Welcome to episode 12. I hope you’re staying safe and well out there. I also hope you’re sitting comfortably because I have got a lot to say this week. Let’s get straight into it.
Firstly, Black Lives Matter. This is not a political statement, it’s a humanist statement. People are more important than property, and no one is any better or worse than anyone else based on the colour of their skin.
If you disagree, if you think that people of colour are somehow lesser, if you are okay with people being murdered for ‘existing while black’, then this is not the podcast for you.
While we’re at it… Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Trans rights are human rights. Non-binary and genderfluid people are valid. If you disagree, with any of that, then this is not the podcast for you.
And if you’re thinking “hang on, I thought this was a writing podcast, not a political podcast”… I hate to break it to you, friend, but writing itself is a political statement. Whether you like it or not.
Secondly, at the end of May, I received the news that my position has been made redundant and I will no longer be employed as of the first week of July. With the current state of the world, the likelihood that I will find permanent or full-time employment in the near future is extremely remote although I am looking and applying as I see openings. In the meantime, I am taking on freelance work. All of this means that, while I’m adjusting to my new situation, there may be some disruptions to the podcast schedule. I hope you will bear with me.
And finally, I have very nearly run out of submissions again. I have enough for this episode and one more. So, please, if you have a story opening to send in, do. First line, first paragraph, or first page – ALL are welcome. And if you’re not sure whether to send something in or not, you are always welcome to ask me over on Twitter @inkandsagepod or email email@example.com
And now, on with the show!
As ever, I’m not an expert, my intention is to be positive and helpful, and my opinions do not reflect the authors’ worth as people or as writers. Please ensure adequate sodium intake with this podcast.
OBSCURE ORIGINS (Stellar Blood 1)
by Zara Hoffman
The loud rumble was what woke her, but the light flashes were what made her give up on sleeping. Looking out the window, Verity searched the grounds for the trucks making the sound or the base security light that was going crazy but couldn’t find anything out of place. Something moved in the corner of her eye and she squinted, noticing what looked like a sound wave move through the air without a clear origin, but she had a sinking feeling she knew what it was. How many times had her father talked to her about the possibility of an invasion? It was the whole reason they were stationed at Groom Lake in the first place, and his job was to prepare them for when it did happen. She never fully believed in the threat, but she couldn’t deny what was right in front of her, even if she couldn’t fully explain or describe it.
The noise kept getting louder until it was almost deafening before it completely ceased. It was more than just silence. Despite being firmly on the ground, she felt as if she were trapped in a complete vacuum like an astronaut in space.
And then, as if the impromptu sound barrier had been broken, all the noise rushed in, threatening to shatter her eardrums. The rumble was deeper and louder than before until it sounded like a group of helicopters were all hovering very close. The sound was joined by a piercing series of sustained beeps as the house alarm sounded below. She wasn’t just imagining things. There was an intruder in her home.
This is the first page of a SciFi romance, which Zara has labelled as New Adult.
This is a marketing category that exists in self-publishing but does NOT exist in traditional publishing. It’s also specific to romance. As it’s been explained to me, New Adult is essentially YA romance with sexytimes.
Alexa Donne has a fantastic YouTube video about New Adult, which I will link in the show notes if you are interested in learning more because I’m definitely not an expert.
So with that little tangent out of the way, let’s look at the story. Overall, I like it but there are some little things that don’t really work for me.
The biggest “issue” that I’m seeing here is sentence length. There’s a clear indication that the author tends towards longer sentences, with 7 of the 14 sentences in this piece being 20 words or longer. One of them is 37 words long.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with long sentences, but sentence length has an impact on pacing. Simply put: short sentences ramp up the tension, long sentences dial it down.
This page is describing an invasion of the base and the protagonist’s house. So tension should be high and sentences short.
If we take the sentence “Something moved in the corner of her eye and she squinted, noticing what looked like a sound wave move through the air without a clear origin, but she had a sinking feeling she knew what it was.”
That’s a hefty sentence and, as a reader, by the end of it, I’ve forgotten where we started. I would suggest breaking it into 3 separate sentences. “Something moved in the corner of her eye. She squinted, noticing what looked like a sound wave move through the air. It was without a clear origin, but she had a sinking feeling she knew what it was.”
That’s not the most elegant split, but it illustrates the point. I’m not going to go through each sentence individually, because of time, but a lot of the sentences on this page can be split into shorter sentences for a tighter reading experience.
I’m also picking up a lot of “was” and “were” that aren’t needed. For example, “The loud rumble was what woke her, but the light flashes were what made her give up on sleeping.” I would drop the ‘was what’ and ‘were what’. I would also consider dropping ‘light’ from ‘light flashes’. “The loud rumble woke her but the flashes made her give up on sleeping.”
There are a lot of vague and abstract words as well. Words like ‘almost’, ‘about’, and ‘around’ are usually filler and can be cut. Just say that the sound was deafening, or the men were a meter away, or they finished school a week ago. No one’s going to come after you with a ruler or a calendar. Readers are smart. Trust them.
The last thing I want to nitpick is the sentence “Looking out the window, Verity searched the grounds for the trucks making the sound or the base security light that was going crazy but couldn’t find anything out of place.”
It’s not immediately clear whether it’s the base security light or Verity that couldn’t find anything out of place. I would recommend rewording for clarity. I’m also not enamoured of the use of ‘crazy’ in this instance, but I also understand that it’s probably the word the protagonist would use.
But I do think that this story has a lot of potential and I especially like the final sentences. The alarm and the intruder in the house took me by surprise and I think it’s the sort of thing that would spur a reader on to keep reading.
Well done and thanks for your submission, Zara.
Music: Continue Life by Kevin MacLeod
Sound effects from freeSFX [https://www.freesfx.co.uk/]