First attempt: ============================================================== A world at war is always a dangerous place, especially for a man of military age. Earth was such a place, and I was of that age, in April of 2179. The Sylvarian war was raging, and I had just completed my degree; so I knew there was no longer any way to put off the inevitable. Four years earlier, on my eighteenth birthday, I had receieved an automated email, ordering me to appear before a draft committee. I had dutifully shown up, with a note from my course director explaining the importance of my course of study to the war effort. The committee chair had glared at me through her prosthetic eye before granting me a four-year deferment. The war was then just getting under way and wasn't expected to last a solar year, so I felt safe. Now, however, I was nearing ==============================================================
Mid-sentence break! Who thinks the page is worth turning?
Second attempt: ============================================================== A world at war is a dangerous place, especially for a man of military age. In 2175 when I was eighteen, all the talking heads were sure the Sylvarian border incident would soon blow over; four years later it was a full-scale war, my strategically sensitive course of study was over, and it was time for me to report to my draft committee. The committee chair glared at me through her prosthetic eye, didn't even glance at my transcript, asked a few perfunctory questions and ordered me to report to the Kepler training centre on Mars. My cousin Steve, who was in the infantry, was supposed to come home on leave the week before I was due to embark, but my Aunt Dianne got the news the day I got my orders: his transport had been ambushed and destroyed. There were no known ==============================================================
And another mid-sentence break. Well, them's the breaks.
Better? Worse? Back up and re-think altogether?
Any suggestions for improvement?
Third attempt: ============================================================== First class general Ker’osh alighted his vehicle and marched into the Hall of the Great Council, flanked by a single aide. The lack of a more impressive retinue was for two reasons: to show his humility in the presence of the Mothers of his people, and for secrecy. His plans were ripe. It would not do if word reached the humans. A servant bowed him into the Chamber of Meeting, where the eighteen Great Mothers reclined on couches with their heads towards the door. As he approached, he drew his ceremonial dagger and offered it with the hilt towards them, in token of submission. “I am here to report,” he announced, “That the preparations are complete. If this august council approves, we will commence the conquest of the human world and all its ============================================================
One day, I will come up with a first 13 that doesn't break in mid-sentence.
Unfortunately, today is not that day.
Is this more intriguing, or was the initial approach better?
Fourth attempt: ============================================================== Alex ran up the stairs two at a time, his cousin Steve right in front of him. They were running late; an alien consul was visiting to watch a rugby game, and the principal wasn’t going to be happy if they arrived after it started. But with the carelessness of youth, they laughed as they raced each other to the school stadium. They rounded a corner and skidded to a halt as they saw the official party directly in front of them. There were a dozen or so short, rodent-like aliens; some seemed to be wearing uniforms, and the nearest ones were glaring at the two boys through red eyes. Steve held up his hands and smiled in greeting; too late, he realised his mistake as two of the aliens seized him and threw him to the ground. One drew a long dagger ==============================================================
Does this improve matters at all?
Ard-choille, Rob Roy
[This message has been edited by Rob Roy 99 (edited June 23, 2011).]
I would turn the page Rob, but something better happen fast. You have the right elements here. You've introduced your MC, given me a time and a place and a hint at the conflict but I'm the type of reader who wants to jump right into the action. Give me the back story later. If there's too much back story right out of the chute I tend to gloss over, skip a few paragraphs, and find something that's going to interest me. No patience. ;-p
I do like the opening line.
>>The committee chair had glared at me through her prosthetic eye<< Love this as well.
I've had a great discussion about what the first thirteen lines must accomplish.
--Show character in the sense we have an emotional attachment. --Show conflict (trouble or even the goal of the character and what is blocking it) --Show the world.
For me this is more of show the world...At war. MC put off his draft for some time for school. I don't really see personality or fear or emotion yet.
I recall when my dad drove me to sign up for the draft when I was 18 there were a lot of emotions going through my head and the country was not even at war at that time. I'd like to see more of this character's emotional reaction.
A world at war is a dangerous place especially for a man of military age.
(Knock out the comma and the word 'always'. Cut to the chase – raise the tension.)
Consider something like this (Use your opening sentence with this):
It was April, 2179 and I was prime draft material, having just finished my degree. I’d dodged the bullet four years ago when the Sylvarian war started, you see, I got past the draft committee. Then I expected the conflict would last no longer than a solar year. Boy, was I wrong. Now I’m facing a march into the blazing muzzles!
Keep writing – there’s conflict coming, and that’s what fiction needs.
All the best, MBW
[This message has been edited by mbwood (edited June 14, 2011).]
I'd try eliminating some of those 'hads'. Had, while necessary does not help to get the ball rolling and the first 13 need the ball in motion to turn the page.
The first one I noticed was "had glared." Glared is enough. Then I looked back and it was "had received" which felt right because it feels past. Then "had dutifully" well we already know we're in the past so it can be a simple past tense.
It might be good to reword into more present like. "It was April __ when I received my automated draft notice. A couple days later when I circumvented it with a note from my course advisor. But now it was four years later, and the war that should have been over wasn't." It feels more like we're skipping over highlights in time rather than in the present being told ABOUT the past.
That would be my suggestion. I would say you have introduced the character quite well in these thirteen. I know he at the beginning is someone who for whatever motive (perhaps cowardice) is avoiding a war. He's also someone naive, thinking that a war would last a year...which of course many people are. But it shows his personality.
This is an interesting start, but there were a few snags in the writing that kept making me trip.
quote: The lack of a more impressive retinue was for two reasons: to show his humility in the presence of the Mothers of his people, and for secrecy.
That last comma really slows you down as you read and isn't necessary - it might be if the second clause there was longer.
quote: His plans were ripe. It would not do if word reached the humans.
Though I rarely suggest more complicated punctuation, here a semicolon is called for due to the relation of the two sentences.
quote: A servant bowed him into the Chamber of Meeting, where the eighteen Great Mothers reclined on couches with their heads towards the door. As he approached, he drew his ceremonial dagger and offered it with the hilt towards them, in token of submission.
The only needed comma in these two sentences is after "As he approached,"
quote: “I am here to report,” he announced, “That the preparations are complete. If this august council approves, we will commence the conquest of the human world and all its
Should be, "I am here to report," he announced, "that the preparations..." since it is one sentence of dialog.
Not sure how I became grammar Nazi of the day, but it just stood out. Like I said: interesting scene setup, but be careful with the punctuation or you're going to turn off the reader/editor.
Do you plan to write all of your first pages so that there is no break in the last sentence on the page? Why impose an extra, artificial constraint on yourself?
The idea is to get the reader to turn the page, and a broken sentence, by its very nature, is more likely to do that than a complete sentence.
You're right of course, and I don't really plan to write them that way. It just offends my sense of neatness that the breaks are there.
A story is told of a music teacher who took a student as a boarder. One night after the teacher had retired, the student sat down at the piano and played through a piece of music, all except the last chord. Then he went to bed.
The teacher tossed and turned, but could not get to sleep; the unresolved chord jarred his nerves. Finally he got up, went downstairs, played the last chord and went back to bed, and enjoyed a sound and blissful sleep.
For me as a reader, seeing a mid-sentence break that I can't resolve is a bit like that.
I know I do tend to overuse commas. I try to avoid using them before "and." You were quite right about the comma before "in token of submission." In the case of "the Mothers of his people," I used the comma because of the colon. At your suggestion, I've taken it out. I'm still not sure it looks right, though.
I've got no idea where that stray capital T came from. I knew it was mid-sentence.
Ordinarily I prefer sentences to flow and I use rather a lot of semicolons. In this case I wanted "His plans were ripe" to stand as a single bald statement.
TYVM for your feedback. I appreciate any reader input.
of your 'first thirteens,' I prefer the one you posted first.
I liked the first because you put your character before us where he had something at stake. In other words, you gave us something to care about.
Your alternative opening - to summarize - is going to a meeting. Yes, you do say that this species has plans to conquer the human race, but that is just words, no action, and nothing personal for anyone present.
I did offer comments on the first thirteen earlier, and will go on to say I believe it has the right elements for an opening.
Remember the first rule of writing... Write!
[This message has been edited by mbwood (edited June 21, 2011).]
@mbwood: thanks, I appreciate your feedback. I did see your initial response. You gave me some interesting suggestions.
The story is a "space opera," but there are no light-saber duels (Errol Flynn in space), pod-races (car chases in space) or X-wing fighter battles (Biggles in space.) Not that there's anything wrong with those, but I'm trying for a different approach. I really don't want to drop into an adolescent voice, and I've pretty much decided to abandon the first-person POV as being too confining. I realise that that loses a lot of the appeal of version 1, since we're one step removed from identifying with the MC. That's why I thought about starting with the main conflict.
Based on your suggestion, I'm giving some thought to a new opening, with a bit of action and introducing the MC. (In the current incarnation, he doesn't appear until page 13.) The trick will be making the action relevant to the story, and not just gratuitous bang-bangs. If you couldn't already tell, I'm a bit of a snob about such things.
Your choice of POV is up to you. The only requirement is to do it well. The vast majority of fiction today is written in 3rd person intimate POV. Victorian literature is replete with examples of omniscient POV and has fallen out of favor. 1st person POV isn’t seen often.
1st person POV is a bit of a challenge, however, if carried off well, can be very effective. An example of this is the novel by Joe Haldeman ‘The Coming’ where every chapter is in the 1st person POV of different characters. It works well because his suspense technique is very smooth – he leaves the reader hanging at the end of the chapters. The reader needs to go to another character to get the missing info. Works well. Worth a read just for the technique.
As for openings, you must set the hook. Today, readers and editors are impatient. They want to know something of consequence, something which engages them from the very start. Your first opening did that – I thought it had real potential.