This is topic The Last King in forum Fragments and Feedback for Short Works at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Eliza C (Member # 9805) on :
Hi - me again already.
I've been working hard lately at trying to keep my unpublished short stories subbed to new markets. This is probably my favorite story, but has been eliminated at the slush pile level three times already. I would love it if anyone has feedback on the first few lines. Genre is contemporary fantasy, a bit on the dark side.

Anna paused in front of the dark stand of trees. They were a species she didn’t recognize, more dense than the widespread oak and birch behind her. These seemed older, so large that their long branches met high above her head, forming a tunnel across the narrow path.
She debated turning around but her head was still full of the clutter accumulated from another day with her boss, her job and her lemon of a car. England was supposed to have been a fresh start; the only improvement she could see was that she hadn’t been on a single date in the four months she’d been here.
The gloom surrounded her as she stepped under the stillness of the old trees. Anna hesitated, less sure about her decision to keep going. “Don’t be such a baby,” she muttered.
Posted by babooher (Member # 8617) on :
For the record, I have never been a slushpile reader nor have I played one on TV. I have had a slushie, though, so maybe that counts.

Let me summarize your first 13: Dateless Gal who has moved to England looks at some trees and she's a little jumpy.

That doesn't exactly grab my attention. Are you sure you're starting this in the right spot?
Posted by easterabbit (Member # 9810) on :
3 slush piles is nothing!

The writing is clear and precise.

The story suggests to me (not sure why perhaps the reference to her workday being hard) that she is on her way home, so I am wondering why she is jumpy about her route--is it not familiar to her?

Where is she going and why should I worry for her?

If she is going to see the famed but reclusive, Dr. Lycan in his creepy manor that is only accessible by foot (and people going missing in the local area) then I may begin to be concerned, but as it stands I am unsure if its merely gloomy in the middle of the day (so take off my sunglassess) or really gloomy at dusk (take out my revolver with silver bullets and glance at the moon in trepadation).
Posted by RoxyL (Member # 9096) on :
You could try starting with her problem first:

"England was supposed to be a fresh start."

That immediately makes me wonder why she needed a fresh start and what's gone wrong since.

Then, while I'm still wondering about her problems, you could place her there amongst the dark stand of trees to add some foreshadowing tension:

"Anna paused(hesistated?) in front of the dark stand of trees before stepping into their stillness."

Now, if she has to think back over things, or describe the scenery more, you've got some action going, and our curiousity is piqued so we want to go along for the ride and find out what's happened and what's happening next.

Posted by axeminister (Member # 8991) on :

Consider the words you've got in 13 lines:

Paused. Debated. Stillness. Hesitated.

I'm not saying she has to be on the run, but words like these can create a similar mood in the reader.

If that's what you want, then that's fine, it's working. If not, this could be why it's not working.

Also, is her not recognizing the species of tree important? I believe it is because that's the second sentence. But the following lines removed the importance of that line which makes me question their connection.

Posted by TempestDash (Member # 9026) on :
I agree with much of what the others have said. I'm not engaged because nothing has really begun yet. Modern readers tend to prefer exciting introductions, which doesn't have to mean gunfights, just the sense that something meaningful is happening that they understand.

Otherwise the writing itself is competent, we're just coming into the story at the wrong time.
Posted by Eliza C (Member # 9805) on :
Thank you all for the helpful feedback. Perhaps just cutting the whole first paragraph of scene-setting would be better. Rearranging things just a bit, here is the beginning of the story without the first paragraph. Thoughts? Would it make you want to read more?

The gloom surrounded Anna as she entered the stillness of the old trees. Her fear of getting lost chimed in with her uneasiness about this darker section of the woods. This was the farthest she had ever explored, but she had carefully counted every branch since leaving the main trail, three forks, always to the right.
“Don’t be such a baby,” she muttered. She had to start pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone sometime if she was ever going to re-build the self-confidence that Sam had stripped from her. She had mustered the resolve to move from Chicago to England to escape a psycho boyfriend, walking a bit farther through the woods should be a breeze.
Posted by Corky (Member # 2714) on :
That works much better, IMNSHO.

One thing you might want to consider: when I go exploring somewhere that I worry about finding my way out of, be it twisting and turning corridors in an unfamiliar building or a hiking trip outdoors, I make a point of turning around every so often to see where I've been and what it looks like (so it will be easier to recognize on my way back).

If Anna is smart enough to count the branches, please make her smart enough to look back and see how her return trip will appear to her (even if you're planning to pull a "fast one" and change the path behind her)?

I think you have room in your 13 lines for just that little bit more.
Posted by History (Member # 9213) on :
Some suggestions.
How about:
1) Start the first sentence without its preposition. Beginning with "Gloom" is a stronger opening word.
2) Up the ante with more evocative words such as "ancient woods" instead of "old trees."
3) "chimed in" didn't work for me. It seemed out of place for describing feelings and bumped me out of the story. Perhaps something like "She feared getting lost in the deeper dark beneath their twisted branches," though it would be better to feel her fear: trembling, a tightening of her chest, a cold finger along her spine or something like that.
4) Sentence two seemed a bit drawn out for suspense. Consider skipping the beginning of the sentence and start with "She had carefully counted..."
5) Plot-wise, I have no idea what is going on. Why is she going into the deep woods at all? I'd like to know this before I'm told of her psycho boyfriend and her need to build self-confidence (which is fine internal conflict, btw).
Keep with it.

Dr. Bob
Posted by Eliza C (Member # 9805) on :
Thank you both for the suggestions. The body of the story has been workshopped and line-edited to death, not to say it's perfect, but probably the best I can make it. I have up to one more week to tighten the beginning and then it's off again into the world, so thank you to everyone for the help with this.
Posted by C@R3Y (Member # 9669) on :
I like this. Is it ready for readers? If it is, I would gladly take a look at this for you. It's good enough to keep me reading.

I'll have a more thorough critique for you, too.

13 lines aren't really my thing.
Posted by Eliza C (Member # 9805) on :
Okay - one last revision here and then I'll work on it quietly ;-) Thanks for the great suggestions so far.
(Kathleen - if you're looking- I'm still working on the 13 line thing. 13 lines from my word doc don't come close to fitting the text box, but neither does the alphabet template you posted. This is the first 10 lines from my document, and I think maybe this is close. Edit if you need to until I get this right.)

Gloom surrounded Anna as she stepped into the shadow of the ancient trees. Her perpetual fear of getting lost ratcheted up another notch. Already she had gone deeper into these woods than ever before, though she had carefully counted every branch since leaving the main trail, three forks, always to the right.
“Don’t be such a baby,” she muttered, goading herself onward.
The walk was helping clear the clutter in her head that her boss, her job and her lemon of a car always engendered, and she wasn’t willing to turn back just yet. Besides, if she was ever going to re-build the self-confidence that Sam had stripped from her, she had to start pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone sometime. If she could muster the resolve to move from Chicago to England to escape a psycho boyfriend, walking a bit farther into the woods should be a breeze.

(C@R3Y - thanks for the offer, but just looking for first lines. It's been critiqued to within an inch of its life over a long span of time. Not that you couldn't add something new, but I also have a deadline in just a few days.)

[ May 08, 2012, 10:02 AM: Message edited by: Eliza C ]
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Eliza C, it's one line over 13 lines, but that's within acceptable limits, so you're good to go. (I allow the extra line because I know some browsers, such as Firefox, have 14 lines in the textarea box.)

Thanks, Eliza C, for trying. I appreciate that.

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