Author Topic: Novel opening hook advice - 829 words  (Read 122 times)

Offline Andromedus

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Novel opening hook advice - 829 words
« on: May 07, 2022, 02:05:09 AM »
Hello and thanks for viewing!

I've been working with this as a potential opening hook and would love your feedback. What does/doesn't grab attention? Is this worth using or is it back to the drawing board? At what point were you interested in reading more? Or, what point did you decide it wasn't for you?

Also, side questions. Being new, I went looking for opportunities to review/critique a few before posting. I found a lot of new members wanting multiple chapters/thousands of words right out of the gate. I dug a little deeper into the threads to find one to post on. My questions for you experienced forum members: 1) what is the average/common lengths you are use to seeing from consistent forum members (not just the 'I'm new please read my whole book' posts) or are those longer asks normal and I need to adjust my expectations? 2) what would you say is the cutoff for reviving and reviewing an older thread?

Thanks again!

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“Life is suffering each day; Living is enduring that suffering with a purpose.”

The words hung in the air, unanswered. Remiel sat forward with elbows on his knees and chin resting in his hands. His eyes scanned the room. It was rather confined and quite bare of possessions. He had the basics: small bed, stove, sink, all packed into one room with a small bathroom tucked in the back. He focused on the four concrete walls of his studio apartment trying to find patterns. Well, not his apartment, but the one assigned to him.

“Well, Remiel? What are your thoughts? Would you say you are alive, or living?”

The image of a blonde middle aged woman hovered over the holopad on the chipped coffee table in front of him. For all the effort the Imperium put into AI, they still couldn’t get the voice quite right. It always felt off to Remiel, hollow even. It missed the warmth of a real human. But talking with an actual person, unheard of these days. The Imperium didn’t pour resources into areas it deemed nonessential in their mission. That’s what Remiel had become, nonessential. 
   
“Honestly, I think if the suffering hits hard and often enough, some will tell themselves anything to find a meaning in it. Even if that meaning is a lie. If living is only about enduring suffering, it’s a painful waste of time.” Remiel returned his focus to the AI’s avatar, its light dancing around the dim room.
   
“Are there moments in your life that have been more than suffering?”
   
Remiel let out a quiet huff of breath. This was a common question in his reintegration sessions. The idea that if there were still good moments, or rather bearable ones, that life must be a positive experience.
   
“Yes… there are moments when things are not as bad.” It didn’t make sense for Remiel to lie, but his answer felt like it betrayed what he had experienced. The AI’s approach was cycling back to the ‘see the positive’ rhetoric. After three months of weekly reintegration sessions with the AI, Remiel had noticed this was the go-to approach whenever he got too honest about what he felt inside. Remiel sat back and turned his attention to the wall once again.
   
“Perhaps, thinking of the good in your life and nurturing a positive outlook will assist in your times of suffering?”
   
And, there it was. Remiel's face flushed with heat, his heart rate increased, and his hand subconsciously went to his mouth as if helping to hold back an outburst. Being told to be more positive, well, that was one of the things Remiel hated the most. As much as he wanted to let loose on the AI for minimizing what he was experiencing, his own voice inside him agreed with the AI. See, it wasn’t as bad as he was making it out to be. In fact, the answer was simple, he was weak.

“Oftentimes, a strong focus outward can lessen the struggle,” offered the AI. “By approaching your challenge in a more selfless manner, it may offer a clearer perspective of worthy priorities. After all, the aim of the Imperium is for the collective good rather than the lesser needs of a single individual.”
   
Selfless. Collective good. In the immediate moment with the AI Remiel wasn’t falling apart, he wasn't wracked with the power of his darkness. How could he justify explaining his struggles if they were bearable now and other people had it so much worse? Could it be it was his selfish focus on himself that propelled this debilitating weight inside him? Were others just better at dealing with this than Remiel? Maybe they were more focused on contributions to the Imperium, something he would not take part in again. He was selfish. Selfish and weak, whispered the dark voice.
   
A soft tone sounded on the holopad.
   
“That brings us to time, Remiel. Thank you for spending time with me today, shall we schedule for the same time next week?”
   
“That’s fine.” Every week these discussions with the AI seemed to end the same way. Coming up with clear evidence it was having an impact was like trying to hold onto handfuls of sand. Any progress he felt he’d made during a session with the AI was quickly eroded away when it came time to face the mental and emotional beast devouring him inside. The whole point of the reintegration program was to assist and ease the process of soldiers shifting back to civilian status. Instead, Remiel walked away discouraged and angry.

“Have a wonderful rest of your day, and please continue on the positive affirmations and weekly goals we discussed earlier.” The image of the woman smiled and disappeared.

Five stars replaced her, spinning in the air.
   
“We’d love your feedback!” a bubbly voice chimed. “Your review is submitted anonymously and helps us to impr….” Remiel sat forward and flipped the holopad over with a 'snap!'

Offline Clarius

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Re: Novel opening hook advice - 829 words
« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2022, 03:48:23 PM »
Kudos for your attitude: reviewing another writer's work, asking advice from members. Re yours...

Some nice world building here.

There's a trick to writing a scene. Some dismiss it as a formula, but it works for the majority.

Your protagonist arrived in the scene with a goal. An antagonist rears their ugly head. The protagonist is prevented from achieving their goal. The protagonist considers their options and decides upon a new course of action. The protagonist goes forward into the next scene with a new goal. They haven't abandoned their overall primary goal, just going about it a different way.

What's Remiel's goal?  What prevents his achieving it?

You already have the answer to hand.

Selfless. Collective good. In the immediate moment with the AI Remiel wasn’t falling apart, he wasn't wracked with the power of his darkness. How could he justify explaining his struggles if they were bearable now and other people had it so much worse? Could it be it was his selfish focus on himself that propelled this debilitating weight inside him? Were others just better at dealing with this than Remiel? Maybe they were more focused on contributions to the Imperium, something he would not take part in again. He was selfish. Selfish and weak, whispered the dark voice.


What I'm getting from that ^ is that the conflict in your story comes from a combination of protagonist vs self, and protagonist v's society: a character at odds with the world he lives in and hating himself for not being able to conform to the norm. In that respect your protagonist reminds me of Chip in Ira Levin's This Perfect Day. FYI my favourite sci-fi novel (where's the movie, Hollywood!).

I favour PoVs with strong voices. Right now I'm getting little of Remeil's character in either the spoken or internal dialog. Who is Remeil? Do you know? Until you know him intimately, you can't show him to me. A good trick is to write a biography. Think of it as the CV of a character auditioning to be in your novel. Flesh them out. You won't use much of it, but you'll know him much better.

Here's another tip. Start writing this in the style of your favourite genre author, and very soon you'll start to deviate away from their voice and into a voice all of your own.

Any questions, ask. It helps me to critique and much as I hope it helps you to be critiqued. As I often say, writing is that one field where attending to the mot in your neighbour's eye can help you address the beam in your own.

“We’d love your feedback!” a bubbly voice chimed. “Your review is submitted anonymously and helps us to impr….” Remiel sat forward and flipped the holopad over with a 'snap!'

^ really like that last line(s)

Good luck.
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us

 - Robert Burns

Offline Andromedus

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Re: Novel opening hook advice - 829 words
« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2022, 07:43:58 PM »
Clarius, big thank you for the time and thought in your response!

Also, I hadn't come across This Perfect Day in the past. From the little I read about it, the story will be a good study for what I have in mind for some of my writing. Should be here Saturday. Thank you Amazon!

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I favour PoVs with strong voices. Right now I'm getting little of Remeil's character in either the spoken or internal dialog.

This is excellent feedback! Thank you! It's not fun to hear, but it's what I need to hear to improve. I especially like that you coupled it with solutions rather than just pointing out an issue. Hearing it, I think you are right in that I do not have the character flushed out enough to write using his voice.

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There's a trick to writing a scene. Some dismiss it as a formula, but it works for the majority.

Noted. To be honest, I did not approach this as anything more than trying to come up with an interesting opening. This pattern of a scene you mentioned, I feel like that gives me clear steps and process to build out future scenes. For a beginner, that's invaluable.

Thank you again. Your honest and helpful feedback is much appreciated!

Offline Miss Waterlow

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Re: Novel opening hook advice - 829 words
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2022, 05:08:38 PM »
Hi Andromedus. I think this is very much worth using. I differ a bit from Clarius in that I thought the depiction of the mc hinted at an interesting character - or at least an interesting past. It's hard to flesh out a fully-formed mc in the first 829 words (though it can definitely be done - Holden Caufield comes to mind), but, for me, at least, you succeeded in setting up a character and a world I want to know more about.

My issues were more with word choice and punctuation in some places. I'll offer my suggestions here, fwiw. My word suggestions are in bold. [warning: I get really, um, involved:)]

- Life is suffering each day; Living is enduring that suffering with a purpose. Is this a quotation from real life? If not, I'd take out the "each day."

- It was rather confined and quite bare of possessions.

- He focused on the four concrete walls of his studio apartment...

- Well, not his apartment ... Italicize "his" - I was confused at first - thought it meant he was not actually looking at his apartment. had to go back. Italicization will fix this.

- It missed the warmth of a real human. Change "missed" to "lacked" maybe?

- But talking with an actual person, unheard of these days. Did you mean "But talking with a real person? Unheard of these days." OR "But talking with a real person was unheard of these days." As is, it's just too ungrammatical for me :)
 
- Remiel let out a quiet huff of breath. "Quiet huff" is not working for me. Maybe just use "sighed" or something else - not sure what mood or reaction you were trying to convey (weariness, aggravation, anger, soul-sickness...)

- It didn’t make sense for Remiel to lie, but his answer felt like it betrayed what he had experienced. This is kind of confusing, but I don't have an ideas for a fix that might not mess up your meaning - and I think your meaning here is really important!

- turned his attention to the walls once again.

- Being told to be more positive, well, that was one of the things Remiel hated the most.

- ...as if helping to holding back an outburst.

- As much as he wanted to let loose on the AI for minimizing what he was experiencing, his own a dark voice inside him agreed with the AI her. Don't know if you want to use "dark voice" twice, but "his own" and "inside him" are redundant. I think using dark voice twice is fine, personally.

- In the immediate moment with the AI Remiel wasn’t falling apart, he wasn't wracked with the power of his darkness. The comma here doesn't work. You could use an em dash or a semicolon or a period and start a new sentence with "At least he wasn't ..." - or something.

- ...the aim of the Imperium is for the collective good rather than the lesser needs of a single individual. I think "lesser" is implied here? You might change a ("a single individual) to "any" to strengthen the implication. It just occurred to me that the word "aim" wants a verb clause so you could add a verb in front of "the collective good" (like "to protect" or "to enhance" ... I'm sure you can think of something better) OR you could change "aim" to something like "focus" (but better than that:) that doesn't need a verb clause.

- How could he justify explaining his struggles ... Consider changing "explaining" to "complaining about" or just "talking about"

- Could it be it was his selfish focus on himself that Was it just his selfishness that propelled this debilitating weight inside him?

- Were others just better at dealing with this than Remiel he was? We're inside his head - he wouldn't use his own name.

- ...was quickly eroded away when it came time to face the mental and emotional beast devouring him inside. Possibly replace "mental and emotional" with something other descriptor (like "self-loathing?"), but I feel like those are too "explain-y" It might be obvious that the beast is himself - his own psychological pain, or whatever - without any descriptor at all. You could try it both ways.

- ..weekly goals we discussed earlier...

- The image of the woman smiled and disappeared, replaced by five stars, spinning in the air. Five stars replaced her, spinning in the air."

- The whole point of the reintegration program was to assist and ease the process of soldiers shifting back to civilian status. Instead, Remiel walked away discouraged and angry. I don't think you should reveal that he was a soldier here. To me, it would be better bring up his background in the next chapter, or later. The reader wonders what exactly is going on here and wants to find out, so don't show those cards already, imo. You'll just have to play around with rewriting the last bit of that paragraph.

As I said, I really liked this and would want to read on, so definitely keep at it. Agree with Clarius that your world-building is good right out of the gate. I thought the voice of the AI was convincing - warm, but robotic. You very efficiently set up that Remiel has been at this a long time. I like the name Remiel for fantasy/sci-fi - congrats on that because it's *really* hard to come up with a name that doesn't sound ripped from the pages of Tolkien and/or just silly. I thought the scene flowed nicely - it felt complete to me.

Anyway, well done. Oh - as a newbie here, please let me know if this level of critique is helpful or overwhelming. I'd love tips on how to do this better.

Cheers!

   









Offline Miss Waterlow

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Re: Novel opening hook advice - 829 words
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2022, 05:11:58 PM »
Forgot to say!

In the immediate moment with the AI, Remiel wasn’t falling apart, he wasn't wracked with the power of his darkness. Comma after AI