First Page Friday #1: Science Fiction

First Page Friday

Hooray for the first ever First Page Friday! If you missed my introductory post, here’s some info:

First Page Friday is a new section on The Writeditor’s blog. Every Friday I will provide an in-depth edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.

I am still working on the best way to present the edit and critique so your feedback is welcome. Please let me know which sections you like, which you hate, and if you have any ideas for ways to make this segment more useful.

First Page Friday Edit & Critique

Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

SciFi First 500 – By Charles Naylor

As the blue plasma tracer ignited the air scant inches from Buggin’s face and cut into the wall behind him, he tried to remember whether or not he left the oven on. << Avoid starting sentences with “as.” It’s not nearly as active or engaging as a simple rewrite: The blue plasma tracer ignited the air scant inches from Buggin’s face, cutting into the wall behind him, as he tried to remember whether or not he left the oven on. He remembered waking, and he remembered the rum, and he remembered Tak practically beating down his door as he burnt an omelet. But did he turn the oven off before Tak poured him into a pair of pants and hustled him outside? << I like how you’ve incorporated back story in a way that isn’t obvious or info dumping. 

He tried to roll left, but the fifth of rum he killed this morning made it more of a lurch-then-skid as the big bastard << Who is “the big bastard”? jerked his Cryotek Series II Plasma Cutter in the opposite direction, cutting a foot-wide line through the wall behind him. Buggin wrinkled his nose, he always hated the smell of melted concrete and rebar, and << These are two different concepts that don’t need to be connected as one sentence.>>He closed his left eye while bracing his heavy laser rifle against his right shoulder. He switched on his gun’s scope, disabling the transparency effect on his eyepatch << Since an eyepatch was not previously mentioned, I had to read this a couple of times to assess what I think you are saying – that he wears the eyepatch all the time and it darkens while he’s using the gun’s scope. For the sake of not jarring the reader, I think this could be made clearer. and piping in the scope’s wireless feed. He didn’t need the scope’s infrared sensor to notice the tip of the Plasma Cutter igniting again.

“Shit!” Buggin managed to rolled left just as another blue line ignited the area he had previously occupied, the busted concrete scattered on the ground that dug at his back working together with his near-death experience to briefly pierce the cloud of inebriation that suffused his brain.<< This sentence is working too hard, especially the second half. You have four things going on: he’s rolling left, he has concrete digging into his back, he’s having a near death experience, and his inebriation is pierced. Break these things up a bit. Give each some screen time with the reader so they can be processed separately. That wasn’t a Series II PC, hell it wasn’t even a Series III. That had to be some prototype PC to cooldown << “cooldown” should be two words “cool down.” in two seconds.

“Tak, you asshole! You told me they were some punk gangbangers using tenyearold tech! If this bastard isn’t using some prototype shit I’ll eat my damned eyepatch!”

Tak, busy exchanging shots with a few gangbangers from behind a rusted-out pile of scrap metal that had once been a car, << Consider making this more active. For example: Tak flung himself behind a rusted-out pile of scrap metal and shot at the gangbangers. shouted back, “That’s what I was told! Maybe that gun came from the merch they stole? The guy << Does “the guy” have a name? If so, use it here. If not, I’d use something a bit stronger like “the bastard.” that hired me wouldn’t tell me what they took, only that it was worth 1500 credits EACH << All caps is usually discouraged and may appear unprofessional. if we could recover it!”

Buggin, in the middle of the room after his last roll and wishing he hadn’t drank so much <<This sentence construction is weakening what you’re trying to say. It’s always better to show something happening in the moment rather than explaining that it happened in the past. For example, this could be rewritten as: Buggin rolled into the middle of the room, his head swirling. If only he hadn’t drank so much. , scanned the room as he stumbled to his feet. He started a count as he ran for the nearest cover, a pillar twenty feet away.

One.  A plan began to coalesce in his liquored-up brain. He looked over his shoulder, trying and tried << This reads as more active. to place himself between the pillar and the bastard.

One and a half. The pillar is in front of him, the bastard behind.<< You’ve switched to present tense.

Two. Trusting to his count, he dived forward and slightly-left << “slightly-left” should not be hyphenated. just as another blue plasma beam cut the air, punching a foot-wide hole in the pillar as he painfully belly-flopped onto some more loose concrete scattered around it. << This is another sentence that’s working too hard. You’ve got too much going on: he trusts his count, he dives forward, another plasma beam cuts the air, the beam punches a hole, he painfully belly flops, he lands on loose concrete. Whew! That’s an awful lot to pack into one sentence. Break it up. 

Buggin groaned, as he climbed to his feet, and ducked behind the pillar. Once in cover he took a half second to collect himself and observe the situation. <<This is telling (rather than showing). You can easily show that he’s collecting himself and observing the situation. He and Tak were caught between the bastard <<Who is “the bastard”? and the two bangers. One banger used suppressing fire << I don’t know what “suppressing fire” means so I can’t visualize this. to keep Tak pinned as the other moved from cover to get into a better flanking position. If he didn’t do something now Tak was good as dead.

The Writeditor’s Feedback

My Overall Thoughts

I can tell that Charles knows enough about his craft to not make beginner mistakes, and I felt like I was in the hands of a competent storyteller. The dialogue and voice both sounded natural. My biggest complaint is clarity, which was something that hung me up quite a few times.

The novel starts with a fairly humorous sentence about the main character being more worried about his oven being on than about the fight at hand. This is a great hook, but make sure it is true to the rest of the story. There were no other humorous moments or significant displays of the main character’s personality in the rest of the opening, which leads me to wonder if this is a hook that isn’t backed up by the rest of the novel.

Key Places to Improve

  • Watch out for sentences constructed like this: something happened as something else happened. This sentence construction was used nine times. That’s about 50% of non-dialogue sentences. The problem with this construction is that it makes the action feel less active, which makes it less engaging.
  • Where is this scene taking place? They’re in a room and there are pillars, but there is also a rusted-out old car. I can’t visualize the space, which distances me from the story.
  • Use short, choppy sentences to create tension and excitement. Watch out for sentences that are doing double, triple, or quadruple duty. These sentences are explaining so many concepts at once that each concept doesn’t have time to gel in the reader’s brain. In other words, it can both reduce tension and lower the reader’s comprehension.
  • Overall, I think you could be a bit richer with the details. Are they wearing street clothes or space suits? Are they in a warehouse? An indoor junkyard? What makes the various weapons different? What does the enemy look like? Are they fifteen or eighty-five? I’m intrigued by what’s happening, but I don’t really know what’s happening.
  • Where does the voice/humor go after the first paragraph? I missed it because it was a big part of what drew me into the story. The first few sentences of a novel set the tone for the whole book and make a promise to the reader about what’s to come. Writers always need to make sure that they’re living up to this promise.

The Writeditor’s Grade: 3.5

I’m giving this a 3.5 because I’m intrigued, but I’m not jumping out of my seat with enthusiasm. While I would definitely read on, if what’s happening isn’t made clear in the next couple hundred words, you’d probably lose me.  Improving the voice after the first paragraph would bump this up to a 4.

My Grading Scale:

1 – Wouldn’t have read past the first page if I wasn’t editing. Back to the drawing board.

2 – Read the whole thing, but couldn’t look past problems with the writing to enjoy the story.

3 – Read the whole thing, was entertained at times, but I probably wouldn’t read on.

4 – Read the whole thing and liked it. Wasn’t really “wowed” but I would read on.

5 – Read the whole thing and loved it. I’m excited to read the rest of the book!

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall writing ability.

Reader Participation

What Do You Think?

Grades are subjective. The more people grading his work, the better grasp the writer will have on how much he needs to improve. Please help Charles by providing your own grade.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are welcome in the comments section below. Explaining your grade gives Charles even more insight.

Submit to First Page Friday

If you’d like to submit your novel for First Page Friday, please send the following to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com:

  • The name you want me to use in the blog post (real name, alias, or anonymous).
  • The genre of your novel.
  • The first 500 words (give or take, don’t stop in the middle of a sentence) pasted into the body of the email.
  • Any links (Twitter, Blog, Goodreads, etc.) that you’d like included in the post (not required).

Please do not submit if you are not okay with your first page being posted, critiqued, and edited on my website.

About the Editor

Ellen Brock (AKA The Writeditor) is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. She owns the editing company Keytop Services and the writing and editing blog The Writeditor. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her editing services and testimonials.

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