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Prose & Cons

By Rebecca Schibler 21 Nov, 2017

Bozo realized there was something else in the air too, a smell that he tried very hard not to think about as he forced himself to move through waves of heat towards the lifepods.

This is so cliche it makes my eyes water.

The ship shook terribly and Bozo fell. No, he wasn’t falling. The artificial gravity had failed and he was in free fall. His mind made the adjustment, but adrenaline caused him to push off the floor too hard and at an odd angle and he was ricocheting off the wall. It burned his shoulder where he hit. Bingo started yelling and Bozo tried to turn but the smoke was too thick. Survival pushed him forward, guilt and terror twisting his thoughts and stomach as he clawed through the air. The smoke was clearing ahead and instinct drove him towards it.

This is supposed to be intense and exciting but it's trending to purple prose (overwritten flowery prose). Shorter sentences, punchier verbs (twisted, shove, bounce, singed) Also as cutesy as my naming system was Bingo and Bozo and Bravo is hard to keep track of when you're reading.

Coughing horribly, heart pounding in his ears, somehow louder than the alarms and the soothing voice, he focused on the serene woman urging him calmly forward.

Coughing horribly isn't very communicative. The basic ideas here are good but man my execution needs some development. "He coughed, throat raw with smoke and fear, and focused on the serene voice pulling him to the escape pods." No wonder this thing was 10k.

Finally he reached them. Three had been launched, two were left. Each one sat 20 people, which was more than enough pods for everyone on the ship. He pushed himself through the airlock into the nearest pod and saw only two other people. His little sister, Banquine, and the new girl, Banana. No one else was there. They held to handholds on the opposite side of the door and stared at him wide-eyed as he pushed himself in.

Full of tell, more "B" names, too long.

“Where is everyone?” His voice was raw, shaking.

Ah, this isn't bad.

Banana shook her head. She looked like Bozo imagined he did as well. Covered in ash, disheveled hair, eyes shining from their escape.

Again, the phrasing is just... off.

His sister’s face was expressionless but she was crying. The tears collected on her cheek in shiny balls because of the lack of gravity but she did nothing to remove them. She just sobbed silently. The balls of tears grew and swirled as the ship shook, distorting her face and eyes.

Four sentences to say she is crying blankly and the tears collect on her face. Tighten your prose!

She shared quarters with their parents.

Tellllllll.

“Banquine? What happened? Where are mom and dad?”

She didn’t move. Didn’t respond. Bozo belatedly realized that Bravo hadn’t yet joined them. He considered going back out into the hallway to look for his brothers and parents but he couldn’t bring himself to move. He just clung to the handhold and stared at the doorway, hoping for anyone to appear.

Belatedly realized? Ugh. It sounds like he's discussing it with a tea and his pinky out.

They waited, in the noise and the terror, for more people to arrive. But no one came. After a particularly violent shudder, Banana suddenly pushed herself to the door and slammed her fist into the deploy panel on the wall. The airlock slid shut and the pod blasted away from the ship.

Oy Vey. The single biggest thing with this "action" section is tighten the prose. Every sentence, every word, should enhance setting, character, and conflict (plot)

Unspeaking, the three survivors moved to the lone window, orienting themselves like spokes on a wheel so they could all see out. Bozo was sick with the desire to look and the fear seeing brought. He looked. It appeared that an entire section of the ship had been blown away. It shrunk away in the small window, receding to a distance that made the analysis less personal.

Tighten the prose. Seven sentences should be two or maybe three.

It was a large freighter, called Olympus, contracted by the Circus for the station circuit. The Captain was a nice woman with a thick Brit accent who liked to visit with the group about their travels. The front section of the ship, where the working crew would have been, was totally destroyed by something- maybe a random meteor the satellites had somehow missed. The crew quarters, aft of the working area, were visibly smoldering even from the increasing distance between the pod and the ship. The passenger section was largely undamaged by the whatever-it-was but some forsaken engineer had put the lifepods forward of the crew quarters.

Tell, tell, tell, boring (his emotions would filter his description), irrelevant, tell. Could probably be completely deleted.

The pod tumbled soundlessly and their view shifted. Mars loomed red and rusty below, the atmosphere thick and hazy from the terraforming machines. Bozo thought that the lifepod would take them to the nearest station but as the planet grew larger and larger, he realized they were going to the surface.

This isn't terrible.

The realization struck him simultaneously with the shock, smoke inhalation, and terror, and he passed out as the pain in his shoulder reached a peak, his head lolling comically to the side as the pod descended towards Mars.

Shorter sentences are better but except for the comically, which isn't in keeping with the atmosphere of the piece, this isn't bad either.

 

 

When Bozo came to, he could hear a wind blowing and the sounds of someone moving around outside. Even when he opened his eyes he could barely see. The light was hazy and thick, as if coming through a thick curtain. He blinked several times to clear his eyesight but it didn’t help. His body ached from laying across the bucket seats of the lifepod. He pushed himself upright and winced. His head was pounding, his eyes were stinging, and his shoulder felt like it was still burning. He rubbed his scalp with his good arm, trying to clear the fog in his mind.

Needs rephrasing, and sometimes less is more with setting. Also hate lifepod. It's an escape pod, silly. Also "was" "were" "was" distance the reader. "His head pounded, his eyes stung; his shoulder still burned."

He stood and shot nearly to the ceiling. The gravity was extremely low, he’d have to adjust. He settled back to the floor and carefully bounced towards the airlock door, which stood open. Still groggy, he banged his already aching head on the seal as he went outside. The terraforming was nearly complete, the atmosphere was breathable for humans now. They were just working on stabilizing the weather patterns, which still tended to spawn giant dust storms. Next they’d import small plants and animals from Earth to start normalizing the soil. Bacterial import had already begun- moss, molds, micro bacteria, that kind of thing. Bozo was no scientist, but terraforming was the main topic of conversation on the stations.

I did do research about relative gravity, fwiw. My sentences tend to have a lot of phrases, which  makes them hard to read. This is a lot of tell, but important information. Sometimes telling is good.

Outside, Banquine was sitting on a rock a few meters from the pod looking terribly small in the vast Martian landscape. Like everything else she was bathed in a weird, red, light. The light breeze was blowing red dust everywhere and already she had a red hue to her skin and blond hair. The horizons stretched before them - sharp hills and dunes studded with rocks.

Get read of the "Was"s and shorten the sentences. Other than that this isn't terrible

By Rebecca Schibler 15 Nov, 2017

“If your grandparents had a circus, what did your parents do?” Bozo couldn’t fathom leaving the circus. The whole circus was a big family to him, and he’d never been alone or lonely.

This is a big "tell". It would be stronger to SHOW how the circus is a family to him, how he's never lonely.

Unused to physical work, she pushed sweaty hair back on her forehead before answering. “Well, mom met dad at a show when she was about 18. He started off as just a mark, really. Mom was learning how to pitch, and picked dad out of the audience. But they kind of hit it off. He kept coming back to the circus and eventually they went out. When the show got set to move on a few weeks later, mom told my grandparents she didn’t want to go.”

This paragraph, again, opens with a tell. I formatted the number incorrectly. This also reads really awkwardly for dialogue- a good tip for dialogue is to read it out loud.

Bozo shook his head. Imagine falling for a mark. "This is Clown Alley, here. Everything has already been packed up, but usually there are a few wardrobes, a makeup table, and a prop table." Without the equipment out, it was really just an empty space curtained off from the main backstage area, the aluminum tables with weights on their legs in case of gravity loss looked rather bleak to Bozo. "When we get to the next station you can see how it all goes together." He gestured towards the big top and they continued. "What’d they say? Your grandparents, I mean, when your mom left the circus.”

Awkward writing (wow it's so awkward) trying to integrate dialogue with some (rather boring) action. 

Banana let out a bark of laughter that was surprisingly loud given her mild speaking voice up to that point.

Weird sentence. Trying to show character but it's a little heavy handed.

“The story gets a little vague at that point,” she said, “up until I was born and there was a reunion of sorts. My mom had left the circus for good and I think my grandparents just wanted to have me in their lives.”

Again awkward.

“And, uh, your name?” said Bozo, sensing an opportunity to get insight without being rude.

I'm not trusting my reader here. I opened the story discussing the name concern, returning to it explicitly becomes a "Yeah I know" to the reader.

She glanced at him, not fooled, but shrugged. “My folks are just a little unique, that’s all. Dad might not have been a carnie but he did fall in love with one. Mom is called Barbara and dad’s name is Nathan Nan. So… Banana.”

Oh Lord Becky. But still, I fell in love with the character and her name after writing the story, so this explanation stays. However, I'm revealing poor research here. A carnie is not the same thing as a circus worker.

Bozo started laughing and then stopped, embarrassed but unavoidably incredulous.

Heavy handed.

“Your name is Banana Nan?”

She was no longer indulgent. "Yes, and yours is Bozo the Clown,” she said glaring.

I actually like this interaction but I would shift the writing to simplify and remove the "was"

Bozo held up both hands palm out in surrender, and smiled at her again. His open face was hard to stay angry with. She smiled back apologetically.

Why would she be apologetic? Not clear.

“This is the big top. Most of what you’ll be doing will probably be here, or in the cashier’s tent out front. Setting up the bleachers, cleaning them after shows, you wouldn’t believe the things people leave behind, and breaking them down. That part was already done, as you can see. You’ll see how they go together at Station 4 though, and once you’ve seen them assembled breakdown is easy.”

Same complaint as the first section. This is SO BORING. NOTHING is happening. Who cares about a circus layout (especially when we never spend any further time there in the story)?

The big round tent seemed more enormous than usual without the rows of bleachers around the edges. Light filtered in from the screened panels on the top, and the dust from hundreds of feet and dozens of animals moving around floated through the air. It was a magical space to Bozo. A space where rickety bleachers and a few feet of space in the center could transform the mundane lives of an audience, if only for a short space of time, into a world of belief and majesty. This transformation was made all the more magical by the fact that when you turned the lights up it was really nothing more than a big dirty tent.

I like this description but its a) heavy handed and b) boring and c) not moving the plot along. Every sentence should do one of three things (setting, character, plot) and preferably ALL THREE or at least double duty. Many of these sentences are exploration writing for me, discovering the universe and the characters- but the reader doesn't need it.

Bozo shook his head and looked around at Banana, but she was lost in her own thoughts looking at the big space. He wondered if they mirrored his own.

“Well, that’s about it,” he said looking around again, “I imagine they’ll show you the ins and outs of the cash register on 4.”

Banana nodded and took a deep breath.

Improper number formatting.

“Thanks for the tour. I should probably get my stuff sorted.”

She walked away, kicking little poofs of dust as she went. Bozo watched her go, unaware of the entranced expression on his face.

  So awkward and on the nose. I am trying to imply an attraction but I didn't show it at all in the above sections. Strengthen or remove!

 

An explosion rocked the ship.

CONFLICT! Finally!

Bozo was tossed out of his bunk and fell nearly 6 feet to the hard bulkhead below. Klaxons began blaring and a calm feminine voice started speaking, even louder than the alarms.

Began, started, louder, tossed. Action should be quick to read. Simplify.

“Decompression detected. All personnel should move immediately to lifepods. Decompression detected. All personnel should move immediately to lifepods. Decompression detected…”

One repeat is enough, and you don't typically use ellipsis in this kind of writing.

Bozo had been deeply asleep and was confused by the sudden noisy awakening. He stood clumsily and began moving towards the door. His brothers were doing the same. Bravo was already opening the door, but waited for Bozo and Bingo to exit before following them into the hall. His face was illuminated by the red emergency light in the hallway as Bozo passed, making his scared expression look fierce.

Don't need "had been deeply asleep". I'm not trusting my reader again. We meet Bravo and Bingo but we have no idea what they look like. I do like the last sentence in this, but again, it's a little awkward and should be stronger.

The freighter was shaking and shuddering. There were bangs and metallic groans coming from forward in the ship. Bozo stumbled along behind Bingo, unconsciously aware of Bravo a little behind him.

Delete ALL THE WAS! The freighter shook and shuddered. Bangs and groans echoed from forward in the ship. Bozo stumbled along, following Bingo, subconsciously aware of Bravo following behind. Active voice, yo.

He was awake enough to be frightened now.

ick Delete: too much tell, too heavy, trust the reader. Of course he's scared.

The noise and the red light made the scene surreal. Bodies moving purposefully but clumsily towards the same goal, occasionally stumbling from sleep or disorientation. It was like an old time zombie film.

I like the image I'm trying to convey here but it's badly delivered.

Slowly he became aware there was smoke filling the air. Worse, a sound that Bozo couldn’t, wouldn’t, identify. As they neared the end of the passenger section and the start of the crew quarters he was forced to realize. It was screaming.

Little cliche here. Could be stronger.

They were in the crew quarters now and smoke was thickening. Bozo tried to cover his mouth with his shirt but thin sleep material did little to block air he could taste in the back of his throat. He couldn’t shut his ears to the cacophony of terrible sounds either. The entry doors to the crew quarters were jammed shut; a malfunction or damage. Uselessly, a yellow panel blinked "Door Malfunction" next to the doors grinding, trying to open. Smoke poured from vents and cracks.

Delete all the was. The action is interesting but we're ANOTHER 1000 words in and the story is just barely getting started.

By Rebecca Schibler 10 Nov, 2017

“If your grandparents had a circus, what did your parents do?” Bozo couldn’t fathom leaving the circus. The whole circus was a big family to him, and he’d never been alone or lonely.

Unused to physical work, she pushed sweaty hair back on her forehead before answering. “Well, mom met dad at a show when she was about 18. He started off as just a mark, really. Mom was learning how to pitch, and picked dad out of the audience. But they kind of hit it off. He kept coming back to the circus and eventually they went out. When the show got set to move on a few weeks later, mom told my grandparents she didn’t want to go.”

Bozo shook his head. Imagine falling for a mark. "This is Clown Alley, here. Everything has already been packed up, but usually there are a few wardrobes, a makeup table, and a prop table." Without the equipment out, it was really just an empty space curtained off from the main backstage area, the aluminum tables with weights on their legs in case of gravity loss looked rather bleak to Bozo. "When we get to the next station you can see how it all goes together." He gestured towards the big top and they continued. "What’d they say? Your grandparents, I mean, when your mom left the circus.”

Banana let out a bark of laughter that was surprisingly loud given her mild speaking voice up to that point.

“The story gets a little vague at that point,” she said, “up until I was born and there was a reunion of sorts. My mom had left the circus for good and I think my grandparents just wanted to have me in their lives.”

“And, uh, your name?” said Bozo, sensing an opportunity to get insight without being rude.

She glanced at him, not fooled, but shrugged. “My folks are just a little unique, that’s all. Dad might not have been a carnie but he did fall in love with one. Mom is called Barbara and dad’s name is Nathan Nan. So… Banana.”

Bozo started laughing and then stopped, embarrassed but unavoidably incredulous.

“Your name is Banana Nan?”

She was no longer indulgent. "Yes, and yours is Bozo the Clown,” she said glaring.

Bozo held up both hands palm out in surrender, and smiled at her again. His open face was hard to stay angry with. She smiled back apologetically.

“This is the big top. Most of what you’ll be doing will probably be here, or in the cashier’s tent out front. Setting up the bleachers, cleaning them after shows, you wouldn’t believe the things people leave behind, and breaking them down. That part was already done, as you can see. You’ll see how they go together at Station 4 though, and once you’ve seen them assembled breakdown is easy.”

The big round tent seemed more enormous than usual without the rows of bleachers around the edges. Light filtered in from the screened panels on the top, and the dust from hundreds of feet and dozens of animals moving around floated through the air. It was a magical space to Bozo. A space where rickety bleachers and a few feet of space in the center could transform the mundane lives of an audience, if only for a short space of time, into a world of belief and majesty. This transformation was made all the more magical by the fact that when you turned the lights up it was really nothing more than a big dirty tent.

Bozo shook his head and looked around at Banana, but she was lost in her own thoughts looking at the big space. He wondered if they mirrored his own.

“Well, that’s about it,” he said looking around again, “I imagine they’ll show you the ins and outs of the cash register on 4.”

Banana nodded and took a deep breath.

“Thanks for the tour. I should probably get my stuff sorted.”

She walked away, kicking little poofs of dust as she went. Bozo watched her go, unaware of the entranced expression on his face.

 

 

An explosion rocked the ship.

Bozo was tossed out of his bunk and fell nearly 6 feet to the hard bulkhead below. Klaxons began blaring and a calm feminine voice started speaking, even louder than the alarms.

“Decompression detected. All personnel should move immediately to lifepods. Decompression detected. All personnel should move immediately to lifepods. Decompression detected…”

Bozo had been deeply asleep and was confused by the sudden noisy awakening. He stood clumsily and began moving towards the door. His brothers were doing the same. Bravo was already opening the door, but waited for Bozo and Bingo to exit before following them into the hall. His face was illuminated by the red emergency light in the hallway as Bozo passed, making his scared expression look fierce.

The freighter was shaking and shuddering. There were bangs and metallic groans coming from forward in the ship. Bozo stumbled along behind Bingo, unconsciously aware of Bravo a little behind him.

He was awake enough to be frightened now.

The noise and the red light made the scene surreal. Bodies moving purposefully but clumsily towards the same goal, occasionally stumbling from sleep or disorientation. It was like an old time zombie film.

Slowly he became aware there was smoke filling the air. Worse, a sound that Bozo couldn’t, wouldn’t, identify. As they neared the end of the passenger section and the start of the crew quarters he was forced to realize. It was screaming.

They were in the crew quarters now and smoke was thickening. Bozo tried to cover his mouth with his shirt but thin sleep material did little to block air he could taste in the back of his throat. He couldn’t shut his ears to the cacophony of terrible sounds either. The entry doors to the crew quarters were jammed shut; a malfunction or damage. Uselessly, a yellow panel blinked "Door Malfunction" next to the doors grinding, trying to open. Smoke poured from vents and cracks.
By Rebecca Schibler 06 Nov, 2017

It’s hard to be a clown named Bozo.  Not bad as far as hooks go.

His parents, a strongman and a freak in the Great Space Circus, named their children with whimsy. His older brothers were Bravo and Bingo. His little sister, Banquine. Like feudal serfs, their occupations were determined by birth and name. Bravo was a ringmaster, Bingo ran games, and little Banquine was training to be a tumbler. Bozo, naturally, was a clown.  Lot of tell here- which means I am explaining Bozo's life to you like a newspaper article. Less interesting than introducing you to the characters. That being said, I think it kind of works, but introducing 5 additional characters in the second paragraph is a lot.

Thankfully in Bozo’s case, he loved being a clown. He liked little kids and he liked the smile on the parents faces watching their kids experience something for the first time that they’d seen a thousand times before. The flower petal water squirt, the inevitable stumble as Bozo turned to greet a new face, the joy kids found in sharing a little embarrassment with an adult who acted more like them. Bozo liked little kids, so he liked being a clown.  Again, a lot of tell. A stronger way to do this would be to open with someone asking if that's his real name in the midst of a show. He could glance at his brothers, sister, introducing that concept early as well.

Still, he got tired of saying, “Yes, that is my real name” and then “Yes, really” every time he met someone new. So when he met Banana, he was able to resist that impulse and just say, “Hi Banana, nice to meet you”. The smile that spread across her face when Bozo didn’t ask about her name was mild but bright. She was a little chubby, probably from low gravity and a lackluster approach to exercise but curvy in the right places. Bozo counted himself lucky being the first single guy of the group to spend time with her.  Similar comment. Would be stronger in the midst of action instead of just told to the reader. A lot of early writing is exploratory for the writer, but when we go back we should make it more show and less tell.

The Circus manager, George, told him that Banana had joined the circus after a short stint as a congressional clerk at Luna City. She said, dryly, that she wanted to work with people pretending to be clowns instead of clowns pretending to be people. She was going to sell tickets and work as a backup caller on bigger stations, for now. Bozo was asked to show Banana around and get her acquainted with everyone as they all packed up and loaded onto the freighter.  We're a page into this story and nothing has happened. Need some action, less backstory. I needed to know how they met and where, but the reader does not need all of that information.

They met the day the Circus moved on from Mars Station 12 to Mars Station 4. Station 4 was one of the bigger stations and the Circus would be there for over a month, doing 2 shows a day, so they had the prospects to be taking on new people. The Mars Stations were full of people working on the terraforming project, so there was lots of cash to go around. It was the Circus’s second tour of the stations.  Some of this is critical information for later in the story, but again I should show the reader, not tell it.

“Let’s start with the animals, shall we?” Bozo gestured with his hand towards the back tent where the animals were kept. Even in space, a circus had to have tents. It was expected.  Suddenly, better. Action, movement, dialogue. But there is a critical component missing. Conflict. Stories are based on conflict, otherwise it's a journal entry. I have introduced no conflict except that Bozo gets tired of explaining his name. Boring.

Banana nodded and the two set off with the springy step typical of the near normal gravity of stations.

“So do you want to move to real circus work or is this just a holding pattern for you until you find something better?”

She brideled. “I’m not going to quit at the next station if that’s what you mean. I’m not wasting your time.” Her round face had reddened slightly and Bozo smiled to soothe her.  "She brideled" is not only a typo and a misspelling but it's a common mistake. Just say said, and let the dialogue bridle for her. 

“Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean anything by it. Just curious where you’d want to work in the show.”  Ugh this dialogue is really stilted and could use some strengthening.

“Oh!” Banana smiled again and looked wistful. “My grandmother was a magician. It’s probably too late to get good enough at that now. My grandfather was a clown. I’d like to try that out sometime.” She gave him a sidelong glance through brown bangs that were askew.  There's some potential here, but it's a little on the nose. 

“Clowning Is hard work… but a lot of fun.” Bozo’s open face was thoughtful as he looked at her. Not everyone had the temperament to be a clown. “Anyway, here's the animal tent. We have the four elephants, called Mick, Minn, Donnie, and Daisy. There are three horses, you won’t have to care for them much, they have riders that practically live with them. Um… twelve dogs, two goats, and of course, the pride- two lions and three lionesses.”  LOL at my open attempts to avoid plagiarizing Disney because I didn't know how those rules worked. Ubiquitous things can be used.

The Great Space Circus was particularly famous for their exotic animals. Very few animals were allowed off of Earth even in the old days, and none since the political shifts when Antarctica finished melting completely. Environmentalism was at a peak, despite significant repair to Earth from terraforming technology. Space residents rarely got to see live animals, and returning to Earth was a luxury most could not afford. The elephants and lions, billed as “The Pride and Joy of the Great Space Circus”, were a huge draw.  Telly. Should show Banana getting excited about the animals, asking Bozo how they got them etc. Although we STILL don't have any conflict. It's just a lot of boring description without anything happening. In order to keep this scene, I need to add some internal conflict Bozo is struggling with. Maybe he planned to ditch the circus this day but decides he's got a crush on Banana. Maybe someone in the circus is harassing him and he can't get away from them. Maybe he got an offer from a rival circus. Something to make the reader care about these events more.

Bozo walked Banana through the general care for the animals - everyone in the troop was expected to help out where and when it was needed - and they moved on to the prop tent.  I hadn't learned when and where to use dashes yet. It's complicated, but here it should be an em dash without spaces.

“How long have you been in the circus, Bozo?” She had returned the politeness of not questioning his name.  Tell

“Oh, since always. My folks work here too. My dad is a strongman, mom is a freak, well, really a contortionist but the marks don’t realize she unwinds after work.” He grinned at the joke, but Banana just looked at him. He shrugged, and continued. “I have a brother who works with the ringmaster, a brother with the games, and my baby sister is training to be an acrobat.”  Not my best humor. 

Banana’s eyes lit up. “That’s so cool! I spent summers with my grandparents touring the old United States with a small circus and I loved it. I would cry when my parents would show up to take me back to school.” As they entered the prop tent, she looked around and grinned. “One year I tried to hide in the prop tent so I could stay, but they found me."  Stilted dialogue and unconvincing. Could be better.

A group of people were already working, checking and packing up props in their appropriate boxes. Anything that needed cleaning or repair was set aside, and noted. They both immediately pitched in, Banana helping without speaking. Bozo watched her listening to the casual banter with a concentration that belied the casual look on her face. Despite being new, she worked hard. When they were done, Bozo and Banana moved on to the big tent.  I'm trying to show character in this bit and failing pretty badly, I think. Not to mention in 1000 words we've done literally nothing with our time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I'll post the next 1000 words on Friday and crit them Monday. When we're done critiquing, I'm going to rewrite the story completely and see if we can't find some gems in the dirt.

By Rebecca Schibler 03 Nov, 2017

 

It’s hard to be a clown named Bozo.

His parents, a strongman and a freak in the Great Space Circus, named their children with whimsy. His older brothers were Bravo and Bingo. His little sister, Banquine. Like feudal serfs, their occupations were determined by birth and name. Bravo was a ringmaster, Bingo ran games, and little Banquine was training to be a tumbler. Bozo, naturally, was a clown.

Thankfully in Bozo’s case, he loved being a clown. He liked little kids and he liked the smile on the parents faces watching their kids experience something for the first time that they’d seen a thousand times before. The flower petal water squirt, the inevitable stumble as Bozo turned to greet a new face, the joy kids found in sharing a little embarrassment with an adult who acted more like them. Bozo liked little kids, so he liked being a clown.

Still, he got tired of saying, “Yes, that is my real name” and then “Yes, really” every time he met someone new. So when he met Banana, he was able to resist that impulse and just say, “Hi Banana, nice to meet you”. The smile that spread across her face when Bozo didn’t ask about her name was mild but bright. She was a little chubby, probably from low gravity and a lackluster approach to exercise but curvy in the right places. Bozo counted himself lucky being the first single guy of the group to spend time with her.

The Circus manager, George, told him that Banana had joined the circus after a short stint as a congressional clerk at Luna City. She said, dryly, that she wanted to work with people pretending to be clowns instead of clowns pretending to be people. She was going to sell tickets and work as a backup caller on bigger stations, for now. Bozo was asked to show Banana around and get her acquainted with everyone as they all packed up and loaded onto the freighter.

They met the day the Circus moved on from Mars Station 12 to Mars Station 4. Station 4 was one of the bigger stations and the Circus would be there for over a month, doing 2 shows a day, so they had the prospects to be taking on new people. The Mars Stations were full of people working on the terraforming project, so there was lots of cash to go around. It was the Circus’s second tour of the stations.

“Let’s start with the animals, shall we?” Bozo gestured with his hand towards the back tent where the animals were kept. Even in space, a circus had to have tents. It was expected.

Banana nodded and the two set off with the springy step typical of the near normal gravity of stations.

“So do you want to move to real circus work or is this just a holding pattern for you until you find something better?”

She brideled. “I’m not going to quit at the next station if that’s what you mean. I’m not wasting your time.” Her round face had reddened slightly and Bozo smiled to soothe her.

“Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean anything by it. Just curious where you’d want to work in the show.”

“Oh!” Banana smiled again and looked wistful. “My grandmother was a magician. It’s probably too late to get good enough at that now. My grandfather was a clown. I’d like to try that out sometime.” She gave him a sidelong glance through brown bangs that were askew.

“Clowning Is hard work… but a lot of fun.” Bozo’s open face was thoughtful as he looked at her. Not everyone had the temperament to be a clown. “Anyway, here's the animal tent. We have the four elephants, called Mick, Minn, Donnie, and Daisy. There are three horses, you won’t have to care for them much, they have riders that practically live with them. Um… twelve dogs, two goats, and of course, the pride- two lions and three lionesses.”

The Great Space Circus was particularly famous for their exotic animals. Very few animals were allowed off of Earth even in the old days, and none since the political shifts when Antarctica finished melting completely. Environmentalism was at a peak, despite significant repair to Earth from terraforming technology. Space residents rarely got to see live animals, and returning to Earth was a luxury most could not afford. The elephants and lions, billed as “The Pride and Joy of the Great Space Circus”, were a huge draw.

Bozo walked Banana through the general care for the animals - everyone in the troop was expected to help out where and when it was needed - and they moved on to the prop tent.

“How long have you been in the circus, Bozo?” She had returned the politeness of not questioning his name.

“Oh, since always. My folks work here too. My dad is a strongman, mom is a freak, well, really a contortionist but the marks don’t realize she unwinds after work.” He grinned at the joke, but Banana just looked at him. He shrugged, and continued. “I have a brother who works with the ringmaster, a brother with the games, and my baby sister is training to be an acrobat.”

Banana’s eyes lit up. “That’s so cool! I spent summers with my grandparents touring the old United States with a small circus and I loved it. I would cry when my parents would show up to take me back to school.” As they entered the prop tent, she looked around and grinned. “One year I tried to hide in the prop tent so I could stay, but they found me."

A group of people were already working, checking and packing up props in their appropriate boxes. Anything that needed cleaning or repair was set aside, and noted. They both immediately pitched in, Banana helping without speaking. Bozo watched her listening to the casual banter with a concentration that belied the casual look on her face. Despite being new, she worked hard. When they were done, Bozo and Banana moved on to the big tent.

By Rebecca Schibler 30 Oct, 2017

I have this sister. She can be a little snarky. Sometime in February I was telling her about the novel and she said “Oh, and then they get magic powers and become clowns!” At the time, I thought she was just outrageously silly and moved on. But when it came time for me to write that first short story, I found I was overwhelmed by the simple idea of making up a story. I hadn’t exercised my creative muscles in so long, I didn’t know where to begin.

So I took my sisters idea, with a splash of Barry B Longyear’s CIRCUS WORLD, and wrote a rambling tale about a clown from the space circus crash-landing on Mars, only to discover that Martian dust gives you psychokinetic abilities. Sounded easy enough. It took me about a week, and I ended up with 12k words of description, dialogue, and a rough plot. But I had most of a story.

Oh wait, an ending. I had NO idea how to end the blasted thing. I edited it from the start. I read articles on short stories, plot, character development, and conflict. I edited some more. I deleted the beginning, changed the cast, tried to enhance conflict. I wrote an ending, scrapped it, wrote another ending. Finally, just in time to submit, I had 10k words of what I thought was a decent story. I submitted it, and turned back to the novel.

At the same time I was writing RED CIRCUS (I know, I know) I joined an online critique group called Critters. You critique manuscripts for credit and in turn other people can critique yours. Suddenly, all of the information I had been given started to coalesce. In reading other people’s stories, the flaws in my own writing began to stand out. I have learned more from reading than I ever have from writing. It’s true what they say- if you want to write, read.

Still, in the vein and spirit of critique being a great way to learn about writing, I’m going to do this: Every Friday, I’ll post 1,000 words of my dreadful story RED CIRCUS, and every Monday, I’ll post a critique with analysis of the excerpt. When the critique is done, I’ll post the critiqued story and rewritten cuts side by side with the annotations. 


Let the games begin!

By Rebecca Schibler 23 Oct, 2017
Sometime around spring 2016, I had a vivid dream of a red-haired girl standing in a castle with her face pressed against thick glass staring at the first snowfall of the year. She was eager to get out in the snow. It was for some reason a powerful image. I couldn't get her out of my head. I began to daydream about her, filling in details of her life story. 

Then, for Christmas, my husband gave me an iPad. For some strange reason, this was the impetus I needed. (Disclaimer: I'm not being paid to promote Apple products) I began to research "How to Write a Book" and on January 1, began plotting my novel in earnest. By the end of January, I was completely hooked on the writing process. I had 40k words of a novel and the rest planned out. I was excited, engaged, and being creative for the first time in years.

Still, it seemed like it was too easy. I read writing blogs, made a Twitter account, and soon realized that there was a lot more to writing a book than simply filling word documents with little black symbols. By the end of February, I had 60k words and was finished with what  I thought was the first half of my book. I had encountered mention of The Writers of the Future Contest, and decided to write a short story in March. Easy, right?

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, short stories are not easier versions of novels. Far from it. In many ways they are more difficult to construct well than a novel because the author has so much less time to engage and enthrall their reader. My first short story was terrible, and will forever live in the back of my junk drawer. Still, the process was enormously educational. I finished a story, and then rewrote it, editing and revising. I learned about manuscript formatting and submission rules. When I turned back to the novel at the beginning of April, I felt much more prepared. 

I had also discovered a passion for the short story format, despite loving my novel idea. So much so that in June, I wrote a second short story (actually 3rd but the 2nd was as bad as the 1st) and submitted to the contest. In September, I did the same thing. Every two months, I took a break from working on the novel to focus on short story for a month. I learned in early September that my third short story had received an Honorable Mention in the contest. For a beginning author, that was encouraging and hopeful. 

2017 has been a crazy year for me, but I am completely hooked. I'm a writer!
By Rebecca Schibler 21 Oct, 2017
Updates will be coming soon.

Prose & Cons

By Rebecca Schibler 21 Nov, 2017

Bozo realized there was something else in the air too, a smell that he tried very hard not to think about as he forced himself to move through waves of heat towards the lifepods.

This is so cliche it makes my eyes water.

The ship shook terribly and Bozo fell. No, he wasn’t falling. The artificial gravity had failed and he was in free fall. His mind made the adjustment, but adrenaline caused him to push off the floor too hard and at an odd angle and he was ricocheting off the wall. It burned his shoulder where he hit. Bingo started yelling and Bozo tried to turn but the smoke was too thick. Survival pushed him forward, guilt and terror twisting his thoughts and stomach as he clawed through the air. The smoke was clearing ahead and instinct drove him towards it.

This is supposed to be intense and exciting but it's trending to purple prose (overwritten flowery prose). Shorter sentences, punchier verbs (twisted, shove, bounce, singed) Also as cutesy as my naming system was Bingo and Bozo and Bravo is hard to keep track of when you're reading.

Coughing horribly, heart pounding in his ears, somehow louder than the alarms and the soothing voice, he focused on the serene woman urging him calmly forward.

Coughing horribly isn't very communicative. The basic ideas here are good but man my execution needs some development. "He coughed, throat raw with smoke and fear, and focused on the serene voice pulling him to the escape pods." No wonder this thing was 10k.

Finally he reached them. Three had been launched, two were left. Each one sat 20 people, which was more than enough pods for everyone on the ship. He pushed himself through the airlock into the nearest pod and saw only two other people. His little sister, Banquine, and the new girl, Banana. No one else was there. They held to handholds on the opposite side of the door and stared at him wide-eyed as he pushed himself in.

Full of tell, more "B" names, too long.

“Where is everyone?” His voice was raw, shaking.

Ah, this isn't bad.

Banana shook her head. She looked like Bozo imagined he did as well. Covered in ash, disheveled hair, eyes shining from their escape.

Again, the phrasing is just... off.

His sister’s face was expressionless but she was crying. The tears collected on her cheek in shiny balls because of the lack of gravity but she did nothing to remove them. She just sobbed silently. The balls of tears grew and swirled as the ship shook, distorting her face and eyes.

Four sentences to say she is crying blankly and the tears collect on her face. Tighten your prose!

She shared quarters with their parents.

Tellllllll.

“Banquine? What happened? Where are mom and dad?”

She didn’t move. Didn’t respond. Bozo belatedly realized that Bravo hadn’t yet joined them. He considered going back out into the hallway to look for his brothers and parents but he couldn’t bring himself to move. He just clung to the handhold and stared at the doorway, hoping for anyone to appear.

Belatedly realized? Ugh. It sounds like he's discussing it with a tea and his pinky out.

They waited, in the noise and the terror, for more people to arrive. But no one came. After a particularly violent shudder, Banana suddenly pushed herself to the door and slammed her fist into the deploy panel on the wall. The airlock slid shut and the pod blasted away from the ship.

Oy Vey. The single biggest thing with this "action" section is tighten the prose. Every sentence, every word, should enhance setting, character, and conflict (plot)

Unspeaking, the three survivors moved to the lone window, orienting themselves like spokes on a wheel so they could all see out. Bozo was sick with the desire to look and the fear seeing brought. He looked. It appeared that an entire section of the ship had been blown away. It shrunk away in the small window, receding to a distance that made the analysis less personal.

Tighten the prose. Seven sentences should be two or maybe three.

It was a large freighter, called Olympus, contracted by the Circus for the station circuit. The Captain was a nice woman with a thick Brit accent who liked to visit with the group about their travels. The front section of the ship, where the working crew would have been, was totally destroyed by something- maybe a random meteor the satellites had somehow missed. The crew quarters, aft of the working area, were visibly smoldering even from the increasing distance between the pod and the ship. The passenger section was largely undamaged by the whatever-it-was but some forsaken engineer had put the lifepods forward of the crew quarters.

Tell, tell, tell, boring (his emotions would filter his description), irrelevant, tell. Could probably be completely deleted.

The pod tumbled soundlessly and their view shifted. Mars loomed red and rusty below, the atmosphere thick and hazy from the terraforming machines. Bozo thought that the lifepod would take them to the nearest station but as the planet grew larger and larger, he realized they were going to the surface.

This isn't terrible.

The realization struck him simultaneously with the shock, smoke inhalation, and terror, and he passed out as the pain in his shoulder reached a peak, his head lolling comically to the side as the pod descended towards Mars.

Shorter sentences are better but except for the comically, which isn't in keeping with the atmosphere of the piece, this isn't bad either.

 

 

When Bozo came to, he could hear a wind blowing and the sounds of someone moving around outside. Even when he opened his eyes he could barely see. The light was hazy and thick, as if coming through a thick curtain. He blinked several times to clear his eyesight but it didn’t help. His body ached from laying across the bucket seats of the lifepod. He pushed himself upright and winced. His head was pounding, his eyes were stinging, and his shoulder felt like it was still burning. He rubbed his scalp with his good arm, trying to clear the fog in his mind.

Needs rephrasing, and sometimes less is more with setting. Also hate lifepod. It's an escape pod, silly. Also "was" "were" "was" distance the reader. "His head pounded, his eyes stung; his shoulder still burned."

He stood and shot nearly to the ceiling. The gravity was extremely low, he’d have to adjust. He settled back to the floor and carefully bounced towards the airlock door, which stood open. Still groggy, he banged his already aching head on the seal as he went outside. The terraforming was nearly complete, the atmosphere was breathable for humans now. They were just working on stabilizing the weather patterns, which still tended to spawn giant dust storms. Next they’d import small plants and animals from Earth to start normalizing the soil. Bacterial import had already begun- moss, molds, micro bacteria, that kind of thing. Bozo was no scientist, but terraforming was the main topic of conversation on the stations.

I did do research about relative gravity, fwiw. My sentences tend to have a lot of phrases, which  makes them hard to read. This is a lot of tell, but important information. Sometimes telling is good.

Outside, Banquine was sitting on a rock a few meters from the pod looking terribly small in the vast Martian landscape. Like everything else she was bathed in a weird, red, light. The light breeze was blowing red dust everywhere and already she had a red hue to her skin and blond hair. The horizons stretched before them - sharp hills and dunes studded with rocks.

Get read of the "Was"s and shorten the sentences. Other than that this isn't terrible

By Rebecca Schibler 15 Nov, 2017

“If your grandparents had a circus, what did your parents do?” Bozo couldn’t fathom leaving the circus. The whole circus was a big family to him, and he’d never been alone or lonely.

This is a big "tell". It would be stronger to SHOW how the circus is a family to him, how he's never lonely.

Unused to physical work, she pushed sweaty hair back on her forehead before answering. “Well, mom met dad at a show when she was about 18. He started off as just a mark, really. Mom was learning how to pitch, and picked dad out of the audience. But they kind of hit it off. He kept coming back to the circus and eventually they went out. When the show got set to move on a few weeks later, mom told my grandparents she didn’t want to go.”

This paragraph, again, opens with a tell. I formatted the number incorrectly. This also reads really awkwardly for dialogue- a good tip for dialogue is to read it out loud.

Bozo shook his head. Imagine falling for a mark. "This is Clown Alley, here. Everything has already been packed up, but usually there are a few wardrobes, a makeup table, and a prop table." Without the equipment out, it was really just an empty space curtained off from the main backstage area, the aluminum tables with weights on their legs in case of gravity loss looked rather bleak to Bozo. "When we get to the next station you can see how it all goes together." He gestured towards the big top and they continued. "What’d they say? Your grandparents, I mean, when your mom left the circus.”

Awkward writing (wow it's so awkward) trying to integrate dialogue with some (rather boring) action. 

Banana let out a bark of laughter that was surprisingly loud given her mild speaking voice up to that point.

Weird sentence. Trying to show character but it's a little heavy handed.

“The story gets a little vague at that point,” she said, “up until I was born and there was a reunion of sorts. My mom had left the circus for good and I think my grandparents just wanted to have me in their lives.”

Again awkward.

“And, uh, your name?” said Bozo, sensing an opportunity to get insight without being rude.

I'm not trusting my reader here. I opened the story discussing the name concern, returning to it explicitly becomes a "Yeah I know" to the reader.

She glanced at him, not fooled, but shrugged. “My folks are just a little unique, that’s all. Dad might not have been a carnie but he did fall in love with one. Mom is called Barbara and dad’s name is Nathan Nan. So… Banana.”

Oh Lord Becky. But still, I fell in love with the character and her name after writing the story, so this explanation stays. However, I'm revealing poor research here. A carnie is not the same thing as a circus worker.

Bozo started laughing and then stopped, embarrassed but unavoidably incredulous.

Heavy handed.

“Your name is Banana Nan?”

She was no longer indulgent. "Yes, and yours is Bozo the Clown,” she said glaring.

I actually like this interaction but I would shift the writing to simplify and remove the "was"

Bozo held up both hands palm out in surrender, and smiled at her again. His open face was hard to stay angry with. She smiled back apologetically.

Why would she be apologetic? Not clear.

“This is the big top. Most of what you’ll be doing will probably be here, or in the cashier’s tent out front. Setting up the bleachers, cleaning them after shows, you wouldn’t believe the things people leave behind, and breaking them down. That part was already done, as you can see. You’ll see how they go together at Station 4 though, and once you’ve seen them assembled breakdown is easy.”

Same complaint as the first section. This is SO BORING. NOTHING is happening. Who cares about a circus layout (especially when we never spend any further time there in the story)?

The big round tent seemed more enormous than usual without the rows of bleachers around the edges. Light filtered in from the screened panels on the top, and the dust from hundreds of feet and dozens of animals moving around floated through the air. It was a magical space to Bozo. A space where rickety bleachers and a few feet of space in the center could transform the mundane lives of an audience, if only for a short space of time, into a world of belief and majesty. This transformation was made all the more magical by the fact that when you turned the lights up it was really nothing more than a big dirty tent.

I like this description but its a) heavy handed and b) boring and c) not moving the plot along. Every sentence should do one of three things (setting, character, plot) and preferably ALL THREE or at least double duty. Many of these sentences are exploration writing for me, discovering the universe and the characters- but the reader doesn't need it.

Bozo shook his head and looked around at Banana, but she was lost in her own thoughts looking at the big space. He wondered if they mirrored his own.

“Well, that’s about it,” he said looking around again, “I imagine they’ll show you the ins and outs of the cash register on 4.”

Banana nodded and took a deep breath.

Improper number formatting.

“Thanks for the tour. I should probably get my stuff sorted.”

She walked away, kicking little poofs of dust as she went. Bozo watched her go, unaware of the entranced expression on his face.

  So awkward and on the nose. I am trying to imply an attraction but I didn't show it at all in the above sections. Strengthen or remove!

 

An explosion rocked the ship.

CONFLICT! Finally!

Bozo was tossed out of his bunk and fell nearly 6 feet to the hard bulkhead below. Klaxons began blaring and a calm feminine voice started speaking, even louder than the alarms.

Began, started, louder, tossed. Action should be quick to read. Simplify.

“Decompression detected. All personnel should move immediately to lifepods. Decompression detected. All personnel should move immediately to lifepods. Decompression detected…”

One repeat is enough, and you don't typically use ellipsis in this kind of writing.

Bozo had been deeply asleep and was confused by the sudden noisy awakening. He stood clumsily and began moving towards the door. His brothers were doing the same. Bravo was already opening the door, but waited for Bozo and Bingo to exit before following them into the hall. His face was illuminated by the red emergency light in the hallway as Bozo passed, making his scared expression look fierce.

Don't need "had been deeply asleep". I'm not trusting my reader again. We meet Bravo and Bingo but we have no idea what they look like. I do like the last sentence in this, but again, it's a little awkward and should be stronger.

The freighter was shaking and shuddering. There were bangs and metallic groans coming from forward in the ship. Bozo stumbled along behind Bingo, unconsciously aware of Bravo a little behind him.

Delete ALL THE WAS! The freighter shook and shuddered. Bangs and groans echoed from forward in the ship. Bozo stumbled along, following Bingo, subconsciously aware of Bravo following behind. Active voice, yo.

He was awake enough to be frightened now.

ick Delete: too much tell, too heavy, trust the reader. Of course he's scared.

The noise and the red light made the scene surreal. Bodies moving purposefully but clumsily towards the same goal, occasionally stumbling from sleep or disorientation. It was like an old time zombie film.

I like the image I'm trying to convey here but it's badly delivered.

Slowly he became aware there was smoke filling the air. Worse, a sound that Bozo couldn’t, wouldn’t, identify. As they neared the end of the passenger section and the start of the crew quarters he was forced to realize. It was screaming.

Little cliche here. Could be stronger.

They were in the crew quarters now and smoke was thickening. Bozo tried to cover his mouth with his shirt but thin sleep material did little to block air he could taste in the back of his throat. He couldn’t shut his ears to the cacophony of terrible sounds either. The entry doors to the crew quarters were jammed shut; a malfunction or damage. Uselessly, a yellow panel blinked "Door Malfunction" next to the doors grinding, trying to open. Smoke poured from vents and cracks.

Delete all the was. The action is interesting but we're ANOTHER 1000 words in and the story is just barely getting started.

By Rebecca Schibler 10 Nov, 2017

“If your grandparents had a circus, what did your parents do?” Bozo couldn’t fathom leaving the circus. The whole circus was a big family to him, and he’d never been alone or lonely.

Unused to physical work, she pushed sweaty hair back on her forehead before answering. “Well, mom met dad at a show when she was about 18. He started off as just a mark, really. Mom was learning how to pitch, and picked dad out of the audience. But they kind of hit it off. He kept coming back to the circus and eventually they went out. When the show got set to move on a few weeks later, mom told my grandparents she didn’t want to go.”

Bozo shook his head. Imagine falling for a mark. "This is Clown Alley, here. Everything has already been packed up, but usually there are a few wardrobes, a makeup table, and a prop table." Without the equipment out, it was really just an empty space curtained off from the main backstage area, the aluminum tables with weights on their legs in case of gravity loss looked rather bleak to Bozo. "When we get to the next station you can see how it all goes together." He gestured towards the big top and they continued. "What’d they say? Your grandparents, I mean, when your mom left the circus.”

Banana let out a bark of laughter that was surprisingly loud given her mild speaking voice up to that point.

“The story gets a little vague at that point,” she said, “up until I was born and there was a reunion of sorts. My mom had left the circus for good and I think my grandparents just wanted to have me in their lives.”

“And, uh, your name?” said Bozo, sensing an opportunity to get insight without being rude.

She glanced at him, not fooled, but shrugged. “My folks are just a little unique, that’s all. Dad might not have been a carnie but he did fall in love with one. Mom is called Barbara and dad’s name is Nathan Nan. So… Banana.”

Bozo started laughing and then stopped, embarrassed but unavoidably incredulous.

“Your name is Banana Nan?”

She was no longer indulgent. "Yes, and yours is Bozo the Clown,” she said glaring.

Bozo held up both hands palm out in surrender, and smiled at her again. His open face was hard to stay angry with. She smiled back apologetically.

“This is the big top. Most of what you’ll be doing will probably be here, or in the cashier’s tent out front. Setting up the bleachers, cleaning them after shows, you wouldn’t believe the things people leave behind, and breaking them down. That part was already done, as you can see. You’ll see how they go together at Station 4 though, and once you’ve seen them assembled breakdown is easy.”

The big round tent seemed more enormous than usual without the rows of bleachers around the edges. Light filtered in from the screened panels on the top, and the dust from hundreds of feet and dozens of animals moving around floated through the air. It was a magical space to Bozo. A space where rickety bleachers and a few feet of space in the center could transform the mundane lives of an audience, if only for a short space of time, into a world of belief and majesty. This transformation was made all the more magical by the fact that when you turned the lights up it was really nothing more than a big dirty tent.

Bozo shook his head and looked around at Banana, but she was lost in her own thoughts looking at the big space. He wondered if they mirrored his own.

“Well, that’s about it,” he said looking around again, “I imagine they’ll show you the ins and outs of the cash register on 4.”

Banana nodded and took a deep breath.

“Thanks for the tour. I should probably get my stuff sorted.”

She walked away, kicking little poofs of dust as she went. Bozo watched her go, unaware of the entranced expression on his face.

 

 

An explosion rocked the ship.

Bozo was tossed out of his bunk and fell nearly 6 feet to the hard bulkhead below. Klaxons began blaring and a calm feminine voice started speaking, even louder than the alarms.

“Decompression detected. All personnel should move immediately to lifepods. Decompression detected. All personnel should move immediately to lifepods. Decompression detected…”

Bozo had been deeply asleep and was confused by the sudden noisy awakening. He stood clumsily and began moving towards the door. His brothers were doing the same. Bravo was already opening the door, but waited for Bozo and Bingo to exit before following them into the hall. His face was illuminated by the red emergency light in the hallway as Bozo passed, making his scared expression look fierce.

The freighter was shaking and shuddering. There were bangs and metallic groans coming from forward in the ship. Bozo stumbled along behind Bingo, unconsciously aware of Bravo a little behind him.

He was awake enough to be frightened now.

The noise and the red light made the scene surreal. Bodies moving purposefully but clumsily towards the same goal, occasionally stumbling from sleep or disorientation. It was like an old time zombie film.

Slowly he became aware there was smoke filling the air. Worse, a sound that Bozo couldn’t, wouldn’t, identify. As they neared the end of the passenger section and the start of the crew quarters he was forced to realize. It was screaming.

They were in the crew quarters now and smoke was thickening. Bozo tried to cover his mouth with his shirt but thin sleep material did little to block air he could taste in the back of his throat. He couldn’t shut his ears to the cacophony of terrible sounds either. The entry doors to the crew quarters were jammed shut; a malfunction or damage. Uselessly, a yellow panel blinked "Door Malfunction" next to the doors grinding, trying to open. Smoke poured from vents and cracks.
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