Monday, September 8, 2014

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Fife

Name: Dustin Fife
Genre: New Adult Science Fiction
Title: The Nexus

Quincy Sturgess—dead. My wife and child—gone. Humanity is without intellect. What else must I suffer to atone for my careless comment? But I can’t give up. Quincy died for this.

Journal Entry from Gene “the Ancient,” dated four years after the Genetic Apocalypse.


President Akram of the Malkum marched down the hallway, his stride long and brisk, traveling with the vitality of a much younger man. People would guess him to be less than half his age. Or less, for the man was 243 years old.

Frozen in time--an immortal among mortals. Gray peppered his slick, black hair, yet he looked young—smooth skin with a hint of wrinkles, blue eyes with an intense gaze, and the build of a lightweight boxer.

Akram cleared his throat.

Spencer Burton leaped from his chair, nearly spilling his potato chips. Akram clenched his teeth. After centuries, he grew tired of people like Spencer—men who coasted, waiting, reacting. Had Akram reacted 200 years ago when nuclear winter threatened the world, Spencer's progenitors would have died, leaving no chance for this plump little man to live.

Spencer wiped perspiration from his blond eyebrows. “Sir.”

Akram nodded toward the door. “Custodial closet?”

“Yes, sir.” Spencer waddled to shift his massive frame.

“I assume you didn’t summon me to inspect maintenance records.”

“No, sir.”

Spencer hobbled into the room. Akram followed, pushing aside cobwebs.

“Sorry about the dust.” Spencer hacked. “This room probably hasn’t been touched for centuries.”

Akram coughed, side-stepping a toppled shelf, empty cleaning bottles, and a desiccated mop. The stale air smelled of molding carpet and insect carcasses, garnished with a dash of mouse crap.

Akram scowled. “I hope this has a point.”

“You’ll want to see this, sir.” Spencer pointed to the vent.

“A vent?”

“It’s what’s behind it that’s interesting.”

Spencer removed the gridded cover and shone a flashlight down a dirt tunnel. Akram bent. The light disappeared into darkness.

He furrowed his brow. “What…?”

“It’s about 100 yards long. It leads to a room with computers, electrical cords, blueprints, journal entries. But the strangest thing was the newspaper clippings. These clippings—they’re centuries old.”

Akram raised an eyebrow.

“And…” Spencer grabbed a spiral-bound notebook. The wires were bent, and the cover had nearly separated from the binding. The faded ink bled into the yellowed pages. Spencer thumbed through the book and pointed to text.

April 18th, 2042. The rebellion begins.

Akram’s eyes widened. Sergeant Drakes—had he been right after all? Could there be a rebellion?

“It seems that Sergeant Drakes was right,” said Spencer.

Akram shook his head. It couldn’t be. The whole story was too unlikely. And he’d worked too damned hard to see the world fall to ruins again. Another rebellion meant more war, and more war meant death.

He thought of those he’d chosen to forget. Over centuries, the sting of their deaths hadn’t diminished—Paul, Jeanine, Skyler.

And Adam Gianni.

Ancient friends and family members who had died in the war—killed by weapons developed using his damned research.

War wouldn’t come again.

Akram stood. “How long have you known about this?”

“Couple days.”

“And why haven’t I heard anything before?”

“We—” Spencer cleared his throat. “We wanted to be sure.”

Akram scowled. As Spencer shifted his weight, he resembled an elephant side-stepping a rodent.

“Need I remind you, there’s only one man who was alive when they formed their little rebellion?” Akram threw his hands in the air. “Dammit, Spencer.”

He paced the dusty room. A rebellion? It was impossible. The entire world was dead of intellect. But if it began from within? And they escaped unnoticed?

He stopped pacing. The faint outline of a memory tugged at his awareness—an event, long forgotten. Escaped unnoticed. Yes, there was a man once—a man who had died trying to escape, or so they had thought. Yet he returned, only to die again. What was his name?

He shut his eyes, focusing on the thought. Two hundred years of memories flitted through his mind, like a swarm of bacteria-infested flies. Attempting to retrieve one thought among the billions was—

His breath caught. He smiled. “Quincy Sturgess!”

“Pardon, sir.”

“Quincy Sturgess. He’s our dissenter.” Akram marched toward the door. Spencer remained frozen, his mouth gaping.

“Where’s Sergeant Drakes?” Akram asked.

Spencer followed, struggling to keep up. “H-he’s been detained. At level one, sir.”

“I want to see him. Now.”

“Yes, sir.”

“In the mean time, find out everything you can about Quincy Sturgess. And search the tunnel and room for anything that will help us hunt down this rebel group. Do a background check on everyone who worked here 200 years ago. Search security personnel, scientists, janitors, everything. And double the number of men searching for this rebel group.”

“Um sir, I believe we’ve exhausted recruits from Fahrquan.”

“Then recruit outside Fahrquan.” Akram stopped walking, bending toward Spencer. “This group must be found.”

Akram turned and marched down the hallway.

“President,” said Spencer.

Akram stopped and lifted his head without turning to face him.

“Sir, did you want us to destroy the tunnel?”

“No. Let them think their secret is safe.”


Cole grunted as Suta jumped on his back.

“Wake up, Coe.”

Cole stretched. “It’s Cole. Collllllllllla.”


“No. Colllll.”

“Coe…” The boy cleared his throat. “…el.”

“Close enough.” Cole spun and lifted the little villager. The boy giggled.

“Wets count,” Suta said.

Cole chuckled. “You wanna count, huh?”


Cole gazed at the rising sun. The orange light peaked over the evergreens, casting long shadows across the meadow. He inhaled the crisp morning air.

Suta hovered above him. The sunlight reflected off his light green eyes and illuminated his olive skin in warm light. Like the rest of the villagers, his tattered clothes were caked with dirt.

“Alright,” Cole turned to lay face-down. “Let’s count.”

The boy jumped on his back. Not for the first time, Cole half-regretted teaching the boy to count this way. It had been fine when he could only count to ten.

But now?

“You ready?” Cole asked.

The boy wrapped his arms around Cole’s neck.

“Not too tight,” Cole said. His voice sounded like a frog with a cold.


Cole began doing pushups.

“One. Two. Free.” Suta giggled. “Faster, faster!”

“Four, fife, six.”

“I’m getting tired, buddy.”

“Seven. No yer not. Eight. Nine.”

“It hurts!” Cole said.

The boy giggled. “Ten. Weven. Twelf. Faster, faster!”

Cole pushed faster.

Suta squealed. “Tenty. Tenty one. Tenty two.”

“Twenty,” Cole shouted.

“Tee-wenty free. Tee-wenty four.”

Sweat began dripping from his face.

“Firdy. Firdy-one. Firdy-two.”

Never once had Cole failed the boy—as high as he could count, that’s the number of pushups he did. But Suta was learning to count faster than Cole’s body could keep up…


  1. Very nice! You're writing flows well and it's smooth.

    You do have a tendency to repeat words: Quincy Sturgess—dead.... Quincy died for this. >>> Maybe Quincy Sturgess—dead. My wife and child—gone. Humanity is without intellect. What else must I suffer to atone for my careless comment? Then you use "less" twice very close together in the next paragraph.

    Gray peppered his slick, black hair, yet he looked young—smooth skin with a hint of wrinkles, blue eyes with an intense gaze, and the build of a lightweight boxer. >> I like the description here, but it's telling. Could he fix his hair and then you mention its coloring? Or rub his chin and then you can talk about his skin. To make it more organic.

    More repetition: Sergeant Drakes—had he been right after all? Could there be a rebellion?

    “It seems that Sergeant Drakes was right,” said Spencer.

    When you switch over to Cole, I can't picture their surroundings. It's important to establish setting early in a scene.

    I'm being rather nitpicky, but it's because I think this is really close. I'd keep reading.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi Dustin,
    You have developed a lot of intrigue in these first few pages. I definitely am curious about what is happening and the tidbits of information are making me think hard. The dialogue and descriptions make the reading smooth!

    I wonder about the balance between getting your reader to think hard and giving a little more information to help your reader feel competent. Personally, I wanted to feel like I had a little bit more of a chance. Maybe the dates would have helped, as I wasn’t sure if the story started in 2042 or what the 200 year gap was--maybe a little more about the Rebellion, maybe a little bit about this guy Drake. On the other hand, I would read more just to try to figure out what it going on.

    Spencer confuses me. He leaps from his chair, he waddles, and he hobbles, but he has a massive frame and then he is a plump little man. I don’t get what he looks like and I am trying to...

    garnished with a dash of mouse crap is a visual to me, but you were going with the smells of the place. THis is borderline a line edit, but I thought I’d put it out there.

    Frozen in time--an immortal among mortals. Gray peppered his slick, black hair, yet he looked young—smooth skin with a hint of wrinkles, blue eyes with an intense gaze, and the build of a lightweight boxer...this passage seemed like a lot of telling and slowed down the dialogue and action. You might want to think about weaving the details into other places.

    I don’t understand the room behind the vent. If they can’t see it, then how did Spencer discover it, or at least know what is in there. Was the notebook in there and he took it out? How did he decide on just the notebook as opposed to the newspapers?

    I have not read adult science fiction in years, so it may be that the genre wants to be confusing at first. For me as a realistic fiction reader, I’m a little uncomfortable with being so confused. That being said, point #1, I’d read on to see if I could figure some things out...

    Hope this helps--your comments on my work were great and I really appreciated them!

  4. Right away, I knew this was science fiction, which is to be expected when you're leaning more toward an adult audience. The world, the characters, the little things you choose to include in your descriptions all work to build a really good opening here. Your writing is really solid, and there are far more good things here than bad things. Actually, I'm not sure there are even any bad things :) just a few things that could be better.

    1. Your descriptions. They're very adult--which seems to be a funny thing to say, but I feel like I've read the type of descriptions you give in adult fantasy/sci-fi more than I do in YA. I'm not sure where NA tends to lean, and it's probably your choice, but I feel like you could use these strong telling descriptions to paint a preliminary picture (like the first description about Akram) and then use your great story-telling abilities to weave in other details (his hair color, his eye color). Nicole and Melanie also mentioned this, I think :)

    2. Characterization. I feel like there are a few lost opportunities here to do more characterization. Characters nodding, scowling, furrowing brows, scowling, eyes widening... sometimes it's not very unique. I think you're very imaginative, so I'd like to see these characters have a few gestures that are distinctly them.

    3. Backstory. While it's never good to have too much backstory up front, I was a bit confused about this rebellion. At first I thought the discovery was of an ancient rebellion (~200 years ago--the yellowed paper, the centuries old circuitry) that had some part in starting the last major war. Then I thought maybe this was an active rebellion ("this group must be found"). I also have no idea WHO Akram is. Is he an important person? In charge of something? A president of a company or a nation or a country? I'm just not sure I'm getting everything out of this scene that you want me to. I'm going to echo this sentiment for the second scene. While it's adorable, I have no idea what's going on, who Cole is, where they are, or how it has anything to do with the first scene. I can't even tell if we're in the same world. I think you could be more clear and straightforward with the information you want us to know.

    I'm also going to be a broken record on this sci-fi front. You're right that my piece has at least one to many names! I'm going to throw that advice to you, too :) Akram, Spencer, Drake, Quincy, (Paul, Jeanine, Skyler, Adam), and at least two places (Mulkum, Fahrquan), for just one scene. While some of these names are common, I'm not sure who I'm supposed to remember.

    Overall, I thought this was really strong. Part of my need for more information may correlate with my desire to know more about the story, which says a lot about the ways that this opening ARE working. I'm looking forward to your revision :)

  5. Hey, Dustin

    Thanks for submitting your work. What I’m looking for in these first few pages is a sense of place, a character’s personality and a hint of a larger goal or conflict.

    I didn’t really feel the story until you started the dialogue between Akram and Spencer.

    It looks like this story has a lot of world-building. Try to parse it out a little at a time, so readers don’t get overwhelmed with character names and history.

    I’m curious to know what the rebellion is all about and also the pages toward the end with Cole.

    I think you’re onto something here. Just be careful with the info-dumps. Also, you have a nice voice but don’t try to describe every physical aspect of a character before we get to know them. You’ve got a couple hundred pages to do that so take your time!

    Good job.

  6. Hi Dustin,
    I was immediately intrigued by the rebellion and the secret tunnel, so great job! Holding your reader’s interest is the most important thing in the first 5 pages. You’ve also established that this is the future, and science fiction, which is also great. But there are a few things you could work on. I know this is NA, but the voice sounds very mature. Also, I had to re-read some passages a few times, because I was confused. For example:

    “Spencer Burton leaped from his chair, nearly spilling his potato chips. Akram clenched his teeth. After centuries, he grew tired of people like Spencer—men who coasted, waiting, reacting. Had Akram reacted 200 years ago when nuclear winter threatened the world, Spencer's progenitors would have died, leaving no chance for this plump little man to live.”

    Why did Akram not react – and why would it have changed the course of events so much? If this is meant to be another mystery, be clearer. And also, a few mysteries are great – but there a quite a few in these 5 pages, making it hard for the reader to keep track, and to understand the significance of each – and keep track of them. The amount of info muddles down the story. You have plenty of time to add to it – so think about narrowing it down, and saving some of the questions or back story for later, focusing on what is most crucial to the story in this valuable real estate!

    I also agree with Ron -- I think there is a bit too much description which interrupts the flow of the story. Try to keep the tension and the mystery at the forefront, that’s what will hook your reader.

    Good luck!

  7. Hi Dustin,

    I'm gonna start by saying that I can be pretty hard on writers when I offer critiques, so bear in mind that if it seems like I'm a big ol' meanie, it's because I want to see your story be the absolute best it can be.

    So on the one hand, there's a lot going on in these pages, but on the other, it also feels like there's not quite enough to really establish your story in order to hook the reader. The first five pages are so important because that's your opportunity to make the reader care, to demand that they keep reading. As it stands, I'm not sure your opening is doing that just yet.

    I think one of the chief issues here is the lack of a foundation upon which your world is built. You throw a lot at the audience with little to ground them. There's the rebellion that might be ancient but might also be current, the curious issue of Akram's age, the nuclear winter and/or apocalyptic war, the centuries-old notebook bearing secrets, the implication of weapons research that backfired, and a whole bunch of dead people. That's a lot to digest. It might be better to reveal these events organically over a longer period of time than trying to cram them into the story's opening.

    What's also confusing to me is the matter of "intellect." I'm not sure what that means in the context of this story or if it has some kind of alternate meaning in the world of The Nexus, but that's another thing that might need to be defined before the reader can truly appreciate the stakes of the situation.

    And on the subject of characters, both alive and dead, I don't really have a sense of who any of these people are or what their positions are in the world in which they inhabit. You can tell me that these deaths were tragic, but I can't be expected to care about them right off the bat. You have to build that relationship between those characters so that Akram's mourning feel genuine and also relatable to the reader.

    I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of the prose at this stage, but I will say that some of the writing, especially in the beginning, feels a bit choppy. There's quite a bit of "Akram does this, Spencer does that" that doesn't benefit the flow of the scene.

    It's hard to judge just from this small sampling, but if I were you, I would really ask myself if the story is starting in the right place. I get the sense that you're trying to introduce a lot of concepts here that'll play big roles eventually, but I think it might be worthwhile to consider what and/or who is the beating heart of this tale. I don't think the italicized portion at the beginning is doing you any favors and I wonder if it can't be cut without sacrificing anything. It feels like forced foreshadowing right now.

    I liked Cole right from the start, and I like that I got a sense of his personality right away (and this felt more NA than anything else). I didn't get that with the Akram scene. Your opening has to seduce the reader, not simply inform them of the relevant facts. I always say that it's not plot that drives a story, but people. I'm not saying you can't start with Akram's introduction, but it might be worth considering why the reader should care about him and his part in this narrative. Don't worry so much about squeezing all the facts in. Let the facts evolve organically. Your opening needs to lure the reader into the world and make them want to stay there.

    Good luck and I can't wait to see where this goes!