First Page Critique for: Not Useless

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



For your enjoyment are the first 400 words of Not Useless, submitted anonymously for critique by a daring soul. My feedback will be on the flip side. Please join in the conversation with constructive comments. Thanks!

NOT USELESS
Quentin felt like a fly caught in a pitcher plant. The old woman had lured him with great promises, but they had been lies. If he didn’t escape, she would destroy his career, his dreams. That would kill him.

Dr. Windsor had her back to him now, kneeling in her space suit in the gray rubble of the crater’s ejecta. Boulders, some the size of New York taxis, made her look small against the planetoid’s monochrome landscape. She bent over a small box. Instead of a legendary scientist, famed for discovering exotic extremophiles, the old woman reminded Quentin of a retiree playing with her little insect hobby. Pitiful. He’d find nothing for his doctoral thesis while working with her.

Yet, many people still respected the exoentomologist for her past work. Quentin craved a recommendation from her.But he also wanted off this useless expedition. He sighed. How could he get both?

“Mr. Stone. If you plan to continue sighing, please disengage your helmet microphone.” Dr. Windsor’s voice crackled in his ears, but she did not look up from her work.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Doctor. I was just thinking of…um…Earth.”

“Important discoveries are not found on Earth, Mr. Stone. They are found out here at the edge of interstellar travel. I selected you because I thought you shared this vision. Was I mistaken?”

“No, definitely not, Dr. Windsor.”

“Good. Now, please bring me the rest of the light lures.”


Quentin winced.  “The rest? You said two packs were all we needed.”

Windsor stopped working and turned to Quentin. He was glad he couldn’t see her face behind her helmet visor.

“Do not be a buffoon, Mr. Stone. I distinctly said bring four packs of light lures. Did you forget some back at the ship?

“Ah, well, ah, when you said—”

“Mr. Stone, I have no time for idiocy. Return to the ship and retrieve them now.” Windsor resumed her work.

“Alone?” said Quentin. “But we’re supposed to travel with a partner.”

“I am aware of protocol, Mr. Stone,” Windsor said, as she continued working. “However, your incompetence has cost me valuable time. If I return, I cannot set enough live traps to make this stop worthwhile. We have a tight schedule and cannot ask the others to wait for us. Follow the guide cable and you will be fine. Do you think you can handle that simple task, Mr. Stone?”

Feedback:
The author teased me into this intro and I was first surprised by the fact this is on a planet or planetoid. My second surprise came when the doctor heard his sigh over the mic to bring the reader from Stone’s internal monologue and back into the scene. The tone is set for calamity. I liked the tension between these two. Stone’s internal thoughts are short and set the stage for what will come next. I would expect something to happen while Stone goes back to the ship, if the foreshadowing holds true.

It’s hard to tell if Stone is a main character, but the set up implies it. The way the author teases us deeper into this story and foreshadows something ahead for Stone, I would turn the page and keep reading. With Stone drawn into his worries about his thesis, it would appear he has done this procedure many times before and is not distracted by what he’s seeing on the planet, but I would like to know more about the setting. Below are some questions I have. The answers may add some depth to the scene.


Questions:

What is his career? His doctoral thesis? Entomologist too?

Where are they? Which planetoid or galaxy? Any other colors besides a monochrome one? Number of moons? Can Earth be seen? Location, location, location.

What does it look like…feel like…to be encumbered by a space suit? Are they weighted or tethered? 

Staring through a visor, what does he truly see of the planet? I’m assuming there is zero gravity, yet she’s working with a box that’s not adrift or unsteady.

I’d like to see more mood or tone to this. I’m not sure if this will be a suspense story. The foreshadowing is all I have to go on. A suspenseful tone can be enhanced by simple word choices that give the narrative an edgy danger. Or perhaps a mishap of something small can remind Stone how dangerous things can be.

I’d like more setting and tone to fill this opener out. With only dialogue, the scene feels too sparse to create a world the reader will want to see in their mind’s eye. The bones are here, but in my opinion, this needs a bit of filler to broaden the world building.

What do you think, TKZers? Is there enough mood or tone to this? What would you add or change? Your feedback would be appreciated.

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Building a World, Brick by Brick

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne


I saw the Lego Movie last week with my twin 9-year old boys and it was a terrific example of both what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to ‘world building’. I will try to avoid spoilers but (spoiler alert! for any sensitive Lego souls out there in TKZ)  it was right near the end when let’s just say a ‘human element’ entered the film that the key issue for world building really came to the fore. It struck me as soon as I heard both my sons inhale sharply…

That key issue in world building? 
Don’t break down the bricks of your world.

It’s like when you are suddenly told the entire story was ‘just a dream’ and the main protagonist wakes up….
Or when the curtains are pulled back to reveal the Great Oz…
In short, when the world or story that has been all encompassing is compromised and the mystery, the magic, ‘the world’ is thereby shattered.

For my sons the ‘human element’ in the Lego Movie came perilously close to doing just that. For them, the interior Lego world that has been created was all they wanted to see. The creators of the movie almost pulled the curtains back and neither of my boys was interested in seeing the ‘great Oz’ pulling the strings (or, in the case of the Lego movie, the ‘man upstairs’).

For any writer this example shows just how important it is not to jar the reader from the world you have created. Having seen my boys’ reaction to the near-fatal ‘world destruction’ event in the Lego Movie, I thought I’d compile a list of world building Do’s and ‘Do- Nots’.

  • Do be consistent and reliable. When a reader enters your world they need to feel as though they can rely on you to see it through. Don’t disrespect the reader by being inconsistent or unfair in terms of the narrative you have built.
  • Do create an authentic ending – don’t cop out with the ‘and then she woke up’ kind of denouement. It takes considerable skill to weave plot and world-building elements together, so if a reader is going to invest the time and effort and stick with you on the journey, don’t disappoint them in the end. Imagine if the next book by George RR Martin started with ‘then the boys and girls put down the pieces of their fantasy game and went to McDonalds for dinner…”, you’d be pretty miffed!
  • Do invest the time and energy in creating the ‘interior’ walls of your world. This means doing your research and background work effectively so you’ve answered all the key issues a reader might ask about the ‘rules’ of the world. In a thriller it might be making sure that you know the origins, beliefs and background to the terrorist group you invented…in historical fiction, it’s making sure you know all the historical elements that come into play (from dress to speech, modes of transportation, etiquette etc.). …in a fantasy you have to do the same, and though obviously everything is invented, it still has to be internally consistent.

In many ways both my boys have just ignored the ‘human element’ that came into the Lego movie (and to be honest, for adults, it was cleverly done). All they focus on (and quote word for word!) is the interplay between the Lego characters and the humour and adventure that was so successfully created in the interior ‘Lego’ world that they inhabited. Overall, the Lego movie was really terrific – a great example of how to create a clever fun story – but it also contained a little reminder for me of the perils inherent in any type of ‘world building’.

So when was the last time you felt like the world a writer had created nearly came crashing down?

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World Building – Indigo-style

by Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



My young adult novel, Indigo Awakening, launched two days ago on December 18. It is the first book in the Hunted series with Harlequin Teen. The inspiration behind this book came from researching Indigo children. Query “Indigo Child” on the Internet and you’ll get over 8 million hits. Real life and headlines often inspire my books and this time is no exception. For the purposes of fiction, I took liberties in my portrayal, but Indigo kids are generally described as highly intelligent, gifted teen psychics with a bright “indigo” aura and a mission to save the world. They have high IQs, see angels and commune with the dead. Are Indigo children real or are they manipulated by adults to believe they’re special? Are they dysfunctional misfits or mankind’s evolutionary savior? You decide, but I find the notion of man’s evolution intriguing. Here is the synopsis:

Because of what you are, the Believers will hunt you down.

Voices told Lucas Darby to run. Voices no one else can hear. He’s warned his sister not to look for him, but Rayne refuses to let her troubled brother vanish on the streets of LA. In her desperate search, she meets Gabriel Stewart, a runaway with mysterious powers and far too many secrets. Rayne can’t explain her crazy need to trust the strange yet compelling boy—to touch him—to protect him even though he scares her.

A fanatical church secretly hunts psychic kids—gifted “Indigo” teens feared to be the next evolution of mankind—for reasons only “the Believers” know. Now Rayne’s only hope is Gabe, who is haunted by an awakening power—a force darker than either of them imagine—that could doom them all.

They are our future—if they survive…

Five Key Ways I Built my Indigo World

1.) I triggered my premise with a “What If…” question that had conflict – The most important question in a writer’s arsenal is “what if.” What if Indigo kids are the next evolution and their psychic abilities are evolving and escalating? Who would fear this and feel threatened? I had to have a larger than life villain with a universal reach to terrorize these children. (Yeah, that’s how authors think.)

2.) I created conflict through a powerful enemy – The Church of Spiritual Freedom (specifically, a covert operation of overzealous “Believers”) use their faith as justification to persecute those they fear, believing God is on their side. They fear that Indigos and Crystal children threaten humanity’s existence with their “unnatural” superiority. That’s the basic conflict, a David versus Goliath storyline with an abundance of potentially evocative themes.

3.) I did research to add depth and dimension –I blended my research on Indigo kids with the topic of psychic abilities to create a different kind of world that wouldn’t be formulaic. I wanted the reader to “feel” these powers and how they erupt or evolve within each character. I didn’t want to simply describe traditional psychic capabilities. I wanted readers to understand how these kids feel as their power explodes or how their gifts morph into something far greater after they make contact with the “hive mind.”

4.) I provided a cultural context and hierarchy to my world that added to internal conflict for my characters – There is a hierarchy of Indigo Children/Indigo Warriors/Crystal Child. I made Indigo kids the base level with the status of a Crystal child more unique, powerful, and elite. Indigos are highly intelligent intuitive teens who “feel” their way through life, trust their instincts above all else, and can often see angels and the dead. Some Indigos are warriors with a fierce fighting spirit and a rebellious nature. This difference fuels future conflict between the cultures as Crystal children tend to be more peace loving and innocent. They are our future, if they survive, but what kind of world will they build?

5.) I built in consequences for wielding power – There is a dark side to having these powers—a duty and responsibility—and when the Believers tamper with science and human nature, they battle something they should have respected more. In book #2, Crystal Storm, There are consequences on both sides when power (of any kind) becomes abusive.

1.) If you could have a secret Indigo power, what would that be?

2.) Have you ever experienced a psychic moment or do you know anyone who you think is a real psychic?


“Dane’s first offering in her new series, The Hunted, is sensational. Indigo Awakening has strong characters and a wild and intense story, matched only by the emotions it will generate within you. Readers will love this book and eagerly await the next adventure. Fantastic! A keeper.”

~Romantic Times Book Review Magazine – 4.5 Stars (out of 5)

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5 TIPS on World Building from Scratch

By Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

World building is a huge topic. I will only cover a fraction of it, but it’s a topic that’s been on my mind lately. Writing crime fiction thrillers, I mainly thought of world building as creating a setting that readers can relate to using all their senses. It can also be a world that can be its own obstacle for the characters I turn loose in it.

My brand slogan is “Take a front row seat to suspense,” which is a saying I felt related to the style of my “up close and personal” writing. But writing for the young adult thriller market has broadened my thoughts on world building. It’s stretched me. I’m working on a new YA proposal for a thriller series that will be set in the future, something I never thought I would do. Sci-Fi? Really? I’m faced with creating a world that doesn’t exist and I would imagine fantasy writers do this all the time. It truly amazes me, but now I’m testing myself too. I thrive on a challenge and this new idea has my juices flowing. I wanted to share my thoughts.

When developing a world that exists only in the future or in a paranormal fantasy realm, this is not the time to shy away from “over the top” thinking. The best tool in your author arsenal is actually a question – “What if…?”

Five Tips on World Building

1.) Take the familiar and give it a twist. A reader can more easily imagine the world you are trying to convey if you make them believe they have seen elements of this world before. Take known calamities, myths, or fairy tales and give them a new spin. Or use real hazards in our world and time—project them into the future with dire outcomes—and see how they might turn out. A dark Alice and Wonderland twist (Splintered by Anita Grace Howard, Jan 2013), for example. What if the world has taken a downward spiral from global warming or what if money is no longer a physical commodity? What replaces the power of money?

2.) Add a Heavy Dose of Human Nature. Basic human nature can transcend time and reality. Determine what matters most in the world you are trying to reinvent or create—and apply a human story at the crux of it all. That is good drama and readers will relate to a well told story with good solid conflict. A great example of a near future world is the ASHES trilogy by Ilsa Bick. A teenaged girl, dealing with a fatal brain tumor, must survive a post-apocalyptic nightmare alone.

3.) Take a look back to see ahead. If your world is in the near future, say in 2025, you might take a look back at the same span of years (13 years) to see how much has changed and in what areas. (Compare 1999 to now. What’s changed most?) Or if you are creating a fantasy world, man’s history or mythologies can give you ideas on what to bring into that world. What if there is civil unrest in your world? Who are the players and why? What if a magical mythical creature exists in your world? What would it be and what are its powers?

4.) Paint a world by highlighting the elements that enhance your story most. As an author you might know every aspect of the world you want to portray, but are these details important to your story? It can be tedious to demonstrate your world building skills at the expense of pace. Make your key elements conflict with your protagonist’s goals or become an obstacle to challenge them. Think of your setting and world as a character and place as much importance on setting up a solid framework where your characters can thrive. Your world may have to survive a series.

5.) Color Your World. Every world has its own dialect, slang, food, clothes, and customs. “Borrowing” from fables, myths, and history can be a starting point, but don’t be afraid to develop something on your own. Invent a few words that will play a prominent role in your new world or perhaps take a risk by combining a known world with a fantasy/paranormal one. A reader will feel grounded in the world you are creating, yet feel you are bringing something new to the table. A good example of this is the old Sci-Fi TV show FARSCAPE. A present day astronaut gets caught in a wormhole and transported to another universe where he is the only human. Remember the word, “Frak!” Yep, another four-letter word starting with F.

For the sake of discussion—by the year 2025—what do you think would change most? What would be cool to have? What bad things do you think are looming if we don’t change our ways? Will we still use real money? Are we headed for a global society, rather than individual countries? Exercise your writer brain and throw out anything that comes to mind. In brainstorming a new world, you need to cut loose, think over the top, and have fun.

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