Hello everybody, today we have a science-fiction piece from Octavious on Writing.com.
As men of science, we always adhered to facts, considered details in the decisions we make and studied to solve problems here on the UMD77. Distance, gravitational pull, the atmospheric pressure-every single factor was calculated down to the decimal point. For the past 30 years, I have proudly served as a counselor on board this ship. Although calculations brought us far, nothing prepared us for that fateful day.
From a prose standpoint there is little I can see to improve here; the author uses strong verbs, their word selection is distinctive and they have little to no inefficiency. Besides one small grammar error (‘make’ should be ‘made’) the flaws here are mostly the paragraph level. This paragraph consists of four sentences, each of which deal with a different subject. The first sentence is macro view of the story (meaning it conveys large strokes of past narrative from a distance) and the second sentence deals on micro level (by which I mean it deals with the immediate concerns of the narrative) and there is no transition or connection between the two. They’re related, but they don’t belong together because the stories they’re trying to tell are fundamentally different, one is large scale and tonal, the second immediate and pressing.
The third sentence continues this by again changing the focus from large scale history/immediate story to personal history, which again changes to immediate story with the fourth sentence. The result of this is comparatively minor, it disconnects the readers from the story, makes them lose focus slightly because the paragraph doesn’t hold up to focus. It also deprives the opening paragraph of any momentum it might have built because there’s no rhythm or sequence to the events; they’re all, ever so slightly, divorced from one another.
Now, after reading the paragraph for the sixth or seventh time, I finally discerned my problem with the phrase “in the decisions we make and studied to solve problems here on the UMD77.” Something always struck me as off with it, but it took me a moment to figure out exactly what that was. The easy fix is ‘the decisions we make’ to —our decisions— but there was more to it, I couldn’t figure out what details there were to be considered in decisions that had already been made. Ultimately, I believe the author intended something more like “considered every detail before making a decision.” At the very least, ‘in’ is ambiguous and invites misinterpretation, which is something you always want to avoid.
The final comment on the prose level is reflection of the paragraph’s greater issue. ‘As men of science’ indicates a particular style to the reader, it is philosophical in tone, stating that the author is about to give us a general opinion of these scientists or their history. But, ‘to solve problems here on the UMD77’ breaks that tone, going from the general to the immediate (macro to micro.) Changes like this are unpleasant to read because it forces the readers to stop and readjust without reason or logic.
Another final point (on the paragraph level) is that the first sentence has nothing to do with the story.
So, how do we resolve these flaws? It’s hard to say since these flaws (excluding the prose and efficiency ones) are entirely story based and this isn’t my story. But, I would start by deleting the first sentence entirely, and moving the “For the past 30 years, I have proudly served as a counselor on board this ship.” To start the paragraph instead, mostly so that it doesn’t interrupt the two sentences that are actually related to, and build upon, one another. That, unfortunately, introduces us with a different problem: how do we connect them? (There is also some minor restructuring I’ll preform, but don’t tell the audience since I already said I was done with that.)
—I have proudly served as a counselor aboard the UMD77 for 30 years… Distance, gravitational pull, the atmospheric pressure-every single factor was calculated down to the decimal point. Although calculations brought us far, nothing prepared us for that fateful day. — (The ellipses after ‘years’ mean that the starting thought is incomplete and needs more.)
Looking at the reordered version, I can see that ‘Although calculations brought us far’ can be replaced with a simple ‘but.’ You couldn’t do this before because the paragraph’s broken structure forced the author to reconnect these two sentences. However, since they’re now subsequent, we don’t need to refer to the previous one and can even marry them posthaste.
I don’t have a solution for connecting the first sentence, so we’ll have to progress for now.
A ship of an unusual size sat between two orbiting planets. Resembling a large, cylindrical cross, the ship is an amalgamation of metal tubes and cables with wings pointing to each respective planet. The ship rotated with the Earth-like planets as dozens of red lights flickered around the hull amidst the darkness. The two worlds casted its shadow on the ship as jets of steam escaped from various exhausts on the ship.
This paragraph gives us more to tinker around with and mutilate on the prose level. We’ll start with the first two sentences, which I believe can be combined (provided we don’t infringe on the displaced modifier.) —A ship of unusual size sat between two orbiting planets, resembling a cylindrical cross comprised of metal tubes and cables with wings pointing to either planet.—
The first ‘an’ is simply unnecessary, and we don’t need ‘large’ since that’s implied in ‘unusual size.’ The phrase “The ship is an amalgamation” is both grammatically incorrect (since it is present tense and the story is past tense) and easily replaced with ‘comprised of’ provided the sentences are connected. ‘Each respective’ is replaced by ‘either,’ which is a single word as opposed to two. A few other minor changes would be —A ship of unusual size orbited with two planets, resembling a cylindrical cross comprised of metal tubes and cables with wings directed at either planet.— The logic here is that by replacing ‘sat’ with ‘orbited’ that removes the need for ‘the ship rotated…’ further on in the paragraph while also excising a rather flavorless verb (sat.) The second change was ’pointing’ to ‘directed’ to reduce the number of INGs in close proximity. I would also like to swap the second ‘planet’ for ‘world’ to promote word variety and avoid the potential echo.
The next two sentences are, unfortunately, something of Frankenstein construction, vacillating between describing the ship and the two planets. This is undesirable, and the logic behind the planets’ descriptions suspect.
In reading this, I assumed the planets shared an orbit, which means that for the ship to be between them it couldn’t be in their shadow. It could only ever be in the shadow of one, and then only if the planets rotated on different orbits, meaning you have the system’s center (likely a sun) then you have the first planet, then ship, then second planet.
There is also a small technical correction needed. “The two worlds casted its” to ‘The two worlds cast their shadows…” All that technical nonsense aside, lets proceed.
(Original sentence.) The ship rotated with the Earth-like planets as dozens of red lights flickered around the hull amidst the darkness. The two worlds casted its shadow on the ship as jets of steam escaped from various exhausts on the ship.
Well, we obviously have to delete ‘the ship rotated…’ since that was the whole point of the alteration above. After that I would delete ‘amidst the darkness’ since it’s fairly well understood that Space is dark. (This is complicated by the ambiguity of the ship’s location in relation to the system’s sun, which is pretty much guaranteed to be a sun since they’re ‘Earth-like.’) Something else that is ambiguous is the red lights, are they on the hull or distinct from it? I believe they’re on the hull since we are describing the ship, but that is merely an educated guess. If that is the case, we can also delete ‘around the hull,’ as understood. (It is the inclusion of ‘around’ that complicates the lights, so deleting ‘hull’ here actually clarifies the situation.) I think we need to give the section a small rewrite here for comprehensibility since the first sentence has no verb at the moment…
—It bided in the first world’s shadow, its hull flickering with red lights and bursting with jets of steam.— (I went with the two different orbits for two reasons, it preserved the author’s ‘shadow’ description’ and because it afforded me an easy action for the ship I would otherwise have lacked.)
The run-down here is simply efficient structure, by combining the sentences we remove the need for repeated mentions of ‘the ship’ and ‘planets.’ We removed ‘from various exhausts’ since that doesn’t really afford any clarity. (It only really serves to remove the possibility of the ship being destroyed, which is unlikely due to the narrative pacing.)
All my edits. (First paragraph is written in italics in original document
I have proudly served as a counselor aboard the UMD77 for 30 years… Distance, gravitational pull, the atmospheric pressure—every single factor was calculated down to the decimal point, but nothing prepared us for that fateful day…
A ship of unusual size orbited with two planets, resembling a cylindrical cross comprised of metal tubes and cables with wings directed at either world. It bided in the first planet’s shadow, hull flickering with red lights and bursting with jets of steam.
I would exchange the first ‘with’ for ‘between.’ ‘with’ is more appropriate if they share an orbit, but ‘between’ reads better and since I have it where they’re not sharing an orbit I can make the change. That’s the only further change I would make, though it is by no means perfect. The first paragraph still needs that transition, but my mind fails me, so we’ll just have to ignore it.
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