goods and bam - he realises he's stolen the worst possible thing he could have ever stolen. Which may impact your plot a lot.

    I'm sure there's other ways. But you're gonna have to play with the idea some, or jump quickly to things going wrong, because know where the story structure is taking us.
     
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  11. DelActivisto

    DelActivisto Purple Prose award winner

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    That's an interesting problem with first person. It's hard to introduce the name of the main character. But it can come from someone who knows him, or it could be on his invocation card, or his date can call him by name several times.
     
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  12. Brian G Turner

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

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    Remember, just because some people make a thing look easy, doesn't mean to say it actually is - and that the person involved isn't sweating inside about it. :)

    Just be careful about trying to be visual, treating a story as like watching a film - you're not, you're writing from a character's perspective, and the closer you get to that character's conflicts and tensions, the more exciting the story is likely to be to read. :)
     
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  13. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    Also, for what its worth, pretty much nobody has called me out for not having my character's name in the first 1500 pages of my 1st PoV work. As long as the character is coming through, the name can wait.
     
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  14. Mith

    Mith Confused

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    @Martin Gill Cheers for the reply. I never actually considered it like that, my initial thought with saying she was a stunning blonde was just to give her a bit of a description. I don't like writing down what a person looks like, I much prefer to give a brief description and let the reader add in the rest. You have given me a bit of food for thought here, I have a better idea now of how her character is going to work. :)

    @The Big Peat You definitely gave me a few new ideas there, and possibly just helped me end this chapter with a bit more tension and conflict than I thought, cheers. :D

    I'm going to rewrite this section shortly and post it up again, see if I've learned some lessons!
     
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