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First Page: Unnamed SteamPunk?

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I glanced out at the Great Lawn as I sat alone on an iron park bench, trying to be inconspicuous as I waited for the Man, sure that I was sticking out like a sore thumb. I had some bad habits-’modern habits-’that are hard to break. Until he returned, I wasn’t free to slide Steamside, as my companions had christened our own slice of late Victorian hell.

The Punks love naming things, including calling themselves punks. It fits some of them. But you have to cut them a break. I mean, we’re stuck in 1890, at least half the time. I’m not sure when the other half is, or if it is a when.

I’m not even sure how many dimensions Steamside really has, but if I think too hard about that I get heart palpitations. The less I think, the better off I am. I think. Even the hardiest psyche sometimes has trouble adapting to the little details of our existence. And there is a hardiest among us, but I’ll get to him.

As I waited in the sweltering August heat, I realized in dread that it was almost my 26th birthday, and that I’d been splitting myself between Steamside and Normal 1890 for the better part of a year. I sure as hell wasn’t used to it. The slide-’in either direction-’makes you feel like your skin is being ripped off in long strips. A few of us also get tumbled, a sensation like you’ve taken a big wave and are tossed around in a cloud of sand on the bottom of the surf, not knowing for a minute which direction is up. Nobody knows why some of us get that extra bonus round.

The only thing I like about sliding is that once in a blue moon, the Man, as we call our fearless leader, is around to nod in approval. Once, early on, he even pulled me into his arms and rubbed my back until I stopped shaking. He doesn’t do that anymore. Damn it. If you saw him, you’d get what I mean.

I feel like I’m stuck in a perpetual first day of school, just wanting my stuffed bear and my mommy. No new adventures, nothing to learn, no dragons to slay. I mean that last part literally. We have dragons. And dragonflies nearly the size of dragons, along with less attractive super-enlarged vermin. And every other freaking nightmarish creature you’ve ever seen in a horror movie, read about in a book, or woke over in a trembling sweat. It’s an alphabet soup of paranormalcy. If you’ve thought of it, it lives Steamside. Because, you see, that’s how they got there in the first place. You all are to blame.

***

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43 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 04:11:30

    The idea is intriguing, the execution is not. This first page is one huge info dump, and difficult to read. I had problems right from the first para with the writing:
    “I glanced out at the Great Lawn as I [there are a lot of 'as I' in the first few sentences] sat alone on an iron park bench, trying to be inconspicuous as I waited for the Man, sure that I was sticking out like a sore thumb. I had some bad habits-’modern habits-’that are [tense shift] hard to break.[like what?] Until he returned, I wasn't free to slide Steamside, as my companions had christened our own slice of late Victorian hell.[info dump.]

    “I realized in dread” – usually it’s ‘with dread’.

    There are lot of (not very original) similes used which actually increase the confusing nature of this long narration. The lack of action is off-putting. The lack of any real info about the narrator other than they’re a bit of a whiny kid, is off-putting too.

    “And dragonflies nearly the size of dragons, along with less attractive super-enlarged vermin. And every other freaking nightmarish creature you've ever seen in a horror movie, read about in a book, or woke over in a trembling sweat.” If you’re going to mention this, you’re going to have to give more detail – or wait until it’s appropriate to give it before mentioning it.

    This all needs to be pared back to the essential information we need right now to get into the story, some action added, and more detail about the actual environment and narrator. Drip feed the world building more subtly and organically or you’ll just bore your reader. I have a high tolerance for weirdness in science fiction and steam punk but nothing about this pulls me in. I don’t think I’d read on unless the blurb was astonishingly convincing.

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  2. Anion
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 04:50:15

    Yeah, I agree. Nothing’s happening. Don’t tell us everything about your whole world and what your character is doing on this first page. Because it’s boring. Not terrible writing, although Ann is right about your cliches and tenses. “Sticking out like a sore thumb”; the whole thing with being tossed around like sand in the surf; once in a blue moon (which would be okay if not for the others, I guess, but you have a chance to build a world here; what cliches do the Steamside people use?

    If Steamside is Hell, why go there?

    I agree the concept is intriguing but this is just bland, sorry. Start with action, clean up the cliches, and I bet you’ll be a lot more confident and we’ll be a lot more interested.

    Good luck!

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  3. Erastes
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 06:39:14

    I disagree – I like it a lot and I’d certainly read on. I like the slightly staccato style and the way you intrigue me with things I don’t yet know about. An editor from a publisher would tighten up anything that needs tightening, but for the genre I think it’s a good start.

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  4. Keri Ford
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 07:09:24

    I enjoyed the idea, but the writing kept me stumbling. Some of your sentences are really long (I’m guilty of this!) and it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on. Careful of your tenses. You’ve got ‘is’ in one sentence and ‘was’ in the next. It’s an easy mistake to do in 1st person. Also, lost of backstory and telling.

    right here: The slide-’in either direction-’makes you feel like your skin is being ripped off in long strips. A few of us also get tumbled, a sensation like you've taken a big wave and are tossed around in a cloud of sand on the bottom of the surf, not knowing for a minute which direction is up. Nobody knows why some of us get that extra bonus round.

    Instead telling all that, save it for when she actually does it.

    And I agree, you had a lot of cliches. Write your own orginal phrases, or use the old tired ones little at a time.

    I had some bad habits-’modern habits-’that are hard to break. This line really bothered me for whatever reason. You took the time to tell me she had modern habits, but then I never saw her doing anything, modern or otherwise. But either way, if she’s in Victorian, and started twirling gum on her finger, I would get the idea.

    Good idea, just work on the execution a little.

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  5. Angelia Sparrow
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 07:31:11

    If the narrator is supposed to actually BE from 1890, sie sounds much more like 1990. I do not hear “Victorian” in any of that. If the narrator is modern and time-traveling, that too needs to be clearer.

    I agree on the info dump. It is intriguing. I might give it a couple chapters to get going. And the last sentence is very interesting: the idea that belief itself can create in Steamside.

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  6. Leah
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 07:33:06

    I’m not very familiar with steampunk (except the clothes–the clothes are cool!), so I am a little confused. Is she living in the 1890′s, and switching back and forth into a more fantastic world, or is she living now (“modern habits”) and switching back and forth between 1890, or some more fantastic version of 1890–or both? Obviously, you don’t want to just explain all of that on your first page, but you might want to do so subtly in your first chapter, so a curious but clueless reader like me would understand.

    The cliches don’t bother me, but that’s a personal problem :) Perhaps that could be a character’s trait, but it would probably be a humourous character, and you want your heroine to be taken seriously. I did notice a lot of sentences beginning with “And.” I find that I do this all the time, and have to correct it later when I rewrite. Using “and” to start a sentence punches it up a little, but if you do it too much, it loses its effectiveness.

    It doesn’t bother me that the first page doesn’t start with a bang. I’m assuming that something is just about to happen, in the next few pages, and I can wait. Still whenever someone on DA rewrites a first page submission to put the action first, it seems to read better.

    I found it interesting, as well, and would be interested in reading more.

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  7. Bernita
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 07:48:47

    Since this is first person, the cliche similies don’t bother me as much as they would otherwise – because they might be deliberate to show something about the character. People often think in cliches. However,a little of that goes a long way and risks creating a first impression of a chatty, dull and unexceptional protagonist, without spark.
    You outline an interesting scenario just the same, but it’s basically all tell and no show.

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  8. Julia Spencer-Fleming
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 08:21:09

    I agree with everything Ann Somerville says. You’re giving us prologue. I suspect that something is going to happen while Our Narrator is on that bench–she’ll get some info from the Man, she’ll get exposed as a fraud, she’ll be attacked by dragons–and that will be the real start of your story.

    Lawrence Block says, “Put second things first.” Begin in the middle of the action, then give us the background after we’re hooked.

    Also, the breezy first person narrative voice makes me think strongly of YA or the more chick-lit versions of urban fantasy. If that’s not what you’re shooting for, you may need to rethink your voice.

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  9. Heather
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 08:51:05

    Fyi, Agent Colleen Lindsay knows an editor who is looking for a steampunk story with dragons. But I recommend addressing the issue others have noted before querying her.

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  10. theo
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 08:58:22

    My apologies first at saying that I am not at all familiar with steampunk. However, that said, I am more than willing to give any novel/genre a chance if it grabs me from the start.

    Unfortunately, this one did not.

    First person is very hard and there are few who do it really well. There are rules upon rules that cannot be broken, such as the tense, which can sometimes be excused in another voice. Also, I kept trying to figure out just what Steamslide was. A game? A TT game? A futuristic colony?

    Your narrator says she’s in 1890 Victorian times. But to someone from 1890, the 1920′s would be ‘modern’ so I have no sense of the time frame the narrator originally lives in. This line:

    I'd been splitting myself between Steamside and Normal 1890 for the better part of a year.

    makes me think this is not modern vs. antiquated but rather an alternate universe perhaps, mirroring the ‘normal vs. fantasy’.

    [quote]I waited for the Man in the sweltering August heat, realizing in dread that it was almost my 26th birthday, and that I'd been splitting myself between Steamside, my real world, and Normal 1890 for the better part of a year. All that time and I sure as hell wasn't used to it.[/quote]

    I would start with something like that and pick up the action from there, filling in with the info throughout the first two chapters. I would read on with an opening like that.

    I think Ann hit on many other small things that need editing and tightening. The premise can be great but the writing has to grab the reader, regardless of the genre.

    Best of luck.

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  11. Gennita Low
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 09:12:02

    I like this. I’m ready for page 2. The “telling” is fine; it’s first person and it’s the first page, so I’m just enjoying the new terms you’re throwing at me–Steamside, punk, sliding–and I can’t wait to read more about this new “world.” The sense of character behind the voice is there. So far, your first page is different and definitely holding my interest. Good luck!

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  12. Val Kovalin
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 09:21:53

    Nice! I read a lot of steampunk, and I enjoyed this. You write well. Very nice sensory description of how it feels to slide in either direction: strips of skin getting ripped off, getting tumbled by a sand-filled ocean wave. Very nice!

    Some interesting ideas coming across here: Steamside, the different dimensions, how the non-Steamside place is normal 1890, and the premise that thoughts/dreams come to life in Steamside.

    The information I’m getting right now other than the Steamside details are as follows: the narrator is 25 years old and has only been dipping into Steamside for about a year. Not sure if the narrator is male or female: however, he or she seems to find the Man attractive. The Man is the leader of the Punks, and the Punks are the ones who voluntarily go into Steamside though it seems rather harrowing. The narrator can’t leave the park bench until the Man shows up with further instruction so it sounds as if a mission involving Steamside is about to unfold.

    Negatives: The clichés and tense problems others noted. Also, for the first 459 words, this piece is unfolding a bit slowly. I would suggest having the Man show up as soon as possible to assign our narrator the mission. There are some informative paragraphs that are not immediately needed in the first 459 words that you can move to a later point in your story to give yourself room on this first page to bring in the Man:

    The Punks love naming things, including calling themselves punks. It fits some of them. But you have to cut them a break. I mean, we're stuck in 1890, at least half the time. I'm not sure when the other half is, or if it is a when.

    And

    I feel like I'm stuck in a perpetual first day of school, just wanting my stuffed bear and my mommy. No new adventures, nothing to learn, no dragons to slay. I mean that last part literally. We have dragons. And dragonflies nearly the size of dragons, along with less attractive super-enlarged vermin. And every other freaking nightmarish creature you've ever seen in a horror movie, read about in a book, or woke over in a trembling sweat. It's an alphabet soup of paranormalcy. If you've thought of it, it lives Steamside. Because, you see, that's how they got there in the first place. You all are to blame.

    Positives: Your ideas are fresh and intriguing, I like the unrequited love between the narrator and the Man, and you write with a high level of skill. I’d definitely buy this, and I hope you can let us know when this gets published.

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  13. Seressia
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 09:36:01

    I wasn’t really intrigued until the last paragraph. I kept having to reread the first four paragraphs to figure out “when” your narrator is, and “when” she comes from, especially since I had to stop and wonder if punks were calling themselves “Punk” in 1890 anywhere. This is what I gather:

    1. She has modern habits that don’t fit where/when she is now
    2. Steamside is 1890′s Victorian hell
    3. Normal is 1890′s Victorian era (as we know it?)
    4. She’s been stuck between 1890 Steamside and 1890 Victorian, all the while sounding like she’s from somewhen else, like 1990.

    Or maybe I’m totally wrong. I just reread those paragraphs for the fourth time and remain confused.

    Something like this illustrates it might be a good idea to have a dateline: “Hyde Park, 1890″ or “Steamside, London 1890″. Steamside would make me go “Huh?” but I would immediately realize it’s somewhen and somewhere else, and if you launch straight into action I’d be perfectly okay with that.

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  14. Seressia
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 09:43:04

    This phease

    I mean, we're stuck in 1890, at least half the time. I'm not sure when the other half is, or if it is a when.

    is why I think your narrator is from somewhen other than either 1890. And didn’t you already establish that the other half is Steamside and it’s 1890′s Victorian hell?

    Okay, leaving now…

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  15. DS
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 09:52:22

    Too self referential. Steampunk is what readers call it, inspired by Cyberpunk. When in the book it would be best to ignore the subgenre name unless you are a really good writer and I don’t get “really good writer” from this page.

    All of those trembling, palpitating, shaking kind of makes me wonder if the narrator isn’t a tad too sensitive.

    I also started thinking about an old TV show Sliders when the character started talking about sliding.

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  16. Gennita Low
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 10:00:40

    Just a bit off-topic. This is for those who aren’t familiar with “steampunk,” which is a mixture of “punk,” “cyberpunk,” and SF fantasy elements set in the Victorian era. Machinery/steam/engines feature heavily. The pictures on this SITE, courtesy of Cory Doctorow, should give you an idea how modern and ornate this world could be.

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  17. GingerWeil
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 10:09:57

    I liked parts of this enough that I would read on. The naming feels very important to me in this kind of novel, and Steamside is a great name. I agree with Val Kovalin that the sensory description of the slide feels nicely precise, immediate, and visceral. However, I second Keri Ford’s suggestion that I’d love this description even more if it happened during an actual slide.

    I assumed that Steamside was a modern or futuristic place that had been significantly warped by its close associations with “normal 1890″.

    The origin of the paranormal creatures intrigues me. We’ve got this explanation in the text:
    “If you've thought of it, it lives Steamside. Because, you see, that's how they got there in the first place. You all are to blame.”
    This suggests that Steamside is an interstitial place, a dream place maybe? I assume that the “you” referred to by the narrator is a modern you, so then I start to wonder if we’re actually dealing with three worlds here, 1 regular modern/futuristic, Steamside, and normal 1890.

    However, “splitting my time” between Steamside and Normal 1890 confuses me then – when does the character go to a modern place to pick up their modern habits if all their time is spent in Steamside and Normal 1890?

    There’s a really humorous interplay between “punks” and “the Man” here which creates interest in the story for me.

    On a pure writing level: messy sentences don’t always bother me a lot in first person, especially if I feel like they express the mindset of the character. Despite their age (almost 26) this narrator feels uneducated or uncertain to me. Some of the “telling” feels like an uncertain insider wanting to demonstrate their knowledge to an “outsider”.

    Paragraphs 1, 3, and 5 work much better for me than 2, 4, and 6, where really interesting details seem to be presented in a sort of clumpy way. As a reader it feels to me like it alternates 1 paragraph character, 1 paragraph exposition.

    I don’t know how it would flow with the development of your chapter, but some of the world building would make more sense to me in terms of assessing or responding to another character? Could we have this interior stuff happening as the Man is already approaching the bench, and then the worldbuilding bits between their dialog? Or if the Man won’t be showing up for some reason (he’s late now, right, and something could have happened to him?) then while interacting with another member of these Punks?

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  18. Shenan
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 10:23:56

    Despite other posters’ complaints about too much information, I’m casting my vote for not enough. Sure, the author tosses out info left and right, but there is no rhyme or reason to it. And what info she tosses is confusing and doesn’t really explain anything.

    I know info dumps are frowned upon. But I would rather a well-done info dump (or even a bad one) than what I am seeing more and more of in my reading — no set-up at all. I’ve read a number of books of late in which I am left thinking pages of the book are missing from the beginning. Sorry, but I don’t want to read three pages or five or ten or twenty to figure out what the heck is going on. (This is especially bad in Science Fiction). I don’t want to get dropped into the middle of the action or into the middle of the POV character’s day, with no explanation as to who the character is, where he is, what is going on, or anything else. I LIKE having a story set up right off the bat. And if that involves a bit of an info dump, I’m okay with that. (But if we do get an info dump, I want it to flow with the narrative and… you know… not leave me even more confused than I would be without one.)

    As to this story in particular — with all the info dumped, the sex of the character isn’t made clear. Since it is a Romance (I assume), I figured from the start that the narrator is female. And the bit with the Man being nice-looking or whatever seems to bear that out. These days, however, one really can’t be sure!

    I don’t need a name right off the bat when the POV is First Person, but I would like to know something more than the character’s age. I would also like to know where the story is set. And WHEN it is set would be nice as well. (I gather the setting in this bit is 1890 London — but I can’t tell for sure. Maybe that “Great Lawn” mention is supposed to be a tip-off? If so, I’m at a loss. And if it IS London, does it actually swelter in August? This mind you, from a Texan who is used to triple digits in August.)

    I like the voice and would probably like the set-up if there actually was one. (And I’m NOT a fan of paranormals. At all.) As it is, while the opening sounds nice, it is pretty much meaningless rambling. Why is this character sticking out like a sore thumb? Why does she (?) dread her upcoming birthday? Does it have anything to do with the story or is it more random info dumping? What does the mention of bad habits have to do with anything?

    The bit with the first day of school doesn’t make sense, even beyond the lack of a segue. A first day of school with no adventures or learning to look forward to? And how many kids expect to slay dragons on their first day of school? Too, are there dragons or not? No dragons. Dragons. I’m confused.

    I like the bit about creatures existing because people have thought them up, but I had to read those two sentences several times before I understood that is what the author was saying.

    I liked the closing line — although, is it kosher to address the audience like that? (I don’t know, I’m asking.) And having set the story up like that, will the POV character continue to address the audience?

    Despite the lack of a useful and coherent set-up and despite the rambling and extraneous bits, my interest was piqued. As is, however, I wouldn’t read any further.

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  19. Robin
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 10:45:42

    The narrator read as male to me rather than as female. Not that I have a problem with that, but other responses seemed to assume a female narrator, so I thought I’d offer a different reader experience.

    I adore steampunk and relish the sense of disorientation that can accompany reading a steampunk novel, but I am feeling disoriented in this beginning narrative in a different way — in a way of not really knowing where I am in terms of the narrative. We are given quite a bit of information, but I don’t feel it’s of the type that is helping me settle into the narrative and the narrator’s pov (especially in the way the narrator’s speech tends toward 20th or 21st century). This might be intentional, so I can’t definitely suggest changing it, because I’d need to read more to know for sure. Mostly I want to know if the cliches are intentional, because they are keeping me from knowing if there’s a larger plan or if the writing simply needs freshening up.

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  20. Jill Myles
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 11:21:13

    I like the concept of Steamside and Normal a lot.

    But your story has no action. It’s a person sitting on a bench thinking to themselves. Have something happen! Start with action! And you can dump the little bits in as you go.

    Good luck!

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  21. Maya Reynolds
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 11:32:21

    I do like both cyberpunk and steampunk (I lean toward rebellious types) so I’d be inclined to pick up a book that referenced either. However, IMHO this first page is trying to accomplish way too much with the result that it feels incoherent.

    I read it three times and could not figure out what was going on. Is the narrator bouncing around in THREE dimensions–Normal 1890, Steamside AND modern day? The narrator identifies Steamside as “late Victorian hell,” and I’m guessing that’s where the super-enlarged vermin are. Then s/he talks about Normal 1890. But s/he speaks in a very modern voice with references like “horror movie.”

    Having three dimensions isn’t a problem. Having the narrator divide his/her time in half IS because it confuses the reader (or at least me) by creating an expectation of two dimensions.

    First person can be wonderful because of the intimacy, but it’s really hard to do well. People think and talk in short sentences, not in the lengthy, elaborate sentences of this excerpt. And the excerpt is all over the map with tenses and pronouns.

    I’d be inclined to set your sights both a little lower and a little higher. By lower, I mean don’t rush to try to explain everything immediately; it comes across like an info dump. Make it clear where and when the narrator is now. More than the narrator’s age, I’d like to know his/her gender.

    By higher, I mean I’d try to introduce some sense of the novel’s conflict. The narrator appears to be waiting (wanting?) to slide Steamside. Why? The rest of the excerpt describes Steamside as some place the narrator does not want to be.

    If the narrator is ambivalent about Steamside, why does s/he want to go there? Maybe you should consider starting the novel in Steamside with the narrator waiting and wanting to go to Normal 1890. It would be very creepy to be watching a large dragonfly and wanting to leave before s/he is noticed. You wouldn’t have to do a large info dump. The reader would immediately understand not wanting to be seen/eaten/stung (whatever a large dragonfly does).

    You’ve got a great concept. Keep going. I think you’ve got the start of a good novel.

    Best of luck.

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  22. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 11:59:46

    Thank you for introducing me to something I’d never heard of. Steampunk? I must be completely clueless in so manymore ways than previously imagined.

    However, even though I don’t know what this is, I had a hard time grabbing onto the narrator. In this section:

    The Punks love naming things, including calling themselves punks. It fits some of them. But you have to cut them a break. I mean, we're stuck in 1890, at least half the time. I'm not sure when the other half is, or if it is a when.

    I realized that I don’t know if she is a punk or not. She seems to separate herself from them by calling the punks “the” and them.” But isn’t she doing the same thing? Who is she then? Is she scared to go back and live her life? Is she the Peter Pan of steampunks?

    All in all, though, I don’t know what I’m talking about as I don’t know this genre at all.

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  23. Gail Carriger
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 12:56:10

    I do write steampunk, and I’m a professional reviewer (in case that counts for anything). I had a lot to say, but others have already covered the issues (slang, show not tell, etc.) so I’ll just offer some quick thoughts.

    - You lost me by paragraph three, when there was no payback for “the Man,” who had my emotional investment from the first sentence. I suggest that he reappear sooner.
    - Speaking of first sentences: it’s a run-on, has three mysteries that aren’t paid out quickly enough (Great Lawn, the Man, and the narrator), and repeats “as I” making it singsong.

    Some ideas:
    Try taking everything on this page and turning it into a dialogue between two or more characters.
    or
    Make the entire thing an action sequence:
    You tell us about slide, why not open with the POV actually sliding?
    You tell us about the Man, why not open with a discussion/battle/argument/love scene with the Man?
    You tell us about the nightmare creatures, why not open with one of them stalking our hero/heroine?

    Regardless of anything else, action and fast-pace sells.

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  24. Tori
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 12:58:16

    I’ll admit that I had never heard of SteamPunk until reading this today, but the concept pulled me in. I agree with what a few others said-there’s a lot of “I” statements in the first paragraph. Once I got past that though, I definitely wanted to read more. I know how hard it must be to try and convey the sense of a whole book in the first page, and I don’t think its fair to expect a writer to do that. I think it would help if there wasn’t such a disconnect between one paragraph and the other. I felt like there was a lot of jumping around going on (although that might have been intentional, if its meant to be a stream of consciousness type of writing). I don’t know enough about the genre to decide if this is the normal writing style for it. That being said, I’d like to read more.

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  25. Michelle Rowen
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 14:24:36

    Loved it. I think the tension lies in waiting for the Man. It’s intriguing enough for me to want to read more.

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  26. Ciar Cullen
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 15:20:07

    Well, I have a lot of work to do, don’t I? This was an exceptionally helpful (albeit somewhat humbling) experience, but I wagered the risk to my ego would be worth the payback. It was. I’ve never tried first person, and I’m tempted to shift it back to third. Since I received mixed reviews for info-dumping, I’m not sure what to do about that.

    So, it’s a woman, she’s from 2008, and she’s stuck in a dual 1890 (the reasons become clear to the reader right after this page). 1890 (and every year, for that matter) is cracked into two dimensions, and the Punks have a mission to mend that crack. Her park bench faces Central Park in New York City. It is a romance, and the Man is already crazy about her, although she doesn’t know that.

    I can’t thank you all enough for your honesty, which I don’t think would have come in spades if I’d have identified myself. This has been the hardest thing I ever attempted, and I now understand some of the issues that are making it difficult.

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  27. JenB
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 15:22:41

    I think this is cool. It’s weird, but in the good steampunk way. I don’t mind slow first pages, but if things don’t start coming together by page 5 or 6, I start to worry about a story, which distracts me from what I’m reading.

    I agree with previos posts about mechanics and stylistic elements, but I wouldn’t change too much. Pretty cool. :)

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  28. Rebecca Goings
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 16:00:00

    I’ve got to admit, I was ho-hum *until* the ending where you mention “you are all to blame”. That made me sit up and go “Ooh!” And I think that one concept will set your world apart from other steampunk.

    Once I read that, you had me hooked and I would have read on. Knowing the heroine *is* from 2008 might have made my reading experience less confused, as I was with everyone else thinking her prose from 1890 was way too modern.

    I love this setting, ever since Doc Brown showed up in his steam-punky flying train after Marty came “back to the future” in the third movie. The whole concept is fascinating to me. I really think you’re on to a unique idea, even if it does need a few tweaks.

    If you want to read excellent, and I mean excellent, first person prose, you should pick up the Harry Dresden novels. I’m not just saying that because Jim Butcher is popular nowadays, but because the way he writes makes me so envious. Choppy sentences and cliches are to be expected in first person, because that’s how you think, really.

    One thing I noticed about the last few sentences that threw me is you’re talking to the reader. If you’re going to do that, great! But make sure it’s a flavor that’s felt throughout the entire book. If that’s not what you’re going for, then you’ll have to rephrase those sentences to read that every-day people are responsible for the things in Steamside, not the proverbial “you”.

    Keep with it, though. I’d read more. :)

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  29. Ciar Cullen
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 16:05:19

    Thanks, Becks. I intend to chastise the audience a good deal ;o) After I tear the first chapter to shreds. Uh-oh, was that another cliche? I think I think in cliches.

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  30. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 16:43:27

    I read the piece and came straight here to comment. I’ll go back and look in a minute.
    I loved the voice and the idea. I presume the heroine is modern day and she shifts or slides or whatever to 1890, because of the voice.
    The main flaw is the big infodump, but I’m sure that can be sorted out. I want the scene to start. And I’ve read hugely popular books with big infodumps at the start, so it could pass. I want something to happen.
    But yes, I’d read on. This is head and shoulders above a lot of the previous entries.

    I went back and read. Wow, Ciar! I should have guessed, since I enjoy your books! I decided to comment on this because it has enormous potential. And yes, I’d read on.

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  31. Ciar Cullen
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 16:49:33

    Oh, Lynne, that means so much to me. Thank you very much for your kindness. And since I chose to identify myself (I did this whole shebang to try to toughen myself up to criticism a bit as well as to get feedback I can use), I want to add that I’m also grateful to those who hated it but offered their thoughts to help me improve!

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  32. Marianne McA
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 17:10:37

    Liked the first paragraph. I understood the set up, though I did read it as taking place in England because of the reference to Queen Victoria.

    Reminded me a little of the set up in Connie Willis’ book ‘To say nothing about the dog’. (Which is a good thing, because I love that book.)

    I did wonder about her ‘modern habits’: I can’t imagine what you could do while sitting on a bench that would seem anachronistic to bystanders. And later, when we learn she’s been visiting the time for half a year it just seems odder that she’s so unconfident in her ability to sit appropriately.

    The sliding also threw me a bit – when she describes it, it sounds almost unbearably painful – but then she adds the thought that ‘the only thing I like about sliding…’.
    To my mind ‘The only thing I like about feeling like I’ve been flayed is…’ confuses – if it’s that painful, I wouldn’t be able to look on the bright side, so it makes me wonder if the character is reporting the sensation correctly.

    The last paragraph – there’s a Terry Pratchett book – I think it’s Hogfather – where anything people believe in pops into existence. So when you use the phrase ‘if you’ve thought of it, it lives in Steamside’, I automatically pull that reference from my head and populate Steamside with Pratchett’s sock monster and verucca gnome. I start wondering if the tooth fairy, Thor and Jane Eyre live there. Works against the tone of the paragraph. That might just be me.

    Thing is, you could nitpick away at any first page – I read someone do a word-by-word review of the first page of Kostova’s The Historian, and he pointed out so many faults – none of which I’d noticed when I read the book.

    I’d absolutely read on – if it gets very gory with the paranormal stuff that wouldn’t be my sort of book – but as far as the excerpt goes, it left me wanting to know more.

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  33. Ciar Cullen
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 17:21:21

    Thanks, Marianne. My, that’s about the sixth time or so I think Pratchett has slipped into my brain and out my fingers. Hogfather, you are righto.

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  34. Rebecca James
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 17:28:09

    Well, I thought it was fabulous!

    By the end of the page I wanted more, more, more.

    I really, really liked the voice and although I wasn’t sure exactly where or what Steamside was (or normal 1890) I trusted the writer enough to believe that everything would become clear eventually.

    I rarely even read paranormal stuff – but this really appealed. I found the writing fresh and clear and the story intriguing.

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  35. Kristie(J)
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 20:24:10

    I think I’ve heard of SteamPunk although I’ve never read it. But I found this very intriguing and based on the first page here, I’d be more then willing to give it a try.

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  36. Maya Reynolds
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 20:33:51

    Ciar: Don’t give up on the first person. I think that POV lends a lot of immediacy to the story.

    You’ve got a great concept. I’m looking forward to reading the entire novel.

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  37. Lauren Bethany
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 20:38:40

    I only gave the other comments a brief skim, so forgive me if I repeat.

    I want to say that I love the setup, am very intrigued and would love to read more.

    That said, there are some issues which bother me. 1) Maintaining tense, is and was both used 2) misplaced information, save descriptions of sliding until the actual slide and 3) static setup, we get information but see no action. It doesn’t feel like a dump to me, but I would like to get some hint of forward movement. Simply catching sight of the Man would help.

    I’d also like to get more input about the narrator. While skimming I saw others refer to the narrator as “she” but I was left with the impression it was a he. Did I miss gender?

    There is also a bit of inconsistancy in venacular. The language is very modern, which I can accept given the question of, “when,” but the narrator mentions heart palatations? It sounds very out-of-step.

    Overall, I like the setup, I like the voice. It needs some tightening, cleaning up some sloppy writing, but it has me interested.

    I’m not familiar with steampunk and would welcome some reading suggestions for the genre. I’m always looking for something new to read. :)

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  38. Val Kovalin
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 21:18:23

    Robin said:

    The narrator read as male to me rather than as female. Not that I have a problem with that, but other responses seemed to assume a female narrator, so I thought I'd offer a different reader experience.

    Me, too. I saw the narrator as a young guy.

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  39. Leah Hultenschmidt
    Aug 30, 2008 @ 21:18:23

    I’d keep reading – I think you’ve done a good job *not* explaining every single detail. I have faith that it would come out as the story unfolds.

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  40. Melissa
    Aug 31, 2008 @ 01:04:57

    I liked it. I definitely think that it could be polished a bit but overall I was intrigued and i would definitely like to read on and find out more about your world.

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  41. Mike Cane
    Aug 31, 2008 @ 11:53:05

    I read the page, glanced at some of the Comments (the page is the focus, not the Comments, right?).

    I don’t know what timeframe this character is originally from. There seems to be an allusion to wiping out while surfing — but in the 1890s? And “punk” in 1890 probably didn’t mean what it did in the 1980s. “Sliding” is tired and derivative; a new term should be found. I love the term “Steamside,” however! Piling in dragons and ginormous dragonflies — overkill. Interesting setup, but needs work. I’d be interested in reading more, if the overkill were excised and the chronology was sorted out.

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  42. Ciar Cullen
    Sep 01, 2008 @ 08:40:05

    Thanks again, guys. I don’t blame you for thinking the narrator is a male–I always enjoy writing the male perspective in my romances, and I think my voice is more masculine in any case.

    Ms. Hultenschmidt, thanks so much for reading. Your comment gives me the nerve to start my rewrites! Somehow the Cowardly Lion just popped to mind. Big sigh. Folks, do this if you have the noive. Thanks, Jane, Jayne et. al.

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  43. Heather>>The Galaxy Express>>Welcome to the Retro-future of Steampunk
    Sep 21, 2008 @ 20:24:20

    fwiw, I’m blogging about steampunk all this week.

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