This is topic SF story 9000 words in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by clem.freedom (Member # 11206) on :
Hi all, this is the first 13 lines of my science-fiction short story. It's about human diplomats posted on an alien station, a black hole experiment, and the different types of science.

I'm happy to send you the full story (approx. 9000 words). I'd also be grateful for feedback on the start! Thanks for all your comments.

Tamasvi had never slept so close to a black hole; she woke up tired and disoriented. Meeting her new boss first thing in the morning just made it worse. He introduced himself as Emerson; in his early forties, he was short, slightly overweight, wearing a disgruntled expression.

"I will take you to breakfast," he said.

The dining room was small and low-ceilinged. One of the walls, however, was entirely transparent, giving unobstructed view of the Zeta Corvi region and its most famous landmark.

"Lord Shiva," she murmured. She had seen images before, but none gave justice to the heart-gripping reality of it. She sat down facing the metal walls.

She ordered poha with vegetables and tea. Emerson only took coffee, but he asked for a half-litre pot.

"So what do you know of our mission?" he asked.
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
Tamasvi had never slept so close to a black hole
The first problem:

1. The reader has no idea of where we are, who we are, or what's going on. In practical terms, they have not a clue of what this line means. "This close to a black hole?" Unless I know how close that is, it's meaningless; unless I know why sleeping close to one matters; unless I know why I should care if she slept or spent the time awake, and why I'm being told it happened, my only possible response is: "So what?" And is that what you want a reader to say after reading one line?

2. A semicolon is not, not, not, a super comma. It's used to separate items in a list, or to connect two independent sentences with a shorter stop than a period. Neither work here.

3. From a scientific viewpoint, unless you're at the event horizon, or being bombarded with heat or radiation, distance would seem to be irrelevant to how well one sleeps.

4. Never, never, never open with someone waking up unless it's necessary to the plot. It's pretty much a guaranteed rejection.

I truly wish I had better news, but I see several serious problems that have to be addressed. First is that your science seems weak. Of more importance, you're telling the reader a story in summation, as a transcription of yourself speaking the story aloud. But our medium reproduces neither sound nor vision, so while you can hear the emotion in the narrator's voice the reader hears only what the words suggest to them, based on their background and experience. And since they don't know what's going on, where they are, or the smallest thing aboout the protagonist...

Bottom line: fiction-writing is a profession, and not an easy one to master. And during our school years, we're taught no professions, only a set of general skills that adults, and their employers, find useful. So while no one mentions it while we're in school, what we learn are the tricks of writing reports and essays, which are nonfiction applications.

If writing fiction is your goal, you need to add the tricks of the trade to that.

What a scene is changes dramatically from one on the stage or screen when writing for the page. But if you have no idea of the elements of a scene, and how to manage them, can you write one that a reader will recognize as one? If the term "short-term scene-goal" is one you don't recognize, will you provide one?

In short: You want to write fiction, and that's great. But to do so, you need more than schooldays writing skills. And for that, the local library's fiction writing section can be a huge resource.

I wish my news was better, or that there was a quick, "Do this, not that," fix. But the only shortcut I know of is to not waste time looking for shortcuts.

So hit the library. If you're meant to be a writer you'll find the learning fun. And if not, you've learned something important. So it's win/win.
Posted by MerlionEmrys (Member # 11024) on :
Send it to me.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
I am not engaged as a reader.

What you’ve presented to me feels like a dot-point list. You, the writer, are talking at me, all the while stabbing the empty air with your pointed finger to emphasise each unfolding element of your tale, one after the other.

Here’s the thing: a tale is told, a story is experienced. I also have to agree with Jay Greenstein; never start a story with a character waking up if it can at all be avoided. Which it almost always can be.

I also find your science a bit weak with regards to the effect of sleeping near a black hole. Unless you are actually on the event horizon experiencing gravitational flux, or your vessel’s shielding against various forms of radiation and particle emissions is deficient, there will be no physical effects. Psychologically? That’s another thing altogether. In fact, that could be a useful tool to develop one of your major characters instead of telling me they’re “tired and disoriented”.

There is often a raging debate about whether plot or character has more prominence in storytelling. One can also include science in that debate if you are writing a Sci-Fi story. From my observations, and from reading hundreds of such stories, ‘the science’ is almost always secondary, and usually tertiary, to character and plot. (The only exception which springs to my mind is the short story by Robert Heinlein, Blowups Happen) It is nothing more than a piece of the setting. So, when I read this:
It’s about human diplomats posted on an alien station, a black hole experiment, and the different types of science.
I get nervous. I hope the story about the diplomats has a lot more prominence than the science or the experiment.

Then there is also this:
"So what do you know of our mission?" he asked.
To me this seems to be the initial set-up for an “As you know, Bob--”,( Read This ) big chunk of boring narrator exposition. I could be wrong, of course.

All this being said, it is after all simply my opinion. Feel free to disagree. I hope you found it useful and I look forward to further postings.

Posted by Princesisto (Member # 11113) on :
You can send it to me. At last, someone wants some serious feedback on something more than 13 lines!
Posted by AndyD (Member # 11215) on :
If the image of Shiva is so heart-gripping, can it be described? Readers won't know if you mean a Nataraja, a linga (which could be a huge penis or a pillar), Shiva as Bhairava, Shiva with his family, etc.

This story seems a little like "Shiva in Shadow" by Nancy Kress, which is also features an image of Shiva near a black hole.

Also, I think the last bit, "Emerson only took coffee, but he asked for a half-litre pot," is good. It tells quite a bit about Emerson's character.
Posted by Challenge (Member # 11238) on :
I can relate to the sense of adventure, access to the unknown, someone being oriented to a mission. I like the mixture of familiar behavior with unfamiliar vocabulary items for another world. Why does a disgruntled boss invite a disoriented new employee to breakfast? Is Lord Shiva the name of a black hole in the Zeta Corvi region of some universe? Perhaps you could give more orientation to the reader as the character is being oriented?

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