Author Topic: Feedback for Opening Chapter (Science Fantasy, 2137 words)  (Read 212 times)

Offline wkerwick10

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 3
Feedback for Opening Chapter (Science Fantasy, 2137 words)
« on: April 19, 2019, 12:18:37 AM »
Hi all,

Looking for feedback for my debut science fantasy novel's prologue + opening chapter. Constructive criticism would be helpful - is the material engaging enough? How's the pacing? Descriptive enough? Are you drawn into the story/wanting more or does it feel sort of meh?

Also looking for beta readers in general so if you happen to like what you see below feel free to send me a message! Thanks in advance for your time everyone :) I really appreciate it.

Prologue

The Maelstrom howled like the breath of chaos.

Deep beneath the peaks of the D’Marren mountain range, it raged against the walls of the Sanctuary. Gusts of wind from the mouths of gods screamed out sound. A typhoon of magic and energy fluxed through the Sanctuary’s interior on the backwinds of time.

In the Maelstrom, it was the end of the world.

The Arch Lord sat in its midst, clad in a simple black robe, resting upon the stone chair in the middle of the circular stone room. The Maelstrom tore all about him, encapsulating him in its all-consuming rage. Tongues and whips of magic slid across pristine walls like wind across the surface of a lake. The very stones beneath him vibrated in their wake.

May the gods help me. Beneath the folds of the black hood that shrouded his face, the Arch Lord touched a Dualist crown to his forehead. The Maelstrom howled back at him.

May the crowns help me.

A roaring response. He touched the crown to his head again.

And may the darkness help me – for the things that I must do.

The Maelstrom exploded in fury, lashing through the Sanctuary with the strength of an earthquake. The Arch Lord let the magic hiss through his ears. The folds of his black robe flapped in the wind. The time would come soon.

The Arch Lord let his consciousness meld into the void of the Maelstrom. In its sleek embrace, he was infinite. He reached out to it with his mind, touching it. Warmth. Energy. He could see nothing except the cloudy vortex surrounding him. Though it was just behind him, the Door he sought to open was far, far away.

But it would open soon. He knew this to be true.

Centuries ago, the first Arch Lord had created the Maelstrom with his dying breath. The magic storm hidden in the depths of the Sanctuary was the last essence of his life. The current Arch Lord reached out and touched it again. It felt like a bolt of lightning against his mind. He delved into his inner consciousness, searching.

Nearby, nestled in a maze of rock and bronze, the Door stood like a silver colossus, dutifully guarding the pathways between worlds.
After a time, the Arch Lord finally rose to his feet.

May the darkness prepare me for the things that I must do.

Chapter 1

Bright rays of the sweltering morning sun filtered through the overhead canvas of swaying trees as Talryn hiked his way up the forest path. Dry leaves and dirt crunched beneath his heel, strained from the droughts that were common in these parts, leaving behind a trail of dusty footprints. The clean, crisp air felt good in his lungs – a far cry from the stuffy, sterile environment of the military base not far to the south. The dead heat of the Keltish summer was well underway, and sweat dripped from his exposed arms and chest, which weren’t protected by his black tank top or lightweight camouflage pants.

Small animals skittered amongst the trees, chirping and clicking as they looked for food or the solace of a shaded nook to rest in. Talryn listened to each one as he passed along the worn trail he’d travelled many times before – for a trip he wasn’t technically supposed to be taking.

After a short time, he heard the sound of the nearby river: a telltale sign that he was close to his destination. He shouldered his pack and climbed over a cliff of boulders shrouded by trees, coming up upon a bright, sunny clearing. The area was partially closed off by a rusting fence that had probably been there for decades.

This was the spot. His usual contact hadn’t arrived yet. Talryn checked his watch.

He’s late.

While he waited, he sat down by the edge of the boulders, beneath a solitary tree that was a long distance off from the rest of the woods. The ravine in front of him spanned for miles as the massive river at its base glistened in the summer’s furnace, snaking its way to the south. This was one of Talryn’s favorite spots, where he could watch the river travel its lazy, rolling path while he napped or read or wrote in the comfort of the sun.

At twenty-six, Talryn was tall and lean, with fair skin and a strong, angular jaw. His arched, dark eyebrows helmed a sharp nose and confident, arctic-blue eyes that were often scanning or deep in thought. Wavy locks of chestnut hair rode above his rugged, youthful face like the windswept feathers of a bird’s wing, and the rest of it was sheared clean at the nape of his neck – the traditional haircut for Keltish soldiers.

Talryn heard the chain-link fence rattling, and he twisted his head, squinting, to see a panting boy racing over to him.

“Sorry I’m late,” Matthew spurted, his cheeky face dripping with sweat as he peered down at Talryn. “My mom needed me to help her with the dishes n’all that.”

Talryn waved it off. “Not a problem, Matthew. Your family should come first. Especially your mother, since she’s got you to handle all day. I reckon it’d drive me halfway insane.” Matthew opened his mouth to retort but stopped when Talryn grinned. “Kidding, kidding. Sort of.” He leaned in, lowering his voice. “Do you have the goods?”

Matthew solemnly nodded, opening his pack. “You wouldn’t believe what I had to do to get these out of the house unnoticed.” With a dramatic kneel, he placed a six-pack of Morton-Heissman soda-pop at Talryn’s feet.

Talryn appraised Matthew carefully – the kid was probably only twelve, but he was resourceful. And a good businessman. Matthew’s unruly shag of brown hair was matted to his forehead with sweat as he pushed the soda cans towards Talryn. The youth had the distinct, childish, almost endearing huskiness of a middle-school kid in his awkward years. “Brilliant. Has anybody ever told you you’re a genius?”

Matthew shrugged. “My math teacher. Do you have your side of the bargain?”

Talryn reached into his pack and unfurled a bag of dried meats, potatoes, and cheese. “You got it. I threw in a little extra this time for your mom. She was way too skinny the last time I saw her. Make sure she gets enough to eat, alright?”

Matthew looked at it uncomfortably, twiddling his thumbs. “That’s a lot. Are you sure you don’t want more for it?”

Talryn shook his head. “Nah. Consider it a treat.”

“Thanks, I guess,” Matthew said, squashing his hands on his hips. He watched as Talryn put the soda cans into his pack. “Say, what do you want those for, anyway?”

Talryn looked over at him as he continued placing them carefully inside the bag. “They don’t have any at the military base and the local stores are too far away to travel to on foot, so I get them from you instead. They’re my favorite drink. I’d rather throw myself off a cliff than go a month without them.”

Matthew raised an eyebrow, his face curling in bewilderment. “That’s...dramatic.”

Talryn zipped up his pack and gave him a hard look. “Oh, come on. Tell me you don’t have anything you care about like that.”

Matthew pondered the thought for a moment. “...Pound cake?”

Talryn shrugged approvingly. “See? We’ve all got our vices.” He laid down on a flat rock next to the tree, stretching as the sun warmed him.

Matthew sat down next to him, picking at twigs with his dirty fingernails. “The reason my mom’s been getting skinnier is because she keeps giving me and my sister all the food we have. She won’t eat it, keeps saying something about how we need it more than she does because nobody has enough money to buy anything nowadays.”

Talryn twisted his head and squinted at him against the sunlight. “She’s your mother. She’d do anything for you. Always remember that.”

The dry twigs cracked and snapped as Matthew scooped them up, rolling them in his hands. “Why does it have to be that way, though? I mean, nobody’s getting enough food. Most of the town is starving and my family is too poor to buy anything, no matter how hard my parents work. My father keeps telling us to wait, that ‘everything is going to work out,’” Matthew imitated gruffly. “Why can’t the government help? Where’s all the country’s money? We pay taxes every year just like everybody else. How come nobody’s helping us?”

Talryn was silent for a moment. “Because the government wants to spend more on war and killing people and developing useless weapons than helping its own citizens. Maybe it used to care about people, a long time ago, but I doubt it does any longer.”

Matthew frowned, puffing his cheeks out. “Well, that’s bleak.”

“Yep.” Talryn sighed, looking over at Matthew again. “Look, sometimes it has to be up to us. If we want this world to be anything worth fighting for, we need to help each other out. And we need to care about other people.”

Matthew shifted uncomfortably, holding the bag of goods that Talryn had given him. “Is that why you’ve been bringing us food every week?”
Talryn nodded. “That, and my cans of Morton-Heissman. Don’t forget those.” He grinned and popped open the one that was sitting in his lap. “Wanna try it?”

Matthew looked at it apprehensively. “My mom says I’m not supposed to have them.”

Talryn shrugged, taking a long sip. “Fine. I guess I’ll have this incredibly delicious beverage all to myself, then. Not a problem.”

“Fine, fine – let me try it,” Matthew interrupted. He took a small sip, and his eyes widened into saucers. “That’s – that’s – amazing! Why has she been hiding this from me?”

Talryn burst out laughing. “Because the things are pretty much poison – chalk full of sugar. Think of it as a treat, not something you should drink regularly. I’m glad you like it, though.” He stood up, throwing his pack on. “Anyway, I have to go back to the base now. See you around, Matthew.”

Matthew jumped to his feet. “Same time next week?”

Talryn smiled sadly. “Yeah – same time next week.” He didn’t have the heart to tell Matthew that he would likely be deployed later that day to a country hundreds of miles away. In just a few hours’ time, actually, if everything ran smoothly. He hoped the extra meat he’d brought this time would last the kid and his family for awhile. It was the least he could do.

Matthew smiled a big, toothy grin and trotted off towards the fence before climbing through a hole big enough to fit through. Back that way was the town of Redville, where Matthew and his family lived.

Talryn stood there another moment, watching the river and finishing his can of soda. When he was done, he crushed it up and threw it into his pack. He started back into the forest, about a fifteen-minute trek from the military base.

As Talryn walked through the quiet forest, an odd sensation crept up on him, as if he was being watched. He paused, listening intently for the sound of anyone nearby. After only a moment, he realized something strange.

It was too quiet. The sounds of the animals and insects were gone, missing, as if they’d all fled in unison and vacated the forest.
Talryn slowly pulled out the handgun strapped to his hip as his blood turned cold. His eyes scanned the tree line with razor-like precision, his finger a split second from the trigger.

Nothing.

Then, in the corner of his eye, he saw movement. A dark figure leapt from behind a tree and sprinted into the brush faster than Talryn’s eye could follow. “Hey!” Talryn yelled. “Get your ass back here!” He lunged after the mysterious figure, trampling leaves and dirt as he raced through bramble and branches. It took him only a second to realize he’d already lost track of whoever had been following him.

“Yeah, you better run, asshole,” Talryn muttered beneath his breath.

As he turned back to the trail, he heard the humming background noise of the forest alive with sound. The crack and snap of small animals traveling and the clicking of insects had returned.

Talryn rubbed his temples, unsure of what he’d seen. That was...strange.

He figured it had probably been a civilian curious to follow a soldier on his patrol. Maybe the person hadn’t had anything better to do. Still, though, he knew what he’d heard.

Dead silence – like the calm before the storm. He wondered what could’ve caused it.

After studying the trees one last time, he continued on his way back towards the military installation.
« Last Edit: April 20, 2019, 11:48:41 PM by wkerwick10 »

Offline An Albatross Man

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 13
Re: Feedback for Opening Chapter (Science Fantasy, 2137 words)
« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2019, 11:26:40 PM »
Two quick suggestions: 
1. Because you can't put indentations in an HTML text box (easily anyway), hit return and skip a line between each paragraph, including dialogue. That will make it much easier to read. 

2. Minor point, but you use "the military base" multiple times in both narration and dialogue. Does the place have a name?  What particular branch of the military runs it (IE: is it an army base?).  Having lived and worked on military facilities on four different continents, I can tell you that no one who is stationed on such ever refers to them as "the military base."  They would use "on-base" or "on-post" or "on XXX" were XXX is the name (or nickname) of the base.

3. I know it is often suggested to kick off a book in the most dramatic way possible, but I think one should be careful not to immediately inject a reader into the middle of something they are unprepared to understand.  Admittedly, I am not a sci-fi or fantasy guy (more historical fiction and adventure) so maybe my mindset is too rigid to flex that hard right away without being lead to it. Basically, your beginning lost me completely.  I started skimming until I got to the part were there was some setting and action that I could make heads or tales of. Again, that could be just my problem, (and the lack of apparent paragraph breaks), but just a word of caution. 

Other than that, cowboy-up and keep writing! Thanks for sharing.

Offline wkerwick10

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 3
Re: Feedback for Opening Chapter (Science Fantasy, 2137 words)
« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2019, 11:54:18 PM »
Two quick suggestions: 
1. Because you can't put indentations in an HTML text box (easily anyway), hit return and skip a line between each paragraph, including dialogue. That will make it much easier to read. 

2. Minor point, but you use "the military base" multiple times in both narration and dialogue. Does the place have a name?  What particular branch of the military runs it (IE: is it an army base?).  Having lived and worked on military facilities on four different continents, I can tell you that no one who is stationed on such ever refers to them as "the military base."  They would use "on-base" or "on-post" or "on XXX" were XXX is the name (or nickname) of the base.

3. I know it is often suggested to kick off a book in the most dramatic way possible, but I think one should be careful not to immediately inject a reader into the middle of something they are unprepared to understand.  Admittedly, I am not a sci-fi or fantasy guy (more historical fiction and adventure) so maybe my mindset is too rigid to flex that hard right away without being lead to it. Basically, your beginning lost me completely.  I started skimming until I got to the part were there was some setting and action that I could make heads or tales of. Again, that could be just my problem, (and the lack of apparent paragraph breaks), but just a word of caution. 

Other than that, cowboy-up and keep writing! Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for the feedback! I fixed the paragraph breaks, and good advice about the military base!

Offline Stayce

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 14
Re: Feedback for Opening Chapter (Science Fantasy, 2137 words)
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2019, 04:17:53 AM »
Hi there! Just thought I'd offer some feedback. Do feel free to take on board as much or as little of this as you wish, as a large portion of what I'm about to type is based on my initial gut reaction to the story.

I do think that the opening feels a bit uneven. I think it's partially that within the first couple of sentences we've been introduced to multiple concepts all with proper nouns applied to them. It feels a bit self consciously grandiose rather than mysterious and foreboding. We have absolutely no way of knowing what the Maelstrom is, or a Dualist Crown, or the Arch Lord, or the Sanctuary. It's all a bit too much. I would avoid naming everything and instead concentrate on the feelings and atmosphere of the scene you are trying to evoke; of this one man facing down a force of nature. If this only the prologue, there's plenty of time to explain away the hows and the whys later. For now, just focus on the immediacy of what is happening. 

The next point is a little more of a personal reaction to your lead character. Talryn doesn't really hook me in this early chapter. Other than an apparent sweet tooth, he seems a bit bland. Youthful, strong, handsome, generous, and patient to a fault; he feels a bit overdone. While this is relatively early in the story, and I understand there may be a lot more to him that you have planned, or not revealed yet, at the moment there's nothing that really stands out about him.

Besides these points, I think there's a lot good here. The world building you do once you are past your prologue is a lot more natural and easy to follow than at the beginning, as it is generally introduced more passively as a background to what is happening rather than being the crux of it. The dialogue is also has a nice back and forth to it, although sometimes sounding a little stiff and stilted. Overall, I think you have a decent beginning here, but I think I'd need to see a little more, particularly of Talryn to off much beyond what I already have.

Hope it helps, and I look forward to seeing anything else you wish to share.   

Offline wkerwick10

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 3
Re: Feedback for Opening Chapter (Science Fantasy, 2137 words)
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2019, 03:09:02 PM »
Hi there! Just thought I'd offer some feedback. Do feel free to take on board as much or as little of this as you wish, as a large portion of what I'm about to type is based on my initial gut reaction to the story.

I do think that the opening feels a bit uneven. I think it's partially that within the first couple of sentences we've been introduced to multiple concepts all with proper nouns applied to them. It feels a bit self consciously grandiose rather than mysterious and foreboding. We have absolutely no way of knowing what the Maelstrom is, or a Dualist Crown, or the Arch Lord, or the Sanctuary. It's all a bit too much. I would avoid naming everything and instead concentrate on the feelings and atmosphere of the scene you are trying to evoke; of this one man facing down a force of nature. If this only the prologue, there's plenty of time to explain away the hows and the whys later. For now, just focus on the immediacy of what is happening. 

The next point is a little more of a personal reaction to your lead character. Talryn doesn't really hook me in this early chapter. Other than an apparent sweet tooth, he seems a bit bland. Youthful, strong, handsome, generous, and patient to a fault; he feels a bit overdone. While this is relatively early in the story, and I understand there may be a lot more to him that you have planned, or not revealed yet, at the moment there's nothing that really stands out about him.

Besides these points, I think there's a lot good here. The world building you do once you are past your prologue is a lot more natural and easy to follow than at the beginning, as it is generally introduced more passively as a background to what is happening rather than being the crux of it. The dialogue is also has a nice back and forth to it, although sometimes sounding a little stiff and stilted. Overall, I think you have a decent beginning here, but I think I'd need to see a little more, particularly of Talryn to off much beyond what I already have.

Hope it helps, and I look forward to seeing anything else you wish to share.   

Thanks! This is all really helpful. I totally see what you're saying about too many proper nouns right away and too many concepts. And definitely sounds like I need to work on making Talryn more interesting in the beginning. Plenty happens with him as the story evolves but I suppose the reader doesn't know until they get there! Thanks for your advice, I really appreciate it.