Author Topic: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...  (Read 14130 times)

Offline Posty

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Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« on: July 31, 2008, 03:00:35 PM »
I've revised this opening page a dozen times, and would really appreciate an objective point of view.  As you'll see, the approach I've taken is to both paint a scene in the reader's mind, and plant a seed of "what's happend here?"  You be the judge as to how successful it is.  The question - would you read on if you picked up a teen fantasy/adventure novel that started like this?
-----------------------

"The Four Swords," muttered Myles, "there’s supposed to be FOUR!"

He shuddered, and Sherath’s tall, gangling form stepped near, wrapping a spindly arm about his shoulder.  Together they peered over the trees, along the cliff, all the way to the height of the gorge.  It was a place they’d stood only half an hour earlier.  An anvil of black cloud had chased them when they’d fled that place, and now it hovered over them.  Drizzle rinsed their faces; though reddening eyes hinted that more than rain ran down their cheeks.

A third boy, Needan, stood a few paces away, but unlike his friends, his face showed no emotion.  He looked like a gilded statue, with his chiselled face white and expressionless, and his straw hair bristling back, only slightly tamed by glistening droplets of rain.

Together, the three watched as a group of men with their dogs, disappeared down a footpath that wound into the river gorge.

"Dimeon will be okay," Sherath whispered.

All three of them knew it was a lie.

Sherath drew Myles with him, stepping off the muddy path to slip under a decrepit lean-to that marked the edge of their small village.  They pulled their gaze from the departing search party and gazed at one another, but their stare reflected inward, to what had brought them there that day. 

Needan remained motionless, stranded in the rain, but beneath his stony exterior, his mind raced back, tracking every event since he’d awoken that morning, chasing memories like footprints which must, somehow, lead to a different end. 
------------

It continues with a flashback, giving the background to who the characters are and what's brought them to this point.

Comments appreciated...
Posty

Offline mustang6944

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2008, 03:39:53 PM »
It does make me want to read on to say the least. I particularly like the last line. Unfortunatley, it seems like we came in at the end of a climatic part. You may be better serve to start with what brought them to this point a bit. Maybe start off with the three of them running or whatever caused them to be sad. Also here is a link to the emotional thesaurus to beef up showing how they feel at that moment.

http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/2008/01/introducing-thesaurus-thursdays.html

Remember two things. You want to go from climax to climax in your book. Hook'em early.

Offline Posty

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2008, 04:27:21 PM »
I actually started to write an alternate opening where the three were looking down at their fallen friend (the 4th sword).  Perhaps that entry point is worth another look.

Love the thesaurus link.  I've got it bookmarked already and expect it will come in quite handy.

Thanks!
Posty

Offline Coercion

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2008, 05:45:03 PM »
Like what I read, sounds good. You say though about it goes onto a flashback? Diane Doubtfire said some interesting things about flashbacks:

"Flashback can be effective but should be used sparingly; immediate action is usually much more telling than retrospect. 'John took a deep breath and threw himself into the fast-moving torrent twenty feet below' is more dramatic than 'John told me how he had taken a deep breath and thrown himself into the fast-moving torrent twenty feet below' or 'John remembered how...' etc ... I think it is a mistake to introduce flashback during the first 3,000 words or so; establish a firm base in the narrative before you take the reader back"

I find myself agreeing though you may disagree.
Wise Chief says "The difference between us and the white man is that we're in a state of being, the white man is in a state of becoming"

Offline Posty

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2008, 11:28:18 PM »
An interesting point... it was kind of a byproduct of where I chose to start the story, as I saw a need for some backstory, but I don't really like flashbacks myself, and am considering moving to an earlier point in time, as Mustang also suggested, to avoid confusion and the need for backtracking.

Thanks for the feedback!

Offline robertmblevins

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2008, 12:23:48 AM »
I think it needs some scene-setting before we do the first line of dialogue. Whenever you make the reader continue reading just to figure out what is going on in the scene (initially) it is a bit confusing. I would set a little background, and then start the dialogue and action. The only time this stuff works is when you start out with a character in BIG trouble, such as about to be hanged, hanging off a cliff, etc.

Flashbacks (IMHO) belong in a book after a fair amount of the story has been told, and maybe not so much in the beginning, unless there is no other way to tell the story.

If you are having problems with the opening, try this device: Imagine the book as a film you would like to see and write it that way.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2008, 12:28:17 AM by robertmblevins »

Wolfe

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2008, 01:46:48 AM »
Unfortunately, no, I would not read on.  The first sentences made my editor's eye see blue ... as in needs editing corrections.  I'll point out examples from the first line.

"The Four Swords," muttered Myles, "there’s supposed to be FOUR!"

1.  Opening with dialogue.  Many editors hate this.  The reason, as another poster noted:  no setting.  Characters appear in a vacuum and no sympathy or familiarity forms.

2.  Dialogue tags.  Muttered tells when the dialogue itself should show the muttering.  Perhaps, an action beat would make a better choice.  In either case, the professional choice:  said.

3.  Grammar.  The first sentence contains two sentences spliced together.  "The Four Swords," muttered Myles.  "There's supposed to be FOUR!"  When connected, the sentence reads like this:  "The Four Swords there's supposed to be FOUR!"  As you can see, it makes no sense.

4.  Passive voice.  Normally, in dialogue, you can get away with it.  But place two passive tenses in one sentence, and there's a problem.  The two are There's as in there is and to be itself.

5.  CAPS ALL.  Using this with an exclamation point flags the sentence's weakness as well as your inexperience.  Don't do it ... ever.  Showing this in the first sentence again displays something to an agent and editor you don't want.

6.  Exclamation point.  Use in the first sentence reads as a dire warning.  Some editors believe one exclamation point per 100,000 words is acceptable.  Just one.  Overuse weakens the punctuation’s power.  When this happens, novice writers want to double up with multiple forms to enhance the power.  These forms include multiple points (!!!), italics, boldface, and all capitalization … which you use.

7.  Hook.  This first sentence isn't strong enough.  It does ask the question 'what are these four swords', but not the right question.


More problems arise later in the work, but I don't want you burning me in effigy.  Sorry if this was harsh.  It's not a personal attack on you, but an observation on the work itself.  Please keep that in mind.

Wolfe

PaulW

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2008, 03:02:24 AM »
I've got to agree with Wolfe. On the whole it's quite confusing and doesn't really grab you, his breakdown of the sentence is pretty spot on. That said, there's a good basic idea in there and some really nice imagery. I particularly liked the 'black anvil of cloud'.

When approaching something like this I try to think in layers. Think of it as a film - the first layer is what you see. Before anyone speaks (unless it's a voice over black) you see something. The most dramatic image I drew from your piece was that a black anvil of cloud hovered over them. Try using that as your start piece.

A black anvil of cloud hovered over them. It had chased them from the gorge, just half an hour ago, when the four of them were still together. Myles looked back again towards where they'd last seen Dimeon and muttered to himself.

"The four swords. There are supposed to be four."

Sherath wrapped a spindly arm round Myles' shoulder, "Dimeon will be OK. He knows the way back better than any of us."


This isn't the world's greatest opening still, I'd definitely change hovered to something more ominous. It DOES set the scene a little though and shows how to bring in some dialogue without having the reader bewildered.

Stick with it, you have the basis of the story in there and crafting first pages to grab the reader is probably the most difficult part of the editing process.

Paul

Offline guess

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2008, 10:30:20 PM »
I agree with Wolfe on 2-7 as for 1 I really don't know what editor's hate. My next children's book is starting out with dialogue.  :P  Is this the very first chapter? It doesn't seem that way to me. I feel like I just walked in the middle of something standing still trying to figure things out and what's going on.
I'm no expert by no means, this is just my opinion.


Oh! Wolfe sometimes I feel I might learn a thing or two off you. 8) At least your honest......
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Offline Posty

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #9 on: August 10, 2008, 04:43:49 PM »
Thanks for the great feedback Wolfe, guess, and PaulW.
This is the first page, and I'd thought of changing it since I've been concerned it was weak, but after reading your comments I'm sure I need to offer a much better introduction to the scene, not to mention the corrections to voice and emphasis Wolfe mentions.  I especially appreciate the breakdown you've provided of the opening sentence. 

I'll post again once I've given this a rewrite.

Cheers,
Posty

Offline Posty

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #10 on: August 12, 2008, 08:26:04 PM »
Hello again,
I've rewritten my first page based on some of the suggestions graciously provided (thanks again), and hope you can see your way to comment on whether this is a better opening.  I've moved back the timeline, and although there may still be an element of walking into a scene in progress, I hope it's less so, or at least what's happened can be more easily recognized.  Please let me know if you feel I'd be better starting back further yet, to what leads them to the cliff.  I'm also trying to recognize and correct the passive to active voice.

As always, I appreciate your feedback and want to know - "would you read on?"  (or would an editor or agent Wolfe?) 

One further question - I've read that possessive on names ending with an "s" should be apostrophe and a second "s"  (eg Myles's ), but somehow this just doesn't sound right to me.  Which should it be?

Cheers,
Posty
.............
Chapter 1:  The Loss

    Needan stood frozen, staring down from the cliff’s edge, like a vulture poised on a dead tree limb, waiting for his next meal to die.  Except he wasn’t hoping for the still of death; instead, he was silently urging, pleading, with the body of the boy fifty feet below, to move.  Every few moments a flash of lightning engraved the bloody image deeper into his mind.  An age passed as he perched there; the only change reflected by rainfall, diminishing from a downpour to a drizzle, as an anvil of black cloud scraped over him.  He reluctantly turned away, only to see his horror reflected in the eyes of his two friends.
 
    Myles’ complexion, normally red and puffy like his hair, was drawn and ghost white.  Drizzle rinsed his face, but bloodshot eyes showed that more than raindrops wet his cheeks.

    “Four Swords,” he said.  “There’s supposed to be four!”

    Needan paused, unsure how to console him, but was saved the decision by Sherath, who spread a long, spindly arm around Myles’ shoulders and drew him close.

    “Dimeon will be okay,” he whispered.

    All three of them knew it was a lie.
...........

Wolfe

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #11 on: August 12, 2008, 11:19:55 PM »
First three sentences:

Needan stood frozen (wordy - consider froze instead of stood or delete frozen and keep stood) , staring down from the cliff’s edge (wordy gerund phrase) , like a vulture poised on a dead tree limb (I like this simile) , waiting for his next meal to die (given gerund phrase - most vultures do this).  Except he wasn’t (potential double negative with except and wasn't) hoping for (passive negative gerund and prepositional phrase) the still of death (obvious attempt to sounds poetic and lyrical - delete it) ; (Most editors consider semicolons in fiction bad form) instead, he was silently urging, pleading, (passive, adverbial double gerund phrase) with the body of (potential wordiness) the boy (good alliteration - body to boy to below) fifty feet (good specifics) below, to move (not crazy about this ending infinitive - sounds like a given since the 'body' references death or unconsciousness).

Overall, not bad, but a little too colorful.  You don't want to attract attention to your 'authorship' attempts.  Sorry if this was brutal.  I'm in full editing mode right now.

Funny how I take a break from editing to enjoy editing elsewhere...

Wolfe
« Last Edit: August 12, 2008, 11:29:04 PM by Wolfe »

Offline Posty

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2008, 11:59:45 AM »
Ha!   ;D
Wow, I learn something new each time I read one of your responses Wolfe.  I didn't even know what a gerund phrase was.  Not brutal at all - that's why I've posted it, and I do know what you mean.  My first page, perhaps parts of my first chapter in fact, has a different feel to it than the rest of the novel; probably caused by my attempt to capture the reader's attention, but ending up having the opposite effect.  I'm also smiling because it's so difficult not be wordy with my own work.  It's something I comment on with others, but then I just repeat the mistake.

Oh well, that's the joy of writing (kind of feel the same about my golf game ;) )

Thanks again,
Posty

Offline SimeyCook

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2008, 01:53:15 PM »
I am brand new here and so far do not feel I can give the same quality of feedback that the experienced users do. But here goes...

My note is that it took me a while to realize there were four of them originally.....maybe a very quick 'flashback' right at the beginning.....something like...

Blah Blah Blah....as he lie there dying, his three friend encircling him.

The memory of that fateful moment still haunted Myles as he stared over the trees...


...not sure if I quite explained myself properly, I just feel knowing that someone had just died is an important part and should be upfront....jus my opinion....
To be or not to be.....
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GuthryStrom

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Re: Woud you read on? First page of a novel...
« Reply #14 on: August 13, 2008, 09:51:30 PM »
Well, I read Wolfe's comments and was almost discouraged to offer any advice, haha. Good show! I am also new here, so I'll offer what I can. Indeed about the vulture waiting for death, quite repititious, it's implied. I like the statement about Myles's complexion, offers some insight to their appearance while keeping with the overall goal of the scene at hand rather than the details. Same with the "spindly arm". Makes me want to read more, definetely. I, personally, like the idea of starting here rather than in the midsts of this battle (assuming that's what occured), and finding out what happened later, although it would be perhaps better if the three also had little idea what had occured and so that through other accounts, they, and the reader, piece together what has happened. That, however, is practically a plot for an entire book, and could be very different from where you're going. Not to mention, Wolfe (who seems to know a great deal more than me) stated that an agent or publisher would not go for that idea, and it's much more about what they are looking for rather than myself.