I finally finished the Start Writing Fiction course on FutureLearn today. It took eight weeks, and it was full of very useful information. I feel I learned a lot about writing, and hope to continue to use what I learned.
For the final assignment, I had to write a 600-1000 word short story (more like flash fiction). I finished it yesterday, did some minor editing and submitted it for review by others taking the course. I received two reviews, mostly positive, but did feature some criticism that I agree with. I’ll talk about that in a moment, but here is the story. It’s based on Journey to Ariadne‘s Paolo Fernandes.
I stood in front of my parents, both looking unhappy with my decision. I was going to Mars and we were at the spaceport in Salvador. My mother looked at the floor, her hands in front of her, clutching her dress. My father stared at me, as if he were boring a hole through my head. His temper was difficult to predict. But now it smoldered, ready for an eruption.
I’d made the decision three months before. Mars. My parents couldn’t see me. I loved them dearly, but I was afraid of this moment.
“Paolo, you don’t have to do this,” said Mom. “You can stay and do wonderful things here.”
“Mom, we talked about this. There’s no way I can help save the Earth. I need to go and help find a way for humanity to survive,” I said.
“This is foolish,” said Dad. “Utter rubbish.”
“What would you have me do?”
“Be responsible. Don’t go around playing foolishly like this.”
“I was afraid of this,” I said. “You don’t understand the problem. You think everything will turn out fine. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen. I know what will happen. It’s already happening. We’re going through a mass extinction, sea levels rising, riots everywhere, people starving. The government can’t stop it. The environmental problems can’t be reversed. What would you do in my situation? I have a chance to do something!”
“You’re being selfish. Think of your mother,” he said, his face turning red.
“I am. I’m thinking of everyone. That is not selfish. That is being responsible.”
“Paolo, please!” said Mom.
“I’m sorry. If we have any chance for survival, I have to find a way. Please understand.”
“Mars has nothing for us. We can’t survive with that air,” said Dad.
“We’ve been through this. All the best minds have gone to Mars. They have freedom to do research. They’re studying terraforming, colonising outside the solar system, light speed travel, and genetics.”
“Yes, I’ve heard this all before! Your terraforming idea is bad. It’ll take too long for us to see it.”
“But not for my grandchildren. You think of yourself all the time, Dad. Think of your descendants for once. I’m going. I made my choice, and I’m not backing down.”
They didn’t speak, my mom sobbing, my dad mulling over what I’d said.
“Final boarding call for orbital shuttle launch. Please present your pass to the agent and board the shuttle.”
“That’s my ship. I have to go. Mom, Dad, I love you. I’ll write. I’ll send videos.” I hugged Mom, and she held on with a tight vice grip. My Dad hesitated, then embraced me.
“I’ll hate you if you die. Good bye, Paolo,” he said.
“Good bye, Dad. Good bye, Mom.”
I turned and strode to the agent. I heard my Mom calling to me. I turned and waved, then went through the gate, handing my pass to the agent. I looked one last time. It broke my heart. My Mom bent over crying, while my Dad held her.
* * *
I sat in my seat on the shuttle, and I couldn’t resist looking at the man next to me. He was rather rugged-looking, not the kind of person I expected to be a scientist. His eyes met mine before I looked away, and stared at a blue spot on the otherwise spotless seat in front of me.
“Hello,” he said.
“Ah, hello,” I responded, unsure of how to continue.
“First time going into space?” He smiled, showing remarkably straight teeth.
I nodded. “Yes. Never been up there.”
“Don’t worry. It’s an exciting ride up. My name’s Carlos.”
I shook his hand. “Paolo.”
“Going to the moon or something?” He raised an eyebrow.
I shook my head. “No, Mars. You?”
“Farther. Going to the Pallas Mines.”
“You’re a miner?” I asked.
He nodded and grinned. “Good guess. I look the part?”
“Just a suspicion. I’m a geologist, so I’ve worked with miners before.”
“That’s great. By the way, don’t be nervous. The flight up isn’t that bad.”
I hadn’t thought about it, being preoccupied with my parents. I said, “That’s not it.”
“Oh? Left your wife?”
I wondered how much I should say to Carlos. “Left my parents, and not on good terms.”
“Ah, got it.” He patted my arm. “Whatever you do, make sure you go back to visit.”
I nodded. “I’ll try.”
“Don’t worry. It’ll be okay.”
“Thanks,” I said.
It wasn’t okay. At the time, I didn’t know that was the last time I’d see my father alive. Three years later, the Brazilian Civil War broke out. My parents were caught in some crossfire, and my Dad was hit while protecting my Mom. He was killed instantly.
Earth was a mess. Who’d have thought Mars, a planet named after the god of war, would be the most peaceful place in the Solar System?
So, the criticism was basically on how the ending felt rushed, but excused it because of the word limit. They both said the dialogue was appropriate, and the description of Paolo’s parents was also appropriate, considering the short length. What was not mentioned by either of the reviews was that I felt I needed a better description of Carlos (an adjective isn’t good enough, really), and I’m dissatisfied with a lot of the narrative early on. I think this needs a lot of editing.
What you see above is written as the roughest draft possible. No editing has been done. I had no time to do any editing, unfortunately, as I’d been too busy recently. My concerns would’ve been addressed with that editing, but I submitted it as is.
And of course, let me know what you think of this story in the comments.