Sunday, October 28

Real Life Diagnostics: Start With an Introduction? What's a Fitting Beginning for a Novel?

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose them on the blog. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Seven

This week’s question:

I am wondering if this would be a fitting opening for my very first Sci-Fi (outer space!) novel?

Market/Genre: Science Fiction


On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Colonel Paul Krysis was the son of Emperor Riordan Krysis, who ruled over the fifteen planetary realms called Kel’Dria. But in spite of whose son he was, Paul was only a single battalion commander who managed infantry and supply men aboard the KD Carmactus. This was one of the five Regimental Space Ports that served as military command for each of Kel’Dria’s five quadrants.

Paul had occupied this post for three years now. It was a fairly simple and straightforward job, and it was primarily administrative. He was responsible for ensuring that troops were moved when they were needed and that organization was maintained aboard the Carmactus. It was a high ranking job, if not the ideal one for Paul. Yet what would be ideal, he still wasn’t so sure. When he put his mind to it, he missed just being a normal soldier. He missed the simple camaraderie that came with bunking with other infantry men and he missed taking orders and being counted on to fight well, just because he was good at it.

But time and circumstance always seemed to have its way, and everything changed after the most unlikely events that led to his father’s seizing of the throne. In a stroke of genius and fit of glory, Paul led a most decisive victory against Port 4, the Solaris Diatra. This victory effectively paved the way for Riordan to wedge his way into the inter-planetary defense system and not three months later, the Empress was dead and Riordan had the Imperial Scepter. To this day, Paul was unsure of their conquest, but he raised little objection to his father’s ways unless he absolutely had to. This did seem to be a more frequent occurrence as of late, more so than he would have liked, and with that in mind now he was reminded of something,

“Get Captain Gillibrand up here, corporal.”

My Thoughts in Purple:

Colonel Paul Krysis was the son of Emperor Riordan Krysis, who ruled over the fifteen planetary realms called Kel’Dria. But in spite of whose son he was, Paul was only a single battalion commander who managed infantry and supply men aboard the KD Carmactus. This was one of the five Regimental Space Ports that served as military command for each of Kel’Dria’s five quadrants. I like the idea of an emperor's son managing a supply ship, but this paragraph reads more like a description of who he is than an opening hook.

Paul had occupied this post for three years now. It was a fairly simple and straightforward job, and it was primarily administrative. He was responsible for ensuring that troops were moved when they were needed and that organization was maintained aboard the Carmactus. It was a high ranking job, if not the ideal one for Paul. Yet what would be ideal, he still wasn’t so sure. When he put his mind to it, he missed just being a normal soldier. He missed the simple camaraderie that came with bunking with other infantry men and he missed taking orders and being counted on to fight well, just because he was good at it. Same here. There are elements with wonderful potential and conflict, but it's being explained, not dramatized, so there's nothing to draw a reader into the story yet.

But time and circumstance always seemed to have its way, and everything changed after the most unlikely events that led to his father’s seizing of the throne. In a stroke of genius and fit of glory, Paul led a most decisive victory against Port 4, the Solaris Diatra. This victory effectively paved the way for Riordan to wedge his way into the inter-planetary defense system and not three months later, the Empress was dead and Riordan had the Imperial Scepter. To this day, Paul was unsure of their conquest, but he raised little objection to his father’s ways unless he absolutely had to. This did seem to be a more frequent occurrence as of late, more so than he would have liked, and with that in mind now he was reminded of something, And again here. There's great conflict and a solid character arc brewing, but the story hasn't started yet.

“Get Captain Gillibrand up here, corporal.”

The question:

I am wondering if this would be a fitting opening for my very first Sci-Fi (outer space!) novel?
Not yet. As is, it's not reading like an opening to me, but more like a summary of Paul's background and how he got to this point. But I really like the backstory and think it has a lot of potential and inherent conflict. It's a solid setup. The "emperor's son who just wants to be a regular solider and take orders" is wonderful. I also like how he had a flukey victory he now questions the morality of and isn't sure what he wants. And that he's objecting to his father's ways more and more. All good stuff and I can see inklings of where this story might be going.

(More on determining where to start your novel)

I'd suggest looking for a moment in your story when Paul is forced into action or makes a decision that leads to a change in his life. I don't know what the story is about, but from this snippet I'm guessing Paul is going to go up against his father about something he objects to. It might even be what happens after he calls Gillibrand over. What is the moment when things change for Paul? You're looking for either your inciting event scene, or the catalyst scene that gets you to that inciting event. Sometimes you need a smaller problem that leads to the bigger story problem. That smaller problem allows you to introduce the protagonist and show the reader what their life is like before it all falls apart.

(More on the inciting event here)

I'd suggest starting with that scene and cutting all this summary. It's great stuff for you to know, but it's not working to hook a reader and draw them in. There's nothing going on yet for them to care about, and without knowing the history and what all these names and sectors are, it's just meaningless words on a page. But the words have a lot of meaning to you since you know the story. So show us that meaning by what happens in the first scene, and later scenes, as some of this backstory can unfold as the story does. We don't need to know it all right now.

(More on world building and backgrounding your details here)

Paul seems like an interesting character stuck in a interesting situation. Try showing him in his day to day life, dealing with an issue that will allow readers to see who he is and get to know him some and like him. If that problem relates to his unhappiness with his posting and military life, so much the better. That would give you opportunities to show some of this backstory and character building. Readers can see he wishes he were just a regular guy again.

(More on figuring out what is driving your protagonist here)

Take the details from this summary and slip them into the background of the story. For example, to show his father is emperor, perhaps have Riordan contact him. I imagine there'd be a lot of fanfare and whatnot surrounding an imperial call, but Paul can act like a son getting a call from a father he has issues with. Maybe Paul is the one who calls to object to something. Of something happens that makes him angry and he acts. Readers will be able to see this isn't a typical father/son emperor/commander relationship. They'll know there's a problem and something is going to come from that. Create whatever situation works for your story, but try showing these two as father and son and how their relationship works.

Also look for small ways to show the details you want to get across so the reader can figure it out by what they observe instead of being told outright. If this is a supply ship, describe the supplies or where the ship is going. Have crewmembers reporting in. Show Paul doing what he normally does on his ship, interacting with his crew. If this is the ideal job for Paul, show him being good at it and respected for it.

Most importantly, give Paul a goal to drive his actions in the opening scene (and in every scene actually). What does he want as this story opens? What will happen to keep him from getting it? What will be at risk if he doesn't get it? These are the three things that will pull a reader into the story and keep them reading. It'll also allow you to move from introducing Paul to putting him on the story path to the core conflict of the novel.

(More on goals, conflict, and stakes here)

It's very common to have "throat clearing" in a novel, where you write a lot of things just to get into the flow of the story. I suspect once this opening setup is past, you'll find your actual beginning. Try looking father into the story for something happening with an uncertain outcome. Odds are that's the spot that'll hook the reader.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

1 comment:

  1. Although I agree with Janice's points, I really really like the tone of the piece and would like to read more :)

    ReplyDelete