This week is a return to the same group as last week. I’ll start off by saying that I misread the name of the group. They are a Sci-fi and Fantasy based group, so I apologize for my previous comments about the fantasy writer in the group.
Tonight’s meeting we had five writers, and they’ve all brought material. There’s one person I hadn’t met yet, and the rest were people from the last meeting. We got the meeting started much faster this time, which I appreciated. I hate to waste our limited time on small talk and wanted to get started.
Writer one: (I called him Butters last time.) I like Butter’s style of writing. The chapter he presented to us is mostly dialogue, and it flows very naturally. His story involves humans turned into cyborg creatures. The chapter he read seemed to be far into the book, so I’m not sure of the details. There is more than one style of cyborg. Style A is something the humans are currently creating, it isn’t going well from what I understand. Style B is a cyborg creature created by an alien species on Earth thousands of years ago. They look identical to humans.
The scene in question was between, a human man and a style B cyborg. They were dating and the man was trying to talk the woman into marrying him. There was some banter back and forth with her talking about not being human and him not believing her, or thinking she was insane. My biggest complaint was the character’s eventual acceptance of her not being human. There didn’t seem to be anything to thrust him into his accepting the situation. No proof, only her talking about living a hundred years ago. Most of the other people in the group agreed that if they were in that situation, they would need concrete evidence.
Writer two: This one is an odd situation. The author has already written and self-published a book a couple of years ago and is now starting the sequel. He brought out a copy of his first already printed book to read the first chapter. The person running the group explains that our purpose is to critique each other’s work in progress not previously published stories. The author tells us that he wants to get a better sense of what part of his writing works and what doesn’t. Fair enough.
I’m thinking about all the people I’ve invited to read chapters of my WIP and wondering if he ever bothered to do the same. This seems like a job for beta readers before publishing. Everyone in the meeting accepts his explanation, and he reads the chapter.
This is a story about time travel. It begins with a brief one paragraph epigraph that is a great hook. After that paragraph, I was honestly interested in the story. (Well, If I’m going to be honest, I actually read his first chapter off his website at home earlier in the week since he passed out cards last meeting.) Then chapter one begins and things begin to quickly slide downhill.
It starts with a boy in a farm field looking through a telescope and thinking about going to Mars (There’s a colony there) and other space type thoughts. He has a brief conversation with his mother yelling at him to come inside. It’s time for homework. That was too obvious a conversation for my tastes. Before he goes inside, things begin to happen. I have absolutely no idea what it was that happened. The writing started getting very dramatic and flowery. I was clueless. When he finished, other group members understood it better than me.
There was something about all of the nuclear weapons in the world going off because — reasons? Maybe it was aliens. I still don’t know. The other people in the group agreed with some of my thoughts, but two of them focused on the improbability of an outside force taking control of all the weapons through wifi or similar connection. Those weapons are kept disconnected to outside links intentionally for that reason. I suppose that’s true, but if it was aliens, I don’t think it’s much of a leap for them to take control of everything with their mysterious technology.
Writer three: Next is a revisit to last week’s chapter two of the Indian goes to MIT story. The author has rewritten much of the chapter. Except essentially it’s the same chapter, but now he’s cut most of the long, tedious mathematical explanations. Good. He added a somewhat long description of a physics experiment depicting the character’s discovery of the how the power source works. Not so good. If you’ve never worked in a University Theoretical Physics lab, you wouldn’t understand most of what he was talking about. However, there was a much bigger problem with the chapter for my tastes.
At the end of chapter two the character has married his college love, had a child, gotten insanely rich off the invention and then was murdered. Why was he murdered? Because the rest of the book is about the child growing up and doing amazing things with this new power source.
Here’s my opinion of the piece so far. We have two chapters (I missed chapter one) where the author is attempting to connect the reader to a couple of characters. I felt no emotional attachment to anyone. Then he tells the reader, forget about the parents, watch what the kid does. As a reader, if I got this far into the book I would be pissed off by now. Why did I read all that background? The story could start at chapter three with a simple paragraph telling the reader that his parents met in college, fell in love, and developed a new power source that got his father murdered. I think George RR. Martin can get away with it because he gives you lots of characters to care about simultaneously. When one dies, there’s already emotional attachment to other characters.
I told him that it was obvious from listening to it, he was more excited about writing the mathematics and physics portion of the chapter. Those were very detailed. The rest, not so much. I won’t mention anything about his amazingly insulting portrayal of Native Americans. That part didn’t change. Okay…Maybe one thing. When the character meets his new roommate on day one at MIT, the first thing out of the roommate’s mouth is – Hi, I’m blah blah… Are you Indian? Nice bow. I’m imagining walking into that situation and having my new roommate say – Hi. Are you a jew? Can I get a dollar? Just kidding, I wouldn’t ask you for a dollar. Yuck yuck.
Writer four: This person has brought in a fight scene from a superhero style of work. I’m not a big fan of long fight scenes. Give me a brief explanation of action, then move on to the aftermath. I know other people like this stuff, but I was having trouble following the action. To me it was all… shoot this, punch that, attack, defend. When he was done reading, the other group members gave some constructive advice. Again, to me, there didn’t seem to be any emotion to any of this scene. Others agreed. As a side note, this person admits that his writing is not intended to be published. It’s something he’s writing for himself. While it’s nice to have people in the group from all aspects of writing. I can’t imagine myself going to a meeting like this if I wasn’t intending to publish. If it’s for me, then who cares? If I wrote it, I understand it and I like it (sometimes).
My turn to read. I brought chapter two of my WIP, including extra copies for people to follow along. My scene introduces the reader to character three. Captain Zongxian Che and subplot one. The installation of a computer virus into the Tardigrade pods (which are cryogenic chambers.) The intent of the virus is unknown, but it was doing something to the pods meant for people of a specific national origin. The Captain is the leader of a still being built colony spaceship by the Frontier Marine. We also get some background information concerning the cryogenic process, the ship’s power source, and speed of travel (not faster than light).
I was worried that I got too deep into the background technical details at the start of this chapter. Nobody in the group complained about any of that. They didn’t even shoot holes in my insane power source. What did they focus on?
One commenter seemed to dislike everything I named. The power source is called a Ritter-Ball. It made him think of a Critterball, which is a type of pet toy. He thought Zongxian Che sounded too Hispanic for a character that is Asian. Really? Zongxian sounds Hispanic? The Che part he might have a point. If he was only hearing the name I could understand. The spelling Che seems obviously Asian to me. Maybe I’m wrong. He also asked me if I knew what a tardigrade was. Yes, I do know what it is. That’s why I chose the name. A tardigrade is a micro-animal that lives in just about every environment on the planet. More importantly, it lives in the most extreme conditions on the planet. High temperature, freezing temperature, extreme pressures in the ocean and it can hibernate for years. I thought a tardigrade made for an appropriate name for a cryostasis pod.
The last item they all jumped on was the way in which I depicted the technicians handling the computer virus. I’ve made a few edits because of this. This brings me to another point. In science fiction the closer you describe something that people can relate to in their current lives, the more critical they will be. Fast than light travel – no problem. Wormholes to transport around the universe – cool. Computer virus – you’re doing it wrong. Lesson learned.
The only other item I’ll mention is that nobody in the group got my one hidden joke. The character that comes to take care of the computer virus is a Mr. Guernica. He has an extreme body modification done to his face. I doubt most of you will get that either, unless you google Guernica. That wasn’t the point. Throughout the novel, there are several hidden jokes. For those that get them, they might be funny. For those that don’t, they won’t even notice there was a joke in there. My intent is for those people that get them to feel clever about themselves. I like it when I read a story and the author does something that makes me feel that way.
Until next time, have fun with your writing.Follow @Andrew_Heister