Sunday, November 6, 2011

8 1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Entry #1

Author: Elanor Lawrence
Title: Simulate
Genre: YA dystopia

When I open my eyes, I’m in Paris. I know this because the Eiffel tower is right ahead of me, a stark contrast to the white skyscrapers surrounding it. It seems smaller than when I saw it last. Maybe the skyscrapers are taller.

There are people all around me, most of them dressed in the traditional flowing garments. When I look down, I’m wearing one, too. At least it’s purple. Purple makes everything so much better.

“My lady.” Darius steps in front of me, bowing. His quirky grin twitches as I frown. He’s wearing a green tunic which looks surprisingly good on him, considering how ridiculous the European fashions are on everyone else.

“My vassal,” I say. “Stand up and wipe thy smile of thy face.”

It’s like someone waved a magic wand in front of his face. He’s serious now, or at least pretending to be. Honestly, I don’t mind his joking. Without him, this job would be a lot less interesting. And I don’t mean that in a sketchy way at all. Darius is just a really good friend (who happens to be extremely cute.)

 “So, why are we here?” I ask, looking around the plaza. The Eiffel tower stands at the center, surrounded by a narrow strip of gardens and fountains where we’re standing. After that are only more of the boring white apartment buildings, just like back home.

“SUCO has given us very little to work with,” Darius explains, and I sigh. Most of the time they tell me what’s going on, but occasionally they tell me virtually nothing. Supposedly it’s to keep me on my toes. As if fighting all the NAU’s battles isn’t hard enough.

“As far as I can see, we’re the only ones here,” Darius continues, staring at the satellite map on his wrist. It’s disguised as an antique piece of jewellery called a watch, but really it shows the position of every human in the area. Our soldiers are blue. Their soldiers are red. Ordinary citizens are grey. Right now the screen is covered in grey with two little blue dots and absolutely no red. This assignment is going to be easy.

Darius and I start walking so we won’t seem as conspicuous. “We have to contact someone on the 27th storey of the Animate Art building. Probably some intelligence that’s too important to be sent over the nets.”

So, maybe not so easy. I’ve never been to the Animate Art building before, but I know all about it. They program the different styles of virtual reality there, all the ones the government deems appropriate. If our contact works there, he must be important.

Back home it’s Monday, but time works differently here, so it’s Saturday. No one will be at work. Once we get inside our job will be easy, but it’ll be nearly impossible to break through the triple-sealed doors in broad daylight. Then again, if we fail we can just try again, over and over. That’s one of the benefits of my job. Mistakes are permitted and even accepted.

Darius knows the way to the Animate Art building, so I just follow him, weaving through the oddly dressed crowd. Ever since Europe made their alliance with Asia and decided to go back to their cultural roots, their clothing has been anything but practical. A cross between a medieval dress and a Sari ends up weighing more than I do.

It’s strange the people are even outside. Back home I travel everywhere in the tunnels. It’s so much quicker and the weather is never a problem. Right now, though, with the sun beating down, I enjoy being outside.

Once we leave the narrow courtyard and wend our way through the narrow alleys between apartment buildings, the sun disappears. Even though it’s almost noon, the buildings are at least a hundred stories tall and they block out the sun unless it’s directly ahead. I don’t mind. It’s nice and cool in the shade.

The path here is fairly wide, paved in white stone and edged with gardens. Apparently botany is more advanced in Europe, because they have no weeds in their gardens. Back home, weeds are the least of our worries. Plus, we have the Dynamic to pull them for us.

Right ahead of us is the Animate Art building, no taller than the other buildings, but at least twice as wide. There aren’t many people around anymore. After all, it is the weekend and Europeans love their vacations. At home, people would still be working, but here the Animate Art is nothing more than entertainment.

In America, virtual reality is a way of war.

I’m feeling a little tired from walking so far and annoyed at SUCO for not dropping us off closer to the building, but Darius insists that we walk around a couple times for surveillance. So that we don’t look suspicious, we hold hands and smile coyly at each other from time to time. It’s actually kind of fun to act like a lovebird for once, even when it’s impossible for anything to happen between Darius and me.

As lunch time approaches, the nearly empty square becomes totally deserted. I’ve also spotted the perfect way in. The double doors at the front are obviously not an option, due to their triple seal. All the other doors are equally protected.

Then there are the windows, hundreds of them in endless columns and rows. All of them are blank, with the sky blue one-way glass blocking every attempt to even see inside. But at the back of the building, on the third floor near the right, is one open window.

Leaving a window open is such a stupid mistake that my brain screams ‘trap!’ Maybe it is one. I don’t really care. It’s the only way I can see to get inside quickly and easily. If there was anyone waiting inside to kill us, then Darius’s communicator would register them. Probably a worker simply forgot to close the window. Or maybe our contact left it open precisely for us.

Either way, getting up to the third floor won’t present any difficulty. Darius always has what we need. It turns out that he has a SmartChain hidden under his robe.

I don’t know what I would do without SmartChains. Darius hands me one, curled up into a neat roll. As soon as my hand touches it, the cord takes a DNA sample from a dead skin cell, processes my preferences, and turns purple. I love it when it does that.

Taking aim, I swing the rope around a couple times and let it fly. The pronged end latches onto the windowsill, sending tendrils through the atoms and joining itself to the building. I grab the other end and climb up, hand over hand, my feet against the side of the building. Below, Darius holds the rope steady until I reach the windowsill.

Inside the building, all is deserted. The room is lined with blank vidscreens. There are a couple chairs arranged pleasantly in the center, but no people. I pull myself into the room and motion for Darius to follow. As soon he climbs inside, I squeeze the SmartChain and it detaches from the window and rolls itself up again. 


  1. Well written. It drew me right in and I wanted to keep reading when I got to the end. I really like that it's written in the present tense and first person. I think that helps make it more interesting.

  2. Hi Elanor,

    It sounds like you have the potential for a very interesting story here. Your set-up and ideas are intriguing. The satellite map was a cool bit and well done! However, your style at the beginning is not as engaging as I think it could be.

    Your story would read better if you were to employ more dialogue. After they start walking, for what seems about 2/3 of your entry, there is no dialogue at all. So much of what you say in this section is telling the reader information -- about the difference in time, the change of dress, the method of travel, the Europeans' love of vacation. It starts to feel like an info dump.

    I feel that you need to carefully evaluate the necessity of all the information that you are feeding the reader in this section. For example, how important is it to know that the gardens have no weeds this early in the story? Think of whether each item is truly needed here, prune out what can be revealed at a later point in the story, and then weave in what is necessary through a natural format of action and dialogue rather than having your main character simply tell it. In other words, have your characters experiencing the story rather than having your main character essentially talking to the reader.

    For an example of telling rather than experiencing: "I know this because the Eiffel tower is right ahead of me."

    To make your character experience this (and with less words): The Eiffel Tower loomed ahead of me.

    Another example:

    "There are people all around me, most of them dressed in the traditional flowing garments."

    All around me, people hurry about their business, most of them dressed in the traditional flowing garments.

    Or later, the paragraph where she talks about how it's strange that people are outside -- instead of having this all internal thoughts on her part, if this information is truly needed here, then turn it into dialogue between her and Darius. He could comment on how it's strange they like being outside; she could respond that she prefers the tunnels, but then you could end on the sun warming her and *show* her enjoying it.

    A few other smaller points:

    When she uses words like "vassal" and "thy" in dialogue, but then her internalizations are all very modern, it confuses me, unless she was joking with Darius. But that was not clear.

    Somewhere in here, need to define SUCO and NAU, but preferably in conversation that is natural and not an obvious definition.

    Also, you've got a couple of spelling errors that you need to check.

    Your ideas are strong and intriguing, and I think this could be a very engaging story, but I think you need to do a bit more massaging to your writing, especially as this is the beginning. Of course, please keep in mind that these are my opinions and others could think differently. I hope you get a lot of good comments below!

    Looking forward to seeing any revisions you decide to make!

  3. I agree with Susan -- it's an interesting set-up, but right now there are perhaps too many details of world building, and I definitely feel like there's too much exposition. The archaic-sounding dialogue jarred me, especially since it was at odds with her internal voice (using words like "sketchy") so I wasn't sure what was going on.

    Personally, I'd leave out a lot of the information until it can be folded in a bit more naturally. Leave out SUCO and NAU, don't worry too much about the parallels to what "home" is like now. I'd like more focus on the action, as well as perhaps a sense of urgency. Right now, it feels like just another routine job for your narrator, and it also feels like Darius is in charge and she's sort of following along. Even if it is routine and that's part of her character (i.e., she thinks things are boring or she's cynical, until the Inciting Incident happens) I think I'd like that turned up a little. Maybe have Darius nudge at her to focus. Or if Darius is bitter, too, have them banter about "another pointless mission" or whatever.

    Right now, I'm assuming this world is something like The Matrix -- liked the "virtual reality is a way of war" line. I'm interested in seeing where you take the story. Good luck!

  4. I like the idea behind your story so far, but there is a lot of backstory that makes it drag at the beginning. Maybe try starting the story where they're casing the building and trying to get in. Also, it has a happy-go-lucky feel that doesn't seem threatening yet. With dystopian books, you can feel an ominous shadow hanging over the main characters.

    Also felt a little confused in the very beginning. Had to reread it because I wondered if it was medieval and if I'd missed something.

    Can't wait to see how you continue to develop it. : )

  5. P.S. I'd like to add that my daughter was enthusiastic over your piece so far. Always a good thing! : )

  6. Aargh! Open ID ate my last comment.

    I really liked the 'cool', genre-specific tone of the language here overall. Possibly that's why the medievalisms of the initial dialogue seem to jar for other commenters - the framing language is very consistent and stylistically distinctive - that deadpan, detail-heavy cyberpunk style. Also, with so little dialogue overall, those lines carry more weight than they might otherwise.

    I think "Darius is just a really good friend (who happens to be extremely cute) has a similarly disproportionate impact - your character seems to be ironic, detached - not the sort of person who'd make such frank observations about even the closest of her/her companions.

    I loved the short paragraph about the tunnels - I thought that told us so much about the characters, their relationship with their world and how it forms them in a very condensed, unshowy way.

    I also like how you drop us straight into this world and expect us to deal with it - the balance between weaving in enough information and information overload is always a tricky one. Perhaps provide more of it through dialog?

    Oh, and I really want a SmartChain

  7. • Your strongest starting point is the “In America, virtual reality is a way of war.” It’s grabby. It is bold. Briefly explain this statement, then segue quickly into the character’s situation.

    • Would like more description on the clothing than the vague generics you’ve put forth. A good rule seems to be that if something is important enough to merit your (the author’s) attention more than once, then it is deserving of more detail than you’ve currently chosen to give to these matters. This goes for clothing, architecture/scenery, and faces. You can still be concise, but make it add to the world building or don’t mention it at all. There are different types of tunics. There are different types of European fashions. Specify.

    • I also agree that you should not be using undefined acronyms right off the bat. While it may sound interesting, it’s the reading equivalent of stubbing your toe in the dark.

    • His quirky grin twitches as I frown--> His mouth twitches into a quirky grin. I frown. (I would mention however, that “quirky grin” maybe overdone…might suggest another word rather than “quirky” at least). Could even tighten to: “He grins. I frown.” Also the word grin is automatically associated with “young”. How old is he? Is this really the impression you wish to convey?

    • “My vassal,” I say. “Stand up and wipe thy smile of thy face.” --> So awkward. I know why you’re doing this, and the attitude you’re trying to convey, but rephrase or cut the line entirely. And I’d go with “Knave” or something along those lines if you keep it.

    • Again, specifics are very necessary. Our soldiers. Their soldiers? No. The insert name of army here ____ _____ (our soldiers) and the insert name of other army here ______ ______ (their soldiers)

    • Once we get inside our job will be easy, but it’ll be nearly impossible to break through the triple-sealed doors in broad daylight. Then again, if we fail we can just try again, over and over. That’s one of the benefits of my job. Mistakes are permitted and even accepted. -->Groundhog Day scenarios can be very wearing. However, if that’s part of the plan, rephrase these sentences. Very wordy. At the very least drop “over and over”. Redundant.

    • Explain “The Dynamic”

    • So far, you’re explaining challenges that aren’t really challenges, because everything can just be redone, or Darius has it covered. Mess with your characters. Make them unhappy or at least annoyed at the outset. Rather than building interest or tension, you are making it sound like the worst they have to cope with is an untied shoe. That isn’t what you’re saying, but that is the feeling you are accidentally conveying.

    • You’ve got one character that seems to take things seriously. You’ve got another with a slightly more flippant take (despite his efficiency), but they are both coming of as stiff and under-formed.

    • I’m finding the dialogue seemed really forced, like you aren’t quite in your character’s head yet and are trying to speak for them, rather than letting them “speak for themselves” (like you’re interrupting someone who is stuttering by trying to finish their sentences for them because you think it helps them)
    I hope this is helpful. I will be interested in viewing your future revisions, and I wish you the best of luck. KS

  8. Your first paragraph pulled me in and got me asking questions. I like the smart chain too.
    It sounds like you've got a very intricate world set up and you seem very eager to share it your story with your readers, I'm wondering if it might be a little too eager. It felt like too much too fast. Maybe it's just me but I found myself re-reading to make sure I could follow some of the concepts. There seemed to be a lot of information and not a lot of action to carry the story forward.
    -Max Brunner


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)