This started as a short story, but turned into more of a novella. My test readers are nearly done with their assessments, but I figured I'd get the judgement from you all too, before I solidify my final draft. So here's my first 13 as it appears in my manuscript.
Ori was the only one there to calm her down; they had sent the rest of the staff home already, Christmas Eve and all. Karen was frantic, going on and on about this new discovery, but it wasn’t until the words “red giant” were uttered, that he understood her hysterics. “We’re all dead.” She kept working her nonsensical equations on the whiteboard. “The next phase is coming.” “No. What are you talking about? We still have another, what… 4 billion years?” “4.3 billion.” She loved correcting her superiors, especially him. “But did you even read the report? Here! Read it!” She forced the sweat soaked crumple of a memo into Ori’s hand. “There’s a problem with the hydrogen supply. It’s depleting!
Overall, this is an interesting fragment, although I'm left with a lot of questions. I would probably keep reading, at least for a bit.
That said, it seems to me that the first sentence sets things off to a rough start. There are a lot of vague references (her, they) that throw me off my game because I don't know who 'her' or 'they' are yet. This might be eased if you say 'Karen' instead of 'her' and find a more specific definition for 'they'. (Identifying who 'they' are might also give you a good chance to clarify when this story takes place. Is it present day, near future, far future? It could be fifty years in the past, for all I know. Context suggests that Ori and Karen are scientists of some kind, but that's about it.)
The only other real issue I had is that it's hard to figure out exactly which character's perspective you're exploring. You set things up to look like Ori is the viewpoint character, but all of the emotional statements in the fragment comes from Karen (or Ori's perception of Karen--with so little qualification it's impossible to tell).
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This does not work for me. Apart from the melodramatic prose and contrived attempt at creating a cliff-hanger, I want to know where the story starts--obviously not here. This is a disembodied in medias res opening focusing on two characters engaged in some type of crisis. But why? And where? This is either the end of the beginning or the beginning of the middle, not the beginning of the beginning.
At some point you are going to have to visit the actual opening scenes because, if you don't, readers are going to feel cheated. That's the shortfall inherent in in medias res openings, they turn what should be the present into backstory. I would not read on.
Peony, you're right. It's from Ori's perspective, and his internal reactions to Karen's behavior. The way she seems to be behaving might not be correct, but it's how Ori sees it.
As for using "her" in the first sentence, If I used "Karen" in place of it, and the following "Karen" with a "she" would that come off as too many introductions in the first phrase? If not, then that's a painless edit. I'm sometimes afraid of cramming information, is all.
I could re-work the "They had sent the rest of the staff home already" into something more concise, avoiding the "they." "The rest of the team had already gone," or something like that. I hadn't thought about that. It saves me two words too.
The setting comes in clearer as the world builds around it, reading on in the first section of the book would provide examples of the world, A space station orbiting our Sun, a colony of scientists on the moon. I hadn't given myself an exact year, but I'd say sometime within the next 300 years.
Grumps - I had started with a few other ideas, but none of them seemed to matter once I got to this point in the story. It just took up space and came off as clunky. The real story begins here, with Karen's realization and how these two characters initially deal with it.
For some, the characters being dropped in a crisis immediately, shows their nature and resolve from the onset, making whatever arc is built for them more resounding. But I can understand your side. So far my test readers have come back enjoying the way the intro plays into the story.
It's also an attempt to engage the reader quickly, so to not waste any of their time.
The data contained within the exposition you're missing from the few minutes before this scene, is brought up again, but in a natural and organic way. But that doesn't matter if one won't read on.
Thanks for the input guys, I'll be making some revisions.
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A scientist pair clash about which is deluded in regard to a transitional solar event.
Though a high-stakes event about a suspected red giant solar sequence onset, the circumstances defy credulity. I would not read on on that basis alone.
Even an abrupt and catastrophic hydrogen fuel depletion would span thousands if not millions of years before a G-class star enters into a transitional sequence on its progression to the red giant branch, the asymptotic branch sequence -- degenerate carbon-oxygen core, a helium mid-shell, and a hydrogen outer shell.
Otherwise, some other stellar event is afoot and that is more immediate of urgency, suited to a novella's length. The red giant matter is of little urgency at the immediate moment runaway hydrogen depletion is observable, contrary to Karen's hysterical reaction and Ori's refusal of Karen's view of it.
Other aspects don't work for me either. The chronology of the clauses and sentences is jumbled, which confuses and spoils viewpoint and narrative point of view. For example: "Ori was the only one there to calm her down; they had sent the rest of the staff home already, Christmas Eve and all. Karen was frantic, going on and on about this new discovery, but it wasn’t until the words 'red giant' were uttered, that he understood her hysterics."
The first clause explains prematurely the subsequent causal content and is an effect, not the prior cause thereof. "They" is a pronoun antecedent subject error, no antecedent subject. "the words 'red giant' were uttered" is unnecessary passive voice. Karen clearly uttered them and the opportunity for dynamic voice's robust action emphasis missed. Nonsensical "but" conjunction and comma splice error, "uttered, that".
Chronology and other aspects adjusted for illustration: "Karen was frantic, going on and on about this new discovery. When Karen uttered the words 'red giant,' he gathered the insipid reason for her hysterics. Ori was the only one there to calm her down. Boss Star Doc had sent the rest of the staff off work already -- Christmas Eve and all."
Similar jumble throughout the fragment. Also, pronoun subject referent glitches, "They" and "it," sentence subject expletive; conjunction splice errors, "but," twice; other punctuation errors, the ellipsis points, for one. Ellipsis points mark elided content -- or broken speech or thought -- that is easily understood from context. Not separate a tag question from its answer clause.
"We still have another, what[…] 4 billion years?" Adjusted for both clarity and concision, ease of comprehension and reading, and suitable emphasis intent: "We still have another, what, four billion years?" Or if stronger emphasis wanted: We still have another -- what, four billion years?" Or yet another stronger emphasis option of a rhetorical question self-answered: "We still have another -- what? Four billion years."
See a style guide or grammar handbook for number format guidance -- spelled out or numeral: counting cardinal numbers spelled out if less than one hundred one, or spelled out if a compound number of a high order and two or fewer syllables per word, one million, ten thousand, sixty-seven trillion, two hundred. Numerals for measurement numbers: 2 inches, 30 1/2 meters, etc. Numerals for when clock time 6 a.m., 2310 hours, 9:30. These all above for ease of reading and comprehension and avoidance of excess numeral figures that clutter a page.
Further, semicolon error, "calm her down; they had"; compound tense sequence error of the second sentence, past "was frantic", present progressive "going on an on," nondefinite tense subjunctive "were uttered," and past "understood" -- tense management confused; antecedent event referent missing "She kept working"; hyphen error "sweat[-]soaked crumple".
Though unconventional grammar and punctuation are optional, those options best practice enhance content emphasis, ease comprehension and ease reading. Those noted above accumulate blunted or spoiled emphasis and blunt or spoil comprehension and reading ease.
This is nonsensical "It's depleting." The Sun depletes hydrogen at the already unimaginable rate of 6.2 million metric tons per second, three-millionths Earth's total mass per second.
The clash is heavy handed of a childish type inconsistent for astrophysicists who, presumably, are government and peer vetted for a high-importance mission. Ori and Karen's conduct toward each other is more apropos of a reality television clash between petty brats than scientists, or adult professionals, of whatever age.
A white-space adjustment for online readership would also enhance reading and comprehension ease, the online format for paragraph breaks: an empty line between paragraphs, which do not count against thirteen lines' limits.
The fragment resembles unpublished early Isaac Asimov short stories' clunky grammar, naive science, and unnatural social contest interaction, heavy handed sexism for one, pre-Joseph Campbell's editorial tutelage. That is a silver lining to the cloud -- that Asimov started at this stage of storytelling when a teenager and graduated to become one of the, if not the, most popular and critically celebrated science fiction writers, after a few decades practice, published sporadically within a few months of his start.
Most of the grammatical errors are being taken care of by my brother, in his editing. Thanks for catching those for me. I never had a good handle on semi-colon use.
I'm curious where you see the heavy handed sexism in this fragment. Or Does the writing just remind you of a sexist writer?
The solar event is essentially a drastic and unexpected increase in the rate of depletion, the underlying cause is unknown at this point in the story. The suspension of disbelief wasn't too drastic for my test readers, though not every one of them is a writer or critic.
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Semicolons are a testy bunch; one general principle for journalism and its like, otherwise official government and business documents that record whatever; another similar though distinct principle for other styles, academia, prose when not under a journalism house's editorial sway, and general formal composition; and clumsy fusions between the two general styles.
Grammar manuals provide broad though limited punctuation use guidance, general principles, few, if any, exception options. Style manuals often focus more on citation and attribution particulars and some rudimentary repetition of grammar handbook principles within discipline areas of a manual's curriculum, MLA, for example, for humanities compositions. The Chicago Manual of Style contains the most comprehensive U.S. English punctuation guidance, for the semicolon, twenty-one specific principles. Many writers apply one or so, if at all.
Noah Lukeman's A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, 2006, expresses artful options for punctuation, for the semicolon alone, seventeen pages. I resisted acquisition of the book for a decade and was initially self-recriminatory about that resistance and delay for awhile. Now, though, aside from learning punctuation's mastery, also learned how punctuation informs effective composition appeals.
Boiled down to a single principle, punctuation signals a due degree of emphasis. For instance, the mighty dash is a stronger pause emphasis than a comma, the secondmost punctuation workhorse. White space is the greater though invisible emphasis format method. Word space, sentence space, paragraph space, as the case may be.
Another approach to punctuation is the marks are process codes that signal how to read written word, prose especially, most matters of pause length, and subtly signal vocal intonation emphasis. The marks also possess word signals:, a comma, pause or "uh" and "and," or "or"; hyphen, "and"; forward slash, "or" or "per"; a period, full stop or "Stop"; a question mark, "query"; an exclamation mark, "Bang"; a dash, "interruption" or "break"; a semicolon, "as follows"; a colon, "to wit" and stronger "as follows"; ellipsis points, "omission," an ellipsis, the figure of speech; parentheses, brackets, and braces, "nest," here within; quote marks, verbatim "cite" or simply "quote, unquote." Those word substitutes are a less hard way to learn punctuation arts and mastery than learning the hundreds of principles entailed therefor.
Not sexism per se, rather a heavy handed presumed interaction notion that is any one of many stereotypes and unnatural. The notions on point that I observe in the fragment are a woman emotionally out of control, "hysterical," and the masculine notion to restore her to emotional control, "calm her down," which are sexist notions, from both masculine and feminine stereotypes.
An adjustment could instead accentuate personality specifics so that a stereotype notion doesn't apply to, and unintentionally offend or titillate to distraction, an entire group and to which a stereotype notion doesn't globally apply.
The stereotype fallacy is such are like this, in a superficial way only; therefore, all are this type by association. All women are hysterical in all crises situations and all men are calm and insistent upon calmness in all situations!? *(Playwrights' ironical "huh, right?" "what" or "what the . . ." interobang-bangintero punctuation mark.)
Anyway, unnatural stereotype notions. Many such offhand distractions and by default stereotype notions populated mediocre Golden Age science fiction. What might be a "telling detail" personality trait unique each to Karen and Ori that marks them as individuals and not as representative of entire groups, to include astrophysicists?
For all but external agencies' actions, comparable heat and light output increase accompanies drastic and unexpected solar hydrogen depletion to the point of premature red giant sequence onset. Those external agencies, too, probably might siphon away any increased energy output, by intent, or an intent to destroy Solar System habitability.
Attendant to drastic hydrogen depletion and energy output, supermassive solar flares, massive coronal ejections, and runaway sunspot activity would drastically effect Earth within a few days, and beyond, out to at least as far as Jupiter's orbit. An observation station close by the Sun would be, first, electrically fried, and then broiled and melted like a grilled-cheese sandwich, then burnt to ashes, if the depletion rate and energy output rose by only a small fraction higher than a natural solar maximum event.
A recent example of a natural supersolar storm is the Solar Storm of 1859, a minor though hundred-or-so-year cycle maximum solar energy output surge, a solar maximum sunspot activity event that happened prior to widespread electricity use and was somewhat harmless to human life as it was then. A recent major solar flare maximum of 2012 missed Earth. If one hit Earth near term now -- the end of the Electric Age's leisure life as we have known it.
Glaringly bad grammar issues will be dealt with, but the story lives inside the head of Ori. When I write in something other than a stream of consciousness, I tend to come off like a history book. I'm constantly working to correct for that.
In previous editing, the opening few lines have already been replaced.
I follow on the stereotyping. Karen's hysterics are not her usual behavior. That is evident later on, though I can see how someone more sensitive, or attuned, to sexism could read into that. I'd just need Ori to make a note of that sooner, rather than later.
Also later in the story, there is a call from a station where its explained that the effects have already been felt, but they've been attributed to other causes by other agencies, agencies with Government funding. I don't need to wait until that point though.
The type of catastrophe you're bringing up could play into another conflict with relative ease. It changes the time table some, but that's not the end of the world. I would imagine the Earth wouldn't be perfectly habitable, however certain technologies would be devised to cope with the environmental collapse. That's not fully developed, even in my head.
Hi Mecopitch. Everyone has covered everything I would have said already, but I will emphasize that my biggest issue with this opening was that I couldn't tell by the end of these 13 lines who your POV character was (Ori or Karen). That alone was disorienting enough for me to not want to keep reading. However, it's an issue I think you can easily fix with just a few tweaks to sentence structure.
Extrinsic makes an excellent point about hydrogen depletion taking thousands to millions of years to actually become a problem for Earth... are they on Earth? That's not clear, either.
Confession, the way you've got the first line written, I thought this was a story set in a department store after closing on Christmas eve (especially because of your use of the word "staff.) Maybe that's because I spent most of today out and about, shopping for presents. Ha!
Also, I too picked up on the (unintentional) sexism of the hysterical woman who liked to correct her superiors being calmed down by her more level-headed, even-tempered male colleague.
There's real potential with this opening, but it needs some tweaking to really sing. Thanks for sharing.
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