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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » Sojourn

   
Author Topic: Sojourn
jawood
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First Thirteen of my current project, a fantasy story that I only have about 12,000 words on so far. I'd like to see what you all think of the first bit, and if anyone would like to read what else I have. Thanks in advance for the feedback and help.


Ksenia sat in a tree with an arrow knocked loosely on her bow. She scanned the forest below waiting for the herd of deer her hunting companions would be driving towards her. Santen and Courd were lousy shots, but they were excellent at knowing how deer would react to different noises and were the best trackers in the tribe.

The dense pine foliage was hard to see through, so Ksenia concentrated on the sounds of the forest. The boys said they would try to drive the deer up from the south if they could. It was distant, but Ksenia could hear the thundering of a herd moving through the wood. She turned herself to the north and waited as the sounds grew closer.

She drew back the string and held it near her cheek taking long slow breaths.

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rabirch
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I just went to a workshop where my leader was an agent. I submitted a first chapter that begins with a high degree of similarity to this one: woman waiting to kill prey. The thing that he brought up was that trying to shoot something, in and of itself, does not a hook make.

So here's my question: does something besides just getting the kill ride on this shot? Is there something particular about *this* one? Does Ksenia have a particular fear or concern about it? Is there a way you can hint at it up front?

Overall, the writing is clear, although I'm pretty sure the word in this case is 'nocked' instead of knocked.

Also, it may just be my personal preference, but for me as a reader, words like 'could' and 'was' have a tendency to feel distancing. As an example, "In the distance, Ksenia heard ..."

Sometimes those words work, but I find it worthwhile to consider them carefully.

Good luck with this!

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jawood
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Thanks for the wording advice, I have a bad habit of writing with those passive phrases.

quote:
Originally posted by rabirch:
So here's my question: does something besides just getting the kill ride on this shot? Is there something particular about *this* one? Does Ksenia have a particular fear or concern about it? Is there a way you can hint at it up front?

In what I have so far, the importance of this hunt is laid out on the same ms word page, a hundred and fifty words or so later. In your opinion, should I add more tension that she feels about the importance of the shots she's about to make in the first few lines, or will a reader get bored without?
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rabirch
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quote:
Originally posted by jawood:
Thanks for the wording advice, I have a bad habit of writing with those passive phrases.

quote:
Originally posted by rabirch:
So here's my question: does something besides just getting the kill ride on this shot? Is there something particular about *this* one? Does Ksenia have a particular fear or concern about it? Is there a way you can hint at it up front?

In what I have so far, the importance of this hunt is laid out on the same ms word page, a hundred and fifty words or so later. In your opinion, should I add more tension that she feels about the importance of the shots she's about to make in the first few lines, or will a reader get bored without?
My primary thought would be that if Ksenia has any sort of tension about what's upcoming, it would be good to throw maybe one bit that would show us that she's nervous/concerned. With the arrow nocked 'loosely' it makes me feel like she's confident and assured. If that's actually the case, then you've done it just right. If she has any anxiety, then one hint of body language, (biting her lip, running her thumb along the arrow, etc.), could be very helpful.

Actually, just a little bit clearer feeling for Ksenia's feelings one way or another would probably resolve my concerns. If she's confident, can you drop in something that would tell us that, along with having the arrow nocked loosely?

Just me thinking out loud. [Smile]

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jawood
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It's good food for thought, I really appreciate the input [Smile]
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Denevius
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i'll take a look at the first 6000 words or so. just send it along whenever.
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ars
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Is there something significant about here turning to the north, when the boys were trying to drive the deer from the south?
I caught the use of direction my second time reading through. If it is relavant, maybe try makeing the change in direction stand out more.

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MattLeo
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There are certain fantasy openings that are cliches in unpublished manuscripts: the warrior hero sitting astride his horse looking down on the sacked city, the heroine gathering herbs. The reason for the popularity of these kinds of openings is that they do two of the three things you need to do in an opening. An opening has to give you a picture of the protagonist (check) doing something the reader can understand (check) and it has to lead the reader into the story (not check).

Personally, I think the hunter opening isn't so bad; it doesn't have the premature bathos of the man-on-a-horseback opening. Like the gathering-herbs opening, it gives you a chance to show off your writing chops. Unlike either of the other two, in the hunter opening we expect something is about to happen, most likely something unexpected. That's not a "hook", but it's a reasonable set-up that can launch the story successfully.

Gimmick openings aren't mandatory, as an examination of your own library will probably demonstrate. But if you don't have a gimmick, what you want to show is clean, vivid and *original* prose. So the one problem that sticks out in your opening sample is the thundering of the deer herd. "Thundering herd" is an old saw, furthermore one that is borrowed from bison or horses. It's an incongruous image for woodland deer, which are light, stealthy animals even when startled.

This telegraphs a common early-draft problem: scenes that are not yet fully imagined. It's not a hard problem to fix, think of "thundering herd" as a placeholder that you'll have to go back and fix.

The other very common way to mess up a waiting-for-something-to-happen opening is for the protagonist to have a long, informative inner monologue that tells all about his backstory and the history of the story world. Do not do this. Later in the story when the readers are invested in the characters and their fate they'll lap up these details, but in the first two or three chapters resist the temptation to brief the reader. Spoon-feed him just what he needs to form a coherent (not necessarily complete) picture of what's going on.

Since you've only finished about 1/6 of a reasonable manuscript length, you shouldn't be worried about hooking the reader in the first thirteen lines yet. You should be worried about launching the story with vividly imagined scenes. An opening gimmick is not mandatory, but you can always add it later if you think you need it. The one thing that will deter further reading (hook or no hook) is weak, disorganized writing.

In any case, until you've finished the story you won't know whether you have started it in the correct place. I'd say 80% of the manuscripts I critique have serious problems because they start in the wrong place, usually too far into backstory. This poses the writers all kinds of headaches that would disappear if they'd simply cut off the first three chapters and start in Chapter 4. At this point time you spend noodling up a gimmick to graft onto your opening is likely wasted time.

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Tryndakai
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I agree with all the comments so far, and especially like MattLeo's comments--they all sound very helpful. I'll have to remember them, myself. . . . [Wink]

One thing I'm noticing about your writing style so far is that you explain things just a *little* too much, and it takes the punch out of each sentence. Try to paint the picture in such a way that most of the scenery can be filled in by the reader's mind, as you focus on picking out the unique details that carry a lot of weight--things like, as Rabirch pointed out, the "loosely" nocked bow, which can be interpreted as confidence, and helps show that she's still "at rest" and waiting . . . try to choose words that convey distinct impressions, so you don't have to use as *many* words on a single idea. That way you can set the stage quickly--but smoothly--and get to your hook faster. For example:

quote:
Ksenia [perched/crouched/balanced] in a tree with an arrow nocked loosely. She scanned the forest below. Santen and Courd had said they would try to drive the deer up from the south if they could. They were lousy shots, but they were excellent at knowing how deer would react to different noises, and were the best trackers in the tribe.

The dense foliage was hard to see through, so Ksenia listened. It was distant, but she could hear [rustling/movement/hoofbeats]. She turned and waited as the sounds grew closer.

She drew back the string to her cheek, taking long, slow breaths.

(I reorganized and cut, but tried to avoid rewriting any of your text and accidentally putting my own style on it.)

I added commas, particularly to that last sentence--partly for grammatic accuracy, but more for the feel--the commas break up and slow down the sentence, which is good in this case, as it's a sentence about long . . . slow . . . breaths. [Wink]

And then of course, you can apply MattLeo's comment here, too--in that my comments are more for refining your style and tweaking each sentence for maximum effect, which is not necessarily something you should be worried about if you're still in your first draft. Better to get the story finished, *then* come back and get picky. [Smile]

[ October 12, 2012, 02:45 PM: Message edited by: Tryndakai ]

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Tryndakai
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By the way, I'm *loving* the name Ksenia. [Big Grin] Unique, pretty, and the "Ks" gives it a foreign feel without making it difficult to understand the pronunciation. And starting with a consonant cluster gives me a tribal, even vaguely African sort of impression. (like "Mbali")
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R. W. Spangler
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As one who has sat in a tree... I can smell the heavy pine and the earthy forest floor, can almost taste it in my mouth. Summer it is dry and light aroma, rest of the year it is wet and has a stronger, heavy damp taste.

While waiting I would notice little things... like the ants that seem to trail in the nooks and crannies, the tree bark biting into my skin where there is contact, any lil blood sucking or biting critters. Pitch from the tree sticks to me and my clothing. Buzzing of insects....

Also, hunting... even confident hunters get their blood up in anticipation. You can feel it in your body like a drug... hear your heartbeat in your ears and feel the caffeine like rush causing your hands to shake a little.

Perhaps this can provide you more of a "feeling" of a hunt that you can incorporate. Also, as others have pointed out, you may want this to be intensified since the hunt means dinner for ????

Best wishes to you!

BTW, this is my very first post here... feel free to give feedback if it helps or not. I hope to learn writing from here, for now I can share my input. [Wink]

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