Saturday, April 26, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #49

Most Wonderful Author: Jay @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Ange
Working Title: The Burning Ones

As ashes of failed rebellion settle, she is the last breathing fighter. Her cage suspends four yards above ground in the middle of city square, too short for her spine to straighten and too narrow for her muscles to relax. Those who once believed in her dangle a short way above, their decay battering her weathered face. She has not spoken a word.

“That girl is made of titanium.” A Justitia whistles.

Twenty-two protons. Strongest lightweight metal. Corrosion-resistant. Highly flammable.

The town gathers to watch her time come. Cameras pan from rooftops, grasping every angle possible for the rest of the Utopia. Rows of soldiers bow as the Chairman arrives in robe and mask—no lens may taint his image.

At the snap of his fingers, her cage descends. She wobbles against rusted bars, arms having been sawed off after the decisive battle. Two soldiers march forth with barrels in hand and douse her. She scowls at the stench, worse than her decomposing allies. Petroleum.

 “Execution order: 28th of February, Year 401 Apr├Ęs Unification, rebel leader who shall not be named!”

No one will know her identity. Mention of this incident is forbidden beyond this broadcast, because enemies of the Utopia deserve no second thought. The Chairman ignites a match while staring into her striking blue eyes, unwavering like a crouching wolf’s.

“I will see you again. Soon,” he whispers.

The meaning of his words dispel as the arc of flame comes for her.

Strong Points –
Wow, I absolutely love the plot, the idea behind all that’s going on in this text. It’s intriguing, it drew me right in and wow, yes. This scene makes me, as a reader, thirsting to know what happens next. I didn’t initially understand that the girl was made of titanium, and not the cage, but once I did -- wow! It adds a whole new level to the plot.

I can feel the remnants of a failed rebellion, and the fact that this girl who’s made of titanium is also the leader of the failed rebellion, added to the fact that she’s made of titanium and titanium is a strong metal, suggests how difficult it is to rebel. If she couldn’t make it, who will? Plus, the “I will see you soon” comment from the Chairman, holy smokes, my brain went buzzing with questions. Intriguing, indeed.

Moreover, I especially like the description of the Chairman, and how he wears a mask so that no lens can “taint his image.” It’s a very neat addition, and gives the reader some insight into who he is.

Furthermore, I like the overall tone to the writing, and most especially, how it gives a glimpse into the conditions of this world. It’s clearly a dictatorship, and from what I’ve read I’m assuming it’s a world that doesn’t work as well as it should, i.e. a dystopia. This leads me to another thing I really like, calling the place “Utopia”, it creates a wonderful contrast between the meaning of the word and a place that clearly does not embody that meaning. Plus, I have a soft spot for a good dystopian story. I’m getting all giddy about this.

Some Tips –
First of all, the advice below is purely based on my own subjective opinion, and you do not have to agree with me. With that said, let’s begin.

I’m going to start with a few general tips before I dig into the details. This scene feels like a prologue to me. It feels like the first page of a novel that is only there for one reason, and one reason only: to create suspense. Usually, after this page comes the first chapter, and very rarely does this chapter pick up right where the prologue left off.

It is a great intro, because it does create suspense and it manages to draw me in as a reader. However, will the force that dragged me in still be there after another three chapters? This is my worry. There’s a risk with putting this kind of scene before the actual beginning of the story. Even though it may create some insight, it may also create high expectations for the rest of the novel. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a negative action, but I’m saying treat it with caution.

I would also like more details surrounding the people and the city. How does it look? How do the people look? Are they happy, sad, angry, relieved, scared, etc? Are they well off, or are they wearing worn-down clothes? What about the soldiers? Are their expressions empty or is there some kind of emotion? What emotion if so? Is the city large or small? Is there a lot of grass or does concrete dominate? What kind of robe and mask does the Chairman wear? Do dark or light colours dominate his clothes? Adding some of these details facilitates the setting of the scene and atmosphere surrounding the event portrayed which in turn helps the reader make sense of what they are supposed to picture.

Those were the general points. Onto the finer details.

The first paragraph is a little too vague for my taste. Let me illustrate:

... too short for her spine to straighten, too narrow for her muscles to relax.

“Short” is not a word I’d use in this context, although I understand what this sentence is trying to tell me, the presence of the word “short” interrupts the creation of my mental image of this cage. I would instead choose another word that could more clearly convey what the text is trying to describe. An example could be “low”, as in the roof of the cage is too low, or as an alternative: “constrained”.

At the end of the first paragraph, two words interrupt the flow of the text for me. “Battering” is the first word.’s definition of “batter” (as it is used in this context) is as follows:

    verb (used with object)
1. to beat persistently or hard; pound repeatedly
2. to damage by beating or hard usage

verb (used without object)
3. to deal heavy, repeated blows; pound steadily

Here’s why I’m referencing a dictionary: the word batter means to deliver a punch, or to be worn down from being well used. Synonyms to “batter” include “assault”, “demolish”, and “wreck”. My impression is that these people’s “decays” aren’t destroying titanium girl. Their “decays” are falling onto her face. I would exchange “battering” for a word with a more appropriate meaning in relation to the context, provided that my conclusion is correct. An example of such a word could be “dropping”, or “falling”.

The second word is “decay”. “Decay” is quite vague in telling the reader what state these people are in, since there are different stages of decay. Whenever a word is vague, it blurs the reader’s picture of the scene, and unless the reader is supposed to be confused, it serves no purpose other than complicating the reading experience. The text would need a more specific word or description to pinpoint exactly what is happening between the bodies of those who believed in titanium girl.

While on the topic of vague words I’d like to mention two more things that contribute to the vagueness of the text. The first one is in the first paragraph:

    ... in the middle of city square ...

I know which city square the text is referring to, but, for the text to flow better I would like it to be more specific. One way could be adding a “the” before city, or “Utopia’s” before city. I would have excluded this if it weren’t for the fact that the text excludes a distinction on two other occasions. The difference is, however, that in those two it works, whereas in this case it becomes a bit too vague.
The second thing I’d like to bring up is something that rendered me confused, and still does. Almost at the end of the scene, there’s a line that goes:

The Chairman ignites a match while staring into her striking blue eyes, unwavering like a crouching wolf’s.

What confused me is this: who’s eyes are unwavering like a crouching wolf’s? Hers or the Chairman’s? It’s a very important distinction, because this likeness implies that one of them is measuring the other in  preparation for an attack against an enemy or a prey.

I’d like to leave with one last thing: sometimes simple is better than complex. On several occasions the text felt a bit like it was trying to be more advanced by using more advanced words (perhaps a little too advanced). The problem was that said words weren’t always correctly used, which hinders the text rather than facilitates it.

Would I Keep Reading?
As I said, this feels like a prologue to me. Whether it is one or not, it feels a lot like one. I know little of what to expect from the rest of the story because of it, which is why I’m not sure I would continue reading. I would turn the page to where the story properly begins, but I’m not sure how many pages after that I’d read. But, on the other hand, I’m a sucker for a good dystopian novel.

If I had more insight into the rest of the story, I’d have a clearer answer. For now I’m going to say a positive probably! 

Good luck!

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