Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Gods in the Machine
GENRE: Science Fiction

Levana Anderson sipped her blue-white chocolate latte, holding the steaming porcelain cup firmly in her rounded hands. She peered through creamy white froth at the blue liquid. How did they do that, she wondered- -make the chocolate coffee blue?

Levana's gaze moved from her warm cup to the neon green button implanted in the black plastic restaurant table, stars shimmering within its ebony core. As she pushed the button with her right thumb, a cloth panel rose next to her with a whirring sound, revealing a large rectangular window.

The psychologist set down her cup to more intently soak in the spectacular view. Earth was no more than a giant's black dinner plate resting on a matching table, fluorescent sugar spilled across the darkened circle. Hours ago, night had fallen on the part of Earth linked to the Galaxy Garden Space Hotel in geosynchronous orbit. Levana could barely make out the dark rim of Earth, but the city lights popped brilliantly. Studying the stars thrown across the outdoor scape, the psychologist briefly wished she knew the constellations.

Aboard the Space Hotel for a much-needed vacation, Levana tried to relax. She slumped against the faux leather cushioning of the booth, stretched out her long legs under the table and felt a sudden release of pent-up tension in her knees. Running her hands through her thick brown hair, she shook all of it loose, then picked up her cup of blue-white liquid.


  1. Unhooked. Seemed slow to me, plus I know more about the chocolate than the person.

  2. Not hooked. The title, which is fantastic, made me stop, but the scene didn't catch my attention.

    Kay's right when she points out we don't know much about the character, but we also have no idea why she's sitting in this diner (other than that she needs a vacation, though there's not even an inkling as to why), and in 250 words, Levana's only set her latte down and picked it up again.

    The writing's pretty good, which makes me think you can do better than this. What's the initial conflict that gets the story rolling? You might start with a scene that exposes that.

  3. Good attention to detail, but it's not put in service of starting the story. I don't have a sense of the character (in fact, I thought the psychologist was a second character at first) or what she wants, but I know where she is. Make me want to know her.

  4. There's a lot of detail and no action. Didn't get a sense of the character so maybe not the right detail? Not hooked.


  5. Wow, are you an artist/writer like myself? You have more color in this short sample than in Crayola box of 64! Especially the drink - it's mentioned 4 times. :->

    I was taught to only allow details that can function on more than one level. They must go beyond painting a picture of what happens to serve character, plot, tension, etc. Why do we care if she used her right thumb?

    Bottom line: we need some tension. Give us something to root for. Why did she need the vacation?

  6. There's some gorgeous detailing here but it's a little too much. Spread out over several pages it wouldn't be so bad but the color of her latte is less important in the beginning then character and conflict. To be hooked, I need more than space woman on vacation.

  7. I agree with previous commenters that there's too much attention to the blue coffee but no tension or conflict. While your descriptions are detailed, they're a bit overwritten. (I agree with Christine that we don't need to know about the right thumb.)

    Earth was no more than a giant's black dinner plate resting on a matching table, fluorescent sugar spilled across the darkened circle.--I had to read this a couple of times before I understood it.

    Are you familiar with the website Flogging the Quill? It focuses on story openings and shows how important tension/conflict are to hooking a reader. I think you would find it very useful.

    I like your writing style, but this feels like what Ray at Flogging the Quill would call "throat-clearing," a warm-up to the actual story. If you could include some sense of what Levana's goals are and some obstacle between her and her goals, that would make this opening more compelling.

    Good luck!

  8. I also feel that there's too much detail that gets in the way right off the bat. While some of your imagery is really great, it's at the cost of getting your reader involved with your character from the very beginning. Sci Fi is so hard because not only must you introduce your characters, you must introduce a new world too. While the setting is strong here, it's nothing without a vibrant character inhibiting it.

  9. I don't have a problem with details here and there, but there are so many modifiers, even in the first sentence (blue-white, chocolate, steaming, porcelain, rounded). Just cut a few and give the plot more of a starring role. Don't get me wrong, you have some beautiful descriptions, but it's kind of like watching a play where the scenery is so intricate and plentiful and shiny that you have a hard time listening to what the actors are saying :)

  10. Not hooked. This comes across as you being 'writerly' rather than telling a story. There are way too many adjectives, and in 250 words, nothing happened.

    Why is your MC on vacation? Where exactly is she? (Not the name of the hotel. Tell us where that hotel is.) Is it just her normal 2 week vacation, or did she take it because she was on the edge of a nervous breakdown? Why did she go wherever it is that she is? Is she hoping to meet a man? Is she hoping to escape one? The possibilities are endless and there are no clues here at all. Give us more who, what, when, where, and why and fewer adjectives.

  11. Not hooked. There is so much detail about the coffee I'm left wondering what there is to the story. I'm not sure if the author is using blue coffee to show it's another world/time- but Starbucks could probably find a way to make it blue now if they wanted to. I just feel there is nothing happening but details we don't need.
    And mentioning her both by name and as "the psychologist" in the same paragraph didn't really work.
    Perhaps start with what the story is about, keep detail to a minimum, then build from there :).

  12. I have to agree with your other commenters, that the modifiers tend to take me out of the story. I started counting the number of colors you mentioned. I can tell you're a strong writer, but I think your story would benefit from tightening the language a bit.

  13. You do a good job setting the scene but I'd like to know more about what the MC is feeling.

  14. I have to agree with the other posters - I need something to be happening. You set the scene well, but that's all that's happening here. Blend it in with some thoughts.

  15. And be careful how you use those descriptions - is the LATTE blue and white? Or is the *container* blue and white? :)

  16. I love the title, seems like it could be a humorous homage to deus ex machina... but maybe i'm wrong.

    I suggest not reminding us the coffee is blue. We remember something like that, and stating it repeatedly is like continously beating us over the head.

    I would ditch right thumb.
    Also it's jaring when we read the MC's name and then she's called the pyschologist later. I had to reread that part for clarification and you don't want your reader spending time rereading parts that confuse her/him.

    I'm not much into SF, so it's hard for me to comment on whether I would read on.

  17. This reads to me like you're not starting the story in the right place. Every word in the manuscript should function to either give character detail or move the plot forward.

    How important is the blue coffee? It's cool, but it doesn't tell me anything about Levana or the the plot. All the colors in the second paragraph, rather than function as good descriptors (though they are) they distract me from the story.

    Who's the psychologist? Is it Levana or someone else?

    "Earth was no more than a giant's black dinner plate..." this is an example of a metaphor that's too unique. Again it pulls us out of the narrative because we're too busy going "wait, what?" The image is jarring.

    When I was first reading, I thought Oh start with this last paragraph but someone trying to relax is boring. Because nothing's happening. We need something to happen. I wouldn't keep reading.

  18. Thank you so much, Secret Agent and all the other commenters. I really appreciate your advice! I went back to my novel, and am moving the action forward into the first chapter.

  19. I got so caught up wondering what blue coffee would taste like that I lost the thread of the story and had to start over. (I didn't think I'd like blue coffee much-see, distracted)

    I'm not much of a SF reader, so you lost my interest when I found out she's in space looking at earth.

    Beautiful description, I wish you'd applied some of that description to the MC and why she's drinking blue coffee in a space hotel.