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First Chapter Of My First Novel - Critiques Appreciated

Hi everyone!

Here is a link to the first chapter of my crime thriller/superhero novel WIP, currently titled UNREGISTERED, around 4200 words. There is violent content and some strong language, which will continue throughout the work.

To put the work in context, the story is set in a word analagous to our own, but with a few major changes. Most obviously, there are people with "Talents", what we would think of as superpowers. These Talents are not as extreme as the powers possessed by familar comic book heroes, for example by Superman - no laser eyes, no tornado breath - or by Wolverine - no instant healing, no retractable adamantine blades. Rather, all the Talents are based on charactistics humans already have, be it sensory, physical or biochemical abilities or even physical properties. My intent is to make the powered characters less godlike and more vulnerable, and hopefully more relatable. While I'm confident that I could work super-villains into the world of the story, it is not needed in this story.

The other significant difference from our world is that the world of the story is techologically in advance of ours by 20 years. I've chosen not to make major changes to world history that might affect the story or make the setting too different from our own world.

I'd be very grateful to receive honest critiques. I'm interested in fixing glaring weaknesses in style, voice or pacing. I want to fix whatever is unclear or confusing.

Thanks in advance for spending your time on it!

EDIT: I've deleted the link as it led to a poorly formatted document. I've attached a better version on my post below.

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Replies (20)
    • I thought to myself, I really need something to displace my ostensible duty to tidy up before bedtime. So I'll have a look at this opening chapter to see if it's entertaining, and if I have any thoughts that might conceivably be helpful.

      I clicked, and saw the document, and thought Right, one thing to say and one thing only: I won't read a single-spaced document written in Courier. There is a reason agents ask for double-spaced Times New Roman or Garamond, 12 point: because it's easy to read. Send them s/s Courier, and they'll bin it at once.

      Please Phil, reformat and repost.

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      • So now I have to do the washing-up. thanks.

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        • I'll agree with Glyn, at least insofar as anything but a monospaced font. They are unreadable, especially single spaced. 1.5-spaces, and any half-sensible proportionally spaced font is fine, (Double-spaced is just oo damned loose for my tastes, again verging on hard to read.)

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          • I agree with all of Glyn's suggestions about font and spacing. I would also mention adding some margins to give more space and avoid the page looking like a wall of text which is a turn-off.

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            • Fair enough, I'll reformat and repost.

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              • My apologies to everyone repulsed by the format before, especially to Glyn who I doomed to do the washing-up. I have no excuse.

                The corrected format is attached to this post, Times New Roman, 1.5 spaced, with margins.

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                • I haven't read the whole thing, Phil. I just scrolled down to see how long it was, and my eyes caught on the last paragraph. And there, I… I… I…

                  Maybe that's the only place in the piece that overloads in that way, but that would be surprising. So I'll point you to this post of Harry's.

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                  • Fair point, thanks Rick. It is a problem in that paragraph, maybe in a few other places.

                    EDIT: maybe more than a few...

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                    • I read it all and I like that stuff so I don't care about all the I's, I don't - it's true.

                      Great job, Phil.

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                      • How thoughtless of me to click on the first link and read the original version of the words.  IF I post a chapter here (a BIG "if" as I am now questioning the possibility of ever doing so) I must ask around for the absolutely proper font style, font size, margin size, and spacing - quadruple spaced perhaps? -  to be used.  An interesting question because I know of at least three publishers that will not accept any MS that is not submitted using Courier.  No matter what, they are all just words on a page.

                        Speaking (finally) of words on a page; your words, are an enjoyable story.  I like the dry FPV narration.  I can easily imagine a 40s or 50s movie with the detective speaking in a lifeless monotone, Jack Webb's classic, "Just the facts".  As my coach would say, "It has a good hook".  I want to read more, learn about the abilities some have and how they obtained those abilities.  Red Line is not the only one so what abilities do others have?  Are all of them good guys or are some using these powers for crime?  All in all I enjoyed it.

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                        • Thanks for the kind words, Jack and Calvin.

                          To answer your questions, Calvin, yes, there is a mixture of good guys and bad guys and you will meet some on both sides. In terms of the nature of the powers, I've spent quite a lot of time working out what is possible under the limitations I've set myself and there are a lot of odd and even surprising powers available. As for where the powers come from, there can be no origin stories - no getting bitten by radioactive spiders - all the Talented are born with them and they develop during childhood.

                          If I can circle back to the topic of format, I was horrified that I'd wasted people's time with my formatting. The original format was Scrivener's default settings, exporting into PDF, raw text dump. Now I know better.

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                          • Just got around to reading it. I agree with Calvin. It does have a great old movie feel to it.

                            I'm hooked. More please, Phil.

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                            • Hi Phil. I enjoyed reading this. It's tense. Exciting. I like the name Red Line. Makes me think of a line that can't be crossed. But also of being on the edge, like an engine at max revs.

                              I have few suggestions of pernickety edits.

                              Why do you say "Picture the scene" at the start? I'd start with the the "Four scumbags...". As a reader, I'm already picturing the scene.

                              I also think there are a few words you use early on that don't quite fit with the hard-boiled voice: "archetypes" (could be "types"?), "benediction", "indifferent and cruel society".

                              In the first para you have "good boys" becoming bad men. That's nice. But later on Julian is also a "good boy". I think I know what you mean, but he's a completely different type of good boy, so a different description might be better.

                              "let's get this dome." Unless the talented who wear helmets are referred to as "domes" this might be a spelling mistake?

                              I also have a thought about structure. As I said, I enjoyed reading this and I would eagerly turn to the next page, but going by what Jack Jordan said in his recent Jericho webinar maybe you should aim to end on some sort of cliffhanger?

                              It's interesting  you said in your intro that the talented are vulnerable. But I didn't see a hint of Red Line's vulnerability. And he didn't make any comment when the gang revealed they had a mole in the Sweeney. Wouldn't he feel a twinge of doubt at that point?

                              I have no idea where your plot might head, but if the mole is important, or Red Line has some other problem, might it be a good idea to foreshadow it at the end of the chapter?

                              Anyway, that's my thoughts. I'm no expert in plot: I've just read some stuff while trying to find a way to make my WIP grip the reader. 

                              Thanks for posting!

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                              • Fantastic prose. The the pacing was remarkably consistent and engaging. Your use of language was realistic to the situation and characters. Excellent.

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                                • Hi OrangeRagley, I'm glad you liked it. Let me address your points:

                                  First, 'picture the scene': I take your point, but part of the Red Line character is a hard-boiled cynicism. I intended the first para to reflect that a little. I mean, Red Line doesn't care about the mole, or the wounded, but yeah, the mole doesn't deserve his fate. If it hasn't worked, I'll look at it again. Tone is a tricky beast.

                                  Second, Julian. Yes, fair point, a different kind of good boy. I'll rework it.

                                  Third, cliffhanger at the chapter end and vulnerability. I'm not sure how I can work in a cliffhanger here. Red Line is mostly invulnerable because of the armour. One other aspect of Red Line is I'm riffing on a Superman figure, and I'm aware that early opposition in a story to superheroes is typically weak. The level of risk is low as a result.

                                  Next, the mole. No, the mole is not important going forward. This chapter hopefully introduces one of the two protagonists and the setting. Chapter 2 goes into more detail and introduces the second protagonist. The plot gets underway in Chapter 2 and the full inciting incident in Chapter 3.

                                  Thanks also to Carol and Ryan. It's daunting bringing a WIP out for criticism and I know there are problems ahead in later chapters.

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                                  • Hi Phil,

                                    I would open your story a bit harder with something like: 

                                    PAR ONE: Four men sit in a black Toyota estate car. One is smoking, the end of the cigarette flaring red as he pulls hard and often, flicking the ash carelessly onto the road outside through an open window. They sit, they wait, they cradle their guns, cold metal clasped in sweaty hands. 


                                    - it’s good to give detail, such as the make of a car and colour etc

                                    - in the last sentence we know something bad is going to happen (ie someone will likely be shot) and this introduces tension which you can keep dangling a while and resolve later in the chapter.

                                    - I’d ditch the word “scumbag” because it’s too abstract. Showing the men holding guns (ie showing, not telling) shows us that they’re scumbags

                                    - you say “cold metal clasped in sweaty hands”, yet the narrator is ‘I’ and is on a roof overlooking the scene, so how does he know their hands are sweaty? Only a third person narrator would know that

                                     PAR TWO: 

                                    All four steel themselves as a van pulls up opposite, painted in the colours of the Royal Mail. Etc etc


                                    PAR THREE: (introduce the narrator)

                                    They don’t know I’m here watching them. If they could see onto the roof of that warehouse, they’d be able to see me, clad in my trademark suit of shiny black armour and matching black helmet. They’d recognise the red stripe that bisected both, running from crown to groin. And they would shout my name and run for the hills.

                                    Note: I had a glance through the rest and it looks good.

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                                    • I like the tone, and the overall arc of the chapter. 

                                      Sardonic and cynical humour works well. It’s a staple of Marvel, so no reason not to follow a proven formula. Just be clear about Red Line’s character, so that it’s individual to him, not just a stylistic ripoff. Cliches don’t play well, unless they are indicative of a character trait that is maintained. So if Red Line is prone to social determinism, you might get away with “indifferent and cruel society”. Otherwise, not. But it’s going to be hard to make things like “sour exhalation” and “benediction” fit this character. And even so, I’d keep that kind of reflection out of the opening paragraph, and make it shorter and punchier. The last sentence repeats the archetypes idea, only much better. 

                                      For this style, everything should be as tight as possible. I made a few notes, but rather than put them here I’ve made comments in a Word file which I'll send separately. Food for thought, I hope. You’ll get the idea. Be ruthless – it will be better for being tauter.

                                      There has to be jeopardy. If Red Line is virtually invulnerable, like Superman, Deadpool and Wolverine, the jeopardy has to come from danger to those he cares about – Lois Lane, the whole of humanity, Vanessa, or the mutant kids in Logan. And/or he has to have a tangible weakness – kryptonite, or magnets for Wolverine. Getting back to your opening chapter, I would be dropping hints about Redline’s weakness from the off. Don’t go into it, but imply that there will be problems ahead.

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                                      • Thanks Jeff and Glyn, I really appreciate you taking your time.

                                        Jeff, I think you're right about parts of the opening section. Reordering the paras makes sense. I'm going to fight for the word choices, though. Part of it reflects his experience, part of it his disdain for non-powered people in general and criminals in particular. Unless it's really detrimental, I'm enjoying writing Red Line as being quite brutal and cynical - it's key to the character's entire arc. 

                                        Glyn, you've made some excellent points. One of the starting points for the Red Line character is thinking about Superman if he got old, cynical and started to hate people. So I agree - this characterisation only works if Red Line is incredibly judgmental. He's unique in that level of cynicism.

                                        I'll be delighted to read your thoughts on tone and tautness, too.

                                        I'm glad you mentioned the topic of jeopardy and vulnerability. Red Line, and none of the characters in the book, are invulnerable. If you could get up next to him when he's out of armour, you could stab him without a problem. It would be very hard for Red Line if he lost his armour, not just because it's armour. Similar to Rorschach, he is Red Line first and foremost, as it is part of his identity. How this can be worked into the first chapter is something I'll ponder.

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                                        • Nice writing... enjoyable character, almost an anti-hero, with his rough edges.

                                          Re one of the comments... perhaps the second "good boy" could be "still a good boy", or since he's grown up, a "good man" ... or even (though it's a bit wordy) "a good boy who grew up to be a good man" if you're reflecting him against the "bad men" intro...

                                          Two minor things that jumped out as I read was first - that you described the suit he's wearing twice, exactly the same way... the second time seemed to flow more naturally than the first, so you might just want to say something like "...see me wearing my trademark suit, and know who I am..." in the opening scene.

                                          And second - Also not sure if you need to put PEOPLE before the first Normies, since they are asking questions about being talented, I think you can trust your readers to figure out the derogatory term he's using.

                                          Not being British, I had to Google "faff"... so now I have a new word 😜 .

                                          Some minor re-writing will take care of the I-I-I... I've been using ProWritingAid to check my work lately, and they flag any time 3 or more sentences start with the same word as a no-no...

                                          All in all, I agree with all that's been said above ... the pacing seems good, but a hook at the end of the chapter would keep us looking for more - right now it could almost be a short story, as its all wrapped up at the end of the chapter...

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                                          • Thanks for the feedback, Jo, glad you liked it.

                                            I agree about the last paragraph, that needs a big revision because it's not good enough as is. I'm going to be changing the second "good boy" - it doesn't really work, and you make a good point about the suit description.

                                            As for ending hook, it's a problem for me because you are kind of right - this chapter is very stand-alone and it doesn't really hook into the main story. I'm not sure what to do!

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