Okay, so I'm new here, and I'd prefer to just comment on others for a bit, but I thought I ought to post the first part of a story I wrote about a year ago. I'm not sure if the 13 lines is correct here, the text box is a bit strange. If it's too much then I apologize. Let me know what you think! Thanks.
Boom! The panels of a beautiful stained glass window fell to the floor, accompanied by the sound of explosive thunder. An elf, dressed in expensive night robes, leapt from his bed and examined the pieces of glass. Grabbing a broom already lying next to his bed, he swept the glass into a pile that closely resembled six other identical piles around the circular room. A large black cat sleepily sniffed at the newest of the seven gaping holes where the windows had been. The elf knelt down and stroked the cat's chin. "I know, Syl, this lightning is unnatural", he muttered. The elf, called Nimriskado, walked towards a north-facing window and gazed past the fields of crops and the thick green forest to the stark and pale desert. Looking beyond the desert he stared at the Black mountains, said to be the source of all evil. Suddenly, a flash
-let me know what you think of the name. I've had trouble trying to think of easy, memorable fantasy names without sounding crazy,
You have started out with a bang, haven't you? The second sentence bugs me, simply because I get the image of the glass hitting the floor at the same time as the thunder, even though that doesn't make sense. It's the "accompanied" that's doing it, as it removes the causal relationship. Also, why is the stained glass window beautiful? What was depicted on it?
Next, it's "an elf." Here, I'd probably just say the character's name instead. "An elf" is generic. "Nimriskado" is specific and personal. Now, how do I know that Nimriskado is an elf? Well, maybe he brushes his hair behind his pointed ear while examining the glass. Done.
Now, speaking of examining the glass... why does he do that? Why doesn't he immediately go for the broom? It strikes me as an odd sequence of actions as we're obliquely told that this has already happened six times before this very night. What's there to examine?
"A large black cat..." Here, again, my mind's eye is giving me a contradictory image. First is tied to "sleepily." I image that cat, laying down, lifting its head, and giving a cursory sniff. Yet, he's doing this at the hole, so he's by the broken window. He was fine with the window exploding around him? As I said, my mental picture isn't cohesive here.
"walked towards a north-facing window." WHAT! Windows are exploding all over this room. Why? Why would he walk towards to one? This elf is none too bright, is he?
"past the fields of crops..." "thick green forest" "pale desert." OK, here my willing suspension of disbelief is being tested, but ok. Maybe it's a really high tower and the planet is bigger than Earth, so he's got a longer distance to the horizon. But then comes "the Black mountains." Now it's shot. Not for the three-point-five biomes visible in a single shot, but because mountains affect rainfall. If there's a desert just before the mountains, that means no rain is allowed to cross, which means the forests aren't getting water either. Maybe there's magic keeping the forest lush, but at this point I need to know that.
For your name: it's easy to pronounce, so that's good. Unfortunately, it's also four syllables long, and I've already abbreviated it to "Nim" when reading.
Posts: 388 | Registered: Jan 2010
| IP: Logged |
This short story fragment has a mysterious aesthetic that for me both works and doesn't. What's an elf doing in a stained-glass glazed bedroom? Sleeping, for sure, though is this the elf's natural living space, his home? Is he otherwise? A renter or a watchperson or clergy. Elf clergy is unique and intriguing.
Unnatural lightning dislodged six prior glass panels, presumably this same night, or they would have been cleaned up in the daylight, I expect, and replaced or the windows temporarily repaired. Why pile the glass up in the first place? Why neat, separate piles?
Seven is a mystical number, meaningful. What does it mean to the elf? Perhaps an ominous impending event. I'm curious about the bedroom's shape, though, a rectangle with a row of windows, a seven- or more sided polygon, a bay feature with several facets extended from a rectangle. Is the bedroom a ward against magic? And the stained glass depictions part of the ward?
The unnatural lightning I think needs development. How does it sound and look unnatural? Different color maybe; instead of the usual rumble and clap, perhaps a sizzle and snap.
"Boom!" Onomatopoeia opening words, though aural sensation events, are challenging when their context and texture isn't set up, perhaps beforehand or sequentially. And prescriptively, onomatopoeia is interjection, when standalone often italicized in fantasy. For example, //Boom! Explosive thunder clapped close by overhead, shook stained glass panels from their casements. The glass panels shattered on the floor.//
Description of the elf's expensive night robe is I think called for. As a motif, maybe magical, maybe clerical, maybe whatever, to give clues what kind of fantasy story and what kind of inventively fresh elf this is.
Why does the elf examine the glass shards? Is he seeking an omen? A projectile that pushed the window into the room? Maybe he wants to see if any part is salvageable. Or looks interesting.
What is the cat's role? A foil so the elf has some persona to talk to, to verbalize and vocalize that the lightning is unnatural? So the summary and explanation--tell--is given by a viewpoint character, so it's not given by the narrator. The cat needs more reason to be in the scene than a substitute for the narrator's tell. The cat could notice an aroma emanating from the newly broken glass the elf notices because the cat does. Perhaps flux's astringent scorched pine scent, natural to stained glass caning and suggestive of electrical forces, if not magical forces.
Crop fields, forest, desert, and mountains within one vista may be possible, though a stretch of the imagination without context and texture setup. A low aboreal tundra forest, windswept or permafrost or both, a distant arctic desert, also windswept, and more distant northern mountains crossing east to west, for example, cold, dry winds sweeping down the mountain slope make the desert and stunt the forest, the forest is a windbreak for the crops, perhaps wintertime or cold resistant greens like kale. The forest drops from the altitude of the elf's window, the crops in the foreground slope downward toward the forest, the desert is the mountain alluvial fan or moraine plain, and so on. Assuming a somewhat earth-like planetary sphere, such a setup would make possible seeing mile-high mountain peaks up to thirty-some miles away.
"said to be the source of all evil" is to me a bit too strong a narrator tell, when I feel the context is stronger if it's the viewpoint character elf's thought perception.
"Suddenly" is an awkward adverb for its telling characteristic. Leaving it out changes none of its sentence's meaning; leaving it calls undue attention to its lack of context and texture. The lightning flash startles the elf into a reaction and "suddenly" is altogether meaningless.
"He remained unconscious on the floor, awaiting the fate that morning would bring." That sentence is a viewpoint glitch. The prior narration closes somewhat toward viewpoint character reflection within the narrative's four corners. That sentence pulls all the way out into detached, omniscient narrator viewpoint. The elf cannot be aware of his surroundings once he's passed out. Pure narrator tell.
If this is meant to be omniscient narrator or, contrarily viewpoint reflector, the narrative point of view and voice is unsettled and inadequetely set up from the outset. Beginning with the onomatopoeia interjection depicting an aural sensation from viewpoint character perception.
"Nimriskado" as an elf name is to me problematic. It is a mouthful as one word. As two words, less problematic. Nim means to take, from an Old English word that meant steal, filch, to thieve. Risk is risk, from late Latin through Italian then through French. Ado is a Spanish suffix for present participle verbs and gerunds, comparable to English's -ing suffix. In other words, Thieve Risking is a literal translation of the word. If the elf is a thief, to me, that's too simple. I am much more intrigued by a possibility the elf is clergy.
Nim is an ancient game. The rules are simple, the outcome inevitable if one of the two players know the game's strategy. If both players know the game's strategy, the game is meaningless. The game is one player takes as many objects from one pile of three piles as the player wants. The next player's turn takes as many objects as the contestant wants from one pile, and so on until one player takes the last object or objects. In one end game type, the player who takes the last object wins, or the player who takes the last object loses.
The nim game is a sinister way to take money from wagers. The player who goes first and knows and follows the game strategy always wins in either end game scenario. It's risky too, if a competitor grows frustrated and feels or is discovered cheated.
I think the elf's situation has promise, though the context and texture are underdeveloped. Context is answers in the moment to potential reader who, when, and where questions posed; texture is what, why, and how questions posed answered in the moment they matter, for meaning clarity and strength, so readers understand as much as a viewpoint character knows what's going on.
The core of introduction function, though, is well-begun; emotional disequilibrium is in progress.
We're, of course, not trying to imitate other fiction. However, I can't think of the first successful story that began with a noise word like, 'Boom!' It's a somewhat amateurish way to begin a story, and you would probably be better served to describe the noise.
A lot of this opening suffers from a lack of description, however. What's beautiful about the stained glass? What's expensive about the robes?
quote: Grabbing a broom already lying next to his bed, he swept the glass into a pile that closely resembled six other identical piles around the circular room.
This did pique my interest a little. But then it was immediately lost again when you bought in the cat, which doesn't seem to have anything to do with what we've seen of the story so far. Unless the cat serves a pivotal role in the narrative, I think you can cut it until later.
There's also a bit of inconsistency in your voice. You have kind of a third person close narrative going on, but then you'll have the elf named as if someone is speaking about him. You also have that he falls unconscious, but then, who's looking at him in this moment to make this statement?
Posts: 1216 | Registered: Nov 2011
| IP: Logged |
Wow, this is definitely a lot of advice to take in! That's awesome though. I do have a few questions to clarify some of this feedback-
Extrinsic- I think all your comments are really spot on, but how much of that detail should I be providing in this first segment? I understand much needs to be explained but it seems a stretch to do it all so quickly. A lot of that would be clarified in the first couple of chapters. I do in fact have the answers to most of those descriptive questions, but I'm just not sure how quickly I should be trying to get it all across. I may be wrong about this next point, but don't I want the reader to have questions?
And about the name, I understand it's too many syllables, and during the story most of his friends call him Nim or Nim'r (Nimmer). Unfortunately, your mention of the name's meaning (which I had no prior knowledge of) only makes me love the name more. The thief motif is one that resonates with the character at a pretty complex level, which I can explain further if you'd like me to. The game of nim also strongly reflects how the antagonist plays Nimriskado and his companions.
Denevius- First of all, touché regarding the onomatopoeia at the beginning. This first segment was initially intended to be the second half of an opening prologue, and thus I didn't feel the need to explain a lot. The cat is somewhat important just for character development. Especially later on, i put it in here because it'd be weird if he wasn't, considering he'd be there later, and I wanted to have Nimriskado say something.
Now, to everyone: Your comments on the practicality of seeing the mountains and forests, etc, are undeniable. The planet is set up to be larger than Earth, and he does have a tall building, but the fact about mountains influencing rainfall is a dilemma that I should have noticed and to be honest the plain contrast is a bit unrealistic. I have a lot of experience with geography and such so I usually am good with the big picture of world building, but with the practical distances and such it's a real struggle.
A note on Nimriskado. He is a bit of an enigma throughout the story, truly. He is gifted and well loved by his companions and friends, and influential in the Elvish government on account of his family heritage (yes his father is dead and famous, but no he isn't mysterious or whatever. He's just the latest in a long line of excellent elves). But Nimriskado, a bit Don Quixote-ish, yearns to use his potential but it's been progressively hidden over the years in the stagnating Elvish culture. Nim's plantation is closer to the forest than any other elven settlement, but he still remains reserved and even somewhat timid. The sweeping of the glass into neat piles is a reference to his continued attempt at stability even in the face of ridiculous events.
About the tone and the voice, I definitely need to work on my consistency in that regard, I tend to sway back and forth, it's probably in part due to the nearly ADD nature of my mind. I'd like to keep this story with a third person narrative that also allows for introspection. I'm not positive how best to do that.
Thanks for all your comments!
Posts: 5 | Registered: Apr 2014
| IP: Logged |
Oh and Schuler, I didn't reply directly to you because I don't even know what to say, except, wow, yeah....you're right.
Basically I'm not even sure what's going on in my own narrative now! That's great though, it makes me have to write it better. One thing I neglected to mention is that the seventh window was the last one in the room. It's a round room with seven large rectangular paneled stained glass windows. He lives on a big plantation in a bit of a mansion-castle-elvish thing.
Posts: 5 | Registered: Apr 2014
| IP: Logged |
M.W. Rivers, the question you asked Extrinsic is the same one I've been asking myself as I read people's comments on my work.
Also, I personally like the potential of the story here. I'm a fan of the whole elf-magical-realm thing and this reminds me of the Lord of the Rings movies. The complexity of it, I mean. It seems like it would be a really interesting read for me!
Oh, and welcome to Hatrack!
(P.S. I have problems with the 13-line rule too, and I've been here for a few months already)
Posts: 114 | Registered: Feb 2014
| IP: Logged |
Description details essential for introductions--an opening act--are those that coordinate with at least developing emotional disequilibrium, if not a central dramatic complication, and developing a reality imitation readers become involved in, grounded in, invested in. The opening as is feels rushed and packed to me. Slowing down lingers in the moment. Because openings are ideally dramatic moments, summary and explanation, which are shorthand, quick sketches, rushed, are problematic.
Summary and explanation, tell, serve when quick scene meaning interpretations or scene transitions complete an otherwise reality imitation's meaning. Otherwise, explanations and summaries in opening acts, any act, tend to be dry narrator lecture tells, like family vacation slide show narration. Reality imitation is more subtly engaging and investing. A word picture speaks for itself through viewpoint character reflected sensory perceptions.
Yes, readers should have questions pending. Raised by events, these questions are ones that are arosed by empathy or sympathy and curiosity; tension, in other words. The core dramatic question, or suspense question, is what (as well as who, when, where, why, and how) will happen to So-and-so, who I, as reader, care what happens to. Any question raised and unanswered that deviates too far from that core question is artless and underrealized development.
Questions about why stained glass windows, why expensive night robe, and such need immediate answers that develop and meet both emotional disequilibrium needs and reality imitation development for readers. They're motifs, symbolism, imagery, that develop the drama of the moment in the moment that present important meaning. They are idiosyncracies that express this is not ordinary in either Nim's milieu nor in the larger real-word canon of fantasy short stories, They are interesting and potentially strongly engaging features that arouse readers' curiosity. In short, they authenticate a narrative's reality imitation, make believe it's real and interesting.
For me, what matters in the moment for readers is what matters to a focal viewpoint character in the moment. Nim. His bedroom windows broken by unnatural lightning foreshadows mysterious doings happening to him. Readers can be as in the dark (sic) as he is until he figures out what's going on and can take steps to address the problems with which he's confronted. For a short story, that means sooner rather than later. Novels, on the other hand, are more spacious and allow for slower, though no less tensional development in opening introductions. This opening does begin plot movement, I think a little too rapidly for either novel or short story. Skipping or skimming on details signal they are unimportant. As best practices they should either be developed further or left out so they don't signal unintended importance at the moment.
And soon the full dramatic complication should be fully realized. Dramatic complication is antagonizing wants and problems wanting satisfaction. Nim's problem of the scene's moment is unnatural lightning breaks his bedroom windows. A fearful and pity-worthy problem event, ripe for dramatic complication. The want is almost built in; Nim wants to find out what's going on with the lightning and windows sooner or later and take steps to satisfy whatever. The story's middle act, ideally, should be efforts to satisfy that want and problem. The ending act should satisfy that complication at no small personal cost to Nim and in at least a small degree unequivocally, irrevocably transform him and his world's milieu.
Oh, by the way, I'm now clear that this is a novel's opening fragment. This forum is for short works, short stories.