First Impact: Haphazardly Implausible by Miss Jack Lewis Baillot

Time for another First Impact critique. Remember you are eligible to win $10 for Amazon/B&N OR a 20-page critique from me if you share your thoughts in the comments. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful!

Big thanks to Miss Jack for letting us take a look at the back-cover copy of his steampunk novel (we do love steampunk around here). My in-line comments are off to the right, with overall comments at the end. Keep in mind that this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it.

Back-Cover Copy
I like that Peter has a goal and an
obstacle. Nice start!

I do feel like some words could be
trimmed though.
Peter Jones was left at the Scottish Royal Air Force Base at the age of seven and a week later his parents were killed. He was raised by the general, a man he has come to trust as a father, until the day he learns the general wants him dead. Peter has a secret locked in his past, but how can he discover it when he isn't even sure who he can trust?

This is interesting, but I kinda want
to see how it connects to Peter. Is
Peter the missing person? Or maybe
Singur (the guy below)?
Isidore Thaddeus Reichmann is a brilliant German detective who rarely fails on a case. His newest case is to find a missing person, and investigations take him to England, the one place in the world he truly hates. He knows he can solve the case, but he doesn't know what he is supposed to do with the little British girl who has taken to following him around. 

I like this start, but it feels vague.
What has he invented? What is his
mission? How will he alter history?
Singur is truly the smartest man in the world, an inventor and genius who is bringing the world into the future. He should be looked up to by many, but he is forced to hide his real name and flee Italy or be killed. He is about to embark on a dangerous mission, one that will forever change the course of history.

Is this one of the World Wars? That
should be made clear up front, I think.
These three young men have never met but they are slowly being brought together by a war that is threatening to tear the world apart and the mad man standing behind it all. His actions will thrust all three together on board an Air Pirate Zeppelin called the Black Beard, and their choices will either destroy the world, or save it.

Adam's Thoughts
Back-cover copy is an unusual beast. It's not a query, and yet it is: your goal is to compel the reader to want more. And I think the way you do that is the same: compelling characters, conflict, and a sadistic choice.

This has the beginning of those, I think. All three have goals and conflict, but I feel like the specifics are missing. I kinda want more than just a secret, a missing person, and a dangerous mission. And I want to know what their choice at the end is, not just that they have some.

Lastly, I feel like there could be a stronger connection between the three. Is Singur the missing person? Is the British girl Peter's secret? Is the general the mad man behind it all? These might not be true, but if you connect one character to the other, it will draw the reader in much more smoothly, rather than forcing them to restart with each new paragraph.

But that's just my opinion. What do the rest of you guys think?

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Matthew MacNish said...

I don't feel I have the experience with Jacket Copy to properly critique this, but I will agree with Adam that for me, as a reader, it would work much better if there were at least some hint of connection between these characters.

That being said, you had me at: "Air Pirate Zeppelin called the Black Beard."

Faith E. Hough said...

I love copy which shows how seemingly unconnected people will be brought together. So the brief introductions to the three characters are awesome, but I agree that perhaps some connection could be made--even if it's no more than a literary allusion... That is to say, you don't have to tell us how they're connected yet, but you can blend/harmonize the paragraphs with one another by word choice--start each one with similar (interesting) sentence structure, repeat key words, etc.
Air Pirate Zeppelin! So cool.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I saw this done recently (disparate characters, separate paragraphs), and it worked because you could imagine the connections between the two characters, even though they weren't explicitly drawn out - which I think is even one step beyond putting in the details. So, I would rewrite once to add in the connecting details (and get rid of the vagueness, as Adam says), then rewrite again to trim down to the bare essentials, but leave just enough detail in to create connections in the readers' minds.

Those couple rewrites will trim things up too.

p.s. I didn't get that they were all "young" until the last paragraph. If this is YA, you might want to state that somewhere. If "young" means mid-twenties, I would leave it out.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yeah i agree with Adam. I think you have a really great start here, i think you could just bump it up to make it even better. If you could connect them all together each other's paragraphs, i think that would help. Becuase i felt like right when i got a feel for Peter, you switched to Isidore, then when i got a feel for Isidore you switched to Singur, and each time this happened, it pulled me out of the narrative.

Good luck!

Ranee` said...

I'm a lot more experienced with MS critiquing, so perhaps this will sound like that. Hopefully it helps.
Right off it starts with a lot of telling instead of showing. For example, instead of telling us Peter was left, show it. (At the age of seven, Peter Jones' parents left him at a Scottish Royal Air Force Base. A week later they were dead.) Basically you want to punch readers in the gut. For example with the general part, consider something like: He trusts the general that raises him, until Peter founds out the general wants him dead.
Consider that more often than not when an author uses a form of the word "to be" is signals telling instead of showing. (Not always, but a lot). Cut telling out of every paragraph you can. It will stand out that much more.
One last point: This seems a bit long for back cover. It may intimidate a reader.
Also, I love the name Isadore. :) Good luck!

crazymixedupgirl said...

I agree with many of the other commenters above. I'm not a writer (aspiring or otherwise), so I can only give you my viewpoint as a consumer of many books. YMMV. :)

I found the jumps from one person to the next jarring. On the one hand, I do appreciate not being spoiled by the back cover. On the other, I want to know what I'm getting into - and whether I'm reading three separate stories or one that starts out that way but ultimately, blends together.

FWIW, I found the first paragraph the most compelling. I guess that plot resonates with me most.

Thanks for allowing us to critique your work! It's much easier to improve on what is there than to stare at a blank page. Good luck!

Steve MC said...

Just as I was caught up in the first story, it goes to the second, and third. I see why it's done that way, but it did throw me a little, and I agree with Adam about needing some connections.

The beginning sentences are fine, but "abandoned" might be better than "left" (unless he was to attend school there). And I always try to cut passive verbs, so you might try it something like this:

At the age of seven, Peter Jones's parents abandoned him at the Scottish Royal Air Force Base...

Also, how were the parents killed? If it wasn't an accident, you should say so, like "they were assasinated" or "their car was rigged with explosives," to show the stakes their son is facing.

Finally, love the zeppelin, but "Black Beard" seems an odd name for an airship, as opposed to "Black Storm" or "Black Wind," unless you mean "Blackbeard."

JR Van said...

I think that you should clarify why Peter was left at the base. As it reads now I imagine that he was abandoned there and so don’t know if his parent’s death has any importance as they are already out of the picture. I like the second paragraph as it is. Saying that Singur is the smartest man in the world and a genius is redundant. Also I would either say what he invented or leave out the part about him bringing the world into the future, as I feel it either sounds pretentious (as the world is always becoming the future) or he made time travel, which would be a big part of a story. Also the last sentence of the third paragraph feels unnecessary given the last paragraph that covers the way they 3 people will change/end the world. Lastly I like the format of a brief bio on each major character and then a little on how they interact.

Stephsco said...

I agree on specifics -- I want to know if this is WWII or WWI, or something else entirely. Word trimming will help too -- look for those filler words and seek stronger verbs than was/were etc, like you do in your manuscript. I also like books with different storylines that connect at the end. Nice work :)

Jack said...

Thank you everyone so much! This is very very helpful! I'm going to try as many of these suggestions out as I can and find which one works for the back cover.

And thank you, Adam for giving me a chance to do this and for doing it. I've been enjoying reading the others you've been doing. (I missed mine because I was away without internet so it was fun to find, but that is why I didn't reply before. 8-) )