I’m re-reading The Writer’s Little Helper and came across a chapter that instructs that the first 1,000 words must:
- introduce heroic character: personality, appearance, flaws, strengths. Force reader to care.
- introduce or allude to enemy. Characterize.
- present the conflicts of the book
- explain the danger in the first 100 (!!) words
- foreshadow scenes in first 100 pages [ Act 1 ]
- foreshadow climax
- flesh out setting
- action, conflict, imagery, dialogue
- establish central story line
- 3 grins, 1 laugh
- 1 “wow!” moment
I knew that my first chapter was pathetic, and it was nice to get a checklist of what it must accomplish.
Today I rewrote the chapter from scratch.
(Current stats, by the way: 204,032 words == 816 pp.)
I think my new version of chapter one hits about 80% of the points. Here’s what I’ve got:
== 15 Mar 2064: Mining debris heap, Aristillus Crater, Lunar Nearside
Mike Martin squeezed the trigger and his rifle jerked. Even in a vacuum the thunder of the weapon channeled through the stock, through his spacesuit and helmet and into his chest and head with a deep visceral punch.
Kevin, behind his own gold visor, made fake coughing noises and waved one hand in front of his face, pretending to fan away the huge cloud of dust that had been blown off the surface by the muzzle blast.
Mike smiled like a kid. The first five versions of the rifle had failed in simulation. The next two had blow up in their test rigs. This one, version 0.08, had survived a hundred rounds and now Mike had fired it for the first time ever.
Kevin’s voice came through his speakers “I imagine you’re pleased with yourself.”
Mike grinned “When am I not?”
Kevin brushed his faceplate ineffectively. “Seriously, Mike, why did the round have to be so big?”
Mike put the safety on. “Because I’m from Texas.”
“That was a serious question.”
Mike deadpanned “…which is why I gave you a serious answer.”
Kevin shook his head. His helmet didn’t move, but Mike saw it via his in-helmet display. Mike grinned again.
…but then he grew serious “Well, that and the fact that in the CEO Trials they seized and destroyed my collection. They seized my house, my vehicles, and the company too, of course. But the collection burns.” He paused. “Lot of nice toys. A 1772 Brown Bess, a few 18th century officer’s swords…but the one I miss the most is the fifty. I only fired it once or twice, but it was my dad’s favorite.”
“So you wanted to design and build a gun just as big?”
It was Mike’s turn to shake his head. “Just as big? Fuck that! No, 25 mm is twice the diameter…and eight times the mass.” Mike raised his eyebrows in disbelief “Just as big? Hah!”
“Anyone ever told you that you’re a lunatic, Mike?”
“Not for about a week.”
“Darcy’s on a run, huh?”
“Yep. Getting back tomorrow, I think. Maybe the day after.”
Kevin turned back to the impromptu range – really, nothing more than a piece of white-painted sheet steel propped up on small mountain of tailings a kilometer away. “Did you even hit it?”
“Good question…I think the spotting scope is on channel three.” Mike clicked over to the channel in his display and saw a closeup of the sheet of packing material. It was free of marks. “Doesn’t look like it. Let me try again with a tracer.” Mike leaned over to the utility box in the dust beside him and was starting to unlatch it when a new voice came over his radio. Given the crisp British accent Albert Lai didn’t need to introduce himself “Mike, we’ve got an incoming flight in ten minutes. If you could put your games on hold for bit a it would be greatly appreciated.”
“Albert, I’m facing in the opposite direction from the docks…the chances of a ricochet hitting a ship is no more than …what? Fifty percent. At the MOST. Probably not more than 25 percent. Come one…a few more shots?”
Albert gave an exasperated sigh. “I know some people are entertained by your shtick, Martin.” He left it unsaid that he was not a member of the group. “…so just shut it down, kindly.”
“Aye aye, dockmaster.”
Mike slipped the tracer round back into the case and laid the rifle on the shooting table.
Kevin pointed over his shoulder “Want to watch the ship come in?…quite a sight.”
Mike affected an air of disdain even as he turned with Kevin to face back towards the center of the colony where the docks were located. “Eh. These modern landings aren’t nearly as exciting as -“
Kevin groaned. “I know, I know. Oh, please spare me from yet another retelling of The First Landing. How does it go? Built of rust and borrowed money, two jerry-rigged cranes, and one Chinese tunnel boring machine -“
“The first TBM was Korean -“
“Look, let me mock you with out interruption! Anyway, there you were, the first landing, rust, borrowed money, a Mexican tunnel boring machine -“
Mike gritted his teeth.
“A mission succeeding against the odds only because of your puckish will to succeed, risk tolerance, entrepreneurial spirit – am I missing anything here, Mike?”
“You could mention my stunning good looks.”
“No, you don’t want me to mention your looks. Trust me on that. So, a stunning audacious private attempt to colonize the moon that succeeded because of your unparalleled experience digging swimming pools in Texas -“
“Whatever…and, and of course, helped – just a wee tiny bit – by Ponzie’s AG drive.”
“Hey, be fair – I ALWAYS give Ponzie credit. None of this could have happened with out – woah!”
As they two had been harassing each other the ship had snuck up unnoticed. The 200 meter long sailing craft would have been lost to view in a modern port, easily lost among the new-panamax cargo ships and the 400 meter oil tankers and 500 meter long LNG tankers that still did business despite the carbon law.
…but hovering incongruously over the blasted surface of the moon with no reference for scale except the solar farms, tailing dumps, and occasional suited figures below, the massive ocean going cargo ship looked utterly huge.
Slowly the ship lowered itself towards the open docks below, small maneuvering rockets firing from time to time to correct its drift.
Then, still hundreds of meters above the ground, its descent slowed and stopped. Slowly, laboriously, the massive ship waggled back and forth, as if it was rolling slightly in an invisible sea…then it continued its descent.
Mike raised one hand high in acknowledgment. He turned to Kevin. “Looks like I was wrong – Darcy’s not home in a day or two. She’s back now.”
The two men continued to watch the ship until it dropped into the open dock, then turned back to the equipment.
Kevin spoke “You want to pack up and see Darcy?”
“Are you kidding? I’ve got a box full of ammunition to shoot!”
Mike loaded another round, locked the bolt forward, and leaned in.
Kevin clicked over to to channel three to watch through the spotting camera. “You know, Mike, if the government ever does get up here, you messing around with destructive devices isn’t going to play very well for you.”
Mike pulled his head away from the stock and turned. “The government? Let me tell you about the government. They tried to fuck me over once, and I played by their rules, went to their courts. They seized everything I owned. I’d still be in jail now if I hadn’t bribed my way out. No, fuck them, and fuck playing the the rules. If the government ever does get up here, I’ve got an answer for them.” He slapped the rifle.
“You’re going to fight them off with a rifle?”
“Hell no. I’m going to fight them off with an entire militia….what? Did you think this project was about target shooting?” Mike shook his head. “Anyway, enough. My blood pressure’s going up and that’ll throw my aim off. Spot for me.”
Mike leaned back to his rifle, wrapped the sling around his upper arm, and drew a breath. A moment later the rifle released another titanic clap.
Mike raised his head. “Did I hit the target?”
“Nah…but you did clip a boulder about ten meters off to the right. Got it right up the upper edge and sent a nice chunk hurtling off into the sky. I don’t even know if that fragment has landed yet!”