Eyeballs Needed Part 2 - Opening Chapter

Mike Donoghue

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#1
Thanks for checking out Part 2 of my critique request. The previous thread was the prologue while this is the actual opening chapter. I figured starting a new thread would better segregate the two. I can't fit chapter one into a single post, so immediately below is the first 1200 words of 2000 total, followed by the last bit a day or so later. Thank you!

********************

“Iceberg ahead!”

The classic warning cry sounded, a determined shout against the howling wind by naval aviator Clio Liani, whose chipper voice seemed at odds with the apparent impending doom. She watched as her ship continued its slow, steady swing to starboard through the icy water, seemingly toward the faraway object that was still a safe distance away. “Alright, here we go,” she said to herself, wriggling inside her heavy jacket and insulated trousers to get comfortable against the rail as she settled in for the inevitable. “We weren’t out here for nothing.”

“You think they’re going for it?” The man standing to her left said, his voice hopeful, expectant. He was Dion Mitros, reactor engineer, friend and fellow shipmate of Clio.

“They’ve got to be,” gunnery officer Ectis Dionysis answered before Clio, swiftly and surely. He was friend of them both and joined Dion’s at his right. Beyond the ship on the horizon, two colossal ice sheets so big they each appeared as land, blocked any passage, save for a narrow gap between them. Ectis tracked the path of ship intently. Where else could their lumbering vessel go?

“I’m sure it’s a better chance than the last one!” Iona Halkia muttered aloud, rolling her eyes as she shivered. Three times they had watched the distance close on such a target only for their ship to slip adeptly by. She wedged herself firmly between Clio and Ectis. She was a gunnery officer too and a friend to them all.

“WHAT?” Dion called out in reply to Iona. The wind muffled any sound.

“HOPEFULLY!” Iona shouted back.

A smile curled on Dion’s cold cheeks. His friends’ predictions were in. The odds were sounding good.

The four young sailors were outside in the freezing air standing shoulder-to-shoulder behind the protective steel windbreaker of an observation platform atop one of the highest points on the ship. Each was bundled in their standard issue extreme-cold weather gear supplied by the Navy: insulated pants and parka, gloves, boots goggles and all. From afar they would have appeared as mountain climbers on the face of a cliff; tiny white-gray dots lost aagainst the immense sloping wall of painted steel that was the ship’s topside structure, tree hundred feet above the water below.

“Come on…” Clio gritted her teeth. The speed of the turn caused the ship to tilt to the opposite side, making the horizon appear crooked. “I’m telling you, guys, if this isn’t it...!”

“We’ve only got two hours, dammit!” Dion said. “It better be!”

“Don’t jinx it!” Ectis warned.

They had endured this frigid spot for over an hour, battered endlessly by the permanent wind generated by the ship’s forward motion—had they not had their goggles on, their eyes would have frozen by now—all to witness a spectacle that only occurred at this time of year, in this region of the planet, on the this kind of ship. The higher the vantage they could reach, the better the view would be, but despite almost being at the ship’s highest reaches, they could still only barely, just barely, catch a glimpse of the bow and the shimmering ocean ahead over the tops of the ship’s gun turrets, but that sliver of a view was all they would need.

Suddenly the ship’s rate of turn started to slow and the horizon to even out. The rate of slowing quickened until the bow steadied, the horizon returned to level, and the ship’s course became true once more. Lying dead ahead was a white, glistening cone sticking out of the water like a miniature mountain peak, getting closer, growing larger. The two great ice sheets remained to port and starboard and the object directly in their path. The bow still didn’t move—a collision course! Their eyes widened.

“Come on.” Clio waited with baited breath

“Let’s go.” Ectis bounced on his toes, tightening his hold on the rail.

“Here it comes…” Dion whispered. Even Iona had a tight lipped smirk as she knew what was coming. The floating object was just ahead of the bow now. It seemed to have stopped.

All of them felt their chests press into the windbreak by an invisible force. The steel structure around them began to quiver and sparkling shards and clouds of powder shot upwards from the bow like a geyser of ice and snow in eerie silent, then, seconds later…

BA-BOOOM!!

CRRrrraack!!

Their ears were rattled by the bellow of a distant explosion followed by a chaotic scramble of splits and cracks as slabs of ice fractured, shattered, and ground against the ship’s hull and were plowed aside in its wake.

“Oh my god—YES!!” Dion cried as the demolition unfolded and millions of tons of steel war machine rumbled around him. "Muahahaha!” He laughed maniacally. “This is glorious!!”

Clio chuckled. “Two years was worth it, huh?” She rubbed her puffy jacketed shoulder affectionately against his arm.

“Words can’t even begin...” His mouth was cracked open in awe.

Their ship, the battleship Arcturus, had struck an iceberg dead on, smashed it, cracked it in two and kept on sailing, undamaged, unhindered, barely opposed.

Ectis let out a warm sigh of relief. He had experienced numerous collisions like this during their years on ‘Arc, but Dion had not. Not even once, his role on the ship as an engineer never affording him the time to be outside at the right place or time. For all of them, this day was their last on the Arcturus and Dion’s last chance to witness the spectacle. At last he had. Ectis smiled warmly, then he smirked.

“Hey, Dion,” Ectis said in a playful tone. “How about big ball over there?” He nodded in the direction of the bright, red-orange orb hovering just above the horizon. “You ever get a chance to see that?”

“Oh, you mean the sun?” Dion played along, hearing the familiar joke. “I’ve seen the sun.”

“Really? I didn’t know they had windows in the engine room.”

“We do, we also actually work, instead of playing video games all day!” Dion jabbed back.

Iona snickered at their exchange. Ectis shook his head in amusement. “I’m really happy for you, Dion. You finally get to watch a battleship destroy something.”

“More like blow up something!” Dion corrected. The iceberg was completely broken now and the two main halves and their debris were passing down each side. The water ahead between the two ice sheets was clear.

“Our tax dollars proud at work,” Iona said.

The three laughed at her quip as the debris cloud steadily drifted toward them.

“Heh, heads up,” Ectis advised.

“Best part,” said Clio.

The plume reached them and stung their faces and hissed across the steel like grains of sand caught in gust on a windswept beach. It lasted several seconds.

“Amazing,” Dion said, his eyes wide open as the ice crystals clicked and scratched against his googles.

The pulverized remains of the iceberg passed and the rumbling of the ship had long ceased, returning the Arcturus to its solid stillness.


--End of this segment--
 

Brian G Turner

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#2
below is the first 1200 words of 2000 total, followed by the last bit a day or so later
Best not to as you'll be over the Critique limit. :)

I think the main problem here is over-writing - too many details that dilute the reader's focus, and too much happening that needs to be trimmed down. For example, count how many verbs you have in the opening sentence and ask yourself what we're supposed to focus on - it can't be everything. Try to make just one or two verbs do all the work for you in a sentence.

You also need to swot up on POV use, as many of the details you do use are just physical descriptions given in lieu of the character experience - when it's the latter you really want to get into, as that's the Unique Selling Point of a novel.

You'll also need to learn to be more brief - it's a difficult skill to develop, but try and think about using less to say more.

Overall though, these are basic beginner issues - been there, done that, still have the t-shirt. However, to help you really understand the technicalities of writing I'd strongly recommend (which I do for most people) reading Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer and/or watching Brandon Sanderson's writing lectures: Brandon Sanderson - 318R - YouTube

It'll take a while to absorb the lessons from those, but if you make the effort to do so, you should find your writing becomes bolder, more dramatic, and more effective.

Hope that helps. :)
 

The Judge

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#3
I can't fit chapter one into a single post, so immediately below is the first 1200 words of 2000 total, followed by the last bit a day or so later.
I'd suggest leaving it three or four days, so you get as many comments as possible on this section, and you have time to take on board and implement any suggestions that might be relevant for the next bit. You were absolutely right to start this in a separate thread from the prologue, and when you do post the balance of this chapter, put that into a new thread of its own, too.

I don't know if you've read any of the other threads that have appeared in Critiques but if not, I'd recommend that you spend some time doing this as it's incredible how easy it is to see others' mistakes and only then realise they are ones you (ie "one") commit yourself! Anyhow, you'll see that a comment we regularly make to newbies to Critiques is that genre novels nowadays are less likely to use the omniscient and rather distancing POV you've used here and much more likely to choose a close third POV, ie not watching what the characters are doing, as if a film is running, but being there in the mind of one of the characters, as if you're acting him/her. It's up to you if you want to follow the trend or buck it, but do bear it in mind as you write. NB As you started with Clio, I thought she was going to be the main character with whom we'd be most involved, but it's Ectis whose mind you seem to enter a little. Even if you stay in omniscient, I'd strongly suggest that you start the chapter with whoever we are going to be following most, and use his/her thoughts more than the others'.

Another perennial complaint -- from me, at least! -- is the issue of info-dumping. Nearly everyone gets fed up with long paragraphs of unnecessary and usually boring exposition, but I also wince at things dropped into the writing which simply aren't needed, or which are dumped inelegantly. These things pull me out of the story since it's the author telling me rather than the characters showing me eg that "naval aviator" in the first line of the second para. It's going to be helpful to know she's a pilot at some stage, but why do we need to know that now when all it does is overload an already lengthy sentence? The same for "The man standing to her left said, his voice hopeful, expectant. He was Dion Mitros, reactor engineer, friend and fellow shipmate of Clio." No one ever thinks like this and it's pure narratorly omniscient and dumping umpteen bits of information we don't need at this time and can find out later. Far better to my mind that it's simply "said Dion at her side, his voice hopeful, expectant."

A further problem for me is that you introduce four characters in the four main opening paras, which for me is at least two too many. When watching a film it's easy to distinguish between several characters interacting in the same small space -- size, shape, colour, voice etc all make them distinct. On the page all we've got is a lot of names and naval designations and here I couldn't keep track of who was who, nor, frankly, was I sure I wanted to do so as they seemed rather interchangeable. If you need to keep this scene to introduce them all, I'd strongly recommend that you re-think this and see if you can start with just a couple of them and have the other two come in further along -- after all, there's surely no need for all four of them to be standing there frozen for a complete hour, so couldn't they take it in turns with two of them up there and the others in the comparative warmth below and just come running up when called? By the way, I had much the same thoughts on this issue of too-many-characters-too-soon with EJdeBrun's Argo's Fall and if you have a look at that and its subsequent thread you can see the difference it can make to introduce the characters more slowly. Argo's Fall - Attempt #3

Another similarity I find with that piece by EJdeB is the way you've tried to show the characters' relationship through banter and jokes. Again, it might work on the screen, but for me it's not working here. You've got a whole book to show us how they interact -- or until some of them start getting killed at least! -- so you don't need to throw it all at us now. Always remember that everything you write should either forward the plot, add texture or atmosphere to the story, or show character, and the best writing should do all three at once. If a line is doing none of those things you have to consider whether it's actually earning its keep, and if it isn't, it needs to go.

Obviously, I don't know whether this particular scene is vitally important because we need to know the ship can split icebergs and/or because what happens in the rest of the chapter is the inciting event that starts the plot rolling. If you need to keep this scene, my advice would be to prune it heavily, removing all the banter and especially the info-dump about Ectis having seen this before but Dion hasn't, just leaving us with the spectacle itself. In that way you can move onto what actually matters.

In nit-picking mode I spotted a few obvious typos, and some inelegancies:

  • toward the faraway object that was still a safe distance away -- the periphrasis of "object" is jarring (and the same again later -- we know it's an ice berg so don't be coy about it), and the two "away"s inelegant and bordering on tautology
  • and joined Dion’s at his right -- no apostrophe
  • Beyond the ship on the horizon -- means there is another ship, which is on the horizon, and they're looking beyond it
  • She was a gunnery officer too and -- strictly commas needed either side of "too"
  • lost aagainst the -- extraneous "a"
  • tree hundred feet -- three
  • on the this kind of ship -- extraneous "the"
  • The rate of slowing quickened -- I know what you mean but this reads really oddly
  • Clio waited with baited breath -- "bated" unless her breath is a trap... :p
  • in eerie silent -- "silence"
  • BA-BOOOM!! CRRrrraack!! -- might just be me, but I'm not fond of noises being shown like this in serious prose as it makes it too comic
  • as the demolition unfolded -- can a demolition unfold?
  • "Muahahaha!” He laughed maniacally. -- one or the other, not both, and preferably the latter to my mind, as again it's too comical
  • puffy jacketed -- hyphen needed to link the two words
  • “Our tax dollars proud at work -- proudly?

Anyhow, an interesting opening, with some clever touches. I'm not sure I'd have read as far as this if I'd picked it up elsewhere, but having got this far I do want to see what happens next.
 

Mike Donoghue

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#4
@Brian G Turner & The Judge;

Thanks a bunch for the feedback! I agree with your recommendations and have begun to fix things. Ordered that book and started watching that lecture series, too. I don't know how soon I'll be able to turn out a new revision.
 

Brian G Turner

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#5
Don't rush it - let things sink in a bit, and as you keep writing you'll find yourself increasingly able to apply what you know. Especially after you've finished a completed draft and go back to revising it with fresh eyes. :)
 

The Judge

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#6
There's no rush for a revised version, so don't worry about that. Do, though, find time to go into the other threads in Critiques, and not only read the pieces and comments carefully, but offer your own thoughts. I think most of us would agree that a large part of our development as writers arises from our critiquing other people's work.

Anyhow, keep writing, and good luck!
 

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