Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Blue Moon

The sweat stains on the back of Myra’s shirt looked like wings. She sat at the top of the  Needle, wiggling her feet off the edge of the platform. Her father used to bring her up here, so they could watch the ships go in and out of the Grooves. Sometimes they would throw food at the ships, and Myra used to think she could make them crash, but she knew better now.

The black-haired girl pulled a sandwich out of a plastic bag. The half-eaten sandwich had been reclaimed from a dumpster somewhere close to her old apartment. Myra tore off the gross part and threw it off the Needle. It fluttered open before it landed with a flop on the edge of the Southern Groove.

A flock of greyish birds hopped all over the food, cooing and pecking until it was gone. The birds stood around like children waiting for a school bell, calling at each other and bobbing around, until an enormous roar sent the birds scattering away from the Groove. The belly of an enormous gas tanker squeezed in through the plasma dome, violet-hued plasma sucking at the hull of the ship. Not a single molecule of gas slipped inside the dome. Myra once asked her father what would happen if the plasma dome went out. He told her not to worry, because that would only happen when the Moon turned blue.

“But what if the power goes out?”

“Myra, there are four domes over the colony. One for each groove, and one for each half of the city. If the power goes out here, we will just go to another part of the colony, okay?”

“So we would go to Northtown?”

“Yes, honey.”

“Daddy, can we live in Northtown one day?”

Her father clutched at his stomach and he barked out a laugh. “Myra, even if we had all the money in the universe, I would never want to live with those people.”

 

The colony was an industrial project on the surface of a gaseous moon and was split down the middle by the Grooves. The Grooves were two deep ravines that reached kilometers below the surface of the moon to the rich volcanic vents in the lower crust. The Grooves also served as the main fueling stations and hangars for the industrial ships that came through the colony.

From the Needle’s top, Myra could see across the Grooves to the tips of the gleaming towers of Northtown. The vibrant lights of Northtown wouldn’t come on until dusk, but she just liked fantasizing about those expensive high-rises. She always wondered what life was like on the rich part of the colony. They probably never have any gas accidents in Northtown, she thought.

Another tanker, this one more bloated than the first, birthed in through the plasma dome, and hung for a moment in the air, filling up Myra’s view like a man-made mountain. A pair of guide-ships, barely large enough to fit one pilot, swooped down and attached themselves to the hull of the tanker. Together, all three ships sank down into the Southern Groove.

Myra pulled a tomato slice out of her sandwich, and flung it at one of the guide-ships. She was aiming for the viewport, the tiny window on the front of the guide-ship. She wasn’t even close.

Before her father died in the gas accident, they would bring a jar of peanut butter and sliced bread to the top of the Needle. They would spend the whole afternoon spreading peanut butter on the bread and throwing it at the ships. Once, her father had gotten a slice stuck on the hull of a guide-ship. Myra shrieked with laughter when a squadron of birds swarmed the small vessel.

“See that little window there, Myra?”

She nodded.

“That’s called the ‘viewport’. I want to stick a slice on one of those some day.”

“But daddy!” she huffed, “How will they see? That’s dangerous.”

He clutched his side and laughed, “Myra, the pilots never use them. They only use the viewport if their visual systems are down, and that only happens once in a blue moon.”

She wrinkled her nose and squinched up her eyes, “Once in a blue moon? What does that mean?”

“Oh, it’s just an old Earth saying. It means it will never happen.”

 

Myra still didn’t understand that saying. She had seen pictures of the moon they lived on, and it was as blue as her father’s eyes. She learned in school that it was because of the thick, gaseous atmosphere, or something to do with molecules in the air.

Her sandwich was almost gone and she was getting thirsty. Myra cocked her arm and chunked the sandwich just as a pair of guide ships crested over the edge of the Southern Groove. They were towing the bloated tanker, the one that could have carried the whole colony in its belly.

As the last of her food drifted down into the groove, a huge white bird with a beak the size of its body flew over the edge of the Groove and caught the bread. It sailed right over one of the guide-ships and a jet of liquid squirted out of the bird’s rear end. The guide-ship’s viewport was splattered.

The bloated tanker was pulled off course and started rolling on its port side. The tanker’s engines roared over Myra’s head before the ship careened back over the Grooves. Emergency sirens pierced the air, and the light from the plasma dome intensified, but the tanker was already rolling into Northtown. The tanker smashed into skyscraper after skyscraper and gas spewed from its belly.

Myra could picture her dad, both arms around his torso, laughing.

I am trying to practice what I preach, so I wrote the first sentence of this story after writing How To Write the First Sentence of Anything – pt. 1.  My test readers were having difficulty understanding the setting (Where is the colony? In the Grooves? Outside? Which moon? Things like that), so I revised it before posting it. Are there still issues with the setting? Did the story work for you? 

How To Write the First Sentence of Anything

Ignore the classics. I am lying, of course but, if you are still reading, then that first sentence was a success. The only thing a first sentence needs to do is keep the reader moving down the page. But somehow it is the most stressful sentence of almost every text.

BooksInnit

I can’t tell you how many times I have given up an idea for a story because I could not move beyond the first sentence until it was perfect. The single most important piece of advice I can give about first sentences is that you can not force them. You can’t squeeze your fingers around the words and will them into existence. There is an art to writing a first sentence, and it’s actually a lot easier than you might think.

First, you must ask yourself what you want from that first sentence. There are  some important elements that should be present in your first paragraph, and you should aim to have at least one of these in your first sentence:

  • A desire to keep reading
  • A sense of urgency
  • A voice

Every writer wants their first sentence to be groundbreaking, to be remembered along with all the Ishmaels, all the best of times, and all the worst of times. Forget it. Allow the idea of greatness to leave your mind, let yourself spend your energy on writing, not on dreaming. The words will come, in your own voice, if you let them. Remember; no author will ever find their work to be perfect (unless they are a liar).

If you are still stuck, write a few pages of dribble. Eventually, your mind will turn to your story, and then something golden will surface in the mud. This might take longer than you expect. But you must let it flow, or else that first sentence might be your last.


What is your favorite first sentence? Why do you think its so damn good?