Sunday, May 29, 2011

Intro Chapter for Sci-Fi Novel

Some beta readers have given me feedback suggesting that my main character is thrust into the action so quickly that we don't get to know her first.  While I did want to jump quickly into the drama, I can understand wanting to first know something about a character. It's so hard to balance the need for some early excitement with the also important need to relate in some manner with the POV character.

So, I have tried writing this short new chapter to see if it works for introducing my main character. I'd love to know your thoughts on it. Does it work? Not? This is a sci-fi thriller set in Moscow in the year 2138.


It’s too easy to say one hates working with corpses.  Who could enjoy the smell of embalming fluid, the mannequin rigidity, the cold of a body that had once been full of warmth and dreams?  Zoya had prepped bodies for more than six years now, painting their faces to a ghoulish mimicry of life, so relatives and friends could view their loved one without having to face the stark horror of the empty shell death leaves behind.  She was used to cadavers, but she never stopped hating being around them.

Generally she listened to music while she worked, since it helped take her mind from the peculiar canvas upon which she plied her art.  Her preference was for ancient rock tunes, from the quaint times when people played their own instruments and wrote their own songs.  Lennon and McCartney, Waters and Gilmour, Plant and Page...demigods of a long lost age.

She hummed along to Hurdy Gurdy Man as she sketched a final line of purple lipstick onto the grossly fat man on the stainless steel slab.  She stood up to get a better view of the face, and jumped as someone dug fingers into her side from behind.

Snapping off the music from her slot interface, she whirled and was swept into the arms of her brother Georgy.

“Hey, little Sis.  Did I scare you?”

“Georgy!”  She pretended to punch his shoulder.  “Won’t you ever grow up?”  Despite the tender warmth she always felt around him, she felt a chill now.  He had never visited the morgue before.  A day’s worth of stubble scratched her cheeks as he kissed them; he was always so meticulous about shaving.  Something must be wrong.  “Why are you here?”

He stepped back, still holding her narrow shoulders in his steely grip.  “I need you to do something for me.  You know I’d--”

“Georgy!” she interrupted.  “You swore you wouldn’t involve me.”

He nodded.  “I wouldn’t ask this if I had anywhere else to turn.  You know that.”  He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small package, a rectangle of old-fashioned brown paper tied off with twine.

“You have lots of friends, Georgy,” Zoya said.  “Don’t do this to me.”

“My friends can’t help me now, Sis.  You’re all I have.  Take this.”

He thrust the package at her, but she backed away, holding up her hands like a shield.  “I won’t ruin my life, even for you.”

Georgy set the package on the table next to the cadaver.  “I’m sorry, but I have no one else I can trust right now.  Please, just bring it to me tomorrow, say around ten.”  He pulled a small Web cable from a pocket and snapped it into the slot interface hidden in the black hair behind his left ear.  “Here, let me show you where to go.”  He reached out to plug the other end of the cable into Zoya’s slot.

“No, Georgy!”  She shoved his arm back.  “I won’t do it.”

Gently, he took her shoulders again and pulled her face close.  “Look at me, Sis.  What do you see?”

Zoya stared into his deep brown eyes.  There was a hunted, haunted look she had never seen before.  “You’re afraid?”

“I’m terrified, Zoya.  I fucked up so badly this time.  You have no idea.  I’ve got to disappear for awhile.  I need some time to prepare, and I can’t have this on me.” 

He used the moment to slide his hand up close to Zoya’s ear, and now he slipped the cable end into her slot.  Instantly, she saw the location where he wanted her to go.  It was in a dangerous, deserted part of old Moscow; a crumbling wasteland where only the drunk or the dangerous ventured.

“Yugo-Zapadnaya?  I can’t--”

“Don’t tell anyone where you’re going.  I have a safe house there.  You’ll be fine, you’ll see.  Tomorrow, around ten, okay?”  He pulled out the cable and leaned in to kiss her cheek again.  “I owe you big time.”

“Georgy,” she moaned, but he had already turned away, walking swiftly toward the morgue exit.

Zoya sagged against the edge of the table and dropped her eyes to the small package.  Fear made it difficult to swallow.  Fear for Georgy and for herself, though the fear was tinged with anger that he had forced this upon her.  She closed her grip around the package, and her hand brushed against the clammy skin of the corpse.  An image filled her mind of Georgy laid out on the slab while she rouged his cold cheeks.  She shuddered and tucked the package into a pocket of her lab coat.


  1. Nice job Ted. I like the cool map/ear device. A lot of fun. A lot of tension. Eery Moscow. makes me feel cold and it's 80 degrees here.

  2. It's a solid beginning, though it's on the familiar side. We probably won't be seeing Georgy again in one piece. ;)

    My only real question is: why not just tell her where to meet him? If he's concerned about being overheard, they already know he's giving her a package. Cameras?

    And they're still using brown paper and twine in the 22nd century? :)

    Glad to read a little SF -- thank you!

  3. Intriguing. Just enough of a mystery, ties her character plot to family (justice or revenge), and sets up the overall plot for how she got into the sceme.

    I like how you introduced the sci-fi aspect with the slot behind the ear. I get the sense that the detail is important throughout the story, and that perhaps Gregory downloaded more than just the location for the drop. Something that will eventually enable her win-out in the end, or at least give her the tools she doesn't posess to carry out whatever mission she embarks on.

    This is really the hook for me: "It was in a dangerous, deserted part of old Moscow; a crumbling wasteland where only the drunk or the dangerous ventured." I loved your first paragraph too - drew me right in, but that line ensured I'd be reading through the entire chapter, at least through the action scene I know is coming within the next couple pages.

    And the imagery of him on the slab; good foreshadowing. I'm pretty sure she won't see him again alive - certainly not tomorrow at 10a - but coupled with the "I've got to disappear for a while" assertion, it makes me wonder if he will really be dead, or hiding out and will appear at the pertinent moment.

    The only issue I had was the consistent use of "slot" in that one paragraph. May not be any help for it, but it was a little distracting.

    Well done Ted.


  4. L., even in current Moscow there are almost no signs to indicate locations. People are just assumed to know where things are, and the location where he wants her to go is in a deserted part of the city where she couldn't passibly know where to go. People are used to using more advanced tech for seeing locations. As far as the brown paper and twine, I added that because the Russians seem to have a passion for certain archaic things, such as twig brooms, and packages done up like this one. I always found that fascinating when I lived there. Another thing is that I am making Moscow a contrast between where the wealthy live (all modern) and the poor (derelict areas).

  5. Donna, the most references to 'slots' I found in one paragraph was two, but I see what you mean about the use of it over the whole piece. I removed one use of the word to see if it stops it from jarring. Thanks for pointing it out. It was hard to figure out how to introduce the concept without doing a 'tell'.

  6. Good luck with your writing and beta reader feedback. And have a great holiday too!

  7. Thank you, Stephen. How has your book tour been going?