First Page Friday #25: Science Fiction

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About First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel. Read the excerpt without my notes first and leave your vote in the poll. Afterward, feel free to leave a comment for the author. Feedback is always helpful!

Science Fiction First 500 – Yori Papilaya

Please note that Yori is not a native English speaker.

Alex was shivered a bit, his teeth chatted. The morgue was even colder than the rest of the facility. Morgues are supposed to be like this, since heat decays corpses and people hated that, which was weird; If nothing was more natural than death and decays, why even fight it? His feet were warm, though; ready to run as fast as he can, whenever the oportunity might arise; no matter how exhausted he was that day.

All of their breaths turned into whitish mist. Except for the many breathless bodies laid covered on the metallic tables. They were his comrades this morning, but then they’re nothing, and Alex envied them.

All three of them was stared by the higher ups: Major Garrot, the headmaster of the the Owl Military Training Facility; The three Senior Officers represented Alex’, Rogan’s and Raye’s Unit; The doctors and various new faces which were probably investigators. All of them were at ease, except for Major Garrot who was sitting in the center. They looked very concerned and prepared to blame everything but themselves. Especially in front of those investigators. Respectable Major was still a human being, and being human he avoids responsibility; One way or another.

“Will any of you be so kind as to disclose what happened this morning?” Major Garrot cracked open the silence. Alex’ skin crawled with sensation.

“Sir. We were given an incorrect status of the mission, Sir.”

Quistani snorted in disdain. She was Rogan’s Unit senior officer, Baraka Unit. Other senior officers were keeping their faces straight, no matter how devastated they were.

“You may want to elaborate, Cadet. Your all 57 comrades are deceased. They’re laying in front of you right now. I am sure that you are all very shaken; but bear with me,” Garrot voice was always soothing.

“Sir. The order was only to guard the transportation of the newly found artifact outside of the village. We were told that initial army were already stationed there, so we would only act as a backup. Code 1.”

“Only to bring basic firearm?”

“Sir. Yes, the anlacer, sir.” The anlacer was a small laser blaster with retractable blade to close melee combat.  

Rogan breathed noisily on his side as he always did when he tries to breathe with his nose. So manly. Raye, on the other side of him, was silent; as if she didn’t even bother to breathe. Did she hold her breath? If we hold our breath ever so vigorously, will death come painlessly? That’s impossible; the brain won’t let it happen.

“And then, what happened?”

“Sir. Permission to suggest, Sir. But it seems Senior Officer Quistani have much to say regarding the field mission, Sir. She was the one who assigned Baraka, Meru, and Charon Unit’s third tier cadets.” Rogan and Raye made little sounds like they were about to protests but ultimately hold their poise. Quistany looked as red as a person can possibly be.

“As a matter of fact, I did, Cadet. And I don’t appreciate your … accusing suggestion. Your side of the story is apparently rather different from what the senior officers provide.”

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they can improve.

My Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Science Fiction First 500 – Yori Papilaya

For the sake of focusing on the content, I am not going to mark grammatical errors. For non-native English speakers, I recommend getting a developmental edit before correcting the grammar because there’s no point in perfecting the English of sentences, paragraphs, or even pages that will be cut out during developmental edits.

Alex was shivered a bit, his teeth chatted. The morgue was even colder than the rest of the facility. Morgues are supposed to be like this, since heat decays corpses and people hated that, < The first part of this sentence is stating something readers already know. which was weird; If nothing was more natural than death and decays, why even fight it? < Because decay is gross, unsanitary, smells bad, etc. and because loved ones want to have an open casket to see the deceased at the funeral. Be careful about opening novels with a question with an obvious answer. It damages the reader’s opinion of the author’s credibility before it’s been established. His feet were warm, though; ready to run as fast as he can, whenever the oportunity might arise; no matter how exhausted he was that day.

All of their breaths turned into whitish mist. < Who are all the people in this sentence? As far as I know as a reader at this point, there is only Alex. Except for the many breathless bodies laid covered on the metallic tables. They were his comrades this morning, but then they’re nothing, and Alex envied them.

All three of them < All three of who? was stared by the higher ups: Major Garrot, the headmaster of the the Owl Military Training Facility; The three Senior Officers represented Alex’, Rogan’s and Raye’s Unit; The doctors and various new faces which were probably investigators. All of them were at ease, except for Major Garrot who was sitting in the center. They looked very concerned and prepared to blame everything but themselves. Especially in front of those investigators. Respectable Major was still a human being, and being human he avoids responsibility; One way or another.

“Will any of you be so kind as to disclose what happened this morning?” Major Garrot cracked open the silence. Alex’ skin crawled with sensation.< “With sensation” isn’t adding anything here.

“Sir. We were given an incorrect status of the mission, Sir.”

Quistani snorted in disdain. She was Rogan’s Unit senior officer, Baraka Unit. Other senior officers were keeping their faces straight, no matter how devastated they were.

“You may want to elaborate, Cadet. Your all 57 comrades are deceased. They’re laying in front of you right now. I am sure that you are all very shaken; but bear with me,” Garrot voice was always soothing. < I didn’t get the impression he was being soothing. I read it as him being harsh and cold.

“Sir. The order was only to guard the transportation of the newly found artifact outside of the village. We were told that initial army were already stationed there, so we would only act as a backup. Code 1.”

“Only to bring basic firearm?”

“Sir. Yes, the anlacer, sir.” The anlacer was a small laser blaster with retractable blade to close melee combat.  

Rogan breathed noisily on his side as he always did when he tries to breathe with his nose. So manly. < What makes breathing through your nose manly? Raye, on the other side of him, was silent; as if she didn’t even bother to breathe. Did she hold her breath? If we hold our breath ever so vigorously, will death come painlessly? That’s impossible; the brain won’t let it happen. < I’m not sure if these questions are coming from an omniscient narrator or if this is third limited and they are Alex’s questions. A stronger POV needs to be established early on.

“And then, what happened?”

“Sir. Permission to suggest, Sir. But it seems Senior Officer Quistani have much to say regarding the field mission, Sir. She was the one who assigned Baraka, Meru, and Charon Unit’s third tier cadets.” Rogan and Raye made little sounds like they were about to protests but ultimately hold their poise. Quistany looked as red as a person can possibly be.

“As a matter of fact, I did, Cadet. And I don’t appreciate your … accusing suggestion. Your side of the story is apparently rather different from what the senior officers provide.” < I don’t understand what this dialogue has to do with the previous line of dialogue. If you read the lines back to back (without narration) you will notice how odd his response seems.

My Overall Thoughts

Aside from the many grammatical errors, the biggest problem I had with this opening is that it was vague without being intriguing. Something happened that led to the cadets getting killed, but the reader doesn’t know what happened, what Alex’s involvement was, or why it’s important (on an individual, group, or national scale).

Key Places to Improve:

  • A morgue could be a cool place to open a novel, and death provides the opportunity to give us a deeper look into Alex’s mind right at the start of the novel (Is he guilty? Depressed? Scared?), but the questions asked in the narration seem irrelevant and superficial and the descriptions aren’t being used to add depth to the scene. This feels like a wasted opportunity to create an immediate connection between Alex and the reader.
  • It’s important to establish the POV right from the beginning of the novel. The reader needs to know whether the questions and opinions in the narration are Alex’s or those of an omniscient narrator. I could write a whole post about establishing POV, but a couple quick tips: For omniscient, narrate something the character couldn’t know within the first few sentences. For third limited, narrate something in the character’s voice within the first few sentences and attribute it to them by connecting it to a physical movement (For example: “He rubbed the sweat from his head. How had things gotten so damn bad?”). There are other ways to establish the POV, but these are the easiest.
  • I’m not sure this is the best place to start your novel. A bunch of characters the reader knows nothing about talking about something the reader knows nothing about doesn’t give much to latch onto. It’s also not very exciting. Take some time to consider starting at a more interesting place.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1.5

Vague openings are very tough to pull off. I didn’t find enough to be interested in or to latch onto to want to keep reading.

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 ability.

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About the Editor

Ellen Brock 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 freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

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16 thoughts on “First Page Friday #25: Science Fiction

  1. Yori Papilaya says:

    Oh my god. I read it and feels ashamed hahaha. Thank you though. I always feel that getting early harsh critique will improve me, but oh my god hahah

    I promise I’ll do better. Thank you again

  2. Kylie Betzner says:

    You make a great point about editing for context prior to editing for grammar. I support that, because there is no point making grammatical corrections in a sentence, paragraph, or page that is going to be deleted . . . now on the flipside for native speakers, I think it is only polite to do a basic grammar and spelling edit before sending chapters out because for some editors (me) it’s a pain to look at a first draft.

  3. cassandracharles says:

    I, too, was confused by point of view. I thought the ‘breathing through nose being manly comment’ was the narrator being sarcastic. I didn’t get it though.
    More showing and less telling…

  4. nikkiharvey says:

    There’s no comments made that I particularly disagree with but I actually really liked this and had I picked it up from the shelf of a bookshop, only the easily fixed grammatical errors would put me off wanting to read more. I also read ‘so manly’ as sarcastic. I think that needs to be a little clearer and the POV needs clearing up, but otherwise I really like it. On the first paragraph I read the comments and thought ‘yeah that makes sense’, but I actually really liked it.

    • Yori Papilaya says:

      Oh thank you Nikky. Glad you like it. Yes my grammar is still chaotic and I agree that everything’s not so clear yet.

      Probably because this was my first attemp, I was eager to show that my writing was unique etc, but it ended up messy. Lol

  5. johnhansendk says:

    It seems to me to that the situation is a formal inquiry, and a morgue seems a strange place to hold such an inquiry. I am not even sure that a military unit in a combat zone has a morgue — dead bodies are probably kept under more primitive conditions. Of course, this is SF and both these points may be explained in the following pages, but if so, I think it should be made clear that this is unusual, for instance by Alex wondering why they are at the morgue.

    As pointed out by Ellen the inquiry may not be an obvious starting point, but if the author choose to do that, then I think it could be used to establish the situation very clearly, because the start of a formal inquiry is one situation where it is accepted than someone narrates the backstory, like “This morning 50 soldiers were lost at … we are here to …”

    I think opening the novel after a lost battle and concentrating on finding out what happens signals that this is more mystery than military action, and I like that.

    I also really like that we get the feeling that Alex is depressed. So much that he envies his dead comrades.

    • Yori Papilaya says:

      Thank you, John. Yes, I did feel the need to explain the whole situation (what kind of military facility it was, why it had a morgue, etc) but I found it really difficult to do while in third person limited POV which I originally planned (with some degree of success :P). I also afraid to dump too much info, considering this is a first chapter. So this will need total rewrite or as Ellen suggested, I maybe started at a wrong point.

      I really wanted to communicate the macabre tone of the novel (hence the morgue opening), but maybe I need to find another way also.

      Yes, I wanted the reader to see Alex had a skewed view about life, in which he celebrated death more. But after some test reading, this type of character came off as a cliche, or superficial. So … still a long way to go for me, I guess.

  6. Zarine says:

    One thing I liked about this first page is that I could visualise it like a film scene. The scene starts in dark shadows; then a slow camera turns to light on (unexpected) bodies, then turns to the others, then the exchange of dialogue.

    Ellen’s comments are relevant, and of course you have to work on the mechanics of grammar. A clearer POV is essential. You will probably be able to create mystery and an interesting tale. Keep writing, and good luck!

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