Author Topic: New opening scene for Winter's Bite Chapter 1, MG or early YA fantasy, 207 words  (Read 30767 times)

Artemis Quark

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A completely different opening to my novella WIP. Applying the advice of many of you, the Bind Rune Amulet (http://mywriterscircle.com/index.php?topic=53476.msg985284#msg985284) and the Magickal Mentality (http://mywriterscircle.com/index.php?topic=53716.msg990435#msg990435) chapters will be used much later.

Main reason: to reduce backstory and allow the reader to emotionally engage with the MC(s) at an earlier point in their life. As Clarius suggested, the story is essentially an orphaned hero's journey. I want to start it immediately after the mother's death rather than five years later implied in the above mentioned versions.

Besides the usual critique of the writing, word choice, etc. I would like to know
  • Is this scene too short, particularly as an opening chapter?
  • Does it entice the reader to read on?
  • Is there anything else that should be added without diluting the impact of the isolation/aloneness feeling I tried to create?

I am trying to be more patient, drip-feeding the details, but enough to entice. Any comments or suggestions are appreciated.

AQ

Chapter 1: Alone

Twelve-year-old Carnelian stood before the crypt. She stared at the names on the bronze marker. Sixteen ancestors. Four centuries of matriarchal lineage. The first name honoring Aramethea Moon—the oldest survivor from the 1620 crossing.

Tracing a freshly engraved name with her finger tips, Carnelian whispered, "They said it was an accident. Your body blown to bits." She looked at the starlit sky, "But your spirit will live forever."

Carnelian wrapped an arm around her little sister, "It will be all right, Morgana. Mother will always be near—in our heart and in our mind."

"But who will look after us? Where will we live?" Morgana asked.

"The Coven has gathered and the Elders have decided. They will help us stay in our own house. After all, Mother was High Priestess. They owe her."

Looking up at her sister, Morgana asked, "How do we live alone? What about school?"

"Without Mother, homeschooling is no longer possible so we will start public school this fall. We have the summer to get ready."

Morgana sobbed, "I miss Mommy."

"So do I, little M, so do I. We will survive. I promise you. And we will find out why the bridge blew up when Mother was on it."

Offline 510bhan

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  • Is this scene too short, particularly as an opening chapter?
Not necessarily but it needs more intrigue without it presented as backstory IMO
  • Does it entice the reader to read on?
With a few tweaks -- the dialogue sounds too info-dump-ish to me.
  • Is there anything else that should be added without diluting the impact of the isolation/aloneness feeling I tried to create?
Slightly confused by the set up with mentions of crypts/covens and dates like 1620 I wasn't expecting 'homeschooling' but something more old-fashioned. Maybe include a modern/contemporary reference to prepare the reader for the actual period -- four centuries plus 1620 = 2020 + mother getting old enough to marry/bear children, maybe another 10/20 years . . . 2030/2040? ::) ??? :-\

I am trying to be more patient, drip-feeding the details, but enough to entice. Any comments or suggestions are appreciated.

AQ

Chapter 1: Alone

Twelve-year-old Carnelian stood before the crypt. She stared at the names on the bronze marker. Sixteen ancestors. Four centuries of matriarchal lineage. The first name honoring Aramethea Moon—the oldest survivor from the 1620 crossing. Could be a style preference but to me this sounds like a run on and would be better with honouring changed to honoured.

Tracing a freshly engraved name with her finger tips, Carnelian whispered, "They said it was an accident. Your body blown to bits." She looked at the starlit sky. <<< full stop required, this is an action tag not a speech tag. "But your spirit will live forever."

Carnelian wrapped an arm around her little sister. <<< full stop, same reason. "It will be all right, Morgana. Mother will always be near—in our heart and in our mind." <<< I think it would be better to include this as a beat rather than the starlit sky sentence.

"But who will look after us? Where will we live?" Morgana asked.<<< as there are only two people in scene we don't need the speech tag. To indicate who is speaking I'd use an action tag and show the little sister's concern -- maybe looking up and chewing her bottom lip, or wringing her hands -- something appropriate to show her age and vulnerability IMO

"The Coven has gathered and the Elders have decided. They will help us stay in our own house. After all, Mother was High Priestess. They owe her."
clumsy -- find a better way of introducing this information
Looking up at her sister, Morgana asked, "How do we live alone? What about school?"

"Without Mother, homeschooling is no longer possible so No more homeschooling little sis'. We'll start public school this fall. We have the summer to get ready."

Morgana sobbed. "I miss Mommy." <<< this better shows the absence of the mother rather than the *tell* in the dialogue above.

"So do I, little M, so do I. We will survive. I promise you. And we will find out why the bridge blew up when Mother was on it." clumsy info dump -- find a better way of expressing this, also sounds a bit heavy for a 12 year-old to lay on her little sister. maybe some internal thought instead? :-\
« Last Edit: June 13, 2014, 08:31:38 AM by 510bhan »

Offline Dribbler Scribbler

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Hi AQ,

I'm new to your project so I'll only go as far as to offer to a (rather inexperienced) critique on the new opening.

Regarding the length, I don't see any reason why it couldn't be used in a brief first chapter that acts as a lead-in to what follows but I think it needs to be more compelling. As a reader, I want to feel an instinctive empathy or parental level of support for two orphans. To do that, I think you'll need to expand on the isolation you're trying to create.

I had to re-read the piece for clarity twice. From honouring Aramethea Moon, Carnelian goes straight to talking about the accident. Originally, I thought it was Aramethea who was involved in the accident. On the third read, I realised that Aramethea and Carnelian's mother are two different people from the same family lineage. You've tried to 'show' this using the reference to a fresh inscription but it isn't abundantly clear at the moment.

Try not to give out all of your information at once. The opening line should maybe leave out Carnelian's age. I feel that a simple 'Carnelian stood before the crypt' is more effective and gets the reader asking questions. Who is she? Why is she there? What is she doing? Who's in the crypt? Is she in danger? Leave the reader to build a picture. Your dialogue makes it very clear that these are two young children. You can expand on the detail such as age elsewhere (such as when Carnelian goes to school for the first time). If you really want to use such a brief opening, leave the reader wanting more. Even in such a short piece, I feel you've given out too much.

Keep your dialogue brief. Two children at a crypt might be natural in this particular world but most kids would be too petrified around the dead to be so conversational. Work on their isolation here. Their world is in turmoil. It's as if their voices have been taken away from them by the trauma. How can you convey their story through conversation using fewer words? The dialogue isn't too bad. It's just a little 'chatty'. I'd expect fewer words if this were a real-life situation.

I think you have the monster on the table. You just need a storm and a bolt of lightning.to bring it to life.


Artemis Quark

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Thanks for taking time with a detailed critique Sio. All points will be addressed in a revision. Particularly with the still-info-dumpish dialogue and insufficient intrigue. It will make the scene a bit longer too. A good thing I think.

Also, clarifying the time period and avoiding confusion about the named crypt member and the MC's mother. (This part confused DB—see next critique after yours—and is worth an edit as well).

I appreciate the lesson on effective and proper use of dialogue tags. I have learned by reading so have missed the subtleties.  :-*

Please continue with feedback. Given all the angst expressed in the thread about critiques—to be harsh or to be kind. That is the question. I vote for honest so the writer can be better armed to face a sea of troubles with a little help from friends.  ;D    Sorry for mixing Macbeth and Beatles metaphors.  ;D :D

AQ

Offline Dashway

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The scene did not seem too short for an intro and kept me hooked, wanting more.  I’m not sure what else could be added to entice the reader more, but I agree with 510Bhan’s comment about the time/setting being a bit confusing.  Maybe some more clarification about the setting would help.  If this is for young readers, it might be helpful to describe the crypt.  There is a good chance that most will know what a crypt is, but some will not and the description could help build the stone coldness and weight of the scene. 

Some of the dialog seemed forced and detracted instead of added to the flow.  For example:
"They said it was an accident. Your body blown to bits." She looked at the starlit sky, "But your spirit will live forever."  A 12-year-old girl who just lost her mother at first seems to be somewhat in a state of denial with the comment “They said it was an accident”.  This is very natural and illustrates the emotional impact.  But then it is contradicted with the detached, unemotional statement “Your body blown to bits”.  That statement could be removed and her emotional response would be stronger and more effective.  It comes across as a lazy way to reveal information that may not need to be in this section at all.

When I got to the younger sister asking about their future plans for living conditions I was slightly pulled out of the moment because of the questions it raised.  Why are they just now thinking about this after the burial and service?  They would certainly have concerns about their future but it was hard to believe that they had no idea where they would live or who would take care of them.  I’m not sure how to display the concern, because I like how it leads into the introduction of their mom being a high priestess.  Although, this could be introduced more effectively as well, rather than through the straight forward approach of the MC reminding her little sister of that fact.

Overall, the introduction is compelling and held my attention.  It is a great set up for a story that sounds like it might be interesting.  The isolation of the abandoned daughters comes across and drives the reader on elements of survival through such a great loss.

Artemis Quark

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Hi DB,

Thanks for the feedback. More empathy-inducement needed. Check.

I understand your point about confusing Aramethea Moon with the MC's mother (Ironically, I held back her mother's name to avoid confusion). Need to work on that.

As I mentioned in my initial request for help, I am struggling to avoid info-dumping and expository summary. Trying to drip-feed backstory and details. I lazily added 'Twelve-year-old' to the opening line as an after thought to 'explain' to the reader the young age of the MC and her 'little' sister. doh! Not so subtle? Must change it. :'(

Thanks again,
AQ


Artemis Quark

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Thank you for the helpful suggestions Dashway.

I like your idea to describe the 'stone coldness' of the crypt to add to the tension in the scene and reach more MG readers.

"Your body blown to bits." ? I agree I am guilty of lazy info dumping. . . Again.   :-\ It does read better without it—to sustain the emotion/grief over loss.

You've given me something to chew on with the timing of events and the fit with the dialogue.

I am glad you found it compelling.

With an attitude of gratitude,
AQ

Offline Dribbler Scribbler

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Hi DB,

Thanks for the feedback. More empathy-inducement needed. Check.

I understand your point about confusing Aramethea Moon with the MC's mother (Ironically, I held back her mother's name to avoid confusion). Need to work on that.

As I mentioned in my initial request for help, I am struggling to avoid info-dumping and expository summary. Trying to drip-feed backstory and details. I lazily added 'Twelve-year-old' to the opening line as an after thought to 'explain' to the reader the young age of the MC and her 'little' sister. doh! Not so subtle? Must change it. :'(

Always with a view to finishing on something positive, I can still visualise this scene. Two desperately sad apprentice witches with the eldest looking for answers over her mother's death and the added burden of a little sister who needs her now more than ever. You have the tools here to create as much as empathy and tension with your reader as you'd like.

When you talk about the rest of the coven 'owing' Carnelian's mother, you could also add an element of mystery. I saw this comparison after my original post so I'll highlight what I mean below:

YOU:
"The Coven has gathered and the Elders have decided. They will help us stay in our own house. After all, Mother was High Priestess. They owe her."

POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE
"The Elders have decided. They'll help us stay in our home because of Mother. They owe her."

Rather than dumping info on the reader and explaining everything, the reader now has a reason to feel engaged. Who are the elders? What has the mother done to deserve a debt of gratitude from them? Are the elders on the side of the characters? Are they acting willingly or begrudgingly? Do the elders have a motive with the two young girls?

I guess using 'elders and 'coven' together is too informational; do we even need to know the characters are witches yet? It's the old 'show and tell' thing again and something I'm highly prone to doing myself. Can withholding that information add an element of surprise to your story later on when you reveal the characters are part of a coven or young witches because they cast a spell in a tense situation to help or save themselves?

These are just random thoughts that are probably helping me more than they're helping you but ma100 made a great point earlier today about asking questions of your plot. I guess I'm all over that one already!  ;)


Artemis Quark

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I read your thread about plot development before I read your follow-up suggestions. Interesting how helping others helps the giver.  :)  The Wiccan law of threefold return: Mind the Three-fold Laws you should, three times bad and three times good. (learned that from my research on Wicca)

Your suggestion to leave out reference to the Coven is a good one. Less is more . . . Again. Funny how the serpent aka telling-info-dump slithers into my writing. A common affliction in dire need of a cure. Your alternative helps.

BTW, the witch sisters have not developed their powers and do not yet realize just how powerful it can be. The lunar gift—inherited through their matriarchal lineage in the Moon family is key to their ultimate survival. As for the support of the Coven, it turns out the High Priest is not so helpful. He is in fact the greedy, power-grabbing antagonist in charge after the mysterious death of the MC's High Priestess mother. So much to tell.....err.....show. All in due time.  :)

AQ

hillwalker3000

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I'm assuming this takes place some time after their mother was killed (somebody had time to carve her name in bronze - hardly a five minute job). So I'm wondering why they are at the crypt today of all days? And why are they having this conversation now?

Carnelian whispers 'They said it was an accident.' Is she disputing the fact? Or is this for the reader's benefit? One again assumes the child already knows how her mother was killed - weeks or months ago maybe.

And then they decide to have a conversation about schooling - presumably to set the reader up for the following chapters that will take place at Hogwarts (oops - sorry. I'll go and wash my mouth out).

Is the chapter too short for an opening chapter? No.
Am I enticed to read on? Ask me after the redraft.
Is there anything else that should be added?

Lots -
There has to be a reason why these two children are there now. Maybe Morgana wants to leave some wild flowers she's picked because today's her mom's birthday.
There has to be a reason why Carnelian is talking about the way her mother was killed. Maybe she was told one story - but has since discovered the truth.
The dialogue is unrealistic for the age of the characters -
"The Coven has gathered and the Elders have decided. They will help us stay in our own house. After all, Mother was High Priestess. They owe her."
and
"Without Mother, homeschooling is no longer possible so we will start public school this fall. We have the summer to get ready."
They sound as if they've strayed from a Jane Austen novel.

I'd suggest you choose whether it's the Coven or the Elders who decide what happens - and make it a simple enough statement for a young child to understand. Something along the lines of:
'We'll be OK. Mom was High Priestess so the Elders will make sure we're allowed to stay in our house.'
and the unwelcome requirement to attend school with a bunch of strange children (maybe?) can be hinted at, increasing their sense of being alone and being different:
'We'll have to go to the same school as everybody else. Won't that be fun? Not.'

H3K

Artemis Quark

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Thanks for the suggestions. My reply is in blue font. AQ

I'm assuming this takes place some time after their mother was killed (somebody had time to carve her name in bronze - hardly a five minute job). So I'm wondering why they are at the crypt today of all days? And why are they having this conversation now?

The timeline needs tweaking for sure. At the moment, the scene occurs one week after the bridge collapsed. The resident carver just needed to add a name and dates to the existing marker stone—less than a day. [in a new edit in progress, I've changed the bronze plaque to a granite slab. It promotes a colder image to build on the isolation/alone theme].

After the bridge collapsed, the authorities deemed it a coincidence that the mother was on it at the time. No body recovered. But her completely destroyed car was found. A memorial service within a few days brings the story to this opening scene. Why now? I like your suggestion about wild flowers and the mother's birthday. Will work it into the next edit. Thanks. The timeline still needs work.


Carnelian whispers 'They said it was an accident.' Is she disputing the fact? Or is this for the reader's benefit? One again assumes the child already knows how her mother was killed - weeks or months ago maybe.
Reader's benefit. I need to find a smoother way or maybe just delay this point for later.

And then they decide to have a conversation about schooling - presumably to set the reader up for the following chapters that will take place at Hogwarts (oops - sorry. I'll go and wash my mouth out).
I have only read a few excerpts of the aforementioned novel, so any similarity is entirely coincidence.  ;D Yet, as Clarius has pointed out in a different thread, this is a hero's journey tale. I'll take your comparison as a compliment Hilly.  :)

Is the chapter too short for an opening chapter? No.
Am I enticed to read on? Ask me after the redraft.
Is there anything else that should be added?

Lots -
There has to be a reason why these two children are there now. Maybe Morgana wants to leave some wild flowers she's picked because today's her mom's birthday.I like.
There has to be a reason why Carnelian is talking about the way her mother was killed. Maybe she was told one story - but has since discovered the truth. Not yet. Much later a new character (her future mentor) will lead her to believe her mother was murdered.

The dialogue is unrealistic for the age of the characters -
"The Coven has gathered and the Elders have decided. They will help us stay in our own house. After all, Mother was High Priestess. They owe her."
and
"Without Mother, homeschooling is no longer possible so we will start public school this fall. We have the summer to get ready."
They sound as if they've strayed from a Jane Austen novel. Working on it. Thanks.

I'd suggest you choose whether it's the Coven or the Elders who decide what happens - and make it a simple enough statement for a young child to understand. Something along the lines of:
'We'll be OK. Mom was High Priestess so the Elders will make sure we're allowed to stay in our house.'
and the unwelcome requirement to attend school with a bunch of strange children (maybe?) can be hinted at, increasing their sense of being alone and being different:
'We'll have to go to the same school as everybody else. Won't that be fun? Not.'

H3K


Offline Clarius

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Yes it does seem too short, but probably because it's not bad. The style and quality make me want to read on, unfortunately the questions raised but not answered don't.

1. Why are they in this place at this time?
2. Why throw away the dramatic potential of that scene when the coven gather and the elder's decide the sister's fate?
3. Your MC is twelve years old, an interesting age for a girl. Why not work those issues into the narrative.
4. Wouldn't it be more dramatic if they were throw out of their house. That would lend authority to that Scarlett O'Hara speech at the end.

I'm not sure about the sister at all. Might your MC be an only child? Spoilt child cast down to live amongst the peasants where, by enduring and surviving, they learnt to be a better person. There's a character arc right there.

Interesting to watch this evolving/improving.
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us

 - Robert Burns

JackmanWH

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It doesn't work for me. It sounds like you are making your characters say things just for the readers benefit. And it doesn't feel believable that a 12 year old would look at the sky and say your spirit will live forever.

I suggest you start with a purpose for them being there and don't try too hard to tell us why, let the evidence slowly seep out as we join their adventure. And keep both the dialogue and narrative consistent with the age, then you may not even need to tell us she is 12.

For example, have them place a small bear at the foot of the crypt, then a reason starts to emerge and the action says some of what you are trying to say. But make sure it leads to the next piece of action instead of just looking and talking.

Artemis Quark

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Yes it does seem too short, but probably because it's not bad. The style and quality make me want to read on, unfortunately the questions raised but not answered don't.

1. Why are they in this place at this time?
2. Why throw away the dramatic potential of that scene when the coven gather and the elder's decide the sister's fate?
3. Your MC is twelve years old, an interesting age for a girl. Why not work those issues into the narrative.
4. Wouldn't it be more dramatic if they were throw out of their house. That would lend authority to that Scarlett O'Hara speech at the end.

I'm not sure about the sister at all. Might your MC be an only child? Spoilt child cast down to live amongst the peasants where, by enduring and surviving, they learnt to be a better person. There's a character arc right there.

Interesting to watch this evolving/improving.

Thanks Clarius. I'm glad you see the evolution moving in the right direction. Your suggestions in the First Lines thread have been a guiding factor. I appreciate your continued interest.

The next revision I'll post soon adds the wild flowers for Mom's birthday (thanks Hilly) as a reason for the visit to the crypt less than a week after the memorial ceremony. Time will tell if it sticks.

I'll think about the eviction twist. Might add to the empathy I'm trying to build up with the reader. Too easy the way it is. Since the soon-to-be High Priest, the despicable Roane Redoute, is the antagonist, he will no doubt be the instigator of the eviction. It gives me a great way to show the struggle the Moon sisters will face with the new HP pulling strings.  :P

I'm thinking of deleting 'Twelve-year-old' from the opening line since there are many numbers in the paragraph. (Sixteen names, first, last, 1620). Thought it was too much but if I can use it to show another age-specific attribute of Carnelian, maybe I'll keep it in the opening.

As far as dumping Morgana, the novella as currently drafted has more than a bit part for her including who is her father and who is Carnelian's. I'll keep her for now.

With an attitude of gratitude.
AQ

Artemis Quark

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Thanks for taking time to comment Jackman. I'm addressing some of your points in the next draft. I agree the dialogue needs work. Need to make sure it is young enough. Already deleted 'your spirit will live forever.'

What do you mean 'place a small bear at the foot of the crypt'? Per Hilly's suggestion, I am adding a sentence that shows the visit is on their mother's birthday and Morgana has picked some wild flowers to place on the grave. Is that what you mean?

Please come back to comment on the next revision I will post soon.

AQ