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So Confused – Best Way to Start a Story?

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Dragon Spawn Chronicles, Writing with tags , , , , , , , on February 11, 2017 by Dawn Ross

I just finished tweaking my first sci-fi novel, StarFire Dragons. I tweaked the first chapter based on some good advice from someone I consider a professional writer. She said that rather than  just jump right into the action, I need to ground my character in a normal world first. So if you look at my original and my revised 3 versions, you can see the difference. My original started out with the communications officer reporting a distress signal. My recent final version, previously reviewed by said professional, starts out with J.D. sitting on the bridge and wondering what the heck he was doing here. In a way, it establishes ‘his’ problem as a character and I feel that it helps people get to know him a little as well as get a feel for the setting. Then at about the 7th paragraph, we get into the action with the distress signal.

I recently presented this same finalized first chapter to others and several are saying I should jump straight into the action in order to grab the reader’s attention. So which is it? Do I ground the reader first or do I jump straight into the action where no one knows the characters, or even cares? Both sides make valid points.

Getting a story reviewed and getting feedback is a great way for writers to grow. But sometimes these mixed messages can be quite confusing.

What do you think? When you begin reading a book, what do you like best about the beginning? Do you prefer a stage setting first or do you like to dive right into the action?


Rewriting the First Chapter of StarFire Dragons Novel

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised, The Dragon Spawn Chronicles, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2016 by Dawn Ross

Serpent Spaceship

As you may know from my previous post, I am getting conflicting feedback on the first chapter of my sci-fi novel. Many of my beta readers liked how it just jumped into the action. These beta readers were regular readers. They weren’t writers or writing experts. When I did submit my first few chapters to someone considered as a writing expert, I was told that I needed to ground my character in his normal world first and give the readers a chance to get attached to him. So which is correct? A writing expert can’t be ignored, but neither can the genre of science fiction readers.

I’ve been doing some research. Here is a site that I found the most helpful – 6 Ways to Hook Your Reader From the Very First Line. Of the four things this helpful writer’s article says they find the most annoying in the first chapter, I committed two of them. I started with dialog and I introduced too many characters at once.

One of the six things this article suggested I do to hook the reader was to begin at a pivotal moment. This seems to conflict with the writing expert’s feedback I received. How can I possibly start with a pivotal moment if I’m taking time to ground my character in a normal world?

This article on hooking the reader has other suggestions that might help. I could make the reader wonder, I can create an interesting picture, I can introduce an intriguing character, I could start with an unusual situation, and/or I could begin with a compelling narrative voice. Let’s visit each of these options.

Make Your Reader Wonder

I think chapter 1 does a good job of making the reader wonder. Why are the Tredons running from a race of scavengers? What will J.D. find on the planet?

Create an Interesting Picture

I was told by many of my beta readers that this story has the feel of Star Trek. While many sci-fi readers probably love Star Trek, is this what I want? Perhaps I should try to create a world that is at least a little different from Star Trek. But how can I make it interesting? I’m at a bit of a loss here. Really, the only thing I can think of is to make the history a little different and focus more on the characters.

To make the history a little different, I took into consideration other feedback about how I used too many Earth terms in my story. Everyone in my story is human. Earth became uninhabitable many centuries ago. The human race traveled to other worlds, terraformed them, and started over. Starting over took time. Over many more centuries, the populations on these planets grew and the people evolved (or in some cases, devolved). Although space travel had been known in the past, they did not travel during this period. It wasn’t until they were fully developed again that they began to explore and seek one another out. That’s where the Prontaean Alliance comes in.

Of course, I won’t explain all this in the first chapter. But I will hint at it.

Introduce an Intriguing Character

One of my beta readers told me that Jori is the best developed character in the entire novel and that everyone else falls short. I’ve known this and I’ve been trying really hard to make J.D. just as interesting as Jori. I did this by adding his insecurity about his new position as commander because of the Kimpke incident. However, this seems to have made him weak-minded and not very compelling. I’m still brainstorming about this.

Start with an Unusual Situation

I think I’m on the right track with this one. I’ve got the reader wondering why the Tredons are running from a race of scavengers. But I think I need to enhance it a bit more. J.D. is wondering this, but I need to put more feeling into it.

Begin with a Compelling Narrative Voice

I rewrote the first chapter at one time to set the scene. I used a lot of flowery words. But a compelling narrative voice doesn’t just mean using flowery words. Since my story is written in close-third, the narrator is J.D. and J.D. isn’t a man of pretty words. So somehow, I have to catch the reader’s attention through J.D.’s voice.

Begin at a Pivotal Moment

This story isn’t just about how J.D. and Jori evolve from being enemies to being friends. It is also about how J.D. learns to fit in his role as commander. So my pivotal moment doesn’t have to be about how J.D. and Jori first meet. It can begin with J.D. feeling out of place.

Now that I have all this information, I’m going to try and tie it all together when rewriting the first chapter. I won’t start with dialogue. I’ll only introduce a few characters rather than several at once. I’ll try to create an interesting picture with J.D. being more intriguing with a compelling narrative voice. And I will try to make the pivotal moment be more character driven rather than action driven.

Stay tuned! I will try to get the first chapter rewrite for my novel posted next week. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your ideas on how I can make this story better.

Help – I Need Tips & Feedback for My Sci-Fi Story

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised, The Dragon Spawn Chronicles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2016 by Dawn Ross

Space Ship

I know you’ve only read up to chapter 30 of part one of my sci-fi story so far, but I am actually done writing the revised version. The revised version is not the final version, however. I have been given a lot of feedback from beta readers and so will be writing up a final version over the next month or two. But first, I need a little help from you.

Series Title?

First of all, I need to decide on the series title. I’ve been calling this the Kavakian Empire but I realized Kavakian may sound like Kevorkian, who is a U.S. doctor that assisted terminally ill patients in committing suicide. But Kavak is also Jori and Terk’s family name through their father, the emperor. Since all the books in this series will be about them, the Kavakian Empire makes sense. However, if it is not appealing, I can either change their family name or I can change the name of the series. What do you think?

Book One Title?

At first I was calling book one, Edge of the Dragon’s Shadow. But I didn’t think it sounded like a sci-fi. Then I remembered that Jori had fired a weapon called the StarFire. And I realized their serpent ship didn’t have a name (serpent is a type of ship, not a name), so I thought I would also call it StarFire. And since Jori and Terk’s father is also referred to as the Dragon Emperor, I though StarFire Dragons sounded interesting. But the word dragon also has a fantasy meaning. What do you think?

J.D.’s Name?

When I first wrote this, J.D. was named J.T. But then I realized J.T. sounded like James T., as in James T. Kirk. After going with J.D., it was pointed out to me that reading a name with initials is too jarring for a reader. And it can be confusing if J.D. is at the end of a sentence; meaning, do I type, “Hi J.D.” or “Hi J.D..” with two periods? So, should I change J.D.’s name again? If so, here are the names I am thinking: Jairo, which means a person who enlightens; Jovani, which means god is merciful; Jeff – short for Jeffrey and means peaceful; Jayvin, which doesn’t really have a meaning but I like how it sounds; Galen, which is very different but I like how it sounds and it means calm or peaceful, which J.D. is. What do you think of these names?

Names in General

Do you perceive the Alliance ship and crew as a military crew? I pictured them more like Star Trek where they can act in a military capacity, but they are also a diplomatic ship with civilians on board. But if they are viewed more as military, then should everyone be addressed by last names instead of first names, even when they are referring to themselves? So J.D. would call himself Hapker all the time and Robert would refer to himself as Arden. I personally don’t like this idea, but I have been being inconsistent. Bracht goes by his first name, but only because his last name is so hard to pronounce. Hanna Sharkey is sometimes called Hanna or Sharkey. There is a character in my second book named Harley Brahm and I refer to him as Harley because it sounds better. Jori and Terk’s crew are never defined by first or last names. Also, I worry that by addressing everyone by their last name that it will be difficult to distinguish their gender. What do you think?

Tech Ideas

I’m not a scientist and my comprehension of how even the most basic types of tech work eludes me. So I need some tech ideas I can add. I don’t want anything too complicated, but nor do I want it to be too simple. Also, I need better names for the tech items I did mention, like digiview, vid-lense, and others.

I’ve been told the Chekrosian’s ability to go through walls isn’t scientifically possible… or at least, they way I described it isn’t possible. I really need help with the tech ideas.

Accents or Ways of Speaking

I don’t want all my characters to sound the same so I need to differentiate the way each character speaks. I can do with with word choices, sentence structures, jargon, or with accents. With accents, though, I’ve been told people don’t like to read accents. I had created Jenna Stein with the intent of trying to have her speak with an accent, but it didn’t work well. I mentioned how she pronounces her w’s with a v sound, but if I typed it out like that, would it make it hard to read? “I vas vatching the boys and they vere acting veird.” I’d think this would be difficult to read… tiresome even. What do you think? Should I avoid having my characters speak with accents?

There are many other things I need to fix, but most of those I will need to figure out on my own. If you could help me with the above, I’d really appreciate it. Thank you for reading my science fiction saga (which started out as a novella but has turned into a full story). Keep reading every Saturday and be sure to follow my blog so you can find out when the book is finally done and published.

Dawn Ross


The Kavakian Empire Part One Chapter 11b – Revised

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised, The Dragon Spawn Chronicles with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2016 by Dawn Ross

The Kavakian Empire

A Space Opera by Dawn Ross

Part One – Starfire Dragons (provisional title)

Chapter 11b – Revised

(I wrote to chapter 18 and realized I almost forgot about Calloway. Oh, he’s in this story alright, but there is a huge gap between his first appearance and his second. So I thought it would be a good idea for me to insert another chapter with him in it. Luckily, even though I’ve currently written to chapter 18, I’ve only posted up to chapter 11. So I can slip Calloway in here just in the nick of time for all you. If you’re visiting here for the first time, go back and read chapters 1-11a of this science fiction novella. You can find them either by continuing to scroll down or by checking the categories in the column on the right.)

The volume in the lounge seemed louder when everyone at Mik’s table went silent as Shra approached with their drinks. She set each drink down with a friendly smile. His friends smiled and thanked her in return. He said nothing. After all, she was just doing her job. And he knew the wench didn’t like him anyway, so why waste the effort.

“Awe, come on, Mik,” Sindy said when Shra left. “You’re just saying that cause you got caught.” Her voice sliced through his eardrums. She was pretty enough, though her ass was a little bigger than he preferred. But the image of her rocking on top of him and shrilling like a limpkin turned him completely off.

He took a swig of his Wyndhill ale. He grimaced at the initial bitterness, then enjoyed the velvet sweetness that followed. “Y’all can’t tell me you didn’t want to say the same thing to that little slant-eyed monster.”

Frebt huffed from nostrils so big and wide that Mik could probably stick his big toes up in them. “Yeah, but we weren’t stupid enough to say it out loud.” The man slopped his non-alcoholic drink around as he spoke. Something about his body chemistry or some such sent him running to sick bay if he had more than a half glass. Poor bastard.

“And with the commander there, no less,” Bret added. He was the only one drinking wine.

The primmed up know-it-all thought he was better than everyone else here. But Mik needed a drink and didn’t care who he drank with.

“Come on,” he said, “I didn’t know he was there. Neither did any of you. Kinda messed up how he came to the little shit’s rescue and all, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Frebt huffed out of his nostrils again.

Finally, someone’s on my side. “I mean, what’s up with this guy anyway?”

“It does seem odd that the captain would commission someone who was nearly discharged and jailed,” Bret said.

“I think he’s kinda cute,” Sindy said.

He rolled his eyes at her. “You only like his rank, which he’s damn lucky to have.”

“I hear he got really high marks at the institute. Top of his class.”

“Seriously?” Maybe Frebt wasn’t on his side after all. “His major is security. Can you imagine a Pholan Peacekeeper having any skills in combat? Those guys are the galactic pussies of law enforcement.”

Bret choked on his wine. Sandy cackled, not even noticing all the heads that had turned at her outburst. Frebt sucked in a loud breath through his wide toe-slotted nose.

“Don’t let the commander hear you say that one,” Sandy said, voice surprisingly low.

He harrumphed. “All I’m saying is he doesn’t belong here. And neither does that little Tredon monster.”

“Yeah, well even the Rabni seems to be going along with it,” Frebt said.

“Another oddity. I thought Rabnoshk warriors despised Tredons.” Usually Bret’s formal haughty tone annoyed him. This time, not so much.

“Hey chaps,” a boyish voice said. It was big-eared Vigan. Short and creepy-looking Vigan. “Did you hear?”

“Hear what?” he and Frebt said at the same time, only his own tone was more annoyed. Either the nosy little munchkin overheard them talking, not good, or he had used his diminutive height to sneak close-by.

Vigan leaned in and lowered his voice. “Those Tredons we took on board … They’re wanted for murder.”

He scoffed. “Of course they are. Aren’t they all?”

“No. I mean there’s a warrant and everything.”

Mik’s annoyance slipped away, replaced by interest. Frebt and Sindy goaded the little man for more details. Vigan smiled as he spoke, as though enjoying all the sudden attention. He told them all about the ship they’d encountered and about how the warrant was for the Tredon boys.

“No friggin way,” Sindy said loudly.

“I can’t believe the little shit is still allowed to walk around freely,” he added.

“If this is true,” Bret said, ever the pragmatic uppity bastard, “then why didn’t the captain turn them over?”

Vigan shrugged. “I didn’t hear that part.”

Mik slammed down his glass. A slop of ale splashed his hand. “This is going too far. We have to do something.”

“What can we do?” Frebt asked.

He let out an exasperated breath. “I don’t know yet. But we’ve got to do something.”

“Perhaps there is more to this than we know,” Bret said.

He twisted his mouth and scowled at the man. Uppity prig. “I know all I need to know about those fucking brutes. They killed two of my comrades during our first assignment out of the institute, and nearly killed me as well. And if you think that little runt wouldn’t kill any of us if he had half the chance, you’re a bunch of idiots.”

Bret said nothing. Neither did anyone else. The awkward silence lingered and his drink suddenly tasted sour. Just another fucking day ruined by that murderous slant-eyed space-thug. He had to do something. He didn’t know what yet. But he’d figure it out soon enough.


I’d love to hear some constructive criticism. Please leave a comment below. Praise would be most welcome as well.

(This sci-fi saga is protected by copyright) Copyright April, 2016 by Dawn Ross

You may share this sci-fi novella so long as you link back to this website and mention, The Kavakian Empire by Dawn Ross.

The Kavakian Empire – Part One Chapter 18

Posted in The Dragon Spawn Chronicles with tags , , , , on April 4, 2015 by Dawn Ross

The Kavakian Empire
A Space Opera by Dawn Ross
Part One – First Encounter
Chapter 18

(The first chapter of “The Kavakian Empire” can be found by following the link under Categories in the right hand column. You can also find the first chapter by looking for August 2014 under Archives.)

“Jori, I’m really sorry about what just happened,” J.T. said with sincerity. “This was not supposed to happen at all, I promise you.” Jori’s eyes burned angrily. “You know I’m telling the truth,” J.T. added.

“If I hadn’t been here, that man might have killed my brother,” Jori said heatedly through clenched teeth.

“I know. I’m sorry, I really am,” J.T. said. “I know some of us hate more strongly than others, but I didn’t expect anyone to take it so far.”

“How can I trust you now? How can I trust anyone? Who will try to kill my brother next? Will it be you?”

“That’s not fair, Jori,”J.T. replied with a hint of rebuke. “I supported your suspicion. I backed you up against my own crew member.”

Jori looked away. J.T. let him think about it for a bit, and stepped out of the room to speak to security. “Has someone alerted the captain?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir. He’s on his way here now,” one of the officers replied.

“Good. Thank you,” J.T. said.

When he went back into the room, Jori no longer looked angry. But there was something else in the boy’s eyes.

“What happened in Gereva,” J.T. asked.

Jori hesitated. He looked down to his feet, then to the side again. J.T. didn’t think he was going to answer, but he finally met J.T.’s eyes and said, “I killed them. I killed that man’s family.” He swallowed hard and looked away guiltily again.

J.T. felt his chest tighten. “What?” he asked in astonishment. “How?”

Jori looked down at his feet and spoke in a low voice. “It was three years ago. My father directed an aerial battle over a small space station called Gereva. He allowed my brother and I watch. At some point he asked us if we’d like to help by firing torpedoes at space station. He’d never allowed us to participate in a real battle before so we eagerly agreed. We . . .”

J.T.’s shock turned into dread. He put a comforting hand on Jori’s shoulder and knelt down so he could look into Jori’s eyes. Jori was trying hard not to cry. “It wasn’t your fault,” J.T. said.

“It was,” Jori replied. The tears welled up and began to fall down his cheeks. “We had fun doing it. We even had a competition to see who could make the biggest explosion.”

J.T. swallowed hard. “Oh, Jori,” he said sadly. “You didn’t know what you were doing,” he tried to say reassuringly.

Jori shook his head as if to agree. “We learned, though. After our soldiers secured the space station, our father took us inside. There were so many people, women, chi . . .” Jori suppressed a sob.

J.T. moved to comfort him, but Jori put up his hand to hold him back. “I could feel the ones that were still alive,” Jori said.

“You didn’t know, Jori,” J.T. said again. “Your father did this, not you.”

“I’m a criminal,” Jori said, looking earnestly into J.T.’s eyes. “You should take me into custody and let me answer for my crime.”

“You’re not a criminal,” J.T. replied as he rubbed Jori’s arm consolingly. “You couldn’t have understood what you were doing. I know you are really mature for your age, but you are still naive in many ways.”

“I understood when we walked through the station,” Jori replied.

“I know you did,” J.T. replied. “You learned something then, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Jori said.

“You came to understand the consequences of such actions and you won’t want to do it again, right?”

“No, I won’t want to. But my father will want me to. I may not have a choice,” Jori replied sadly.

“Someday you will,” J.T. said. Jori nodded in reply.
Jori was wiping his eyes when Doctor Jerom approached the doorway and motioned for J.T. to come talk to him.

When J.T. followed the doctor to his office, Captain Arden was already there.

“How’s Jori taking this?” the captain asked.

“He was angry, but I think he’s calmed down now,” J.T. replied.

“That’s good,” he said. “What happened?”

J.T. explained what had occurred with Laren, including Laren’s reluctance.

“How did Jori know?” the captain asked curiously.

J.T. glanced at the doctor and decided that even though Jori didn’t want him to tell anyone but the captain, that telling Doctor Jerom was acceptable. “He can sense emotions.”

“He’s a reader?” Captain Arden said with surprise.

“Not like Liam,” J.T. said almost defensively. Readers like Liam were required to register with the Alliance, but not readers like Jori. J.T. had looked into the Alliance laws to make sure. They distinguished the differences just as Jori had explained. Since Jori’s ability didn’t invade other people’s minds, his ability was not considered a violation of privacy. But still, J.T. realized he should have told the captain. “Jori only just told me the other day that he can only get a simple sense of what someone might be feeling.”

“I see,” the captain replied in a tone that suggested they would discuss later why J.T. didn’t tell him about Jori’s ability earlier. “So he sensed Laren was up to something?”

“Yes,” J.T. replied. “Was he? Was Laren up to something?” he asked turning to the doctor.

“I’m not sure what was in the syringe yet,” Doctor Jerom said. “But whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t hippoceretine.”

“So Laren was trying to harm Terk,” J.T. said with a regretful sigh. Jori’s reaction made J.T. suspicious, but he didn’t want to really believe Laren would do such a thing. Now, he had no choice but to believe it.

“It appears so,” the captain said with a hint of regret.

“I think,” Doctor Jerom said, “Laren has tried this before.”

“When Terk nearly died the other day?” J.T. asked.

Doctor Jerom nodded. “If you don’t mind, Captain, I’d like to run a few more tests.”

“Certainly, Doctor,” the captain replied. “Commander, I need to apologize to Jori.”

With that, all three left the room. Doctor Jerom went one way while J.T. and the captain went to Terk’s room. Jori was sitting by the bedside and holding his brother’s hand. Jori’s eyes were still a little red, but it wasn’t noticeable that he’d been crying.

When the captain entered the room, Jori stood up and stood formally before the captain.

“Jori,” the captain greeted. “I’m so very sorry about what just happened. I assure you that I will do everything I can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“I’m sure you know now that it isn’t naivety that makes me believe you, Captain,” Jori said formally.

“Commander Hapker told me of your ability,” the captain replied.

“Good,” Jori said tersely. “Because if I didn’t know you were telling the truth about this incident, if I didn’t believe you truly meant to protect my brother, this conversation would be going very differently.”

J.T.’s eyes bulged at how blunt Jori was being and at how humble the captain was in response. “I understand, Swent Prince, and I’m glad you know I am telling the truth. I truly regret this incident.”

Jori responded by nodding curtly.

When Captain Arden left, J.T. gave Jori a look. “You could have been a little more polite to him, you know. It wasn’t his fault.”

“He’s the captain, isn’t he?” Jori said, not really asking. “His fault or not, it is his responsibility.”

“And he is taking responsibility,” J.T. reminded him a hint of sternness.

“I know,” Jori softened. “Look, J.T. I know you and I have come to a better understanding of one another. But I still need to keep my guard up. I can’t afford to keep exposing my weaknesses.”

“Being upset about your brother is not a weakness,” J.T. replied unassumingly.

“Such sentiment is weakness. Emotion is weakness,” Jori said.

“Emotion in itself is not a weakness. Losing control of your emotions, however, is. It is about control of your emotions, not about elimination of your emotions.”

“You know how I feel about my brother,” Jori said. “If you wanted to, you could use that against me.”

“There are people in this world who would do such a thing. But it doesn’t make you weak,” J.T. replied. “Having compassion for others is a good thing. If you don’t, if you don’t care, then you’re just a bully.”

“I’m supposed to be a bully. That’s what being a Kavak is all about.” Jori said, but not sounding like he really believed it.

“Is that what your father tells you?” J.T. asked. “I think he’s wrong. There are better ways to lead than to bully people.”

“Maybe,” Jori replied. “But if you weren’t who you are. If I were on another ship, perhaps, my emotions would have left me vulnerable.”

“Your sentiment for your brother just saved his life. And your brother obviously has emotions for you as well, since he saved your life when your ship crashed,” J.T. said recalling the video he had seen of Terk protecting his brother. “Together, you and your brother are stronger because of your emotions.”

Jori didn’t reply, but he was obviously thinking about it.

“I can’t deny there are times when it is best to keep your emotions to yourself,” J.T. added, “but you shouldn’t make yourself numb to them.”

(This story is protected by copyright) Copyright April, 2015 by Dawn Ross