This is topic Nightsong - Book One: Nightfall in forum Fragments and Feedback for Books at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by MaxD (Member # 9906) on :
Genre: Sci-fi for grown-up readers, 18+. 120k written. This is only my first 13, later I may post an outline and pitches for review.

It was good to be the king, King Duncan Valori laughed sardonically at himself; one hand held a fusion-sword, the other kept his belly-wound closed lest his steaming intestines spill upon the frozen waste. Any other day, perhaps. The King tried to stay still and quiet, but he feared that his heavy breathing would give him away, either by its sound, or the plumes of white he was spewing forth against the crystal blue sky. A sudden flurry of wind-driven snowflakes removed at least that threat, but caused him to shiver even more.
The crunching of boots on frozen snow caused the king to crouch in the shadow of a chunk of fallen hull, more pirates were coming.
"I want that boy prince found, no matter the cost," King Duncan

Nightsong, advanced Star Wars replacement product, for grown-ups only.

[ August 22, 2012, 12:27 AM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]
Posted by History (Member # 9213) on :
While I like the opening line as a hook (and the inherent, yet unrelatable, reference to Mel Brook's The History of the World), what follows this opening line is contradictory.

The King is having a bad day.

Naming the villian "Lord Malicious" jolted me out of the otherwise well-flowing writing. Unless you are writing a spoof (or a bare-face Star Wars pastiche), I suggest you change this.

Your mention of Star Wars made me recognize that this ooening is nearly identical to the opening of the original SW film, and Malicious comes across as merely a Darth Vader clone.

I think you demonstrate enough mastery of writing to be a good writer, but this selection is merely an echo of another's well-known story. I'd love to see you post something wholly original and your own.

Kudos for creating your own blog for your stories.

Dr. Bob
Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
One thing I like is that you've got a clear scenario here for your opening scene. That's a huge plus. An opening scene has to draw readers into a story, but it has a special function in sci-fi or fantasy. There it must also draw the reader into the story world. Many aspiring sci-fi or fantasy writers underestimate the learning curve, and give us an opening scene that's all but incomprehensible.

Here we've got an admirably clear scenario: Duncan's ship has been boarded. He has been wounded and is hiding -- but wait. The bad guys know Duncan's son is on the ship. Right away this suggests a dilemma: will Duncan play it safe or do something to help his son? That automatically makes us want to read a little further. Well done.

One thing I should caution you against is killing off your first scene POV character. If you generate this sympathy for Duncan then kill him off, you're also risking killing the reader's motivation. If that doesn't happen, disregard this.

A few technical issues. Your narration style is a little "on the fence". There's several different ways to convey POV character thoughts. The fistis direct speech, which uses quotation marks and tags like regular dialog, and is in the present tense:

"It is good to be the king, King Duncan Valori thought.
The second method is reported speech, also called "indirect speech", which uses verbs for tags as in dialog but no quotation marks, and is in the past tense:

King Duncan Valeri reflected that it was good to be king.
The third style is "free indirect speech", in which the narrator simply speaks the POV character's thoughts for him:

It was good to be the king. King Duncan Valori held a fusion-sword in one hand. The other kept his belly-wound closed lest his steaming intestines spill upon the frozen waste. Any other day, perhaps.
What you've given us is reported speech, but sounds like it wants to be direct speech. On top of that it has an awkwardly chosen tag. In dialog people should normally "say", "ask", "reply" etc. In other words the verbs you use to tag dialog should represent acts of speech. Sometimes, to avoid the repetition of "said" (which in truth is a non-issue), novice writers try to use more action-y verbs, like this:

"These dialog tags really confuse me," Fred scratched his head.
The problem is that unless Fred is scratching his head in Morse code, he can't convey speech that way. It should be:

"These dialog tags really confuse me," Fred said, scratching his head.
Or, if you want to be clever:

Fred scratched his head. "These dialog tags really confuse me."
You can often omit tags if you just draw the reader attention to the speaker.

Now back to your example:
It was good to be the king, King Duncan Valori laughed sardonically at himself; one hand held a fusion-sword, the other kept his belly-wound closed lest his steaming intestines spill upon the frozen waste.
The rules for thought should be similar to speech. You can "think", "imagine", "remember", or even "rationcinate" and idea, but you *can't* "laugh" it. What's more the silly, Monty-Pythonesque image this produces undermines the drama of the opening. We have Duncan, literally holding his disemboweled guts in with one hand, chuckling and thinking jolly insouciant thoughts. "'Tis but a scratch!"

Finally two big, big red flags on this one.

#1: "Book 1" -- Keep this under your hat! Sell the story you have. If you're submitting to an agent, remember that a manuscript represents a particularly unpleasant job for him: selling your MS to an editor. The last thing he wants to do is talk an editor to committing to, say, *five* manuscripts from an unknown author. When your series has a huge following, put the Book # in the titles. For now, concentrate on the story at hand.

#2: "120K written". Suppose there are two books that sell equally well at the same price. One is 80K words long, the other is 160K. The 160K book costs twice as much to edit and print. It takes up twice the shelf space. It is less profitable. An unknown author will seldom be able to sell a first novel that long. The same story in 80K might be an easy sell.

The typical and maximum word lengths vary by genre,the job of selling a manuscript becomes precipitously harder as you go above 100K. 120K is within the realm of the possible (but very difficult) to sell in epic fantasy, but I notice you say "120K written". I take that to mean the word count is going to go higher. Even if you capped the story at 120K, you're probably going to end up self-publishing.

There are exceptions, of course. If you have a work of spectacular originality, say Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (308931 words!), and you've published short work (As Ms. Clarke did), you might have a chance. But 80K is the length you can't go wrong with, 100K is the length people start worrying about word counts, and 120K is the length where people start worrying about losing their shirts.

Combine the "120K written" and "Book 1", and there is the strong suggestion that this story is over-written and under-structured.

One final concern is that the little bit of this story you've give us has a hint of a Star Wars fanfic vibe (fusion swords rather than lightsabers Lord Malicious rather than Darth Sidious). Remember that agents and editors plow through a lot of submissions, and a lot of it is fanfic. If they're dubious of your word count and series pretentions, a whiff of fanfic could be your third strike.

Which is not to say that fanfic is bad, it's just not publishable (if that is what you want). On the other hand, I've seen manuscripts that started as fanfic, but you'd never know it. The authors when through the story and reimagined it into a fresh universe.
Posted by Meredith (Member # 8368) on :
I don't usually comment on the first 13. It's not my strong point.

I will say one thing. "120K written" makes me think this is a first draft. It is very rarely useful to solicit feedback on an unfinished first draft. The complusion to switch from drafting to editing can be too hard to fight off. And you really need to be able to turn off that infernal internal editor to get through the first draft.
Posted by Jess (Member # 9742) on :
This is did catch my interest, especially the last line. The first line, however, is a bit rambly and run-on. I think someone also pointed out the laughed part where you can't a thought.
Also, I'm not sure if a person would actively think about laughing at themselves. I mean I do laugh at my self sometimes but when I'm doing it, I'm not thinking, "I'm laughing at myself right now." Maybe show us this. Have him laugh and then note the heat rising in his cheeks or his palms sweating (or whatever happens to him when he has an embarassing, laugh at himself moment. And maybe let the reader know why he is laughing at himself.
but in other news, this is an exciting beginning and does keep the reader interested. It seems like you started your story in the right spot.
Hope this was helpful.
Posted by MaxD (Member # 9906) on :
Thank you all for your comments and suggestions.
I wanted to back off for a few days and let the comments come in without my interference.

I will respond with a re-write, rather than point-by-point clarification.
Please, keep the suggestions coming they are terrific!


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