One of the most successful book/movie series of recent history is arguably the Hunger Games trilogy. It was originally conceived as a YA (Young Adult) book, as was/is the Harry Potter series.
I’ve published the first novella in my YA Science Fiction trilogy, Warrior’s Psalm (which, by the way is Psalm 91). It’s available as both a Kindle book and an audiobook, masterfully narrated by Shawn Hughes. I’m now working on the sequel. The same characters are, of course, in both. The second novella, though, focuses more closely on a minor character from the first.
In my experience with the novella, I’ve discovered that the piece should open with action in progress; draw the reader into the story quickly and then move—with little pause in the action—toward the climax.
Here’s the opening of the second novella, tentatively titled Beneath His Wings. Following that is an excerpt from Warrior’s Psalm to explain who the evil woman, Tapja is, from the first book.
From Beneath His Wings
Commander Mikhel Moren, leader of the Decider’s Guard of the Order of Protectors unconsciously listens to the sound his gleaming black boots make in the deep gray carpet.
To an outside observer, there is little more than a faint tread as the officer’s soles compress the fabric and a minute hiss as the fibers spring back. To Moren, the sound is like marching to the beat of muffled drums to stand before a firing squad. The brush of his silver-gray trousers—one leg against the other—is like the scrape of stiff brooms sweeping spent cartridges.
He has been summoned to the private office of the Senior Decider for Sector 3, Commandant Vladim.
The walls of the hallway glow a pale green today, a color that some consider soothing. Today, for all the color’s calming properties, Moren’s pulse sounds like timpani inside his ears.
He pauses, breathes deeply and exhales as he taps on the Decider’s door.
“Enter!” the voice is like sound of the steel teeth on a hunter’s trap slamming shut.
Moren opens the door and, standing as tall as his frame will allow, strides into the office, stops three paces in front of the black steel and glass desk and renders a stiff-armed salute to the man sitting behind it.
“Sir, Commander Moren reporting as ordered.”
“So, Moren, have you come with the answers you promised? You’ve had the forty-eight hours you wanted.”
The man sitting in the massive, black leather chair is almost handsome. He has brown hair, cut in traditional military style— pale blue eyes and a square, clean-shaven jaw. His mouth, he holds in a grim, flat line, is like a gash below his nose—cut by a sharp sword. He wears a close-fitting black, high-collared tunic with silver buttons and piping. The black is appropriate. The man was the consort of the Decider’s executioner, Tapja. He is no less casually lethal than she was.
“Sir, I have examined the recordings that were made when Lady Tapja confronted the prisoner we held in a cell below. I have the infocarrier here.”
Moren removes a thin, round black rod from his jacket pocket. As he moves across the office, the light from above reflects from his bald head, revealing a thin sheen of perspiration.
“If you’ll permit, Sir, I’ll display the scene for you now.”
Vladim leans back in his chair, steeples his fingers below his chin and nods toward a blank wall, without speaking.
Moren inserts the infocarrier rod into a steel panel near the edge of the wall and touches a square pad. A scene appears, covering the entire wall’s surface. The image appears three-dimensional, as if viewers could walk inside. It is the inside of a prison cell. A man sits up on a cot watching as the door from the ceiling drops. The woman, Tapja, led by Moren, descends.
Her voice echoes in the cell as she points a long, quivering index finger, topped by a crimson nail like a bloody spike, at the prisoner. She aims it like a weapon.
“You! You’re not a common stinking drone from the foul city. I felt your mental voice. You are the one who hurt me! I am Tapja! I am a Decider and executioner. You will die a slow painful, burning death and I will be there to watch and listen to your howls. You have tonight to consider the pain that awaits, while I gather strength to attend your execution. I will delight in your misery!”
She spins to go up the stairs, but trembles in weakness on the first step. Silently, Moren helps her ascend.
The scene fades and the wall becomes blank again as the Protector officer removes the rod from the panel. His fingers are unsure and the rod quivers as he puts it away.
“You’ve only shown me evidence that the Lady Tapja knew who the prisoner was. You haven’t justified keeping your command—or escaping execution for dereliction of duty.”
“Sir, Lady Tapja ordered me to drain the prisoner of information and then scramble his brain. I can show you the scenes in which I, with my technicians, tried to accomplish those tasks. The machine would not drain his mind, so we simply scrambled him,” Moren says.
“No. Explain why you were not with her when she went to Elation City—the stencher’s town—to, ah, supervise the prisoner’s burning.”
“Sir, the Lady was angry that we couldn’t extract information from the man. I was planning to travel with her to the city, but she ordered me to stay behind.”
Vladim stands and walks around the desk, stopping almost within arm’s reach of the officer. He is easily over two meters tall and looks down at Moren by several centimeters.
“What happened to her at the execution site?”
With difficulty, Moren fights off the instinct to back away from the Decider.
Excerpt from the first chapter of Warrior’s Psalm
The two young progagonists are observing a baffling scene in The Hive.
With no possibility they can be seen from the ground, Freya and Kalev jog through the trees and underbrush at the crest of the ridge, toward the sound as it rises in intensity.
As the two near the point of the mountain above the Hive, the words become clear.
“Plant food! Com—post! Com—post! Plant food!”
Over and over the rhythmic chant rebounds against the rock cliffs rising above the Hive like heaving waves breaking against a rocky shore in a storm.
Suddenly the chant goes silent. Within seconds, a clamor of cheers punctuate the end of the earlier calls.
“What’s that all about?” Freya.
Though the chance of their voices being heard is virtually nonexistent, she stays in silent communication.
“Let’s crawl to the edge of the cliff and see,” Kalev.
The Hive is a dense city made up of scores of high-rise buildings forming a squared “O.”Growing plants cover the flat tops. The open space is about a hundred yards on each side. Though the promontory on which Kalev and Freya lie is towering limestone, the Hive is only a few hundred feet below.
People are jostling in the square, shoulder-to-shoulder around a black metal box with a shining top. They are dressed in identical gray shirts and trousers. A lane through the crowd, leads west under the buildings to a narrow exit road. Parked near the reflecting box is a black vehicle six or eight times the size of the Hive’s Lectrics. The packed crowd avoids the paved area.
Beside the huge car, facing the box, are two people; a man and a woman, dressed in black robes that reach their shoes. Hoods on the robes are thrown back. They stand, spines straight and chins lifted; as unlike The Hive masses as timberwolves among animal shelter dogs. An armed silver-uniformed Protector stands beside each of them. These two are Deciders.
The woman, tall, narrow faced, with dark hair, wide mouth and imperious black eyes raises her right hand. All crowd noise stops. In the silence, her amplified voice rebounds from the cliffs.
“Let any who would dissent remember!”
The male, tall, brown-haired and square-jawed stands beside her with arms crossed. A thin smile curves his lips. He raises a signaling hand.
The crowd, as one hoarse voice, responds.
“Yes, remember!” then goes silent.
The two Deciders turn toward the car. Protectors hold two of the eight doors open. The male steps through one door and disappears. Just as she is about to enter the vehicle, the woman pauses.
She turns toward the mountain where Freya and Kalev lie. She lifts her chin and shifts her gaze like a questing predator. After several still, ominous seconds, she enters the car and a Protector closes the door.