Sunday, April 22, 2007

cut the hook

I entered a "Hook" for my current Sci-Fi story in a contest sponsored by an online site of published authors, called "fangs, fur, and fey." It's basically an exercise in writing a short (300 word max.), book-jacket type blurb that will catch an agent or publisher's attention when reading a query letter. The site promised online critiques by their authors for each accepted entry. Apparently lots of us writers were interested in such an exercise, and feedback, because the site's 250 submittals limit was reached in the first twenty-four hours. It was fun, and I learned from it. Here's my entry and the critique received:

Josiah, an American mining engineer, discovers beryl ore—the source of a rare, space age metal, beryllium—within a powerhouse excavation in the Andes. He conspires along with his boss to sell the ‘waste’ excavation for personal gain. He’s getting on in years and needs a pension plan. Distressingly, he begins having hallucinatory, epileptic seizures, in which an ancient, woman warrior, Akla, tells him he’s a reincarnated space druid and orders him to destroy ‘the beryllium eaters.’ But who are they? He hopes he can finish his beryllium heist before he becomes further unhinged.

Soon after, he encounters two Skatha, creatures from another planet, who are formed like humans but are organically encased within a sheathing of beryllium. They arrived on Earth long ago to search for beryllium, and became hidden allies of the Inca in their conquest of South America. The Skatha stayed on, to allow Drost, the male commander of the mission, to continue pillaging the skin sheath of humans. He ‘fire-tongues’ his victims, bio-electrically depositing their skin onto his beryllium sheath, enabling him to experience the tactile pleasures of life for a limited time.

Eila, a female Skatha, is a reluctant subordinate of Drost, and still wants to remain true to their original mission—a complication after she falls in love with Josiah. Akla becomes increasingly impatient with Josiah’s incompetent efforts to carry out his assignment. Drost’s egomania grows, and he forms an international society with Inca trappings, where he slags people into computerized adherents of his will, by putting a programmed, bio-metallic compound of beryllium into their initiation drink. One of his slags, an Israeli Deputy Defense Minister named Vasthi, overcomes her slagging program and challenges Drost for the leadership of the slags. She and Eila contend for Josiah’s love during the fight to defeat Drost.

Reviewer's Notes:

Good: Fantastic eye for detail. The writer has a great imagination

Bad: Unfortunately, this is another short synopsis. The writer packed the entire story into 300 words (it's 300 exactly, I checked because I thought it might have been over.) This type of detail leads to information overload. The writer might have written a great epic story, but the hook is too complex and doesn't quite work.

Suggestion: the hook should read more like a back cover blurb. When a reader flips a book over in a bookstore and glances at the back, that blurb has maybe ten seconds to capture that person's attention. It's hard to captivate when there is so much information crammed into so little space. Less would have been more in this case.

I appreciate the intricate set-up, but unfortunately this is a pass.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut might have said. Less would have been more. Too long for a hook. But the reviewer didn't fault the overall plot or characters populating the story. I liked that.

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