Jul 10 2009

The Five Page Challenge!

You don’t have hundreds of pages to persuade an agent or a publisher that your work is worth publishing.  More like five.  Since agents and publisher’s assistants and editors receive hundreds of proposals every week, time is not on your side.  Your story has to be interesting immediately.  If it feels like the story’s going nowhere, the reader will toss your manuscript and move on to the next.

To help you write sharper and more compelling openings, I’m starting a writing contest that will end on July 31.  Both novelists and comic book writers can participate as many times as they’d like.  If you’re interested, please post the following below…

  • A two-sentence synopsis of what you’re writing.
  • A sentence-long description of your target audience.
  • The first five pages of a novel or comic book.  (We won’t be picky about comic book formatting, but if you’d like to know more about how to format a comic book script, please see Dark Horse’s guide here).

The best openings will be featured in an upcoming article I’m doing about how to write effective introductions.  Here are some questions to guide you.

1.  Is there an interesting main character?  In particular, how well has his personality been developed?

2.  Is something at stake for the main character?  Do we care about whether he succeeds?

3.  Does the story feel like it is going somewhere?

4.  Is the story clear and easy to understand?

5.  Has the author demonstrated a strong sense of style?

6.  If readers could keep reading past page five, would they urgently want to?

7.  If it’s a comic book script, has the writer worked in interesting visuals?

58 responses so far

58 Responses to “The Five Page Challenge!”

  1. Bretton 05 Jul 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I accept your challenge. Should I post my entry here or email it?

  2. B. Macon 05 Jul 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Please post it.

  3. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 05 Jul 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Does “the first five pages” mean in A4 format (which is the automatic setting on my computer) or in the format it would appear in a book?

  4. B. Macon 05 Jul 2009 at 11:18 pm

    For a novel, that’d be five double-spaced pages like they’d appear on your computer. A4 is fine. I’d expect that would be between 1200-1800 words.

    It’s hard to estimate a word-count for comic book pages because it’s hard to gauge how much description everyone will use, but I’d expect it would be between 500-1500 words. (Remember, a page of a comic book script doesn’t have to use the entire sheet; as soon as you’ve described each of the panels that will appear on the comic book page, break to the next page of the script).

  5. B. Macon 05 Jul 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Also, some house-keeping stuff.

    –If you’d like to, you may use an introduction that you’ve already written.

    –Reviewers, please try to be polite and helpful. Thanks! We appreciate it.

    –In a passage of this length, I recommend against trying 2+ POVs. It’s hard enough to introduce one interesting main character in five pages, let alone two.

    –Around two weeks from now, our next writing exercise will be a contest about how to do duskjacket (backcover) blurbs. I’d appreciate any suggestions for future writing exercises.

  6. Marissaon 06 Jul 2009 at 1:29 am

    …B. Mac, what kind of luck would I have with this? xD

    If it’s not fair, don’t answer. Was just asking ’cause you’ve already read mine.

  7. B. Macon 06 Jul 2009 at 3:01 am

    If you’d like to test out some edits, I think that this exercise would be a solid venue for that.

  8. Tomon 06 Jul 2009 at 3:32 am

    Hmm… I’ll probably pass on this one. I’ll definitely help critiquing them though.

  9. Bretton 06 Jul 2009 at 8:58 am

    JUST five pages? Is that the cutoff, or can we include a couple more if it makes for a more natural stop point?

  10. Bretton 06 Jul 2009 at 8:59 am

    I ask because my first chapter is 7 pages.

  11. Bretton 06 Jul 2009 at 9:00 am

    Nevermind. problem solved.

  12. Bretton 06 Jul 2009 at 9:07 am

    Son of a Legend: The Sablestone, Volume Zero of the Everstar Saga

    My story is about Conleth, a gruff, roguish man who is universally known as The Son of Aerthir Everstar, a great hero of the bygone age. In his personal quest to escape his fathers shadow, Conleth takes on an actual quest from a king to find a sacred talisman called the Sablestone and along the way, learns more about his father and himself.

    Opening:

    Chapter 1: To Threaten A King

    The heavy wooden doors, engraved with the image of a dragon, swung slowly open on their iron hinges, revealing a lone figure, a man. Immediately the two guards that had been leaning against the door fell to the ground. Dead.

    The intruder cleaned and sheathed the twin short swords he carried, one on either side. He was fairly tall, with straight black hair, crystalline blue eyes, and golden-brown skin that rippled over muscle and sinew. His attire was dark and austere. His only accessories were the two short swords, and a rather large one slung across his back and concealed in black cloth. The most curious thing about him was the rough sack he was carrying.

    “They just don’t make doorkeepers like they used to,” the man said wryly. He sauntered into the torch-lit, yet perpetually gloomy and shadow-haunted throne room, wherein sat on a black wrought-iron chair the very person he had come to see. “Greetings, Gripgrim, Lord of Thardus,” he called out in a deep, resonant voice. He over-bowed, more in mockery than respect.

    Gripgrim lifted his head and unhunched himself. With his bald head and long nose he resembled a pale vulture, wrapped in robes of blood-crimson and violet. His hands, large and bony, clutched a black-iron scepter. “Conleth, Son of Aerthír,” he spoke in a thin, scraping voice, “what do you want with me now?” He gestured, and the ten guards around the throne drew closer, spears and swords ready.

    “Only to return what is yours.” With that, Conleth opened the sack he was carrying and took out a grisly decapitated head with a slack-jawed expression, casting it at the king’s feet. “In case you don’t recognize him, that’s Delvin, son of Gadron, one of your captains.” Conleth smirked at the now scowling king. “There are twenty others to go with that one, but unfortunately, I could only bring you one.”

    “What is the meaning of this?” The king yelled, tightly clutching his scepter, his forehead furrowed in rage. The guards quickly moved into formation, creating a wall of armor and blades. They knew who they were dealing with. The Son of the Everstar was not to be trifled with. They did not relish the thought of fighting him, even with the odds in their favor. Nevertheless, they had a duty to their lord.

    “I caught your men raiding villages under the sovereignty of Lord Kendar. Are you really that desperate? You know, if Kendar were to bring the matter these ‘collections’ before the other lords, you would be deposed.”

    “I will not tolerate these ridiculous, groundless-”

    “But aren’t you clever. The hill-bandits have been harassing the merchants headed for Kendar’s province. He has had to borrow money from you of course, and you have agreed to lend it. In return he pays tribute in kind, disbands his army, and allows your soldiers free reign. Do you think I am blind? I can see where this is going, Gripgrim. Or do I need to remind you that the Five Provinces of Saria were once six before the mysterious disappearance of Lord Erdul?”

    “Listen to me, mercenary,” he said with sneer, “I took no part in these raids, nor did I sponsor them.”

    “Ha! Of course not. How silly of me,” Conleth said in a cutting tone. He drew a piece of parchment from his pocket. “And I suppose this letter, which reads: ‘confiscate all food and livestock, tolerate no resistance,’ does not bear your seal.” Conleth smirked at the king, and his eyes said wordlessly, “You have got to be kidding me.”

    “I will not sit here in my own halls and be accused like a common criminal!” the king spat.

    “Then stand, old buzzard, because a common criminal is what you are.” The guards tensed, ready for action.

    “Look here, you wandering peasant! In my domain, you are an outlaw, and I have only allowed you this far out of patience!”

    “Or fear,” Conleth said. A shadow stirred beyond the torchlight.

    “Guards, Take him! He will hang for his impudence.” As ordered, the soldiers closed in, perhaps a little reluctantly.

    As the guards approached Conleth said, “It would be an honor to hang for so strange a crime as justice!” He took no notice of the guards. His eyes were only on the king.

    Two of the guards strode forward to take hold of him, but jerked to a stop suddenly, as arrows sprouted from their shoulders and drove them to the ground. The other three drew their swords, but in vain. Five guards lay bleeding to death on the floor, pierced with arrows from an unseen archer. With lightning speed, Conleth drew his swords and dispatched the remaining five. Gripgrim was pale and shaking with fear. He began to call for more guards when an arrow whistled through the air, grazed his head and embedded itself in the upholstery of his throne. Immediately his mouth snapped shut.

    A girl, or young woman, materialized beside Conleth, holding a drawn bow. She was undoubtedly one of the Kenlor, the savage tribespeople that lived in the forest of Kenloriath. Even in the flickering torchlight her pointed ears were unmistakable. “That’s enough out of you, thanksies.”

    “Ah, Gripgrim, I’m sure you remember my companion, Imbria. She can hit a bird in mid-flight. Or five guards in mid-step.” There was that smirk again. “Withdraw your troops from Lord Kendar’s lands and maybe you won’t see us again. Of course, that’s no guarantee. You do have a way of…inviting us.” With that, Conleth and Imbria left Gripgrim’s chambers without bowing.

    When they exited the castle, they were met by none other than the Lord Kendar himself, who thanked them profusely for their intervention on his behalf. “I am sorry. I have no money to pay you.”

    Conleth looked on this man who had, some days ago, come to beg for his help. Imagine that, he had thought, a lord reduced to begging. Conleth smiled at the nobleman, who was, at the moment, on one knee before him. Under the Law of All Men, he had the right to sell Lord Kendar and his household as slaves, but he shook his head. “I am not like Gripgrim,” he said. “I don’t demand tribute. Look after your own affairs, lord, and I will look after mine.” With that, Conleth and Imbria mounted their horses and rode away east toward Anassia, wishing for the moment to get as far away from Gripgrim’s realm as possible. In Anassia they could find sanction.

    After a while, Imbria spoke to Conleth. “You know, somewhere along the way, I decided that you were in this for the money. Looks like I was wrong.” Imbria was about shoulder-height to Conleth, with flowing raven-black hair, tan-yellow skin, fiery green eyes, and a smile that could put the sun to shame, or so it seemed to Conleth.

    “No, Imbria. It’s never been the money,” Conleth said in a brusque, but not unkind way. He got like that when he was thinking and didn’t wish to be bothered.

    “Then why do we- why do you- do this?”

    “I- I don’t know.” The two rode together without another word until they reached the small town of Mora, on the banks of the Nuba River. They arranged to stay at an inn there, called the Blooming Onion.

    That night, while the city slept and was silent, Conleth stood alone in the window of the inn room, staring out into the starry sky, pondering. But while his mind and eyes wandered; his other senses were still acutely aware of everything that occurred in the room behind him. He and Imbria had many enemies, and even at this inn they were not safe. Such is the life of an ‘outlaw’, he thought.

    Just then, he heard something stir behind him. He whirled to see Imbria standing there, clad, as always, in her liberating huntress’s skirt and top, her bare legs, arms, and midriff gleaming in the pale moonlight that filtered through the window.

    “Brooding again?” she asked in her melodic, slightly accented voice.

    “I’m taking first watch,” he said, turning back to the window.

    “Really?” Imbria asked, sidling up to the window beside him. “I can think of a much more pleasant activity,” she said with a coy smile.

    “Imbria, our relationship is strictly professional,” Conleth said, his face impassive.

    “I meant star-gazing. What on earth were you thinking?” She said in pretend-shock, and then stuck her tongue out at him playfully.

    There was a short pause, and then Conleth laughed softly. “You know, for being five years older than I am, you’re really immature.”

    “Maybe, but I look seven to ten years younger than you, so I can be immature if I please,” she said, sticking her tongue out again.

    “Humph. Kenlor.” Conleth said in mock exasperation, and returned to his pondering.

    Imbria moved closer to Conleth and took his hand in hers. “Your father would be proud of you.” For a moment they looked each other eye to eye, and neither spoke.

    Then Imbria broke the silence. “Don’t stay out here thinking too long,” she said, giggling. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

    Conleth smiled weakly, as if his contemplations had drained his strength, and nodded. As Imbria turned away from the window and went to bed, he said, “Imbria, remember the time when we were kids, and we had that argument about whether or not I should have killed the squirrel that tried to steal my sweetberries?”

    “How could I forget? Sweetberry was one of the few words in Kenala you knew then: lulliprínan.”

    “I spoke to a lorehouse keeper about it.”

    “And the librarian said?”

    “That squirrels are vermin, and I was well within my rights to kill it.”

    “Humph. Human wisdom: often a contradiction in terms. Congrats, Conleth. You’re finally beginning to think like your species. Good night.”

  13. Holliequon 06 Jul 2009 at 11:43 am

    I’m going to have a go at this, I think. I’ll get back to you. ;)

  14. Holliequon 06 Jul 2009 at 12:23 pm

    “I’d expect that would be between 1200-1800 words.”

    I have about 1700 words, but it’s only three pages in Word (although I might be using a large font, or something). Would that be okay, or should I push for 5 pages?

  15. B. Macon 06 Jul 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Hello, Brett. Here are some thoughts from me, and I’m interested to see what other people have to say as well.

    –The chapter title could probably be more interesting. Right now it’s “To Threaten a King,” which sounds a bit more tentative than something like “How to Threaten a King” or “Threatening a King.”

    –I think there is some awkwardness in the first sentence. It has 6 clauses! I think the business about the door distracts us from the man, who is probably more important. Also, the dragon on the door strikes me as a bit of a red herring.

    –“ He was fairly tall, with straight black hair, crystalline blue eyes, and golden-brown skin that rippled over muscle and sinew.” This sentence could probably be a lot more stylish. Also, it focuses on details that don’t really tell us anything about him except how he looks (except for the muscles, which could probably be shown more smoothly). Strong visualization usually helps develop the character.

    –I think that the character’s appearance and possessions are being developed to the exclusion of his personality and style. Okay, so he has two short swords instead of the typical longsword. So what?

    –I like the quip about the doorkeepers. It’s fairly funny and it shows us more about the character than the description of his attire/equipment. I would recommend working that wry sense of humor into his later dialogue.

    –I’d recommend making each line of dialogue the end of its own paragraph.

    –“He sauntered into the torch-lit, yet perpetually gloomy and shadow-haunted throne room, wherein sat on a black wrought-iron chair the very person he had come to see.” This feels kind of awkward. First, it’s a long sentence loaded with clauses. Second, it is unnecessarily long because it tries contradicting itself with the torchlit-but-shadow-haunted clauses. I’d recommend instead saying something like “torches sent shadows dancing across the throne room,” or something similar. Finally, I feel that “wherein sat on a black wrought-iron chair the very person he had come to see” feels awkward because it is very circuitous.

    –There are a lot of names, name phrases and imaginary words. At this early point in the story, it is hard to digest all of them. So, for example… Conleth, Son of Aethir, The Son of the Everstar, Sablestone, Gripgrim, Lord of Thardus, Delvin, Erdul, Gadron, Kendar, Saria, Kenlor, Kenloriath, Imbria, Anassia, Mora, etc. This probably sounds minor, but it’s the main thing that would keep me from wanting to read page 6.

    –“The guards quickly moved into formation, creating a wall of armor and blades. They knew who they were dealing with. The Son of the Everstar was not to be trifled with. They did not relish the thought of fighting him, even with the odds in their favor. Nevertheless, they had a duty to their lord.” I think this time would be better spent on the main character or the king.

    –“With that, Conleth opened the sack he was carrying and took out a grisly decapitated head with a slack-jawed expression, casting it at the king’s feet.” This is a pretty intense action. I’d recommend simplifying the sentence by eliminating commas.

    –“the merchants headed for Kendar’s province” could probably be “Kendar’s merchants.”

    –“You have got to be kidding me” feels a bit more modern than the rest of the language. It doesn’t feel quite consistent with the character’s voice. (“It would be an honor to hang for so strange a crime as justice!”)

    –“‘Guards, Take him! He will hang for his impudence.’ As ordered, the soldiers closed in, perhaps a little reluctantly.” I’d recommend cutting “as ordered” because it’s redundant with the previous line. I’d recommend moving the “perhaps a little reluctantly” from tell to show. For example, could you use a verb that shows them moving nervously towards the main character? (Perhaps something like edged).

    –“He took no notice of the guards. His eyes were only on the king.” I think one of these two could be removed.

    –I think the action sequences would flow more smoothly with fewer commas. “Two of the guards strode forward to take hold of him, but jerked to a stop suddenly, as arrows sprouted from their shoulders and drove them to the ground. The other three drew their swords, but in vain.”

    –I think the narrator equivocates a lot. For example, “A girl, or young woman…” I would recommend using one or the other. “brusque, but not unkind…” “torch-lit, yet perpetually gloomy and shadow-haunted throne room…”

    –If Imbria and the Kenlor are supposed to be savage tribesmen, I think the first few paragraphs with Imbria could probably use a bit of work. For one thing, she shows up kind of stealthily and not very recklessly, and she uses the word “thanksies.” On the other hand, if she’s supposed to be unusual for her tribe, then I’d recommend leaving the tribe out of it for now because the discrepancy isn’t interesting yet. (I suspect it’ll be more compelling when we meet some of her compatriots).

    –I feel the pacing lags slightly when Conleth discusses his motivations with Imbria. Fortunately, that doesn’t last long. Nice save.

    –“He and Imbria had many enemies, and even at this inn they were not safe.” I like this sense of paranoia. I think it could be developed by bringing in scenery and the people around him. For example, when he orders a drink, I bet he watches the bartender the entire time to make sure that it isn’t poisoned.

    –“Brooding again?” Hah, I like that.

    –“ Maybe, but I look seven to ten years younger than you, so I can be immature if I please.” I think this is an awkward way to say she looks younger than him. Umm, does it matter?

    – “Don’t stay out here thinking too long,” she said, giggling. “You’ll hurt yourself.” Haha.

    –“Conleth smiled weakly, as if his contemplations had drained his strength, and nodded.” I’d recommend cutting the middle clause here.

    –At the point the sample ends, I don’t know where the story is headed. I’d recommend leaving at least one loose thread. (That will help keep the pacing smooth and the readers interested).

    Final take…

    1. Is there an interesting main character? In particular, how well has his personality been developed?
    –I know a lot about how he looks but I feel that the interesting part about him– his voice– has been neglected. Personality-wise, he strikes me as similar to Han Solo (selfish in theory but not in practice).

    2. Is something at stake for the main character? Do we care about whether he succeeds?
    –I don’t feel like very much is at stake for him. Like he says, he doesn’t know why he’s doing this, and it feels like he can walk away from the plot.
    –I suspect that I would care more about whether he succeeded if the villain were more engaging.

    3. Does the story feel like it is going somewhere?
    –At the point the sample ends, all of the loose strands have been tied up. I don’t feel a sense of excitement about what’s coming next.

    4. Is the story clear and easy to understand?

    –Yes. The only issue I have here is that there are a lot of imaginary words and phrases.

    5. Has the author demonstrated a strong sense of style?

    –I see promising glimpses, but I think the main character and the villain (at least in this chapter) could use some more style. In contrast, Imbria was more consistently funny and clever.

    6. If readers could keep reading past page five, would they urgently want to?
    –This was competent and readable. But it didn’t excite me.

  16. B. Macon 06 Jul 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Hello, Holliequ! 1700 words is great. Maybe it only takes 3 pages because of single-spacing?

  17. Marissaon 06 Jul 2009 at 2:43 pm

    I was looking more for a ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘not so well’, etc. than a critique on the public boards like this. I try to keep mine under wraps a bit? And it’s not exactly on my wish list as an author to have everyone know the story’s flaws but not the actual story. Heh.

  18. Bretton 06 Jul 2009 at 4:09 pm

    O.O I just noticed I forgot to include target audience. Sorry about that.

    My target audience is teens and pre-teens ranging from about age thirteen to around age seventeen, with special attention to boys and those who have prior exposure to the fantasy genre.

  19. Bretton 06 Jul 2009 at 4:30 pm

    And yeah, Conleth’s humor is a hit-or-miss for me. Imbria’s is easier to pin down. I think COnleth is harder because much of what he says relies on irony. Would lines like these help?

    -”By the way, I’d tell your guards to back off. Good help is hard to find.”

    -”I’m sure that somewhere there’s some unconquered real estate for you, if only you weren’t such a coward.”

    -”Greed is working its magic on that bald head of yours.”

  20. Bretton 06 Jul 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Oh, and this one I think is pretty good:

    -He then looked around at the fallen bodies and sighed. “It’s not my fault, you know. I warned you. And these guys look pretty expensive.”

  21. Bretton 06 Jul 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Oh, and suppose the chapter ended with him expecting Gripgrim to send an assassin after him…again.

  22. B. Macon 06 Jul 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Hmm. I suspect that it’s probably a bit too soon for another round of combat. I’d recommend something like the scene in most private eye books where the client walks in the door. He’s a mercenary, right? I’d recommend something that suggests some of the following…

    –The King is only the tip of the iceberg. Although he may have been able to slap the King around so far, that’s only a small part of the villainous plan that is currently unfolding.

    –The main character is reluctant to help him for whatever reason. (This gives you an opportunity for character development and helps distinguish the hero from a Generically Nice Protagonist).

    –The King’s assassin(s) break up the meeting. The informant gets killed before he can reveal everything he knows, which forces the main character to do some digging around on his own.

    Etc.

  23. Bretton 06 Jul 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Okay, I’ll look into something like that.

  24. Davidon 06 Jul 2009 at 7:13 pm

    i dont have the five pages but i have a short synopsies

    Detective Blake Silverstone has to help a young girl whos been accused of murdering a prist Blake dosnt think the girls done it probelm is all evidnce points to her and shes also possed by a cat Demon.

  25. J.M.on 07 Jul 2009 at 12:29 am

    Title: Darkland Chronicles, Vol. 1: “Though I Walk Through The Valley”

    Summary: The story details the trek of the crew of the Destiny, a small survey ship that operates on the edge of space, to discover the source of a bounty placed on their heads. In doing so, they become entangled in the politics of the last elements of known human civilization, and become entangled in the last best hope for mankind.

    Target Audience: Adult, though I’m attempting to avoid excessively graphic situations and keep it somewhat “family friendly.”

    With his ship, the frigate Destiny, shuddering around him as Jake put it through a tight turn that stressed the hull to creaking point, he could think of half-a-dozen different places he would rather be at the moment. Most likely it was closer to an actual dozen places, but his mind was occupied trying not to die a fiery death in on the edge of nowhere. Jake brought the ship out of range of the weapons of the attacking pirate ships and sped towards a passing comet.

    “Jacob, if you don’t mind the interruption, why exactly are you taking the ship towards the comet?” asked the ship’s artificial intelligence, named Bill, whose holographic avatar looked at him quizzically from the display station next to the piloting controls.

    “You are a QI, you figure it out,” Jake replied briskly, referring to the quantum computer that made up the core of Bill’s mind.

    “I apologize for not possessing the capability to interpret your brainwaves, Jacob. There are several thousand reasons that I have computed for approaching the comet from this path, and not being about to navigate those shadowy seas which happen to be your mind, and do not possess sufficient evidence to form a satisfactory hypothesis.” Bill always could be a bit snarky when put off.

    “To be honest at the moment, I don’t really have a plan.”

    “Pardon me if I express great shock at that fact.”

    “You didn’t let me finish, Bill. I have several plans, between which I have not decided.”

    “My suggestion would be to decide with alacrity. The enemy ships are closing fast.” The pirate ships had emerged suddenly out of slipspace, just a light-minute outside of weapons range, and caught Jake off-guard. They had been on the edge of inhabited space, faraway from any trade routes or large settlements. There had been no reason to suspect pirate raiders. Even their mission was about as unlikely to produce the immediate profit raiders sought. Jake needed time to regroup and get a handle on the situation.

    So Jake put the ship on a course that would bring it just past the tail of the comet, and laid in several course changes that Bill would execute so that he could think while the ship was put into position. “Bill, bring up the tactical display, including all relevant data regarding the enemy ships, including estimated sensor lag.” Jake turned around, watching from the pilot’s station as the holographic tactical display shimmered into existence, showing the position of the Destiny, the comet and the two pirate ships. The two pirate ships had slowed, detecting the Destiny’s course, and obviously were conversing and debating their next course of action.

    The two ships proceeded to split up, one ship heading down and away from the Destiny on the plane of the ecliptic, roughly matching direction as to the main body of the comet, but coming at course so that it would pass just below the main body and surrounding debris cloud and intersect with one of the Destiny’s projected courses. The other mounted a direct pursuit, and was closing as fast as the ship would take her.

    “Bill, designate pursuing ship tango-1, reserve ship tango-2.” The designations popped up next to the dark red icons that represented the pirate ships. “Time till the comet tail shields us from tango-2.”

    “Four minutes, thirty-four seconds.” The tactical situation was going to be difficult. The pirate ships had roughly trapped the Destiny in a pincer maneuver, meaning that escape was going to be roughly impossible. The presence of the comet meant that the surrounding slipspace was going to be nigh impassable, so a jump was out of the question. They would have to turn and fight.

    “Estimate enemy armaments, Bill.”

    “Two ships, frigate displacements, estimated crews ten to twenty individuals. Given response times to sensor data, the ships have a single, simple AI. Weapons on tango-1 are six particle beam turrets, maximum coverage in forward, dorsal and ventral areas. Two forward facing missile launchers, of class-two size. Tango-2 is armed with one forward facing plasma cannon, one ventral and one dorsal missile launcher each, and two phased particle cannon turrets, covering forward, port and starboard angles. Minimal armor and shielding, expect one full beam from our phase cannon would destroy each ship.” Jake nodded. Pirates didn’t often have to deal with heavily armed ships, as even in these chaotic days independent freighters couldn’t afford much firepower.

    “What about ECM?”

    “Unknown, our first shots were destroyed by their point-defense guns. I suspect only standard communication disruptors. They are pirates, not corporate raiders.” Bill was most likely correct. Corporate raiders would have had much more sophisticated equipment, and would not have been so heavily armed. They would have been interested in silencing any witnesses to technological theft, not destruction of a random civilian ship on the edge of inhabited space.

    Jake nodded and pondered the situation. He would have to act fast, to be able to get the surprise on the pursuing ship. “Bill, fire two anti-matter missiles, manual detonation, against tango-1.” Jake felt the magnetic launch tubes hum as the missiles shot through rear launcher, sending them at a significant fraction of light speed at the oncoming pirate ship. Jake returned to the pilot’s station, executing a series of evasive maneuvers. He turned to ship, sending it on a slingshot course around the comet’s head.

    “Jacob, tango-2 is accelerating, and changing course to intercept us on our present course. They will be sensor blind in two minutes, twelve seconds.” The second ship had accelerated before they detected the missile launch, which meant that they were the hammer and the other ship the anvil in this trap. Soon though, the hammer would be blind, and trusting that the Destiny would just be using the comet as cover for escape, and as the anchor in a slingshot maneuver to get them out of the gravity well of both the comet and the nearby nebula, which the Destiny had been surveying before they had been so rudely interrupted. “They have destroyed the missiles.”

    Blooding pounding in his temples, Jake gritted his teeth and focused on a quick mental calculation. “Bill, tell Uncle Dallas to strap himself in, this is gonna be a rough ride.” Bill nodded twice, once to indicate acknowledgement and the other to indicate that Jake’s uncle Dallas had indeed secured himself. “Power up the cannon, and prepare to fire.” Jake entered in another course correction, cutting the main engine thrust and firing his maneuvering thrusters to flip the ship, the maneuver hidden behind the heat and debris caused by the missile detonation.

    “Tango-2 is now in the sensor shadow of the tail,” reported Bill, his normally calm and detached voice rising in pitch.

    “Fire rear missile launchers, two salvoes, proximity detonation, advanced tracking packages!” Four missiles hurtled out of the rear missile launchers toward the pirate ship advancing from the rear. “Fire the engines, maximum thrust!” Jake felt his body press against the seat, as the engines burned against the momentum from their lengthy flight across to the comet. The inertial dampeners and hull creaked as the ship fought hard against the momentum, struggling to advance out of the jaws of the well-laid trap.

    The Destiny finally pushed has hard as it could, and began to shoot forward towards the oncoming pirate vessel, Tango-1. As the plasma screen dissipated, both ships sped at each other, now finally visible.

    Suddenly, the tactical display Jake had consulted went black. A large portion of his command board went black, and he realized immediately that one of the main circuit boards had blown out. All of the systems damaged, sensors primarily, had been tied into the same breaker that he had though he had fixed weeks ago after another pirate skirmish. Cursing loudly, he shouted at Bill to reroute sensors through other circuit nodes. Bill blinked off as he focused his computing power on fixing the sensors. Time seemed to slow, and Jake turned his eyes back towards the oncoming pirate raider.

    “Jacob, incoming!” Bill shouted, seeing at the same moment what Jake had seen. Twelve missiles were all rapidly closing on the Destiny, unnoticed by either Bill or Jake because of the damaged sensor package. He threw the ship into a ‘dive,’ screaming for countermeasures, point-defense weapons, and a counter-barrage. Bill did all he could as fast as possible. The countermeasures were of Bill’s own design, and despite the simplicity of the guidance computers, the missiles had been allowed to get too close, and they only managed to destroy three of the twelve missiles, frying their guidance packages into thinking they had already hit the Destiny.

    The small frigate finally caught a break when the exploding missiles took out two other warheads, but that still left screaming at near the speed of light towards the Destiny. Bill immediately ruled out a counter-barrage of missiles. While a most effective anti-missile measure, especially if modified to produce a larger electro-magnetic field that could disable missiles hundreds of miles outside of the blast radius, they were to close to do any good. Any effective counter-fire would nearly be as damaging to the Destiny as a direct hit. The artificial intelligence took about two-hundredths of a second to realize that this was very, very bad.

  26. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 07 Jul 2009 at 4:58 am

    I might do this. I’m trying to decide on whether to use Isaac’s story or to type up another of my ideas into five pages. Hmm.

  27. Holliequon 07 Jul 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Synopsis: Spook isn’t going to let the fact that he’s dead stop him from catching his murderer. Along with his living teammates and half-sister, he begins an investigation into a criminal network with connections to the most powerful supervillains in the world to, hopefully, bring his killer to justice.

    Target Audience: Probably older teens, due to some violence and bad language [which I toned down for SN, since it's generally a PG site].



    Chapter 1: Surprise, You’re Dead!

    I didn’t know I was about to be shot in until it happened, and then it was ever-so-slightly too late. I was in the communications room, trying to find my way into the supervillain database after being locked out for the fifth time, when I felt something cold against my skull and then: bang!

    Coming back to that mess was not a pleasant experience. It was less ‘crap, I’m dead’ and more ‘damn, there goes my open casket funeral’. You might think death would be slightly surprising; it was, I suppose, in that I’d expected it later rather than now. The superhero business is pretty dangerous, even for the tech support guy. Except I’m a spiritual support guy, I guess. Or was, before I got my head stuffed full of lead.

    Discovering I was dead turned out to be a surprisingly disappointing experience. I skipped the state of denial straight after seeing the body, so all that was left was to wait for the rest of the crew to get back and find me. Ghostlife has about as many pointless rules as the English language, one of them being an inability to move until somebody discovers your body. Or parts thereof. It must really suck for the people who just go missing without a trace. Being dead isn’t the greatest state, but it would probably be a lot worse if you were stuck in the middle of nowhere. And you’d have to stick around there for who-knows-how-long before you ‘passed on’. Call me crazy, but that just seems ludicrously unfair.

    Then again, I have to say that standing around your own brain matter isn’t all that fun either.

    Unfortunately for me, that was really all I had to do until the rest of the team turned up. It occurred to me that I didn’t even know who had fired that shot into the back of my head.

    I scowled. Oh goody, does this mean I have another supervillain to find?

    I would have breathed a sigh of exasperation if it weren’t for my lung-less state. I settled for glaring at the back of my body’s head like it was the corpse’s fault. Forensics were going to turn this place upside-down because of whoever had done this, and I’d only just finished ordering it. Not to mention that witness I was supposed to be channelling in court on Friday. Knowing the damn lawyers I was working with, they’d sue me for the inconvenience. Then again, no matter how alive my soul was, my body was too dead for any lawsuit to stick. They’d be double-annoyed at whoever had done this. Two cases lost because of one stupid guy! I made a mental note to somehow get these lawyers presiding over my murder trial. After making sure that forensics didn’t screw up my filing system.

    I blinked suddenly as a light on the back wall flashed green. Somebody was finally back. All I had to do was wait the ten minutes until they navigated our security system. Ha.

    Some security system, I muttered bitterly.

    I could hear their growled yells even before they opened the door. “Spook, I want to know why the hell this Hangman bastard isn’t on that database and…”

    Asclepius froze mid-sentence, staring at my corpse. Even though the sudden ability to move my ghostly limbs was a relief, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed. Why was he the first one to find me? And why did he look so shocked? I scowled. It wasn’t like it was the first time Asclepius had found a body – probably not even the first time he wasn’t the one responsible. What did he look so surprised for?

    When Asclepius released a long stream of swear words and backed out of the room in a hurry, my scowl deepened. I’ve never liked that man, and probably never will. Still, at least I could move now. Leaving my corpse to decay alone, I followed him. (Thinking myself past the wall was an interesting experience, but we won’t go into that.)

    I found myself in the corridor next to Asclepius, who was looking slightly green. Who would have thought a criminal (reformed, supposedly) would have such a weak stomach? Still, I had to give him some credit – he had a finger pressed to the communications device in his ear. Informing the others rather than puking his guts out. How thoughtful.

    “Spectrum, talk to me,” Asclepius spat into the mouthpiece. There was a pause. “I don’t care how much the guy pissed you off! We’ve got bigger issues here, dammit!”

    Ah, yes… Spectrum, this rag-tag superteam’s leader. A superhero of some experience, and apparently intelligence, but not the most pleasant guy to work under. I say under, because even though these teams are supposed to be about equality, he always makes sure we know who’s in charge. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Asclepius has about as many issues with him as I do. The similarities between us end there, thankfully.

    Speaking of Asclepius, he didn’t look too happy with the way the conversation was going. He was scowling, making his dark eyes look virtually black, and gritting his teeth in a pained expression. Spectrum has that sort of effect on people. Still, at least Asclepius looked a little less green. Who says stress is bad for your health?

    “Spectrum,” he said again, pronouncing each syllable slowly. I recognised the signs of a man who is trying very hard not to yell. “Spook’s dead, goddammit! Do you think we could get our priorities sorted out here?!” I shook my head. So much for trying not to yell. “The back of his head is missing. Of course I’m sure.”

    This conversation was going to go nowhere fast. Yelling at Spectrum just switched him into obstructive bureaucrat mode. I sighed. I had people to pass the news onto myself. I was about to try teleportation when Asclepius said something that made me pause:

    “No…” He sighed. “I’ll tell Cinder. You tell… whoever the hell you need to tell.”

    Cinder! I said aloud, slapping my forehead with my palm. Jesus. Really, Cinder – or Leslie, as she says I should call her – ought to have been the first to know. She was probably the only one who would care if I was dead.

    Except that she didn’t have ESP. I could hardly communicate with her if she couldn’t see me, after all – or hear me. ESP is like that. Some people have a lot of it, others not so much, and most people not at all. I guess it’s like superpowers, but less scientific and usually less useful. I am, of course, the exception to the rule.

    Unfortunately, my ESP was near-useless as a ghost. I watched as Asclepius spoke into the mouthpiece again, this time in a much softer tone. Cinder’s that sort of person. She’s probably the only real hero-type out of all of us.

    “Cin– Leslie,” Asclepius said into the mouthpiece. His standards of ‘soft’ were not the same as the rest of humanity, but at least he was making an effort. “You’re fine… that’s good. That’s good.” There was a pause as Asclepius bit his lip, his eyes glancing around as though looking for inspiration. He stared straight through me. Typical. “I – Look, whilst we were out dealing with those three supervillains, somebody must have come back.” Another pause. This time he winced. I guessed it was more because of Cinder’s tone of voice than what she said. “I don’t know how. But Spook – he’s dead.” He chewed harder on his lip, looking around this time not for inspiration but escape. “I’m sorry. I know – look, calm – no, don’t. You don’t want to see. Leslie–”

    He suddenly swore, wrenching the communicator from his ear and throwing it to the floor in disgust. I rolled my eyes, wondered what he was so bothered about this time. Okay, so Cinder was coming here. What was the big deal? Leslie was a big girl. She could handle a dead body, even mine. And even with most of my head blow away. I made a mental note to list everyone with a personal grudge against me at a later date. I couldn’t think of any better reasons for using that much firepower.

    “Cinder should be here within ten minutes,” Asclepius suddenly said, making me jump.

    Are you talking to me? I asked. Wait, you probably are.

    Much as I dislike the guy, I have to admit he’s not the sort to start talking to thin air. I wonder how he guessed I was here? Then again, he was probably doing exactly that: guessing. Still, the information was welcome. I decided to wait for my friend Cinder, though I wasn’t sure what I was hoping for. Some previously unknown ESP? Closure? The latter was probably more like it.

    Asclepius didn’t make any move to head into the communications room again, and honestly, I couldn’t blame him. What I did find annoying was how he didn’t seem inclined to do anything else. How about, I don’t know, looking for evidence or something? Disgusted, I decided to start my own investigation whilst waiting for Leslie to get here.

    Well, I muttered to myself, This is a good a time as any to try teleporting. Asclepius, of course, didn’t hear me.

    I’d never teleported before – only ghosts could do it, as some sort of trade-off for dying, I suppose. Still, I’d heard horror stories from my insubstantial friends and wasn’t particularly eager to see what existing in every space between here and the front door felt like. So I took their advice and started small. The bend in the corridor, five feet ahead, would do just nicely.

    The world around me faded to almost nothing; just background noise and colour. Instead I concentrated inside, on who I was and all that I was. With a deep… not-breath… I closed my eyes and willed myself to move.

    There was darkness pressing on every inch of me for the space of a few seconds. I felt like I was being compressed into a tiny ball and for a brief moment I was terrified that things had gone wrong… but then everything was fine again. It wasn’t a gradual shift from nightmare to normal; it was just suddenly like nothing had happened.

    …Except that I was about three inches further down the corridor.

    If this was the trade-off for dying, I wasn’t impressed.



    I’m concerned that the main character is info-dumping here. I tried to fit some necessary information in without stalling the story. I think I could have done worse, but still not really happy with it.

    Apart from that, there’s also other general concerns. :P Characters (particularly Spook, the narrator), style, clarity, etc. I’m sure you know the deal.

    I’ll try to read Brett and JM’s five pages later today.

  28. Bretton 07 Jul 2009 at 2:00 pm

    My take on Surprise, You’re Dead!

    ———————–

    - “I didn’t know I was about to be shot in until it happened, and then it was ever-so-slightly too late.”

    Shot in what? and “ever-so-slightly” is unneccessary. Just “too late” would be fine.

    -I would also recommend against using the word supervillain in-story. It feels kinda corny.

    -Your take on death is…kinda strange. Unusual. I cant say I like it, but it’s got style.

    -”The superhero business is pretty dangerous, even for the tech support guy. Except I’m a spiritual support guy, I guess. Or was, before I got my head stuffed full of lead.”

    If this is supposed to be ironic, I think it tries too hard. In theory, the speaker would notice the rather obnoxious “spiritual” pun. I didn’t so much laugh and think “Oh, that was clever,” as I did roll my eyes and say “C’mon, really?”

    By the way, why does he morbidly stare at his body and not at all notice the killer escaping? I know he can’t move, but can he at least turn his head? Can you say “plot hole?” :D
    In contrast, if he saw the escaping murderer’s silhouette but was unable to do anything about it, that would be interesting and dramatic.

    - English language quip. haha. nice.

    -”It occurred to me that I didn’t even know who had fired that shot into the back of my head.”

    FINALLY! The lights have come on! XD

    -”I would have breathed a sigh of exasperation if it weren’t for my lung-less state. ”

    I think this tries too hard. We get that he’s dead already. Besides, this might cause some readers, like me to think, “he cant sigh, but he’s going to talk to people later on? Inconsistent much?”

    -”Not to mention that witness I was supposed to be channelling in court on Friday.”

    Ah. If he’s a medium, this could explain the “spiritual” pun earlier. I honestly just thought he was a techie. You should be more up-front with exactly what his job is.

    -Again, words like “superteam” and “superhero” seem wildly out of place in a narrative that so far has been pretty dark. stick to just “team” and “agent,” which are more in keeping with the mood.

    -”I sighed.”
    Just a few paragraphs ago, he couldn’t sigh.

    -Try to write your way around using the word “superpowers.”

    -And by the way, if the gun was powerful enough to blow his head off, how come no one heard it? You said nothing about a silencer. Also, if he was shot in the back of the head (which he must have been. I mean, have you ever tried to sneak up behind someone and shoot them in the face?), then the FRONT of his face should be missing, not the back. The exit wound is always bigger than the exit wound.

    -”With a deep… not-breath…”

    A bit over the top I think.

    ————————–

    Overall, pretty good. Sorry if I come off as harsh. I can be a nitpicker sometimes. :)
    I’ll get to the one above in a few minutes. After dinner, I think.

  29. Bretton 07 Jul 2009 at 2:03 pm

    EDIT: The exit wound is always bigger than the *entrance* wound.

  30. Bretton 07 Jul 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Btw, Holliequ, if this is in 1st person, shouldn’t the title be something like, “Surprise, I’m Dead!”?

  31. Davidon 07 Jul 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Two teenagers are trying to have their own fantasy story when all other fantasies are merging together so they need to find the supreme storyteller who keeps all fantasies separate.

    This is a spoof character with remarks to other characters and breaking the fourth wall for hilarity.

  32. Bretton 07 Jul 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Regrettably, JM’s pages will have to wait until later, but rest assured, i will get to them.

  33. B. Macon 07 Jul 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Hello, JM.

    –I like that the Captain is reluctant.

    –Currently, the first sentence is a bit awkward. (“With his ship, the frigate Destiny, shuddering around him as Jake put it through a tight turn that stressed the hull to creaking point, he could think of half-a-dozen different places he would rather be at the moment.”) I’d recommend shortening that to something like “The frigate’s captain could think of half a dozen places he would rather be.”

    –Second sentence: “Most likely it was closer to an actual dozen places, but his mind was occupied trying not to die a fiery death in on the edge of nowhere.” This suggests a bold authorial style and is pretty funny. However, it could be smoother. For example, you could try something like “It was probably closer to a dozen places…”

    “Jake replied briskly.” I think briskly is unnecessary. It’s a bit redundant with “you figure it out.”

    Your sentences feel a bit long. I think that it would help the pacing of this fairly intense scene if they were a bit shorter and smoother. For example, let’s take this one: “Jacob, if you don’t mind the interruption, why exactly are you taking the ship towards the comet?” asked the ship’s artificial intelligence, named Bill, whose holographic avatar looked at him quizzically from the display station next to the piloting controls. I’d recommend cutting out “if you don’t mind the interruption” and “next to the piloting controls,” and “named” at the very least. Also, I think “looked… quizzically” could probably be replaced with a verb that implies the quizzicalness.

    Bill’s voice feels a bit inconsistent. “Jacob, if you don’t mind the interruption, why exactly are you taking the ship towards the comet?” is polite and a bit stiff but mostly normal. He sounds a lot less human in the next line, “I apologize for not possessing the capability to interpret your brainwaves, Jacob. There are several thousand reasons that I have computed for approaching the comet from this path, and not being about to navigate those shadowy seas which happen to be your mind, and do not possess sufficient evidence to form a satisfactory hypothesis.” I suspect that you’re trying to show a change in voice in response to Jake’s line, but I don’t feel it comes off smoothly enough.

    I like Bill, but I’d recommend paring back his lines. They’re slightly distracting from the matter at hand (surviving the pirates!)

    “To be honest at the moment, I don’t really have a plan.” I’d recommend cutting “at the moment” and possibly “really.”

    “Pardon me if I express great shock at that fact.” I’d recommend cutting this to “shocking” (snarky) or “I am shocked” (dry).

    “There had been no reason to suspect pirate raiders” could be “There hadn’t been any reason to expect pirates.” I think that’s a bit clearer and smoother.

    “Even their mission was about as unlikely to produce the immediate profit raiders sought.” I don’t understand what this sentence means. In particular, the phrase “even their mission” is throwing me off.

    “Jake needed time to regroup and get a handle on the situation.” Is the phrase “and get a handle on the situation” necessary?

    Minor grammar point. When there’s dialogue in a paragraph, please break to a new paragraph when it ends.

    “Bill, bring up the tactical display, including all relevant data regarding the enemy ships, including estimated sensor lag.” I’d recommend cutting the phrase “the tactical display, including.” Also, to help differentiate Jake’s voice from Bill’s, you might consider changing “regarding” to about.

    “the plane of the ecliptic.” Would a sci-fi reader know what that means? (I’m not a huge sci-fi reader and I don’t know what it means, but really it only matters that your target audience gets it).

    “Bill, designate pursuing ship tango-1, reserve ship tango-2.” The designations popped up next to the dark red icons that represented the pirate ships. “Time till the comet tail shields us from tango-2.” … Are these lines necessary? I suspect this could be worked in a line in which he refers to one of the ships as tango-1 or tango-2. For example: “How far away are we from tango-1?” “The pursuing vessel? Four minutes, thirty-four seconds.”

    The paragraph where Bill describes the enemy armaments is really, really long. I’d recommend cutting it down quite a lot (50%+).

    “They would have been interested in silencing any witnesses to technological theft, not destruction of a random civilian ship on the edge of inhabited space.” This implies that Jake is piloting a civilian ship, right? In the first sentence, the ship is described as a frigate, which has a pretty strong military connotation. Perhaps this ship is closer to a freighter?

    I think it would help to show us a bit about what the inside of the ship looks like. Are we looking at something kept immaculate like the USS Enterprise, something a bit grungier like the Millennium Falcon, or something else entirely? This can help establish what sort of people we’re dealing with here.

    If we aren’t dealing with corporate raiders, I don’t think it’s so important to discuss what a corporate raider would be doing or would be armed with. For example, you could cut that a sentence that considers the possibility of CRs and rules it out.

    I think you could eliminate the phrase “manual detonation.” When he gives to order to detonate the torpedoes, it’ll be pretty obvious they were manual detonation. :)

    I don’t understand the analogy about the hammer and the anvil. Why is the other ship blind?

    I like that the pirates shoot down the missiles. It’s more interesting than something like Star Trek, where the captain’s first plan tends to succeed without a hitch.

    “Soon though, the hammer would be blind, and trusting that the Destiny would just be using the comet as cover for escape, and as the anchor in a slingshot maneuver to get them out of the gravity well of both the comet and the nearby nebula, which the Destiny had been surveying before they had been so rudely interrupted.” This is a long and unwieldy sentence. In particular, it’s not clear who it is that is “trusting that the Destiny would just be using the comet as cover escape.” I’d recommend splitting this into several sentences and clearing out some of the clutter.

    “Fire rear missile launchers, two salvoes, proximity detonation, advanced tracking packages!” I think that “advanced tracking packages” is redundant with “missile launchers.” If it’s fired out of a missile launcher rather than rocket launcher, I think readers can assume that it will track the target.

    My final take.

    1. Is there an interesting main character? In particular, how well has his personality been developed?
    –I think this was one of the strong points. He’s not a masterful planner like Picard or a totally daring, 100% brash captain like Kirk. I like that his plans are not entirely successful. However, I suspect that this character has more potential. The conversations with Bill take a lot of space and do not have quite as much chemistry as I’d like to see. Adding more Jake-Bill conflict would probably help, I suspect.

    2. Is something at stake for the main character? Do we care about whether he succeeds?
    –This is a high-stakes encounter for him, but generally it doesn’t really feel that way. The only time he gets emotional (at least that I can remember) is when the pirates destroy his missiles. It might help if he were a bit more human. (I think Bill already has the supercalm angle locked up).

    3. Does the story feel like it is going somewhere?
    –I don’t feel the plot has advanced much in these five pages. At the end of page five, we’re in pretty much the same place we were at when the story started: trying to survive pirates. I feel that the story would probably be more exciting if this 5+ page encounter were shortened to 2 or 3 pages.

    4. Is the story clear and easy to understand?
    –I generally found the sci-fi lingo pretty easy to understand. I suspect that sci-fi readers could understand this.

    –I think it would be easier to understand if the sentences and paragraphs were shorter. This feels very dense to me—the sentences are long and occasionally convoluted. There are a few instances of info-overload. (For example, the paragraph where Bill describes the weapons the pirates are carrying).

    5. Has the author demonstrated a strong sense of style?
    –I see promising bits of style. For example, the second sentence is daring and funny. I think that the humor is really important because this is a fairly dense action sequence. I’d recommend leaning more heavily on your humor and wit because I think that’s what will convince readers to keep going. In particular, I’d try to find ways to make the narrator a player. He was dynamite in the first paragraph and I miss him.

    6. If readers could keep reading past page five, would they urgently want to?
    –Not yet, I think. But I think this has a lot of potential. With more humor/wit and tighter writing, this could be really good.

  34. Bretton 08 Jul 2009 at 12:44 pm

    @ JM:

    -”With his ship, the frigate Destiny, shuddering around him as Jake put it through a tight turn that stressed the hull to creaking point, he could think of half-a-dozen different places he would rather be at the moment.”

    It’s great that you give us the protag’s name early, but this sentence configuration is a bit awkward. I would rewrite it as:

    “With his ship shuddering around him as a tight turn stressed the creaking hull, Jake, captain of the Destiny could think of a half dozen different places he would rather be at the moment.

    -”Most likely it was closer to an actual dozen places…” This could probably be rewritten as “It was actually closer to a full dozen…”

    -”fiery death” seems a little inappropriate when the dominant geographical feature is water. Try something along the lines of “sink to a watery grave.”

    -”Jake brought the ship out of range of the weapons of the attacking pirate ships and sped towards a passing comet.”

    Aha! Now I know why you said “fiery death”! Its a spaceship, not a sea ship. Yeah, you should have been more upfront about that. Until now, I thought I was reading a narratives about Pirates of the Caribbean or the Spanish main. But even though I figured it out, this might just confuse a reader hasn’t gotten that this is a space battle. And the term “frigate” doesn’t help much. “Cruiser” would give the right connotation I think.

    -”and not being about to navigate those shadowy seas which happen to be your mind”

    This is a bit muddled in my opinion.

    -”and do not possess sufficient evidence to form a satisfactory hypothesis.”

    This is the second clause in one sentence to begin with “and”. My rewrite would go something like:

    “I apologize for not possessing the capability to interpret your brainwaves, Jacob. And I must say that while there are several thousand reasons that I have computed for approaching the comet from this path, I am not about to navigate the dark matter universe which happens to be your mind. Therefore, I do not possess sufficient evidence to form a satisfactory hypothesis.”

    y the way, was Bill inspired by J.A.R.V.I.S. from the Iron Man live action film? They both seem to be snarky AI’s who are in to ribbing and second guessing their respective “masters”.

    -”The tactical situation” could probably be just “the situation.”

    -”roughly impossible. ” ? Meh.

    -”expect one full beam from our phase cannon would destroy each ship.” Jake nodded.”

    1. I think this should be “I expect,” but even so, thats not very AI-ish language.
    2. “Jake nodded” should start a new paragraph I think.

    -Something I don’t get. If they have a weapon that can destroy one of those ships with a single shot, why don’t they use it immediately instead of going through all these missiles and whatsits? Does it violate the Geneva Space Conventions or something? Personally, if I were captain, I’d say “to heck with it” and blow those suckers away.

    -”small frigate” seems inconsistent with “heavily-armed”.

    -”but that still left [___________] screaming at near the speed of light towards the Destiny.”

    There’s a missing word here.

    ————————-

    Overall, very good. Just needs some tweaking. I’m going to have to disagree with B. Mac on one point though. If by reluctant, he means the fact that he never uses his #1 effective weapon, than that’s a downside for me. I would have liked to see him hit at least one ship with that thing. I don’t care about his ethics right now. There are lives at stake, and Captain Jake needs to suck it up and get more aggressive.

  35. B. Macon 08 Jul 2009 at 1:21 pm

    –I think the concept of a ghost solving his murder is a bit cliche, but it will probably feel less hokey in a superhero story than, say, a Lindsay Lohan vehicle. There’s already so much supernatural stuff going on that a ghost popping up is just par for the course.

    –The title is very effective. Brett might be right that “Surprise, I’m Dead” is technically more accurate, but I think that “You’re” is more stylish. I’d recommend keeping You’re.

    –The first paragraph is okay but it could be smoother. For example, “…I was about to be shot in until it happened.” It feels like we’re missing something after the word “in.” (“shot in the head,” perhaps).

    –Except for introducing that this character is a superhero, which I think is very important, I don’t think that the particulars of his death are relevant in the first paragraph. Also. “Supervillain database” sounds like it is a database of supervillains. If you’re trying to suggest that the database belongs to a supervillain, I’d recommend “supervillain’s database” or “Paingod’s database” or whatever. I’d also recommend that you consider replacing database with mainframe. UPDATE: Upon further re-reading, it sounds like it is a database of supervillains in the hero’s base. That wasn’t clear on first go.

    –I think the observation about the closed-casket funeral is pretty funny, maybe funny enough to use as the first sentence. “The first rule of being a superhero is that you don’t know how much it bites [sucks/blows/etc.] to have a closed-casket funeral until you do. The second rule–the last rule, for me– is that you might become a ghost when you die.”

    You might also include a joke about how he was surprised to die, given that superheroes never stay dead for more than an issue or two. (Wikipedia even has an entry on comic book deaths and the hokey ways writers manage to keep the characters alive).

    I like the blunt angle. I think that “before I got my head stuffed full of lead” sounds more stylish and likable than the more introspective “it was, I suppose, in that I’d expected it later rather than now.”

    I’d recommend weeding out phrases like “I guess” and “I suppose.” It fits better into superhero writing advice than a superhero story, I think. ;-)

    “Ghostlife has about as many pointless rules as the English language…” I’d recommend using something funnier than the English language here. For example, driving’s on my mind, so I might recommend something like “the rules of the road” or “driving in a school zone” (reckless), or “a left turn” (eccentric).

    “Being dead isn’t the greatest state…” Show, don’t tell. Also, this is a bit awkward. What would you think about something like “Being a ghost wasn’t the best part of my life (?) but it could have been even worse. You know those guys that get eaten by bears and are never found again? Umm, yeah.”

    I think it would be funny if he’s waiting at the scene of his death and someone comes upon his body and immediately starts sobbing. “Oh, come on!” I think that the sobbing would contrast humorously with how quickly and calmly he adjusted to being dead. You could possibly play around with this by giving the sobber a comically overblown case of survivor’s guilt.

    “It occurred to me that I didn’t even know who had fired…” I’d recommend cutting out the phrase “It occurred to me that” because it makes the pacing a bit awkward.

    “breathed a sigh of exasperation…” What would you think about “sighed exasperatedly?”

    “Unfortunately for me” could probably be shortened to just unfortunately.

    The MC does a lot of scowling.

    Asclepius strikes me as a slightly hard-to-pronounce name. It does not roll off my tongue.

    Ack! Asclepius is scowling, too.

    “The back of his head is missing. Of course I’m sure.” I think this is really well-done.

    “obstructive bureaucrat mode.” I’d recommend showing this more and telling it less.

    “My ESP was near-useless as a ghost.” In what way is it useful? If he can’t come up with any particular use for it, just call it useless.

    “And even with most of my head blow away.” I think blow should be blown.

    I’m a bit confused about Asclepius suddenly starting to talk to the air. I’m pretty sure he’s not really talking to the main character, because if so it feels like he held something crucial back for no particular reason. (Idiot ball). But it feels contrived that he’s just talking to the air.

    I’d recommend setting up the main character with an action that is more characteristic. If he’s a medium, I’d recommend having him do something spiritual like a seance as he gets murdered. (He might even keep conversing with the ghost after he gets killed, which could be funny or dramatic… right now, he doesn’t have anyone to talk to, which is a bit of a letdown). As it is, he’s doing something distinctly more techy (looking up a database) as he gets whacked. I’d recommend introducing the character in his element. (Also, it will help establish how he knows so much about what ghosts can do).

    My final take.

    1. Is there an interesting main character? In particular, how well has his personality been developed?
    –I like his style a lot. I think his reaction to his death is well-portrayed. I’m not sure what kind of person he was when he was alive, though.

    2. Is something at stake for the main character? Do we care about whether he succeeds?
    –His death mostly precludes a happy ending (unless he somehow comes back), but I think that revenge/justice is a worthy motive at this point.

    3. Does the story feel like it is going somewhere?
    –I’m looking forward to the introduction of Cinder. Strong foreshadowing.
    –I like that his old powers don’t work and that his new ones haven’t really started clicking yet. The time a superhero needs to learn his powers is usually interesting and fun, and this is a dark-and-fresh take on that.

    4. Is the story clear and easy to understand?
    –Mostly, yeah. I’d recommend making it clearer where the murder took place. I assumed he was out on a mission, hacking someone’s database.
    –It’d be easier to understand what he does for the team if he were doing something like a seance when he got whacked.

    5. Has the author demonstrated a strong sense of style?
    –It could be smoother, but the main character definitely has a voice. That’s a good start.
    –I think that giving the character someone to converse with would help. Even if it’s just a ghost. (This is where a seance might come in handy).

    6. If readers could keep reading past page five, would they urgently want to?
    –I want to keep going.

  36. J.M.on 08 Jul 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks for the advice, B. Mac and Brett.

    Jake is meant to be a bit of a Malcolm Reynolds type character. If you haven’t seen Firefly, you should, it’s a great show. The whole series is on Hulu.

    An answer to some of your questions: the plane-of-the-ecliptic is a geometric term that basically means the natural horizon of space, versus an an artificial horizon.

    I had never considered giving a description of the inside of the ship, that’s something I should have thought of.

    The point of including the extra description regarding the corporate raiders was to emphasize the oddities regarding the pirate attack on the ship. But you’re probably right about that point.

    Comet tails are filled with all sorts of debris, making it nearly impossible for you to detect something traversing on the other side. If the Destiny tries to flee the pursuing ship through the tail, all they will do is run into the second ship, hence hammer and anvil.

    As to the narrator, did you have something more specific in mind? I was trying to stay away from a narrator, but if it works, I’d definitely add one.

    @Brett: No, Bill is actually an attempt at a fairly original character, addressing some of the philosophical conflicts I have with most sci-fi I read regarding artificial intelligence, but that becomes evident later on in the story.

    As for the one-shot-kill weapon, it’s intentionally kept difficult to use. Against faster ships of a similar size, it would be ineffective because of technical restrictions, such as charge times, targeting difficulties, etc. Against larger and slower ships, works wonders. It’s also a ‘homemade’ weapon, meaning it’s not exactly reliable, with it’s lack of standardized technology and parts. Comes into a role later in the story to emphasize both the intellectual capabilities of the three main characters and the relative decline of civilization. As for the military capabilities of a civilian freighter, that’s also the point, that a technically civilian ship would need to be heavily armed.

    Also, if you’re familiar with Star Trek, think something like the Defiant, only if the Federation had collapsed and was thus lacking in reliable maintenance, few refits, and aging technology that civilization can no longer replace.

  37. scribblaron 10 Jul 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Marissa said “David, I may be wrong, but you’ve just attempted to cross two genres that have only once in history successfully been crossed (that being in Angel: the Series, where the characters are private investigators). I’d really advise against it?”

    Angel – vampire private eye.

    Moonlight – vampire private eye.

    Anita Blake – necromancer who investigates things.

    Felix Caster – private eye, loads of ghosts.

    X-Files – investigating weird things

    Eerie Indiana – investigating weird things

    Dresden Files – Wizard Private eye

    Tanya Huff Blood something series – private eye, ghosts and vampires

    Garrett – fantasy private eye

    Thraxas – fantasy private eye.

  38. B. Macon 10 Jul 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Hmm. Scribblar, I think you’re right that there are more than a few stories that mix something like detectives or private eyes on one hand and magic/supernatural/occult stuff on the other. A lot of Lovecraft, for example, as well as the many examples you’ve cited. So I don’t think that David would have a hard time finding publishers receptive to a story about a detective solving a spirit-related murder.

    However, what I think would scare away publishers is that the synopsis gives the impression that the girl possessed by a cat demon is a catgirl. Any editor that had a similar impression– whether or not it’s accurate– would immediately toss the manuscript. This is a tough business and first impressions are key.

  39. J.M.on 14 Jul 2009 at 12:14 pm

    So, time for a second entry, if for nothing more than the helpful critiques. (Sorry if the formatting comes out all funny)

    Title: The Shattered

    Summary: By the year 2445, humanity has expanded throughout space, and like the old days of Earthbound explorers, is haunted by the tales of ghost ships and objects from beyond the grave. One of these objects, known as “The Shattered,” haunts the career of two officers in the United States Orbital Command, Admiral John Thompson and Captain Abraham Sykes. After the Shattered is spotted again on the edge of human space, they both investigate seeking to discover the secrets behind the Shattered.

    Target Audience: Adult character-driven science fiction.

    //: USOC Silence of Winter (Registry 3443-1098)
    Location :: Unknown, Deep Space 4 ly from Listening Post Harken Ye Men of Bethlehem
    2049h Ship Time; December 7th, 2432
    Mission: 1EPF 2432-77891*10-12 (Recovery of the USOC Price of Lusitania)
    Assignment Designated Clearance Level 10 (Eyes/Analog Only) :\\

    Commander John Thompson, stepped onto the command deck of his ship, the USOC Silence of Winter, a long range patrol vessel assigned to the Deep Regions, just beyond the edge of Human territory, wondering just what in the great heavens had he gotten himself into. He was by no means in experienced, being a fifteen year veteran of the Exploratory branch of the Orbital Command, but he had never seen a situation like this. Over two weeks ago, the USOC cruiser Price of Lusitania, on patrol in the Eta Carinae Colonial Cluster had disappeared with all hands.

    Nothing ever like it had been recorded in missions, and even some of the staff officers with whom he was good friends declared that the Admiralty was in a full on state of panic. No one had weapons that the Orbital Command and the Directorate of Intelligence – Foreign knew the other interstellar powers possessed could possibly have caused anything like this. Theories were abounding about who had caused this, from anarchist terrorists to human error to xenosentients. Thompson was of the opinion that, while chilling, the Lusitania would simply turn into a ghost ship, like the Terror from 18th century Britain to the Burnaby from the early days of interstellar exploration.

    Until a listening post in the sector that the 1st Exploratory and Patrol Fleet was posted in detected a distress call with the Lusitania’s Emergency Distress Code attached. It came in with the usual communication echoes, white noise, and tantalizing unexplained radio signals that listening posts usually swallowed up. It was highlighted and delivered to the Officer of the Watch, an Ensign so green that you could scrape it off from behind his ears. But that probably saved the Lusitania, if it was there was anything left to be saved. Most veterans would’ve tossed it in the deletion stack, as there was nothing on it but static and an unusually precise location from the void beyond Human space, nothing of note. They would’ve cursed the ornery computers, and gone back about their jobs.

    But this Ensign, whose name escaped Thompson at the moment. Looking it over, wondering about the precise location its suspicious nature, he then noticed the code attached to the transmission number placed by the computers. It immediately went to the desk of Fleet Captain Noah Robinson, Thompson’s immediate superior, who then promptly assigned Thompson and the Silence to investigate. Such a touchy subject required discretion, a reasonably powerful ship, and a swift response. Thompson and his ship fulfilled all three. Thompson had a level 8 clearance courtesy of some work he did for the NID during his days as a Second Lieutenant, not much older than that Ensign who had found the Lusitania. His ship had the most powerful weaponry in the 1st EePee Fleet, including a flight of attack drones and two thermonuclear warheads, and some advanced counter-detection packages. The Silence was just four hours away by jump from the location of the distress signal when she was given the call. His orders were to get in, stay low, and try to assess the damage to the Lusitania and the threat posed by any foes in and around the area.

    Behind him by three hours were advanced elements of the McCain Carrier Group, including the heavy cruiser Battle of Delta Pavonis. The Orbital Command was going all in here. The Lusitania was the first major crisis the Command had faced in about six years since the end of the Sixth Interstellar Insurgency. There was a lot riding on this particular ‘incident,’ as the PR department liked to call it. Even the President himself was making it quite clear that there would be “consequences,” otherwise known as the business end of an entire carrier group, if any government, Earthbound or otherwise, were to be discovered responsible.

    And so behind all the bluster, bureaucrats, medal-filled chests, nuclear warheads and colonialist insurgents, was a glorified scout ship with a crew either green to the gills or so grizzled that one had difficulty distinguishing them from the underbellies of the drive core, stationed on the edge of pirate-infested human territory, a full two weeks from a major colony and a commander who had been involved in enough dirty work to give an entire room full of bureaucrats several heart attacks. Thompson chuckled at the thought.

    His helm officer called out, interrupting his thoughts, “Approaching exit vector, all hands brace for emergence.” The crew all throughout the ship, grumbling with various amounts of cursing, strapped themselves into the nearest station, ready for the unpredictable exit from slipspace. Thompson went over to the command station and got himself all set, pulling up the various sensor displays and mission orders, as well as priming his missiles and directed energy emitters, or dees, to be ready for anything. He switched on the ship-wide communication system, and announced, “Alright, gentlemen we will be going in weapons hot. Upon emergence, we will be going to DEFCON-2, repeat DEFCON-2. We are unsure of what we are going to encounter, so be ready for anything. Thompson out.” The helmsman announced the exit, and the Silence emerged from slipspace, weapons at the ready, sensors strained to touch, sense, smell and then blast anything bigger than an unfortunate particle of space dust. The sensor disruption that accompanied a slipspace emergence began to fade.

    Then every alarm on the ship went off. The ship began vibrating, a noise pierced Thompson’s skull, his bones, and his heart. It was a scream. As his vision began to blacken, he saw a mass of roughly half-terra size no more than 50 km from his ship. Then there was a sharp pain in his head, the scream enveloped him, and then all went dark.

    The scream was still echoing around in Thompson’s head when he awoke. His head was pounding, and while he tried to open his eyes, he couldn’t. With a great exertion of will, he managed to pry them open, only to have them quickly close again. He groaned, and tried again, this time successfully managing to keep his eyelids up. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into the ability to observe his surroundings. Thompson groaned again, trying to stand. It was significantly easier to stand up than it had been to open his eyes, and Thompson raised himself carefully, trying to feel out his immediate surroundings.He heard a sizzle of electricity, a pop and a buzz and the emergency lighting finally turned on.

    The rest of the bridge crew was out, and most of the displays on the deck were either flashing shutdown errors or blank. Thompson was standing just in front of his station, and had apparently somehow managed to disengage the safety belts and fall out of the chair. He sat back down and tried to pull up the visual sensors. He was met by impatient buzzing, and a message from the computer telling him to be patient, there had been an sudden power loss and it was rebooting, so stop banging on the command board and go drink a nice cup of tea while it restarted. Thompson wondered who had rewritten the emergency paging messages.

    He sighed and looked around the command deck. No physical damage was apparent, but the crew would probably all awake with a massive headache. Thompson decided he needed to get his bearings. Without the computer and it’s wonderfully cheery sarcasm, he would be unable to get a complete picture, but his office was accessible from the command deck, and it was positioned so as to allow a fairly panoramic view of the outside of the ship. He rose from his chair and began to tip toe over unconscious crew members to try and get at the door to his office. The door would of course not open automatically, thanks the loss of the RFID detectors that would have identified him as the captain and allowed him in, so opened the emergency override lock, entered in his emergency access code in the alphanumeric pad, which then gave him access to the colorfully named emergency manual door access override mechanism, otherwise known as a lever, that he then pushed down that opened the door to his office.

    He was slightly startled by the pneumatic hiss that followed, but then remembered that the door was only going to open for a set time before the whole thing locked again preventing undue access. He walked through the slowly closing door, and gasped. The space surrounding the Silence was full of debris, pieces of matte grey metal, ripped and torn and mutated. The running lights, also on thanks to emergency power, hauntingly illuminated the small plates of metal that floated down the side of the ship. The surrounding space had a soft green glow, from what, Thompson could not tell. One by one the external lights came on. The thud of the electricity flowing through the coils, echoed down the silent hull. All was quiet. A piece of debris slid past, floating in the vacuum, in memoriam. On it was inscribed the registration number and name of the USOC Price of Lusitania.

    It continued to glide past, sliding out from under the illumination of the external lights. John wondered how long it had been since he noticed all he could hear was the beating of his heart and his breathing. An echo rang off the cold metal of the hull, passing fleetingly, as if it had been the mutter of a ghost dead long ago. The cry. He realized what that cry had been. John Thompson jumped into action mode. During his reverie, he hadn’t noticed the return of basic computer functions. He walked up to the door, which opened. Most of the crew was still unconscious, but his sensor operator, a warrant officer first class by the name of Ishmael de la Cruz had come to and was trying to find his captain. “Sir! Are you alright?”

    “Just fine, warrant officer.”

    His brisk tone surprised de la Cruz. Cruz’ station was close to the captain, but he strode right past him toward the command station, where he stepped over his unconscious executive officer to get to his station.

    “Warrant Officer de la Cruz, I need you to access the sensors, scan the wreckage for signs of life,” he called out as he entered a series of commands into his console.

    “Wreckage sir?”

    “Damn it Cruz, do it!”

    “Aye sir.”

    The computer responded as it should, no unnecessary dialogue or sarcasm. It would even seemed a little quicker to Thompson had he bothered to notice, as if it sensed the urgency coursing throughout the commander and agreed that whatever the commander needed was vital to the resolving the urgency. Thompson wasn’t sure what he was doing. He was being driven by something other than reason, logic. The crew of Lusitania would’ve most likely died from vacuum exposure long before the arrival of the Silence. What was he looking for? It was like there was some thing that needed to be retrieved or he would be costing uncounted lives. He wiped his sweaty palms on his pant legs, and blinked out the sweat from his eyes.

    He came to the video logs from the key areas of the ship, command deck, brig, engine room, and armoury. He selected the most recent video log, from the time just before the Silence cut through the fabric of reality and emerged back into realspace. There! A flash on the log that blinded everything in the camera’s view. Then static, then the image returned. But this wasn’t the command deck of the Silence. The crew wore the uniforms of the United States Orbital Command. The image was slightly distorted, floating in and out of focus. Not like the camera’s autofocus function was broken, but like a gas was floating in front of the camera lens. The image had had its color drained out, so that it was barely anything more than black and white. De la Cruz broke into commander’s the fevered reverie.

    “Sir, Sensors are detecting a faint lifesign in the wreckage!” His voice was distant, as if filtered through a pool of water.

    “Initiate the retrieval procedures. Is it in a pod?”

    The commander could barely hear his own voice, just his heartbeat and his steady breathing.

    “Yes sir!”

    “Get down to the airlock on deck seven, take the service junctions, and avoid the gravlifts. Once you get the pod aboard, get the man to the infirmary.”

    “Aye sir!” he called as he rushed to the junction entrance off the command deck closest to his station, having to get over several unconscious crew members in the process.

    The commander turned his attention back to his monitor, straining his eyes to make out the colorless, unfocused video. He was beginning to lose his grip on his sense of time. His breath roared in his own ears, his body was losing feeling. The figures in the video were moving this way and that, he could see them talking, but no sounds were coming forth from their mouths.

    Then the video came suddenly into focus, time stopped, and a whisper not from this world drifted through his ears, and out into space. It came so fast and quietly he couldn’t catch what precious tales the voice carried on the wind. Then he felt one breeze past, and soon all around. One happened through his ear again, and straining, the commander could hear it. “Run…run…run…for there is…but darkness…darkness…and the Ravage…RUN!”

    Then the scream returned. It pierced his skull, his bones, his soul. The cry did not echo, but was sharp and doubled-edged. His bodied should have convulsed, but it did not. It no longer responded to his commands. The image then disappeared, but the commander lacked the words to describe what came next. What remained could never be forgotten, and in but a fleeting moment later it fled, as if it were the mounted Host of Death itself, chasing on towards their next quarry over the horizon.

    Then the darkness came, enveloping the commander.

    He did not resist, and clung on as it washed him out of the world.

  40. Gurion Omegaon 16 Jul 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Hmm…easy. I’ve definitely got to contribute my own…

    Something within five pages…

  41. Ragged Boyon 16 Jul 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Synopsis: Showtime is the story of Adrian, a young and stylish actor who is plunged into the middle of a shady alien experiment. He dons the identity of Showtime and must juggles his personal life with his odd and deadly alien life he has begun.

    Target Audience: Mostly, I’m aiming for the average comic book audience. I’m hoping that the story will appeal to African-Americans more than most superhero comics.

    First Five Pages:

    Page One: Ten panels. None of these panels are that big, but emphasize color. They to make these as gripping as possible. The dialogue does not have to be exactly on the panels, but should be generally close to those that the aliens are commenting on. Alternating colors in their text will help to differentiate whose speaking.

    Panel One: Two shadowed fingers, one with a feminine figure, with what appears to be horns on her head (think ram horns, spiraling to the sides). The other with a manly one, although tall and lanky, having long antenna-like extensions for where his ears should be. They’re standing in front of a large monitor; the images on it are separated, showing an array of different events. The monitor is actually larger than what is shown, so maybe you’d like to add little tidbits of other images.

    (Male)Alien 1: These are the last of our most, unaware, candidates.

    (Female)Alien 2: 30,000 clinks worth of fuel, wasted on this.

    Panel Two: A shot of a man at a poker table from behind, he’s hiding a cards behind his back.

    Panel Three: A woman doing a flip off the nose of a whale

    Panel Four: A boxer throwing a haymaker at his opponent, you could play this up by showing the victim’s black-eyed, bloody nose, spit flying face.

    Alien 1(Off): Humans display impressive physical potential

    Alien 1(Off): The council will most definitely be interested in physical aptitude.

    Panel Five: A scientist brilliantly smiling hold a vial of glowing liquid in the air. Use lots of colors in this panel.

    Alien 2 (Off): For such a weird-looking race, they’re quite intelligent.

    Panel Six: A person in a ski-mask holding a gun to a crying woman’s head, his other arm around her neck, like a hostage human shield.

    Alien 2(Off): If not hostile and completely selfish.

    Panel Seven: A woman rushing through a burning hallway, a baby wrapped in blankets in her arms. She has a strong expression, determined to get out of the building.

    Alien 1(Off): I disagree, they’re quite compassionate, just look.

    Panel Eight: A police officer holding a gun at someone off panel. Demanding expression, like he’s yelling.

    Alien 2(Off): Sure, if compassion is being able to kill on cue.

    Computerized Voice: Destination Achieved, Landing Pending.

    Page Two:

    Panel One: The monitor is now shown to be larger than it was. It shows a large image of Earth. Magnificent blue, green, and white with a blue glow around it. The two figures are much smaller now, standing in front the huge screen.

    Alien 1: This is Earth? Magnificent

    Alien 2: Perfect disguise for such a hellacious place.

    Panel Two: We finally see the aliens for what they are, Aliens. Waist up. They are lit by the light of the screen. They are looking very slightly above us. The man, Jimelly, is a medium shade of aqua, his blue is darker around the outline of his body. His eyes are large, black, and shiny.

    The woman, Lae’Trell, is a salmon color. She does have spiraling horns to the side. Her pinkish hair is in a short Mohawk. She is wearing a black skin suit and has a thicker, but not fat, physique.
    Both look generally friendly and harmless, they’re the good guys.
    Lae’ Trell stands with her arms crossed looking annoyed, while Jimelly looks excited.

    Jimelly: Don’t be such a pessimist, Lae’ Trell.

    Lae’ Trell: If you insist. Suit up, were set to land in Santa Libra City.

    Jimelly: Sounds most interesting.


    Page 3: Splash with two inserts. Top right cormer and bottom left corner.

    Panel One/Splash: A huge helicopter shot at Santa Libra High School in all its wretchedness. The building is dull and deteriorated. There are lots of people outside roaming the crowded campus. The school is three stories tall. There is a well visible sign outside with “Santa Libra High School” on it, many letters are missing but the name is still legible. The area surrounding the school is just as worn out as the school. Focus on the wretchedness of the area and the cold feel of winter.

    Caption: Welcome to Hell’s Harbor High School.

    Caption: Fights, drugs, baby mammas, we’ve got it all.

    Caption: I’m into a different type of DRAMA, though.

    Insert One: A shot of a large rowdy fight in the hallway.

    Insert Two: A shot a person being dragged off by two cops.

    Arrestee: Man, fuck you!

    Page 4: Six Panels. Panels 1 and 2 take up the top third of the page. Panel 3 takes the middle. 4, 5, and 6 take the bottom third.

    Panel One: A shot of a relatively empty hallway in the school, there are a pair of doubles doors visible and a small gold sign next to them. The sign is illegible from this angle. The cold winter light pours into the hallway giving the hallway a cold tint. Peaceful. We see a boy in a bright orange hoody pressing his hand against the door, that’s Adrian.

    Adrian: Time to show them what a real actor can do.

    Panel Two: A tight shot on the gold sign, it reads “Santa Libra High School Auditorium-Backstage Entrance.”

    Panel Three: Looking down at the wide stage, as if sitting on a balcony in the middle of the auditorium. A couple of rows of seats are visible. There are a few people sitting, scattered across the rows . There’s a person on stage walking around, gesturing dramatically.
    Adrian (Narration): This is my second home, not the school, but the theatre.

    Panel Four: Backstage, there’s a small row of chairs. Adrian, the main character sits here, along with a few other people although they aren’t near him. He is a black student wearing a fitted orange hoody, dark blue fitted jeans, and orange converse with blue laces. It is dimly lit back stage, but lit enough to be able to read.

    Panel Five: A tight shot on Adrian’s face, he reading a sheet of paper diligently. He is holding it with one hand. He has headphones in his ears and is smirking, making a confident expression.
    Adrian (Thought): I’m going to nail this part.

    Panel Six: A close up on Adrian’s other hand rising off the cover of his notebook, it reads “Adrian K. Gaines: Don’t steal this!”


    Page 5: Five panels

    Panel One: A long vertical shot on Adrian, he is standing and stretching, his full body is visible. His fitted clothes show his thin figure. He is stretching with a triumphant look of his face.

    Adrian (Thought): I’ve got it, this is my part. I can see it now.

    Panel Two: A tight shot on Adrian’s eyes, dark brown with a tiny twinkle of gold in the center.

    Adrian: Yup, I can see it now.

    Panel Three: A shot of Adrian’s full body, the same size as panel one. This is one depicts Adrian as way more muscular and defined. He’s wearing gold swim trunks and sunglasses. His brown skin is shiny in the sun. He stands in a dignified pose.

    Caption: Sexiest Man Alive, Adrian Gaines.

    Panel Three: Adrian in the same pose, but now women in bikinis are swooning around him.

    Narration: The President decides as payment for your last blockbuster he’s giving a blank check to the national treasury. You’re a bajillionaire

    Caption: Adrian, Best Everything!

    Panel Four: Same as before, but now two giant moneybags overflowing with money are behind him. A messy stack of Oscars lay by his feet.

    Adrian: I love my life.

    Panel Five: Waist up on Adrian, back to reality, he’s still standing in the same position, stretching with a blank stare and dopey smile, drooling.

    Eric (Off panel, onstage): “The drugs are gone and the cops are on my ass.”


  42. Ragged Boyon 16 Jul 2009 at 6:30 pm

    My biggest concern is that a publisher might not know where the story goes after these five pages. I’m hoping that it’s implied that the story will continue with Adrian being enlisted by the aliens. I think it’s alot to imply, but a publisher may be able to put the pieces together.

    This is probably obvious, but this is my submission for the challenge. I’d love your reviews.

  43. Deadmanshandon 18 Jul 2009 at 7:39 pm

    New to the site and am loving it so far. Just read about the contest yesterday so my entry might be a little rough but her we go.

    Synopsis: A man – a sorcerer and scholar – must come out of hiding and face the evil his actions have wrought. An evil that has been waiting and preparing for him.

    Target Audience: Not totally sure. I’ve never much considered it. Probably a similar one to the Dresden Files. Males age 18 – 30.

    The 5 pages:

    Where Angels Fear to Tread

    Chapter 1: Sanctuary’s End

    Bailey Regional burned. The west wing had transformed from the bland white walls that bounded the courtyard into a roiling mass of black smoke lit from within by tongues of flame. Swirling madly in the courtyard proper patient and staff alike gathered their cries muted by distance and tempered glass. Some sought the safety of the east wing. Others sought control of the chaos. More simply stood and watched.

    Leaning against window the fire loomed large in my eyes. Heart racing I searched for signs of what my gut had been telling me. That my former students had found me at last.

    I’d always known that I couldn’t hide forever and when they found me we would have one last reunion my students and I. Just like old times. Only this time they would make sure to finish me.

    “Jon?” Ethan whispered one hand clutching at my right arm.

    A hiss escaped me as I pushed him away. Cradling the slinged arm and taking deep breaths my gaze hit the window and froze there. For a moment the fire had revealed a form only a fool would have called human. Too tall, too lean, and with knees that bent the wrong way. Smoke may have obscured its features but I didn’t need to see them to know it for what it was.

    Kendall’s Ishim.

    The tempered glass cracked under my fist before I spun away from the window towards my roommate. Pallid features and shaking shoulders made him younger than the 19 years old he claimed. His thin hospital issue tee shirt was near soaked thru as he kept glancing back between me and the door.

    “What’s going on? Why haven’t they come to get us? Why aren’t the alarms going off?” he asked eyes wide and growing wider with every word.

    Good question.

    Cutting off his next outburst with a firm squeeze of his shoulder I caught his eyes and held them.

    “It’s time for me to leave, Ethan. The hospital isn’t safe anymore.” I shook my head when his mouth started to open. “There’s no time for questions. Take care of yourself.”

    Moving past him to the door I glanced out into the hallway to find the other residents playing the same game. Whispers and wary gazes marked every doorway. At the midpoint of the hall the nurses station sat full of staff talking softly but urgently. The looks cast our way held the same questions ours did.

    The lights were off there too. It wasn’t just lights out.

    A quiet dry cough behind me brought my head around to find Ethan right behind me. His shaking had grown worse in just moments. A whole body tremor now from lips to calves wracked him though he made some show of controlling it. Sweat beaded and dripped into his eyes forcing him to blink to even see me. He didn’t look old enough to drive.

    Shit.

    “Ethan,” I said reluctantly. “Stick close to me. Just follow me and you’ll be fine. Okay?”

    He took several deep breaths and nodded.

    Ethan following I slipped out the door to find a hallway swiftly filling up with the braver of our floormates. A chorus of questions escaped them as they converged on the station and the nurses within. Questions of safety and protocol. Pleas for direction and protection. Demands of answers and action.

    The same ones heard within the walls of the psychiatric hospital everyday.

    An older nurse took charge coming out from behind her desk. Samantha Cohen – Sam as she was known to her favorites – the head nurse. Leveling her gaze at the at the gathering crowd she set a reassuring smile on her weathered features.

    “There is no reason to panic. Everyone please come out of your rooms and we will proceed outside until the fire department tells us that it is safe. “

    With a sense of direction they began to pile out of their rooms trusting in the people who cared for them. A mass of men and women disheveled and confused by interrupted sleep or medication. The rest of the nurses and some security supervised the chaos. Some with smiles and words of comfort stood surrounded by the patients who needed them for support. Others with stony faces and flat voices were islands amidst it all.

    Leaning in close to Ethan – close enough to smell his fear – I whispered “We’ll follow them till we get outside. Then we’ll slip off in the confusion.”

    “What do you mean? W-why don’t we just stay with them?” he asked quietly eyeing the staff nearest us.

    “Too dangerous.”

    For them anyway.

    Brow furrowed he shot me a look from beneath lowered lids but he nodded. Hugging himself with a thoughtless gesture he stepped back but stayed within arm’s reach. Eyes down he seemed just another of the sheep.

    Ahead Sam cleared her throat capturing the attention of the thirty plus patients who filled the hallway by now. Their whispers and talk faded quickly. The silence only emphasized the alarm’s absence.

    “Alright, ladies and gentlemen. We are going to do this in orderly fashion. Each of you stay close to your roommate and follow the closest nurse. Once we get outside we will take a headcount.” she said, head raised, clutching a clipboard to her chest. “Now follow me.”

    In twos and fours we marched down the darkened hallways next to old faces and new. The depressed shuffled side by side the bipolar. Schizophrenic by the neurotic. A parade of people tormented by the workings of their own mind or the defects of their biology. Companions of many years.

    Camouflage of many years.

    Down stairwells we went. One floor, then two. At the ground floor we found other groups. Other floors and other wards merging into a river of refugees. All of them walked with their eyes glued to the floor like condemned men. In many of their eyes they already were.

    Hope was a rare commodity in this place.

    The hospital doors opened onto a world of light and sound. From a dozen vehicles lights flashed painting the world in blues and reds. Police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances scattered across the pavement. Shouts and orders echoed from the hundred or more men and women scrambling to contain the situation.

    Above us smoke masked the stars as it poured from the roof but a glow had taken their place. Fire supplanting starlight.

    “All of you over here!”

    The police officer’s cry somehow cut through the din as he directed the flow of traffic from the hospital’s interior back beyond the vehicles. Hardened features turned aside all questions as he did his job.

    Wending our way back amongst the vehicles I took my chance. Grabbing Ethan’s arm I pulled along with me into the shadow of a fire truck. The others never even slowed down. Pointing towards the trees at the side of the parking lot I started forward with a steady even stride. Breathing too quickly Ethan followed at my heels half formed questions struggling to make it past his lips.

    The solitude of the oaks welcomed us with little fanfare. Soft spring grass cushioned and muffled our passage. Perfumes of green growing things masked the smoke and danger of the hospital. Even the raucous first responders outside could scarcely be heard. It was then that I stopped for a moment.

    Ethan almost ran into me stumbling out of the way at the last second. I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

    “Sit down. We’ll rest for a minute. We have some time before they miss us.” I said really smiling for the first time tonight.

    Raising my head I took my first full breath of the night air as a free man in ten years. Ten years of hiding and pretending. Ten years wasted. I opened my eyes to find Ethan staring at me.

    “Why did you take me with you? You could have escaped without me.” Despite of his fear he asked and spoke with conviction.

    Should I lie to him? Give him some comfort? A sigh escaped me. I knew the answer.

    “The people after me would have gone after you when they couldn’t find me.” I said leaning back against a tree. “Kendall would have squeezed every drop of information you had about me from you and killed you after. He doesn’t like to leave loose threads lying around. I brought you with me to protect you.”

    And because I need you.

    “People are trying to kill you?! I mean for real kill you ? Or are you just another para-…” he cut off mid word and his eyes widened. Stumbling backwards he tripped over a root and went crashing to the ground.

    Following his eyes I saw what he saw. The Ishim.

    Half again the height of a man and as slender as a woman it slid through the trees. It’s skin – black under the shadow of the trees – I knew would be coarse like the skin of a shark. Bent almost in half it stopped at the edge of the clearing watching us. A harsh charred aroma followed it carrying with it a scent underneath it. Roses.

    “Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.” Ethan chanted from where he lay the whites of his eyes showing. “Oh father who art in Heaven…”

    Growling I pulled myself up straight. “Heaven?! Heaven is a charnel house and God is not listening.”

    Slowly I pulled my right arm from its sling. Agony accompanied it as it always did. Inch by inch until the bandaged arm hung straight out from my side. Panting my eyes met the monsters.

    “I did not walk through that charnel house to die here. Go back to your master whimpering my name.” as I spoke a light cold and bright began to pierce the wrappings.

  44. Deadmanshandon 18 Jul 2009 at 7:41 pm

    It’s not letting me post my entry

  45. Deadmanshandon 18 Jul 2009 at 7:48 pm

    I’m new here but loving it. Just found out about this contest yesterday and it’s not letting me post my entry. SO here is a link directly to my entry.

    Synopsis: Jon Allen Fader – a sorcerer and scholar – must come of hiding and face the veil he has created. And in doing so face the life he left behind.

    Target Audience: Not entirely sure but I’m thinking males age 18 – 30. Similar to the Dresden Files crowd in taste.

    http://deadmanshand-angeluserrare.blogspot.com/2009/07/where-angels-fear-to-tread-revised.html

  46. Ragged Boyon 19 Jul 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I’d love your review, you guys.

  47. B. Macon 20 Jul 2009 at 8:27 pm

    RB, I just got back today. I think I’ll have it done by 5 or 6AM Chicago time on Tuesday.

  48. B. Macon 20 Jul 2009 at 11:47 pm

    –There are some grammatical and wording mistakes. “They to make these as gripping as possible,” for example. “The other with a manly one…” — a manly horn?

    –Some of the sentences could probably be shortened. For example, “with what appears to be horns on her head (think ram horns, spiraling to the sides)” could be “with ram-like horns.”

    –”These are the last of our most, unaware candidates.” This is awkward. First, there shouldn’t be a comma between an adverb (most) and its adjective (unaware). Second, I suspect that you could show us that these candidates are unaware in a smoother fashion rather than tell us.

    –”he’s hiding a cards…” singular vs. plural disagreement.

    –”Humans display impressive physical potential” — end this sentence with a period.

    –”I disagree, they’re quite compassionate, just look.” I’d recommend replacing the comma after compassionate with a period.

    –Before you submit this script to an artist, I’d recommend doing a mockup of this page to make sure that you can fit 10 panels in. I suspect that the text will get a bit tight.

    –The visuals on page 1 strike me as interesting.

    –Period after magnificent.

    –”what they are, Aliens.” I’d recommend uncapitalizing aliens.

    –Page 1 describes the horns. Page 2 says that “we finally see the aliens for what they are, aliens.” Do we see the horns on page 1? How do you plan to show the horns without giving away that they’re aliens? (Silhouettes and shadows, maybe).

    –”Suit up, were set to land in Santa Libra City.” Three things. First, apostrophe in we’re. Second, I’d recommend replacing “set to land” with “landing.” Third, I’d recommend against a three word city name. What would you think about something like San Libre?

    “Top right cormer…” –> corner.

    –I think “baby mamas” looks more natural with two M’s (mamas) rather than three (mammas).

    –I’d personally recommend switching “fuck you!” with something a bit less rough, but that’s just a target audience issue. For example, if you worked in a violent threat instead, you might go farther with editors that are thinking about whether this could work for readers in the mid-teens. “I’m gonna shank you in the face!” or whatever. (Not that threatening cops seems particularly smart, but I think it’d help show how absolutely messed-up this place is).

    –What do the cops look like? If there’s no description, the artist might make them look romanticized and heroic (which I think is not quite in-line with what you have in mind). I’d recommend giving the artist a sentence or two of the impression you’re trying to make. Personally, I’d recommend something like coldness (to show that there is a need for a hero like Adrian) or hurt/bruised (to show that the police don’t have a great handle on the situation).

    “This is my second home, not the school, but the theatre.” What would you think about getting rid of “not the school”?

    Page 4, panel 4 raises camera issues. How could Adrian sit with a script in such a way that his shoes and laces are also on the page? I’d recommend focusing on Adrian at waist-level here and showing his shoes later. PS: Gators fans will approve of the color selection, but I’d recommend consulting closely with your artist about the hues because there’s a lot that could go wrong with an unconventional mix like blue-and-orange.

    “…is smirking, making a confident expression.” What about “smirking confidently” or just “smirking”?

    I’d recommend cutting Adrian’s middle initial off the notepad.

    “I’m going to nail this part.” Is this necessary? If he’s looking confidently at a script in a theatre, I feel that it should be clear that he’s confident he will nail a part. (Sticking up an Auditions sign will help make this clearer).

    I love page 5.

    Bajillionaire should have a period after it.

    SUMMARY QUESTIONS

    1. Is there an interesting main character? In particular, how well has his personality been developed?
    –Adrian’s a very well-developed character but I don’t feel like we see all that much of him here. One of the consequences of giving Jim/LT 2 pages is that we will see less of Adrian in the five page sample. (Ahem… he only appears on two of the pages). I’d recommend working him into the side-shots on page 3. Do you think you could at least make the relationship between Jim and LT more heated?

    2. Is something at stake for the main character? Do we care about whether he succeeds?
    –I want him to get the part. The stakes aren’t as high as he thinks they are, but I care.

    3. Does the story feel like it is going somewhere?
    –I’m kind of intrigued to see how the aliens come into Adrian’s life.

    4. Is the story clear and easy to understand?
    –I suspect that page 1 might throw some people off. For example, we don’t really find out what they’re “candidates” for. Nor does the synopsis make it clear.

    5. Has the author demonstrated a strong sense of style?
    –I like the establishing shot of the school. It’s an interesting way to show us how messed up the school is.
    –The daydream is awesome. It shows us a lot about the character and is funny to boot.

    6. If readers could keep reading past page five, would they urgently want to?
    –Personally, yeah.

    7. If it’s a comic book script, has the writer worked in interesting visuals?
    –Yeah. I’m especially looking forward to seeing pages 1 and 3.

  49. Ragged Boyon 21 Jul 2009 at 5:56 am

    Ugh, I’m so annoyed by the amount of menial mistakes I make. I’m getting there, though. I’d best proofread more often. Overall, I think I did good, though. Hooray, I beat the Five Page Challenge (I think).

    Wish me luck on my Powerpoint presentation. I’ve got a chance to win a computer!

  50. S.V.T.on 21 Jul 2009 at 9:28 pm

    This sounds interesting. When I finish the first chapter, I’ll send mine.

  51. B. Macon 21 Jul 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Sounds good, SVT. I’m looking forward to it.

  52. Deadmanshandon 14 Aug 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Was there ever a winner announced on this contest?

  53. B. Macon 15 Aug 2009 at 12:07 am

    No. It was a contest sort of like National Writing Month– the prize is the pride of having completed the challenge. (Also, if you’re interested in getting published, free advice is usually helpful).

  54. cool don 30 Apr 2011 at 3:57 am

    Is this thing still on

  55. B. Macon 30 Apr 2011 at 7:19 am

    This contest ended on July 31, 2009.

  56. Gurion Omegaon 30 Apr 2011 at 12:54 pm

    So we’re never gonna have a contest like this again?

  57. cool don 30 Apr 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I know it ended, I wanted to know if we were gonna have a contest like this again.

  58. B. Macon 30 Apr 2011 at 8:07 pm

    I may do something similar in the future.

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