Saturday, April 18, 2009

First Pages: YA / Shadow Queen

Lady Maya dressed quickly by the dim light of the moon. She glanced out over the balcony where a glow blooming on the horizon heralded the approach of dawn, and her heart skipped a beat as she realized how little time she had left. She grabbed her light cloak and threw it about her shoulders as she rushed toward the door.
Romance novel? I'm unfamiliar with this genre, so feel free to take my feedback with some salt.
If, of course, this isn't a romance novel, reconsider the constellation of 'glow', 'blooming', 'heralded', and 'heart'. A few too many words like that in one place, and the next word we expect is 'bodice'.
The well oiled hinges swung open without a sound. Maya exited and closed the door with a click more felt than heard. She fought the urge to run down the halls in a mad race against time. The sound of her shoes echoed from the stone walls. The soft clicks seemed deafening to her, and the dancing shadows cast by the wall torches felt suddenly ominous, as if ghostly fingers clutched at her skirts, trying to stop her.
Ok, sounding more like fantasy now.

Take out "mad race against time". In addition to being a cliche, it doesn't fit the feeling of the scene. You haven't given us any reason to believe the 'mad' part.

Cut the fourth sentence, and just put 'of her shoes' in the fifth. Always condense where possible.

I would suggest "reached out for" rather than "clutched at" as a bit less melodramatic and more like the effect shadows would have.
Maya dismissed such thoughts, chiding herself for giving her imagination too free a rein. However, the shadows of old tales would haunt anyone’s consciousness while preparing to descend into the castle’s depths in the hours before dawn. Few ventured below the ground level, so the area carried a mystique, a feeling of emptiness unsettling to the human mind.
Oh, too meta. She's supposed to be frightened, feeling, and worried, right? "Dismissed" and "chiding" give the sense of a colder, more rigidly rational nature, and would she really think about how other people would think about old wives' tales?

Consider using another word for 'mystique'. We're back in bodice territory. And what's this about the human mind? Are you implying there are non-humans around to be thinking about this?
Knowing her way would grow ever darker, Maya steeled herself against the screaming of her nerves. She felt a presence following her and looked behind momentarily, but the winding stairwell was empty. She shook her head and silently scolded herself for letting her imagination get the better of her again before she stepped out of the stairwell and into the catacombs.
Take out 'ever' before 'darker'; it's a bit too melodramatic to my ear. I don't think you've given us enough foundation for 'screaming'. Take out 'she felt a presence following her' and just let us intuit that from the way she looks behind her. Show, not tell.
She’d walked these passages in the early morning hours many times before as a game when castle life became too tedious. But this time was different; this time was real.
Not bad. You create some intriguing tension, and I'm at least a little curious about where this is going. Your tendency to overwrite a bit isn't entirely to my taste, but it's within the range of what I've seen in some genre fiction, so this may be perfectly publishable with the right editor. Tell me though--am I right about it being fantasy? I imagine we could have an interesting discussion about what elements pointed me in that direction as early as the second paragraph.

PS to my readers: I made up the title; this didn't come with one.

14 comments:

A. B. England said...

Thank you for the thoughtful critique. I had a feeling a more judicious hand with the editing was needed, and it looks like I was right. It's one area I'm still trying to get down, especially on a piece as old as this one.

It is a dark fantasy manuscript, with a few science fiction elements thrown in. It's interesting how the word choices led you to think romance.

I definitely have a lot to think about as I continue working on those last rewrites before submission.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to A.B England for understanding that EA's insightful critique means more work on the manscript is needed. Many authors would ignore such feedback and go their own merry way to never-never- published land. A.B's resiliance is a great sign of a future professional attitude.

I'd like to make a comment on the fantasy genre, since EA doesn't appear to be all that familiar with it...

Overwriting is common in fantasy but it absolutely shouldn't be. Our genre should be no more prone to overwriting than another.(And in today's difficult publishing climate, overwriting isn't going to help any manuscript over the line.)

Fantasy is too often filled with regurgitated concepts, medieval settings and stray bodices and as a genre it needs to be cut, tightened and cleaned and then liberally salted with original ideas.

Here's a suggestion I'd like to make to writers of the fantasy genre in general... try always for originality in delivery and concept. It's not a good thing if your settings, manuscript or characters (Elves anyone?) sound vaguely familiar to readers.

Best of luck A.B, I hope your concept is original and daring and the world will be wowed by it when your next draft is complete.

Anonymous said...

I often overwrite as well, so I have great empathy for this writer -- but I also think overwriting is one of the easier things to fix.

Cut the damn adjectives -- this is how I go about self-correcting my own overwritten prose.

With so many thoughts and feelings and adjectives thrown around readers often don't know what to focus on -- everything is given equal importance, and after a while your eyes glaze over.

An Example from the provided text: "...However, the shadows of old tales would haunt anyone’s consciousness while preparing to descend into the castle’s depths in the hours before dawn. Few ventured below the ground level, so the area carried a mystique, a feeling of emptiness unsettling to the human mind..."

I had to read this three times before I realized she was just walking down some stairs (also, you already mentioned it was dawn in the opening paragraph, no need to repeat it).

"Pretty" writing is fine, but every once in a while, it helps to just get to the point:

* With each step down into the castle's tomes her heart pounded faster. What would she find there? People? Evil?*

Anonymous said...

EA's comment...

"I imagine we could have an interesting discussion about what elements pointed me in that direction as early as the second paragraph."

Okay, I don't write fantasy, but I'm curious. What did point you in that direction?

BuffySquirrel said...

I found "The Book of Lost Things" overwritten in places; my editor brain kept cutting off superfluous half-sentences.

There's one here frex:

"Knowing her way would grow ever darker, Maya steeled herself against the screaming of her nerves."

Consider:

"Knowing her way would grow ever darker, Maya steeled herself."

(I actually like "ever darker" but then I'm an overwriter too. But also an editor with a blade of Damascene steel and a heart of stone!)

Alps said...

You have an interesting premise for an opening here, but it seems to me that it would be a lot stronger if it were more simply stated. I also have no idea what's at stake. I know she's scared and going down into the bowels of the castle is "for real" this time, but I have no hint as to what's awaiting her down there. Not that you want to just cut in with a lot of backstory, but the detailed description of her feelings and the sounds she's hearing on this first page were hard to wade through. I wanted to get sooner to the meat of the story. Also, I'd recommend leaving out "heart skipped a beat" in the first paragraph. It felt cliche to me.

I sincerely hope these thoughts help. And good luck!

Chris Eldin said...

Anon 7:35, this is what has kept me away from High Fantasy books. I try every once in a while to pick one up and read, but I find I start editing the story and then I get frustrated.
Loved reading EA's comments---they were very insightful.

Anonymous said...

I'm with the rest of the gang in believing that this is vastly overwritten. I'd say you need to consider cutting nearly 20% of the decorative prose out. Once you've swept your reader into your story and characters, you may be able to indulge yourself more, but not for the first 20 pages.

Here's my stab at merely cutting--not rethinking--the prose of the first few lines to give you a sense of how dramatic a hair cut I'd suggest you try.

"Lady Maya dressed quickly in the moonlight. Glancing out over the balcony where a glowing horizon heralded the approach of dawn, she realized how little time she had left. She threw her cloak about her shoulders as she rushed toward the door."

I do like fantasy, and I have a lot of patience with stories I love, but you need to win the reader before you ask for his or her patience.

Good luck. There are never too many rich fantasy novels to feed my appetite--and your description of it as a "dark" one makes it all the more enticing.

A. B. England said...

Thank you all for such helpful suggestions. Here's a stab at a rewrite.

Maya dressed by the light of the twin moons. She glanced out over the balcony as she pulled on her boots. She’d overslept, and it was nearly dawn. Soon the staff would begin their shifts, and there would be no chance for her to slip away unnoticed.

She grabbed her cloak as she left. The soft clicks of her heels seemed deafening to her, and the dancing shadows cast by the wall torches felt ominous as if ghostly fingers reached for her skirts, trying to stop her as she fought the urge to run to make up time.

Maya chided herself for imagining such things. She wasn’t playing a game to relieve the tedium of lessons and household responsibilities. Not this time. She had to be free of guards and Reiont Castle before dawn, or she never would be.

Few ventured below the ground level, so no torches were left burning in their sconces. Maya tried to settle her nerves as she prepared for the darkness to come.

She looked back, but the winding stairwell was empty. Maya shook her head before she stepped into the catacombs. If she’d heard anything, it must have been a mouse.

Better? Worse? No real difference? I'm still trying to develop an "ear" for a good balance.

Buffra said...

AB England,

I found it a lot easier to dive into the action of your re-write and stick with it. There are still the "fantasy" clues, but they're just part of the narrative, not intrusive.

I think that the rewrite is definitely in the right direction. Good for you!

Sarah said...

I like the rewrite!

One thing that stood out to me was that it has much more specific detail: twin moons, boots, soldiers, the name of the castle, the empty sconces.

You still use lovely language, but it feels like it's doing something, if that makes sense.

This was helpful to me. I'm trying to learn how to make pretty language contribute to my story, not obscure it- and this was a great example.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I was firmly in fantasy from the start. But maybe it's because that's what I read (and write).

I loved the beginning. Drew me in rather nicely. Then it got a little too technical/cold with extra bits that threw me out of being in the MC. You've got a lovely lyrical style that is being overshadowed by trying to force in details. IMO.

SammyStewart said...

I completely agree with most of the advice that was given. The first page isn't too bad, also.

Dominique said...

Loved the rewrite! My internal greedy reader craves more.

As a fantasy-lover, I liked your original and definitely enjoyed the rewrite a lot. The only sticky place I saw was the second sentence of the second paragraph: "The soft clicks of her heels seemed deafening to her, and the dancing shadows cast by the wall torches felt ominous as if ghostly fingers reached for her skirts, trying to stop her as she fought the urge to run to make up time." That seemed to be very long, as if you'd put several sentences into one. Try breaking it up more. That might create a more readable flow.