Thursday, June 2, 2011

What's Broken? #3

GENRE: YA War/Dystopian

No lead-in should be necessary - this is the very beginning.


My feet grip the glass in the darkness, and my biceps burn like acid. Can't believe Steven and Elisabeth talked me into this. If I get back without some sorta serious injury, it'll be a goddamn miracle. It's prison at the least if I get caught--and worse, too, if my luck's as shit as usual.

I shouldn't've even entertained the idea. No one sneaks into the Glass City and gets back unscathed--especially not us Pewts, the lowest of the low. The City is gorgeous--we can see it from below, see it sitting smug on these glass stilts, like it's balanced on a forest of fat crystal straws. Beautiful, especially compared to the filth of the Sprawl.

I grit my teeth and haul myself up further, hugging myself to the glass. I'm strong, yeah, but this's ridiculous. The anchors--the stilts holding up the Glass City--are maybe four hundred feet tall, and the only tool I've got is a wide, flat strip of leather slung around the glass, to grip it better than my sweaty fingers could.

I look down and my throat yanks shut like the neck of a drawstring bag. If I fall, I'll die. There's no way I won't when I'm this high up--it's a dizzying, painful height that makes my head bang.

So I look back up and keep pulling. I'm pretty close. It's been a whole hour of climbing.

I thought the actual climbing part would be harder, to be honest. But it turns out there are scars and gouges in the glass from weather, which make good footholds.

I yank myself up and up, digging my feet into the cracks, cursing Elisabeth and Steven. I shoulda listened to Cory. He always has my best interests at heart--dammit, why didn't I listen?

I reach the top of the anchor. Time for the hard part.

The City is built on a disk of glass that sits on top of the anchors. It's at least as thick as I'm tall, and ten feet of packed dirt lies on top, tight wire mesh trapping it in. But tree roots erupt from the mesh, dangling down about a foot to my right. Up here, a foot's distance feels like half a mile, but I close my eyes and grapple for the closest root. As my fingers find the damp wood, I put weight on it, and it lurches. My eyes pop open. Dirt crumbles out from around the root, I let out a high whimper of fear--doesn't even sound like my voice--and my hands break into an uncontrollable sweat. Then, worst of all, the wind tears the corner of the leather strip outta my other hand. The downdrafts yank it from side to side, the material making a flapping noise. It curls and twists until it's out of sight, like it's waving goodbye.


  1. I think there are some really good elements to this, but I can see where some polish could be useful.

    The first paragraph seems rough and especially the first line. As I read it, it sounded like you might have a tense issue as "my feet grip the glass" could probably be re-worded to something along the lines "My feet struggled to grip the face of the giant glass pilar" or something sorta like that.

    Also, the second paragraph has a lot of telling. I don't care too much that this guy is a Pewt. I just care that he is climbing a giant pillar. You vould save the motivations for this act for a later scene.

    And finally, you mention this is YA, and while I'm not familiar with this genre, I can't imagine they use words like shit on the first page....parents and all.

    Very interesting premise though.

  2. You have a strong voice, and the world instantly enveloped me. I'm gonna disagree with Michael a little and say I thought the second paragraph was good, maybe even vital. I liked getting a sense right off the bat of the social structure of this world and how the upper class is literally above the lower one.

    But as I got further into the excerpt, I started to lose interest. The MC's climbing one of these glass stilts - I get that. I wanted something to happen. I think something's about to happen with this anchor thing, but I wanted to get there a little faster.

  3. I'll second Krista's comment, and add that a line or two about the character's purpose here might help us care more. You could also possibly cut the lines comparing Elizabeth and Steven to Cory--without knowing more about them, or seeing them in scene, this doesn't mean much to us yet.

  4. There's been a lot of dystopian getting published lately, especially in YA, and I guess my first thought was, 'how is this different?' It fits very well with the genre - maybe too well. Could you maybe hint at the motivation to climb the wall? If it's so stupid, painful, and dangerous, why is the MC doing it? If that was hinted at, I'd be more interested. It could also grab my interest a little more if you started at the end of this section instead of the beginning. Someone climbing a wall is a lot less of a grab that someone about to fall off it, you know? :)
    I hope that helps!

  5. As a general comment, I must say this is a beautiful and absolutely fascinating idea... but it's too unrealistic for me to believe as a reader. If you could clear up some of those problems, I would be interested in reading this.

    I get no sense of why your character is climbing these stilts... there is no urgency. No reason. Why expend this effort and risk dying/jail/etc? I'd like it if you could give us a nibble of 'why' somewhere in the first to third paragraphs.

    I agree with previous posters who said the writing feels rough. The last line in the first paragraph I had to read a couple times for it to make sense. Also, the first line, 'Feet grip the glass'... should I be imagining bare feet? Or is your character wearing specially designed shoes? I stopped too long to actually think about this, which pulled me right out of the story. This could be an easy solution to re-word it to something like, 'The rubber soles of my shoes grip the glass...'

    Second para: would cut the phrase 'and gets back unscathed' as it's unnecessary given the first para. Logically, I just can't believe a city being built on glass stilts (and from the later description) because there is no mention of what is used to anchor/balance/support everything. The wire mesh is not enough and with tree roots breaking through... wow, even more unstable.

    Glass is not structural, so how are these stilts built? Is the glass just set in panels within a proper support structure? Is magic holding the entire thing together? Because you specified Dystopian, I'm expecting non-magic... and I'm not expecting everything on the first page, but please throw me/the reader a bone. It would be easy enough to work into the description of your character climbing if there are metal/cement places to provide finger/foot holds, etc.

    Third para: I wish your character was better equipped. It is too unrealistic for your character to climb 400 foot stilts with nothing but a leather strip, especially if there isn't a cement/metal structure to allow the character to ease off/rest. The scars and gouges in the glass... again, this doesn't make sense (logically) for me. Maybe in stone, but you don't get damage like that in glass. It would crack, shatter, scratch, etc... I do not think that there would be chunks missing.

    Small note: I think many of my comments are because I'm the author of #5 and my story also takes place within a glass city... so I did a ton of construction research for mine. Funny that 2 people are writing glass cities though :) Good luck with this!

  6. Thank you guys so much for your thoughtful responses! I'm doing some serious restructuring (hah, no pun intended) as we speak.

    The motivation for Maya to climb up is that her friend's mother is in prison up there, and she believes she can get her out. Maya is a bit... er, overconfident, to say the least. Oh, and her friend's mother climbed up only because she's mentally unstable.

    Most of this information (not the mentally unstable bit) has now been shifted way up to the second paragraph. I shortened some climbing descriptions to quicken the pace, cleaned up the language - just a bit, though... it gets worse, haha - and polished some of the visuals. (Bare feet, 1000th.monkey - Pewts don't have shoes.)

    Also, 1000th.monkey: I saw the glass city mention in your entry! That is such an odd coincidence, haha. You're the third person now that has had logistical issues with the city's supports being constructed entirely from glass, which is too many people for comfort. I'm going to seek some sort of way to support the city without losing the aesthetic appeal of it. Steel struts are too industrial; concrete is too 'commoner'... I'll be thinking on this.

    Actually, if I may poll the public, would anyone consider it too unrealistic if the 'glass' were actually an advanced clear polymer?

    One last thing: Michael, you referred to my MC as a boy. This... is a problem. XD Did anyone else think Maya was a dude? (It'd be hard to clarify, because she's got short hair and her clothes are gender-neutral. Damn you, first-person!)

    -la Author

  7. I assumed female. :) I had the thought, about the glass stilts, that they would be too slick to climb. Then you mentioned gouges etc, and I thought - wouldn't those just slice into her leather, or her hands/feet/clothing? Sharp cut glass edges! Then I thought of the glass that is worn smooth by water, that I find on the ocean beach. So hmmm. Maybe, if you don't want it to be sharp sharp shattering gouges and cuts, be a bit more precise about describing the glass ... are the gouges worn down by wind and weather, so that they don't slice her open or slice her leather strip? My other thought was with the logistics, too - a glass disc on stilts, supporting a city? That's a LOT of weight on a flat glass disc - and 'only' 5, 6 feet thick? I'd think more like 40' thick. Tho - I assume "city" = big city. Is this just a couple buildings? Or New York on glass stilts?

  8. I thought the opening was too vague. After reading the first sentence, I was imagining someone trying to lift or grab a glass with their feet. This is far, far, from the scene you want me to envision. So perhaps use glass as an adjective, and follow it with anchor or support or stilt, or something that allows the reader to envision what it actually is.

    I also have no idea as to who you MC is. Male? Female? Name? Age? ANd why are they climbing this anchor? Obviously, to get into the glass city, but why do they want to get in? To do some sightseeing or to overthrow the government? Knowing their motivation will set a tone for the story.

    The second parg is talking to the reader. Your MC knows all this already. There's no reason for him to be spouting it off except to inform the reader. Perhaps cut it

    When he looks down, instead of saying if he falls he'll die (which is obvious) perhaps show us how high he is. Show us how things look down below. Mention the wind or maybe an eagle in the sky. In other words, don't tell us he's up high, make us 'feel' the height.

    The other issue for me was the believability factor. I just didn't believe the situation. By the end of parg 2 I was thinking - a city on glass stilts? Wouldn't it have to be heavily guarded down below to prevent the riffraff from smashing the stilts and toppling the city above? And if it is, how does your MC ever get in a position to climb them?

    At parg 3 I'm wondering how wide are these glass stilts? I had imagined very wide in order to support an entire city, but your MC has a leather strap around it (I'm imagining it's around the support the way a necklace would go around your neck?) which would mean the strap would have to be huge, unless the supports are thin. Perhaps give us a better description of what these supports and the strap look like? Convince me they're achitecturally sound. Maybe the glass is some special glass that doesn't break so easily, maybe it's made of some futuristic new compound. Something simple that you can just say and don't have to explain.

    The eroded glass also affected believability. Windows, which I am assuming are much thinner than your anchor, will last a lifetime. People generally replace them because the wooden casings rot out over the years, not because something happened to the glass. Weather doesn't cut nicks and gouges into them. ANd it really won't be believable if you make the glass 'special.'

    And then he's 400 feet in the air, grasping for a tree root - with his eyes closed? And the strap (if I'm understanding correctly) is wrapped around the anchor. How does it blow away in the wind? It would have to break first, which would send him plummetting, unless he grabbed the tree root in time, which you could easily show (but then he does have those sweaty palms, so could he hold on?) You could turn that ending scene into a very tense and exciting one.

    So for me, the main issue would be to give a bit more thought to world building so the situation is believable. It' very do-able and would take much at all.

  9. That should be "wouldn't take much at all."

  10. @ author:

    For your poll: if you don't call it *glass* I'll buy anything you throw at me :) but since I know the properties of glass, you can't support or gouge it like that :) The aesthetics of it are wonderful though (though I might be biased on that point). Even if you kind of specify that there is an internal structure that has panels of clear/reflective/whatever, that would work.

    I had no idea if it was male/female until I re-read and saw the top heading 'MAYA', so you could stand to clear it up a smidge :) If she was pushing to go, you could have one of her friends condescendingly say, 'girls can't do that' or something (only if that works with the characters though, obviously)

    And if Maya is *overconfident*, then you might want to change some of her internal dialogue because from what I read, it sounded like other people talked her into it, but that she really didn't want to go... and that doesn't fit with *overconfidence* in my mind.

  11. I like the idea of a glass city above the ground. I like that it's a girl climbing up even though my brain kept insisting it was a boy. I think it was the swearing. Way too much of it right off the bat, I thought.

    I'm with others in that I didn't really care after the first couple of paragraphs. I want to know who the character is before they are put in peril.

  12. I liked this one quite a bit. I liked the part about their social structure, how the lower class was literally below the upper class. Like someone else mentioned, I'd like to know the MC's motivation fairly early on. It doesn't have to be on the first page, but in the first couple at least. Especially since this is something so unheard of.

    Though I'm not sure how I feel about the first person going up there because she was mentally unstable. Somehow that seems like a cop out. Now if that's what everyone believed, but the character had a different reason for climbing up there, like wanting to put an end to the disparity between the classes then that would be completely different.

    One last thing, if you still want to go with the glass/crystal clear imagery of this place, you could always look into the the gold that's supposed to be so pure and untainted that you can see through it. Just a thought.

  13. For what it's worth, I thought the MC was also male, despite the title, which I thought referred to someone else. :) I liked the voice quite a bit. The swearing didn't bother me in the slightest.

    I really enjoyed this and thought the world was interesting. The MC thinking the stilts are made of glass made sense to me. These are the questions I had while I read:

    Are the feet bare? A small detail that adds something visually. Biceps burning like acid. I don't think acid would burn on its own. Burning like they'd been splashed with acid might make more sense.

    Does the height make the MC's head bang (I'm thinking altitude sickness), or is it fear of falling? The MC thought the climb would be hard (turns out not as much as she feared), so the "hard part" of climbing over the rim should be more so, shouldn't it?

    I was confused by the description of the tree roots. The dirt is on top of the glass, yet the roots come through the bottom? I think that's what you're describing, but I wasn't positive. Putting weight on something implies downward pressure, but I thought she was supposed to be tugging at the root?

    One last minor nit - her hands are already described as sweaty, so you should either change the first description (which I think is stronger), or lose the second one.

    Loved that last line about the leather strip waving goodbye.

  14. I agree with a lot of what the others have been saying and saw your comment that you are making changes so I won't rehash. However, I also felt like there was a lot of telling in the second paragraph regarding Pewt etc. The problem for me (and it took me out of the story) is that in first person Maya wouldn't be climbing thinking to herself, 'us Pewts, the lowest of the low...' etc. Now I think the information is useful and helps the reader start sorting out the world, but I wonder if there is a different way to provide it or as someone else suggested provide it later.

    I liked that the city was of glass, but see the concerns regarding structure feasibility. I did start to question the construction when you were describing the dirt thrown on top and the trees. I wouldn't personally have a problem with the polymer but I'm no engineer :)

    You have an interesting premise and thank you for sharing. I hope this helps and best of luck!

  15. I like many of the ideas and especially the mc's voice. The only things that stood out to me were 2nd line, 2nd para was rather 'telling', and you repeated 'yank' three times. The first (describing the throat) is the best, so keep that and find other words for the others.
    Good luck!

  16. I thought female for the mc personally, and I didn't mind the swearing. If it's part of the mc's character then I've no problem with it.

    I also couldn't care less about the believability of glass stilts or whatever else you have in there. I'm not saying I'll go along with anything as a reader, but that sort of structural fact doesn't hold sway in a fantasy world if you ask me.

    What I stumbled over was contractions like shouldn't've and words like shoulda. Maybe I'm just old and can't be done with such things because they read like text speak to me ::shudder::

    Anyway, I liked the actual scenario and I got a good feel for the world you're creating and a strong mc. If this was a Secret Agent round, I'd be saying that I'd read on :)

  17. FYI, I never read the crits before posting my own. I may have repeats, but I find my thoughts aren't influenced as a result.

    You're very close. Try cutting paragraph 2, so you keep me in the action, skipping back story info for now.

    Elizabeth and Steven work, but the Corey bit is too much info, pulling me out of the action. Introduce him later.

    Last paragraph is riveting, but a tad long. Fix by splitting up into two. Cut, "My eyes popped open." Let the focus in this section be her hands.

    Well done.

    Concern: Hands grip, toes might grip, but can feet? Is it the right verb to use?

    Concern: I kinda like the contractions. They make for an interesting character quirk. I don't know, though, if editors and agents would. Do I like it because it is so different? Is it too different? I must admit that I stopped at "shouldn't've" and had to work my mind around it. It was an awkward place to introduce it, but ultimately, I liked it. I liked the reveal of her 'pewt' roots. Also, if it is going to be a strong character tell, then getting it out early makes sense.

    Yep, I say to ride with it.

  18. I guess this is my day for P.S. statements that tag on separately. Title isn't there yet. Can you use the glass concept somehow?