Sunday, March 15, 2020

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Knightly Rev 1

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

Ben Archer pressed his forehead against the window and stared at the crystalline waters of French Polynesia. An uninhabited island curved out of the sea before him and he gazed at the surreal sugar-coated beach, lush bushes and coconut palms that he’d only ever seen advertised on tropical cruise pamphlets Mom would get in the mail.

His own ship, however, outshone any exotic transport offered by tourism offices. The thirteen-year-old had just travelled to the island of Muto Oné in an alien vessel–captained by a being from another planet–and it now hovered above the sea without making a sound, its black surface unreflecting of the scattered clouds in the bright blue sky.

The size of a fighter jet with two sets of wings and just enough room to fit eight people in its hull, the craft escaped radar detection with ease. Nevertheless, Ben squinted as he scanned the sparkling horizon, confirming that no humans sailed in the vicinity. Cumbersome reports of UFO sightings could complicate his mission and were best avoided at this point.

“Mesmo, are we going or what?” he said, backing away from the spacious window and throwing an annoyed look at the humanoid who sat by the controls at his side.

The alien didn’t answer–too absorbed with his task as he shifted through holographic screens that floated before his face. The shadow of intricate symbols scrolled down the man’s high cheekbones and honey-coloured eyes.

Irritated that Mesmo didn’t reply, Ben sighed and crossed the hollow interior of the vessel to activate a switch. It released a metallic door which slid open, letting in a hot breeze that smelled of summer at the beach. He plopped down at the edge of the opening, swung his bare feet outside and dipped his toes into the sea, admiring the pure white sand ten feet below.

Discovering the coral reefs off Motu Oné, one of a string of islands in the remote South Pacific Ocean, had been on Ben’s mind for weeks. Yet, now that he was here at last, Ben had to admit he had gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. Ever since he’d said goodbye to his mother that morning, a dark cloud had followed him from his pillow to this idyllic place. Mulling over why that could be, he picked up one of his fins and fought to pull the sticky rubber over his foot.

“Give me a moment,” Mesmo said in a delayed response to Ben’s question, as he continued to review the data given to him by one of the Wise Ones, who had last studied the area for Mesmo’s people five years ago.

“Jeez! You’ve gone over that five times already,” Ben said, grimacing as he struggled to put on the second fin.

“You’re right,” Mesmo said, tearing his eyes away from the screens and leaning back in the pilot seat. He clapped his hands together. “Let’s do this.”

Ben watched him from the corner of his eye, becoming seriously offended with the uncooperative fin. “Mom’s gonna need to dye your hair brown again,” he said, noting that the roots of Mesmo’s hair had turned white. Even though he looked like a normal man, the alien’s otherwise bleach-white hair risked attracting unwanted attention.

“Yes, she told me.” The alien tossed his flip-flops aside and removed his Hawaiian t-shirt, revealing his tanned torso. “So, are we going or what?” he poked, before taking three big strides across the egg-shaped interior and executing a perfect dive.

“Show off,” Ben muttered, then whooped as his foot slipped into the stupid fin.

Mesmo resurfaced, his skin emitting a blue halo at the contact with water. He turned to face Ben and pointed behind him. “The coral reef’s that way. Or we could try our luck farther out. There’s a five thousand foot drop nearby–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’s hands glowed, releasing an invisible force that opened a pathway through the sea all the way to Ben’s feet. “Come on, Benjamin, get rid of that old diving stuff. You know my water skill is strong enough for both of us to breathe underwater. You’d feel much lighter.”

 “I told you already; I have 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.”

“Suit yourself.” Mesmo shrugged with a smile, returning the water back to its original height.

Ben shoved the snorkel in his mouth and placed his hands at the edge of the door. But his right hand slipped on the wet surface, sending him tumbling out of the spaceship. The side of his head hit the water, shoving liquid into his mask. He tore at it, sending stinging salt water up his nose in the process.

Mesmo stared at him, one eyebrow raised. “Are you ok?”

 “Don’t… argh… you dare… gurgle… laugh,” Ben spluttered, blinking and wiping at 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 burning sensation in his nose, Ben closed his eyes and felt his own alien skill take over his human blood cells, the way it always did when an animal was nearby.

Searching left and right, Ben frowned when he couldn’t find any other sign of life. Yet a distressed voice mingled with his thoughts.

Swimming until the water was shallow enough for him to stand, Ben reached the front of the spaceship and found the source that had activated his translation skill. An animal, shiny black in colour, flopped around the surface. He reached out to the creature with his mind.

Hello? Are you in trouble?

Silence.

Ben approached the creature, which stopped moving as it sensed him approaching, and felt a wave of fear wash over him.

Sh, it’s ok. I’m here to help.

The animal twitched, and suddenly Ben recognized it.

A manta ray!

No bigger than a dinner plate, one of its triangular wings twisted in an awkward manner, making it harder to recognize. Leaning closer towards the sleek body, Ben understood the problem. The remains of a fishing net made from thin, nylon strings had wrapped themselves around the young specimen’s body, pinning one of its wings over its back and hindering its movements.

Mesmo joined him and they both set to work removing the entangled mesh. When they released the pectoral fin, the manta ray slid away in a hurry.

Ben exchanged a glance with Mesmo. “It wouldn’t even let me talk to it.”

The alien placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “It’s ok. We’ll have better luck at the coral reef. They will listen to you, there.”

Ben tightened his grip on the nylon strings, reminding himself that this was no time for teenage mood swings. All that mattered was the crucial message he had come to deliver to the ocean world.

12 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading your revision, Rae. I feel I have better understanding of several aspects of your story. In regards to the setting, your descriptions of the island and the spaceship are clearer and I can more easily follow the movements of your characters. And speaking of characters, Ben and Mesmo's appearance, the initial info on their relationship and their skills with water and translation are compelling and well written.

    I didn't get a strong sense of the "teenage mood swings" mentioned by Ben. Did you mean his "waking up on the wrong side of the bed?" Or Ben's irritation with Mesmo for delaying their dive? If these are what are being referred to, you may want to consider punching up the reactions a bit. Let some angst fly! It seems that Ben is much more irritated with his scuba fin than with anything or anyone else. And I love the scuba fin struggle, by the way. :)

    I'm very intrigued with the mention of the coral reef, the nature of the crucial message, and wonder who/what will receive the message.

    Good job!

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    1. Thank you, Julene. I appreciate your feedback! Rae

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  2. Hiya!
    I enjoyed this read, and think you did a great job with this new draft. The first paragraph revisions cleared up a lot for me as far as what the ship looked like, where it was situated, and what it was doing.

    "An uninhabited island curved out of the sea before him and he gazed at the surreal sugar-coated beach, lush bushes and coconut palms that he’d only ever seen advertised on tropical cruise pamphlets Mom would get in the mail." - Great content, but it might be good to break it up a bit. You cover a lot in one sentence.

    For the alien powers, I think my only problem is the phrase,"my water skill." Besides it being repeated twice, it sounds unnatural. Is there any way you could say he has power without actually saying he has power? Something like, "We could explore further if you let me help you,' he said. Mesmo’s hands glowed, releasing an invisible force that opened a pathway through the sea all the way to Ben’s feet." Or "Come on, Benjamin, get rid of that old diving stuff. You know you don't need it when I'm around." If you change the first one I'm fine with Ben using the term in the second instance.

    “Don’t… argh… you dare… gurgle… laugh,” Ben spluttered, blinking and wiping at his face." - I like this a lot better than last revision! You show his reaction very well.


    Ben exchanged a glance with Mesmo. “It wouldn’t even let me talk to it.” - How does he say it? Was he mad, whiny, etc? Since this is right before mood swings I'd like him to say this with some kind of emotion attached.

    One more small thing, I'm unclear as to how Mesmo's white hair would tip people off he is an alien. If you want the reader to know Benjamin is an alien too, maybe he could comment that he just had his done earlier or something. Is the hair color a trait of the alien race?

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    1. Hi Laura,

      Thank you for your feedback. I've made changes according to your comments.

      The aliens in my story each have an ability: 'water skill', 'shapeshifting skill', 'translation skill' etc. It's the name they've used since the beginning of the series. However, I've followed your advice and removed the first mention of the 'water skill'. I think you may like the result better!

      Thanks again!
      Rae

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  3. Btw, since I put a lot of "to work on" things above I want to make sure I add - I really liked this draft. It's just some nit-picky things I had issue with. You did a great job in your revision and I can't wait for the next draft!

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    1. Oh, whew! Well, that's good news, then. Thank you! :)

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  4. Hi Rae,

    It’s amazing how much more you can show about the story in the same amount of words. I have a much better image in my head about the spaceship, about the alien and the MC. I like the added details about the ship and the way the ship’s technology works.

    I liked the previous first line, though. To me at least, there was something very gripping in starting a story with and image of Ben Archer sitting on his spaceship (I guess because it had the MC’s name and the word spaceship in it). If you think it will make sense, you could add “against the window of the spaceship” in that very first line to catch the attention of the reader with the idea of alien spaceships in French Polynesia.

    You could try to pull the “dark cloud that followed him” earlier, if the feeling of something bad about to happen is important for the build up of tension later on.

    When Mesmo did his trick with the water (is that magic?), I was a bit caught off guard. So far, everything in the scene is technology, and all of a sudden there is magic, I was a bit “wow, what was that?”. If possible, add a line to that moment to kind of explain what’s happening. Something like “Mesmo’s hands glowed when his alien magic got fired up” (that’s a stupid example of course). Just to explain what this invisible force is that can control water. Is it part of his technology? Is he magical? A line or a phrase to place what the reader is observing will be good.

    The sentence “Don’t … argh … you dare … gurgle … laugh” didn’t work for me. I stumbled over it, and had to reread it to get what’s happening. I totally get what you mean though. Maybe get other’s opinion whether it worked for them.

    A note: I was surprised Ben’s skill notified him that there was an animal nearby. In my head, oceans are teeming with life, especially reefs, so to me it was a given there were fish and turtles and jelly fish and so on everywhere around the two characters. It was strange his skill had to show him the only living creature around. Is this part of the story? Maybe the ocean life is dying out? I don’t know, just pointing out what occurred to me when reading.

    I like the stakes hinted at the end of the excerpt. A message to the ocean world? Cool. Wondering what that is.

    Great job revising! I hope my comments make sense and give you useful ideas,

    Lily

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    1. Hi Lily,

      Awesome comments, thank you.

      I had to find a balance for the first sentence, because some loved it and others, not so much. I hope I found a reasonable solution.

      I've rephrased the other parts you mentioned.

      On to the next round!
      Rae

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  5. Hello Rae,

    I like what you did with this revision. This is much clearer and we are into the present.

    I think your opening paragraph should reflect more the genre. Since you say window (instead of porthole or glass pane for instance) and the alien vessel is mentioned later it's not clear it's science-fiction. As it is, it looks as if he’s starting from his house. Maybe you could switch the order of your two first paragraphs?

    I like how you ended your scene as it makes the readers want to read more, but if the message he has to deliver to the ocean world is so important, it should show in Ben's behaviour. How does that make him feel? What's the urgency? I say this because the stakes should be clearer and there should be more glimpses here and there to show he's there for a purpose. You said 'his mission' in the third paragraph, but except tat I just assumed Ben was moody and he only wanted to take a dive with his alien friend.

    Can't wait to read your final revision.

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    1. Hi Amelia,

      Thank you for your feedback. I'm getting different opinions about the first sentence. I hope my last revision will be the right one!

      Thanks again,
      Rae

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  6. Hi Rae,

    You made some nice changes with this revision. I definitely feel like I have a better grasp of what the ship and Mesmo look like.

    A few things I'd focus on:
    1) Your introduction of the ship could still use some work. I find what you have ("The thirteen-year-old had just travelled to the island of Muto Oné in an alien vessel–captained by a being from another planet–and it now hovered above the sea ") to be very expository. I'd much rather have this information revealed slowly and in a more natural way. For example, maybe Ben can say something snarky about the ship--like if it's hot in the cabin, he could say something like, "you build a spaceship that can travel three million light years and you don't even bother putting in air conditioning?" Of course, this is just an example, but this way, the reader gets critical information about the setting while also getting a sense of Ben's personality and his relationship with Mesmo.

    2) If Mesmo "looked like a normal man" why is Ben worried about him standing out? I'd either have more substantial differences that would take a lot more to hide than hair dye or I'd have him look like a typical human and just have his behaviors be what make him stand out.

    3) Now that we see Ben is on a mission to deliver a crucial message to the ocean world, I'd like to get a better sense that he's there for an important reason. Maybe, when Mesmo is busy looking at his holograms, Ben can say something like, "are you going to look at that all day or are we going to save the world?" Just a thought...

    4) Finally, when you write "Ben wanted to say something snarky, but..." I'd actually have him say something that lets the reader see more of his personality. I think having the manta ray interrupt after we see some of the comic exchange between Ben and Mesmo would make a more compelling scene.

    That's all for now. Looking forward to seeing your final round!

    Best,
    Rob

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    1. Hi Rob.

      I had some trouble with the first sentence as I got contradictory feedback.

      I took note of your 4 points and reworked the sections. I hope I did a good job in this final draft.

      Thanks again for your time!

      Best,
      Rae

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