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Sunday, August 08, 2021

WIP Diagnostic: Is This Working? A Closer Look at Drawing Readers into Your Novel

Critique by Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

WIP Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to WIP Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines. 

Submissions currently in the queue: Seven

Please Note: As of today, critique slots are booked through September 25.

This week’s questions:

1. Does this work?

2. Would a reader want to read on and find out what happens next?

Market/Genre: Science Fiction Political Thriller

On to the diagnosis…
 
Original Text:

“You’ll meet the Llunaxian emissary, Xerxe Mendlin, one of our stronger trade alliance partners, and served morning tea,” Hattran Symlis said, the Duke’s Chief of Security, and steered him towards the audience chamber. “And then the regular reports will be delivered, followed by discussion…”

“A Llunaxian emissary?” The duke of the Lledumar, Dweg Lohwrune, arched a brow at his Chief of Security. He studied Symlis’s angular face and pointy chin, and voice that reminded the duke of their shared childhood. “We hardly hear from them, other than when they want to change something or include something new in their commerce. So, what’s his story?”

Symlis shrugged. “My staff checked and cleared him. Apparently, he has an urgent request.”

“An urgent request?” The duke wondered what an urgent request, so early in the day, could really mean. They passed through rays of early morning light that angled in through tall thin windows.

Such requests usually came with bad news, the duke thought. What bad news was the emissary bringing me today? I am successor to a dukedom, and duke of the Lledumar, why wouldn’t I meet bad news occasionally? It’s no mean feat running a dukedom, keeping the people happy. Keeping them safe from the evils of the galaxy. There was darkness across the quadrant, in every sector, behind every planet. Every species struggling, battling to find a place in the cosmos, to be the top dog.

And I have my work cut out for me just keeping the Lledumar ahead of the strugglers, he thought.

The tread of boots on stone and marble sounded like heavy rain. The noise was soon hushed by carpets as the duke entered his audience hall. Sturdy voices permeated the foyer and hallways. His staff were caught in his wake and trundled behind. The duke looked back hearing the whine and roar of a transport as it broke air, the ship hurling itself spaceward. The whine echoed momentarily in the background. Another trade alliance vessel leaving for one of the alliance planets, he thought.

My Thoughts in Blue:

“You’ll meet the Llunaxian emissary, Xerxe Mendlin, one of our stronger trade alliance partners, and served morning tea,” Hattran Symlis said, the Duke’s Chief of Security, and steered him towards the audience chamber. “And then the regular reports will be delivered, followed by discussion…” There are a number of issues in this opening paragraph that make it difficult to follow. (More below where I can break it down)

“A Llunaxian emissary?” The duke of the Lledumar, Dweg Lohwrune, arched a brow at his [Chief of Security] since you identify his title here, you don’t need to use in the opening paragraph, which will help focus that opening paragraph on what's important [He studied Symlis’s angular face and pointy chin] Why? How does studying his face help answer his question?, and [voice that reminded the duke of their shared childhood] There’s a word missing here, so this doesn’t make sense in the sentence. “We hardly hear from them, [other than when they want to change something or include something new in their commerce. So, what’s his story?”] Since he just gave two reasons why they hear from them, it makes sense one of those things is the reason

Symlis [shrugged.] A shrug lessens the urgency of the request. Symlis doesn’t appear to care [“My staff checked and cleared him.] This doesn’t relate to his question [Apparently, he has an urgent request.”] Then why didn't he say that at the start? Also, he acts like this isn’t important

[“An urgent request?”] The duke keeps repeating what he's told, so things sound repetitious [The duke wondered what an urgent request, so early in the day, could really mean.] More repeated info. You could fix this by having him ask “What could be so urgent this early?” They passed through rays of [early morning light] Feels repetitious since you just said it was early that angled in through tall thin windows.

Such requests usually came with bad news, the duke thought. What bad news was the emissary bringing me today? I am successor to a dukedom, and duke of the Lledumar, why wouldn’t I meet bad news occasionally? It’s no mean feat running a dukedom, keeping the people happy. Keeping them safe from the evils of the galaxy. There was darkness across the quadrant, in every sector, behind every planet. Every species struggling, battling to find a place in the cosmos, to be the top dog. This is an infodump that doesn’t connect to what’s going on in the scene. It’s also a lot of italicized text, which is often hard to read. The only lines that could be in italics are the first-person thoughts.

And I have my work cut out for me just keeping the Lledumar ahead of the strugglers,
[he thought.] This is still part of the above thought, so you don’t need to re-tag it.

[The tread of boots on stone and marble sounded like heavy rain.] What boots? Where are they? I’m not getting enough details to see the setting The noise was soon hushed by carpets as the duke entered his audience hall. Sturdy voices permeated the foyer and hallways. [His staff] You hint at people being there, but we never see his staff were caught in his wake and trundled behind. [The duke looked back hearing the whine and roar of a transport as it broke air,] Stimulus/response is off. He reacts before readers see why [the ship hurling itself spaceward.] This makes it seem like he’s outside, but the early descriptions suggested inside The whine echoed momentarily in the background. [Another trade alliance vessel leaving for one of the alliance planets, he thought.] You don’t need the tag here

The Questions:

1. Does this work? In this first scene I wanted to immerse the reader in the duke's day-to-day life and what it must be like for him, the routine, the meetings, governance, right before he receives disturbing news that sets the mood, tone and tension for the rest of the story.

Not yet (readers chime in). There are a lot of unusual names, word duplications, and awkward phrasings that make this difficult to read. The concept behind the scene works, but it’s not being conveyed as clearly or as strongly as it could be.

Part of that is due to a lack of narrative focus, so I’m not sure what matters and what doesn’t. Topics jump from one thing to another and there’s no clear point of the scene. I can see the urgent request is the issue, but no one in the scene seems to care or take it seriously, and more attention is paid to other aspects than that.

(Here’s more with Why You Should Tighten Your Novel's Narrative Focus)

I suspect the focus if off because the point of view is a bit weak. I feel like I’m supposed to be in the Duke’s head, and sometimes I am, but then the POV pulls back and dumps a lot of information or details. Strengthening your POV and keeping things in his head will fix all of these issues, because you’ll be able to feed readers the information more easily, and in a way they can absorb. They'll get relevant details when those details are needed.

(Here’s more with View to a Skill: Understanding Point of View)

Let’s break this down:
“You’ll meet the Llunaxian emissary, Xerxe Mendlin, one of our stronger trade alliance partners, and served morning tea,” Hattran Symlis said, the Duke’s Chief of Security, and steered him towards the audience chamber.
There’s a lot going on in this one sentence—five made-up names readers have to parse, three titles, hints of setting, a little world building, time of day, and some stage direction. There's so much, it's difficult for readers to ease into this story and understand what’s going on. Many will get hung up on trying to figure out how to pronounce the names.

It’s also telling a bit, as I assume the duke knows who his strongest trade partners are. This isn’t likely something Symlis needs to tell him, so it’s there for the reader’s benefit only. But they don’t need to know that in the first line. Nor do they need to know the name of the emissary.

There are also some words missing in the first line, which stops readers. If you take out the clause, it essentially reads:
“You’ll meet the emissary and served morning tea.”
I suspect what this line is trying to say is, “You’re meeting with the Llunaxian emissary this morning over tea.” This is also a great spot to add “He has an urgent request,” which puts the point of the scene right up front.

The tag of that dialogue is also awkward:
Hattran Symlis said, the Duke’s Chief of Security, and steered him towards the audience chamber.
The title is shoved in between the action, so it doesn’t flow well. It would read more smoothly like: 
said Hattran Symlis, the Duke’s Chief of Security. 
You could even cut his title to make this even easier to read, since the duke uses it next paragraph. The action is also a little off with “and steered,” suggesting Symlis speaks, and then steers. It’s a tiny nit, but with the other slightly off phrases it stands out. I’d suggest: 
said Hattran Symlis, steering him towards the audience chamber.
If you wanted to keep the title, you could add it to the name: said Chief Hattran Symli

(Here’s more with The Fault in Our Fiction. Avoiding Faulty Parallelism)

“A Llunaxian emissary?” The duke of the Lledumar, Dweg Lohwrune, arched a brow at his Chief of Security.
I’d suggest flipping the tag and the dialogue to get the chief’s title in there immediately: 
The duke of the Lledumar, Dweg Lohwrune, arched a brow at his Chief of Security. “A Llunaxian emissary?”
This sentence introduces three more hard-to-read names, and Llunaxian, Lledumar, and Lohwrune are going to blur together for readers. I’d suggest making these more distinct so readers know the “L-name” is the emissary, the “#-name” is the duke’s people, and the “*-name” is the duke. When names are difficult to pronounce, readers tend to skim over them or shorten them, and since these three are so similar, there’s no way to differentiate between them.

(Here’s more with The Name Game: Do All Your Character Names Sound the Same?)

He studied Symlis’s angular face and pointy chin, and voice that reminded the duke of their shared childhood.
There’s a lot of confusion in this line. I don’t understand why he’s studying his security chief’s face. Is he looking for clues about the emissary? Does he think the man is lying to him? “Studying” implies a reason, but there’s no reason suggested.

There’s also an issue with the sentence structure: “He studied Symlis’s voice that reminded the duke of their shared childhood” doesn’t make sense. The action is: he studied his face, and then he noted his voice. But the voice aspect is a told infodump, and doesn’t relate to his dialogue. Their childhood has no bearing on the current request from the emissary.

(Here’s more with 4 Steps for Choosing What Details to Describe in a Scene)

“We hardly hear from them, other than when they want to change something or include something new in their commerce. So, what’s his story?”
More telling here, and he answers his own question. If those are the only reasons they hear from them, then it’s probably one of those reasons. I'd suggest phrasing his question in a way that sounds more natural, such as, "Do they want to change their contract again?" or the like 
Symlis shrugged. “My staff checked and cleared him. Apparently, he has an urgent request.”
I don’t understand what a security check has to do with the duke's question. And if the request was so urgent, why wasn’t that part of the first sentence? Something such as, “The emissary has an urgent request. You’re meeting with him this morning” clearly shows the issue.

Symlis shrugging and then tacking on the urgent request almost as an afterthought also lessens any urgency about it. It seems as if he doesn’t think it’s urgent or doesn't care about the request at all.
“An urgent request?” The duke wondered what an urgent request, so early in the day, could really mean. They passed through rays of early morning light that angled in through tall thin windows.
This is the second time the duke repeats the chief. He then wonders about the request, repeating it again, and mentions it’s early in the day twice. All of this could be tightened up by the duke asking, “What could be so urgent this early?”
Such requests usually came with bad news, the duke thought. What bad news was the emissary bringing me today?
These two thoughts are essentially the same, and flow better as internal narrative, such as:
“What could be so urgent this early?” Such requests usually came with bad news.
You could even flip it:
Such requests usually came with bad news. “What could be so urgent this early?”
This puts the internal thought are part of the narrative and puts the point of view solidly on the duke.

(Here’s more with What You Need to Know About Internalization)

I am successor to a dukedom, and duke of the Lledumar, why wouldn’t I meet bad news occasionally?
You already said he was the duke of this place/people, so this is repetitious. It’s also telling. He knows all this and wouldn’t think about this information. 
It’s no mean feat running a dukedom, keeping the people happy. Keeping them safe from the evils of the galaxy. There was darkness across the quadrant, in every sector, behind every planet. Every species struggling, battling to find a place in the cosmos, to be the top dog.
More told infodumping, and even though it’s tagged as his thought, it doesn’t read like the duke thinking. It also has nothing to do with the emissary or the request, unless he thinks they’re the darkness and evils of the galaxy. This is a very dark place to go just because your security chief said an emissary had an urgent request.
And I have my work cut out for me just keeping the Lledumar ahead of the strugglers, he thought.
This is another detail to try to figure out, and after all the names and places, it’s too much for readers to retain. I’m also not sure if “strugglers” is a thing, or a typo. I suspect he means the other people struggling in the galaxy, but it’s an odd phrasing.

At this point, I’ve essentially forgotten the emissary or why he’s there, because the focus of the scene has shifted to this larger, darker, evil coming at them. I suspect this is a bit of telegraphing, and this is the reason behind the request. If so, perhaps wait until the request is made to bring this into the story. If the duke thinks the request has to do with this, and we see why he thinks this, that's a natural spot to expand on this idea.

(Here’s more with The Danger of Infodumps (And How to Avoid Them))

The tread of boots on stone and marble sounded like heavy rain. The noise was soon hushed by carpets as the duke entered his audience hall. Sturdy voices permeated the foyer and hallways. His staff were caught in his wake and trundled behind. The duke looked back hearing the whine and roar of a transport as it broke air, the ship hurling itself spaceward. The whine echoed momentarily in the background.
We shift from infodumping about the duke’s life to a detached and list-like description dump. There’s no sense of where we are, and the few details so far haven’t painted a strong enough picture of the setting. I originally pictured a palace of some type (he’s a duke), but this all sounds like he’s at a spaceport. I suspect this is the landing pad for visitors, and thus near the audience chamber, but I’m only guessing.

(Here’s more with Is Your Description Helping Your Story or Holding it Back?)

Another trade alliance vessel leaving for one of the alliance planets, he thought.
This is an odd thought to come after everything else. If he’s so worried and focused on being a duke, and the darkness, and the request, why does a nameless trade ship draw his attention? Also, if this is his POV, you don’t need the tag. To put it firmly in his head, you could have him sigh, or rub his eyes, or do something to draw attention to his head (a little trick to subconsciously tell readers “this is the character’s thought”)

(Here’s more with Living in My Head: Crafting Natural-Sounding Internal Thoughts)

2. Would a reader want to read on and find out what happens next?

Not yet, but I think the ideas behind this page will work once the technical issues are smoothed over. A duke getting an urgent request that is going to lead to trouble on possibly a galactic scale would be a good hook and pique reader interest.

(Here’s more with How to Ground (and Hook) Readers in Your Opening Scene)

You said your goal was to show the normal, hectic schedule of the duke before this request comes in. Perhaps start there—maybe have the duke in his office, or walking to his office while his assistant or staff goes over his morning schedule. Show the duke’s personality and what he’s worried about. Let readers see him as someone who cares about his people, and then have the chief hurry over with the urgent request.

Maybe the daily briefing is about the darkness or one of the struggles he's facing so you can introduce that. You don’t need to explain it all, but a small mention that the duke is already dealing with this could be enough to hook readers. Give the duke a problem to solve, or a fear, or something he’s doing that gets interrupted by the chief.

This doesn’t all have to happen on page one, but if you can get “the emissary has an urgent request” in by the end of the page, great. I can also see it as the ending of a one or two-page opening scene.

(Here’s more with 3 Steps to Ground Readers in Your Story World)

Overall, I think this is just trying to do too much too soon and it’s leaving readers behind. There’s a lot of world building and scene setting that needs to happen for readers to ground themselves and understand what’s going on, so don’t be afraid to take a little time to get them there. Science fiction readers are patient, since they know the world has to be established. Give them something interesting to read until the main hook appears, and they’ll keep reading.

Since it looks like the hook comes fairly quickly (the request), you can take a page or two to set the scene and introduce the duke, his world, and what he’s struggling with to keep his people safe. And again, you don’t need to go into full details about any of that, but a few specific examples of what he’s dealing with as it pertains to his day-to-day life will show “the duke’s busy day before it gets worse” that you want.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

About the Critiquer

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011). She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.
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11 comments:

  1. Personally, I find intense dialogue distracting in the opening paragraph. I haven't yet settled into what's important yet. Same with the lengthy internal dialogue. Interestingly, with some work, the last paragraph might be a better place to start this, perhaps with a bit of back and forth with "movement", internal dialogue, and external dialogue woven in. I could easily see this sequence spread out across 2 introductory pages. That said, after working my way through this, I AM curious what the story is about.

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  2. I agree, "busy days" are tricky to write. As it is, this is showing the busy-ness for its own sake, and the details are more hurting than helping the story now. Even though a Duke's control over life and death, a childhood friend at his side, and a spaceship blasting off mean there's plenty of material to work with.

    Many writers would insist on making more or less the first line the oddness of the request, using how that's the first hint that there's trouble and then keeping that in the Duke's mind all the way through the rest. Other writers would say that if that hint of danger isn't the best way to hold the reader's attention through the rest, the story shouldn't start here -- and they'd start it later when the problem gets more visible, or maybe earlier with some other side of it.

    That's the traditional modern reasoning, that taking a page and more for "a day in the life" just doesn't hold today's readers without keeping the spotlight on what the actual problem will be. I think that's more right than wrong.

    If you do want to keep the meeting minimized... there are ways to make a pre-plotline moment carry its own weight. Some writers have done it with the sheer uniqueness of their world and their character, though that's easy to get wrong. Others set up a tiny mini-drama at the start, maybe showing how the hero takes time to help someone or share a joke, or how they're being disappointed or haunted or betrayed. Even a moment with a janitor in the vast world of the Duke's day might start you on the right foot... though all of these are tricky things to make strong enough.

    All in all, just "showing his day" is unlikely to draw the reader in. I'd recommend keeping our attention on the one thing that isn't just part of his day, or putting this later in the day when things starts to happen, or hand-crafting the "day" itself to be certain it holds our interest.

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  3. I found the names very distracting. When a reader opens a book they need to be grounded to want to continue. If they need to stop every few words to understand what is going on, who is who, and what they want...you might lose them.

    There is also the case of world building - when going into a different world, it's important to ground the reader as to where they are. I was very confused as to where I was and what was going on other than the urgent request.

    I think the simplest way to break down what is happening is to know who the protagonist is - what do they want - and who and what is going to prevent them from getting that. Here, I can't see that - and that is what is going to hook me.

    I applaud writers who take on sci fi political thrillers - they are immense projects with lots of world building, character development and big plot developments. with all of these "big" things to convey, it is important to make sure your readers can follow where you are going. I am sure that when you begin to pull apart your story and flush out the details, the writing will become clearer and the story will take off. Good luck!

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  4. Though the idea of a political intrigue in space is really compelling, there was too much going on here to be able to focus on it. You have so many good ideas they're falling over each other to get on stage!

    In the first two paragraphs, I got bamboozled by the complicated and similar sounding names, was told about a duke and an emissary, then got handed an interesting problem to do with the emissary. I was left wondering why it was important the duke and chief were childhood besties - an interesting fact, but distracting. (Also, the dialogue felt more like a convenient info dump than an actual conversation old besties and workmates would have. I can imagine a single raised ducal eyebrow would really be all the communication needed for the chief to know what he's thinking.) Then we got the internal thoughts about an exciting but different problem as another block of info, disconnected from the action in the scene, and a spaceship took off and we were told where it was probably going. A space trading society, more fun! But it all left my brain scrambling for clues as to what these things had to do with each other.

    You probably want to list for yourself a single goal for this scene (making it clear something fishy's happening with the Llunaxian emissary, for example, and it's going to be the duke's problem). Then make sure that comes across strongly by linking it to everything in the scene, rather than jumping in with all your setup/worldbuilding at once. Hints at where this is happening will be enough to set the scene - you can fill in more details later when relevant. E.g. here you could have a throwaway comment about the palace rumbling as a spaceship takes off nearby, but without the duke dwelling on it. You could even hint the duke feels he has bigger problems to deal with than this pesky emissary (without going into details) if you need to foreshadow the galaxy wide stuff. But the real focus needs to be on the duke's one immediate problem. If I want to know what's up with the emissary, and the scene is built around raising the stakes of that question, I'll read on. Bonus points, showing the duke doing his job properly will make me like him and care about his problems.

    You have lots of great ideas here. All the best for getting them shipshape onto the page!

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  5. So, about those 'challenging' names. Perhaps I should have named them John, Paul, George and Ringo, that way no one would've choked.

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  6. I find it odd that no one had anything positive to say; everything said is a negative - including what Janice said. All except NLiu, who said "you have so many good ideas they're falling over each other to get on stage!" On second read, perhaps this isn't so positive after all. Janice said, "The concept behind the scene works," which was the only positive thing she said. Perhaps she was being ironic? Given that Janice is 'expert' number 57 to review the opening scene of Ch 1 of my book, you'd think I would've figured it out by now - been working on it for 6 years. But when every 'expert' has something different to say, it's hard to know whose 'expertize' is the correct one to follow. And I didn't have to pay her to say a bunch of negative things. Unlike the editor I paid to 'edit' my work, but in the end all she gave me was a two page review and not an edit. I guess I should be thankful she didn't say many negative things about the entire MS. Oh, I didn't mention the response I got from the hard Sci-fi group linked to Fiction University; they flatly refused to critique my work because there was a spelling mistake in the quick synopsis I wrote to introduce the MS. Their only suggestion was to read another book on writing, as if I hadn't read a single one. All this negativity from so many 'experts', can't be wrong, right? It all suggests I'm a damn idiot because I can't write to please one single 'expert'. Throwing myself off a tall building is probably the best thing, really.

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    Replies
    1. Dear The Disillusioned, please don't throw yourself off any buildings. Writing is hard, and writing the opening page of a novel is the hardest part. People (expert or no) will have different opinions and different ideas on how to fix things; literature is annoyingly subjective like that. In the end, it's still your book. If you find advice rings a bell and is helpful, that's great. But only you know where you want to go with your work. Like I said, you clearly have lots of good ideas (I did mean that). Please don't get too discouraged. I gave up on a multi-year writing project a little while ago after not getting anywhere; it was really sad, but that process of writing and revising taught me a lot. Writing books is a long game and involves a lot of rejection. Here's to persevering through it!

      Delete
    2. I'm am SO sorry. I should have pointed out more good things and I didn't. That's on me. You caught me on a rough week personally and I just got caught up on ways to improve it that I didn't expand enough on the good stuff.

      The concept does work and that IS good. I wasn't being ironic. I was saying that one of the harder parts of writing is getting an opening scene that has the right pieces to grab a reader's interest and make them want to read on. I think this scene DOES INDEED have those pieces. The bones are GOOD. This scene WILL work for you.

      The scene has a lot of great aspects. The story sounds intriguing and I like the idea of a duke who's a good person struggling to help his people. He's likable right off the bat.

      My comments were all aimed at the technical drafts stuff that I felt would clean up the text and let those good elements shine through. I firmly believe you have it in there, you just could use a little guidance to help bring it out. I was trying to give you that guidance.

      Again, I'm terribly sorry for giving the impression I thought it was terrible. I didn't at all.

      Delete
  7. Dear Disillusioned - The moment I decided to be a writer, I bought a duck - actually two - because my ducks remind me every day to let things slide off my back - most of all feedback on writing.
    Listening to feedback is hard, and most of the time all we hear are the negative things - because they always seem so loud. Don't get discouraged. That's part of writing - putting ourselves out there and allowing feedback so we can go back to the piece and relook at it with fresh eyes.

    I just had a critique on something I have worked really hard at, had lots of eyes on, and thought it was ready to go. Then this agent said, well what about this, and this, and this. At first I felt really bad as I was ready to query - but then after I sat with it for a day, I realized everything she said would help make the story even stronger - this is a piece I've worked on for 2 years.

    Don't get discouraged - you have good ideas and want to write. The rest will come - but it takes time - and a good back to let things slide off of - which is why I would highly recommend a duck (or at least a photo of one) to remind you not to let creative and meaningful feedback you receive along the road of becoming an author rob you of your love of writing.

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  8. I like it. It sets up the expectation that the meeting with the ambassador is going to bring some kind of problem. I think following Janice's suggestions will help clear up some points that could be confusing for the reader. I also suggest cutting most of the text in italics and saving it for later when it becomes immediately relevant. That will help keep things moving along.

    The first pages of a novel carry a heavy burden, so it's not surprising that you've had to revise multiple times. I think by moving some elements to later and clarifying others, this opening scene will be an effective introduction that will hook readers into what promises to be an interesting book.

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  9. Disillusioned, as mentioned here and all throughout the literary world, writing is hard. I've been writing since childhood and had a good (minor) career as a freelance science and technical writer back when print magazines were all the rage. After I retired a few years ago, I decided to try writing a science fiction novel. It took me three years to get to a really awful first draft. There are three stories embedded in it and I know I have to tease one out. It's beyond hard.

    The criticisms were intense throughout the process, and at times scathing. Despite my thick skin, I'll admit one in particular actually affected me for a short time. But, I always sat back, let the critique stew, then went back over it and found the gems in the individuals that took the time to respond. I'm grateful for every one of them! The many many comments I've received over my first draft and ESPECIALLY the opening pages were right (including here): the bones are there, it just needs careful restructuring and pacing. The hook is there, the execution isn't. Eight months after finishing my first draft I STILL can't get past revising chapter one. I know now I have to throw it out and do something else so I can get to chapter two and three and four and...

    You've clearly cast magic on your idea and have a manuscript. The best I can offer is keep at it. But one last thing. Right before COVID I had the opportunity to attend in person a writer's retreat with 10 rather eclectic writers. The difference between online and face to face critiques is NIGHT AND DAY. Because of that experience and my own troubles on the second draft, I'm starting a local writer's group just so others like me can express themselves to the fullest without the constraints we experience with online dialogue.

    Good luck and be well.

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