Originally, I was uncertain about the value of working with a critique group, but I have to say that it has been an invaluable experience overall. To get the most out of the experience, I found that I had to sift through critiques that weren’t story centered like plot notes that, frankly, were complaints that the plot wasn’t what the reader wanted to read. They might’ve been good ideas, but that wasn’t the story I was telling. Anyway, the critiques that provide a different perspective on an aspect of the writing assist me in becoming a better writer. And that’s the whole point…
In about a month, the Loudoun County Writers’ Group will review this scene in my novel, Shifting Mars’ Sands. Side by side, I provided my first draft and my latest draft of the scene.
First Draft (Revised)
The Caretaker downloaded himself to the mobile unit for the second time in three days. The alert indicated the egress door to Power Generator Three was opened. During the height of his civilization, a security record would have been written to a log no one would ever have bothered to inspect. Now, it caused a full-scale alert.
He longed for the old days, surrounded by his brethren enjoying life. Suspecting his duty lacked purpose anymore, his existence lacked meaning.
Regardless, he reviewed the security log, finding numerous access attempts to open the egress door. The last attempt was within acceptable tolerances, which released the lock, allowing the door to fall.
Switching to the cavern’s internal monitoring equipment, he watched the figures move along the access walkways carrying handheld illumination devices. They moved slowly, surveying their surroundings. Either they didn’t notice the monitoring equipment, or they didn’t care. He suspected the former, as the monitors were the size of a pebble and blended with the power crystals.
The shorter one approached the message beacon he left after traversing the power conduits connecting Power Generator Three to the city. It played his message while the shorter one stood motionless. After the message finished, the shorter one inspected the beacon closely, touched it, backed away, and approached again. It replayed the message. The shorter one backed away and approached again, this time holding a rectangle device. When the message concluded, the shorter one inspected the rectangular device, which the Caretaker couldn’t see well, but he surmised it contained a recording of his message.
The Caretaker scanned the audio frequencies, discovering how they communicated. The slow speed of their conversation was troubling. His message was created and played at the typical pace of the Bvindu, which was much faster than these strangers communicated.
Checking the recordings from the egress, the Caretaker confirmed the assessment. The communication’s attempt probably failed. That blunder may have cost him an opportunity to follow the Bvindu.
The Caretaker studied all records from the past three days, deciding to learn their language if another attempt was to succeed. He hoped for another chance.
After the Caretaker had returned to the main control center, he watched the two strangers enter Power Generator Three. In due course, the short one found his message, presumably recorded it, and called the tall one to see it. They spent more time watching the recording than watching his actual message.
Something was wrong.
He retrieved the egress’ recordings and replayed them. Not long after he started, he realized that he’d committed a horrendous blunder. He’d produced his invitation at the normal speed for his people, which was far faster than the strangers conversed.
In his haste, the Caretaker might’ve wasted a prime opportunity to request assistance to leave this dead planet to search for his people. It was a careless mistake, one that might cost him dearly.
There was nothing he could do about it now. Either the strangers would understand, or they wouldn’t. The circumstances hadn’t changed—it was unacceptably risky to meet the strangers at Power Generator Three.
A little back story. The Caretaker is from an advanced race of people call the Bvindu. A long time ago, they settled on Mars and made it their world, building a civilization. As Mars died, they struck off in search of a new homeworld. Before doing so, they gathered their treasures, art, history, technology, and knowledge in one of their cities. A Bvindu volunteered to guard it until a new homeworld was found, and they returned for him and their treasure. The Caretaker’s consciousness was transferred to the central computer system. When he needs to, he can transfer his consciousness to a mobile unit. Safeguards prevent him from creating copies of himself*. When the Bvindu return, his consciousness will be returned to a flesh and blood body. However, the Bvindu are long overdue, and the Caretaker feels he must search them out, but his ability to construct a spaceship was destroyed in an accident many years ago. He needs help to repair those facilities. This back story covered all the Caretaker scenes up to this point in the story.
While the drafts of the two scenes have similarities, they are quite different. They do accomplish the same purpose plotwise, though. The original included extra, unimportant details about security log records that advanced nothing. This far into the story these details only slowed it down.
The Caretaker’s longing to be with his fellow Bvindu is necessary character motivation, but it was misplaced here. I established it in several places prior to this scene.
The Caretaker’s monitoring equipment is a nice technological touch and fills a miniscule plot hole, but I excised it. Here’s my rational. Forty years ago, video cameras with acceptable quality were handheld boxes. Today, we have far better quality in iPhones. The protagonists simply didn’t notice any monitoring equipment. I feel it’s more important to focus the scene on the Caretaker’s mistake and his reaction to it.
Once the excess is removed, I’m left with the Caretaker watching my protagonists and his reaction. This needed explored deeper and more clearly. The first paragraph is a summary from the Caretaker’s perspective of what happened in the previous scene in the chapter. At this point, the Caretaker doesn’t understand English and is making assumptions that happen to be correct. From here, we see the Caretaker’s reaction, his realization of his mistake, to those events.
The scene’s focus is the Caretaker’s mistake and his rational to do what he does. If this point isn’t clear, then the reader can get confused, even thinking that there’s a huge plot hole. The Caretaker is practically immortal, so long as he doesn’t meet with an accident. For instance, and this was established earlier in the novel, when he transfers to a mobile unit, he can’t copy himself. If the mobile unit is destroyed, he is dead. The Caretaker is cautious, and that point needs to come through. He wants to meet the strangers, but he wants to do it in a controlled environment. The Power Generator isn’t controlled enough for him. The message is really an invitation for the protagonists to meet him at the city, which is far more secure, a point established earlier.
While the new scene is only half a long, I feel it conveys more necessary information than the longer scene. It’s far more readable. This scene ends the chapter on a melancholy note. It leaves open the question if the protagonists (the strangers from the Caretaker’s perspective) can understand the message, even though the Caretaker made a mistake.
The difference between the scenes is what I learned from the writers’ group. That first draft was the best I could write scene at the time I wrote it. The latest version is the best I can write it now. Perhaps when the group reviews it, I’ll be able to write it better… .
* If the Caretaker is alive in the city’s computer and he copies himself, he creates another living entity. The Bvindu won’t allow that situation.