Excerpt for Critique 003


We have another volunteer today with an excerpt from her WIP.  It is a scene from the middle of her sci-fi story titled Supernova.  I’ve asked the author to provide a little background on what leads up to it:

A crew aboard a starship wakes from hibernation to find that the star nearest to them is about to go supernova and destroy them.  With no hope of outrunning it, they have to come up with possible alternatives in a bid for survival.  Stella is the holographic representation of the ship’s artificial intelligence. 

I want to thank Monique Nagel (Neeks) for being brave enough to provide her work for us to look at.

For those interested, please place your feedback in the comments section.  If you have specific points, try to provide examples of what might work better.  Be gentle and let her know what she did right as well.  I will paste the story as I received it below.  After that will be my own critique.  I don’t expect anyone to be as thorough as I am, so don’t feel you need to take that kind of time.  Even a few lines describing your thoughts can be useful.  The greater the participation, the better overall idea Monique will have of where she stands with her work.

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Twenty-two pairs of eyes solemnly watched as each coffin was jettisoned out into deep space. They immediately disappeared behind the ship, swirling away into the endless darkness.  Ted gave the eulogy himself; and while he knew neither Captain Charles McAdams or his first mate Red Banks personally he did try to do them justice. Jim said nothing. Ever since Stella had explained the supernova process a small detail had nagged at him but he just couldn’t quite get a fix on it. She said there would be nothing left, but he had done some reading.  Sometimes dying stars turned into pulsars. They didn’t always make black holes, and didn’t always just disintegrate. Jim pondered on this until Ted asked him to speak.  Jim stood and quietly delivered a prayer on behalf of the lost men.

The star would have to be super massive, as the larger one clearly was. This supernova very likely could end up leaving a pulsar behind…what was it about the process? Jim couldn’t remember exactly. The supernova explosion would disintegrate everything in its path…or would it?

Ted finally wound down. So far he had accredited the miracle of life to chemical drops from outer space, the rise of mankind to extraterrestrial visitors and he’d compared the shortened lives of Charlie and Red to those of characters in a dramatic movie that he liked. The memorial was over and those polite enough to stay for the duration were now standing to leave. Jim thanked Ted, who shone with all the attention, the man of the hour.  He didn’t seem to notice that most of the crowd were exiting the room as quickly as they could.

Jim and Vince headed back to the bridge together. Jim was using Vince to jog his memory. It was important, that nagging little thought, he just knew it.

“What do you know about pulsars, Vince?” He asked. Vince scratched his head.

“About as much as you could sweeten your coffee with I guess, why, some kind of star?”

“Some super massive stars become pulsars after they explode.”

“Yea but Stella said this one was going to disintegrate itself…and us.” Vince replied as he entered the bridge ahead of Jim.

“I know, I know, but there are two suns there,” Jim pointed at the binary stars. “One will go supernova, yes. But the other one still has a lot of mass. What is it going to do?”

“Oh I see what you’re getting at. Well, won’t it just, explode too?”

“Not necessarily.” Stella joined them. “I see what you are getting at Jim. Being as they are binary stars and gravitationally bound… the larger star would take a hit but it might not be destroyed.”

“And theoretically,” Jim pointed. “If we were at some point directly behind the larger sun, wouldn’t it shield us from the worst of the storm?”

“The ship would have to be very close to that sun Jim.” Stella warned. “Very close.”

“But the trinite should handle that easily.” Jim said. “Will the blast be that much more destructive closer up than if we are say, past this second planet here?” Jim pointed to the second planet in orbit around the suns.

“Exponentially yes, of course. But either blast zone will be fatal to the ship if it isn’t completely sealed with trinite.”

“Then it doesn’t matter which direction we take does it?”

Vince looked from Jim to Stella and back. “Are you saying we should fly back toward the stars? Toward the explosion?”

“Well…yes. I think that’s what I’m saying.” Jim nodded. Vince took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Fly into the star.” Vince shook his head, grinning. “Man, that’s radical.” He looked at Jim and Stella. “Do we have time to reach it?”

“We do.” Stella answered him simply.

The three of them looked out at the glowing suns.

“Fly into the star.” Vince repeated in awe.  His knees felt a little shaky.

——————————–

Twenty-two pairs of eyes solemnly watched (in solemn silence) as each coffin was jettisoned out into deep space. They immediately disappeared behind the ship, swirling away into the endless darkness.  Ted gave the eulogy himself; and while he knew neither Captain Charles McAdams or his first mate Red Banks personally, he did try to do them justice.

(I started this part as a new paragraph to break up the narrative)Jim said nothing. Ever since Stella had explained the supernova process a small detail had nagged at him but he just couldn’t quite get a fix on it. She said there would be nothing left, but he had done some reading.  Sometimes dying stars turned into pulsars. They didn’t always make black holes, and didn’t always just disintegrate. Jim pondered on this until Ted asked him to speak.  Jim stood and quietly delivered a prayer on behalf of the lost men.  (It is good to break up his current thoughts with action such as this, but there is no explanation here of how the prayer went.  Was it short or long? What was he thinking as he said it?  How did he feel about the men who just died?  Was his voice shaky or strong?)

The star would have to be super massive, as the larger one clearly was. This supernova very likely could end up leaving a pulsar behind…what was it about the process? Jim couldn’t remember exactly. The supernova explosion would disintegrate everything in its path…or would it?  (I do like how you wrote his train of thought here.  It is logical and realistic to how someone distracted by an important matter might think.)

Ted finally wound down (I’m a little lost here.  The last action was Jim giving the prayer, but now we are back to Ted.  Perhaps add a transition between the two). So far he had accredited the miracle of life to chemical drops from outer space, the rise of mankind to extraterrestrial visitors and he’d compared the shortened lives of Charlie and Red to those of characters in a dramatic movie that he liked. The memorial was over and those polite enough to stay for the duration were now standing to leave. Jim thanked Ted, who shone with all the attention, the man of the hour.  He didn’t seem to notice that most of the crowd were exiting the room as quickly as they could.

Jim and Vince headed back to the bridge together (How was their pace here?  Slow, fast?). Jim was using Vince to jog his memory <–This is telling.  Let the dialog and actions speak for themselves. It was important, that nagging little thought, he just knew it.

“What do you know about pulsars, Vince?” He he asked. (Vince scratched his head-move this to the front of the next dialog sentence so it matches with the speaker).

“About as much as you could sweeten your coffee with I guess, why, some kind of star?”

“Some super massive stars become pulsars after they explode.”

“Yea but Stella said this one was going to disintegrate itself…and us.” Vince replied as he entered the bridge ahead of Jim.  (There should be some sense of tenseness and worry about the crew.  At this point, they all believe they’re going to die.  You might show their concern a bit more in this scene.)

“I know, I know, but there are two suns there,” Jim pointed at the binary stars. “One will go supernova, yes. But the other one still has a lot of mass. What is it going to do?”

“Oh I see what you’re getting at. Well, won’t it just, explode too?”

“Not necessarily.” Stella joined them (Maybe describe how her voice comes over a speaker or whatever method she uses to speak right here). “I see what you are getting at Jim. Being as they are binary stars and gravitationally bound… the larger star would take a hit but it might not be destroyed.”

“And theoretically,” Jim pointed to the star in question,if we were at some point directly behind the larger sun, wouldn’t it shield us from the worst of the storm?”  (Perhaps give us some facial expressions.  He is talking to a computer, but I’m sure he might draw his brows, squint his eyes at the map, etc.  Visuals help the reader see the scene as it happens.)

“The ship would have to be very close to that sun, Jim,” Stella warned. “Very close.”

“But the trinite should handle that easily,” Jim said. “Will the blast be that much more destructive closer up than if we are, say, past this second planet here?” Jim pointed to the second planet in orbit around the suns.

“Exponentially, yes, of course. But either blast zone will be fatal to the ship if it isn’t completely sealed with trinite.”

“Then it doesn’t matter which direction we take does it?”  (What kind of tone of voice does he say this in?  He is implying they may die no matter what they do.  There has to be some emotion that comes with that.)

Vince looked from Jim to Stella and back. “Are you saying we should fly back toward the stars? Toward the explosion?”

“Well…yes. I think that’s what I’m saying.” Jim nodded.

(I moved this line to keep Vince’s actions separate from Jim’s dialog)Vince took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Fly into the star.” Vince shook his head, grinning. “Man, that’s radical.” He looked at Jim and Stella. “Do we have time to reach it?”

“We do.” Stella answered him simply.

The three of them looked out at the glowing suns.

“Fly into the star.” Vince repeated in awe.  His knees felt a little shaky <–this is the showing I want to see!.

Monique, I actually enjoyed the debate in your excerpt over how to avoid getting killed when the star goes supernova.  The narrative and dialog gave me a good enough idea of what options there were so I could understand the issue and thought processes of the crew. You didn’t make anything too complicated for the average reader to comprehend.  The pacing was about right as well, neither too fast nor too slow.

Some things I would have liked to see more of is description and mood.  It doesn’t need to be heavy.  A line here and there to let readers know people’s feelings by their expressions and body language would help.  Also, an occasional observation of the ship would keep the scene grounded in a location one can see.  Though this was the middle of a story and some details have no doubt already been revealed, I’m sure you could have added a little more for ambiance.  Simple things like did their boots click as they walked on the floor?  When the coffins shot out, did they make a sound?  Were the coffins a dull or shiny color?  Did the crew wear any special uniforms for the ceremony?  When the computer (Stella) spoke, were there lights that lit up?  Where did the men look when they spoke to Stella?  Little details like this can add a lot to a scene.  Also, why bother shooting the coffins out at all if they are probably going to die anyway? (not sure if this was addressed before this part of the excerpt or not)

Another thing to work on is commas.  Sometimes you used them appropriately in dialog and sometimes not.  The same thing with narrative.  I corrected a few, but there are some I’m sure I missed.  You might Google some comma usage sites that can help explain when and where to use them.  I often have to double-check my own because I don’t profess to be perfect at it either.  You aren’t as bad as some on adverbs, but I did cross out a few and/or give you alternatives to use.

Overall, this is a good excerpt.  I’m left curious as to whether the ship and crew make it out alive.  Odds are they do since it wouldn’t be much of a story if they all die, but I imagine they might have some trouble so it doesn’t go easy.  You’ve left me wondering what kind of problems may arise from their trying to avoid the supernova.  At this point, I’m sure a reader would keep going just because they’d have to know what happens next after the clear picture you’ve drawn of the impending disaster.  In that, you’ve done your job!

Thanks for contributing your story and good luck with your writing.  Hope you found this critique helpful!

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To everyone else- If you have an excerpt (up to 1000 words) that you would like to submit, please go to this page for further details.  I’ll be happy to schedule your critique for a future blog post!

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~ by Suzie on June 10, 2012.

10 Responses to “Excerpt for Critique 003”

  1. What hit me about this was that you over-described actions while under-describing the environment. I really wanted more setting. You could have lost the “simply” in “Stella answered him simply” and the “clearly” in “as the larger one clearly was”, etc. You don’t have to tell the readers what they can infer.

  2. I like sci-fi! You do a great job at pulling the reader in. I wanted to know what happens next! I agree regarding more description and the comma usage. It helps me to read the passage to see where I naturally pause (and for how long.) For example “…Well, won’t it just, explode too?” I would reconsider the comma between just & explode. You could go with “Well, won’t it just explode, too?” or “Well, won’t it just . . . explode, too?” depending on how long you intended the pause to be. I also liked the concept of the story!

  3. Sci-fi is a hard genre, because it can’t be over-imagined. I think you did a good job of keeping it from sounding too fantastical. I think you could go places with this one.

  4. Thank you all for the great critiques! I DO have a problem with comma usage, and Susan I’m glad you caught me on those. Debbie that was a great suggestion, doing the “…explode.” Susan you are right as well, being an excerpt from the middle of a story some of the details have already been explained, but I do need more description.
    I’m used to doing short stories and this piece is working out to be much longer. I don’t normally have the space to do a lot of detailing, I need to relax and feel things out a little more in these longer pieces.
    I’m so glad I did this, thank you Susan so much for the opportunity! Thank you Debbie and Beckony for your suggestions as well.

  5. I’m a little late to the party. Hi, Neeks! I enjoyed the excerpt, but I have to admit, for some reason when I started reading, I thought Jim was a young adult, like a cabin boy. Maybe I was channeling Treasure Planet, I don’t know, lol. Since this is the middle of the story, I don’t know if that misconception would have been avoided early on. At the least, some body language might help. Does Jim have any mannerisms while he’s thinking? Any “tells” so to speak? Does he scratch his chin (and thereby do you reveal he hasn’t shaved in a few days)? Does he pick at a fraying thread on his uniform? Is he wearing a dress uniform for the funeral (thereby showing his higher rank)?

    Also, I’m curious if Stella has a personality. The only holographic personas I’m familiar with are Romey from Andromeda and The Doctor from Star Trek Voyager, but each one developed a personality of sorts, even if it was stiff at first.

    Oh, and the grammar teacher in me has to say, commas do not mean pauses. We often pause where there is a comma, but not always. Dailygrammar.com is a good site for the rules. :-)

  6. Awesome and thank you Angela, I will check out dailygrammar right away. I have a horrible problem figuring out where to put commas. Question to those in the know though, if I don’t use a comma to show a pause in speech, how do I show it? I can’t use the … that often, it stands out too much.

    Yes, excerpts are harder to read sometimes, at the beginning of this story I establish that Jim is an older man. Of course without a page full of set-up, I couldn’t give all the details like that when submitting it. That does make it harder for you folks to read. I thank you for your comments, I can see by several mentions that I need to work on Stella a bit more. Thanks!

    • For narrative, I can think of a couple different ways. Break it up with a dialogue tag. “Well,” he said, “that depends.” By forcing the reader to pause for the tag, you’re implying a pause for the speaker. The ellipses (…) works, or perhaps an emdash (—) if the pause comes with an important revelation. Really, though, you only need to show emphasized pauses. Because our speech has a natural rhythm to it, you don’t have to worry about each minute pause that a reader will naturally incorporate in their head. If that makes sense, and that’s just my take on it. Hope that helps. :-)

  7. Hi Neeks. Thanks for directing me to this great site on your Limebirds blog.

    I enjoyed the excerpt and wanted to know how it turned out. I felt secure that you had created a well-thought out world and that you understood the science. The dialogue read naturally and conveyed information in an interesting way. I liked the name Stella for the artificial intelligence of the ship.

    For improvement, I thought perhaps you could consider point of view more carefully. For me, it was a bit choppy, moving from Ted to Jim and back, then into the dialogue. I’d have liked it to stay anchored to one person for longer, and to have had the transition signalled more clearly. You may find that considering consciously whose eyes you’re behind, like a camera, as you describe your scenes helps make the description and emotion more vivid. Including being clear in your own mind when you have panned right out to be the more neutral narrator, and why.

    Great work, though, keep going and good luck!

  8. I really enjoyed reading this, and found your writing style natural and smooth. The commas did distract me–basically dialog should end with a comma, end quote, then s/he said. (A dialog tag besides ‘said’ should be used sparingly if at all. Even ‘asked’ or ‘replied’). I think that the dialog itself could be reworked to be a little less stiff. Read your dialog aloud and it will give you a feel for how the different, unique voices should sound–how each character expresses (or doesn’t express) near-panic. But overall I thought this had a lot of potential–good luck!

  9. Thank you Amanda and Jenny. I certainly have a lot to consider here! :)

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