First Page Critique: Quandor

Thank you, Brave Author, for sending TKZ your first page. I’ve critiqued it below, and then our readers will weigh in. (NOTE: The punctuation below is the author’s.) — Elaine Viets

Quandor
Quandary, age 13 and the only child of Frando and Zelmar Surdona, quasiborg rulers of exactly one half the planet Xenia, anxiously awaits his next birthday. Little does he know a space exploration science kit will radically change his future and that of the entire planet. Nor does he know the powerful pull of adolescent attraction will gain him an unexpected ally when he needs it most, but at a price.
“Mom, dad didn’t take me with him again to the council meeting.” He whined. “How am I going to take his place as supreme monarch if he won’t teach me anything?”
“All in due time Quannie.” She said.” Right now they are working on the delicate issue of where to find replacements for the dwindling supply of Beryllium and Gallium.”
“Yeah I know. Not enough to go around for the next generation. Hard choices for who gets the quality interfaces and who doesn’t.” He said.
“That’s right dear. Very important for our quasiborg family and worker cyborgs.”
“Well, at least you guys got me that special operation before I was born making me a Superborg. I’ll never have to worry about an interface. And I have lots of advantages over quasiborgs and worker cyborgs when I take over.”
“You aren’t taking over dear. Just learning to help rule. Please don’t talk to anyone about the operation. It’s a private matter.” She said. “Yes you have 70% human and 30% cyborg charactics while the other 1816 family quasiborgs are only 40% human and 60% cyborg.
“Ha. Not so private. An open secret if you ask me. And don’t call me Quannie. Sounds so childish.”
“Ok master Surdona. Is that better? We must get to the store through the thermal cloud tube before it gets crowded.” She said.
“Or we could use dad’s business pass and use the express lane.” He quipped.
“Like father like son.” She muttered as they readied the cloud rider.


Elaine Viets’ take:
Brave Author, this reads like a gentle YA sci-fi story, a coming of age novel. If you’re using it to open your story, it needs more tension to capture your reader. Here are some suggestions:
(1) Give us more world building. Is Xenia a hostile or hospitable planet? Does it have an Earthlike atmosphere, or is it hot and harsh like Mars? Let us know in a few words.
What does a quasiborg, Superborg, or cyborg look like? Do these beings resemble humans, or some other type of alien? What are their skin colors and facial features?

(2) Little does he know. That phrase in your first paragraph is borrowed from the sci-fi classic, Star Wars. It’s like another Star Wars favorite phrase: “A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away.” They give stories a fairytale feel. The crawl for Star Wars VI says “Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly begun construction on a new, armored space station . . .”
That works for the movie, but not for this novel. I’d move that section to the end of this first page to ratchet up the tension. Consider starting your novel this way:
“Mom, Dad didn’t take me with him again to the council meeting,” thirteen-year-old Quandary said. The only child of Frando and Zelmar Surdona, quasiborg rulers of exactly one half the planet Xenia, was in a whiny mood. His mother hated when his voice had that high-pitched demand and he swaggered around their dwelling, making demands. “How am I going to take his place as supreme monarch if he won’t teach me anything?”
“All in due time, Quannie,” Zelmar said. “Right now they are working on the delicate issue of where to find replacements for the dwindling supply of Beryllium and Gallium.”
Right here, Brave Author, you could put in a brief description of the planet, and what these beings look like, then have the rest of that conversation, and mention that Quandary was eagerly awaiting his next birthday. Then your omniscient narrator could add at the very end:
“Little does Quandary know a space exploration science kit will radically change his future and that of the entire planet. Nor does he know the powerful pull of adolescent attraction will gain him an unexpected ally when he needs it most, but at a price.”
Having this prediction here also comes with a price, Brave Author. It will put distance between you and your readers. But it may deliver a better story.
(3) Give us a snappier title. Make us want to read this novel. Maybe use the boy’s name, “Quandary.”
(4) Last, and most important, learn punctuation.
Here’s how those second and third paragraphs should be punctuated:

“Mom, Dad didn’t take me with him again to the council meeting,” Quandary whined. “How am I going to take his place as supreme monarch if he won’t teach me anything?”
“All in due time, Quannie,” she said. “Right now they are working on the delicate issue of where to find replacements for the dwindling supply of Beryllium and Gallium.”

These basic mistakes would drive an editor nuts. Consider a basic English course at a community college or the local library. You could also read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Many major publishers either follow White’s style, or the Associated Press Stylebook. No editor will buy a book with unprofessional punctuation, no matter how well-written it is.
Writing a novel without understanding proper punctuation is like building a house without understanding how to use carpenters’ tools.
Go forth and create, Brave Author.

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About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book. www.elaineviets.com

6 thoughts on “First Page Critique: Quandor

  1. Good points, Elaine.

    In addition, the section below (marked EXAMPLE) is written as dialogue but the two characters are only “telling” backstory to each other (that the author wants the reader to know). What’s being said are things both characters should already know & therefore wouldn’t realistically be talking about.

    Recommendation: Start the story with an action-oriented scene that demonstrates the type of person Quandary is. Picture how films do this. I call this technique “writing a defining scene” like when Capt Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) enters the first scene of the Pirates of the Caribbean. He stumbles into the first few minutes, drunk, and creates a huge action scene based on his captivating (scene stealing) ways. He’s obviously a lying thieving opportunistic scoundrel that the moviegoer eventually finds out is a ship’s Captain.

    In this revised opener, build the world/setting as Elaine rightfully suggested. No explanations or backstory dump. Perhaps have him spying on his parents as they go to their meeting. No explanation for who he’s following. Make that an intriguing mystery until he gets caught by guards. What does he do? What would his personality dictate? What would his parents do?

    EXAMPLE:
    “Yeah I know. Not enough to go around for the next generation. Hard choices for who gets the quality interfaces and who doesn’t.” He said.
    “That’s right dear. Very important for our quasiborg family and worker cyborgs.”
    “Well, at least you guys got me that special operation before I was born making me a Superborg. I’ll never have to worry about an interface. And I have lots of advantages over quasiborgs and worker cyborgs when I take over.”
    “You aren’t taking over dear. Just learning to help rule. Please don’t talk to anyone about the operation. It’s a private matter.” She said. “Yes you have 70% human and 30% cyborg charactics while the other 1816 family quasiborgs are only 40% human and 60% cyborg.

  2. This is a huge information dump. The author has shoehorned a bunch of world-building facts into dialogue. Even if the family’s name is Spock, I can’t imagine ANY mother saying to her son: “Yes you have 70% human and 30% cyborg charactics [sic] while the other 1816 family quasiborgs are only 40% human and 60% cyborg.

    The “Don’t call me Quannie” line was great b/c it made the characters relatable.

    The necessity to keep Quandary’s operation secret and the boy’s thirst for power (even though he has no idea what to do with it) offer lots of potential for plot tension. Suggest you downplay the statistics and play up these two conflicts instead. Facts can be woven in later.

    Brave Author, seriously consider Elaine’s excellent suggestions of ways to enter the story w/o info dumping. Best of luck.

  3. Thank you, Brave Author, for letting us take a peek at your first page.

    I like that we have a plucky, young protagonist, Quandary. I think with his energy the reader will want to cheer him on in his adventures. I also like the names you’ve chosen because they fit a science fiction story.

    The two big difficulties I had with this opening was the information dump in the form of dialogue, and the punctuation. Concerning the dialogue, when people are talking in real life, they don’t say things that the other person already knows. In this opening, it’s like your characters are saying, “As you already know, . . . ”

    Regarding the punctuation, I know we’ve all read famous authors who have typos or grammar mistakes in their published works. But there is a difference between a punctuation error once every 50 pages and about 25 errors on the opening page. I like Elaine’s suggestion of taking a class. Not only would you learn grammar/punctuation, but also you would get in extra reading and writing practice because these classes usually consist of reading a passage or story then writing about it.

    Best of luck on your continued writing journey, Brave Author.

  4. Thank you, Brave Author. Thank you.

    I grew up with the omniscient point-of-view. Once upon a time, he grew up on the trois cloches, beached at the edge of Bayou Boeuf, and no one spoke, afraid they’d offend, afraid they’d start giggling, were all natural phrases in my reading. I understood the point-of-view. I was happy with it. It always seemed to be the steady point of wisdom in the tale.

    And then, I learned in college, that the omniscient point-of-view was no longer proper. Then that magazine said it was. Then that writer who sells all those books said it was okay. Then a professor asked, “How could it be?”

    So, for decades, I wavered and quavered when speaking of omniscience in the novel.

    So every time I read a story with the omniscient point-of-view, I stand and applaud. It’s another vote for okay. Another vote for wisdom.

    For a person can look into his or her soul and tell us what he or she sees. But how do we know we can trust the narrator? Suppose the narrator is, really, a serial killer who of mere purpose, appears in novels just for the money or the moments of fame.

    We need a voice to tell us who the character really is. Well, I choose to go with a tried and trusted point-of-view. The one that knows everything.

    So again, Brave Author. Thank you.

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