Friday, May 1, 2015

#YayYA Critique Party: Entry #14

Name: Joan He

Genre: Thriller Scifi

Title: An Order of Cardinals

35 word pitch: Cecile cracks people for secrets. Clare cracks computer encryption for information. Separated by a time and world, the two hackers must unite or watch a man playing creator rewrite the code of humanity.

first 500:

She’s not going to make it.

That’s what I think as I watch Gia leap from tower to tower through my telescope. Like a squirrel, she’s fleet-footed and quick, but she can’t buy back the time that she lost while securing the files. It’s not exactly her fault—none of us had expected the baron to plant explosives in his archives—but it does mean that flocks of patrolmen have already arrived. Clad in their usual head-to-toe black, they gather around the rubble in the middle of the cobblestoned street, under the gaping hole in the mansion’s side where the archives used to be. They caw at Gia, waving their batons.

Gia pays them no heed. She’s too focused on landing her jumps with artistry. It’s all a show for her.

Classic Gia. 

I collapse my telescope, flatten myself against the wall of my dark alleyway, and take a deep breath. Coming into the scene as a Walker is easy enough, but my clothes stick to my skin. I reach for my signaling mirrors and flash them once. The light lances through the muggy heat and splashes onto the roof, innocuous enough to be passed off as a sun glare. 

Gia slides down the sloped roof and scales the brick walls. 

I lose no time in stepping out of my alleyway. The crowd ingests me, pushes and shoves concealing my deliberate path toward Gia’s landing location. I sacrifice speed for cover.  The patrolmen beat me to the spot, but Gia adjusts her course down the next five stories, bringing herself closer to where I am. She hits the ground running

“Heavens,” comes a young lady’s voice from next to me. “You’d think that little thing is one of the Cardinal Order.” 

“If such an order existed,” I say without taking my eyes off Gia, “then it’s quite unlikely they’ve avoided detection for so long.” 

In trying to keep my high-class accent in place, my tone comes out unintentionally stern. 

“Why, yes, of course,” says the lady, sounding affronted. “I never said otherwise.”

I don’t get the chance to reply because at that moment, Gia barrels into me. Upon impact, she grabs the collar of my trench coat. 

It only takes a second.

She stuffs the information into the inside of my jacket. Just like that, paper to jacket, and we’ve won again. 

There’s only one problem. Gia’s underestimated her force, and when she sprints off, I don’t get the chance to right myself before I go sprawling onto the asphalt. My hands come out late, too busy hiding the documents in my jacket. Pain rocks far back into my jawbone.

Don’t take note of me, I pray as I grit my teeth and pull myself to my feet.

The lady beside me screams. I know without looking at the asphalt that part of my chin, both real and fake, has decided to stay on the ground.


  1. Hi Joan,

    This is a brilliant opening. Your world building is fantastic. You have introduced an impressive number of elements in a short space but somehow it’s not confusing. It’s also an action-packed scene yet it follows clearly and cohesively. (In general, I’m not personally a huge fan of action-packed openings but this one really works well) You even manage to finish on a cliff-hanger. I am dying to know what happens next.

    The one thing that threw me a little was the genre. I was reading it as fantasy (baron, mansion, flocks of cawing patrolmen, Gia, the young lady), but that’s just first impressions!

    The concept sounds amazing and really original. I’d love to read this.

    Well done and best of luck!

  2. I love the opening. I think the pitch is really great, though if you can squeeze it in, I would like a little more detail on what separated by time and world means.

  3. Starting from the top!

    Genre: I'd say "Sci-Fi Thriller" just because if you go to a bookstore anything genre is going to be thrown into the SFF section first and then Thrillers without SFF will be over by the Mysteries.

    Pitch: I like this... but.

    The but is that you've sacrificed Cecile's uniqueness to emphasize Clare's and I think you want Cecile to be either equal or superior to Clare since she's our first POV character (I think). I'm going to echo the above sentiment "a time and world" aren't clear enough. Contests get pretty cutthroat and the more vividly you can describe your story the better you are. You want to leave them with a sense of character, time and place. Clarity first, voice second. (Voice is usually just swapping out the clear words for voicy words that are equally clear.)

    Text: If I had picked this up as an Adult UF, my only comment would be: "That’s what I think as" is too distancing, rephrase it to be closer in. But since this is YA Sci-Fi Thriller, I am missing the connection to the POV character. By the end of 500 words I don't know much about how she feels about things, or even really who she is or why she's watching Gia. I know a ton about Gia, but I don't know why I care about her.

    This isn't impossible to fix, it's just a matter of shifting some of the word choices around. Put in more loaded terms, make it more about the POV character reacting to what Gia's doing and less about Gia doing the thing.

    Standard caveats as always. This is your work, your voice, you write what works for you. I just want to give you an outside view into what you've got right now!

    Best of luck!

    -Lana (@Muliebris)

  4. Not a lot to add here! Very evocative of time and place. I think Lana nails it saying that we need a little more info from (and about) the POV character. I also found "caw" a little distracting (my first instinct is to take it literally!)

  5. It seemed to me a bit adjective laden and action packed, for the first 500 words. Like sitting on a rollercoaster and having the first part of it headed straight down. The squirrel troupe seemed too cutesy for the action. And, I think 'hits the ground running', might be cliché, even if it is literal.

  6. Hi Joan!

    This is definitely a thriller from the beginning! It was very exciting and had a quick way to hook the reader! I got sorta sad when I realized I had read the whole thing since I wanted to see what the paper said and if Gia was okay!
    I did begin reading it as a fantasy though and then I remembered it was sci if. Maybe you should mention something spacey in there so people get the feel their on another planet with technology... Unless one of the two worlds is suppose to be medieval. Maybe do like a touch screen tablet or info chip of kind instead of a paper?
    Another thing is... Who's telling the story? Cecile or Clare?
    Other then that... This looks like it's going to be epic!

    ~Cayla (#2)

  7. Great hook to get your readers interested and I do love the cliffhanger! I agree with Rollan that there is a LOT of action to digest here at the beginning (I feel like you're dropping us off in the equivalent of, say, a climatic scene in the Hunger Games) but I'm definitely intrigued! I also agree that "squirrel" may not be the best WC here... consider maybe "fox" instead?

  8. I'm agreeing with every body else. It's an exciting start, and I want to read more.

    Could there be more than one moon? If she lloks up and sees a pair of moons in the sky then I'm sold on it being scifi. Or just any kind of hint that this world is not our own. I think in general I could use a tad more description. And again like everyone else has said, I don't know enough about the POV character.

    But it's working for me, and I think those fixes could be super minor.

  9. I think your pitch is fantastic and your opening is great. I was drawn in immediately and it definitely made me want to see more of the story. One thing that kind of threw me off was your use of the present tense; maybe that's because I'm not used to reading the past tense. Also, I felt like you used Gia's name one too many times near the beginning. After you say it like twice, we know who you're talking about, so I think you can swap some of them out with 'she' or 'her'. It's not like we'll get confused with your other MC because you use the pronoun 'I'. Other than that, great work!

  10. Your first 500 left me wanting more, especially that last line! Very enjoyable. The only thing I wanted more of was to get to know the MC at least a little bit. I'm still not sure who she is at all. I'm finding it hard to critique as I had a great time reading it.

    In your pitch I want to know what time and what world, is there a way to fit that in?
    I also agree with the above posters about putting SCI-Fi in front of Thriller.

  11. Hi Joan!! :D

    I'm going to crit your entry thoroughly, but remember that all advice is subjective in the art world and you are more than welcome to burn mine if it's totally opposite of what you think is best for YOUR story! :D

    Your pitch is fantastic. *Whispers* It's definitely one of the best in the party. And YOUR TITLE. AHHHH.

    Okay, enough fangirling XD

    On your first 500... I found it well written. I also started reading it as a fantasy, but that's because my silly Star Wars fangirl self tends to see sci-fi and think space opera, which your story is not, but yes, you have your genre right, because does it have science? Yes. Is it fiction? Yes. Then yay! You have sci-fi XD

    All the same I also agree that I want to know what time and what place, and not necessarily in the pitch. Hinting at it somewhere in the 500 will do, preferably in the 250 because that's where your money is for contests. Hinting at the asphalt, reflecting mirrors, and trench coat tell me this is post-Victorian era, at the very least. I think you could hint even more specifically in the same way you mentioned these side details so nonchalantly.

    I know some of the former commenters mentioned that they think you talk too much about Gia, a character NOT named in the pitch, than about your MC. Well, LOL I got the same remark about myself with my character Lindsay in my own entry. Now while I'm going to tell you that I was okay with you talking about Gia, because she's the one in the action (and your MC is NOT inactive, awesome!!), and because the MC is thinking about ugh, she's such a show off, she'd better not kill herself. I love it. It's realistic thought process. But some people may want to know more about your MC. You're very good at showing and not telling, so I'm sure if you do add anything to this effect that you'll do it well, but that's up to you to decide :D

    Anyways, all this to say, this is definitely a book I'd like to read :D Yay for you!!

  12. The pitch doesn't work for me. While the book's premise sounds interesting, I'm just not grasped by the pitch at all. I would go more in-depth but since others seemed to love it I figure I'm in the minority and you should leave well enough alone.

    About the excerpt, it's excellent. From the strength of line one to the dramatic and chuckle-inducing last line, it's strong and it works.