Sunday, March 8, 2020

1st 5 Page March Workshop - Knightly

Name: Rae Knightly
Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction and Adventure
Title: Ben Archer and the World Beyond

Ben Archer swung his feet over the edge of the spaceship and dipped his toes into the crystalline waters of French Polynesia. The transparent sea allowed him to admire every detail of the pure white sand five feet below the surface. A tiny island curved out of the water to his right and he gazed at the surreal sugar-coated beach, tropical bushes and coconut palms, suddenly feeling like a model posing for one of those five star tropical cruise pamphlets that would come in the mail.

His own cruise ship, however, outshone any exotic transport offered by exclusive tourism offices. He had just travelled to the island of Muto Oné in an extraterrestrial vessel–captained by a man who came from another planet–and it now hovered a few inches from the calm waters, its dark grey surface unreflecting of the scattered clouds in the bright blue sky.

“Mesmo, are we going, or what?” Ben said, throwing an annoyed look at his alien friend. He’d been waiting to make this trip for weeks: one among many amazing destinations he and Mesmo had planned to visit over the weekends, yet this one had felt special. The thirteen-year-old couldn’t wait to discover the coral reefs off Motu Oné, one of a string of islands in the remote South Pacific Ocean, of which the largest was Tahiti.

Yet, now that he was finally here, Ben had to admit he had gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. He turned, slightly irritated that Mesmo hadn’t replied, and found the alien man moving his fingers swiftly over a handful of hovering screens.

“Give me a moment,” Mesmo said without taking his eyes off the flowing information.

Ben knew Mesmo was reviewing the data given to him by one of the Wise Ones, who had last studied the area five years ago. “I thought you’d done that already?” he said, as he picked up one of his fins and fought to pull the sticky rubber over his foot, deciding he needed to get active in order to stop paying attention to his grumpy mood.

The tall alien didn’t answer–clearly too absorbed with his task.

Ben didn’t insist. Instead, he grimaced as he struggled to put on the second fin.

Mesmo clapped his hands together. “Right!” he said. “Let’s do this.” He tossed his flip-flops aside and removed his Hawaiian t-shirt, revealing his perfectly tanned torso.

Ben watched him from the corner of his eye, as he became seriously offended with the uncooperative fin. He noticed that the roots of Mesmo’s hair had turned white.

Mom’s gonna need to dye his hair brown again.

Ben always pointed out when this happened, because Mesmo’s otherwise bleach-white hair and exceptional height could make the alien stand out like a beacon in a crowd.

Mesmo stood beside him. He placed his hands on his hips and admired the stunning Polynesian scenery. “I don’t get it,” he said.

“Get what?” Ben grunted, then whooped inwardly as his foot slid into the stupid fin.

“I don’t get why humans have forgotten how to live under the ocean.”

That caught Ben’s attention. “Huh?” He looked up, briefly noting that the tropical imprint on Mesmo’s swim trunks resembled the island outside the spaceship.

“The A’hmun… you know, your ancestors? Well, if my people’s history records are correct, the A’hmun built many cities under the vast oceans of their planet, Taranis.”

“What happened? To Taranis, I mean?” Ben asked, as he adjusted the straps holding his air tank in place.

Mesmo shrugged. “Oh, from what I’ve heard, the planet has been uninhabitable for centuries, ever since the end of the Great War of the Kins.” He looked down at Ben and added apologetically, “I guess my people didn’t give it much of a chance of survival.”

Ben felt a ripple course down his spine at the idea that an alien civilization had the power to wipe out life from an entire planet.

“Anyway,” Mesmo said. “Are you ready? There’s a big coral colony that way”–he pointed straight ahead–“and a five thousand foot drop to the left–the entrance to the Pacific Ocean. Might be interesting…”

“No, thanks,” Ben cut in, slipping his mask over his head and eyes. “I’m not going there. I’m not trained for the deep yet. And besides, it would take me hours to decompress.” He tapped his pressure gauge with his fingers.

Mesmo flicked a hand at him. “Come on, Benjamin, get rid of that cumbersome old diving stuff. You know my power to manipulate water is strong enough to let us both breathe under the sea. You’d feel much lighter.”

Ben sighed, annoyed, “We’ve been over this already; I have to learn to do this on my own. It’s not like you’re going to be around every time I need your water skill. And this old diving stuff–as you say–is the best my backward little civilization has got for now, so deal with it.”

Mesmo grinned. “Suit yourself,” he said, then executed a perfect dive into the transparent sea, his body hardly making a splash when it sliced through the water.

“Show off,” Ben muttered, before shoving the snorkel in his mouth. He placed his hands at the edge of the door and lifted his weight to get closer to the opening. But his right hand slipped on the wet surface, causing him to lose his balance. Before he could help himself, Ben’s weight dragged him sideways, straight out of the spaceship. The side of his head hit the water and shoved liquid into his mask, while he somehow ended up upside-down with his head in the sand and his left flipper sticking out of the sea in the most embarrassing way. Stinging salt water entered his nose, sending tears to his eyes. He flailed, desperately searching for a decorous way to straighten himself. He pushed at the sand and broke the surface, tearing at the mask and snorkel. 

Mesmo stared at him quizzically, raising an eyebrow. “Are you ok?”

“Don’t you dare laugh,” Ben snapped, wiping the water from his face.

“I’m not,” Mesmo said innocently, the corner of his mouth curling.

Ben wanted to say something snarky, but just then a familiar rushing sound filled his ears. He raised his hands, already expecting them to shine a clear blue. Trying to ignore the horrible aftertaste of sea water in his mouth, he took a slow deep breath, closed his eyes and felt his alien translation skill take hold of his senses. Searching left and right, Ben frowned when he couldn’t find any other sign of life. Yet, unmistakably, a tiny voice whispered in his mind.

Wading through the water, he reached the front of the hovering spaceship and found the source that had activated his skill. A small animal, shiny black in colour, flopped around the surface of the water, clearly in distress. He reached out to it with his thoughts.

Hello? Are you in trouble?


  1. Very interesting! I’ve not read a lot of (any) science fiction, so this was a very unique read for me!
    The writing was super age appropriate for middle grade. There was plenty of action to keep my interest the whole time. Even the mention of the spaceship in the first sentence made me do a double take. (in a good way!)
    You did a good job of describing the ocean and beach. I’d love more description regarding the spaceship itself. I imagined it must be pretty small since he can dangle his toes off the edge into the water, but then the description of it being nicer than a cruise ship made me think otherwise. Also, he could see Mesmo at the controls, so I’m curious as to the relationship of their locations are to one another if they can see each other from the control room and the outside of the ship.
    Mom’s gonna need to dye his hair brown again. – I liked this sentence a lot! It let me know that Ben’s mom is cool with him flying around in this spaceship with the alien Mesmo. She seems like she is close with Mesmo too. I’m immediately comfortable with Ben’s friendship with him.
    Just to confirm, Mesmo is a humanoid alien and the only difference is he is really tall and has bleach-white hair? (Not a criticism, I just want to know if that’s what I’m supposed to be imagining from your description. I’m pretty sure it is.)
    You used transparent water twice in these chapters. Maybe replace one of them with a synonym?
    “But (Take out But and capitalize His) his right hand slipped on the wet surface, causing him to lose his balance. Before he could help himself, Ben’s weight dragged him sideways, straight out of the spaceship. The side of his head hit the water and shoved liquid into his mask, while he somehow ended up upside-down with his head in the sand and his left flipper sticking out of the sea in the most embarrassing way.” – Comical – a great passage. I was confused by the sand part though, since he had just been dangling his feet over 5-foot-deep water. Maybe make it clearer that he is close enough to the beach for that to happen.
    Overall, I’m interested, especially to find out what Ben is talking to at the end of this passage and what the problem is. Translation powers? Awesome! I want to read more!

    1. Hi Laura,
      Thank you for your helpful feedback. I'm glad you're interested so far. Great point, about the cruise ship. I've tried to clear that up and describe the spaceship some more. Yes, Mesmo is a tall humanoid alien with bleach-white hair. In other words, he can easily mingle among humans. Thank you for pointing out that I used 'transparent' twice. I've also reworked the comical passage about Ben falling out of the spaceship.


  2. Hi Rae,

    I like how you described the setting of your opening scene. I had the images clear in my head. However, I don't quite understand the context of your story. I assumed Ben was a human and Mesmo (as his alien friend) came from another planet, so if they travel to the South Pacific in a spaceship, where do they come from? I think this needs some clarification.

    Your first paragraph could be clearer. As you mentioned the spaceship in your opening line, I imagined your MC getting out in a big astronaut attire so dipping his toes in the water didn't make sense to me.

    I also find it odd that the spaceship eclipsing all the cruise ships is fine but his alien friend would need to dye his hair to pass unnoticed. Do humans are aware aliens exist? If not, both the spaceship and Mesmo should be hidden or disguised.

    I want to know more about the relationship between Ben and Mesmo. Why would he want to be friend with someone who had the power to take down a whole planet? How did they meet? You don't need to answer this questions right now but I want their relationship to be clearer from the start. As you wrote' he found the alien man' I want to now what an alien adult and a thirteen year-old could possibly have in common. Are they equal or is it more like a mentor-student relationship?

    Your story started too slowly in my opinion as it began to grab my attention when they got ready to dive and spoke about the humans' past. I'm not sure you need the part where Mesmo is checking something because you mentioned it has already been done before and after it's like it didn't happen. I like how your chapter ended with the cliffhanger. I want to know more.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Hi Amelia,

      I'm sorry if the context of the story is not very clear. The thing is that this is the fourth book in a series, so readers are already very familiar with Ben and Mesmo (they have a mentor-student relationship). Even so, it should be accessible to new readers, which is why your comments are so important. I've reworked the first paragraphs, trying to balance everyone's comments. I totally understand why you would think of my MC getting out in a big astronaut attire! Laura also pointed out the cruise ship problem in her comment and I've tried to rephrase that part. I've also added that they don't want the spaceship to be spotted by humans. Awesome feedback, thank you!

  3. Hello, Rae,

    I liked several things about your opening. 1)The first paragraph has beautiful description and is easy to imagine. 2)I enjoyed the humor of Ben's struggle with fins and later getting stuck in the sand. 3)Clearly, Ben and Mesmo knew each other before this excursion and I'm interested to learn more about their relationship. 4)The ending (distressed animal triggering Ben's alien translation) is intriguing and makes me want to read what comes next.

    Some things raised questions for me. 1)There is a hint of mystery/danger by the Wise Ones last studying the location 5 years ago, as well as by Mesmo needing to disguise his hair color. Yet, exclusive tourism offices offer extraterrestrial transport to this destination. So, did the Wise Ones deem the area safe and why did it need to be studied in the first place? Perhaps this question is intended and will be addressed later in the story. 2)The sand in the immediate vicinity is visible 5 ft below. Yet, Mesmo, who is tall, is able to dive easily. Maybe that's part of the 'water skill?" And Ben gets stuck head-first in the sand, but later, can wade back to the hovering spaceship. Maybe some clarification would be helpful. 3)Ben seems to recover too quickly from his underwater struggle. After surfacing, he just wipes away water and is able to converse. 4)I was distracted by lots of adverbs in the writing. For example, see your 4th paragraph.

    I hope this is helpful and I look forward to reading more.

    1. Hi Julene,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my work and comment on it. 1) I've rephrased the part about the Wise Ones to clarify that they studied the area 'for Mesmo's people' (so the Wise Ones 'work' for the aliens). In my new revision I'm hoping you'll get a peek at what Ben and Mesmo are doing in the area. 2) I've addressed the 5 ft issue, which was brought up in several comments. Thank you for spotting that! 3) I've reworked Ben's underwater struggle. 4) Ouch! I'm addicted to adverbs and am still weeding them out. Thanks again!

  4. Hi Rae,

    I love the beginning! It’s sooo fun and intriguing, just what MG sci fi should be. The first sentence is perfect (at least to me). I love your two characters, Ben is immediately relatable and fascinating (hello, he has a starship and an alien friend!😊)

    What could be a bit shorter are the paragraphs where you catch the reader up with what led to this picture. I just wanted to plunge into this adventure, and felt all the catching up was unnecessary at this point and slowed down the start of the actual story.

    The first time I read the sentence starting with “He had just travelled to the island of …” I thought that this might be a dream or a virtual reality. Not sure why, it just felt unreal.

    The sentence where he picks up his fin to put it on, ending with (his grumpy mood) is a bit confusing. Whose grumpy mood? Ben’s? If so, make sure to show his mood is grumpy. So far I thought he was happy to be on this paradise island. (upon reading a second time, I notice he says he’s gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. I didn’t register that the first time, I guess because it’s telling me something, while Ben’s voice up until that moment shows he is full of fascination and joy of being where he is). It’s a contradiction between what you show through the character’s voice and what you tell with a sentence.

    I was a bit confused in the conversation about the Ahmun and Teranis. Whose ancestors are the Ahmun? The alien’s? From the conversation I understood they are Ben’s ancestors, but then he says the planet was destroyed and Ben is I guess from Earth, which is obviously still there. Try to work on the sentences to clear any possible misunderstanding.

    I couldn’t imagine the moment when they both dive into the sea. Mesmo barely makes a splash, which to me translated as the sea is deep enough for really diving in, but Ben actually digs into the sand, which means it’s shallow. Not sure how to imagine it.

    That’s it, I hope my comments make sense and help. This is such an exciting beginning and it sounds like a fascinating story! 😊


    1. Hi Lily,
      Well, that's a tough one! Some readers like the first sentence, others not so much. I'm trying a slightly different version to see what happens. I've also decided to remove the part about ancestors living in cities under the oceans of Taranis. I can place that information a couple of chapters later. You're absolutely right about Ben seeming excited and happy, then suddenly he's not. His grumpy mood is quite a big deal and I reveal why in a later chapter. So I'll make sure to be clearer in my revision. I've also dealt with the 'diving into the sea' issue. Your comments were valid and to the point. Thanks so much!

  5. Hi Rae,

    Thanks so sharing your pages this month! I really love the idea of a secret alien human friendship! And the idea that they're exploring right here on Earth in what appears to be the present day and not on some sort of alien planet or in the future is refreshing. I'm eager to see where you take this.

    A few things to consider:
    1) I'd definitely not reveal that Ben is sitting on a spaceship in the first sentence. It spoils the twist you have in paragraph two ("His own cruise ship, however, outshone any exotic transport offered by exclusive tourism offices.")

    2) You expend plenty of words describing the scenery, but we don't get enough description of the things we're most curious about. What specifically does Mesmo look like? What does the spaceship look like? While the image of an alien in a bathing suit really makes me smile, I'd love to read more about his physiology there. Finally, in the final moments of your pages, I'd like to know what Ben sees that's speaking to him, other than "A small animal, shiny black in colour." Is it a fish? Or an alien creature? (And if it's alien, why is it on Earth?)

    3) Ben's "alien translation skill" confused me a bit. If it's going to be a big part of the story, you might want to lose the set piece that involves Ben falling off the ship and focus more on what's going on with his "skill." If you feel you need to keep the humor levels higher, you can probably squeeze some chuckles out of the aforementioned alien in a bathing suit. Or maybe just the cultural misunderstanding and differences that exist between the two species.

    4) This is minor, but I find describing Mesmo as a "man" to be a bit odd. Man, to me, suggests human. Not that it's a problem to use male pronouns with him, but calling him a man jars with the idea he's an alien.

    5) Finally, I'd love to find out about Mesmo's powers in a more natural way. Having him say, "You know my power to manipulate water is strong enough to let us both breathe under the sea," feels really forced. Can you SHOW him using his powers in some way and Ben can tell him to stop because he wants to use the scuba gear?

    Overall, though, I'm intrigued with your setup. I think this could be a great scenario to talk about some of humanity's failings (if you're going in that direction)--something that science fiction has long sought to illuminate.

    Looking forward to seeing the next round!


    1. Hi Rob,

      Yes, you did get the core idea of this story: a friendship with an alien set in today's world with a closer look at humanity's failings (and hopes). This story mingles eco-fiction with science-fiction.

      1) I'm trying a slightly new approach for the first sentence and the couple of paragraphs that follow. I hope it works out.
      2) You'll find extra descriptions of the spaceship and the alien. I removed the part about ancestors living on a planet called Taranis. I thought this would catch the reader's attention, but I've been told this slows down the narrative and is too big of a back-story to get into at such an early stage.
      Now that the Taranis section is removed, I'm able to talk about the small animal flopping around in the water. You'll find out more about it in the next round.
      3) I've shortened the 'falling-out-of-the-spaceship' part as much as possible, though I haven't deleted it completely (yet) because several readers said they enjoyed it. However, Ben's alien translation skill is in fact the main element of the series (this is book 4 in The Alien Skill Series, by the way), so it's a big deal. Fans of the series are familiar with Ben's skill by now, but new readers who pick up book 4 probably won't catch that. I'll work on this some more.
      4) Ah, ok. I guess describing Mesmo as a 'humanoid alien' might be more appropriate, at least at the beginning.
      5) Good point. I've rephrased the section to show Mesmo's power in action.

      Thank you for your helpful feedback. You made some excellent points!


  6. Hi Rae,

    I think your writing has a really great tone for the kind of story you’re telling. You had lots of intriguing details and elements, and the tropical setting mixed with the futuristic idea of aliens and spaceships is interesting. The back and forth about ancestors is also compelling.

    What’s missing for me as a reader is more grounding in what this story will be about. Why are they on this island? There has to be more to it than just wanting to go on a vacation. Are they looking for something? Why does this island feel so special to Ben? I also agree with a previous comment that the dynamic between Mesmo and Ben could be clearer. What is their relationship like? I was reading it as two young characters, but you did say that Mesmo was a man, so that leaves their dynamic confusing. I would also like to see more description of Mesmo sooner to where you call him an alien. When you hear alien you don’t often picture a normal human-looking man in a Hawaiian shirt, so that description could come sooner so we now this is a human-looking alien. Also, while I had no trouble picturing the tropical landscape, I did have a hard time visualizing the locations of the two characters on the ship. This particularly affected the scene where Ben falls from the ship. You mention a door and pulling himself out of it, but I thought he was sitting at the edge of the ship putting his flippers on. This made it hard to imagine his fall.

    I was also confused about why Ben was so grumpy. He wants to be here, so what happened to make him “wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”

    Minor note: I was taken aback in the first paragraph when he got out in a spaceship but then mentions “getting pamphlets in the mail.” In a world where there are spaceships and aliens, would there still be this kind of mail advertising?

    Looking forward to your revision!

    Happy writing,


    1. Thank you for your helpful comments, Beth. I hope to do your feedback justice in the next revision.

      There's a specific reason why Ben is grumpy and I get to it a bit later in the story (though you won't read about it here). Thank you for pointing out that you thought Mesmo was a younger character. I will hint at why they are in Polynesia in my revision. Also, this story takes place in the current-day world.

      I look forward to your comments in the next round!

      Thanks again,

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