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First Page: Untitled Science Fiction

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***

She’s crashing!

I was vaguely aware of the commotion around me, people shouting and monitors beeping and rain pelting the windows. Background noise. The tingling that shot through my body felt so good I didn’t think to care.

Focused on the tingling, nerves and synapses crackling to life. Like birth through electricity.

Come on, Janelle! Don’t leave me…

Struggled to open my eyes, but my eyelids were little weights that I couldn’t move. My arms stayed limp at my sides, useless. I felt pressure on my shoulders. Then nothing.

***
No tingling, no chaos. Just beeping and a light scratching sound. Muscles relaxed. Breathing shallow. I was swimming, nothing but grace cutting through infinite black. Only the constant beeping kept me anchored.
I tried to stretch, but something restrained me. I lay trapped, unable to breathe. Struggling, trying to wave my arms and legs through the emptiness. But nothing happened. I gasped, air intake hampered by the lump in my dry throat.

“Janelle!”

Pressure forced me back into the emptiness.

“Janelle, hold still!”

My eyes shot open, blinded by a white that dripped like paint into blurred shapes.

A million thoughts invaded my head. A million ways to choke and die, even in the light. Gurgling, spewing, hissing, I refused to give in. The voice telling “Janelle” to calm down only made things worse.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

16 Comments

  1. Maddie
    May 07, 2011 @ 11:21:03

    Already noon and still no comments? Perhaps it’s for the same reason that I didn’t comment when I first read this four hours ago: What would I have to say about this page? I have no idea what the heck is even going on here. When I read ‘she’s crashing’, I thought that maybe she was in some sort of small futuristic aircraft and was going to crash land. But why then would she be acting so dazed, why the electricity?

    Upon rereading it, I thought that she has been in some sort of hospital the whole time, and people are trying to save her life. I’m not sure if that’s a good way to start a story. Maybe if she’s changed in some weird and fascinating way when she wakes up, or if she can’t remember who she is, but that has been done to death.

    My thought is that your story would have more impact if you started right before whatever accident that has her in this life-threatening situation, so that there are some sort of stakes involved and so that if she is altered or changed after she recovers, we’ll know what she was changed from. But then again, I really have no idea what direction this story is taking, or really any idea what is going on. Maybe it’s going to be cleared up a bit shortly after the cutoff, but right now, it just leaves me feeling confused.

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  2. B
    May 07, 2011 @ 11:24:02

    What Maddie said.

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  3. dm
    May 07, 2011 @ 11:32:37

    Unless this was cut off before the end of the selection, it’s nigh on impossible to critique. We’re entirely in the head of a character who experiences everything “vaguely,” and hence, so do we. Even without the meaningless metaphors (“Like birth through electricity.” or “I was swimming, nothing but grace cutting through infinite black.” Explain how either one enhances my understanding of this character’s experience, I dare you.),there’s nothing here to work with.

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  4. M
    May 07, 2011 @ 11:41:54

    My first thought, too, was that “She’s crashing” referred to some sort of space vehicle (due to the sf label.) :)

    Then I realized she must be in the hospital, having her heart shocked back to life. I did find it confusing; but I’ll admit it’s a vivid way to begin a story and I would have read further to see what was going on.

    I thought the writing itself was not too bad. The imagery was striking enough to make me wonder if that’s how I’d feel, on the line between life and death.

    Interesting start.

    Good luck with your story.

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  5. hapax
    May 07, 2011 @ 15:07:16

    I read somewhere that so many stories begin with the protagonist waking up in a blank white room because so many writers begin staring at a blank white page.

    And that’s the feeling I get here, too — that the author doesn’t really feel comfortable with the story yet, so zie is working zir way into it, figuring things out along with the character (and the readers).

    And that’s not a bad way to start a first draft. But I think you’ll find that your “real” story starts either before or after this scene.

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  6. job
    May 07, 2011 @ 18:37:52

    I’d skim onward about another page. If the author didn’t tell me what’s happening, I’d put the book back on the rack and go to the next one. That’s a pity, because I think the writing has good potential.

    I guess I have a couple three comments.

    1) This feels like manipulation.

    Is the heart stoppage important to the central story? If Chapter Three goes off on an unrelated plot about pyrite smugglers, I’m going to feel manipulated.

    If the character is never in any danger at all, I’m going to feel manipulated.

    If one of the standard SF plot dohinkuses like body-to-body transfer, rebirth, dream machine, remote sensing or whatever gets pulled out the hat like a rabbit — I’m going to feel manipulated.

    I am a couple hundred words into the story and I have no clue.

    I feel like the author is doing it on purpose and she could tell me what was going on if she wanted to and she’s just being contrary about this.

    2) Sometimes confusion isn’t so much intriguing as it is just confusing.

    3) I have no sense of action. No sense of time passing. No feeling for the who and why of the character. I have no visual picture of the environment.

    All else being equal, I feel like it’s nice to give the reader something solid to imagine rather than a bunch of abstract stuff.
    I can ‘see’ a wide, black leather band and rattling chain but I can’t so much ‘see’ something restrained me.

    4) I don’t want to nitpick, but there are some distracting inconsistencies.

    I, too, thought the ship was crashing.
    When there was no flash of etheric geglignite I had to crawl out of that particular conceptual hole.

    If ‘crashing’ means going into cardiac arrest,
    then I just feel the POV character should be concentrating on that — which I understand is painful — instead of thinking about the rain outside and noticing the medical monitors.

    If the electricity is a shock cart starting the heart — does it ‘tingle’ pleasurably, or does it hurt?

    When she comes back to herself, she seems to be breathing shallowly but then immediately she is unable to breathe. Why?
    Why press her shoulders? Especially if she’s already restrained?
    Would a patient with her air cut off think about the many ways of dying instead of how to get some air right now?
    If she’s in a hospital, and having trouble breathing, why isn’t she intubated?

    So, anyhow, I have a feeling this would be even more intriguing if the reader knew what was going on.

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  7. Jackie Barbosa
    May 07, 2011 @ 19:12:35

    One would think that starting a book with the main protagonist in immediate danger of kicking the bucket would be a great, in-the-action, hook-y moment. I mean, how much more high-stakes can you get, right?

    Except this doesn’t really work for a number of reasons others have already pointed out. The main one, though, is that we don’t have any reason at this point to CARE whether the protagonist lives or dies. We don’t know anything about her or the world she lives in–nothing about this opening said “science fiction” to me other than the Untitled Science Fiction tag. (A title might have helped me, by the way. You can get an awful lot of subtle information across with a title, although a lot of people seem to think they’re not very important.)

    The OTHER reason this doesn’t quite work, though, is that because the protagonist is narrating the story in first person POV, I KNOW she’s not in any real danger of dying. If she DID die, it would be an awfully short book, no? So, I’m not that WORRIED by her current predicament. I figure she’s going to survive, so there’s no real tension in the scene.

    That said, I was interested ENOUGH to want a bit more–if only to find out what the heck is going on and where the story’s going. I didn’t HATE it, but I was annoyed that I couldn’t get a better grip on WHO the character is and what was happening. So, to the extent that I’d probably keep reading for at least another page or two, it’s relatively successful. I’m just not sure that means it’s the best place to start your story.

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  8. Deb
    May 07, 2011 @ 20:40:28

    The beginning is an attention grabber, but then mss kind of lost me. I was pulled out of the story trying to figure out potential scenarios.
    And unclear how tingling through one’s body could feel good?

    Is there a reason there’s no subject in front of “focused”, struggled, etc? Is this intentional device?
    I liked that the next scene presumably takes us to after whatever procedure they performed, but I’m just as lost.
    Seems this section might read better after a scene about whatever happened to her.

    Also, ending seemed abrput. did it cut off?

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  9. SH
    May 08, 2011 @ 06:27:34

    I thought the reason nobody had commented was because of the genre – marketing science fiction to romance readers is going to be difficult. I know it’s not something I seek out when looking for books. I almost didn’t open the post.

    I would read on, because there’s not enough here to establish what’s going on. I don’t mind the hook. Writing tutors spend so much time stressing the importance of the opening line (I’ve heard from editors who say they’ll give up on a manuscript if the first line doesn’t get them!).
    Basically, there’s just not enough here to judge (but then it is supposed to be the first page, so what can you do?!).

    I will say that the protagonist’s name doesn’t work for me – especially in a science fiction context. I’m sorry if I insult anyone, but where I’m from Janelle is a joke name for someone from a trailer park (well, ‘caravan park’, as I’m not American). It’s the equivalent of calling your Texan hero ‘Bubba’. But maybe that won’t be an issue for American readers.

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  10. Lynne Connolly
    May 08, 2011 @ 07:24:59

    it’s good, I think. I say “think” because by the end of the passage I’m still floundering. It’s written with the immediacy of stream-of-consciousness, which makes it a difficult read. There’s nothing for the reader to grasp.
    I think you need to give us, the reader, some kind of connection with the main character, a link. Something concrete. I get that she’s confused, but there needs to be something – a voice, the sense of a bed or a hard object, something like that.

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  11. Jane Lovering
    May 08, 2011 @ 07:44:27

    @SH, I’m sure there’s a feminine lubricant called Janelle. Being as how I’m ‘Jane L’ I am sure someone has teased me with this at some point!

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  12. Cathy in AK
    May 08, 2011 @ 16:48:33

    @SH, science fiction romance, or SFR, is a viable subgenre of romance fiction. Not as popular as historical or paranormal or suspense, perhaps, but it has a decent following. Yeah, I read it as well as write it :)

    I was a tad confused by the opening too, but the last bit intrigued me. Is she “Janelle”? If not, who is she? If so, why doesn’t she think she is?

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  13. Tasha
    May 08, 2011 @ 17:07:02

    The thing that might make this work for me is that last sentence–because “Janelle” is in quotation marks, I wonder if this is a body-switch story. I’d probably read on a bit longer to see what’s going on.

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  14. Julia Sullivan
    May 08, 2011 @ 23:01:54

    I think this kind of setup is difficult for a first-page critique to be very helpful—you’re unfolding something pretty complicated here, and it will take more than a page to clue the reader in to just what’s going on (I, too, assumed she wasn’t Janelle, which was intriguing).

    As dm says, more vivid sensory images might help us identify with the protag. You’re panned too far out for us to care about this stranger; if we could see/smell/feel what was going on it might help us engage with her despite the lack of context.

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  15. lexcade
    May 24, 2011 @ 20:05:07

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I guess I *still* have a lot of thinking to do concerning the opening. It’s a new opening, though the actual story has been written and rewritten about a hundred times over the last decade. Thanks!

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  16. Teri Anne Stanley
    May 24, 2011 @ 20:28:07

    I knew immediately that this was a life or death situation, in a hospital (maybe it’s all that ER I watched back in the day).

    I agree with Julia–this is hard to critique without the next several pages…but I would totally read them!

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