Author Topic: Thunder & Opal Prologue (1835 words) - Feedback wanted  (Read 125 times)

Offline ariwrites

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Thunder & Opal Prologue (1835 words) - Feedback wanted
« on: June 21, 2020, 10:11:18 PM »
A little note from the author: this is the second draft of my WIP Thunder and Opal. The prologue is a new edition and I'm unsure if I want to keep it (I know not everyone likes prologues).
This is written in first person. I prefer third person, but after writing a good chunk of this story in third I knew it work better in first (mostly due to the nature of my MC).
I'm interested in any kind of feedback as I'm going through a round of editing on this manuscript. Thank you for reading  ;D

The pitch (to give you a sense of what this story is about): Quillan sells illegal books. When a former friend makes a complaint to the Council of the Sun Chamber, she finds herself being put on trial. As the accusations keep coming, she will have to grapple with her skill in opening magical, strong-willed books to do what the council wants, in the hope of steering the trial in her favor.


Prologue
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Four years ago
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The night, I felt, was made for going back on your bravery.

I stared out into the dark swell of the ocean ahead of us, listening to my father—the founder of the Order of Psalters—give a final lesson before I met with my first client.

“Like a kingdom, an organization can be toppled by those inside it,” he said. “Only a fool would have his eyes set on outside threats without being aware of the way his men grow restless when they feel they aren’t being listened to. We have to make sure even the smallest voice is heard.”

Except Aillard’s wasn’t a small voice—he was resounding, and he’d taken half a dozen of my father’s men to his side, all of them chirping his same words: If you want our respect Charles, you’ll let the Order use her powers.

I had wanted this. How many times had I begged him to let me come when he was meeting with a client or a sponsor?
But now that it was forced on me . . .

The feel of my father’s hand on my shoulder shook me from my anxious thoughts. His grip was firm, fingers digging into bone. “Quillan,” he said. “Breathe.”

I hadn’t realized I’d stopped breathing. I’d been so focused on the shadows that swathed the dock, the sound of the ocean whirring and crashing against the cliff sides west of us. My cloak was already soaked through, the soles of my boots creaking against the slippery wood beneath us as I shuffled uneasily. “I’m not ready,” I admitted, ducking from his heavy gaze. Rain pelted everything around us, bouncing off the imported goods sealed away in crates, slicing through the small arc of light the lanterns at the trading strip offered.

Water slid down the bridge of my nose, resting against the bow of my lip. We didn’t have time to stop and let me have this moment. If we were late—if the book got wet—Cirrilo wouldn't close the deal.

My father let me have the moment anyway.

“You’ve always been ready,” he chastised. I cowered at his tone and he pinched my chin, forcing me to look him in the eye. “It’s always been in you. Don’t think you're lacking because you were forced to keep it hidden.”

Forced. By a childhood spent on the run, by the decree that books weren’t allowed to be kept, let alone opened by someone like me.

I swallowed back the bitter feelings that forced brought.

The kingdom made it clear that books were for their control, not to be trifled with by commoners.

For people like us, who went against those laws, life was spent hidden. The Order gave us the opportunity to peek out from those doors that were closed to us.

It gave us faith.

I nodded, the action shaking my father’s grip away. My hand reached for the box the book was stored in, hidden under my cloak.

If it wasn’t the time or the rain that could turn this night on its feet, then it was the patrols that frequented the strip. “We should move,” I said.

The rain continued as we stalked across the long waterfront, keeping close to the darkness that overhung from the cramped merchant offices along this block. There was one particular building we were headed for. It was the only office lit at this hour. Cirrilo let us in, a frown on his face as he watched water drip from our clothing onto the glistening floorboards below. “Did you have to take the wettest path over here?”

I looked to my father, waiting for him to stamp Cirrilo’s tone with an iron heel. I’d seen him reprimand men plenty of times, but he said nothing, instead sweeping his wet-slick hair from his face and regarding the client with a warm smile. “The rain started halfway here. We would have taken a carriage if we knew it was coming.”

Cirrilo was a handsome man, much younger than my father. He looked to be in his twenties, with black hair that was cropped closely to his head and a sharp chin. His mouth was perfectly symmetrical, and I watched as he continued with his complaints. “Why is there a child in my office, Charles?”

I am not a child, I thought. I hoped he could see the defiance in my face as he looked me over. At fourteen, I knew I wasn't going to be taken seriously by most in the trade. But child was a stretch.
 
“Who do you think opened it?”

He shut his trap at that, leading us into his study without saying any more. My father had gone over what we were to do before we left the shop, but I found myself distracted by the mounds of documents on the desk in here. By the wall of maps, all obviously made by a different cartographer, each rendered in such individual style. A short-haired hound lay in a pile of blankets in the corner. The dog lifted its head, watching us for a few seconds before going back to sleep.

I pulled the box from my cloak as the client sat down, my ring snagging in the fabric. I tugged it free with a jerk, causing me to lose my footing. Recovering, I clutched the box and waited until the flush in my cheeks to leave.

Tonight was the first time I was allowed to wear the ring—now that I was officially a member of the Order—and I wasn’t used to having any type of jewellery on me. It was plated in gold, with a flat face. Engraved on the front was a cursive P. I donned some dry gloves, covering the ring entirely from view.

Unwrapping a muslin cloth from the box with shaking fingers, I flipped the latch open. The book came free with a plume of dust and straw and I bit my lip, using my glove to wipe away any specks of dirt. I must have accidently shaken the parcel on the walk over.

Cirrilo was quiet as he watched, and I looked to my father for reassurance that I hadn’t screwed the deal. Books were meant to be kept in the best condition possible.

He gave me a comforting, close-lipped smile. Father had lost weight in the years since my mother had passed, the skin around his face looser than it had been then, his beard longer. His brown eyes were still the warm color I’d always known, only now they were framed with deep-set wrinkles.

I cleared my throat. “It was difficult to open, but I was able to eventually breach it.”
Difficult was putting it lightly. The book had taken me three weeks to open—and had caused me to lose whole afternoons to blinding headaches.

But once it was done we were able to ascertain its contents. A journeyman’s book, filled with detailed maps of lesser known oceanic channels. Routes that hadn’t been taken in fifty years.

My father was the one who’d let Cirillo know that we had something every merchant in the city would be interested in. He’d heard of his wealth, heard that he ran an empire of goods he charted into Aelhallow.

Now it was time for us to take a cut of that wealth.

My mind went instantly for the book. The quicker I showed the client what I could do, the more willing he’d be to empty his coffer.

I spoke to the book, opening a path where it could hear me and I could hear it and anyone around us could feel the way I pierced the bond that made it what it was.

“Can you hear the ocean?” I began.

“I can,” it delighted. “And it has been so long.”

“You’ll be able to hear it more often,” I said. “You have the chance to sail again, to retrieve the treasures written in your pages. I’m giving you over to your new home.”

The book let out a satisfied noise, any lingering magic falling from its leather binding.

I waited for my own magic to fall away, to lead me back to the office before I spoke. “The book will no longer lock itself away. Whatever the curse did to it, it no longer suffers from magic.”

Cirillo’s mouth was agape. He shook himself, blinking as if he wasn’t sure if any of this was real.

I gave up the book, my hand instantly chilled once it was gone from my grip. I had become accustomed to the warmth of its tawny leather.

Just to let him know that I was good enough, that I deserved to be here as a member of the Order, I straightened my back and said, “I hope my display was enough to show you how serious the Psalters are about our plans for the future of this kingdom.”

He swallowed. “Of course” he said, almost as if he wasn’t aware he could speak yet. He turned, “Charles I didn’t dare believe the message you sent me. But now. If you need . . . I’d be happy to support the cause.”

I smirked despite the fact he didn’t bother to address me. Not only was he willing to pay for the book, but he now wanted to offer his sponsorship. My father had gone over with me many times about how the Psalters acquired support from not only common folk, but also powerful men like Cirillo.

Seeing it first-hand was invigorating.

I waited outside while they talked over the details, letting the shower of rain wash away the side-effects of using my magic. It left me with only a roaring feeling of power rushing through my veins.

I was powerful.

My skin felt hot under the waterlogged dress I wore. I’d done it—I’d sold the first book opened by my hand.

After a few minutes he stepped from the office, his arms laden with pouches of coins. “I can’t fit them all in my pockets. Here,” he said, handing me some of the small sacks. “Make yourself useful.”

I let out a half-wild laugh. I had made myself useful. I’d secured us enough money to pay rent on the many apartments and warehouse blocks the Order used for their activities.

“I have plans for the shop now that we know you can do this. I’ll have the men move the press from the basement and we can set up a room to meet with clients in there.”

The shop. Ironhold books. It was only a front for my father’s endeavors within the organization. On the outside, it looked like every other bookshop along the Paper District, where we sold only kingdom-approved novels.

Now it had the potential to be so much more.

“How does it feel to be an initiate of the Order?” he asked.

I skipped over a puddle, my smile big enough to fracture the years worth of doubt that had hovered over me like a storm cloud. “It feels like I can do anything.”

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Thunder & Opal Prologue (1835 words) - Feedback wanted
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2020, 08:11:09 AM »
Nice idea for a novel.
Prologues, I hate them, and yours is no different because you're trying to juggle two things at once - introducing background information as quickly as possible and telling us a story.

The positives:

I like the way you set the mood - the ocean close by, the rain and the rather sinister dockside, all seen through the eyes of a young woman. It instantly creates a sense of intrigue and unease.

The story also flows incredible well once you get into your stride.

The negatives:

The admonishing speech from her father so early in the story is exactly the kind of nonsense found in most second-rate fantasy novels. Attaching an officious label to his name - just so we can make a note that he is founder of the Order - makes this opening even more formulaic and breaks the spell you so carefully created.

There are also times when you don't allow the reader to use their imagination - such as explaining what the ring signifies. Most will figure it out for themselves once they later discover she has been initiated into the Order. When you spell everything out for the reader, reading becomes a passive exercise. But if readers are forced to interact with the narrative they are more likely to engage with your characters and story.

My advice, ditch the boring bits and let the reader pick up the clues as the story unfolds, hopefully without them actually realising you are feeding them tid-bits of information. With that in mind, the following revision might work better (and feel free to retitle your prologue Chapter 1).

The night, I felt, was made for going back on your bravery. I stared out into the dark swell of the ocean ahead of us and felt my father’s hand on my shoulder shaking me from my anxious thoughts. His grip was firm, fingers digging into bone. “Quillan,” he said. “Breathe.”

I hadn’t realized I’d stopped breathing. I’d been so focused on the shadows that swathed the dock, the sound of the ocean whirring and crashing against the cliff sides west of us. My cloak was already soaked through, the soles of my boots creaking against the slippery wood beneath us as I shuffled uneasily. “I’m not ready,” I admitted, ducking from his heavy gaze. Rain pelted everything around us, bouncing off the imported goods sealed away in crates, slicing through the small arc of light the lanterns at the trading strip offered. . .


The part that follows is fine, then:

. . .I looked to my father, waiting for him to stamp Cirrilo’s tone with an iron heel. I’d seen him reprimand men plenty of times, but he said nothing, instead sweeping his wet-slick hair from his face and regarding the client with a warm smile. “The rain started halfway here. We would have taken a carriage if we knew it was coming.”

Not sure we need this pen portrait
Cirrilo was a handsome man, much younger than my father. He looked to be in his twenties, with black hair that was cropped closely to his head and a sharp chin. His mouth was perfectly symmetrical, and I watched as he continued with his complaints.
“Why is there a child in my office, Charles?”

I am not a child, I thought. I hoped he could see the defiance in my face as he looked me over. At fourteen, I knew I wasn't going to be taken seriously by most in the trade. But child was a stretch. . .


Again - what follows is fine then:

. . .I pulled the box from my cloak as the client sat down, my ring snagging in the fabric. I tugged it free with a jerk, causing me to lose my footing. Recovering, I clutched the box and waited until the flush in my cheeks to leave.

Tonight was the first time I was allowed to wear the ring—plated in gold, with a flat face. Engraved on the front was a cursive P. I donned some dry gloves, covering the ring entirely from view. . .


The rest is near-perfect and promises much more to come. Thanks for sharing, and as always, feel free to ignore my comments. There will be others who love the prologue just as it is.

Offline ariwrites

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Re: Thunder & Opal Prologue (1835 words) - Feedback wanted
« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2020, 06:14:25 AM »
Thank you so much for taking the time to read through. I agree with everything you have said and having it pointed out is helpful. Unfortunately I can't have this scene as the first chapter because it is set a few years before the main story but perhaps I can weave it in as a flashback. I know prologues are very hit-and-miss (almost always miss).

I have a problem balancing when to give the reader information and have noticed that a few readers have been confused during the beginning of my first draft because I was slowing feeding information. This is just a personal weakness in my writing and something I need to work on.


Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Thunder & Opal Prologue (1835 words) - Feedback wanted
« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2020, 06:20:10 AM »
Chapter 1 can happen 100 years before the rest of the story if that's relevant - it doesn't mean you have to call it a prologue instead. Publishers are not great fans of prologues because they are often seen as a lazy way of the author dumping information into the book without having to care about context or a cohesive plot arc. Also readers often skip them for that very reason. In your case I don't think any of the above apply.

Offline ariwrites

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Re: Thunder & Opal Prologue (1835 words) - Feedback wanted
« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2020, 06:26:10 AM »
Yeah you're right! I don't see it that often but it has been done  :D I think if I really cut back on a lot of the unnecessary info dumps and tighten it up, it could work out well as a first chapter. I like the first chapter I have now - it has a different tone than this one - but there's no reason it couldn't be chapter two instead. Thank you.