Saturday, February 7, 2009

First Pages: MG / Raskin's Wings

Raskin leaned into the bird’s neck, guiding the animal with his legs. A single, black braid jostled along his shoulders, as stray tendrils clung to his sweat soaked face. Each brush of his back reminded him of his missing wings.
Stray tendrils of what? What's his back brushing against, the braid, the tendrils?
The brown bird dipped low in the sky, swooping beneath tree branches to land on the deserted pavement. Raskin hopped from its back. His pale pink eyes widened as he watched the animal return to the open air. Jumping as high as a wingless fairy could muster, he grasped at the fluttering reigns. Then he stomped on the ground in frustration. That was the third saddle he’d lost in as many months. They were difficult to craft and even harder to get the blasted birds to wear.
Widening his eyes seems like the wrong reaction. Wouldn't this happen too fast for a moment of non-action?

Pale pink eyes? Are fairies albinos?
“Over here!”

Raskin’s cousin, Seth, hovered near a building. His iridescent blue wings beat out a slow rhythm that kept his feet just inches from the ground. Seth was, as always, the perfect picture of fairydom. He had the same jet hair as Raskin, but his lay in one pristine braid down the center of his back. Where Raskin’s tunic most often looked worn and ragged, Seth hadn’t a thread out of place. Needless to say, Seth had never done anything near terrible enough to warrant having his wings clipped.
This beginning is involving itself a great deal in description, a little in character development, and not much at all in plot. I would suggest seeing if you can get to the action a bit sooner.
Enid stood off to the side. Her delicate features and frothy, pink gown enhanced the beauty of flowing mahogany hair. She made a comical portrait, with the stance of a drill sergeant and a scowl on her face.

Talbit waved him over. His stout, sausage-shaped fingers flicked toward his chin, as if to say, ‘Come on, then... we’re waiting’. Bright yellow locks dripped from underneath Talbit’s red cap, swinging back and forth with the wind like a metronome counting time. Being an elf, he was the only other of their troop without wings.
Colorful language is great. The trouble you can run into, though, is too much metaphor all in the same place. It's not technically mixing metaphors, but they're all cheek-by-jowl enough to make your reader think, "Frothy drill sergeants? Dripping sausages and metronomes?"
Raskin sprinted over to greet his friends but didn’t get so much as a ‘hello’ out before they bombarded him.

“It’s gone,” Enid said.

“They sent it in the post.” Talbit said.

“To some town in the States.” Seth continued.

“Enid only got part of the address.” Talbit paused long enough to roll his eyes as his bulb shaped nose quivered in a laborious grunt.

“Hey,” she yelled, “at least I got something. You got your trousers caught in the door, you dolt.”

“Right,” Raskin said, “where is it and how are we going to get there?”

“We know it went to a place called the Beautiful Goddess in a town called Berwyn.” Seth said.

“But the gnomes know as much as we do,” Talbit added.
This 'bombardment' doesn't ring true to me. When three excited people in a small group start yelling at fourth person, they listen to what the others are saying only enough not to exactly repeat them-- they don't listen so carefully that they finish each others sentences and give the fourth person all the information he needs as though tendering a report.
Raskin’s chest tightened and a dull pain invaded his throat. It wasn’t an unusual pang, something he should have grown accustomed to over the last hundred years, considering how often the feeling of failure assailed him.
This last paragraph at last puts us firmly with the main character. I would suggest going back through this scene and rewriting it from the point of view you've managed here-- less narration, more action, and a closer focus on the main character's experience.

Good luck!

18 comments:

anotheranon said...

I'm certain this is a case of hurrying to get the post in, but in case it isn't-- there should be commas, not periods before the dialogue tags.

Example:

“They sent it in the post.” Talbit said.

“To some town in the States.” Seth continued.

Should read:

"... post," Tablet said.

"... States," Seth continued.


I think you've got great desription, there's just too much of it. These are easy fixes, though, imo. Picking one at random:

**Enid stood off to the side. Scowl on her face. A drill sergeant wearing a pink dress.

(I do love the character names you've used!)

Merry Monteleone said...

Blogger ate my comment!

EA,

Thank you for the critique. I do tend to be heavy handed with the description - believe it or not, that's after removing the original first chapter and a lot of other hoo ha. Back to revisions!

Hi Anotheranon,

Thank you for your input. I think that's a good fix. I'm going back through it in the next few weeks.

:)Ash said...

Merry:

I think there's lots of potential here, and with a bit of editing, it could really shine.

I would suggest cutting out the first paragraph completely; I was very confused by it, not realizing right away that Raskin was riding a bird (I was picturing him holding a pet bird or something...). I don't think this paragraph really adds to the story, either, since the issue of his wings being clipped comes up later, when we meet Seth.

I really enjoyed the second paragraph and think that may be a better starting point. I especially like the bit about losing the saddle. That was a clever piece of information, in my opinion, and lets the reader know that it can be a huge hassle trying to ride a bird :)

You have a real ability with description; just tone it down a bit. Let the reader visualize some things on his/her own.

Anonymous said...

From the nitpicky copyeditor in me, it should be "reins," not "reigns."

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi guys,

I appreciate the feedback. (Nothing's nitpicky as far as I'm concerned - and reign's is just an embarrassing mistake... and one spellcheck won't catch)

I took another pass at it today, if anyone's got any suggestions. Here's the rewrite:


Raskin leaned into the bird’s neck, guiding the animal with his legs. With the wind in his face, he could almost make believe he was flying on his own. Well, except for the thwump of the bird’s wings against his knees and his mount’s annoying habit of trying to skewer him with its beak.

He threw all of his weight forward and they dipped lower in the sky. Raskin let out a whoop as the ground rushed up to meet them, sending that exhilarating shiver through his body. They swooped underneath tree branches to land on the deserted pavement. He hopped off, still grinning, and the bird took one last peck at him before returning to the open air.

Raskin jumped as high as a wingless fairy could muster, but wasn’t able to grab hold of the reins.

“Dimwitted flitter,” he yelled into the sky, stomping on the ground in frustration. That was the third saddle he’d lost in as many months. They were difficult to craft and even harder to get the blasted birds to wear.

“Over here!”

Raskin followed the voice and found his cousin, Seth, hovering near the side of a building. His cousin’s iridescent blue wings beat out a slow rhythm that kept his feet just inches from the ground. As always, Seth was the perfect picture of fairydom, giving Raskin the immediate urge to straighten his tunic and smooth his straggly, black braid. Needless to say, Seth had never done anything near terrible enough to warrant having his wings clipped.

“Did you find it?” Raskin asked.

“Yes and no,” the answer came from Enid. She was standing with Talbit, a few feet away. Raskin noticed the scowl that hardened Enid’s delicate features, and braced himself for bad news.

“I found it, but it’s gone now,” she said.

“Gone where?” Raskin asked.

“They sent it in the post,” Seth explained, “to some town in the States.”

Talbit, being an elf, was the only other of their troop with no wings. His bright yellow locks swung back and forth like a metronome, counting time, as he closed the distance between them with a few short steps.

“Enid only got part of the address,” Talbit said, his bulb shaped nose quivered in a laborious grunt.

“Hey,” she yelled, “at least I got something. You got your trousers caught in the door.”

“Right,” Raskin said, “where is it and how are we going to get there?”

“It’s in a town called Berwyn,” Seth said, “but the gnomes already know as much as we do.”

Raskin’s chest tightened and a dull pain invaded his throat. It wasn’t an unusual pang, something he should have grown accustomed to over the last hundred years, considering how often the feeling of failure assailed him.

Editorial Anonymous said...

What an improvement, Merry! Good work.

It still feels a wee bit rocky in the dialogue part to my ear, but (again, to my instinct) this feels much closer to a manuscript an editor would take on. Congrats!

Merry Monteleone said...

Thanks, EA... I don't think it's just your ear, the dialogue here is still sounding stilted to me, too.

But this definitely gives me a good direction to go in with edits. Thanks again for the critique!

Chris Eldin said...

Wow Merry! Nice editing!!!
I'm glad you trimmed the decription, and putting us in an active moment really helped! I love your voice!
To me, when it comes to describing characters, less is more. Unless it moves the plot or story along...for example, Lois Lowry never describes the MC in The Giver. I love that. It allows the reader to fill in a picture....that's just me though.

Nice job!!
:-)

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Chris,

You know, as a reader I completely agree with you - it annoys me to no end when an author spoon feeds, but maybe that's because it's my own biggest foible.

I think the biggest problem I'm having with the opening pages is the world building - for instance, his pink eyes in the original - fairies (in this world) don't have human coloring... except one fairy who has brown hair and brown eyes and is embarrassed by it because he looks (gasp) human!

Originally I had whole paragraphs of introduction each time a new character came in, but it was too clunky and heavy handed...

The main character is actually an eleven year old who we meet in the second chapter - I didn't have the same problems introducing him or any of the human cast... I think because I assume the reader will plug in their own picture.

I'm also far more confident of my voice with Benny (my mc) and the side characters... I wonder if other writers who've put fantasy elements in their stories have had similiar issues in character building.

Sarah said...

Great rewrite, Merry!

I was so happy to see this story. I'm pretty sure I've seen your query somewhere in a critique before. (Query Roulette, maybe?) I remember the name Raskin. Anyway, I liked the idea, so it was fun to see it here.

I agree about the difficulty with description- though I come from the opposite direction. My first drafts tend to be dialog- then I have to fill in description. Making it uphold (but not overwhelm) the story takes so much work.

:)Ash said...

Great job on the edit, Merry! It's immediately clear that he's flying on a bird, and why, and all that :)

And I didn't mention it in my former post, but I love the very last line. I really feel for poor Raskin and am rooting for him (and for you!) :)

Anonymous said...

I think your rewrite is much better also. Great job. I suggest you take out the words exhilarating, in fristration and change the following
His cousin’s iridescent blue wings beat out a slow rhythm that kept his feet just inches from the ground.
to
His cousin’s iridescent blue wings beat out a slow rhythm as he hovered inches from the ground.

anotheranon said...

Merry, I don't know you but do you want to come over and rewrite my ms for me?

Fantastic rewrite!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Sarah,

Yes, my query was up at Query Roulette - Janet was great about it, too.

It is a hard balance - great dialogue can be awesome, but then if you don't temper it with prose it can move the pace too quickly. The balancing, for me, is the hard part.

Did you have one up at Query Roulette, too?

Hi Ash,

Thank you! I appreciate the help, and the encouragement.

Hi Anon 10:08,

You know, you're definitely right about the word 'frustration' - it was too telling to begin with, and with the addition of Raskin yelling into the air and otherwise showing his annoyance, it can be cut completely.

'Exhiliration' is a bit telling, too... I'll look at how to reword - I want to get that feeling across, like you're hitting the big drop on a roller coaster... I also want to get it across that being clipped was the worst punishment for this character, because he loves the freedom of flying and he's a bit of daredevil... but then, all of that's not readily available in the word, 'exhiliration' either :-)

I'll have to look at the sentence about Seth hovering again. There was something clunky in that re-write, I'm not sure I want to use the phrasing, "as he..." though - I use that a lot and even though 'as' is just a filler word it starts to sound repetitive in my ear.

Thanks for the input.

Hi Anotheranon,

Thanks! I won't rewrite for you, but I'd be happy to help with critiques!

:)Ash said...

Anon suggested a change from "His cousin’s iridescent blue wings beat out a slow rhythm that kept his feet just inches from the ground" to "His cousin’s iridescent blue wings beat out a slow rhythm as he hovered inches from the ground."

While I see what Anon is saying, and "hover" may be a better word choice, I actually prefer the sentence the way it's written. It's simply a matter of taste, but it sounds better to my ear as it is.

Sarah said...

Merry,

I did have a query at Query Roulette for a YA story about a girl who is forced to attend a ball in a kingdom obsessed with them. She lands smack in the middle of a plot to take the throne. And yes, Janet was awesome.

Good luck with Raskin's Wings! It was one of the queries that really stood out to me. How fun to stumble across it here.

Anonymous said...

What is Query Roulette?

Merry Monteleone said...

Anon,

Janet Reid did a query roulette a while back (before query shark) where she asked readers to send in queries to be critiqued. The site wasn't given out publicly, it was for participants in a conference and the writers who sent in queries... but she never gave out the address on her blog.