Structure Advice: Citadel

I'm not looking for a full review but I need some feedback on my intro chapters. The first three serve as a prelude and they all have elements that I want to retain (except maybe for motivations) but I don't think that their current forms are ideal. I'm planning a rewrite but hearing from someone who is willing to rip me new one (metaphorically) first would help a great deal. I especially need to know which elements are gripping boring engaging or seemingly irrelevant. Thanks to anyone who feels inclined to help out.

Oh, and if anyone feels like reading a little further, I'm in desperate need of criticism on my fight scenes. They're kind of important in superhero fiction.

Alright, some things that strike me reading through the beginning:

The first little introduction chapter is a great attention grabber, but the scene could use a little more description. "There were two men in the sky, fighting." Definitely tells me what I'm looking at alongside Vanessa but it's pretty basic. The descriptions of the two flying guys is also pretty simple and straightforward. "One of them was covered in blue fire. The other was wearing a dark green and black costume, complete with cape and mask." Look for more engaging ways to say it than "One was, and the other was."

In the next chapter I would only recommend the tiniest bit more introduction as to where we are to help deal with the incredibly jarring scene transition. Turning off a news report (probably about number of deaths in Vancouver) as her assistant paged her that her meeting had arrived (or something similar, newspaper headline described where its sitting on her desk) would do a lot to ease the impact of the transition. After that the chapter reads pretty fluidly to me.

And the third chapter (since you asked) reads pretty well to me. The only nitpick I would have is that I don't feel the constant restating the date at the scene breaks is needed unless the date is changing, but that's more of a personal preference than anything else (though since not EVERY scene break has it, I really recommend only including the date and location up there when one of those things changes, or making sure it's in every single one. Consistency either way!)

For fight scenes: The first fight scene (Isaac and Hector) is an okay start, you might want to have some more detail on what the Hectors are doing (you don't need to detail the gore any further, but the actual actions as he attempts to swarm over Isaac). It confused me that Isaac would be covered with blood when all was said and done because A) Forcefield and B) Do the Hector clones not vanish when they aren't needed anymore? I mean, unless Hector's childhood friend is a disintegrator or he gets like an awesome group rate at a crematorium I would imagine this would be a problem whenever he doesn't need an extra anymore (or does he just send the unneeded ones off to live their own lives?) I think you'd get the same psychological damage (or more) if Isaac comes out of the fight completely pristine (would have to rewrite the other student reactions, or reference that they were probably watching the fight and that would be why they would shy away from him). Fight scene number 2 with Jenny is funny, but the end needs a little bit more detail. Reading it the first few times; "He fell back, surprised by the pain." didn't read to me as "He fell strongdown/strong." Which makes the knee to the side of the head ending the fight feel weird.

Not a big fan of the 'get beat up without fighting back as training' scene. It feels like violence for the sake of violence, and the training justification is minimal. If the whole class was being beaten (using upperclassmen as the aggressors or something similar) then it's body hardening/pain-endurance conditioning. If the class switched who's getting beaten halfway through THEN it makes more sense. One half the class gets beaten while the other half does the beating just doesn't make sense to me.

The challenge matches, aside from the one where Duncan fights the coach, could use a little more detail. I prefer to do most of the matches from the perspective of someone IN the match as opposed to always using the bystanders. The 'vs coach' match was a good one to get from the outside, but Warp's matches would probably have been better from the loser's perspective the first couple times and THEN do the outside view where everyone realizes it's some kind of illusion/hallucination ability. More details are almost always good, as long as you make sure you aren't drifting from 'detail' into 'minutiae.'

I also note your challenge system for combat rankings is remarkably familiar, did you base that off anyone else's or it it just a case of convergent writing styles?

Hopefully something in all that text turns out useful to you! ^_^

*edit* and apparently I don't know the right shortcuts to get the bold text. Oh well, the random 'strong and /strong' does a good job calling attention

Applications was a huge waste of time - it alluded to an intriguing world without showing much of interest, and the conversations seemed to come right out of college registrar applications - so that was a snooze. It vaguely hinted at the Director's character traits but not in any interesting ways. When I click "first chapter" on the menu this is the chapter that starts things and it falls flat. The table of contents indicates Motivations is actually first, so you need to sort out your site navigation. The same thing happens on the "next" link from "Monster" - it leads to First Lessons instead of Introductions.

First Lessons and Introductions were similar - truncated scenes with stilted, formal rational dialogue that comes across like AI not human conversation. Your dominant writing style is "telling" events instead of "showing" them with actions. There are plenty of resources on this site and the Internet about how to "show"- I suggest researching it.

The best of the early chapters was "Monster" - the first person narration was more like human conversation, and was more emotionally immediate. It reads like a person telling a traumatic event. However, while realistic in that sense, it is "telling" and not "showing". The actual scene of a mysterious biker surgically eliminating victims would be scarier. Also, police don't tell you over the phone that your family is dead. They come see you. And there's no way for the narrator to know what the other side of the phone conversation was.

I would suggest focusing your narration on a character in a scene for longer, instead of short scenes - establish your voice and give us reasons to care through actions not ideas. Also, you might be better suited to first person, if you want to show internal thoughts and feelings.

Juxtaposing the mundanity of Vanessa's life with the excitement of a superhero battle is a nice idea, but I don't think it works as an opening for your story. The problem is that it means you have to go with a boring start.

Still, it's an interesting IDEA, and the fight scene is nice. Just thinking about how you might make it work, could you dig deeper into Vanessa's thoughts? I agree with Gavin that first person is a good perspective for you, but even if you stick to third person limited you could make this work.

Something like, "At least the coffee wasn't boring" or even "He was always late," would give me something emotional to latch onto.

I liked the second chapter better than the first, but you've got the same problem at the beginning. You're focusing on the physicality of the place before focusing on the people. Unless you can really sell the connection a person has with the place--or make it a particularly interesting place--it's really hard to make that work. Yeah, we get that she has a connection because she's been in the office for nine years, but how much does that really tell us? Her connection to the place isn't interesting, even though it's got a long history. She's been there for a while, and my response is, "So?"

Each scene gets more interesting than the one before it. That might've been your intention, but it would work better if you switched some scenes around. How about opening with Jason Reed? If you do that and punch up the stuff with Donna, I think the chapter will read better.

Sidenote: I've seen about a hundred different "rules" for which numbers should be spelled out and which ones should be left as a number, but I can pretty safely say that "9" looks much better as "nine".

I am fairly certain that when it comes to numbers, you write them out when it is speech, ie "I was born in nineteen-eighty" but in a text sentence or narration you put I was born in 1980. If a building has ninety stories, it is ninety stories high. But the address could read 90 Main Street, while a character says "I am at ninety Main Street."

Because a person speaking can't say digits, they say words. But we write November 26, 2014 all the time in letters, newspapers, notes. But saying there were 7 days in a week looks dumb, a proper sentence writes seven days.

There are probably over a dozen standard conventions for writing numbers in fiction: write out anything in dialogue, only write out for one through ten, write out any number that is written as one word but use numerals when it would be multiple words, spell out any number up to one hundred and use numerals past that, spell out any number unless it's a date or an address...

Whatever you do, be consistent with it.

Wow, this is way more than I expected to get. Thank you, all of you. There's a lot of criticism here and that is exactly what I was looking for. It'll take me a while to do the needed rewrites for the more fundamental stuff but I've already started working on the simple technical issues.

Early story navigation issues have been resolved, as well as the 3 vs three thing.

Monster has been moved to the first chapter, followed by Motivation and Applications. I'll be doing a heavy rewrite on Application and expanding Motivations.

I'm also experimenting a bit with my basic writing style. I know I'm stronger in first person and that it's more immediate. Sadly, I wanted this to have a large number of POVs and I hate when authors do that in first person.

I'll get back to you once the real rewrites are in place and hopefully you'll let me know if I've improved or where I still need work.

Again, thank you all. Really. Wow. WFG rocks.

A quick note: Your Table of Contents in the sidebar has been updated to reflect your new chapter order, and the <<Prev Chapter/Next Chapter>> links all seem to point to the correct pages, but your entry link from your WFG page still points to Motivations, and the actual Table of Contents page (from the link on the top menu) still displays the chapters in the old order.

Thanks Oniwasabi. I fixed the ToC (I really need to sit down and spend some time learning my way around wordpress, I know most do this stuff can be automated but not how). I already have an update request in at WFG for the other, as well as adjusting the tags to be a bit more accurate.

On the challenge system, I always had something of the sort planned but I blatantly stole the details from Super Powereds by Drew Hayes. I liked his early system pretty well but needed to make a few minor adjustments to make it fit. That's also why Achala got Coach for his nickname. I always wanted one for him, he's not comfortable with the level of respect he gets from the other operatives so it seemed to fit, but that specific one had just the right connotations to me.

I guess that makes it a case of converging generalities with "borrowed" details. I should probably do a review or something for that series. It's pretty good.

Yea, I'm a fan of Super Powereds as well (and I have the ridiculously lengthy fan fic/spin off to prove it!) :)

Okay, intro rewrites are done. Most of Applications got disappeared as unneeded. The Jason scene was folded into Motivations. Both Motivations (the original portion) and Monster got a bit of touch up.

Anyone (especially those who were kind enough to offer criticism the first time around) who is willing and able to spare the time, please let me know what you think of the current ch 1 and 2.

Wow, Unillustrated! I took a peek at the first chapter. You've made some huge changes. I'll give it another read as soon as I'm done my own chapter. :)

HUGE improvement, Unillustrated. Really, the difference between what I read before and what I'm reading now is ridiculous. In the first post, I like the way you still managed to juxtapose the mundane with the extraordinary, while managing to keep the mundane so interesting. When the knife comes out it's a surprise, because we're already in this world and flowing with the narrative.

You just did some major revisions, so I don't know if you're looking for some tweaking, but if you are I might change that first line a little bit. "Yeah, it's true," while not necessarily the most exciting start, is still good because it grabs my attention. And I think it's good for an opening line because it emphasizes that your next sentence is going to have an impact.

"I'm the guy that gave him his name, Monster," isn't a bad second line, but I might change it a bit. It gives the sentence a certain flow, as commas are wont to do, when really you want something that hits. How about, "Yeah, it's true. I'm the guy that called him Monster." Or even, "Yeah, it's true. I called him Monster."

Those are harder, leaner sentences. And there's a bit more ambiguity there. By telling us that the guy is named Monster, we know that he's probably going to be a bad guy (at least by society's standards). If one person called him Monster, there are more places the story can go. There's a possibility that Monster is actually someone good, who maybe did one bad thing.

In general I think you use commas well, though you might lean a bit heavily on them. Maybe try some em dashes? Also, the idea that the wife was gutted, only to bleed out for hours before she got to the phone, strikes me as a little strange. If someone's "gutted," I imagine they're dead by the end. And even if they go on living, she lived for hours? And she managed to live for hours, but only got the phone near the very end? How far away was she from the phone? How slow was she moving? Etc.

But yeah, those are just little things. Overall, I like it! In fact, this one's going in my bookmarks so I can continue reading it!

I like the start better with Monster at the beginning, much more attention grabbing. I'm going to agree and disagree with Billy about the opening sentences. "I'm the guy who gave him his name, Monster." Is a little unwieldy as a sentence, especially the second sentence of the story. So drop the last word only! Make the opening read: "Yeah, it's true. I'm the guy that gave him his name." My take on it at least!

Going over to Motivations, I still think there are segments that feel like we're switching from third person narration to first person inner monologue stuff, and I really feel you should do something to highlight the slight perspective shift, or try to eliminate it entirely. My personal preference (and it seems to show up in a lot of other things I've read) is to do first person thoughts/monologues in italics. I also think you could use a LITTLE bit more in Motivations since you've completely removed Applications. The transition is just SUPER jarring to go from street violence scene to interview with Jason scene. Maybe insert some modified version of the Isaac interview immediately after the street violence scene, and figure out if you could do another "brief glimpse of horrible things happening" scene followed by another modified interview scene for a related character? Not to the degree of completely bringing back Applications, but enough to round out Motivations and make it a little less jarring would probably be great.

I also find the "pick a new last name based on your powers" to be a little corny (not sure WHY this is cornier in my head than just picking a supranym that people will only use while you're in costume since they seem pretty similar concepts), but it's been growing on me more and more as I read. I keep trying to figure out what some of my own characters would pick if they were transplanted into a similar setting, but my brain doesn't seem to want to supply anything useful on that front ^_^

The interview is a good beginning, but for new readers I'd suggest putting the fact that its an interview at teh very beginning, so they know not to expect this narrator and style throughout. reading more now, i never got a chance to read the original, so, fresh eyes!

Oh... Yeah, I guess that's right. I remember reading the first version of Citadel and it wasn't like the Monster chapter. Damn. All right, well, I'll go in enjoying the new first chapter for what it is (I like what I see already, but I've only been able to skim - sorry! Cramped schedule, but it's clearing up!). I plan on making some changes to my review afterwards. :)

Okay, the secondary prologue with the fight breaking out overhead is even more jarring, I'm expecting her or her husband to bust out with powers, not die. I would suggest moving it to a between sections of isaacs story type thing, showing what happens when heroes fail, perhaps after shift's speech?

To everyone who helped out with round 2 of this thing: thanks!

(Not that I didn't appreciate the round 1 folks too, but I already thanked them)

The general impression I'm getting is that the current version is a much better attention grabber. I'll continue making tweaks, though probably not quite on the level of a full rewrite. At least not in the immediate future.

Specific Issues to be addressed:

BillyHiggins- First line could still be better, comma usage and "gutting."

I'll probably leave the first line alone. I agree with you about the ambiguity being a good effect but, in this case, it's not what I'm looking for. Monster is a bad guy and I want him seen that way from the beginning. It actually ties in with something I'll address below.

The comma thing... yeah. I keep swinging back and forth between too heavy and too light but I think I'm getting better. It'll be fixed once I've stabilized.

Gutting and survival times vary a lot by what it means. Evisceration, which I think qualifies, just requires that the abdominal wall be breached and the intestines pulled out. As long as no major veins are cut and the intestines themselves are intact, it's not even fatal. On the other hand, hit the abdominal aorta or any of the other large vessels and you're looking at a few minutes. I figure the unnamed wife fell somewhere in between. The time it took her to reach a phone and the illogical act of calling her husband instead of 911 I put down to pain and blood loss. In my head, she passed out a few times and wasn't thinking clearly when she was awake. If that stretches credulity, especially if it was enough to pull your suspension of disbelief, I may need to rewrite it a bit.

Oniwasabi- First line, 1st/3rd person monologue stuff, jarring scene transition in Motivations, corny name thing

The more I think on this, the more I think you might be right. The sentence feels clunky, even though I like its content. I'll try to figure out a better way for Alan to say the same thing.

On the perspective thing... It is deliberate and it's something I keep doing throughout. I like 1st person a lot more than 3rd. It's more comfortable to write in and it makes it easier for the audience to identify with a character. I just hate it with large casts and mine keeps growing, even if it's not quite a G.R.R.M. thing, yet. I guess I could always use his method to fix that. :) I've seen the italics thing used plenty of times and it works the way I'd want it to... it just doesn't feel right to me. Not sure why. Is the effect bad enough to break you out of the story? I know you've read further along, or at least commented, so does it get better? Is it just that much worse during Motivations?

On a similar note, you're not the only one to mention the transition between Vanessa and Jason being jarring. I get the impression that that one is pretty bad. Am I right that this one is a serious issue rather than something that could be fixed by separating them into two sub-chapters?

The name thing... well, that's just plain corny. I need at least a little bit of that. Ironically, the next chapter will, in part, deal with its origin.

Alexander.Hollins- interview format, Motivations is jarring

I like your suggestion with the interview aspect and will probably use it. I think I even had a reader mention that he was a bit off put by it before he realized it was deliberate.

Motivations, is it the same thing for you as it is for Oni? The transition from the street scene to Jason's interview, I mean. Or is it just that it breaks expectations? Before I address your suggestion, I know you read past the intro but not too far so SPOILER WARNING in case you want to continue before reading this. Also for anyone else, gonna mention something that hasn't been stated, explicitly, in the story yet. Isaac is the husband and did wind up with powers, though it was due to a PTSD style flashback rather than the event itself.

I really want to keep those three scenes in the intro since my three basic classes of combative supers are villains, vigilante/heroes and the operatives. Each scene gives an example of one, more or less the worst case of each. Exactly how bad each one winds up being is something that it'll take me a bit to develop.

Hrm, guess I can't put a checkmark next to the introduction quite yet. On the plus side, retention from the intro is up from about 1 in 7 to 1 in 4, so thanks again! You guys' help means a lot to me.

PS- Tartra, thanks for the attention. Your initial review was probably the least flattering one I've received so far, in the review section that is, but it was also the most useful. What you said was largely responsible for me finally getting up and starting the needed rewrites on my intro. That said, since I've already received the benefit of the criticism... I wouldn't object if you wanted to switch it to something more sycophantic. ;) Suggested title: "Best Story Since Gilgamesh!!"

Gah, sorry for running on.