Amber's enemy

Mon0Zer0

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Greetings! The below is the opening of what I think will turn into a Novella. Interested to know people's thoughts - is it hooky enough? etc.


1. Amber's Enemy


Some days the stranger in Amber’s bedroom mirror was a friend. Other days, like today, she was an enemy.

Amber met the reflection’s hostile gaze with her own; stopping only to explore the alien landscape of the other’s face; snow capped white heads, red rimmed hills of acne and pitted scar tissue from when, as a toddler, her older brother had accidentally smashed a window and showered her with broken glass, disfiguring her for life.

No wonder the other kids bullied her. She was hideous. A monster. A mutant. That’s what they called her behind her back – Mutie. She’d seen the comments on Whisper. ‘Mutie’s so lame she’s never gonna get cracked.’ That one made her cry for two days straight.

Amber replayed every hurtful comment over and over in her mind until they coalesced into the enemy. The same enemy that stalked her from each reflected surface. No matter how much she covered her eyes, hung her head or looked away, she would always catch the enemy’s gaze and her stomach would drop.

Salvation came from those dark online corners to which kids like her flock when their enemies are strongest. The kinds of old fashioned message boards where unseen peers tell tales of inner truths and great awakenings, mystical senses and secret powers. These stories spoke to her. They described feelings she could never articulate; feelings she didn’t even know she had. With the stories came the revelation that the enemy and all her bad feelings were the manifestation of an oppressed third eye yearning to be released. For the first time since puberty, Amber had hope.

Mom and dad were predictably lame. Amber tried to bring up affirmation with them sooo many times and each time they’d responded with empty zoomer words:

“There’s nothing wrong with you!” They just didn’t get it. Mom was the worst. If the kids at school found out what she thought of affirmation Amber would be a loser for eternity. No one wants to friend a loser.

Even when Ellen Altern came to school after summer break and class found out she’d had occuloplasty, Mom still didn’t get it.

“Ellen is seriously disturbed,” she said, “and so is her mother.”

Is that what you call disturbed? Loving your daughter? Accepting and nurturing her true power? Hello? Ellen’s mom’s a real mom. Not like you.

Deep breaths.
Amber tried to remember what Magus969 had said on the stream she’d watched the other day. “It’s just a quick pinch. You’ll barely feel a thing.” Still, Amber had made sure to order local anaesthetic from a dark pharmacy, just in case, as well as a bottle of immunosuppressants that would serve her until she could get a legit prescription from the doc’s.

Amber sighed. A two inch oval of skin and bone was all that lay in the way of her true spiritual self. It was almost funny that such a trivial thing could be so important. But, important it was. When she had the eye her classmates would accept her, just like they accepted Ellen Altern and Misha Harris and Germaine Rowbotham and all the other spirituals.

I wonder what my power will be? More than anything, Amber wanted to be a precog. It would be so handy being able to see something before it happened. You’d never need to worry about offending anyone or screwing up a test or being hit on by one of the dorks or anything like that. True, birthdays and Christmas would be lame knowing what you were gonna get but she could live with that. Precog colours would look pretty damn korrupt on her, too.

Worst would be a spirit-talker. Ugh. Imagine that. No privacy. How could you even get changed when you have a lewd spirit hanging around the changing rooms. Blech. Plus, violet and yellow. Double Blech.

There was only one way to discover her true power: release the eye. Across the silver gulf, the enemy was afraid.

Critical fingers glided across Amber’s skin, circling each new bump before coming to rest on a black circle drawn on the centre of her forehead in marker pen – the next best thing to a tattoo, which was, in turn, the next best thing to a hole in the head.

Amber took an antiseptic tissue and wiped her forehead. Then, she steeled herself, grabbed the portable drill and placed the tip to the black dot where her third eye would be.

If mom won’t let me have the operation, she thought, then I’ll have to do it myself.
 

AnRoinnUltra

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Thanks for that @Mon0Zer0 , I don't know if it's enough of a hook for me the way you have it at the moment; at least not like Kill the President. There is tension in there, but it seemed a bit vague. I wasn't sure what Amber was hoping to achieve with the surgery. I mentioned in the last critique I'm no expert but it might be worth hardening the enemy into something she could tackle -possibly I'm missing the point though! There was loads of background stuff in there, I reckon you are deadly at creating worlds for the stories to happen. In terms of reading on I'd be doing it for the background world (what's going on with these magical powers? ...or are they real ...the protagonist goes to school so there's a functioning society on some level etc.).
Fair play
Best of luck
 

The Judge

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There's a strong voice here and you keep it well throughout, though I'm not sure how real to life it actually is. It reads as how certain US teenagers are portrayed on TV and in films, but I wonder if it's pushed too far so it's not merely a stereotype (and possibly a fake one at that) but it's fallen into caricature. I don't have much contact with any teenagers, though, so I'll bow to superior knowledge.

However, though it's as well written as I'd expect, and you weave in the backstory well, I found this very hard to read. It didn't help that my eyes caught the last lines before I read the rest of it so I knew what she was leading up to, which for me was upsetting in the extreme. I'm squeamish anyway, so the thought of anyone operating is enough to put me off, but to be frank a story which concerns a teenage girl acquiring powers by harming herself as a result of bullying on the one hand and odious dark web whispers on the other is for me utterly repellent. Even if she is prevented from taking it further, the fact that she's contemplating it is distressing in itself. Obviously, I don't know where you're planning to go with the novella, and it may be you intend to offer a searing indictment of current society and how the mental health of children, particularly girls, is affected, but for anything less than that I would urge you to consider whether this scene is needed as written.

Sorry I can't like this, but good luck with the novella anyway.
 

Mon0Zer0

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Thanks Both.

@AnRoinnUltra - no problem. There's no actual magic in the story - it's not a fantasy but, as @The_Judge says, a social critique set a generation from now.

It's based on two real life incidents, one from the sixties and seventies, and one from the nineties.

In the sixties, there was a group of people who were convinced of the mind expanding benefits of trepanning. This group, led by artist Joe Mellern believed that trepanning would bring them greater spiritual insight and intelligence. Amongst his adherents were John Lennon, who briefly flirted with the idea, and Amanda Fielding, a wealthy socialite who, notoriously, filmed herself performing the operation on herself in the art film "Heartbeat on the Brain". Fielding went on to set up the Beckley Foundation to lobby for the use of psychedelic drugs and neuroscientific research.

The next person is a closer to home for me, personally. A young woman, about five years older than myself, Heather Perry, who lived in my home town and travelled in similar circles to me in the nineties, attracted the attention of the press when she travelled to the states to perform a self-trepannation on live TV to alleviate Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Heather, who was suffering from Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) should never have been encouraged to go through with the operation by the film crew. She did survive the operation, but sadly, it did nothing to relive her mental issues.

Amber's struggles with self image are drawn from my own teenage body dysmorphia and self-esteem issues. I was hoping to treat Amber as a sympathetic character, rather than a "woman in a refrigerator".

The_Judge makes a good point about the language of teenagers. It's very difficult to use modern lingo as they're so out of date. Other than going full on NADSAT how do people approach writing convincing teenagers that don't sound like an out of touch forty year old?
 

AnRoinnUltra

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Thanks Both.

@AnRoinnUltra - no problem. There's no actual magic in the story - it's not a fantasy but, as @The_Judge says, a social critique set a generation from now.

It's based on two real life incidents, one from the sixties and seventies, and one from the nineties.

In the sixties, there was a group of people who were convinced of the mind expanding benefits of trepanning. This group, led by artist Joe Mellern believed that trepanning would bring them greater spiritual insight and intelligence. Amongst his adherents were John Lennon, who briefly flirted with the idea, and Amanda Fielding, a wealthy socialite who, notoriously, filmed herself performing the operation on herself in the art film "Heartbeat on the Brain". Fielding went on to set up the Beckley Foundation to lobby for the use of psychedelic drugs and neuroscientific research.

The next person is a closer to home for me, personally. A young woman, about five years older than myself, Heather Perry, who lived in my home town and travelled in similar circles to me in the nineties, attracted the attention of the press when she travelled to the states to perform a self-trepannation on live TV to alleviate Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Heather, who was suffering from Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) should never have been encouraged to go through with the operation by the film crew. She did survive the operation, but sadly, it did nothing to relive her mental issues.

Amber's struggles with self image are drawn from my own teenage body dysmorphia and self-esteem issues. I was hoping to treat Amber as a sympathetic character, rather than a "woman in a refrigerator".

The_Judge makes a good point about the language of teenagers. It's very difficult to use modern lingo as they're so out of date. Other than going full on NADSAT how do people approach writing convincing teenagers that don't sound like an out of touch forty year old?

That puts a whole new perspective on the piece. Heather's story is tragic in the extreme. Sorry to hear you had to go through your own struggles. Don't take my interpretation as much of anything, @The Judge spotted what was going on straight away (my reading comprehension is fairly low at the best of times, in theory a piece of writing should be clear to all readers -but def not a first draft).
I don't know about the teenager thing, to my mind kids/ teenagers speak the same as their parents, or people they interact with. I wouldn't make any concession for a teenage style of speaking. Have a vague memory of there being some supposed style of youth speak back in the early 90's, but it was wac and definitely not fly;)
 

PadreTX

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It was a little difficult to read, but I could see a revision smoothing it out. Because this is science fiction and fantasy chronicles, at first, I thought she saw a ghost or spirit in the mirror. It took he a little while to realize that was her reflection.

Then I wondered if she was going to kill herself, using the anesthetic from the underground pharmacy to numb then kill herself. I then thought she was going to do a unique form of self-injury. I needed to read your definition of trepanning to understand what she planned to do.

Nevertheless, for me is there the hook to want me to continue reading? Yes. You do not have it as magic/fantasy story, but I could easily see this made into one. Perhaps she does the trepanning, and while others it doesn't do a change, for her it does like mind reading, or telekinesis. Maybe there is a family secret on maternal or paternal or both sides, and parents know unusual consequence if she does the procedure.

I know very little of modern fantasy, but I could see this story going forth as an interesting version of it. I think you have something worthwhile with this story. It needs to be worked on, and thought out how you want to proceed with the story.
 

HareBrain

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Other than going full on NADSAT how do people approach writing convincing teenagers that don't sound like an out of touch forty year old?
I'm an out of touch 54-year-old, but I've written a couple of books with a modern teenage cast over the past few years. Everyone who reads them, I ask if the dialogue seems realistic, and so far everyone (even actual teens) have said yes. On the basis that they do mean this and aren't just being nice, the way I've approached it is to be very light on slang, and only really use it where it's stayed current over the past couple of decades at least.

I think the secret is, it doesn't matter if the language doesn't accurately reflect an ultra-current idiom. Teens are constantly trying out new ways of using words, and sometimes can pick up and use slang that's been out of fashion for ages, if they come across it and it sparks their imaginations. This has always been the case. And I think they recognise this with other teenage characters they read about, so if these characters don't speak the exact same way they do, they don't automatically think they're not realistic; they're more likely to just accept that they have a different idiom to them, through living in a different place etc.

I think it's more useful to capture a feeling of youth through that sense of liveliness and experimentation (and even mistakes) with language. And probably more useful still not to try too hard.
 

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