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message 1: by Alex (new)

Alex | 136 comments Below are two possible openings to my novel End Man. Opening # 1 has had some success in getting agents to read more pages (or at least it hasn't immediately turned them off), but it has also been criticized as confusing by a number of readers. Opening # 2 has yet to pass the agent test. Which do you think works best?

Opening #1
It was like a riddle, thought Raphael. What was always arriving but never arrived? What did we constantly approach but never reached? What door did we step through to find ourselves opening it again? A riddle and a disappointment. Ten years ago, he had imagined the future to be electric cars, clean industries and invisible air, but gas guzzlers still filled the roads (cheaper MSRP), smokestacks belched their byproducts (downgraded environmental laws) and brown skies had returned to Los Angeles, though now, admittedly, filled with drones. That came true. And digital technology pretty much ran the show, though the armies of the night, the so-called New Luddites or blanks, were gathering. Robocalls, junk mail and spam still ruled.
Hissssss.
At the sound, Raphael looked up at one of the large monitors protruding from the department’s east wall. It showed a woman ironing a sheet. The hiss was steam. The monitor’s loud volume was pointless. One of the End Men must have accidently turned up the control. Someone made the correction and the sound faded, leaving only an image, as was the case on the other screens showing food preparation, a man whittling a pipe and a cat playing with a golf ball. The monitors were there for bulletins, but during down time showed only these monotonous videos, whose purpose, Raphael supposed, was to disrupt one’s daydreaming and direct one’s interest back to work.
Above the monitors, large silver letters on a black background spelled out the name of the division: Norval Department of Marketing Necrology. In slightly smaller script, its corporate charge followed: To Preserve and Protect the Online Remains of the Dead. Derived from the division’s name, NDMN was the staff’s acronym for the unit. They happily pronounced it End Men.

Opening # 2

Friday, January 17, 202-, 10:55 a.m., the offices of the Norval Corporation, Los Angeles.
The goal was to determine if Klaes was alive or dead. Ninety-nine percent of the reported dead stayed dead, but occasionally someone played possum. Death was a good place to hide—from a wife, a life or a police blotter.
Hissssss.
Raphael looked up at one of the light screens protruding from the Necrology Department’s east wall. It showed a woman ironing a sheet. The hiss was steam. The screens were for bulletins, but during downtime showed only mindfulness videos, which—though other End Men claimed the videos calmed and focused them—made him uneasy and caused him to avert his eyes. Beneath the screens, a panel of LED lights showed a four-digit number, the ones place digit changing so quickly, it was almost indiscernible. The tens digit changed at a slower pace, the hundreds slower yet and the thousands seemed stuck on four.
Above the screens, large silver letters on a black background spelled out the name of the division: Norval Department of Marketing Necrology. In slightly smaller script, its corporate charge followed: To Preserve and Protect the Online Remains of the Dead. Derived from the division’s name, NDMN was the staff’s acronym for the unit. They happily pronounced it End Men.


message 2: by J (last edited Dec 09, 2018 06:13PM) (new)

J | 52 comments The first one took me a minute to figure out when I got to that second paragraph. I think it would be easy to fix up.

I think I like the second one more, but you miss the dystopian aspects and location (which were a good hook). Is that an element you want to announce out of the gate? My only other question in # is the goal of what? We know what the goal is (and makes a good hook), but what was being done to meet that goal?


message 3: by Alex (last edited Dec 09, 2018 11:54PM) (new)

Alex | 136 comments Thanks, J. Yeah, in #1 you get the dystopian setup, although it's handled casually. You say it took you a minute to figure out when you got to the second paragraph. You don't mean "Hissssss," but the graph that begins "At the sound," right?

The location is mentioned in #2, but you're right, you don't learn what is being done to achieve that goal until a couple of pages later.


message 4: by J (new)

J | 52 comments Alex wrote: "Thanks, J. Yeah, in #1 you get the dystopian setup, although it's handled casually. You say it took you a minute to figure out when you got to the second paragraph. You don't mean "Hissssss," but t..."

Yes, the paragraph after the 'hisssss.' You are right about the location for #2, I even remember reading it but it just buzzed by so I forgot :) - the first version just makes the setting stand out more. Both the dystopian setting (I used to live around LA so it really struck home with me) and the intriguing mission of NDMN are good hooks. You leave the specifics of what, exactly, they do nebulous enough that I want to keep reading.


message 5: by Alex (new)

Alex | 136 comments Right, J, there is much more emphasis on the setting in the first version. and I'm glad you like nebulous. I'm a fan of keeping readers off balance and in the dark. It really comes down to the first paragraph of #1. As I mentioned above, that opening worked for my purposes for a while (and it's closer to my heart. I live in LA and it's definitely an LA novel), but lately it hasn't. Plus, several beta readers have been baffled by it. Tell me more about your novel. You can message me. I don't think I have the time to read, but I might have some reader recommendations.


message 6: by J (new)

J | 52 comments Alex wrote: "Right, J, there is much more emphasis on the setting in the first version. and I'm glad you like nebulous. I'm a fan of keeping readers off balance and in the dark. It really comes down to the firs..."

I say stick with your #1 first paragraph, then use everything after 'hisssss' in #2. I'm happy to read the first page or so of what you are working on and give you a 'play by play' of the thoughts in my head as I read it (which is the only kind of beta-ing I do, I'm not an editor by any means so it's purely a fan level reaction).
Thanks for the offer! I'm in the middle of some re-works right now after some really great beta feedback. I may hit you up later for some recommendations when I'm looking for readers on the next draft.


message 7: by Alex (new)

Alex | 136 comments J. Here's the first two pages opening as you suggested. I'm glad you found some good betas.

Chapter 1
It was like a riddle, thought Raphael. What is always arriving but never arrives? What do we constantly approach but never reach? What door do we step through to find ourselves opening it again? A riddle and a disappointment. Ten years ago, he had imagined a future with electric cars, clean industries and invisible air, but gas guzzlers still filled the roads (cheaper purchase price), smokestacks belched their byproducts (downgraded environmental laws) and brown skies had returned to Los Angeles, though now, admittedly, filled with drones. That came true. And digital technology pretty much ran the show, though the armies of the night, the so-called Digital Luddites or blanks, were gathering. Robocalls, junk mail and spam still ruled.
Hissssss.
Raphael looked up at one of the light screens protruding from the Necrology Department’s east wall. It showed a woman ironing a sheet. The hiss was steam. The screens were for bulletins, but during downtime showed only mindfulness videos, which—though other End Men claimed the videos calmed and focused them—made him uneasy and caused him to avert his eyes. Beneath the screens, a panel of LED lights showed a four-digit number, the ones place digit changing so quickly, it was almost indiscernible. The tens digit changed at a slower pace, the hundreds slower yet and the thousands seemed stuck on four.
Above the screens, large silver letters on a black background spelled out the name of the division: Norval Department of Marketing Necrology. In slightly smaller script, its corporate charge followed: To Preserve and Protect the Online Remains of the Dead. Derived from the division’s name, NDMN was the staff’s acronym for the unit. They happily pronounced it End Men.
Turning back to his console, Raphael listened to the hum of the department in which a hundred End Men verified death, the first step in acquiring the rights to online remains. In another month he’d have spent five years harvesting the data of the deceased. Although he thought the business morbid at first, he had come to see it wasn’t much different from any other data collection industry. Norval just substituted the data of the dead for the data of the living.
Raphael drained his energy drink, stretched his legs out under the desk and set his heels on his skateboard. He turned a foot sideways on the board. His sneaker’s sole was trashed. In the days when he practiced stunts, his pants would have been equally beat. But the black chinos, which fit like a second skin on his long slim legs, showed neither tear nor fray. He hadn’t tried a new skateboard trick since he was fourteen, twelve years ago . . . Now the board was strictly transport, carrying his 159-pound body from home to work and back and—well, there wasn’t much to add to that.
Karaoke Thursday, dude. You’ve got a life. Yeah, sure he did.
He sat up, put the can to his mouth, tapped it against his teeth in disappointment and dropped it in the trash. He picked up the printout of the Klaes obituary and read it for the third time.
“Former Caltech Professor of Physics Jason L. Klaes passed unexpectedly on January 10, in Los Angeles, California. He was sixty-four. A celebration of Jason’s life will be held on January 31 at 2 p.m. in the King George Room of the Harvey Hotel in Los Angeles. Reception to follow.”
The obituary, published in the Pasadena Gazette, provided no indication of the cause of death, relatives to contact or burial arrangements. Hoping to find out who had submitted the Klaes info, Raphael had left several messages for the obits editor at the Gazette, but none had been returned, which matched the response to his other inquiries on the case.


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