Do you want to hear more about the coronavirus? Me neither. I will tell you, however, that my family and I are weathering it well. Despite the new responsibility of homeschooling my son, I am writing every day. My sci-fi novel, The Dragon Emperor, Book 2 of the Dragon Spawn Chronicles, is coming along nicely. But I need some writing advice for chapter 1. I’ve been getting help from beta readers and the one reoccurring comment has been that they can’t get into the main character. Will you read it and provide feedback on why you think my character is weak or how you think I might be able to make this chapter better? I’d really appreciate it.
Chapter 1: Attack of the Dragon
3791:023:12:35. Year 3791, day 23, 12:35 hours, Prontaean time as per the last sync.
The Dragon and Basilisk warships crept toward the planet like mamushi snakes. Thendi began as an insignificant spot of light against the vastness of space, but the planet slowly swelled beyond the edges of the Dragon bridge’s large viewscreen.
The half shadow on the planet’s right side, indicated they arrived on schedule. Jori swelled with pride. His navigational calculations were perfect. The enemy had no idea what was coming.
He glanced at his father, hoping for some hint of approval. There was none. Apparently, coming up with the perfect trajectory that avoided enemy detection still wasn’t enough to make up for his recent failings.
Jori peered over the data on his station. He was only ten-cycles old, so his only job was to observe. But the only thing worth looking at right now was the looming planet.
Thendi was much like any other habitable planet. It had deep blue oceans, large blocks of land, and icy patches that nestled the poles like warhead caps. Most of Thendi’s terrain was conglomerated into what could be confused as one large landmass. And it was a reddish-brown color that made the wisps of hovering clouds look like coolant on rusted metal.
Though there was a serenity to the planet’s outward appearance, turmoil churned just beneath its surface. Its people lived lives nearly as violent as Jori’s own people, but for a different reason.
Jori tapped the viewer at his station and zoomed in. The planet’s surface was scared from the violent clashes of grinding plates. Gashes of red marred the land where the plates slid apart, making the planet appear as though it had been ruthlessly stabbed.
The Thendians were developing a powerful wave-emitting device that could temper the movement of the plates. This same device could be altered to cause planetary-wide destruction—and Jori’s father wanted it.
His father, Emperor Mizuki, sat coolly in the throne-like chair at the center of the bridge. His broad shoulders eased into the chairback and his powerful hands lay casually on the arm rests. He was far from relaxed, though. Jori didn’t need to use his ability to sense emotions to know his father was giddy with anticipation. He saw it on his face—the flared nostrils of his hawk-like nose, the firmness of his angular jaw, and the glittering of his dark eyes.
Jori sensed the same anxiousness in his older brother Terkeshi, though it was mixed with determination as he manned the tactical station. At age fourteen, Terk was already nearly as tall as their father. He didn’t yet have a man’s bulk, but he was strong. His black uniform matched his dark hair, both of which would’ve looked grey if compared to the darkness of his eyes.
Terk caught Jori looking at him. His lips curled up slightly. Jori smiled widely in return. It felt good to have his big brother talking to him again. If only his father would forgive him too.
The Dragon crawled into position. Jori resisted the urge to fidget. His exhilaration for battle mingled with misgiving.
He wasn’t afraid. Not of battle, anyway. He loved the challenges of his martial practices, strategic analyses, and space combat simulations. When the opportunity to help plan this attack on Thendi came, his head whirled with the excitement of analyzing all the variables. Now that the moment was upon him, though, he wasn’t so sure.
Jori clenched his jaw. It was stupid to feel this way. His father and brother were right. This foolish sentiment of his made him weak. He was a senji/warrior. And not just any senji, a Dragon Senji bred and trained to be the best. He forced his emotions aside and focused on his sense of duty and the hyped emotions of the other senji.
“Passive sensors pick up three Prontaean ships, my Lord,” Shosa/Major Niashi at the operations station said.
Jori’s father sat erect. “Still no indication that they’ve detected us?”
“No, My Lord.”
Jori held his head a little higher. His calculations not only got them close, but his predictions about where the enemy would—or wouldn’t—be scanning seemed to be holding. While the Prontaean ships could only focus on a small portion of the vastness of space, the bridge crew of the Dragon knew exactly where to look.
“Zoom in and identify,” his father said.
The viewscreen’s image lurched forward and focused on a large bulky ship. Its gravity wheel and the arc-reactor dominated the ship’s overall shape. The propulsion units jutted out the rear while an array of weapons pimpled or indented its main body.
“A Tutamen-class battleship,” Shosa Niashi said.
Jori marveled. The Tutamen-class was the largest and most heavily armed of the Prontaean Galactic Force battleships. It housed top technologies from across the known galaxy, with the greatest being its vast array of energy cannons and projectile weapons. It also harbored two squadrons of Pterodon jets, which were faster and more maneuverable than any others because their virtual interfaces kept them from being hindered by the g-force limitations of human occupants.
As impressive as this PG-Force battleship was, it was only a little more powerful than the Dragon warship. What armament and tech the Dragon lacked, though, was compensated for by the tactical brilliance of his father.
The next ship flicked onto the viewscreen. This one was much smaller, but still amply armed.
“Fortis-class destroyer,” Shosa Niashi said. “The Tutamen is called Defender and the Fortis is Perses.”
“And the third ship?” Jori’s father said.
Shosa Niashi tapped his console. The viewscreen lurched again.
Jori’s heart skipped a beat. It can’t be.
It was an Expedition-class vessel from the Prontaean Colonial Cooperative. Though this PCC ship was nearly as large as the Defender, it wasn’t as bulky and had only a few basic defense weapons.
Shosa Niashi made a derisive noise. “A civilian ship.”
Jori clutched the armrest of his chair. “What’s it called?”
“Odyssey,” the shosa replied.
Chikusho/Shit! Of all the enemy ships out there, why did it have to be Captain Arden and Commander Hapker’s ship?
“This had better not be a problem, boy,” His father said with a glower.
“No, of course not,” Jori replied automatically. He masked his unease with what he hoped was a determined expression.
He tried to quell his emotions so his brother wouldn’t sense his hesitation, but it was too late. Terk’s temper darkened. He glowered at Jori and shook his head in warning.
Jori swallowed hard. Emotion is weakness. Just because the Odyssey had once saved his and Terk’s life didn’t mean he owed them anything. He had already made the mistake of letting them escape when Terk wanted to destroy them.
Jori’s people, the Toradon Nohibito, and the races of the Prontaean Cooperative were all human, but the Toradons were far superior—at least that is what he’d been taught. He wanted to believe it, but doubt crept in with the thought of Commander Hapker.
Jori clenched his fists and summoned his resolve. He wasn’t going to let his sentiment interfere again. He was a senji and senji didn’t back down against their enemies.
Jori’s father stepped up to the viewscreen and clasped his hands behind his back. “Tell the Basilisk to get ready.”
Jori tapped into tac-view mode while everyone else prepped for battle.
Please comment below with any feedback you have on chapter 1.
I really enjoyed reading this! Your worldbuilding and situation set-up are on point and make me want to read the rest of the book (which is the ultimate goal!) I love the glimpses into your culture and the hints at your magic.
For you MC: what I see of him in this I really like. He seems like an interesting character and I can already tell that I would love to read about him. I’m super intrigued to learn what happened between him and the ship, Odyssey. Some things with his personality just seem a little underdeveloped, is all.
It’s a bit hard to pin down, but I think it has to do with that I don’t know what he’s feeling or why. Or rather, I don’t know the basis of his emotions. You say that he’s not afraid of the battle, but hint that he is afraid of something. But you don’t go into detail what that something is.
(Another example would be when you say: “Now that the moment was upon him, though, he wasn’t so sure.” What isn’t he sure about? Killing his enemies, or does he simply doubt whether he is ready?)
I can tell that he wants to fit in, and I can see glimmers of why he’s different than his family.
But I think a bit more about why? Why does he feel sentiment towards these people? Perhaps because he can see them as people and not just blips on the screen? He obviously loves the challenge of battle, but has he ever had to kill anyone before? Is he afraid of that? Does he hate the feeling of war, even if he loves the challenge of it?
I think it’s just about refining his thoughts and emotions to make it clear what he is experiencing (because he’s the POV character, what he experiences, so do we.)
I hope this helps a little bit! I know how hard that first chapter can be (I think I’m on like the fifteenth revision of mine, or at least it feels like).
Best of luck!
Thank you, Megann! Your analysis of what you think he might be feeling is spot on (wants to fit in but sentimental and not sure about killing). Should I spell it out at this point, though, or have it unfold through the story? I can certainly try giving a little more insight into his emotions without giving it all away right away. Thanks for reading and thanks for your input! :0)
If you want someone to beta read your work, I’m available. My email is listed in the right column of this blog.
I think just having it a little more clear would help, though you definitely don’t want to dump everything in the first chapter. Just enough so that we clearly understand his emotions and conflict in this first scene. Im glad I could help a bit!
And thank you! I’ll definitely keep your offer in mind for when I need beta readers! Though I’m a bit far from that stage at the moment 😂
Chris here…. Maybe conversation earlier in the chapter. You have done a lot of “thought” but no conversations amongst them….even if it’s some thing light to show release of pent up anxiety or anticipation? C
Sent from my iPad
Great idea… I’ll give that a try. Thanks! :0)