First Impact: INGENICIDE by Joan He (First Page)

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

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Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have the first page for INGENICIDE, a YA dystopian from Joan He, whose query we read last week. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

First Page
It’s the first dance I’ve gone to in years.

I'm totally sticking on this: should
technicolor be capitalized?

I want to know what she thinks her
mother's thinking.
Mom tells me to stay away from the spirits. She glances out the car window, at the Technicolor lights that dart across Kennie’s packed driveway. Her brows knit together—I know what she’s thinking. Music thrums in the asphalt, vibrating through the soles of my shoes as I swing my feet onto the ground.

Dad rolls down the window. “Enjoy yourself. Today’s your day.”

“We’re so proud of you,” Mom adds, the little knot of worry vanishing. I blow them both a kiss. Dad honks. They drive away.

I knock and wait, apprehensive. It won’t just be our School at the post-graduation party tonight. Fairfax, Georgetown, and DC should be here, too. Already, I catch drifts of new voices among the blasting speakers and the familiar lull of the old. I relax when it’s Tess who opens the door.

Ombre's a pretty modern term (I had
to look it up). Is this near future?
“Hey, Sibyl,” she yells over the song. Her eyes are heavily made-up, but nothing competes with her dress. It’s got a million iridescent scales that scatter in ombre from the hemline. Rainbow lights dart around her form. They make Tess sparkle.

“You’ve outdone yourself,” I yell back. She laughs.

“Did you expect anything less?”

Not sure why school is capitalized.

Kind of a non-sequitur from Tess to
the school system.
No, I didn’t. Not from Style Enhancer Tess Wittle of Alexandria, which is one School of five in the DC and Virginia sector. All the Schools belong to the Training Of Prodigies system, better known by its acronym: TOP.

Tess doesn’t wait for an answer. The door closes behind us as she pulls me into the mass of dancing graduates. She’s whisked away after barely a minute, but I don’t mind. TOP Peers who recognize me pull me into their circles. They ask me about my plans after the one-month hiatus and congratulate me when I tell them that I’ll be apprenticing under a team of Experts in the renovation of the White House. Between beats, I ask them the same question. One Flesh Weaver leaves late June for a Bioprinting conference in Japan. Russell, Alexandria’s resident Beauty Translator, will be hosting his first art show in New York. Slaps and fist pumps go around, and then again, until it gets a bit overwhelming.

Adam's Thoughts
I really want to know what she thinks her mother is thinking :-) It seems like she's apprehensive, but I'm not clear about what, exactly. What is she afraid will happen? That knowledge alone might carry me through this piece a lot more strongly.

There are some world bits here that are intriguing -- the Flesh Weaver, for instance. But I'm not picking up enough to keep me hooked. That doesn't mean you have to add more just yet, but it's something to think about.

I kept getting hung up on simple words that were capitalized, but I didn't know why -- like School and Expert. I'm sure there's a reason, but because I don't know what it is, I find myself wondering why it doesn't just say school and expert. Why are they special enough to mark them as proper nouns? The problem is they appear to mean exactly the same thing as the common terms. It's similar to the problem of foreign terms: if a "hobarjee" is actually a duck, then it's better to just say duck.

These are nitpicks, and that's a good thing. I can't say I'm hooked yet, but I'm not turned off either. I think it just needs some turns in the right direction.

So what do the rest of you guys think?


Patchi said...

I think the comments from last week apply again: too much jargon too fast. I would suggest starting with general terms then focusing on the specifics later.

Here is an example: The first paragraph about the schools fit with the flow of the story. The one about the school system, not so much. But the TOP info seems more important than the names of the school. So how about:

>>I knock and wait, apprehensive. It won’t just be our [TOP] School at the post-graduation party tonight. [The whole Training Of Prodigies system] should be here, too.

Then throw in the Alexandria school after you talk about the dress. Leave the other school names for when they come up in the story, such as when she meet people from the other schools or sees someone who must be from such school.

I love the career titles, but I think there are too many all at once. How about including some dialogue with her friends?

Good luck!

Unknown said...

I found this a little confusing. Is Flesh Weaver the guy's name, or occupation? There are a lot of capitalization, and I feel like lots of them are unnecessary, and muddle which words are important.

Her mom tells her to stay away from the spirits, but I haven't heard that word used for liquor except on rare occasion, so I was wondering if she meant ghosts until I looked back at the genre.

Mostly I feel like you're trying to introduce us to the world too soon, at the same time we're getting a feel for the character. Ground me in one or the other first (most people want the character first, even though Tolkien didn't do this, and he was successful enough).

Oh, and the scaled dress. Is that actually made of scales, or sequins? Again, the setting feels muddled to me, but then again I haven't read a ton of dystopian.

Steve MC said...

I like the sensory details of the feel of the sound and "drifts" of voices and how the party is presented.

There's no hook yet, but it's setting up the character and culture and keeps everything moving. Also has a good, sympathetic voice.

Only thing I'd see to change would be what Adam said - how there's so many capitalized words and maybe a hint of what the mother is worried about. Also, the third sentence doesn't need a comma.

KayC said...

Although some of the descriptions were lovely I found this opening generally very distant. I didn't get a feel for what Sibyl was thinking or feeling. It made it difficult to start forming an initial emotional attachment to her.

A couple of the paragraphs came across as a background info dump and I found myself thinking "I really hope I'm not expected to remember all the school names or where all these people (who I don't know) are going after hiatus."

Like Laura above, I also thought the spirit reference was ghosts, not alcohol, so you might like to make that clearer.

Matthew MacNish said...

Being in a hurry, I'll just try to add some drive by nitpicks:

Staying away from spirits at a dance sounds like liquor to me.

Technicolor is a trademark owned by Thomson. I think they capitalize it in in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but that's a title, so I'm not sure. MS Word is probably suggesting the capitalization. I would suggest trying to find a different metaphor.

After the car drives away, suddenly she's knocking on something, and it kind of surprised me, because it felt like a teleport.

"Already, I catch drifts of new voices among the blasting speakers and the familiar lull of the old," is a pretty clunky sentence. It might make more sense as "Already, I catch drifts of new voices among the familiar lull of the old, floating just barely audibly beneath the sound of the blasting speakers." Or something like that.

Considering the first person present tense narration, I don't see a reason for not telling us what she knows Mom's thinking. If there's a reason for holding it back, be more subtle about bringing it up.

Now, all in all, these are small points. With the help of CPs, you should be able to whip this opening into the shape where it conveys everything you want to convey without conveying too much. Right now it feels like a little too much.

That said, there's a lot of intriguing stuff here, and I would be curious to probably read on, once the writing is tightened up a bit.