Hey, quick story question. I’m revising a story today, and the biggest problem my critique group had with it last time was too much backstory dragging down the pacing. I’ve completely reorganized, and I’m going to paste the first several revised paragraphs here — if you feel like it, it’d help me to know if it there are any points where it feels too slow.
Her parents named her Réaltán, little star. Her mother told stories while brushing and braiding Réalta’s long red hair, tales of how they’d wished on the stars for a child, for long weary years, and finally been granted one. Her papa said that maybe the fey folk had brought her – the fey could be cruel, but they were also known to be capricious, and might just as easily turn to kindness. ‘Someday, cariad, you’ll shine as bright as the stars above, as glorious as the sun shines over old Earth. You’ll shine brighter than any of us.’
That was before the fire. They’d died, along with six other workers, to a fire in Kriti’s biggest algae factory. The processing machines overheated; the owner had bought the lowest-rated sprinkler system he could get away with, which had proved inadequate to the task. The company sent her a chip, along with the last of her parents’ pay and the death-gild. Réalta watched it through. The factory cameras caught the tedium of her parents’ daily work, and the small pleasures too – the little jokes her mother made with her friends on the line, the way her father incessantly bragged about his daughter at university, first in their family.
Then the fire started, the sprinklers failed, and Réalta watched her parents panic, run, scream, burn. The recording ended before they actually died; the camera must have burned up. At night, Réalta’s dreams filled in the rest. Some nights, she couldn’t stop crying; she cried form night to morning, as if tears could drown out fire.
Réalta tried to substitute happy memories: her big, burly father, who’d loved to throw his little girl up in the air. Her mother, who held herself straight and tall, long hair wrapped in a crown of braids, like a queen. The two of them at home in the kitchen, teaching her how to make algae-bread, pressing the dough flat. Her mother, rolling dough into a ball, dipping it in oil. Her father’s hand on Réalta’s, gently pressing down. When she remembered those memories, she couldn’t bring herself to eat, or even enter the kitchen.
Better not to think of them at all.
Now there was no money for university, even at the reduced rate for locals. Réalta tried to finish out the semester, but it was beyond her; too many nights of weeping and too few papers written. Her professors had taken her circumstances into account, let her withdraw, even though it was long past the deadline. So Réalta didn’t fail, exactly, but she had nothing to show for the earlier months of work.
The plan had been university, then culinary school. Réalta would have happily skipped university, but her papa said she was too young to know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life; he insisted that she needed exposure to the broader universe. Réalta had watched every cooking holovid the planetary library held, she could chop onions in uniform quarter-inch portions, she could temper cumin seed and mustard seed with curry leaves for the perfect finish to a dish. She never scorched the leaves, either! But university had been important to her papa, so Réalta had agreed, and it had been interesting enough, while it lasted.
But now she had no degree, no credentials, and no one would hire a fifteen-year-old to the line. Réalta did get a gig as a dishwasher, but the work was brutal, being that close to the kitchen and not getting to cook was torture, and worst of all, the pay wasn’t enough. Three months after the fire, her money was running out.
Thank all the gods that she’d finally found a decent job at the spaceport. Aunty Saroja had heard about it, pulled strings to get her in, out of pity for the poor orphan girl. Everyone felt bad for her, but her relatives and friends had their own troubles. After the first few weeks of dropping off casseroles – and really, an algae-casserole was almost inedible, no matter how heavily you spiced it – they’d gone back to their lives. Even her last girlfriend, Usha, had disappeared, leaving only a message on their private channel: Sorry. Réalta’s grief had been too much for her to take.
Anxiety knotted her stomach; she needed this job. Réalta smiled uncertainly at the slender brown woman facing her. The supervisor’s name tag read Amara, and she seemed kind, though a little harried. Amara’s sari was draped impeccably, crisp-ironed pleats neatly pinned. Réalta had tried to look nice for her first day, but she was conscious of every worn spot on her tunic.
….to be continued.