A solicitation for a First Chapter writing contest caused me to restart work on a Ghosts of Ancient Vidura follow-on — now at eight chapters, too sketchy to submit to a competition much less post any of it on my website, although that’s what I’m about to do.
Why? Because feedback is valuable, and one never knows where it’ll lead. As to the contest in question, even if the manuscript was ready-for-reading, terms of service didn’t stipulate sharing of judges’ notes with authors. Feedback is unlikely. I’ll save my twenty dollars for a better offer, but thanks for making me start writing again.
Meanwhile, I was curious enough to read the submissions of prior contest winners and runners-up, a reminder not to care a whole lot about what publishing gatekeepers are looking for in works of fiction. Thematically, not what I’m doing. In terms of voice, the experience left me uncertain about my approach.
I don’t wax lyrical in early chapters. I could. I know how to do it, but I don’t. In my view, and that of many authors, opening lines are best dedicated to arrival at the inciting event. Tell the reader what the grass smells like after you’ve dragged him into the story.
Here's my sketchy first chapter, first draft. The book is yet untitled. What do you think? Should this passage be more evocative? Tell me in the comments.
The White House, Washington DC
The President’s neural implant announced itself at three in the morning — a soft chime in the left ear, routed through the aural nerve’s brain terminus, followed by the notification ‘Device ready’.
At first, she thought it was words from a dream; a director’s cut, fading in from black. She groaned. “Wonderful. Glad to know it.”
The device was reporting that a carbon-chain spiral had finished propagating through her brain tissue. Alien technology, installed the previous week by a lady of recent acquaintance, the human wife of the furry alien space pope.
Those who had one called it a huge convenience, completely benign. The President was unconvinced, but if she ever needed to ‘skid the ‘Dyne’, ‘surf the Matrix’, whatever … it was the only way.
Soft lighting guided her to the bath, where she stared at herself in a bronze-tinted mirror, hair flat on one side, face puffy from not enough sleep.
And sometimes no sleep at all, ever since a shootout between the now-infamous Doctor Elbert Harrison (a one-hundred-eighty-year-old American Civil War veteran, formerly of Birmingham, Alabama) and an Air Force police squad in New Mexico, punctuated by a brazen broad-daylight landing of a spaceship in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
The dust-up at Alamogordo made public knowledge of aliens from another planet homesteading on Earth, a fact previously known by agencies of the United States government, not that anyone had informed the President about it.
In a few hours, an ancient one-by-two-kilometer migration ship, privately-owned, would appear in near-Earth territory – after which an historic flying residence, in storage for the past twenty-five-hundred years, would be released into atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean.
The narrative was preposterous; the President would have laughed in disbelief if there weren’t aliens from outer space on television and YouTube, explaining it every day.
Her goal for the morning was to a arrange a meeting with the proprietor of said flying house and spaceship — reportedly a manufacturing engineer from Oregon, a human person who’d discovered himself the reincarnation of at least two important figures in Anye history.
A Buddhist might have taken the story at face value. An American of Germanic descent who until recently didn’t know his soul had once occupied lemur-persons. Why not?
The President was Catholic. The only thing she was sure about was that nobody was joking. She ached to find out how the man was dealing with it. His life, she thought, had to be exponentially stranger than the one she’d fallen into.
Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay
The only thing that felt “missinf” was a bit of reflection on her place in history — what she expected that to mean when she sought the office, what she thought it meant before she knew about aliens, and how it was changing under the pressure of new awareness.
Maybe you want to address it later, or maybe that’s not who she is?
A curt “she’d never been the type for philosophical hand wringing” would naik down that aspect of her character.
What do you think?
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That’s a thoughtful observation, one I’ll follow up on, and thank you. Funny story … Linda reads my essays only under duress. I pleaded. She read it. Linda says the President seems bored by it all, the scene lacks energy, and surely I can do better. I think you’re both right. It’s my intent to develop the President’s character quite a bit more in this book, and I absolutely can write a more exciting opening for the story. I’m thinking a bit of space opera is called for. What say you?
If you want more energy, and I definitely agree that would make it better, I would say wake her up with something more interesting than a neural implant coming online.
Bored is one way to describe her. Or perhaps a bit crabby, which makes sense if she’s been awakened at 3 am for something so mundane.
I’m having trouble with a president who lacks a healthy sense of legacy. I want to know how she feels about the changes she’s making to US government. Has she wanted to do these things for a long time and now has the opportunity?
Had she envisioned reforms but never imagined they could or would happen on such a catastrophic scale?
I mentioned a healthy sense of legacy. What if she’s obsessed with the idea of legacy? The best characters have flaws, sometimes fatal. Their flaws often threaten their own objectives.
I say go for the space opera. You can always tone it down in revision if you need to. My bet is you won’t.