I am a total newbie when it comes to novel length writing and this board in general, and I am posting the infamous 'first 13' of my first creation below. This is military sci-fi, about people in the service of their armed forces. It is centered around the starship Avenger, a hunter/killer which I've patterned after the modern day Los Angeles class attack subs. The story is about an ensemble cast of about a half dozen characters including the captain and several pilots in the fighter wing aboard ship. It's difficult to do the first 13 lines only, as the entire first chapter, while only five or six pages long, is really an action hook to the whole book. It describes an encounter between the two main powers in the novel, and it involves ship to ship combat as well as setting up a scene that is relevant later in the book. It's complete at 128,000 words, and I've been over it enough times that I'm losing my ability to see it objectively. So, here goes... Any comments are of course welcome, any offers to read more are appreciated.
Thanks for your time!
The Corona cruised silently through the vacuum, white light from itsí drives washing the rear of the ship in a pale light which rivaled that of any of the dim stars nearby. It was an earlier Pulsar class destroyer, dressed in the standard gray Confederation colors. Like all others of the Pulsar class, it was mainly an escort type ship, assigned to fleets, routine patrol routes and convoys due to its smaller size. On the modestly sized bridge, it was business as usual. The shipís command center, like all other Confed vessels, was considered by many to be just slightly too dark. But Captain Salles liked it that way. It made the crew concentrate that much harder on their instruments.
Military SF is not a field I usually read and I'm not especially good at first 13s. That said, here are my thoughts:
As a reader, I would prefer to start with a character rather than a ship. Most of the first paragraph feels like a minor info dump. I won't really care about the ship until I care about at least one person on it.
I think your sample is actually a little shorter than 13 lines, too.
I agree with Meredith, with one caveat: Starting with the ship is okay, if the book is about the ship. But then, for this reader to understand that's the point of the book, you need to introduce the captain as a subordinate character. In my experience this is done with a strong omniscient narrator.
If instead the pov is to be limited to the captain, then this opening seems to shift in perspective, because he wouldn't (I would think) be contemplating the nature of his ship like this were he already intimately familiar with it.
In minor issues, things like the ambiguity of "by many" get to me, because (being as yet unfamiliar with the story's milieu) I don't know to whom we are referring, so I don't know what the relevance of the statement is.
I agree with the others. Start with a character that I can care about and sympathize with. Don't try to start like a movie as if you were a camera shooting the ship. It can work for a movie because I can see it, reading about it, well, it lessens the effect. If you really want to start with showing the ship, show the ship through Captain Salles's perspective. Good job with the description though.
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Military SF is my thing, but I'm afraid I have to agree with the previous posts. I read this type of story for the characters, the situations they get into, and how they heroically overcome the extreme odds.
If you have some interesting plot element coming up -- battle, invasion, whatever -- I suggest you skip straight there, and don't worry about the hardware lecture, instead concentrate on the people and their reactions to what's happening. If aspects of the ships or equipments are important to the story, maybe you can try weaving them into the narrative more naturally.
I don't know much about military tech or command - but I am interested in reading them.
The question is whether your intended audience will understand what a Pulsar class destroyer looks like or it capabilities? If your audience is a guy like me...then I say starting with a ship is fine by me, but I not only need a vivid description but give some interesting facts pertinant to the story. Make it informative as well as descriptive, and if it move the plot or provides insight into the MC then all the better.
As of now though I read the words but have no visuals. To a person familiar with the destroyer that might be clear as day. Not to a civilian like me though.
Thanks for the replies. I've started a few alternate versions of the intro in order to try and feel out what different angles would be like. My problem is that my whole first chapter, short as it is, was crafted to be the hook. Trying to do it in 13 lines is quite a challenge, because I need to introduce a person, ship, and confrontation, all of which are important. Argh! Well, that's why I asked for advice!
Okay, here's one alternate version, in which I emphasize the ship itself, since it is essentially the focal point of the first chapter. Still working on something that focuses on the captain...
The Corona cruised silently through the vacuum, white light from itsí drives washing the rear of the ship in a pale light which rivaled that of any of the dim stars nearby. It was an earlier Pulsar class destroyer, exhibiting the sharklike shape, raised bridge,and bulging engine pods typical of Confederation design, and dressed in the standard gray Confed colors. Like all others of the Pulsar class, it was mainly an escort type ship, assigned to fleets, routine patrol routes and convoys due to its smaller size. With a crew of only three hundred, it was Confedís smallest warship.
quote:...because I need to introduce a person, ship, and confrontation, all of which are important.
That's great. You know where you want to start and where you want to go. So, why not find a way to introduce all three in the first 13? You can expound later, it is a novel afterall.
I agree with the previous posters, Military SF usually works better when a character is introduced early. Not always, but usually. The use of the word "military" speaks of soldiers, orders, ships, firefights, explosions, and these are why I think it stands out from other SF in terms of action and the attraction that brings to certain readers. It's important to know what genre you're writing in, and you show that you do here.
Apologies for the rewrite. I'm using it as a tool to get my points across. I saw redundancies and repeats (like Pulsar class for one) that, if eliminated or shifted, could open more space for the first 13 lines. Your style is yours, I just offer my take using your own words as often as possible. My example according to what you seem to want to convey:
The command center of the Corona was dimly lit. Confederation vessels like the Pulsar-class escort ship were known throughout the fleet as slightly too dark. Captain Salles liked it this way. He saw the lack of lighting as a way for his crew to remain focused on their station displays.
Stars sped past the main viewscreen as the ship cruised through the vacuum of space. "Aft view," Captain Salles ordered.
Now the stars were getting lost in the pale white light that washed over the stern from the Corona's bulging engine pods. The raised bridge afforded a full view of the shark-like craft. It was business as usual...
You still would have room to add to your first 13. I don't know what the confrontation is yet, because you haven't mentioned it, however as the reader, I felt your insertion of "it was business as usual" was leading into something not so usual. That's why I placed it at the end.
I would read on, and offer my services to read more.
I don't mind the beginning as much as the others seem to. I think it is just a little too much description that I don't yet understand. (I assume you'll explain what a Pulsar class destroyer is, and not leave that up to my limited education from Star Wars and--sigh--Star Trek.) But I wanted to give you an example of a book that began with description and moved into the MC's point of view.
Robert Jordan begins his first chapter (not prologue, mind you) with a descriptive of the wheel turning and the wind rising and then ties it into where the character is.
This is similar to what you are doing, though yours seems to be nothing more than setting the visual of the ship and introducing the concept of "crew in space." If that's your only concern, you can cut the entire first paragraph and stick it in later, after the MC has been introduced. If it plays a bigger part later in the chapter or book, or if the ship is a central theme or character (as I have seen done, and well I might add), then you should keep it.
(Keep in mind, please, that Jordan is the exception and not the rule, so it may be worthless info after all. He uses it for specific reasons, too. He's setting up the vastness of the world and the endlessness of time before honing in on the MC.)
I wanted to mention that I really liked the way you described your captain. You made the description pull double-duty, and I'm a fan of that. (Anyone that knows who Alton Brown is will understand my hatred of the unitasker; something I feel applies to writing as well as cooking.) Some people don't think you should describe the MC in this way since he wouldn't be reflecting on how he looks, but you're using a third person omniscient, so I think it's fine.
Small, insignificant side note, there should not be an apostrophe after "its" (or before for that matter) in the first sentence. I don't think you need the "modestly sized" when describing the bridge. You've already devoted so much writing to the ship.
If I were an agent or editor, would I keep reading? I don't think so. But not because it's bad. The hook you are creating with the first chapter needs to happen a lot sooner. I don't care enough to keep going. Agents and editors have such limited time and resources that they will judge your book by the first few sentences. You have to draw them in right away. Telling them "Just wait for it--the hook is coming, I swear!" isn't going to help.
On a side note, as a reader in a book store, I might give this book more consideration. My time isn't as limited and I've read plenty of books that took a while to get into. I usually give thick books 100 pages and thin ones between 20 and 50 depending on the size. If it picks up in that space, I'll forgive the lag at the beginning, though the book will never jump out and say "WOW!" simply because of the slow start.
I hope this helps a little. If not, I hope someone is able to give you another perspective that does! Good luck!
I want to add just one more thing. Don't sweat trying to get everything into the first 13 lines. That's way more important for a short story. For a novel you should have a little more room. Not much. Not more than a page. But you do get a little more room to set things up. Set up whatever's going to get your reader involved in the story first. For me, that would be a character. Obviously, others have other opinions and I'm not your target audience.
It's a novel. Don't try to cram it all into 13 lines. Show us something to be interested in--something to hook us--but it doesn't have to be all three at once in that tiny space.