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Author Topic: Beast - First short story
Jericson
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This is my absolute first foray into short fiction, so I feel a little shaky on my feet. So please keep that in mind, but don't go easy on me. I imagine I will write this story several times over before I get anywhere near what I want it to look like.

And Beast is a tentative title - any ideas for something better is appreciated.

----------

It was always there.
A flame that would never die inside of him, that primal urge to attack, destroy, that survival instinct. A beast that dwelled in his soul, lurking in the darkest corners, waiting for the chance to strike. And it was patient. Oh, it was patient. It would wait for days, weeks, months at a time, not daring to pounce until the time was ripe. And until then it would remain hidden, ignored by the one it inhabits, unseen by those outside.
But the body that housed the beast – specifically, a 17 year old, male body – was far from thinking about such a hidden terror at this time. The boy sitting next to him was much too distracting.
“Everyone says that the Dark Lord is so hard, but I’ve beaten him easy. Like, 50 times already.”
“Mmm.”

---------

By the way, what exactly constitutes 13 lines? I just pasted 13 lines from Word, but it doesn't seem quite long enough. Oh well.


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mikemunsil
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Hi Jericson! Welcome to Hatrack.

quote:
“Everyone says that the Dark Lord is so hard, but I’ve beaten him easy. Like, 50 times already.”

Without looking at the remainder, I would start the story with the line above. Then weave the preceding information into the body of the story early on.

Before you do so, look at the preceding information and decide just how much of it is necessary for the reader to know, in order to understand what is going on.

Is there any repetition in that piece? If so, can you condense it?

When should the reader know that information?

Is it something that should be told, or can you show it instead?

Answer all these questions first, then go back to the start and reread it. Perhaps you'll agree that the story starts better as I've suggested, or perhaps there is an even better place to start!

Hope this is of use.

mm


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HSO
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quote:
what exactly constitutes 13 lines? I just pasted 13 lines from Word, but it doesn't seem quite long enough.

What you posted is perfect length per this site's guidelines. It may seem short, but it is usually enough to spot any trouble or perhaps interest a reader.


Right. There are a lot of occurences of "it" in this story. I even think the first one should/could be replaced with exactly what "it" is. Don't rely on "it" to do the work. Say what "it" is -- and then go from there. Some "its" are okay, though...

Second thing. Tell us the 17-year old's name right off.

quote:
But the body that housed the beast – specifically, a 17 year old, male body –

Don't hold this information back. Just say the kid's name right away. It'll work. Trust me.

EDIT: Specifically, give us the name right at the beginning within the first or second sentence. Probably right where you wrote: "The flame that would never die within [insert name here]...."

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited February 08, 2005).]


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Jericson
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Hmmm.

I think I might have to finish the story (I'm nearing completion), before I really decide, but I have to agree, it does seem to start better that way. However, there's no real break in dialogue until the next time the beast is mentioned, at which point it's too late.

Here's what the first thirteen lines would be if I started from the point you offered:

--------

“Everyone says that the Dark Lord is so hard, but I’ve beaten him easy. Like, 50 times already.”
“Mmm.”
“The trick is not attacking his spirit duplicate when it’s unleashed, but attacking his physical form while he’s in that weakened state.”
“Hmm.”
“Most people get that wrong, but I figured it out the first time I played him.”
“Hmm.”
“Of course, even if you know the trick, you have to be really fast in getting to him, and most people screw it up anyway.”
“Mmhmm?”
“But I don’t. I’ve never even died while fighting him.”
“Mmm.”

--------

I think the first part about the beast and everything is supposed to be some kind of foreshadowing, although I can't say foreshadowing is something I'm particularly skilled at. But it does sort of provide an undercurrent for the dialogue ahead, giving the reader something to expect soon, although the timing is a bit of a surprise.

I'm not saying all of this is a great idea, but this is just where my train of thought is headed.

[This message has been edited by Jericson (edited February 08, 2005).]


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HSO
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Yes, that dialog would not do for a start. You should rewrite it anyway... it's too much "hmm..." And, dialog is used to further the plot and to develop character. Mostly everything that doesn't do that should be cut. (I know that's harsh, but the average reader won't care about anything else.) Still, the other kid who is rambling about the game is quite a character (I'm a gamer myself -- I get it.)

My suggestion is to take away all of the hmmms... and condense the other kid's dialog into one paragraph.

Also, don't be shy about giving us the other kid's name either.


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Christine
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Welcome! I hope you like it here.

Before looking at the other comments, I want to give you two pieces of personal reaction.

Your first two sentences are not actually complete sentences. Ther eis no action, no verb, in either one of them. Sentence fragments can be used in fiction to create dramatic effect, but I don't think it works here. Because we have no concept of what this is about, no idea what to expect from you as a writer, and no tone, it mostly reads like your command of grammar is poor...which I know it isn't from reading the rest.

Second, "The Dark Lord" Is voldemort. I'm sorry, I hate it when people find a tiny little thing that is remotely like Harry Potter and tell me I can't do it because Rowling did it when I know she didn't relaly invent any of those things, but that's all I could think when I read that line. I think that you could make "The Dark Lord" mean something else in your story if you introduced it in a different way, but just dropping the line in there made me instantly think of Harry Potter. It's a cultural nuance that I'm afraid we all have to contend with.

Now I'm going to go read everyone else's thoughts...

I don't like the second try nearly as much as the first, and I also disagree with this hard and fast rule that we seem to have at Hatrack: "Name the character right away." I just don't agree with that. Now, reading over it again, I thought it might be a good idea to name him instead of calling him a 17-year-old boy. So the sentence might read: "But the body that housed the beast – specifically, John Smith – was far from thinking about such a hidden terror at this time."

Now, if I can extrapolate from this conversation that you plan to have those lines of dialogue as the next few lines in the story, I have another basic reaction that I'd like to share: boredom. In the introduction you set up this beast that I am picturing as a possessing spirit or the soul of a man (at this point it could go either ay but I'm not concerned) and that sparked my interest. But then you start talking about a video game and I just sort of yawned. The hook worked, but the follow through might keep me from turning the page. I find myself asking why we need to know this information and what it has to do with anything.

Now, I see a couple of possibilities for you, depending upon what you hope to accomplish with this story. First, it might help if you juice the dialogue up with some action tags or even some of John Smith's thoughts. He keeps saying "mmmm" does he care about what his friend (is it his friend) is saying? Often when someone is bored by something their first suggestion is to cut it. I've had that suggestion myself, but in some cases, and I believe this is one of those, that advice is exactly opposite. This should be longer, fuller, and richer, IMHO (in my humble opinion). Let's start getting to know John Smith, starting with his real name. Let's get to know his friend, including his opinion fo the kid.

I hope this is helpful and does not come across as harsh. When you finish, if you'd like, I can take a look at the whole thing.


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HuntGod
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I would start with the Dark Lord line as well. Much better hook.

I don't make an immediate connection to Harry Potter when I see Dark Lord, so I don't think thats a huge problem, I assume your referring to Satan or some other malevelont entity, not Voldemort.

I also agree with the other posters that you should name the character rather than using a "17 year old". As a rule of thumb your better off describing him by name and calling him a teenager or older teen. Unless it is critically important that we know he's seventeen. If it is critically important then it would be better to relate that information in dialogue.

i.e. "I'm 17 for god's sake, why do they still treat me like a kid." or some such rather than telling us in the exposition.


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Christine
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All right, I've got to know...what about that Dark Lord line is a hook? Why does it draw you into the story? What intrigues you about it? I'm not saying it's a bad line, I'm saying it would be an abysmal first line and I just can't fathom why others were drawn to it. Maybe this is a battle of the sexes that I'm losing...are boys just that intrigued by video games? I really am curious, not just for this story, but in general. The question "What makes a hook?" is one that can only be answered by time, practice, patients, and lots of examples.
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HuntGod
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Well it's more interesting than the existing first line.

Also it generates curiousity, on my part at least, as to what he means by "he's beaten him 50 times".

Of the material offered it makes a more effective first line because it has a bit of tease and is different. Though that different'ness becomes more mundane when it becomes clear that he is referring to a video game.


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Christine
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Ohhhhhhhh <light bulb forms above Christine's head.>

I was pretty clear that he was talking about a video game from that line, although in fantasy, taking things at face value, it could have meant anything.

Of course, Jericson does not need to restrict himself (assuming him, sorry if wrong) to the material posted here. He can begin with any line he can create out of his head. So perhaps it might be better to suggest a different opener. The Dark Lord line might, in some people's opinion, have been better, but I imagine Jericson wants this to be the best.


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Jericson
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All good thoughts.

The reason I don't like starting with the Dark Lord line is for two reasons: 1) I recognize already that there is little known about the two characters, but with that as the starting line, you don't even have the "17 year-old boy" part to work with. The reader could be picturing 20-something guys, or whoever else might be interested in video games.

2) The "beast" is woven in throughout the story, and I can't think of any other place to put that opener, really.

Most of the confusion here is cleared up in the next few lines of the story (names, dialogue, etc.), but I can understand the problem of not understanding the situation right away. So here's what's explained later, in a nutshell, and maybe you can help me get that down sooner:

Tristan (the main character) is trying to do his math homework in class. Eliot (the Dark Lord kid), however, is being extremely persistent in talking about video games, especially about his incredible skill. So Tristan, trying to get across the idea that he's not interested, while still being polite, is simply responding as noncommittally as he can to give the very strong hint that he doesn't care. Eliot, of course, doesn't pick up hints.

Like I said, all this is explained pretty much right after the dialogue that I've posted stops, but perhaps I need to explain it earlier, to keep the reader hooked? I'd hate to think that I can bore the reader that quickly.

Oh, and by the way, I'm an ardent Harry Potter fan and the "Dark Lord" thing didn't even cross my mind. I was just thinking of a cliche video game enemy name so I could make a joke about it later. :P


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Survivor
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Use your POV. Tristan isn't even thinking about what Eliot is saying, right? So don't just open with a bunch of Eliot's dialogue like he's talking about something important to the story. Focus on what Tristan is thinking about, only use Eliot's dialogue as a foil to show that Tristan isn't just abstracting.

Tristan concentrates on his math homework. This is a good place to slip in some information on what kind of student he is and what kind of school he attends. Eliot speaks “Everyone says that the Dark Lord is so hard, but I’ve beaten him easy. Like, 50 times already.”

“Mmm.” Rather than just saying "Mmm", Tristan can have an internal reaction. That reaction can emphasize that he's concentrating on math, or it can hint at the Beast of the title, depending on how you want the scene to progress.

“The trick is not...in that weakened state.” Go ahead and skip bits of Eliot's dialogue, since Tristan is tuning him out.

“Hmm.” Again, add some POV that gives us story relevant information.

“Most people...him.”

“Hmm.” And so on, and so forth.


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Christine
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Jericson, I hope you don't take this the wrong way but I feel I must say it. You see, when you send this story to publishers or if, (hopefully) it ever gets published, you won't be able to attach your one-paragraph explanation about what is going on in math class. I had no idea that's where they were or that's what they were doing. Heck, I didn't even know their names. I'm not sure why you feel the need to withhold this information from the reader, but not only is it missing, but it is obviously missing. (Meaning that I, well, *missed* it. )

When it comes to responding to critiques, the number one rule is to not explain or defend. You can ask clarifying or follow-up questions, and you may always say thank you, but when you begin responding or defending you are making the critical error I described above.

So I leave you with this question: Why are you withholding important information about time, place, and person?


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HSO
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Christine is right. And it's a hard thing to overcome that urge. But she's absolutely right. If something isn't clear anywhere in your story, an editor is not going to ask you to clear it up for him. He or she will just put the rejection form in your SASE and send it back to you.

That's why this forum and the critiquing process done here rocks. We get valuable advice, for free, on anything that is wrong or potentially wrong with our manuscripts well before sending them off for rejection.

So, I'm particularly grateful for everyone's input, this site, and those responsible for maintaining it and paying the server/bandwidth fees incurred. Thanks everyone.


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Jericson
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But I DO explain it in the story, just not in the first 13 lines. I do it on something like line 14. The names, the situation, everything. I just offered the explanation because apparently I'm not allowed to offer any more of my story than 13 lines, so a lot of key information that is, in fact, in the story, is missing from what everyone sees here. If I could just print a page or two, THEN maybe some help could be offered. Although I do agree that the information might be provided a little late, it IS provided.

But anyway, Survivor, I like your advice, in fact I was just thinking about using that technique later in the story with some more Eliot/Tristan dialogue, I might go back and re-work it here. Although it's awfully hard for Tristan to concentrate on his math homework when Eliot is mouthing off like that. Perhaps he really IS listening to Eliot, whether he wants to or not.


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Jericson
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By the way, I did forget to mention that I am EXTREMELY grateful for this forum and for the help that's provided here. I'm glad that you're all so willing to help a newbie like me. I'm just worried that there is a lot of information that nobody here can see in the 13 lines I'm allowed to print, so the story doesn't really come across the right way. That's all. I'm not trying to defend myself, just clarifying a few things.
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catnep
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okay, I am probably going to mess things up a bit, or you can just ignore this entirely..heh

If the beast is inhabiting this kid how much of the kid is really left? In this case, would the beast even know his name or care to know. It seems more clear to me that this creature has taken over, and maybe we should get the name from the friend rather than the beast's mind, and then the beast can claim it from there. I kind of liked the impersonal tone, though the detail was maybe a bit much-- height and exact age. Or,is it from the kid's point of view or rather what is left of him? If so, I'll just shut up.

Just as another voice on it-- "the Dark Lord"-- didn't confuse me, but then, if the editor is confused who cares how I take it.

Edit: Okay, I reread it, and it doesn't seem to be from either voice. For me, I don't see how the kid could be contemplating the beasts thoughts or vise...well, the opposite. Is it omniscient? I think it would be neater and more freaky to see it up close from one or the other's thoughts rather than outside.

[This message has been edited by catnep (edited February 09, 2005).]


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Christine
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Jericson, it is almost certain that if I were to read more of this story I would have different advice to offer. It is a handicap of 13 lines that we don't see what you're trying to do (or what we think you're trying to do) and so can't necessarily guide you correctly.

But (yeah, there's a but ) 13 lines is not arbitrary. Kathleen chose 13 lines for the following reasons:
1. It will ensure that you have not given up first electronic publishing rights by posting a large part of your story on a public forum.
2. In a properly formatted manuscript, it is about how much text fits on the first page and...
3. An editor looks for a hook in those 13 pages (for a short story) and if he does not find them he does not read further.

#3 is the one I want you to think about for a bit. It's not fair. It's frustrating. It made me want to tear my hair out when I first realized it. It's only 3 or 4 thousand words, I wanted to say, it's a few pages, it's a short story, just read the whole thing and decide if you like it! But 3 or 4 thousand words is a lot when you have to read two hundred manuscripts a day. An editor is looking for any reason not to have to read the whole thing.

And that is the importance of these lines. I do not ask questions arbitrarily. I do not ask questions that are part of the suspense or draw of the story. If you're telling a murder mystery I don't ask whodunit even if I'm wondering. If you're writing an adventure I won't ask if the hero survives even though I'm wondering and that's what's keeping me reading. Unless I say otherwise, I ask a question because it felt like a hole in the story.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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If you can't make things clear for the reader in the first 13 lines, how can you expect the reader to care enough to read further?

You betcha the 13 lines restriction is restrictive--for very good reasons. And the best one, even better than that the editor won't be likely to turn the page if you don't hook the reader in those first 13 lines, is that if we can help you write those first 13 lines so they work, your writing has a good chance of being better in the 14th line and the 15th and the 16th and so on.


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Jericson
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Okay, now that some confusion is cleared up, I'm going to take another shot at the beginning. Of course, I won't reveal everything that's going on, but hopefully I can make things a bit clearer from the get-go. And I'm trying a different starting line. Might work a bit better.

-----

He couldn't escape it.
A flame that would never die inside of him, that primal urge to attack, destroy, that survival instinct. A beast that dwelled in his soul, lurking in the darkest corners, waiting for the chance to strike. And it was patient. Oh, it was patient. It would wait for days, weeks, months at a time, not daring to pounce until the time was ripe. And until then it would remain hidden, ignored by the one it inhabits, unseen by those outside.
But the body that housed the beast – specifically, a 17 year old body by the name of Tristan – was far from thinking about such a hidden terror at this time. He was too busy trying to ignore the boy sitting next to him.
“Everyone says that the Dark Lord is so hard, but I’ve beaten him easy. Like, 50 times already.”
“Mmm."

-----

So there's my second attempt. Hopefully makes the "Hmms" and everything a little more clear.


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HSO
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It's pretty much the same opening as above, except for roughly three changes... Correct? I think the change that says he's ignoring the boy helps. The addition of his name is better, too, in my opinion, but for some reason that sentence doesn't work for me -- it feels forced or contrived.

One thing you might consider is avoiding redundant phrases and words. For example, in the following phrase, you use "body" twice:

quote:
But the body that housed the beast – specifically, a 17 year old body by the name of Tristan

If you take out the second instance of "body" you lose nothing except redundancy. Because the first part of that sentence already establishes the subject "body" clearly enough. To repeat it again isn't needed, we know what you're talking about as we read on. Does that make sense?

The only other thing that might be noteworthy is that most of the sentences start similarly, in that you use an article (A, The) or a conjunction (And, But). If you can, mix it up a bit.

As hooks go, it's got potential... and I would likely read on to see if this hidden beast surfaces, maiming and disfiguring the gamer kid. Yet I also think it could be stronger.

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited February 10, 2005).]


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Christine
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I have a suggestion. This is from a book called "Beginnings, Middles, and Ends" by Nancy Kress. It's pretty good, and it contains some helpful exercises. The most helpful read as follow:

quote:

Pull out a story of yours that has at least the first few scenes completed. Write five different opening scenes for the story, each no more than three to six paragraphs, focusin on:

1. The description of some object of importance to the scene.
2. Your point-of-view character engaged in some specific, unexpected action.
3. An outrageous opinion held by the point-of-view character, expressed inside her head or in her own words -- something she would never tell a living soul (everyone has these).
4. Six lines of dialogue between two character (three lines each) who are arguing about something that will be important to the plot.
5. A description of the room where the first scene occurs. Focus on details that will have thematic significance and/or that tell us something about the owner's personality.


It sounds a little off-the-wall, and at first I was dubious, but it sparked some great ideas. I did not end up using any of the specific kinds of openings suggested above, but what an exercise like this does is get the creative juices flowing. It make syou think about your story in a different way, focusing on elements you may not have considered before. It may even require you to rearrange the order of story telling, which can also be a great way to pinpoint the perfect beginning.


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Jericson
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quote:
for some reason that sentence doesn't work for me -- it feels forced or contrived.

Yeah, that's why I didn't do it in the first place, I couldn't figure out how to put the name in without the rhythm being lost. Plus, I think the double-body thing works in my first try - "But the body that housed the beast - specifically, a 17-year-old, male body - blah blah", whereas with the name, it loses the flow and it sounds redundant - "But the body that housed the beast - specifically, a 17 year old body by the name of Tristan - blah". It makes the hyphenated part too long. I think I'll just rewrite that part, if the name is important enough.

I really like that idea of Christine's, though. I think I'll try something like that, maybe something more interesting will come out. Thanks!


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JohnSWalsh
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Nice and moody. Give us the character's name right off, though.

As it is, this opening moves from the interior of the character's mindset to the real world, it seems, and that is an interesting way to open on a dark character who's living in the real world but is capable of some dark stuff.

Keep going with this. There's little value in rewriting until you get it all down and see what you need and what you can jettison from the whole. You're off to a good start.


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HSO
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Jericson... a possible solution to the name problem may be just to say it in the first sentence. Just sub "He" with Tristan. Doesn't feel forced to me then.

The name Tristan itself invokes a middle-class, upper-class image. So, by contradicting that with the darkness inside of him, this might be sufficient in setting up the mood you're after.

Also, consider adding more to the first sentence... you're already explaining it in the next few sentences, so is there any reason in delaying what Tristan can't escape? Delay -- even short ones -- doesn't necessarily build suspense or tension. At least not this early.

And... think about starting immediately with the setting, too. You could possibly incorporate all of the above in just a few sentences that would not diminish the intensity or mood of what you're trying to achieve.

I can provide examples of this, here, or via email if you'd prefer that.

Your goal is to engage the reader in those first few paragraphs, right? At the moment, I'm not particularly engaged. Yeah, there's flame that Tristan can't escape... and... I think: So, why can't he? Why is he being a slacker?

The trick is to immediately show that the other kid is imminent danger... and I mean imminent. Tell us what Tristan really wants to do this kid, what that darkness wants him to do to the kid. Don't delay it, say it from the get-go. And then you'll draw us in to see what happens next. Let us see the darkness from a different angle. Because telling us up front like you've done sort of spoils it right away. Having Tristan react to harmless comments with violent thoughts will show us immediately what this darkness is like -- and we can learn shortly thereafter what is causing this darkness.

Does any of this make sense?


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