Dialogue is very under-rated. One of the easiest ways of starting to write a story is to have your main character say something. I reviewed the opening to a book whose very first line was, “Do you want to know why we’re not having sex anymore?” What a line! It was a romance, and you knew immediately that there was a humdinger of an argument just about to start. You just had to read on, and find out why this couple weren’t having sex anymore. Let’s read this submission, and then come back to this point.
Language: US Eng
Synopsis: With two simple tests, a person can find out if they’re a Genius. But sometimes they become a Dot, and the world hates Dots. Hank is one such Dot, yet the world discovers that it needs him very much. Time is running out, and Hank must Save the World.
Nothing can be won here.
Rio scarcely knew she thought those words, she said them in her head so often. Yet it was undeniable. Death crawled after her, trawling Pacific waters, searching for her beacon. She responded the way she always did.
Run. Hide. Get away.
Money was growing scarce though. She feared being unable to start her life again on some far-flung shore.
Christ. Isn’t this ocean big enough?
She pondered facing down her demon, but after abandoning her sōpurando and her mizu shōbai girls, what little she had going for her on the island she now called home wasn’t worth the fight. At first she had hid in the Philippines to be close to Japan, but the throngs of people there made it hard to prevent Realities. So she hopped around Micronesia—first the Caroline Islands, and then tinier Cook Island.
It was never enough. Death was unrelenting. Rio tried Fiji next. It seemed to have worked, so much so that she relaxed and let down her walls. Maybe she could even make a friend or two.
She was wrong. She must run again. In her mind, Rio visited a distant shore that beckoned with the safety of a thousand searchlights.
Hundreds of thousands. How can one person be so mighty?
It must be a trick. A scheme cooked up by Death to get her to run further. Still, if it was true, Death could never blacken so much pure bright light.
Rio gathered the few possessions she still owned. Their number dwindled every time she ran, so much so that she could pack her entire life into one big suitcase.
She called the airport.
“Konnichiwa? Hai? When is there a flight to The United States?
It was the dawn of Genius.
Anyone could be a Genius, and they could be a Genius at anything. The Personal Enhancement Program—nowadays known as PEP—worked to find these Geniuses, testing anyone who asked for free.
A quick scan at a PEP center determined if a person was a Genius, and if so, a more thorough scan on a later date determined what kind of Genius he or she was. PEP Geniuses received an education for free, to hone their God-given gift. The PEP gave the world scientists and artists in amazing numbers, as wordsmiths were turned into Shakespeares, tinkerers into Edisons, and humanitarians into the next Mother Theresa.
Getting a PEP scan had some minor inconveniences. A thick rubber hood enveloped the subject’s skull, poking them with a forest of tiny electrodes. As the electrodes gathered their data, they left a person’s head covered with red dots. The first PEP test left dots that were light and quickly faded, but the more thorough second test required deeper probing. It created brighter dots that lasted for weeks.
PEP Dots were, however, a small price to pay. Newly discovered Geniuses were toasted at gala events and featured on the news at an almost daily basis. They oftentimes achieved instant celebrity status as their red polka-dot faces were set before a field of microphones, their smiles beaming into a blizzard of camera flashes.
But nobody expected what was about to happen.
Hank was an unassuming man. Tall and young and lanky, he had sandy brown hair that always seemed to be in need of another haircut. He looked ready to break into a sheepish grin, although he rarely did. Still, people liked him, even if sometimes they forgot his name.
If he was brought up in conversation for whatever reason, two things about him were mentioned most of all. One was that he never said much, and if he did speak, he didn’t make eye contact. He preferred looking at the nose of the person he was talking to, or perhaps their chin, or off to some point in the distance past the side of their head. Which really was a shame, because Hank’s eyes were gorgeous. They were a toasted almond brown, and framed in lashes that were long and dark, so much so that when he blinked, it looked like two small butterflies were resting on his face, gently spreading and closing their wings.
Hank’s eyes were amazing, and that was simply that.
He liked his life for the most part, but he knew things had to change if he wanted to make sure his future didn’t suck. He’d been stocking the shelves at Asok’s Oriental Grocery for six years, ever since he was seventeen.
It was time for Hank to be different.
One thing he liked about Asok’s were its big front windows. They gave him his view of the world as he watched people walk by. Today, he spent more time than usual looking out those windows, because Anna was coming. She’d graduated from high school in the spring, but it was now October, and at some point during the summer she had turned nineteen. As such, it surprised Hank that she still came to Asok’s at all. Yet she did, buying groceries for her parents and her extended Japanese family, as the oldest of all the children.
It was as if nothing changed with Anna, just like nothing changed with Hank. So today, he decided that he had dithered long enough. Anna was grown up, she’s an adult and she is beautiful, and everything a woman should be. She should move out on her own, and she should be his girlfriend.
That is, of course, if she’d like Hank to be her boyfriend.
Sometimes it freaked Hank out knowing when someone was coming. He didn’t know how he knew, and he kept his intuition to himself as, at exactly the right time, Anna broke from the crowd some block-and-a-half away.
She’s so beautiful, his brain told him as he watched her take long strides.
On most days, he liked to imagine Anna walking right up to him. Today, it was not the case. Although the weather was chilly, Anna had her white Angora sweater fastened with just the middle button.
Editorial opinion: The synopsis to this submission is intriguing, but unfortunately, I don’t think this opening works. I think it’s far too fractured. The first three hundred words describe, in a kind of supernatural chase movie, a female called Rio fleeing a demon by island-hopping across the Pacific. It’s hard to get a grip on who or what Rio is, or any idea what the story is about. Although the genre is touted as sci-fi, this sounds more like a paranormal thriller. Just as the piece gets grounded with the first few lines of actual dialogue it’s suddenly cut off.
We then switch to 250 words of what could be a completely different book. This is pure sci-fi exposition, describing a future where people are brain-scanned to develop their best potential and then divided into haves and have-nots. It’s an intriguing premise, but the weakness of this passage is that it’s pure exposition. There’s no plot development, no characterisation, no dialogue, no action, no story. It’s merely describing a scene that will presumably be fleshed out later. Just as we’re left with a slight cliff-hanger, the piece ends abruptly.
The next piece is different again in tone. Here is straight-up third-person narrative, in a realistic setting. There are problems with it though. Once again, it’s pure backstory, scene-setting. It’s mostly in Hank’s PoV, but the PoV isn’t too secure because there are phrases like ‘Hank’s eyes were gorgeous’. Were gorgeous in who’s opinion? It must be in some narrator’s opinion, which weakens our focus on Hank and leaves us wondering who is actually telling the story.
Three passages, completely different in tone, voice, focus, language and PoV. I think it’s far too much to expect a reader (or an agent) to be able to assimilate all three of these disparate lines of story in such small sections. There are plenty of sci-fi novels out there with multi-stranded narratives—Cloud Atlas, by local author David Mitchell, is a good example—but none I’ve read start by telling their different strands at the very beginning of the book in such short extracts, and expect the reader to be able to hold together all three strands with such lack of relative connectivity.
Unfortunately I don’t think this opening would make it past an agent’s desk. There’s the problem of the multi-stranded but disjointed narrative, and even within that, none of the individual sections do anything more than partially set a scene. They don’t tell a story, don’t further any plot, or really add much by way of characterisation, although we begin to learn a little more about Hank in the last section. I’d recommend concentrating on one of the scenarios, at least for the first couple of 1000 words, and develop it more completely. Instead of merely quickly sketching out some background, actually throw us into the action, whatever that might be. Coming back to my point about dialogue, dialogue is the most efficient way of getting a story going. It’s telling that in this entire extract, there are only two lines of dialogue, and even that’s only one side of a telephone conversation with a flight booking agent. Let your characters talk.
Thanks for posting.