x Editorial Comments on Orphan Star by karen kimbrel

Orphan’s Search, Ch. 1.1 – Scott Carle

If you don’t get ‘Writer’s Digest’, I suggest you subscribe. Lots of the things I picked up as trouble spots are covered continuously in that magazine. It’s really an excellent tool.

My first impression, based only on this section, is that you’ve started an interesting and workable storyline. I think it’s interesting that you connected Alex’s survival with that of the Altairians. How Alex will benefit the Altairians is yet to be seen, but obviously, these Altairian troopers have a soft spot for kids and so, rescue young Alex and take him home with them.

Your plot premises are put together well; I like the idea of a compassionate man running the DNA experiments – usually, it’s some mad man or cold hearted bureaucrat – but this doctor cares about his kids and I can feel that he does. His actions are logical; they make sense. Same with the Altairian subplot. The scene in the alley, where they find Alex is nicely done, not too much, not too little.

You have a great sense of description, and use it well; I can see what you describe. There are a number of places, however, where those descriptions could be tightened up a little. The key here is to use the fewest number of words to get the idea across. Not an easy thing, believe me, but the effort usually pays off.

Have you ever seen the TV series “Above and Beyond”? If not, you can catch it on the SciFi channel some weekends. Your Altairian characters remind me very much of the series characters in that they have the same kind of grit; they do what they have to do to survive. I like them all, so far.

Your dialogue works pretty well 90 % of the time – a really good thing since most people have trouble with that. You just need to remember that you can’t write dialogue like you’d actually speak it. When people actually talk, they throw a lot of BS in with the important stuff. When you write dialogue, everything has to be important, either now or at a later point in the story. Can’t add too much BS as it slows the action down.

Grammatically, most of the problems I found involved punctuation. Either you to brush up on your punctuation or you just got lazy, because you wrote this at 3 a.m. (LOL) If this is a first draft, I’ll forgive it. If not, you’re in trouble. There are some problems dealing with paragraphing, probably because you just didn’t catch them. As a general rule of thumb, however, whenever you change from one subject to another, new paragraph. Whenever someone else speaks, new paragraph. Where dialogue is concerned, you can break up one person’s speech a little bit with some description (like He blew his nose.) and then continue with the speech. There will be times when you will want to turn that speech into more than one paragraph without anyone else saying a word. Also, if a section of prose seems too long, it’s a good idea to split it into two or more paragraphs.

Something else – don’t abbreviate words like ‘minute’. You did this once – the doctor was initiating bravo plan. Ah, just caught this. “Bravo” in bravo plan should be capitalized.

Comments and words of caution:

Size: Man, you think BIG. I mean BIG. I can’t repeat that enough. You use such HUGE numbers that it just boggles my mind. I really, really feel like you need to tone down the size of things. The sheer numbers of things in here is just hard to comprehend.

Altair 5 should be written Altair V. You are using actual stars/planets and so should use the current nomenclature, otherwise you’ll have to be typing out ‘five’ all the time. I’m curious here, Altair is a star in the constellation Aquila, the eagle. Did you quadrant out your empire using current star charts? If you did, that’s great because you’ll be able to reference actual stars in each quadrant that are familiar to the reader. If you didn’t, you might want to. (It wouldn’t do to put the remnants of Altair V next door to Arcturus) I tell you this because, if you don’t already know, the editors that buy our kind of fiction generally check these things out.

Do you realize that a gigaton nuke is equivalent to 1billion pounds of TNT? I had to look that up. The biggest nuke we have right now is a 10megaton or 1 million pounds of TNT in a little box. A 10MT that explodes in the air at about 3000 ft will literally destroy an 8-mile zone around it and effectively trash 21. I can see where a GT nuke or two would cause volcanic eruptions and dried up oceans. However, do you really think you’d need tens of thousands? (I wanted to see what estimates there were for how many 10 MT’s would be needed to kill the Earth but I couldn’t find anything. I looked up this info in “Weapons – An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D.” by The Diagram Group. I have lots of different reference books. Figured I’d need them one day.)

We humans must breed like rats. “8 billion people” (Altair V was a BIG planet) I’ll go with that – we aren’t so far away from that figure here, but “hundreds of thousands of scientists & techs” I think you are a little over-the-top here. That many scientists could never keep anything secret.

Not even the universe of Babylon 5 could put 25,000 warships into space. These baby’s are expensive, to build, maintain, and run. Somebody’s got a lot of money.

You did a huge info dump in the prologue, which is what it is for, in a way. I don’t think you really need the dialogue, it doesn’t really add anything except to break the monotony of the info dump. I think you should lose the dialogue and find a way to tighten up the background information. If there is any way possible, I’d try to work as much of the necessary back history into the story. (for example, have your ta’Kall remember what Altair V looked like the first time he saw it. You could have one of his subordinates be one of those people that survived and was rescued – and still has that chip on his shoulder.) There’s a ton of background history for Octogon, but most of it is not directly relevant to Dragon’s story. What is, I injected into the story when it was appropriate. You could do the same thing here, I think. (I say I think because I’ve only seen this small part so far.)

A word about made up names. If it’s easily pronounced, good. If not, not good. I haven’t the vaguest idea how to pronounce ‘Kj’arote’.

I noticed that you seemed to write most of this as you thought it, meaning you haven’t really thought about all the different segments and their placement. In this Ch 1.1, you have no set POV but that of narrator. You have 3 separate sections: the bar scene, the hospital scene, the alley scene. I would put the hospital scene first, then follow up with the bar/alley scene. It will mean cutting some stuff and adding some stuff to make it all blend, but chronologically, it will read better since the hospital & bar scenes are happening simultaneously and you want Alex to end up with the Altairians.

You make mention of the Altairian warships being on the ground. I get the feeling that these would be more like small fighters or transports and that the real warships would be space-bound. At the end you also state that their thousand ships covered hundreds of square kilometers. Remember Pearl Harbor? We were stupid to put all our ships in such a vulnerable position and we lost most of them. Same thing here. I’m also not sure you realize how big an area you’ve got covered. I figured at 1000 meters long and about 500 meters wide, that’s about three ships per every two square kilometers. For a 1000 ships, that’s 1500 square kilometers or 579 square miles. At 60 MPH, it would take almost 12 hours to get to the ship that farthest out. If you have all these ships on the ground, how many soldiers are we talking? 1.5 million? If the Emperor wanted to annihilate them, now would be the time. I used this as an example of the problems you are going to face with such big numbers.

Hey Scott,

Finished going over the rest of Ch 1 & 2. I’m posting the Ch 2 parts on the workshop though, need the credits.

As for Chapter 1, I have basically the same comments for part 2 and 3 as I did for part one.

I’m forgiving the punctuation since this is a first draft; I’m hoping you’ll catch most of those problems in your second draft.

The story is moving along nicely and, for the most part, is still holding my interest.
Your descriptions are quite good but there are some occassions where too much detail bogs down the action. More on that to follow.
Your characters are developing nicely.

I’m going to be brutally honest because I think you can take it. I’m just trying to point out the problems as I see them, problems that you probably can’t see because your are too close to the material.

Problem areas:

The sequence of events is a little off and I would advise you to go through this chapter in it’s entirety and pull out each separate scene for review. From beginning to end, you really don’t want more than 3 separate scenes per chapter – keeping up with them all gets a little confusing after a while plus the point of view keeps changing. Most every article or how-to-write piece will tell you to keep the same POV in the same chapter. You can do two with a line break between the POV’s to let the reader know you’ve changed, but in general, one POV per chapter.

In the first chapter, (all parts of it), you have: the prologue in narrator POV; the bar scene with ta’Kall & Talos, POV switches from narrator to Talos to ta’Kall; the hospital scene with Dr Araxos & Nazta in Araxos POV; then the children’s wardroom scene, vaguely Alex POV; then Alex’s escape & flight scene, Alex to soldiers POV; then a scene with Araxos (i assume he blew up the hospita)for 2 paragraphs in his POV; back to Alex in the city in his POV;then back to ta’Kall & Talos for the last 3 pages. That’s just Ch 1.1.

In Ch 1.2, you do the same kind of thing. Starting with Nivens in his office in his POV; Salazar, ta’Kall & Talos in the officer’s wardroom in I’m not sure whose POV; then in the infirmary, same POV; then ta’Kall on the bridge in his POV; back to the infirmary;12 hours later with ta’Kall in an observation blister(?); back to the bridge; onto the tarmac with the AG’s; etc.

This kind of flip-flopping continues throughout Ch 1 and Ch 2. Some of the information you mete out is really meaningless to the story, I know you loved writing it, but it does absolutely nothing as far as moving the story along. The prologue is an example. Better to start in the middle of action and relate what the reader needs to know, an that doesn’t mean they have to know it all. Just enough to get the idea. In Ch 1.2, a good deal of Major Salazar’s report on Alex is repetitive. Much of the whole section where (Lucifer is trying to help me here! He’s stealing my copy of the chapter) ta’Kall wants to verify the hospital’s explosion slows things down considerably. He’s a Colonel, he may be a nice guy, but make him act like a Colonel. He’s not going to ask no dude named Harris for a favor. He’s going to say “Get me the coordinates of that explosion and do it now.” And Vwalah there it will be. You spent a great deal of paper and wordage on Salazar’s need to test Alex. Half of that is unecessary.

A brief description of an AG would have been sufficient. 3 meters thick, by the way, is same as width. I believe you meant height here. I’d rather you not tell me all the wonderful things an AG can do, I’d rather see it in action. This is blatant info dump. You did the same thing with Sgt Mason and his nifty little weapon. That really slowed the story down.

What i advise you to do is print you 3 or 4 copies of each section and then cut them up into the separate scenes. Put all your Alex scenes together, put all your ta’Kall scenes together, put the hospital scenes together, etc. Next, go through each scene and highlight ONLY those parts that actually move the plot along. In actuality, there will be very little highlighted in regard to the whole manuscript because you need to leave off the extraneous descriptions. Third, pick a Point Of View that will do the best job of telling the story. (I skip, by the chapter, from POV to another because I have so much happening in my story in such a short time, that I felt it was the best method for me. Scar, however, has the majority of chapters in the first half of Octogon; Dragon has the most in the last half.)
Fourth, decide on an order of events.

IF IT WERE ME, I’d pick ta’Kall and Alex as my lead POV’s and split Ch 1 into 3 separate chapters: Alex running for his life and being found; ta’Kall finding him and deciding to keep him, life with ta’Kall & Talos.

IF YOU decide to continue as you are, then I would read up on POV how-to’s — the narrator or omniscient narrator in particular.
Whatever you decide on, you do need to go over each paragraph and make sure the reader (me) can tell what is going on, where it’s at, and who’s speaking. There are several places that are really confusing and ambiguous.

None of this, you know, going to be easy. Sometimes, we have to “kill our darlings”, those wonderful phrases or fantastic descriptions, because they just don’t fit. I have a particularly wonderful scene I wrote for Octogon where Scar catches Dragon in her heated pool and, after she throws him in and they have a short tussel, well, seduction rules. It’s a great scene but I had to cut it because it 1) did nothing for the plot and 2) served no other real purpose.

Enough on this. If you need help with this, I’ll be hanging on to the original stuff for a while. I’d be happy to assist.

RE: your note back today: I really would sit down and spend a week or so getting that history (that you’re keeping in your head) written down. You’ll be amazed at how many little things will be added and deleted as you go along, but doing this will put the majority of what you develop firmly in your mind so that when you are writing, you’ll know what has happened and what is or isn’t necessary for your plot. I probably had half my story written when I did mine and had to go back and change a bunch of stuff. But, I think my story is better for it. This is quite a process.

Okay, enough for now. Got to go & get some sleep. I’ll post the other ones tomorrow.

See ya,

Next commentary from her

Back to Orphan’s search – I’m glad you weren’t mad at me for my comments about the details. You are quiet right in that these kind of technical descriptions are reader preference. This is obviously a point where you like it and I can do without it. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t keep that open mind. With that said, you could tighten up those descriptions a little; make your word choices work for you and cut the wordage some.

You have succeeded in making your military family-like. That’s exactly how they felt to me. One great big happy family with a couple of black sheep thrown in (the would-be assassins). I will keep this in mind as I read further. The only reason I questioned this at is because my dad is retired Air Force, my husband and ex-Marine, one of my best friends is a retired Naval Lt. Commander, and some other close friends are Navy Seals. The guys in the Seal Teams are about as close to your type of military style as I’ve seen.

You and my husband have something in common – he was in a Marine Corp recon unit in Vietnam. (I think he missed being sent into the special teams as a sniper by about 4 rounds – that’s what put him into recon. He never did get to the helicopter repair schools they promised.) Did two missions over the DMZ. Lucky he didn’t get killed. When I met him he was in the Virginia Militia, recently retired from the Virginia Nat’l Guard.

Well, got a lot of work to do. I’ve been lax of late.