Its been a while since I've posted but I'm about to venture out and try to sell my first short story so I figured I'd post it up for critique as I start my revision process.
Title: Gifts Words: 9108 (subject to change as I edit) Draft: 2nd/3rd Genre: Adventure Fantasy, Secondary World
“Another year has passed and Fenix has blessed us with continued peace and balance” the Ember’s voice rang out over the congregation. “In celebration of the new year, we open the floor to those who have reached the age of Gifting.”
Rowan stared up at the front of the church, white knuckles creaking as she squeezed the bench harder. Why did she have to be the only one this year? She felt the urge to vomit and was sure her face blossomed into a red glow that matched her hair. She flinched when her father’s large hand rested on her back, gently urging her to stand.
Taking a deep breath, she rose to her feet, looking down to step around her family’s protruding toes on her way into the aisle. She flashed a smile at her mother as she passed.
Would you keep reading? Feel free to critique the first 13. If interested in short story critique exchange please let me know. I prefer Fantasy genres. Sci-Fi is not really my area.
I'd definitely read on. Young protagonist about to have her world turned upside down? You're talking my kind of story.
For me, the first paragraph didn't glide me into the story. Opening with dialogue is tricky since I have no idea yet who is talking, no picture in mind of setting or speaker or situation. In addition, I'm somewhat distracted by the names Fenix and Gifting and the Ember. What if you started with Rowan, the sentence where she's clutching the bench, and then slip in the preacher's proclamation after that? I'd have some context then, and I'd be curious about what the Gifting was going to mean for Rowan.
Nice job putting me in the scene from the second paragraph on. I like the MC already, and you've certainly made me wonder about what's to come. Good luck with this!
Posts: 108 | Registered: May 2011
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I know this might be presumptuous on my part, but after reading it three times, this just felt right.
Rowan stared up at the front of the church, white knuckles creaking as she squeezed the bench (pew?) harder. The Ember’s voice rang out over the congregation. “Another year has passed (, ) and Fenix has blessed us with continued peace and balance. In celebration of the new year, we open the floor to those who have reached the age of Gifting.” She flinched when her father’s (Delete-large) hand rested on her back, gently urging her to stand. Why (was) did she (Passive voice-have to be) the only one this year? She felt her face blossomed into a red glow that matched her hair. The urge to vomit and was overwhelming. Taking a deep breath, she rose (slowly) to her feet, looking down to (avoid) (Delete-step around her family’s) protruding toes on her way into the aisle. She flashed her mother a smile as she passed.
Sorry, if I took to many liberties with your first 13, but I liked where you were going but now how you were getting there. I would read on . . . now. Good Luck.
Posts: 104 | Registered: Jun 2011
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@wirelesslibrarian Funny you mention the first paragraph. I was talking it through with another reader and we had come up with the exact same conclusion. It didn't feel right to open with the dialogue. Thank you for the suggestion. I'll include it in my revisions.
Thank you for reading through it. I like some of the changes you made and will take it into consideration.
Please make sure you take a look at the post Kathrine placed in the Read First section. While I'm not offended and welcome suggestions in any format, you may run into issues in the future with doing a rewrite.
Still looking for any interested in trading short stories for critique!
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For me, that Rowan is the only person tapped for this initiation rite is the strongest feature of this opening.
Otherwise, this lecture scene mostly lectures a summary of the action.
Distinguished persons speaking from a lectern or pulpit rarely launch immediately into the business at hand. Other persons introduce them, they open with an ice breaker or a religious or political appeal, and ease into the business at hand. The opening line, though, opens in medias res, the middle of the action at hand. So introductions in the formal sense of an assembly's introduction rituals may be skipped over, as they may be drama-less. A narrative ought as best practice, though, similarly set the stage for introducing dialogue, or in this case a monologue.
Consider portraying visual sensations, like what the Ember looks like, the church looks like, at least its dais, or bema, where the sacraments are performed, maybe the nave where the penitents sit, maybe their demeanor and appearance or hierarchal seating arrangements, any or all these items or others as Rowan perceives and reacts to them in the moment before the Ember starts into the initiation rite business at hand.
The first paragraph has an uncertain viewpoint. The viewpoint could be the narrator's, the Ember's, or as comes to pass from narrowing into Rowan, perhaps Rowan's. Though Rowan is posed as the narrator perceives her.
I feel like this opening is trying for Rowan's viewpoint. Some parts are closer to her than others, which are closer to the narrator. For example, the middle paragraph starts in narrator viewpoint. A character cannot see herself seeing (staring). The second clause of that sentence portrays a visual sensation that can be seen by anyone nearby Rowan, including Rowan and the narrator. The second sentence, a rhetorical question, is Rowan's thought that only she and the narrator have access to, though very close in narrative distance to Rowan particularly, since it is a free direct thought. The third sentence similarly is Rowan's thoughts. The fourth sentence steps away from Rowan and back into narrator viewpoint. Rowan may feel startled but cannot see herself flinch.
Rhetorical questions in prose are problematic when they inartfully tell details and directly state a dramatic question rather than raise the question subtly through implication in readers minds. How does Rowan know she's the only initiate? Her discovering she is in the moment of the action would be more artful. She stands up, looks around, baldly observes the scene's dramatic high points, and no one else stands up. Cue ominous music. Being singled out for a mysterious reason would develop reader empathy and curiosity, or tension, during this dramatic moment.
One way to distinguish telling from showing is to what degree the narrator mediates action, sensations, emotions, thoughts, and meaning. For example, if the narrator says Rowan looks, stares, squeezes, flinches, father urges, rises to her feet, looks down at toes, flashes a smile, these are narrator mediations, though somewhat neutral in attitude. Baldly describing what Rowan perceives, conceives, senses, thinks, says, feels would accomplish the close narrative distance I think this opening is trying for, be more artfully dramatic, and appeal more strongly in general to general fantasy audiences.
For me, the narrative voice is unsettled, jumpy, bumpy, bouncing between narrator and character that signals the whole is unsettled. While a close voice does not preclude a narrator voice, seamless stepped transitions ease readers from one viewpoint to another.
One punctuation glitch: //. . . and balance[,]" the Ember’s//. Dialogue lines with attribution tags of the said variety take a comma after the speech, before the closing quotation mark, then the said tag, as above between the brackets.
I am curious if Rowan's initiation ritual will be trying or a mere ceremony since she's come of age in numerical count and whether she emotionally, maturation-wise, is personally prepared by and for and earns the Gifts she will receive. That to me is the kernel of this narrative's meaning. A coming of age maturation cycle in Rowan's young adulthood. In other words, whether fantasy, science fiction or any other genre, this appears to be a coming of age narrative.
It's not a bad opening, though I feel like I've read it before. Just that first line of this important person's voice " ringing" in a big hall is reminiscent of a lot of fantasy type genre stories.
Rowan not wanting to vomit felt a bit more original, and her face blooming red and having to step over the protruding toes of her family were nice descriptions.
Either way, I'll do a swap with you. If your story is about 9000 words (which, by the way, is a bit long for a short story and more of a novella), I can send you along something of equivalent length, though it'll be chapters. If you're interested, just email me.
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I don't know about it being a "maxima mendum," pidream. Your heart was in the right place, and you really didn't "rewrite" in the sense of putting it in your own words, which is the real crime we caution against.
I'd also be willing to give it a read if you'd like to try my "Starry Night" or "Wolf" stories. Just leave me a comment in whichever one you're interested in.
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Hi Wylde. I definitely agree with wireless librarian. Opening a story with a quote puts you outside the room without knowing who is speaking, who that person is speaking to or what context it is. That having been said, putting the protagonist in the position where Rowan is going to be the centre of attention, and her reluctance about it, is a good move. There's something special happening, but she's still just a kid, and by the sounds of it a shy kid. I would keep reading.
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