Emesto was composing himself to try casting the spell he had been working on when he was startled to hear the town's alarm bells ringing. He rushed to the window of his tower room in the castle, but couldn't see what had caused the alarm. All he could see was the people of the town milling about in panic. He turned and ran to his door, stepping out into the corridor he was almost trampled by some guards who were marching quickly past his door. In their centre was Lord Rustian. He was barking questions at the guards as he struggled to buckle his sword and chest plate on while maintaining his brisk walk. Emesto fell in behind the group. The quickest way to find out what was going on would be to hear the guard's report to Lord Rustian.
Edited to bring in line with new rules for '13 lines'. My apologies for posting too much.
My main question is: would you read on? But any suggestions are very welcome. At the moment I think the story is going to be about 8000 words, is that a normal length for a short story? I got the number from the submission requirements of a magazine.
[This message has been edited by Max Masterson (edited February 13, 2007).]
2500 words is middle-of-the-road. Longer can be tougher to place.
See instructions on what "13 lines" means.
I'm not hooked, largely because I'm not really in Emesto's head. I don't know how he's feeling about anything that's happening -- what it signifies to him. I do like that I can *see* what's happening clearly.
Emesto might be afraid, because it's dragon season; annoyed, because he wanted to finish his spell; excited, because he's a schoolboy and spells are sooooooo boring but now something's happening. (I think I'd go for afraid.)
Thank you Wbriggs and survivor, is this any better?
Emesto stood tall, spread his right arm out and pointed his fingers towards the cauldron. “This time it must work.” He muttered to himself. He'd been trying to perfect the illusion spell all morning, all he wanted to do was make his cauldron appear to be a table! It should be a simple spell for a magician of his ability but it just wouldn't go right. “Right here goes.” His concentration was shattered by the sound of the town's alarm bell. “What's that for?” He demanded angrily. He crossed to the window, but it faced over the town preventing him from seeing beyond the walls. The bell continued to ring which only caused his irritation to grow. There was no point in trying to resume
[This message has been edited by Max Masterson (edited February 13, 2007).]
[This message has been edited by Max Masterson (edited February 15, 2007).]
You need to mention what he's actually attempting here, "casting a spell" is far too generic and violates POV badly. Yes, the specific spell doesn't matter to the plot, but it does matter to the character.
Telling us that he's cursing, that he's sneering, that he can't see anything from his window...none of this really gets us into the character. Why is he cursing, what emotion is he feeling? Is his sneer contempt for the townspeople or anticipation of battle? Or is it a mask for his grimace?
Another thing that would help me is if the emotion is one that grips me. He's annoyed because he's interrupted. Very human, but it's not really gripping (I get annoyed daily, but I don't find it entertaining), and it makes me dislike him -- there's a report of a town emergency and all he can think of is that his work is interrupted? But it doesn't make me dislike him a *lot*, which could make me interested again.
What *should* he be feeling? If it's consistent with whatever struggle this story is going to be about, you might try fear.
There's also the question of whether the spell is relevant. You don't think so (or you'd have described it), so you might just cut the whole thing about the spell.
[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited February 13, 2007).]
Aside from what's already been said, my biggest issue is the dialogue. Two points on that: it doesn't add anything and it always feels awkward to me to have a character speaking out loud to himself.
Survivor - I agree "casting the spell" is generic but I really don't see how it violates POV(?)
I think Survivor is suggesting that Emesto wouldn't think of what he's doing as "casting a spell" but as something more specific, like "trying to get that damned 'Insect Summoning' spell to summon insects rather than just making my ears buzz." Sort of like what you'll do this evening might be "cook dinner," not merely "use appliances."
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Assuming that...you know...your going to actually cook
The specific spell that Emesto is trying to cast is of great importance to him at that moment, you say that he's been trying to cast it all morning, that he composed himself to cast it, and that his concentration on it was shattered by the alarm.
There is simply no room in all of that for him to not be thinking of that particular spell rather intently. If you tell us that the character is thinking about something specific with great deliberation and focus, and then fail to mention any of the details, you've broken POV. In this case, for no reason other than that you didn't consider it "important".
I've the above version to my latest attempt. I've tried to take on board all the comments. I haven't made him angry however as the character I'm trying to portray is one of a magician who initially sees the alarm and ensuing panic as none of his concern. He knows he's safe within a castle with plenty of soldiers to defend it. It's only when a dragon is mentioned that he starts to think there might be cause to worry.
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If Ernesto doesn't think much of the alarm show me that. Do they ring the bell everytime a sheep gets lost? Or do they only ring it when something earth shattering is about to happen? Right now he's coming off as a bit stuck up and callous to me because I assume the bell is only rung if a loss of life is probable and he doesn't care about anyone except himself.
You might want to give up the spell reference all together and start with alarm. As a nit - Right now I know he's trying to get the caldroun to appear on the table but not where it starts from. I'd like to know how the spell is going wrong too. NIT - I'd like it better if the spell when awry when his concentration broke rather than having him just lose the spell. But then, that's just me.
Your hook right now is the alarm but you lose the hook because the MC minimizes it.
You could do any number of things to tighten the first 13. As possible suggestions -
1) Concentrate on the spell, and his frustration that it's not working and have the alarm sound on line 13;
2) Minimize the spell in terms of lines and concentrate on his reaction to the alarm with something happening in line 13 to show that he NEEDS to be concerned with the reason for the alarm; or
3) Lord Rustian could interrupt the spell because he needs Ernesto to deal with the dragon before the alarm sounds.
I think in the first draft there is way too much in each sentence. For example: "He was barking questions at the guards as he struggled to buckle his sword and chest plate on while maintaining his brisk walk." In that sentence, he's asking questions, putting on a buckle, sword, and a chest plate, and he's continuing to walk at a brisk pace. I don't know about other people, but I need a break to assimilate all that info.
I have no idea who Emesto is or why I should care. By your explanations I am told that he is a powerful wizard. If that's the case why is he practicing a trivial spell like a second rate wizard (ala Harry Potter). I get the sense that he's still in school. If he is still learning, why is he not afraid by the alarm bell? If he is indeed elite, I understand his annoyance. But the context tells me that he is not elite, and then would be afraid of an attack.
I think you try to explain the dialogue too much. "What's that for?" He demanded angrily. "This time it must work." He muttered to himself. The dialogue should explain itself most of the time. Words that end with -ly (angrily) are dangerous. And if your dialogue ends without an exclamation or question and you have text afterwards, you need a comma instead of a period--"This time it must work(,)" he muttered to himself.
I think that it might work better if he didn't talk to himself so much. You may be feeling like the character needs to talk as a way of letting us know his thoughts...that's an artificial limitation you're placing on yourself. In a movie, we can't really tell what a character is thinking without dialogue, in text, you can easily tell us his internal thoughts.
The POV immersion is somewhat better than before, though. It's not really off-putting as it is. It just could easily be better, is all. I think that for now you should hammer out the rest of your first draft and see if you can develop the POV of the character well enough to inspire your efforts.
I completed my first draft of the story before I first posted the opening on here. If anybody would be prepared to have a look at it I'd appreciate it. Maybe see why i'm having trouble conveying his attitude.
I've tinkered with the opening again, any better?:
Emesto stood tall, spread his right arm out and pointed his fingers towards the cauldron. “Hyiato!” he declared. To his satisfaction a large ball of fire erupted from the cauldron. It rose to about head height a metre in front of him and hovered there. He gestured to the left and then the right. The fireball moved where ever he pointed. He smiled, that was more like it. He had spent all morning trying to get it right. He had learnt it while still an apprentice but had never attempted to perform it for years. He snapped his fingers and the flame disappeared. Now to see if he could do it again at the first attempt. DING-DING-DING!! His concentration was shattered by the sound of the towns bell. Someone was attacking the city!
[This message has been edited by Max Masterson (edited February 16, 2007).]
I like the idea of opening a story with a wizard interrupted by a town emergency in the middle of practicing a spell. It introduces us to the main character and plunges us right into the action in one fell swoop.
I don't particularly like the "DING DING DING" version. With all the pointing and magic words and cauldrons, I thought I was reading the latest installment of Harry Potter.
The original version hooked me in most...the version where the mage pops out and bumps into Lord Stark (oops, I mean Rustian) buckling on his sword. However, in that version I found the writing style a bit flat. Go back and count how many times you use the verb "was".
As for the second version, like previous commenters I found the soliloquizing a little annoying.
A minor point: the letter m in certain fonts is difficult to distinguish from the combination r-n. m rn m rn m rn
When I read the extract, I thought the protagonist was named E r n e s t o, (Spanish for Ernest). Apparently, I was not the only one--at least one other commenter made the same mistake. I showed the passage to my 14-year old son, a computer geek. He recognized the letter as an "m", but he laughed at the name, thinking the Wizard was named after "MS-DOS".
[This message has been edited by mayhews (edited February 16, 2007).]
well I just came up with name Emesto off the top of my head. I hadn't noticed the similarity to ms-dos! Maybe Ernesto would be better.
I've tried again, with less use of the word 'was':
Ernesto stood facing the table he wanted to make disappear and flexed the fingers of his right hand. He wanted to get it right this time. He felt frustrated with himself, such an easy spell of illusion that he'd mastered years ago as an apprentice, but it just wouldn't go right today. He started to recite the words that should cause the table to appear to disappear, but his concentration was shattered by the sound of the town's bell being rang furiously. The sound startled him, causing him to accidentally form a fireball in his hand. Intense pain seared his fingers. He hurriedly clapped his hands together to extinguish the flames and crossed to the window to see what had caused the alarm. He hoped the alarm didn't mean they were under attack.
[This message has been edited by Max Masterson (edited February 17, 2007).]
[This message has been edited by Max Masterson (edited February 18, 2007).]
I think this is improving, but aside from little things that are probably due to this being the rough draft of an improvement (e.g., the word "really" [which can usually be eliminated altogether] in both the second and third sentences), I've got 2 comments.
First, we it bothers me that we don't find out what "it" in sentence 2 refers to until sentence 4, (although sentence 3 gives us a category for it). This just feels a little to me like using "he" all through the first paragraph, and waiting until the second to give us the name.
Second (and this is a problem that didn't exist until the draft before this one): I recommend never using exclamation marks in narrative. They don't increase tension, or indicate importance or danger. They simply sound like the author shouting at the reader.
[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited February 17, 2007).]
thanks rick. I didn't feel right about putting the exclamation marks in. I know I have a habit of overusing them so normally try not to use any, but felt this was the right time to use them for once. Guess not.
Ernesto stood facing the table he wanted to make disappear and flexed the fingers of his right hand in preparation for another attempt. He was so frustrated with himself. He'd mastered the art of illusion years ago while still an apprentice, but now he just couldn't get it right. He started to recite the words that should cause the table to disappear. Halfway through the spell his concentration was shattered by the sound of the town's bell being rang furiously. The sound startled him, interrupting the spell. Instead of the table disappearing a fireball formed in his hand. Intense pain singed his fingers. He hurriedly clapped his hands together to extinguish the flames. Wiping his hand on his robe to try and soothe the pain he crossed to the window to see what caused the
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited February 18, 2007).]
These last couple of versions have much better POV. They're distinctly unpolished, which is only natural when you're changing around so much of the action for each new version. I don't think that you need to fiddle around with the opening too much till you've got more feedback on the story as a whole though.
I can give it a shot, though I promise no miracles.