Magen Series, Book 3: Master of the Destroyer, Scene 1

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Jun 10, 2015
Hey guys, seems like there is a lot of critiquing activity on here, so I thought I'd post up a sample of my WIP. This is the very first scene in my new book following the career, prophesies, rise and probable eventual fall of Magen Agasan. The title is too lame to publish under, just a placeholder. I write a mix of SF/Fantasy, but the scene below is pure Space Opera. This is a very early draft, I have spelling and grammar checked it - but no need to get overly pernickity since most of it will probably end up re-written about 20 times.

Bearing in mind this is the very first scene an avid fan of the new book will read, I think it's rather critical to get right. You may note the lack of description of some of the characters, the reader should be familiar with some of them - maybe it should be written as if they are first time readers? All comments welcome - now to time how long it takes the piranhas to skeletonize my sacred cow. :)

Scene Below:

A Seaton light cruiser, or ‘Scout’ class warship emerged from behind the dark side of Asteroid 281, completing her orbit. As the sunlight blazed across her prow, the lettering of her name could the read, “Destroyer”. A simple name, full of intent, but as the Es’ston HELs speared through the dark expanse to greet her, she gave no reply.

Liquid oxygen and fuel flowed out in her wake, her hull already pierced in many vital places. The two forward gun-ports gaped open but her main cannons remained mute; empty gun emplacements for her light anti-fighter turrets blotched her skin. The Destroyer was all but toothless; the only remaining armament that worked was her crew. Repair bots, maintenance platforms and the occasional engineer dressed in full EVA suit flurried across the stricken ship’s hull. Furiously they tried to staunch her wounds – but time was up.

Hiding in the shadow had given a brief respite. It was mainly for Magen to collect his thoughts. As comms were restored, reports began to stream in from their sister ship the ‘Unbreakable’ and the mining colony on the asteroid below.

“Outpost 281 has surrendered,” Ogher advised, “That means the Es’ston landers made it past Unbreakable.” With only a century of marines to defend it, that was not much of a surprise.

Nearly five years Magen had been at this game, three years ago he’d become captain replacing his mentor, and he now felt it had been too early. He’d never been so outmatched before. The Es’ston carriers had caught them by surprise and managed to take the Destroyer and Unbreakable one at a time. Magen was nearly half an hour late to battle.

“Put me through to Commander Mattias,” Magen ordered his comms officer.

He knew Mattias from quite a while back, when he had commanded a division of swordsmen from Gahon. Mattias had not been slipstreamed into captaincy like Magen; instead, he had trained two more years and had only recently become master of the Unbreakable. The thing that always distinguished Mattias was his fondness for small furry animals.

Today his familiar was a stern faced giant eagle, perched on the arm of the captain’s chair. It had to take some patience and time to teach these animals to adapt to zero gravity. Mattias was the image of his eagle as he appeared on the holographic display.

“Magen we’ve had it,” the Unbreakable’s commanding officer stated. “We’ve lost steerage, and within the next few minutes they’re going to board us…”

“What are you suggesting?” Magen demanded.

“Run – dammit! What do you think I’m saying? We’ve lost!”

No one could help them in these outer reaches. Even a days’ trip from Seatus would be too late.

“Mattias isn’t the only one who’s going to be boarded,” Ogher pointed out the incoming boarding pods on the tactical display. “You’d better make a decision.” He could tell Magen was prevaricating.

“Is there nothing you can do? Do you need time to get your engines back online – can we tow you?” Magen ignored Ogher.

“No – just get out of here. You can out-run them…” Mattias waved his hand, “Our engines are trash, I’m going to surrender before we waste any more lives.”

Magen held his eye, “We’ll come back for you…”

“If you find us here – if not, we’ll see you at the war’s end. Out.” The display fizzled to nothingness.

“Saar’ha – bring our engines to full power…”

“Where to?” Saar’ha raised an eyebrow.

Magen gazed at the star map. They couldn’t risk running through the Es’ston fleet. That limited their choices. One lonely sector on the outer rim seemed to beckon and the random pattern of numbers identifying it seemed to stick in his memory. He selected it.

“We’ll turn about long before we reach it,” he explained to the crew on the command deck.

“Okay,” Saar’ha keyed in the co-ordinates and set the course.

The Destroyer veered sharply away from the inbound ships. Astonishingly, all the Es’ston fighters and pods immediately turned about and headed back to their carriers. The carriers themselves began repositioning and shortly their engines powered up and they began to gather way. The Es’stons were going to give chase. Only a token force would remain to handle Mattias surrender.

“Prepare for gravity to be restored,” the ship’s computer announced as they began to accelerate.
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I do like your writing and tone in this, but your POV use completely throws me.

You appear to be writing in an omniscient POV, so you can show things like a film. But this left me completely uncertain as to which character related to which ship and how all that related to their communications.

For example, you introduce "Destroyer" as damaged, and - I think - captained by Magen.

Es’ston HELs "greet her" - and then little more on these.

Unbreakable appears to be a sister ship - it's not clear at first that she is close. I think Mattias is the captain. Magen doesn't seem to have seen much of MAttias recently.

Ogher is disembodied - what rank or station?

So I'm spending a lot of time trying to figure out the relationship between everyone and everything - not because I hadn't read the book before this, but because your use of POV makes everything unclear. Your use of Omniscient seems to jump about all other the place, making it difficult for those relationships to be established.

I bet if you rewrote this in Third Person Limited, from Magen's POV (he appears to be the central character here?) then because everything relates to his experience, everything would be much clearer. You do also slow the narrative to slightly explain things - such as in your first sentence, when you want to give the make, class, and class designation of the ship - and changing POV should help cut down those instances.

Also - when giving the names of ships, italicise them.

I think there's a suitably dramatic opening here, and I think for the most part you handle things well. But unless you have learned all about POV use and decided that Omniscient is clearly the technically correct one to use to best tell your story, then IMO you should consider dumping it, and instead rewrite as Third Person Limited not simply to make your story clearer, but also stronger and more engaging.

I don't think I would abandon omniscient, I want to keep a bit about the cinematic style of the opening. Definitely get your point regarding Ogher suddenly appearing, and the awkward description of the ship's class in the first line.

Apologies on the HELs also, a stable of the series. It stands for High Energy Lasers, with a touch of wordplay. I don't mention them again much, on the bridge of a heavily armoured space ship (a detail that I seem to have neglected to mention), you really don't notice them that much unless something actually blows up. No Star Trek sparks and plasma conduits here.

So as it's a separate book, I guess I should prob go through all the acronyms again and tag the characters with a very brief description.
Switching between close third (Magen) and Omniscient in different scenes / chapters is possible?
go through all the acronyms again
If important to imediate story maybe once in brackets, otherwise let reader pickup from context later? Not everything should be explained. In fact it can make it better not explaining.
How many non-technical people understand what these stand for:
Or that an LED TV isn't but is LCD with LED backlight?
CDMA (two meanings)
VHS (trick one that!)
DVD (another trick)

How many people that know the acronym or abbrieviation know how they work?
As I understand it, there is no technical issue switching between omniscient and restricted third person. I suspect it's not in vogue at the moment, but I'm not really bothered by that. I'd actually have to completely re-write the entire series at this point, so I'd rather continue. "I am in blood stepped in so far..." and so on. I do think, there is a certain amount of disembodiment here, they're all just floating in space.
I'd actually have to completely re-write the entire series at this point

That's a normal part of the writing process. Someone once quoted something to me where an author had said something like "I am not a good writer, I am a good rewriter." :)
That's a normal part of the writing process. Someone once quoted something to me where an author had said something like "I am not a good writer, I am a good rewriter." :)
I'm not denying the validity of this, if time were in endless supply, I certainly would rewrite the entire series, though not necessarily to remove all use of the omniscient POV. A lot of the books I've read make use of it at some point or another. Maybe the issue is more in the execution?

Edit: @Ray McCarthy, any chance you can turn that into a Comma Separated List? Already excessive scrolling required :p
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For the opening I really felt the description of the damage to the destroyer should have been clear right from the opening and not described in the second paragraph. I felt cheated, as the opening with sun descriptions etc. gave no hint of what was to come.

I felt dialogue was used to carry a lot of information and because of this the dialogue didn’t feel natural to me. Heavy use of names too, with speech tags etc. There was very little emotion, character placement (what did the bridge look like, standing or sitting etc.) and for me, not much to connect with.

The aside of how Magen became captain detracted from the action, this I felt should come later. As you opened with an action scene, stay with the action. I was a little surprised that nothing actually happened at the end, as in, your main character turned and left.

It was hard to keep track of who was who as per Brian. Big picture writing doesn’t usually do it for me. I prefer strict 3rd person as there is character connection to place me in the storyline. If I want cinematic, I’ll watch Sky on my mahoosive TV. In books and when reading, I want to touch, taste and feel the world the characters live and breathe in – something my Sky box will never be able to give me. Cough – hint – cough.

As to re-writing, if your work needs it, do it. You have good control of technical writing, but I’m not connecting with anything in your writing at the moment and I don’t want to read on. A pity, as you seem to know what you’re doing. Like Brian, I think you need to write in 3rd person and leave the movies to Hollywood.
It should be clear from the second paragraph that this is actually the end of an action scene. A ship with no weapons doesn't have too many options. A kamikaze run would certainly have upped the ante. Unfortunately, it would also have killed off most of my main characters. :)

I'll definitely take the point about dialogue on board. In my view, it is better to communicate information through character interactions (or not at all) than dry info dumps. Obviously, if there's too much info and not enough interaction you get the above result.

In fairness, omniscience is only used in the first two and the second last paragraph. I might re-hash this just to provide the contrast.

I don't want to describe yet another command deck, I've already had about five of them throughout the previous books. What else could I describe to provide context, and not bore myself to tears? Everything that the ship's captain experiences about the battle is mostly going to be filtered to him through the surrounding personnel and computers - occasionally some g-forces, but since the most logical place for the command deck is the ship's center of turning, not too much of those either.

Thanks for the critique @Bowler1.
What else could I describe to provide context, and not bore myself to tears?

Third Person Limited offers more of a personal and emotional experience that really forces the reader into that situation, rather than leaves them detached.

Everything that the ship's captain experiences about the battle is mostly going to be filtered to him through the surrounding personnel and computers - occasionally some g-forces, but since the most logical place for the command deck is the ship's center of turning, not too much of those either.

It's not about looking at a fireworks show, though - as bowler says, that's the visual medium of film and TV. A novel can work really strong if it focuses on what the character experiences - and thus makes the reader experience that. If you want some examples that may be similar to what you're looking to achieve, then consider looking at Jack Campbell's Dauntless. David Weber's On Basilisk Station might be useful for POV, but the book drowns in unnecessary infodumps (such as an entire chapter on the technicalities of a planetary defence system - that plays no part in the story!).
Hi, Welcome to the shark pool ;)

First impression is that I'm tempted to say there's a lot of telling as it is omni, but you know, I kind of think it works. For example the bit about his preference for small furry animals is telling, but it is also voice-y at the same time. I think you have to make a choice though as it drifts into 3rd which threw me a little.

I could visualise the opening with the damaged ship very well. It's nice but you can be more brutal with extraneous words.

‘steerage’: does a battleship really have third class accommodation?

What is the CO’s relation to Magen? Would he speak so rudely that they should ‘run dammit etc?’ At this point I think I am starting to get a little confused with who is talking about which ship.

The display fizzled to nothingness. Just a small point, but nothingness is jarring and clunky to me and I'd always go for the simpler; 'nothing'.

Everyone seems so safe, regardless of the conflict and I think that is due to the POV use. I wouldn't necessarily advise you to change it as it’s your creative choice, but if we were allowed in the persons head, it would bring the sense of peril so much more closer to us. I just don't feel any real stakes here.

Also as the ‘main’ POV seems to scarper at the end, I wonder if this is a prologue and not a scene from the first chapter. I suppose the best way is to finish the story and address that in rewrites but it reads as a passage that is more for the author than the reader (if that makes any sense - like you're prepping yourself/psyching yourself up for the story).

I’d just say one last thing. Maybe you chose omni so you can give this theatrical sense to the happenings, and I think that’s great if it does more than just allows you to add more bells and whistles; I recently saw Jurassic World and thought it was action-packed cinema gold, however I left the film feeling ‘meh’ simply because apart from the geeky Com Centre guy (Nick from New Girl), the characters were dreadful, not even two dimensional! It’s my opinion that we love stories for the characters first and narrative second - writing in a POV other than omni allows you to mine that. Having said that… I have just finished rewriting 75-90k of my WIP from 1st to 3rd so I can advise you what a hellish and demotivational thing it is to do. ;)

Nice work, and good luck

ETA: Okay so i see I have pretty much echoed what Brian and Bowler have said, apologies :/

Hi @Phyrebrat, thanks very much for the solid feedback there. I think you definitely gave a slightly different angle on it there, even it amounts to nearly the same advice.

It might not be entirely clear that Magen is speaking to Matthias the C.O. of the Unbreakable over comms. Unspoken, but being captured and surrendering in the depths of space pretty much means Matthias is out of the war and can say whatever he damn well wants. Magen does not out rank him as per such, but he is the more senior captain and would probably expect a little more deference.

I may be psyching myself up for the story all right. The apparently random destination Magen chooses does become significant. There may be a better place to start this story, so I'll think on that.
A mere 350,000 words. Or are you suggesting I just delete most of it?

I have written three books start to finish, and one twice. I've had an average word count of about 80k, so I have also knocked out about 350k words. I'm not alone with this type of word count, and suspect I could even be on the low side on this site. I know all my prior writing was not up to task and will never be published and will simply have to be written off to experience - annoying, painful even, but a fact. Just because I write it, doesn't make it right.

There is no such thing as a bad idea, now or ever. I suspect strongly that you know the nuts and bolts of writing, but you have to lose this idea that once you write it that's it. If a publisher asked you to review what you did, would you refuse? There are very knowable people on here with the same message and its a simple one - what you have is not working. We're not saying this to be cruel to you, but I know it will feel that way. Our writing is personal to us and it hurts when it doesn't shine like we want it to. Digest what is being said and look at what you do with a critical eye. As I've said before, a writer needs to be super critical of what they do, because you are your first ever reader and should accept nothing but the best. Anyway, good luck with it.
but you have to lose this idea that once you write it that's it.
Err, I don't have that idea, I just also have a full time job and other responsibilities... Note in the original post I said I'd probably rewrite about 20 times. My point about the 350,000 words is not that I have some kind of noddy badge, but it takes and awful lot of time and investment to edit and rewrite that much. More so if you are also editing out omniscience.
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