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First Page: unpublished manuscript

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“Why are we having sex?”

Cecilia pushed up from the bed to light a cig, chose the orange smoke and sucked it in. “Because we’re stuck here with nothing else to do.”

“That’s a bloody sad reason,” Baz said, stepping out of bed to run yet another circuit of the room. It could be in any pixel.

“There are worse prisons,” Cecilia said, with a careless wave of the cig at the stock of food that replenished itself twice a day. The cigs came with it and Cecilia had pounced on them with the remark that she hadn’t had enough free time to pick up the habit before.

“I didn’t become a pirate to be stuck here doing nothing but eating and fucking.”

“Yeah, that’s why your retirement getaway place is nothing except a huge bed and food coupons.”

“It’s also got thirty-four different escape routes,” Baz ran her fingers at the corners. Most people put them in the corners, easier to find later.

“We’ve been over every pixel, you’re not going to find anything. Koel will get us out, so relax and enjoy the view.” Cecilia attempted a leer that went badly with the orange sleep-smoke.

Baz felt her mouth tighten, “There’s got to be a backdoor. They’re required in case something goes wrong during testing.”

Cecilia slid down to sprawl out on the bed, “So they shut it down after. ‘S what I’d do if I wanted to make an escape-proof…” she waved the cig again and the circle of orange haloed her face, “whatever. Don’t you think Koel will get us out?”

Baz patted over the spots where the food had appeared last time, the appearance was randomized so it was unlikely the backdoor was there but the food was her only lead. “You’re not a builder. We always leave at least one backdoor for ourselves. When you sell, you’re always worried about whether you’re going to get paid and this is pretty much the only leverage you have.”

Cecilia stubbed out the cig and frowned, “You really don’t think Koel’s getting us out. You don’t trust her.”

“I’m a better pirate than her,” Baz said.

“Hurt ego,” Cecilia looked delighted at the discovery, “You think you’re a better hacker than everyone and being rescued is hurting your ego.”

Baz shrugged, “We aren’t rescued yet, so don’t start celebrating. I am a better pirate than everybody. If you want to get out, I’m a better spacerunner to bet on.”

“Why do you say ‘pirate’? Never heard anyone else put it like that.” Cecilia asked eyes just about slitted open.

Baz considered trying to move the bed to see if there was a catch underneath. It seemed stuck but there might be a trick to it. “‘We have opened the seas of the world wide web to sight, sound and touch.’ Alexei Rakouv said that when ze patented the new tech.”

“I thought the Corporation…” Cecilia interrupted herself with a yawn.

“Most people do. The Corporation had the funds and the influence to get it done but Rakouv was the genius. Bloody mad by all accounts but genius.” She had noticed the pattern on the frame of the bed when they did their first once-over of the room but it was an archaic thing, made of wood. She couldn’t tell whether the pattern was just to make it look authentic. She tapped the wavy lines but the bed didn’t move and there was no tell-tale ripple in the pixels.

“Musical notes.” Cecilia said suddenly, “They used to write them down, with those curly.” She traced a particular curve in the wood then seemed to fall into sleep as she dragged her hand back to bed.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

9 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 06:31:09

    It’s not really my thing, so someone who was more interested in the world building might overlook some of the stuff that I’m being caught by.

    But for me, the dialogue is a little too exposition-y. And combining that with the exposition in the text leads to a LOT of exposition. Ironically, I found the first few lines needed a bit MORE exposition, or, more likely, less detail – I didn’t understand what “chose the orange smoke” or “It could be in any pixel” meant, and starting a story frustrated isn’t setting a reader up for enjoyment.

    Like I said, this might work better for someone interested in the genre (although I’m not QUITE sure what the genre is) but for me I need to care about the characters before I care about the characters’ world. Right now, they’re pretty much just pixels themselves, in terms of personality. If either one of them turned around and stabbed the other in the eye, I wouldn’t be shocked because I don’t really know anything about either of them yet.

    (And maybe you could work a pronoun in for Baz at some point earlier than you did. It might not matter in a published book b/c cover art or blurb would tell us she’s female, but I think the default is still heterosexuality in most people’s minds, and statistically it IS more likely that it’s a hetero couple having sex, AND Baz is generally a male name, at least where I’m from, so… I assumed male. It’s not a crisis that I didn’t guess right, but it meant that all the work I’d done that far trying to find out who this character was had to be re-adjusted, and there was no need for that.)

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  2. Sao
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 06:56:29

    You might have an interesting story here, but I spent most of the page being confused, rather than drawn in.

    Here’s why you don’t start with unattributed dialogue: I don’t know where I am or who is in the room. So, I’m at sea, kind of like taking an English test on a book you’ve never read. I assumed you did it because Ceci is the POV char, but it wasn’t that. The problem is magnified because Baz is a name I’ve only heard as nickname for Basil, therefore a man and I assumed that in bed and sex meant m/f. Next, “It could be any pixel” I thought you meant Baz, because I assumed the room would be real. Pirates make think ship, so a third of the way into the page, I’m still struggling with basics of the scene, rather than getting caught up in your story.

    I get to the end of the page, and I have no idea of what these women are to each other. Colleagues who had a little recreational sex? Long-time partners? Baz asked why they are having sex, but then forgets about the topic, with not a single further thought, not even whether it was mind-blowing or merely a way to kill time. You put a big issue in your first line and then dropped it.

    I’m at the end of the page and I don’t know what they look like, not even basics like age and race or if they are naked or not. Hopping out of bed after sex implies yes, searching for an exit implies no.
    So my chief impression is confusion and frustration, which can be easily fixed on your part. Get some details on the page.

    The other thing is that the scene reads like the purpose is to tell us about your world, rather than for Baz or Ceci to reach some goal. Again, this is easily changed. Have Baz ask for Cecilia’s help finding the backdoor and Cecelia shrug, sure they will be rescued. Then we have a concrete goal, some characterization and the stuff about Koel stops seeming like backstory shoed in, but a legitimate conversation.

    This could be the start of an intriguing story, with a little rewriting.

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  3. DS
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 07:12:51

    I like click adventure games– those are usually the ones that require practically a pixel by pixel search of a screen. At least the bad ones do. And I’ve read and enjoyed stories based on being trapped in a virtual world. While I knew right away what was going on, I wasn’t engaged by this one. In my opinion this is the wrong place to start if this is a sf story. If it’s sf erotica, I haven’t read enough of it to have an opinion.

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  4. Carol McKenzie
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 08:06:16

    I am your reader and this is my story…or could be.

    The above comments pretty much sum up what I feel as well, so I won’t repeat them.

    I do have one particular issue: “Cecilia asked eyes just about slitted open.” Aside from a missing comma, which would make this actually make sense (right now you have her asking her eyes a question, sort of), the image is of someone’s eyes being slit open with a knife. I know what you mean, but it’s not just about word choice; it’s about where you choose to place those words in your sentences.

    This might be a really great story…or it may get worse. If I had a blurb, which gave me genre and the gender of the characters, I might read this. As is though, not so much.

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s how we learn and grow, by asking readers for their thoughts and opinions.

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  5. cleo
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 13:27:27

    I’m a long time sf/f reader and I figured out that they’re trapped in a virtual world – this reminds me a bit of old school cyber punk. I think you have something interesting here – it just needs some tightening up.

    I agree with a lot of the above comments about confusing writing. The ‘why are we having sex’ comment is a good attention grabber but then it fizzles out. The tense confused me – I expected them to actually be having sex at that moment, or at least obviously post-coital.

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  6. Lisa
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 20:44:15

    I’m with Cleo, a little tweaking and this could be very enjoyable. I liked the orange smoke and any pixel phrases, and having my assumption that Baz was a man turn out to be wrong. Good luck.

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  7. Mich
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 21:02:32

    I agree with what’s been said in comments so far. You have a fun, interesting concept that, at the moment, is getting a bit lost in a flurry of info. I’d guessed early on that the characters were trapped in some sort of VR or computer-generated world, but it’s not very clear for folks who aren’t comuter-geek sort of people. The other unclear bit is Baz being a woman. You could probably solve a lot of potential reader angst by attributing that first line, and giving Baz a pronoun right off the bat, before the reader has a chance to infer short-for-Basil. Then, you can also show a bit about her and moor the scene with a brief menion of where they are and how she feels about it.

    I’m inferring here, but Baz would probably only ask the opening question about sex because she wants to hear Cecilia’s answer, hoping she’s mutually attracted. Then, Cecilia gives her the verbal equivalent of a shrug which, if I’m right, would have a visceral impact for Baz, who seems driven by her pride. Then, she starts talking about how Baz’s rival will rescue them, which should rankle Baz even more. If that’s the case, the emotional context you’ve tickled at but left murky would make for good tension to open. Perhaps expanding on that, and leaving some of the extra exposition for later, will give a much better sense of the characters and what’s motivating their actions in this first scene. Baz wants to save Cecilia and prove she’s the best, and Cecilia is making her crazy with her ambivalent attitude. Rakouv, the Corporation, and other unrelated stuff can wait until after we care about Baz and her story.

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  8. Shadow
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 01:48:18

    The story seemed very interesting, but I do agree with earlier comments about Baz’s gender being confusing. Stick a pronoun close to the first mention of her name. I’d like more detail about the chars. There are too many questions introduced on the page and too few answers.

    BTW: Is Rakouv from Cancer, Crab, crawfish or just a random name? And how do you pronounce it? That extra U is confusing. Or is it not a Russian name?

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  9. M
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 13:36:36

    Firstly, thank you all for taking the time to reply. I am very grateful. This came at a bad time so I didn’t really have time to reply until now, I’m sorry about that.

    I wasn’t aware that Baz is generally a male name, I’ll definitely drop a pronoun sooner. I am not sure that I do want to describe them so soon, because I want to leave that a little up in the air. But I’ll keep in mind that I do have to describe a little.

    I wondered whether I was striking a good balance in making the plot intelligible as well as making the dialogue seem natural but obviously it hasn’t worked out.

    I’ve already got my ideas for the rewrite in mind. And seriously, thank you for taking the time to help me out!

    @Shadow: It’s a completely random name, I just googled it to see that I wasn’t making any obvious missteps.

    @Carol McKenzie: Oh man, there should be a comma there somewhere, thank you for the catch.

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