Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Open Thread

Today is open thread day here at MGC. Now's your chance to ask your questions, give us your opinions, and let us know about any interesting blogs/articles about the publishing industry you've seen. The floor is yours!


Jim McCoy said...

I started a novel recently and I've been trying to give a good hook. Any ideas for improvement and/or comments in general?

I'll never forget the day that it happened. I was in a classroom with twenty-nine other eighth graders. We were doing algebra problems. Quadratics to be exact. I had just divided the polynomial by a factor of four when the windows exploded inward. We were all peppered with glass.
I was thrown from my seat. I flew across the room and landed in a heap against the wall. My back hurt and my ears were bleeding. I had shallow cuts all over my body. Glass was embedded in all of them. One of my classmates, a redhead named Jessica, lay next to me. A piece of the metal window frame protruded from her throat. She wouldn't be getting up.
Her boyfriend Ralph was sitting next to her. His arm had been taken off at the shoulder. Blood was shooting out of the stump. I pulled my belt off and tried to make a tourniquet with it. My Boy Scout training hadn't covered this. The stump wasn't big enough to wrap a belt around. He begged me to save him. There was nothing I could do. The terror in his eyes slowly faded as he began to lose consciousness. He lay there on the floor and passed. He was fourteen years old and already one of their victims.
I sat down next to him and started to cry. I had no clue what was happening at this point. I looked around the classroom. No one else was moving. No one else was speaking either. I panicked.
I ran out into the hallway past the band room. There were men coming into the building wearing gas masks. I was even more scared once I saw that. My Uncle Charlie fought in Desert Storm. He told me all about poison gas. There is nowhere to hide when the air can kill you. So I did what any other red blooded American would do: I let out a squeak and ran.
It didn't occur to me until later that there was no noise coming from any of the classrooms that I passed. It also didn't occur to me that I wasn't shot at. I also failed to notice that no one was shooting at me. There was someone chasing me though. I could hear the footsteps getting closer as I reached the door. I pulled it open and looked out into hell.


Everything was on fire. It was like one of those old World War Two movies where we bomb Germany. Buildings were burning and so were people. The smell was terrible. Did you ever burn a pork chop? Imagine that multiplied by a thousand times. Then throw in the smell of a house fire. The stench of the mess I had made in my pants only made things worse. Tears were pouring from my eyes, whether from fear, sorrow or pain I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

Too matter of fact. I think if you add in his emotions, it will connect with the reader better. At fourteen he wouldn't be so analytical.

Just out of curiosity, do you write technical papers? I had to fight to escape that business standard passive voice.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the middle of a spider web of a series. All same Universe, much overlap of characters but each story is as close to stand alone as possible.

Multiple Universe, some worlds have magic, some have tech, some have both.

The first manuscript I finished was one that took place entirely on a magic world with no outside interference. It reads like a plain old fantasy.

My problem is that if I sell this one first, will the publisher and readers expect more fantasies? Perhaps the first manuscript to be pushed should be one that shows the Universe more honestly.


Jim McCoy said...


Yeah, actually I do. I'm a history student. I do a lot of scholarly stuff. Actually though, what if he were older and describing this years later?

Anonymous said...

I would recommend not. That one of those things that only works when it is done exactly right - and it would probably need to be emotive, even then.

This scene needs to be gut wrenching and sicking. It's not easy to get out of one writing style and into another, but take a swing at it.

Stephen Simmons said...

Jim - I second matapam's concerns about the detached feeling throughout the piece. It also reads too step-by-step-ish, to me: This happened. (stop) That happened. (stop) etc.

Also, the first sentence evoked an "ugh" response, to be honest. It sets that detached, analytical tone right from the start.

I don't know anything beyond this piece about your overall writing style, so I have no idea what would work best for you. I do my level best never to use the word "should", for that very reason. If this piece were mine, the opening might well have come out something like this:

They tell you in math class that it's bad to divide by zero. I don't know if that's really true, but I know the last time I divided a polynomial by four, the world ended ...

C Kelsey said...

Just got back from seeing "Kick Ass". My mind is currently distracted by visions of superheroes in the real world. :)

Stephen Simmons said...


if you put clear markers early on in the book that "there be other Universes out there beyond the Veil", and drop hints that dividing by zero might be perfectly permissible in some of them, then you should befine no matter which one you submit first, I would think. Otherwise, one of the mixed worlds first would probably be best.

Just my $.02.

Kate said...

We have a sterling example of what not to do here. For bonus points, you can check the guy's website - a wanker warning applies (You'll know what I mean when you go look, I promise). Also a not safe for Victorian Mamas warning.

Let's just say this is an example of why you should always be polite to your agent, your editor, and anyone you want to buy your stuff.

Mike said...

The 60s are history? Hum. Interesting post about the way that time passes, and what is "now" may not be what you thought it was (or should that be is?)

I was thinking about SF books, and most of them seem to assume futuristic tech -- but it has plateaued? I.e., yes, they have flying cars, but they aren't getting new models every year?

Although some series (Skylark, anyone?) were built around a new something in every book. Tom Swift, Junior also had that new tech all the time in it (which always turned out to be just the right thing for this book's problem).

Anyway -- the pace of change, and how that ties to your characters, is intriguing to contemplate, I think.

Anonymous said...

The Pace of Change.

It's a bit scary to think how fast we can become obsolete. Not humans as a whole, but individually. Especially as regards our educations and job skills.

I mean, I had to work at it. Skip all tech advances in your field between 1983 and 1993, and you'll have trouble doing your old job, simply because you don't know which buttons to push on the gadget. Where'd the paper and pencils go, eh?

But at the rate things change,six weeks in the hospital, and you could need to retrain. Have to break up your annual holiday into installments to check back and catch up in between, you know?

Would you set out in a slower than light ship for the stars? As a generation ship or as a cryofacility?

I found RA MacAvoy's version of that scary. The local systems had all been colonized via FTL, and those old, often malfunctioning slow ships were serious navigation hazards, aiming straight for their settled worlds with no sign of brakes being applied. But once diverted, they were useful for transplant parts if the cryo facilities had held up.

Stephen Simmons said...


Tell me about it. When I took my first course in computer programming, I used punch-cards. I upgraded a computer I owned from 128KB of RAM to 256K ... now the average digital watch has as much processing power as that PC did thirty years ago. When you get one of those musical greeting-cards, you're holding in your hands more electronic computing power than existed in the entire world the day Kennedy made his immortal "we choose to go to the moon" speech.

On a different note, these "open thread" days seem to be good luck for me. For the second time in a row, I got an acceptance letter from an editor on an MGC open-thread day, this time for a flash story. :)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate that second web site is truly scary!

John Lambshead said...

Dear Rowena
That guy is homosexual - surely?
I mean heterosexual men are not usually so narcissistic.

Anonymous said...

I've had a few snippy responses like that. Ego based on absolutely nothing. I should keep a file, although my file of "Bad First Lines" is a lot funnier.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


As someone who is friends with lots of guys, gay and straight, I'm at a loss as to what orientation has to do with narcissism.

Some of the most notoriously self-absorbed men I know are very straight. And one of the humblest men I know ISN'T.

Yes, before you tell me, I know what the theory in the seventies (and before) was. It was misguided. (Just like, dare I say it, most things from the seventies, from bell bottoms to disco.)

Dave Freer said...

(growl) John, wind your neck in.

Jim McCoy said...

I'm not sure if anyone's going to read this, but I just wanted to say thanks to anyone who offered help with my hook. I know I need work and all pointers are appreciated.

Amanda Green said...

Jim, you'd be surprised by how often the posts from the week are viewed. As for the opening of your novel, my first thought was to start with your second section. It throws the reader into the action, lets us feel and see what's going on. The first section seemed distanced. You've gotten some good advice and suggestions in the other comments. Think about them and then figure out what best fits what you're writing. Good luck!

Anonymous said...


We all need advise. We're all learning and improving.