Sunday, December 14, 2008

Workshop: Detailed Questions

Before you go into the comments area and look at your questions, I'd like to say the following things about them. These are intended to spark thoughts for you about how to tune your excerpts - NOT as explicit instructions for changes.

You might want to look back at my blog posting titled "Critique and the Writer's Compass" for further discussion of what I mean, but I'll say it again.

These are not commands or explicit instructions. They are opportunities.

Follow your instincts for balance and tone. For example, if I have made similar comments in two different areas of the manuscript, and you feel that the issue is sufficiently addressed in one place and doesn't need to show up in the second, trust yourself.

Also, if you have questions about my questions, or don't know what I mean in any spot, please ask me. This is not a test and it is not a puzzle for you to solve. What I've tried to do as I read through these manuscripts is to point out places where things could be changed subtly to expand the sense of world, sometimes through clarification but many times just by the addition of an implication or two.


  1. For David:

    General world questions:

    In a species as different as this one, what does it mean to be "the equivalent of a teenage girl"? What are their life stages, and how do those correspond to daily life activities? One knowledge set you might like to break early is that of Disney's Little Mermaid (forgive me, but she also happens to be an underwater teenage girl ☺ ).

    How does she conceptualize "exploring the stars"? What does that mean to her?

    How did the "Lord of Astrophysics" come to be in charge? If his purpose is largely forgotten, does that mean the Arcati are led by him but the stars are largely forgotten, or does it mean that he's nominally the leader but true power resides with someone else?

    What does "luxury" mean in this underwater context? What objects would the Lord have that a poor Arcati would not have? What would be considered common and useful?

    Text-specific questions: (in text)

    1. What does she feel so passionate about that she would strain against her survival instincts to brave the Lesser Void? What does she want to achieve there?
    2. How can she hold her breath (physiologically)? Why would her gills fluoresce in warning if there is no one to warn? Might it instead resemble a fear-related paling reaction?
    She held her breath, and her head and shoulders were wreathed in a coruscating halo of green light as the anemone strands of her gills flared their bioluminescent warning. Straining against her survival instincts, she pushed her head through the veil and into the Lesser Void.

    3. Where is the Eater of all Life located? In her world or in the Void? Can you clarify the directions here?
    The Lesser Void was no place for her kind of life. She could not breathe the thin ghost of long-dead water that shrieked past her head. Her hearts raced with excitement and terror. No longer buoyed by the water, she felt her weight, like the tentacles of the Eater Of All Life dragging her back through the veil and down, forever down, into Her lightless abyss.

    4. Would she be worried about the Eater? Or about other predators?
    5. Is she looking for something that she hasn't yet seen? Why would she do this twice, or more than twice?
    She plunged her head back into the life-giving waters, and took a breath so deep that her whole body shook. Her hearts slowly returned to their natural rhythm, once she had reassured herself that the Eater truly did not lurk nearby. And then she held her breath once more, and pushed her head through the veil and into the Lesser Void.

    6. This seems to place the Eater both below in the water, and above in the Greater Void. Can you change this?
    7. If it's the stars she's been hoping to see, maybe you should give more time to her impressions of them (less to the Eater?). What does she see in them? What does she want from them? This is a huge opportunity to elaborate on her worldview and also establish her primary motivation.
    She repeated the pattern, over and over, until she had seen the Sun bleed to death on a distant part of the veil, as the Eater Of All Life claimed Him as Her own once more. And she stayed until she had seen the tiny Nightsuns build their shining coral reef across the abyssal waters of the Greater Void.

    8. Can you clarify whether her gills are in or out of the water, and whether her mother reaches out of the water to grab them or not? If she does, that seems unnecessarily cruel, since most of her daughter's body is still underwater and would be easy enough to grab.
    Well past Sundeath, well into the time of the Eater, she was shaken from her contemplation of the Greater Void as something seized her by her sensitive anemone gills. She cried out in alarm, and gasped for breath that would not come, as her head was still firmly on the wrong side of the veil for breathing. Then the cruel grip on her gills dragged her head back, and into the water.

    9. What reasons would she have for suspecting a predator had grabbed her? Is there a specific one that would grab you first and bite you later? And why by the gills?
    10. Does her physiology allow her to cough? Where would she feel the pain of asphyxiation?
    She coughed and spluttered, trying desperately to replace the Lesser Void in her gills with sweet, clean water. She couldn't even see the predator that had seized her. She should fight, she should flee, but all she could do was wrap her arms protectively around the burning pain in her chest, the after-effect of trying to breathe nothing but Void.

    Her mother's face appeared before her, stern and disapproving. For a moment, she wondered why she could see her mother. Perhaps this was the part of death where her whole life would swim past her eyes. Including the parts her mother disapproved of, which come to think of it, was damn near all of it.

    As her coughing subsided, she realised that she wasn't dead, not yet, no. The predator that had seized her by the gills was her own mother.

    She would almost have preferred a bloodray.

    That thought brought a burst of laughter that turned into a coughing fit worse than the last one.

    11. Can you use a word other than lecturing? Unless you want to establish how their schooling works, this word brings up a lot of unnecessary connotations.
    12. The mother's scolding is a great opportunity for you to establish some of the rules and social strictures of the arcati. Can you take some words away from the sense of attack when her mother grabs her and shift them here, so we can hear what her mother actually says?
    All the way back to the Great Reef, she endured the burning in her chest and the bile in her throat. And her mother lecturing her about the bloodrays and kraken and sandlurkers that could improve the whole arcati race by ensuring that one young girl too stupid to shelter after Sundeath didn't live long enough to breed.

  2. For Bill:

    You've got a very good handle on the appearance and geography of Mars as well as its physical parameters like gravity, etc. and the appearance of the lander. Well done. So what I'm going to do is encourage you to push deeper with the characters here, and thereby give readers more a sense of the larger world context that these people are coming from.

    1. I was confused by this first sentence because the subject is 'rose light.' Since Eric is not actually your protagonist, I wonder if you could either use Perry here, or at least give us a couple of hints that this image is something that someone is observing. For example, say "ridiculous Jackal image" – the adjective implies that someone is judging the image, and thus will get us looking for the actual protagonist.
    2. Can you add anything to indicate what Perry thinks of Eric's use of historical quotations?

    Rose light faded the Jackal image from Eric’s face-plate to display his famous, chiseled pout. “Today,” he said over the suit mike as he looked at the camera clamped to the railing, “is not just a giant leap for mankind, but is really, finally, the beginning of a new age.”

    3. I was intrigued by Perry's liking for open spaces. If this is, as I believe it to be, his first opportunity to get out of the space in which he's been enclosed for six months, I'd like to see him show more impatience than just wriggling toes and sighing. Can you give him an internalized thought that shows his eagerness to get out? This will give readers a glimpse into how the crew got here and place their technology more exactly (speed of the journey etc).
    4. You've said that Perry respects Jada and fears her a little. Here we see that he finds her somewhat attractive. Can you do anything to show additional feeling? Contrast what Jada hides behind her helmet image with what Eric hides? Hint with the rapidity with which he follows her gestures? Even an adjective indicating the power in her figure might give her extra dimension.

    Perry waited in Viking II’s airlock with his toes wriggling in cushioned rigidity of his boots, hoping his sighs were too subdued for his own suit mike to pick up. He glanced back at Jada’s solid gold helmet decorated with abstract that blended into her pale green suit. The fabric of her suit accentuated rather than hid her figure as she put a gloved finger in front of the helmet before gesturing at Perry to turn around.

    5. I wonder here why he's so eager to see Eric make an error – rather than, for example, wanting him to hurry up so everyone else can get out. Maybe you could hint somehow that he thinks Eric is pretending to be in charge when really he's not?

    Beyond Eric, the pink sky deepened to violet towards the zenith above the red and brown of the Columbia Hills. Perry had tuned out Eric’s grandiose droning as he thought, please, pull a Ford.

    6. Second Space Age is a big deal, and doesn't get much attention here. Can you tune the description that follows to hint at what this means? For example, to say that the dust they stir up hasn't been stirred by anyone/anything for X number of years?

    “Yes. The Second Space age.” Eric rested his hand on the railing, already turning orange pink with accumulated dust.
    The camera followed him to the lander’s porch edge as he gripped both side**s to slide down the rail, packing his boots into fine orange soil. He released the railing as dust boiled at his feet, then he lurched back to fall on his backside.

    7. This is what Perry was waiting for, so why does it cause him discomfort? Is it that he didn't anticipate how the tumble might reflect on him and the other astronauts? Or something else?

    Eric forced a laugh that made Perry’s teeth clench. “You see, now, in this Space Age, when someone has a slip-and-fall, a congressional panel doesn’t form and stall things for decades.” He stood up, wiped dust from his backside with exaggerated movements as the face-plate darkened to show the cartoon Jackal shining in the golden screening. “We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, then continue the mission.”

    8. A single internalized line from Perry might give us a second opinion on what Eric says, which after Perry's impressions to this point comes across as pompous and potentially unreliable. What does he think the consequences of the fall are?

    9. Can you add a word to clarify the identity of Squyreston? And how about the mound of dust? Is it just a large mound of dust or does it contain an ancient rover? As you've phrased it, it's not quite clear. When he says "your tracks," whose tracks is he referring to? I suspect all this can be clarified with the addition of maybe three or four words.

    The First Man on Mars turned to face Squyreston, then he pointed at a rover-sized mound of dust on the hills above the settlement. “At last, our boot prints will follow your tracks, and I hope we have your strength of...Spirit.”

    10. I like his urge to leap, but I'm not sure how his decision not to jump relates to his adaptation to the gravity. Can you actually show how he goes down?

    “That’s us.” Jada nudged Perry. He looked at the carbonized rungs, fighting the urge to simply leap, but rather than feeling light, the Martian gravity was just right after six months’ gradual adaptation during Sojourn’s voyage from Earth. The ladder was still reverberating as his boots gripped the talcum soft dirt puffing up around his ankles.
    Pink dust already coated the silver-white lander’s underside, obscuring friction scars.

    11. Does he feel conflicted about Jada? Awed by her, attracted to her, maybe torn between duty and respect appropriate to his position and attraction/fear conflict about her personally? Can you make his actions here reflect that? This is the best spot in the piece for you to indicate how gender relations work in the future era you're exploring.

    Perry watched Jada descend**ed, then quickly looked away; ready to catch her, should she fall, but in a way to not offend her dignity.

    12. How can you infuse this last paragraph with a sense of Perry's goals/fears? Maybe use adjectives and description to indicate its attraction for him as well as its danger? This is a great opportunity for you to hint at the nature of the conflict to come.

    The horizon was close, the Columbia Hills jagged and weathered at the same time, like a feisty, hunch-backed old man, while all around, the landscape was covered with ankle-twisting chunks of dark, porous rock frosted with orange dust.

  3. For Catreona:

    Just for the purposes of this rewrite, I'm going to ask you to concentrate on the conversation between Shepherd and Morrow, and not to have him reminiscing from the ship. Maybe just remove the first sentence and end with "walked out."

    General world questions: I think you're off and running on the general world questions, already exploring a lot of avenues for expansion of your world concept. Keep pushing those further and deeper, especially in the areas of exploring people's judgment of one another. When you're dealing with bigotry, there are a lot of subtle gradations in between total acceptance and total scorn, depending on the way people understand the situation. There might be an interesting interaction between different individuals' view of God's plan, and their view of the disabled, for example. But that obviously has no bearing on this particular segment.

    1. Why was Shepherd's exact itinerary none of Morrow's concern? Is it because he's a merchant? Or is it because Shepherd's business is private business? Can you change the final sentence to reflect this reason?

    The sun was setting astern and some fifteen degrees to starboard, for I meant to make for the largest of the Falibar islands. I had business on Falibana, more pressing business than Morrow's, and a good deal prettier. I'd told him I'd be leaving on the Twenty-second, which was true; but, I hadn't bothered to tell him I'd be leaving from Falibana. That was none of his concern.

    "The Twenty-second," Morrow had exclaimed, his round, fat face growing red. "But, that's not for three weeks!"

    2. Are you trying to keep secret what job it is that Morrow wants done? Surprising, especially since Shepherd seems to know what Morrow wants. Above might be a good place to mention why he's concerned about the three-week delay.

    I shrugged, masking my amusement with polite blandness. "If you can't wait, of course…" I made as if to rise from the over soft, red armchair in front of the grain merchant's unnecessarily broad and highly polished mahogany desk.

    3. Can you include, above, some indication of what Morrow's other options might be? A few words would considerably expand our view of the economy (and technology?) here.
    4. Is Morrow only a grain merchant? How does qualify him to arrange the Namoranian selection on Miss Emma's behalf?

    His face grew redder and his pudgy hands twisted together nervously, but not so that I couldn't see them trembling. "Now, Shepherd, you're the best man I know, the - the best man."

    5. Couldn't he just tell Morrow what he thinks, below?
    6. You give a lot of attention to how Shepherd judges Morrow; but if he thinks Morrow isn't as important as Jocelyn, maybe he should be sharing his judgments of her instead. This would acquaint us with his view of women and hint at social structure.

    "The best sailor, and the best judge of horseflesh, you mean; other than that, quite beneath your exalted notice," I thought wryly. But, I relaxed and pretended to pay attention to his querulous floundering. He wasn't evil, merely silly and a little pathetic, and I'd never more than half considered cheating him in all the years I'd known him. But, it didn't bother me at all to make him wait till I'd seen Jocelyn. We didn't get to see each other very often, and Splangliborn would be there when I got there.

    Morrow was still spluttering. "So, I mean, Shepherd, my dear fellow, if you say you can't leave for three weeks, Well, of course I'll wait. I'll just have too, won't I?"

    There seemed to be something desperate in his babbling, and I looked hard at him with a sudden stirring of concern. Was the genial fool really worried that I wouldn't take his job? Unwillingly and yet wanting to calm him I said, careful to keep my tone indifferent, "I have a little job in the Falibars, man, that's all." I permitted myself a slight, reassuring smile. "It won't interfere with my selecting a Namoranian for Miss Emma, or with my delivering it in time for her birthday. It just means that I can't start for Splangliborn at once."

    7. What exactly is Shepherd's concern above? Is Shepherd's acceptance of the job ordinarily a matter of course? How important is a job like this to Shepherd's livelihood? Does he worry that Morrow will actually look for someone else, and he'll lose a plum chance here? Can you add a word or two to hint why he's "unwilling" yet "wanting to calm him"?

    Morrow's face cleared like clouds lifting to reveal an untroubled sky. "Ah," he sighed, relief and satisfaction in the long syllable. "Well then, if that's all it is, that's all right." He rose and extended his hand.

    Rising as well, I gripped it. "Do you have a bottle of brandy in your desk, Morrow?"

    8. These reactions by both of them make me suspect they have something to fear in not getting the deal done. Is that the case, or is it that they have something to care about in the deal? Can you drop a hint?

    He started slightly and gave me a quizzical look. "Yes. Why?"

    "I think you'd better have a nip. You look as if you could use it." Then, I'd turned and walked out.

    So, I'd started. And now, the evening of my second day out from Raklebad, I was within thirty-six hours or so of Falibana. And that's when I saw the island that I knew wasn't there.

  4. For K:

    General comments:

    I was very intrigued by your answers for Lison. It's clear to me that he's a really critical point of view in this story. In particular I'm intrigued by the idea that he was once suspected as a pseudopath, and that he thinks they're dangerous and his job is to find and stop them, but he also thinks they may be the key to saving his people from the Dalkans. This is the kind of internal conflict that can make it difficult for him to make decisions and carry out his goals, and I hope you explore it in the larger novel context.

    Specific questions:

    1. A Corpon is something that Lison knows well but it's a completely unfamiliar term for the reader. Can you add an adjective (uniformed? On-duty?) to indicate to readers who this person is?

    2. To Lison, is this just a "young celebrity" that the Corpon is carrying? Or is she rather a dangerous target? Or a fallen star? Or something else that can hint at the nature of what he's trying to do with her and what kind of consequences his actions/the Corpon's actions will have?

    3. Can you add something to the word "raid" to hint at why he might be raiding? Or that the raid went awry? Something to make us curious about what is to come?

    Lison Roew watched the Corpon carry the young celebrity through the crowd swathed in what cloaking they had found. He tried to reassure himself that even he would never guess her identity, and his eyes were far better than most. He’d never had a raid that hadn’t gathered a charged audience. All it took was one person seeing the Corpa arrive, and the swarm honed in like night insects surrounding a lone light, to witness and condemn. It was an unfortunate effect of their linked affect. At least during those times his work demanded discretion. And it too often did.

    4. I didn't realize this was an underground setting. Do night insects live here underground? Can you use a simile that will hint at the nature of the surroundings here?

    5. I was confused by the effect/affect sentence. Can you use a few more words instead of "linked affect" – possibly something idiosyncratic that indicates that Lison shares this "linked affect"? What name do these people give their pool of public emotion?

    6. What is his goal here, and what kind of trouble is he having? The discretion line hints at it, but I'm not sure I grasp it completely.

    7. What is the vehicle shielded from?

    8. Can you give us any details of the living quarters to show where he makes the call, and indicate what kind of dwellings these people have? Would he feel odd about entering the dwelling, knowing what went on there?

    When he was sure she was secured in the shielded vehicle with his team, he stepped back into PrahNehn’s living quarters. The pack would stand as an impromptu sentry until the Corpa drove away, but they would maintain their distance. He had a well-shielded car and the girl was safely beyond perception. He needed to make the call now, before their long drive. Experience had shown him that delay never made bad news any less difficult to deliver. If the Presidium had any words of wisdom, Collective knows, he would love to hear them.

    9. Can you do anything to indicate that the collective is divine and not a political entity? Also, if the Collective is as you've described it to me, would it "know"? Or would knowledge be contained in it? Or something else?

    10. Who does he anticipate will hold him to account? The person he's going to call, or someone else?

    How had this gone so terribly wrong? What he would give to have the answer to that question before being held to account. He still believed it was a well-formed plan, and the surveillance had been good. Too good, perhaps.

    11. I'm not sure why he'd say it was too good. Can you clarify?

    He activated the ComBud in his ear with a combination of touch and voice. “Director Roew for Presidi Muhn.” He said clearly, with more confidence than he felt.

    12. Can you indicate here whether the Presidi has any ability to sense what he feels? I'm guessing probably not, but this could be a good point to clarify the nature of these people's psychic links.

    The Presidi himself answered. Lison wasn’t surprised. Putting this call at this time on the bypass list was just the sort of foresight he expected from Muhn. “It’s a little early to be hearing from you, Director Roew.”

    “Yes, sir.” He spoke evenly. “I need to inform you of some complications we’ve encountered.”
    Lison waited for Muhn to take that in. “What ‘complications’?” Lison heard the tension in the clipped sentence and was glad to be talking over the ComLines. He could well imagine the discomfort of Muhn’s fear and anger and disappointment with him. This was the greatest trust that had ever been placed in him.

    12. Do you mean discomfort from feeling Muhn's feelings? Can you make this a little clearer? Hint how it would feel if they were in physical proximity?

    “We caught them in the act.” He said simply.

    13. This is great because it sets up curiosity. Can you start the foreboding earlier?

    Muhn’s mic amplified the sharp intake of his breath in Lison’s ear. “You were supposed to scare them, let them know we could catch them. This wasn’t supposed to be a real raid!”

    “I know, sir. We had no such intention.” Lison was careful to keep his tone explanatory rather than defensive. “It was late afternoon, and they’d only arrived at PrahNehn’s home a quarter hour earlier. We never thought . . .”

    14. I wonder if he shouldn't be worried about sounding embarrassed rather than defensive. Hasn't Lison ever had a relationship where he was consumed in passion? Maye he'd be uncomfortable because he thought the situation wasn't like that, but when he turned out to be wrong, it struck a bit too close to home?

    “Get out of there.” Muhn spoke with urgency.

    Lison hadn’t expected this. “Sir?”

    “I said: get out of there, before it’s too late.”

    “It is too late.” He stood alone in the empty house, with one car already headed to detention and the other waiting for him.

    15. And where is the situation headed? A hint why he's so worried.

    “You don’t know what you saw.” It was a directive, rather than an argument. A directive that was too late and divorced from the realities of the situation.

    “I know what I saw, and so do the five witnesses I had with me.”

    “You mean the Corpa?” Muhn laughed. “They’re not psychic, they can swear to whatever we tell them to.”

    16. I'm not sure what he thinks Muhn is suggesting below. Can you clarify?

    It was Lison’s turn to be shocked. Muhn couldn’t be suggesting they use the Corpa’s ability to lie to hide their own honesty behind. “Surely you don’t mean for me to do the same?” He spoke quietly. He couldn’t swear to a falsehood, none of them could, and the Presidi was every bit aware of that as Lison. He was speaking from fear, a child’s reflexive denial.

  5. Juliette, you are forgiven. I have two ideas on breaking that knowledge set, both of which I had before reading your comments (the workshop has really focussed me on this story).

    The first idea is a full description of her (slightly redesigned) body shape. The second is changing the arcati diet to pure carnivore (but not the sort of carnivore that is able to physically compete with the larger predators in the sea). If she snatches herself some small fish, and eats it raw in front of the reader, that should make it clear that this ain’t no Disney picture. :)

    The arcati used to have a higher civilisation, but when the ice caps melted and the entire planet flooded, the survivors were those who were genetically engineered to survive in the sea. Much of their former technology was lost. This is revealed later, when the humans start exploring the arcati planet. (At least, that’s the plan. The entire human exploration currently consists of about six lines of dialogue. Must. Write. More.)

    So the arcati have some knowledge that you wouldn’t expect a purely aquatic species to have. They know about space (the Greater Void), but their fledgling space program died when the sea levels rose.

    The arcati no longer have the capacity to reach space, but hey, a girl can dream. Spaceflight just isn’t going to happen, but she can look at the stars, and dream.

    And dreaming is better than having to face the fact that she is soon going to have to choose her career. The Great Reef doesn’t have any Watchers (she’ll have to travel to another reef for her apprenticeship, but at the opening of the story, there seems little prospect of that), so her options are limited to tasks of little interest to her. Something that I’m going to have to make clear in the text.

    The Lord of Astrophysics is only in charge of the Watchers, the sad remnants of the arcati astronomers guild. Society has regressed to a feudal level, with various petty kings and queens ruling different reefs. Again, something I’ll have to make clear.

    As for luxury -- one luxury available only to Lords and children is leisure. The arcati race is in trouble -- the environment has too many predators for a smart-but-physically-not-so-powerful species that has limited technological options. Most adult arcati face a back-breaking burden of work just to keep their heads below water :)

    So maybe that’s it -- her last chance to stargaze before she has to turn her back on childhood and face the responsibilities of an adult.

    More later...

  6. For Ryan:

    General comments: You've done a lot of good work here on the physical setting. Now I'd like to see you bring the social parts of this world to bear, particularly some foreshadowing of the main story conflict.

    1. Here you have Curo suffering climbing a mountain path, and irritated about it. Can you give us a little more to hint at what he expects at the end of it? This is the home stretch and the Choque capital is in sight – so for example does he feel the Choque do this to bring visitors to their knees by the time they arrive?

    2. The unknown word pharu comes in a less than ideal context for deducing what it means, especially with the line break as written. Can you rephrase, maybe attach the pharu concept to the riding up alongside (with a glimpse of bird feet?) instead of to Guaman himself? Could Guaman be a fowl master, or a master of mounts, or a stable master?

    Curo's feet hurt. He stared at the stone path in front of him, and took step after plodding step. Why did Highpass have to be so high? Guaman, his father's pharu master rode up alongside.

    3. What is Guaman's purpose in accompanying Curo? How much does Guaman know about where they're going? That might influence what he would say to encourage him.

    "Look alive, master Curoqonatu! We are almost there!"

    4. The word chipper seems not to fit the Andean setting. I like very much that Curo and Guaman are in dispute, but if you can identify the pharu earlier, you have an opportunity to have them dispute about upcoming events, perhaps about the perils of their current assignment.

    "You would be less chipper if you had to climb this mountain on your own two feet instead of on that accursed bird."

    "I would offer to let you ride, but pharu are temperamental. Last person who rode this old boy other than me ended up with a broken arm."

    5. Below, you have them traveling at the back of a baggage train, when above, I had guessed they were traveling alone (with their own things). At this point I'm inclined to guess that Curo's father has been required to send tribute to the Choque along with his son. But I'm not sure why they'd be at the back of the train if that's the case. Is this what you had in mind? Can you clarify it a little?

    The tall flightless bird peered down at Curo with predatory golden eyes. Guaman smiled his toothy smile and rode off ahead along the baggage train. Curo tugged the lead of his pack-llama and trudged ahead. They had been on the road from Stormhaven for almost three weeks, and the llama showed no sign of fatigue. In fact, nobody else seemed to mind the walking but him. Curo cursed under his breath and kept walking.

    6. Does Curo blame his father for giving in because his father could have beaten the Choque if he'd fought? Or is he somehow unaware of the danger of resisting invasion/occupation? Since you've got the political intrigue plot coming up, it might be good to establish Curo as having some awareness that politics was involved in his current state of affairs - but if he doesn't get all the nuances of politics, that will set him up well to be tossed into the later sections of the plot.

    He didn't want to go to Highpass in the first place, but father had given in to the Choque without so much as a skirmish, and now it was Curo's duty to travel to the capital and learn how to govern as a Choque.

    7. Brainwashing seems a very modern concept. What about substituting a religious metaphor, like conversion? If the Choque have a different religion, that might fit well.

    More like come and be brainwashed, Curo thought.

    He was so caught up in dark thoughts that he almost ran into Guaman's pharu standing in the middle of the path in front of him. Curo looked up to see that the entire train of travelers had stopped at the crest of the ridge they had been climbing. The path ahead plunged down the ridge and then switchbacked up the slope on the far side to a gap in the mountains. The valley was a cascade of green terraces, and he could see peasants working the stair-stepped fields.
    Above the terraces, the walls and towers of High Pass glowed gold in the late afternoon light. High above the rest of the city, framed against the sky by the granite peaks on either side, the Emperor's tower stood. For a moment, Curo forgot about his aching feet.

    "Quite a view isn't it?"

    8. It is quite a view. Can you add perhaps one more tiny element to indicate to us what the view means to Curo? Does it mean riches/power, for example? Is it a beautiful trap? Is it beautiful but hiding ugliness underneath?

    Curo looked up at Guaman, who was shielding his eyes and looking west, away from the city.

    "Yes, it's lovely, but --- Oh…" As he spoke, Curo had also turned to face west. Laid out below them were the rolling foothills of the Apo mountains, threaded by rivers of snowmelt from the peaks that glimmered in the sun like veins of gold. Beyond the hills, the dusty road wound its way to the Crossroads, and beyond into the Flatlands until it was lost in the golden haze.

    9. This view has a lead-in that suggests significance, but then it's not clear what the view means. Is it Curo's home (making him homesick)? Is it the scope of the Choque power (making him feel helpless)? Can you give us a hint? That hint will give the following paragraph even more intriguing significance.

    "I hear the view is even better from the Emperor's tower, but of course I'm not allowed there. You will be though! You'll have to tell me about it!" Guaman flashed his toothy smile again, then spurred his Pharu and rode ahead down the path to Highpass.

  7. Juliette, Thanks for the questions. Funny you should select the conversation between Charlie and Morrow because it is, er, pretty much throwaway. I came *this* close to deleting it from the excerpt before sending it to you. Seeing your questions, I realize that it is an excellent place to do some unobtrusive world and character building, but, well. Let's just say your choice staggered me.

    If I may... It's obvious to me that the rover sized mound in Bill's excerpt, and the "you" apostrophized by the character is Spirit Rover.

    Got to get to work...

  8. The Lord is also going to be fat, unlike most arcati who work too hard and get too little to eat. As in some cultures that have existed here on earth, wealth is displayed by conspicuous (over)consumption.

    Without the help of a Watcher-specific device that I’m busily inventing even as we speak :), an arcati cannot keep her head above water and watch the stars and keep her gills underwater at the same time. The arcati still have vestigial lungs from their heritage as land-walkers (which will puzzle the humans when they first scan her insides). This enables them to hold some oxygen absorbed from seawater through their gills, and to cough and splutter when things go wrong, but what remains isn’t enough to enable them to breathe the atmosphere.

    I originally wrote the fluorescing gills because I thought the imagery was cool. No better reason. Now, as I establish that most predators are most active at night, the fluorescing gills are gone. She’s not going to go out at night and do something that makes her light up like a Christmas tree when there are night-hunting predators. She’s foolish, but not suicidal.

    I’ll have to come up with a less visible image.

    Now, the Eater of All Life. The land-dwelling arcati had a religion based on two equally powerful gods; one a force for good, and the other evil. When the seas rose and devoured the land, the evil god(dess) became associated with the deepest, lightless depths of the all-devouring ocean, and thus with darkness. The logical extension was that the (relatively) safe hours of daylight were the time of the good god(dess?), who became associated with light and the sun.

    So the Eater lives in the lightless depths, and comes out at night (as do Her children i.e. many predators are nocturnal). Something I need to clarify in the text. Does the Eater live in the Greater Void (space?). There will be some arcati who think so, and will never willingly travel into space. For those who do, there are ceremonies to appease the Eater.

    Should she be worried about predators? Oh, yes. The climax of the scene does involve a bloodray. But she has taken some sensible precautions (which have only come about through this workshop :)). Unfortunately, the bloodray has figured out how to get around those precautions.

    Why does she keep looking? At this point in the (revised) storyline, she doesn’t think she’ll ever again have the chance to spend her time gazing in wonder upon the stars. She’s trying to store up the sight, so that she can take it out again and replay it in her mind during the years of hard labour that await her.

    Her gills are like hundreds of small tentacles that cover her head and the back of her neck. If she floats on her back, with her gills in the water, she can breathe -- but her view of the stars will be blocked because every passing wave will pass over her face. So she needs to swim upright, raising her head (and gills) out of the water.

    Her mother reaches out of the water to grab her gills. This is intentionally a painful thing, the equivalent of a human mother physically twisting the ear of her wayward offspring.

    Something has sneaked up on her and grabbed her. She doesn’t know what it is, but her first fearful thought is that it’s a predator. Even though any real predator would have just bitten whatever tender parts of her anatomy were within reach.

    And dialogue…this story has been a bit different from the way I usually write. Normally, my first drafts look like a movie script, with dialogue, dialogue everywhere, and maybe a few stage directions pencilled in. This story is all actions and no words. Yet.

    I’m working on actual words to put in her mother’s mouth in place of “lecturing”.

  9. P.S. I know you said that I didn't have to write out the answers like I did, but I find it helps me to clarify the ideas I'll be taking into the revised draft.

  10. David- I really enjoyed reading about your thought process. My first drafts totally look like scripts too. So nice to hear I'm not alone. :)


  11. David,

    I like your thinking. It's often good to write this stuff out, particularly in the early stages of hashing things out (I have files and files).

    I don't have much problem with anything except her thinking she's been grabbed by a predator. The grabbing of her gills is so punishment-specific, so calculated and probably so familiar, that I'd think she would know instantly what it was.

    One more thought - if they were once land dwellers, I don't think their way of thinking about the stars would be entirely lost. Some might call them reefs, but there might be alternate ways of describing them that seem more land-based, which our young protagonist who cares about stars might know about, be curious about but not understand.

  12. K - Totally script-like. I'm glad that my comments helped you realise that You Are Not Alone :)

  13. Juliette - I think I have the solution. First, she feels the water moving, like She Is Not Alone. Her first fearful thought is that a predator has managed to find her. Before she can do anything more than gasp in terror, she is grabbed by the gills. She wonders why a predator would grab her there. Then she sees her mother's face...

  14. Hmmm. A land-based description would probably mutate over the years, as young arcati who never knew the land ask their elders "What's a tree?", and are told that it is something like an upright spire of coral, with short strands of kelp (leaves) and even brightly-coloured anenomes (flowers).

    So, I could keep the Milky Way as a bright reef, but maybe she could wonder if it really is an enormous pantheon of bright solar gods very far away, just like the ancient stories say...

  15. Which would make the Watchers a priesthood, rather than a guild...

  16. David,

    What you're saying about the arcati's beliefs about the stars leads me to believe that their ancient civilization was of a lower technology level than you've been describing. For example, if the stars are considered to be gods now, they probably were then as well. I can't see a society like that having anything resembling a space program. You might want to think through the ancient disaster as well. How long did it take for the water to swamp the land? How did people respond? How long would the genetic modifications have taken, vs. how long would they have had to try to preserve their cultural knowledge in waterproof ways? If the swamping was fast, I could see that they'd lose a lot, but the population would be devastated as well. Unless a program of undersea living was already deliberately underway - in which case, why wouldn't they have tried to make the people amphibious?

    See what I mean?

  17. Juliette,

    I do see what you mean. What I'm thinking is this:

    We humans have a technological civilisation, and a space program. We also have religion, although much of it is monotheistic rather than the ancient pantheistic religions of, say, Greco/Roman times.

    The arcati had a similar tech level to our current level, although you wouldn't know it today if you didn't look very closely.

    Their land-based civilisation was duotheistic(?), worshipping a good god and trying to appease/avoid the notice of a bad god. But their religion has changed since the great flood.

    It's only since they returned to the sea, with mostly nocturnal predators, that their good god has become associated with the sun (because he drives away the worst of the light-sensitive predators).

    They remember that their sun is merely one of many. The logical (religious) extension of that idea is that the stars are gods, too.

    And when the human explorers look closely, they are going to find what remains of the arcati attempts to preserve their technology and culture in waterproof ways.

    In a taboo area known as the Reef of the Dead.