Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Boiling into space

Today's entry is the first 515 words of Galaxy Class Hero by Dranea Lyn. It's a rough draft, so it's ripe for a good boiling. A sci-fi thriller, this should be great fun to boil down. Let's see what we can do.

The original:

“O2 LEVELS DANGEROUSLY LOW.  O2 LEVELS DANGEROUSLY LOW.” 

The robotic female voice droned over the speakers through the entire ship.  In every room of the small, transport ship the warning was belted out, but there were only two sets of ears that heard it. At least now there were only two sets. 

“How the hell could this happen?” A naked, shivering figure stood motionless and watched as one burning blaze after another lit the screen in front of her.  Suddenly, the brightness on the screen was overbearing and she had to turn her face away.  The reverberations from the explosions reached her bare feet.  The cargo hold was at the back of the ship.  She was surprised the whole ship had not broken apart.

Boz, trying to run to the monitor and pull his pants on at the same time was having difficulties.  He finally gave up this pursuit, dropped Zoe’s clothes at his feet and stared open mouthed at the view.  The emergency hatches had opened - flames were extinguished as all of the oxygen in the room was sucked out as were many of the supplies not securely bolted to the walls or the floor.  The real horror was watching the blackened faces of his friends silently scream on screen.  They tried to keep purchase on the wooden crates or metal hibernation chambers in the cargo hold, but one by one, their grips failed and their bodies were lost to the infinite boundaries of space.

The Mors, a scientific supply ship, was on its way to a new planet.  The crew aboard were newly qualified scientists ready for their first expedition to a budding planet.  Their predecessors had already set up shop on the surface and were eagerly awaiting this team of helpers and the supplies that would accompany them.  The six months of waiting seemed an eternity to Boz and Zoe; they had dreamed of this trip for what seemed their entire lives.

They had grown up together, played together, shared science experiments together, and finally studied for interplanetary research together.  They were closer than friends.  The excitement of the trip stirred feelings in them they both had shared but were always afraid of admitting.  This morning they decided to take a next step in their relationship.  Late in the evening, the crew was required to take detailed notes on the inventory being shipped to the planet’s surface. The entire crew should have been there, but the two shirked their duties for their short, personal vacation.

As the ship needed no captain to run or pilot the craft, the bridge of the ship was always empty.  This is where Zoe and Boz planned their first rendezvous.  As unromantic as the environment was, they were guaranteed not to be interrupted, and they would be able to see anyone coming from all of the monitors watching over everything on the ship. 

“Zoe…Zoe!”  It took Boz a second to catch her attention.  Handing her clothes to her, she dressed in complete silence, not once lifting her eyes from the floor.  She was going into shock.

The Condensation:

An initial note is that this is in an omniscient POV. While considered a "no-no" in most fiction circles today, it can work well and I have no intention of addressing whether or not we should change that here--it does have bearing on our boiling, though, because we have to keep straight who is thinking, feeling, or experiencing what...which requires more words in general than a single POV would.

“O2 LEVELS DANGEROUSLY LOW.  O2 LEVELS DANGEROUSLY LOW.” 

The robotic female voice droned over the speakers through the entire ship.  In every room of the small, transport ship the warning was belted out, but there were only two sets of ears that heard it. At least now there were only two sets.

We can assume that a voice droning through a ship is doing so via speakers, and that "the ship" is "the entire ship".

The second sentence contains only two salient pieces of information: that it's a small transport ship, and that two people heard it. The first piece we can incorporate into the first sentence, and the second is more powerful if we let it stand on its own. As an aside, "was belted out" fails the "by zombies" test.

The shock of the third sentence can be combined with the second, and "sets of ears" are people.

“O2 LEVELS DANGEROUSLY LOW.  O2 LEVELS DANGEROUSLY LOW.”
 The robotic female voice droned through the small transport ship.  Now, only two people heard it.

“How the hell could this happen?” A naked, shivering figure stood motionless and watched as one burning blaze after another lit the screen in front of her.  Suddenly, the brightness on the screen was overbearing and she had to turn her face away.  The reverberations from the explosions reached her bare feet.  The cargo hold was at the back of the ship.  She was surprised the whole ship had not broken apart.

The dialogue is fine--I rarely have any suggestions for boiling it down. A naked, female = who? Zoe? Assuming the narrator knows this, we should just come out and say it.

The next two sentences, though, can be combined. "one burning blaze after another" = "blaze after blaze". "The screen in front of her" can be "the screen", because if it wasn't in front of her she wouldn't be looking at it... That she stood motionless is implied if she's watching a screen.

I'm adverse to adverbs, but to "suddenly" in particular. In the context of a fiction novel where action is outlaid, it by and large adds nothing to the narrative. This clause can be combined with the previous sentence, and the passive "was overbearing" can be condensed with the brightness to yield a more active sentence.

The next sentence is fine, but "The cargo hold was at the back of the ship" is entirely passive, so let's combine the two. I don't think at this point the location of the cargo hold is important, given that the ship is in the process of blowing up, and by boiling that out we avoid the echo on "ship". Indeed, a paragraph down we learn it's the cargo hold, so we can cut it here but keep it there.

The last sentence is a tell, but probably okay. Even so, "had not" = "hadn't", and "She was surprised" can be made more active with the addition of one word.

“How the hell could this happen?” Zoe's naked, shivering figure turned her face away as blaze after blaze overwhelmed the screen.  The reverberations from the explosions reached her bare feet. It surprised her that the whole ship hadn't broken apart.

Boz, trying to run to the monitor and pull his pants on at the same time was having difficulties.  He finally gave up this pursuit, dropped Zoe’s clothes at his feet and stared open mouthed at the view.  The emergency hatches had opened - flames were extinguished as all of the oxygen in the room was sucked out as were many of the supplies not securely bolted to the walls or the floor.  The real horror was watching the blackened faces of his friends silently scream on screen.  They tried to keep purchase on the wooden crates or metal hibernation chambers in the cargo hold, but one by one, their grips failed and their bodies were lost to the infinite boundaries of space.

The structures "was [verb]ing" can almost always be condensed. "Trying to" is almost always clutter, but in this case he meets in failure, so it's okay.

In the second sentence, it's not clear which pursuit he gave up--the pants, running to the monitor, or both.

Finally can go--it's just clutter, and the action hasn't been happening long enough to justify it anyway. When things are dropped, they're generally at one's feet, so this can boil out. To stare open-mouthed is to gape. Also, I get the impression that he's trying to put on Zoe's pants, because he gives up, then drops her clothes.

The next sentence can be boiled with some rearrangement. The action is that everything is venting into space, so let's put that front-and-center.

We don't need to tell the reader that it's horrible to watch friends die. "Silently", while an evil adverb, is appropriate here (as screams are not, as a rule, silent!) I don't understand the use of the word "blackened" here. Decompression takes a while and doesn't cause blackening, so I can only assume that they're charred--this is another case where I'd discuss this with the author were this a "real" edit and not a blog post. We already know it's "on screen", so we can boil that out, and now the sentence is short enough to combine with the next one.

"tried to keep purchase" = "clung to"; and now we've got a run-on sentence that I created...but that's okay, because the last part of the final sentence of this paragraph has more impact on its own.

"their bodies were lost"...by zombies. "Lost to the infinite boundaries of space" is a beautiful turn of phrase that could be boiled out entirely, but it's better left in.

Boz stumbled to the monitor as he tried to slide a foot into his pants.  He gave up, dropped Zoe’s clothes and gaped at the view.  Supplies tumbled into space as emergency hatches vented oxygen to smother the flames. His friends' charred faces screamed silently as they clung to wooden crates or metal hibernation chambers in the cargo hold. One by one their grips failed and they joined the debris, lost to the infinite boundaries of space.

The Mors, a scientific supply ship, was on its way to a new planet.  The crew aboard were newly qualified scientists ready for their first expedition to a budding planet.  Their predecessors had already set up shop on the surface and were eagerly awaiting this team of helpers and the supplies that would accompany them.  The six months of waiting seemed an eternity to Boz and Zoe; they had dreamed of this trip for what seemed their entire lives.

I think we need a sentence or two here to indicate that the immediate danger to Boz and Zoe is over. Otherwise, we've stopped in the middle of the action for an info-dump.

The information in the first sentence can be condensed and made more active; instead of saying that it's a supply ship and that it's going to a new planet, we can say that it's bringing supplies to a new planet! (I'd give the planet a name at this juncture. I'm sure it has one.)

The second sentence doesn't move, it's just information. Let's change it so that the crew is doing something. We have a variety of adjectives that are synonymous with "newly qualified"--greenhorn, tenderfoot, freshman, neophyte--that allow us to boil out the adverb.

"Already" is clutter. So is "shop". We also already know that they're helpers and that they're bringing supplies.

Waiting is too close to awaiting in the previous sentence, so let's make it "transit".

You've got an echo on "seemed", which is often clutter anyway, so "for what seemed their entire lives" = "all their lives".

The fire detection system blinked green. The emergency hatches closed. The claxon alarm cut off.

The Mors was bringing scientific supplies to [name], with a crew of greenhorn scientists ready for their first expedition to a budding planet, where the surface team awaited their arrival.  The six months of transit seemed an eternity to Boz and Zoe; they had dreamed of this trip all their lives.

They had grown up together, played together, shared science experiments together, and finally studied for interplanetary research together.  They were closer than friends.  The excitement of the trip stirred feelings in them they both had shared but were always afraid of admitting.  This morning they decided to take a next step in their relationship.  Late in the evening, the crew was required to take detailed notes on the inventory being shipped to the planet’s surface. The entire crew should have been there, but the two shirked their duties for their short, personal vacation.

Judicious use of adverbs can help keep prose from becoming stilted, so let's change this "They had" to "They'd" (even though we left the previous one alone). "shared science experiments together" = "shared experiments", because shared means together, and experiments are science! There are lots of echoes on "together" here, and this change also reduces it to the magical number of three--just enough! Again we can kill the "finally".

"They were closer than friends" is redundant with the rest of the paragraph, so we can boil it out.

Feelings are "in them", so boil that. "they both had shared" = "they shared", because it takes two (or more) to share. Always is clutter and can be boiled out.

The sentence beginning "this morning" is clutter, unless the timing of their decision to sleep together is important to the plot.

The final two sentences can be consolidated into one.

They'd grown up together, played together, shared experiments, and studied for interplanetary research together.  The excitement of the trip stirred feelings they shared but were afraid of admitting.  That evening they'd shirked inventory duties with the rest of the crew for a short, personal vacation.

As the ship needed no captain to run or pilot the craft, the bridge of the ship was always empty.  This is where Zoe and Boz planned their first rendezvous.  As unromantic as the environment was, they were guaranteed not to be interrupted, and they would be able to see anyone coming from all of the monitors watching over everything on the ship. 

The first piece of information can be condensed to "On autopilot". "of the ship" is obvious, so can be boiled away.

The second sentence is redundant with the information we already have, and can be boiled out in its entirety.

"As unromantic as the environment was" = "unromantic, at least"
"not to be interrupted" = "no interruptions"
"would be able to" = "could"

The last phrase is redundant with what we already know, because they're watching the entire ship on the monitors.

On autopilot, the bridge was always empty.  Unromantic, at least it guaranteed no interruptions, and they could see anyone coming on the monitors. 

 “Zoe…Zoe!”  It took Boz a second to catch her attention.  Handing her clothes to her, she dressed in complete silence, not once lifting her eyes from the floor.  She was going into shock.


The first non-dialogue sentence here is a tell, partly redundant with the repeated "Zoe!"

The second sentence reads like she handed the clothes to herself. We've got the added issue that he'd dropped them on the floor.

"Complete" is clutter when accompanying "silence".

Her shock is evident from her actions, so we don't have to tell what we've already shown. If the shock gets worse, we can make that apparent in the next paragraph.

“Zoe…Zoe!”  She turned a little.  He picked up her clothes and held them out. She dressed in silence, not once lifting her eyes from the floor.

The Result:

“O2 LEVELS DANGEROUSLY LOW.  O2 LEVELS DANGEROUSLY LOW.” 
The robotic female voice droned through the small transport ship.  Now, only two people heard it.

“How the hell could this happen?” Zoe's naked, shivering figure turned her face away as blaze after blaze overwhelmed the screen.  The reverberations from the explosions reached her bare feet. It surprised her that the whole ship hadn't broken apart.

Boz stumbled to the monitor as he tried to slide a foot into his pants.  He gave up, dropped Zoe’s clothes and gaped at the view.  Supplies tumbled into space as emergency hatches vented oxygen to smother the flames. His friends' charred faces screamed silently as they clung to wooden crates or metal hibernation chambers in the cargo hold. One by one their grips failed and they joined the debris, lost to the infinite boundaries of space.

The fire detection system blinked green. The emergency hatches closed. The claxon alarm cut off.

The Mors was bringing scientific supplies to [name], with a crew of greenhorn scientists ready for their first expedition to a budding planet, where the surface team awaited their arrival.  The six months of transit seemed an eternity to Boz and Zoe; they had dreamed of this trip all their lives.

They'd grown up together, played together, shared experiments, and studied for interplanetary research together.  The excitement of the trip stirred feelings they shared but were afraid of admitting.  That evening they'd shirked inventory duties with the rest of the crew for a short, personal vacation.

On autopilot, the bridge was always empty.  Unromantic, at least it guaranteed no interruptions, and they could see anyone coming on the monitors. 

“Zoe…Zoe!”  She turned a little.  He picked up her clothes and held them out. She dressed in silence, not once lifting her eyes from the floor.


515 words boil down to 301, a reduction of 41.5%. What do you think?