Synopsis Edits: Master and Servant

Created over 2 years ago by Smith Ellis with 9 comments
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Picture Serdar Yegulalp · Author · added over 2 years ago
Thanks for taking my feedback, I appreciate it.

I noticed that you said "labor through a chapter of character development," and that particular choice of words caught my eye. Again, if the person we’re being asked to follow is interesting, then it shouldn’t be considered "labor"; it’s what the story is supposed to be about in the first place.

You also mentioned "a ton of time passing in those first few paragraphs that no reader will want to live through." That tells me that another possible problem is the framing for the story, choosing where to start and what to leave out. So yes, start in as late as you can, start with a person, and make that person as intriguing as you can. Or sympathetic. Or funny. Or any combination of those. Something to give us an emotional commitment.

One of my favorite quotes in that respect comes from Martin Scorsese: "Cinema’s a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out." You always want to start as late as you can in the story, or have a really good reason for picking the timeframes that you do. In GoodFellas, we see how Henry Hill’s early years primed him for a life in the Mafia, but we got just enough of it to set things up, and it was one bang-bang scene after another: Henry spying on the gangsters across the street, Henry getting his ass whipped by his dad for being a truant; Henry’s mailman getting his head shoved in the oven for bringing letters from school; blowing up the rival cabstand; getting busted for selling smokes but keeping his mouth closed about it; etc. Then we jump ahead -- "By the time I grew up, there was thirty billion in cargo moving through Idlewild Airport every year, and believe me, we tried to steal every bit of it" -- and we’re into the mainstream of his life.

When you mentioned "in SFpeople are often afterthoughts; it’s a very MTV generation problem in sci-fi literature," my thought is that it’s not something that only started recently; it’s something that has been endemic with SF since its beginnings. The idea has almost always shoved the person and the story aside. Sometimes that can be exhilarating; I mentioned Lem, and Olaf Stapledon comes to mind. But when you can fuse them -- when you get the idea and the personality -- then it’s really something. (Theodore Sturgeon; Philip K. Dick; James Tiptree, Jr.)
0p1gr07j Smith Ellis · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 1 like
Thanks again, Serdar.  I’ll consider this further.  I feel like there is some middle ground where I interest and educate you quickly so I can "get on with the story" vs. forcing you to labor through a chapter of character development before you even understand what’s happening.  There is also a ton of time passing in those first few paragraphs that no reader will want to live through.  It’s a tough issue, because I have feedback on the other end - telling me I grabbed their interest and moved very fast, thus keeping their interest.  

I have another draft up, The Kingdom Calls, that is exactly the opposite; it starts with people and a lot of get-to-know-you introductory work.  If you care to peek at that one, I wouldn’t be mad!

If I can’t smooth a little more character work into the front, I may cut the first two pages altogether and see if that doesn’t fix it.  I haven’t read it that way yet, but I’ve had that experience in the past.  Want a story in medias res?  Cut off the front of it...

Anyway...I will think hard on this.  I agree with you that SF people are often afterthoughts; it’s a very MTV generation problem in sci-fi literature.  A cool idea about a robot is cool, but if there isn’t a journey for someone we connect with a lot of us won’t be interested.  I’d like to have both types of readers engaged, to be honest.  Because cool ideas about robots are cool, dammit.

It may come down to taste, although I’m not discounting your feedback.  Hopefully that is clear by my ham handed first stab at addressing your initial feedback.  I want and need you to be a reader, especially since you are willing to take time out of your day to help me and give me feedback!  I truly can’t thank you enough for doing so.
Picture Serdar Yegulalp · Author · edited over 2 years ago
I gave the revised first chapter a read-over, and I’m afraid I’m seeing the same basic problem.

Right away we’re given something that reads like an excerpt from a nonfiction magazine article. By the time we get to Roger and his team, it’s already too late. We need to hear about Roger first; we need to hear about who he is, what he wants, what all this means to him. (Ditto the people on his team.)

If he’s just not that interesting a person, then no plot around him will amount to much. Plots are interchangeable and disposable; people are not. The problem with most SF is that the people in it play like afterthoughts -- because a lot of the time, they are afterthoughts.

The other thing that comes to mind is how there is way too much tell and not enough show. I understand that some of this is required for the sake of setting things up, but it’s possible to mix that stuff into a narrative a lot more elegantly than just telling, telling, telling us everything. (One possible way around that is to go ahead and tell us, but make the telling funny -- it’s tough, but feasible.)

Give me a person I can care about; give me someone I can be curious about; give me someone whose problem makes me want to follow him to the bitter end. Embed who they are in what is going on. (Action is character, right?) Everything else can follow naturally from that.

(Side note: One of the things that’s always interesting about the biographies of people like, say, Steve Jobs, is that there was never any one overriding, neatly plotted aspect to their lives. They had complexities and difficulties, and that was what made them fascinating. It’s tough to map that into fiction -- after all, not everything that happens in real life works as a story -- but it’s a direction to nod towards.)
0p1gr07j Smith Ellis · Author · added over 2 years ago
I released some updates today.  I would love your continued interest and feedback.
Picture Serdar Yegulalp · Author · edited over 2 years ago
Yeah, it’s generally a good idea to start with a person rather than an idea or a situation. Most SF is about the latter two, but in the long run, everyone wants to read a story about the first one (whether or not they know it).
0p1gr07j Smith Ellis · Author · added over 2 years ago
Thanks, that is great feedback.  Show, don’t tell - which is fundamental to drawing people in.  I can come back around and put the characters in and have them introduced here early on vs. just having this set up first.  Anyway -. Awesome and thank you very much!!
Picture Serdar Yegulalp · Author · added over 2 years ago
I just checked out the sample you have posted, and my most predominant reaction is that this feels like part of a magazine article or maybe a non-fiction book excerpt, rather than a *story.* The details are interesting, but there’s no feeling of a narrative, and that makes it hard to feel like there’s more worth reading about.

Now, there’s always the chance that’s the idea -- stuff like Stanisław Lem’s "His Master’s Voice" was written in a format roughly like this, but even that story had some sense of narrative drive. This just feels like a rundown of events.

I hope none of this seems too harsh.
0p1gr07j Smith Ellis · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 1 like
I’m either the weird kid at the dance, or this is a tough crowd to inspire.  
0p1gr07j Smith Ellis · Author · edited over 2 years ago · 1 like
Love me, hate me, just show me that you are there.  Looking for your kind or cruel words on this draft!