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  1. Accelerator231

    Accelerator231 Senior Member

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    Alien first contact - issues with pacing and information

    Discussion in 'Short Stories' started by Accelerator231, Aug 24, 2019.

    So I'm trying to write a first contact short story. It goes like this:

    Shuttle/ starship/ spacecraft gets into an accident, and flies off course
    Spacecraft and its passengers are sent flying off into space, with the craft too damaged to get back
    Now they're stuck, doomed to die in outer space, surrounded by the 4 metal walls of their moving tomb.
    Everyone is worried and horrified
    News story follows them
    Someone, out there, presses a button
    The ship remains off course... but everyone within the ship is teleported back to earth
    Everyone wonders what this is about, some decry it as a hoax, and some call it a miracle and an act of god
    Some say its aliens, and try to contact them.
    People wait with bated breathe, looking out into the night sky, transmitting calls, asking and thanking.
    And a week later, someone answers.

    Here's the thing. I've tried writing it before. But it was lackluster and kinda boring. How do I; 1. Keep up the tension, 2. Keep the fear and horror of dying in space, 3. Keep this all informative and entertaining?
     
  2. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll I said I write, didn't say good. :P Supporter Contributor

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    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    What about the 'unkown' aspect of the aliens? You can't discount the act of
    kindness as a prelude to something far more malignant in the long term.
    So with that uncertainty between whether they are friendly or hostile will
    keep a good amount of tension going. Even having them reply in a cryptic
    fashion will also keep things on edge.

    The dying is space part is easy: limited supplies, oxygen, and the fear that
    they could smack into a rogue asteroid or get caught in a planet's gravity well
    or even worse a star. Hell just being off course by a few degrees would be bad
    enough for most to have concerns due to the fuel they can't afford to spend on
    course correction, but it is terrifying to be the plaything of gravity and the
    many possible scenarios that could arise if there is absolutely no way to even
    try to maneuver or propel themselves at all. So yes tension rises when you are
    at the mercy of space, and the mind wonders what will happen to them, along
    with how long can they stay alive in the minute possibility that somebody happens
    to be able to find them before they die of starvation/dehydration. For added fun
    the more desperate the conditions get people will be at eachother's throats doing
    anything necessary to live as long as possible at the expense of others. The thinner
    the air gets and fills with CO2, the more pressed the crew will be over time. They
    would suffer all kinds of side effects (physical/mental) as their oxygen deprived
    brains slip into delirium as they slowly suffocate to death.

    As for information, it is best if you can squeeze it into dialogue wherever possible.
    In your case it would be alot over comms, between base of operations and the crew
    in space. For the other bit there would be plenty of discussions about what to do
    and how to handle every scenario they can think of and how to handle it.

    Good luck. :)
     
  3. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think that's a great story premise. Have you started writing?

    Start writing and get feedback on the actual story as you go. You don't need all the details planned out. Join us over here in pantsing-land where next chapters and endings develop out of thin air.
     
    Accelerator231 and Cave Troll like this.
  4. Accelerator231

    Accelerator231 Senior Member

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    Sigh. This.

    [link deleted by a moderator - if you want critique you need to post it here, in the workshop]

    Oh no, that's the thing.

    The aliens were never aliens in the conventional sense. They're humans from another dimension. They saw what was happening while they were on a rather remote exploration mission, and decided this was as good a time as any to break the prime directive.

    In fact, they barely talk at all, save for asking if the people in the ship wish for help, and then teleporting them onto Earth/ ISS.

    And yes, they're friendly.
    Thing is, this is a short story. Emphasis on Short. How do I pack in as much tension and fear such that I can transfer it, over less than several thousand words? What should I keep, and what should I cut?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 26, 2019
  5. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You've told the story and haven't shown the story. That's why you haven't built up the excitement.

    It's fine to tell a story once you've learned the writing technique of showing. There are big arguments on this forum about show/don't tell. I'd ignore all that for now. People want to dismiss the whole thing for whatever reason instead of discuss the writing issues.

    There are hundreds of sources that teach showing. This one has the basics.
    Show, don't tell: What you need to know

    What I did with lots of writing techniques was once I learned about them, I went on a search of dozens of webpages and writing books looking for the versions that fit my learning needs. You should read more than one about showing, not telling.

    You need to post your work here where people can give you feedback. Or find a critique group in your area. Meetup is a good place to look for writer's groups. And like the learning resources, you may need to try out more than one group to find one that works for you.

    This part works like a prologue so telling is a reasonable technique.

    Try something like this:

    The crew peered out the windows at the approaching moon looming larger every minute. The ship, Zheng He, reached orbit. Everyone was in awe of the cratered surface, cameras snapped images, click click click, the excitement was palpable even among this experienced crew.

    Alarms sounded interrupting the attention of the transfixed crew.
    You have so much backstory interwoven in this it's hard to work the action around it without rewriting big sections of your story. It's okay to put it in there but you need to balance the action with all that backstory.

    My suggestion is to split it up. Write out all the action putting the backstory aside temporarily. Then find places you can insert descriptions of the character's lives leading up to this trip.


    Then you might consider not letting everyone off the hook so easily in the end, but that's not mandatory. It can have a happy ending. And I still think the story premise is good.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2019

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