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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » Seeking my First Thirteen

   
Author Topic: Seeking my First Thirteen
Kuchenhexe
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My plot's coming together, but it's getting so tightly woven that I'm not sure where the first thread is found anymore. I'm trying to get a feel for the correct scene and viewpoint to cast my lure in the opening volley, and I'm going to be sounding out the best path.

The synopsis, it's a science-fantasy type story, set in a futuristic SFish universe, although there's fantastical elements, such as magic and fae and dragons. A necromancer who doesn't want to be passed in power tries some spells to weaken her unborn child's abilities, apparently a bit too well since the girl seems to not have any magical aptitude. But she actually has the ability to cancel out magic, and with the history her mother forced on her, between the people she could destroy if she revealed who they were, the people who want to use her power, and the people who want her power destroyed, she becomes the focal point of a huge intergalactic government incident....

My (possible) first thirteen lines are below:
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Beatrice had always suspected that there was more to her cousin's only child than her cousin was willing to admit. But due to the circumstances of family, she was forced to rely upon only words through the rumor mill, until a fateful combination of her own husband's disappearance and her cousin's frustrations gave her the opening she sought.

The last time she entered the large estate, she had been but a child, in attendance of some sort of party or ceremony. It was so long ago, she only really recalled the grand old house and the crush of finely-dressed people and the uncomfortable shoes she'd been required to wear while she played pretend with her relatives, including the young lady of the house.

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LDWriter2
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Interesting universe there.

Is Beatrice the MC? Or will she only be there for the opening?

Over all it's not bad, gives the setting, a hint of the problem and introduces the MC--maybe.

But try shorter sentences. Usually it's best, especially in an opening to get in and grab the reader in the shortest amount of time. Notice I said usually. Some writers have written great openings with long compound sentences.

Try also to cut out the was-s and such. You need more active verbs and such. Had-s are usually included in that but you have something that happened in the past so in that segment they get a pass.

I think it would be good to include something about magic in the first 13. Possibly something to show it takes place in the future not the 1600s or current time. That could be harder but I think it should be very soon after the 13 for sure. Cut down on the setting a bit and say something about her cousin's abilities. Doesn't have to be long.

Other hatrackers may have something different to say or find things I missed but those are my thoughts.

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Kuchenhexe
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Thanks for the input. Beatrice isn't the MC, but she's a secondary supporting character and instrumental in putting the MC in a situation where everything's going kablooey.

The MC is her cousin's child. I admit one of my faults is too much passiveness in my writing, (about the only area in life where I'm passive, apparently) so I'll definitely need to keep my eye on that, thanks for reminding me. I'll see what else might be pointed out and then try kicking it around again.

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Meredith
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Try starting with Beatrice doing something rather than what feels like background information. It doesn't have to be in the middle of the action. It doesn't even have to be very consequential. Even if she's just preparing for another family party, it's more interesting than being told about something that happened in the past.
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Grumpy old guy
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Kuchenhexe, a couple of observations. You are only very shallowly within that characters point of view (POV) and the two passages read as if she were passing on some anecdote and not the beginning of the story you gave us in the synopsis.

Second, the character is 'telling' us about Beatrice. Now, some people can go overboard about the whole 'show don't tell' nonsense, but if you can show us Beatrice, that would be preferable.

Third, you can edit out 'that' (one instance) and 'but' (one instance). You may also want to think about the structure of that first line because you've got 'cousin's' and 'cousin' close together and that makes readers go back to make sure they haven't made a mistake and the word really is there twice.

LDWriter2 is right -- it is too passive. But that doesn't mean it has to be jam-packed full of 'action' verbs either.

Phil.

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Kuchenhexe
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How's this?
-----

Beatrice always suspected that there was more to her cousin's only child than Deborah was willing to admit. But interaction with that branch of the family were limited by her husband's blantant disapproval of their specialized field of magic. After his disapperance three years prior, Beatrice found her way back into the family network.

For the first time in decades, she was back on the colony of Clata III, and the sprawling estate still looked the same as she remembered. Deborah would be tricky, since her older cousin was suspicious of threats to her position, but knowing she wanted to be rid of her daughter, Beatrice found herself knocking on the main door.

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Grumpy old guy
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Okay, better. But, now I'm confused.

There is always the temptation to start a story with foretelling, foreboding and 'clues' that will be revealed later. Hack-work is one way to describe it.

I do like the first paragraph, but then you ruined it with the second (personal opinion only -- feel free to smack me in the side of the head with a bat; baseball or cricket, I don't mind.)

The notion of 'showing' the main character through the eyes of another at the very beginning is an old and venerable one. But what's the purpose?

As OSC (Orson Scott Card) says a few times, you get your first paragraph for free. Use it to set tone, milieu, POV or something related to the mood and ambience. Second paragraph -- tell me what the story is about.

I want to know who the main character is and what their problem is. This isn't simple. As a reader I want to know that the MC (main character) has a goal they're striving for and what is is. The 'story' or 'plot' is all the things that stand in the way of the MC getting what they want.

There are heaps of other things that you need to do, get the reader to like your MC, feel for them, care about their goals and so on. But your first chapter tells the reader what the story is about.

Mind you, you can use the first chapter differently, and I have in one of my own novels. In mine the first chapter is a prelude that bookends an epilogue. The 'real story' happens between these two bookends. But, they aren't just a gimmick. The story could not have happened without the things that happen in the prelude, and the epilogue is a 'natural' outcome of the combination of the prelude and the main story.

So, determine where the story really starts -- and start there, or perhaps a few moments before that.

Cruel and nasty, aren't I?

Phil.

P.S. I have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm a moron. Hope that makes you feel better.

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Grumpy old guy
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You know, after three or nine fermented grape drinks, the good ol' creative juices just flow like you wouldn't believe.

Where to start your story?

Given what you wrote in your synopsis, the moment the story starts is when your MC's mother learns she's pregnant. Everything follows on from that point.

If you start there, you can fill in so much 'back-story' in the present you don't need to resort to the clumsy 'flash-back'.

Doing it this way you would have a whole chapter to set up the backgrounds to the political and personal intrigues that you are going to explore in the body if the work.

just an idea.

Phil.

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Meredith
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Okay, having taken another look at the original post that the "plot is coming together", I'm assuming that the first draft isn't complete.

Don't stress about where the story starts until you finish it. Just go ahead and write all the way to the end. THEN you'll know where the story starts. It's not at all uncommon to find that you have to ditch the first chapter or two. In this case, you may find you have to start further back, as Grumpy Old Guy suggests.

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MattLeo
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I agree with Meredith on all counts here. Don't stress about the opening. In any case there's only so much we can divine from 13 lines, mostly about style.

When the time comes to stress about the opening (if ever), then I'd say that I sense a desire to bring the reader up to speed. This seems more likely given that Beatrice is not the MC. There are no hard and fast rules here, but briefing is something best done in passing and moderation.

Starting a story is like building a fire. At some point you can throw great logs of information on it but at the start you have to nurse the spark of interest along stick by stick. One thing that works is to have the character doing something or reacting to something then parcel out just enough twigs of explanatory information so that the reader can follow the action or the POV character's reaction. It doesn't have to be melodramatic action, it could be quite mundane but well described with enough tidbits to pique our interest. For example Beatrice could be walking up the path to Deborah's door feeling nervous about the upcoming encounter (why?) and perhaps reflecting the grounds look more normal than one might expect (what would one expect?).

Hatracker Robert Qualkinbush has written a book on fantasy and sci-fi openings (ISBN-13: 978-0615681689) in which he categorizes a number of patterns to openings:

Orientation tag/Change Event or vice versa
Environment affects character/Character reaction or vice versa
Ongoing activity/Change Event or vice versa
Ongoing activity/visuals/backfill/begin scene/change event
Thesis/elaboration & detail

It's worth a look-see for ideas on how to structure the opening. Generally speaking no matter how you structure the opening you want to get your story into gear as soon as possible. You want to bring your protagonist to center stage sooner rather than later (e.g. maybe the MC watches cousin Beatrice make her way to the castle door).

Another thing to think about when the time comes is how much time we're going to be spending with Beatrice. I don't know how others here feel, but I tend to dislike openings where the POV character is never heard from again as a POV character.

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Corky
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From what you've posted so far, I'd be inclined to recommend that you start with the scene where Beatrice finds out that Deborah "wanted to be rid of" her daughter.

My gosh! What kind of message would convey that information, and what kinds of reactions could there be to such news?

I submit that you'd hook plenty of readers right there.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by Kuchenhexe:
How's this?
-----

Beatrice always suspected that there was more to her cousin's only child than Deborah was willing to admit. But interaction with that branch of the family were limited by her husband's blantant disapproval of their specialized field of magic. After his disapperance three years prior, Beatrice found her way back into the family network.

For the first time in decades, she was back on the colony of Clata III, and the sprawling estate still looked the same as she remembered. Deborah would be tricky, since her older cousin was suspicious of threats to her position, but knowing she wanted to be rid of her daughter, Beatrice found herself knocking on the main door.

I think it's better, gets the time setting and space into it and I think there is at least a hint of the problem with the comment about her wanting to get rid of the daughter. Even though that sentence is kinda long and a touch confusing.


But the thought popped into my head that this could be a very short prologue instead of an opening. If you did it that way you could add some to it, show how the cousin is"her older cousin was suspicious of threats to her position, but knowing she wanted to be rid of her daughter"

Oh should have thought of this last time. Put in some or all of the five human senses. Obviously you have a couple but they add to getting the setting across and sometimes help show the mind of the POV character.

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