In the middle of a scene. Check.
Action underway. Check.
In your face introduction to a main character. Double check.
That's the tack I decided to take with The Outer Planets, my next full length Sci-Fi Romance novel in The Inherited Stars Series.
What's the controversial part? Oh, that first line!
When I first started the contest circuit with The Outer Planets, I was really concerned it might be a total turn-off for some readers. Granted, the language isn't all that bad, but it isn't something you see very often in an opener. I considered downplaying it, re-working it, or just cutting it altogether in favor of internal monologue. But since that's the point of contests--to see what's flying high and what's falling as flat as a de-orbiting satellite--I decided to grit my teeth and hit that send button.
Courage, pilgrim. Sometimes you just gotta take chances.
I'm so glad I did.
The dialogue in question?
“Hello, bitch,” Lissa Bruce whispered.
Outside the portal, a leviathan floated in all her gloating glory. Running lights on full, insignias glowing, silver carbon skin stretched tight over her multi-deck carcass. Damned ship had been nothing but heartache. The research vessel too tough to die.Yup. Lissa is talking to a ship. And not just any ship. This ship is a planetary research vessel bound for Jupiter and Saturn on a mission that will last nearly five years. From the second word, it's obvious the heroine carries a lot of bitterness toward this vessel, and some of the reasons for that animosity are immediately revealed.
Secured in a flight couch, Lissa gazed across space while the pilot maneuvered the ten-passenger shuttle along the starboard flank of the big ship, lining up with the docking bay. When the upper hull of the giant blotted out the sun, three-story high letters emblazoned on her side stood out in bold relief:
NSS ROBERT BRADLEY
Lissa’s gut tightened. The vessel had been re-christened in honor of its original skipper. The 45-year-old general officer, an icon murdered in his prime, had left her a widow. Except she hadn’t technically been married, he hadn’t really been murdered, and her identity had been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
She could imagine him gazing at his ship, arms crossed and feet planted, glancing her way with smug satisfaction.
The definition of irony: When a ship you despise becomes your only safe haven.
Lissa’s mouth ticked down in a hard frown when she caught her reflection on the port surface. This stranger looking back at her was their doing, too. The doctors had made subtle alterations, disguising the facial landmarks a human brain correlates to recognition. They’d permanently changed the color of her hair and irises. Platinum to honey blonde. Cornflower blue to bright aquamarine. To Lissa, the changes seemed too superficial, a medical slight-of-hand that any sharp set of eyes could see through. But the doctors reassured her the transformation was complete, and bowing to certain demands had validated her ticket aboard the Bradley.Those six paragraphs hopefully do their job of softening Lissa's uncensored reaction in the opening, and set her up as a more sympathetic character than she might at first seem. She's a woman caught up in a past that almost destroyed her life, leaving her deceived, betrayed and in great jeopardy.
I'm firmly in the "show don't tell" camp and the "start the story in the middle" bent. Revealing Lissa's feelings upon confronting the Bradley via dialogue seemed a much more interesting way to present her state of mind than by simply explaining she was very angry, disturbed and resentful.
Or that she's about to board this object of her ire for an extended voyage because it may literally be her last option.
So how did the gamble with the contests work out? Well, sometimes it pays to go with your instincts.
1st Place – 2013 Spacecoast RWA Launching a Star Contest
1st Place – 2011 Connecticut RWA The Write Stuff
1st Place – 2010 Utah RWA Heart of the West Contest
1st Place – 2010 Central Ohio RWA Ignite the Flame Contest
1st Place – 2010 Lilac City Rochester 1st and Ten Contest
2nd Place – 2010 Toronto Gold Contest
3rd Place – 2010 RWA FF&P On The Far Side Contest
3rd Place – 2010 North Texas RWA Great Expectations Specialized category
Finalist -- 2011 RWA Golden Heart Awards
What are your thoughts? Do harsh statements/swearing by a main character in the opening of a novel turn you off or does it only spark your interest to find out more about what's going on with them?
Have a great week.