Here the first few lines of my book. I've really been struggling with this because I don't know how engaging it is. I guess it's about time I got some feedback. If you would like to read more, I can send you the first couple of chapters * * * * *
Amadi flexed her fingers stiff from the years of the sharp cottonseed casing slicing her hands. Even after nearly forty years of working in the fields, the dry, fibrous plants still chapped her hands despite the humid air.
She stood to watch a girl, no older than seven and dressed all in white, run across the cotton field, her sun-bleached hair flying behind her, free of the ribbon that surely had tied it back that morning. Amadi raised her hand to shield her eyes from the late afternoon sun and saw that it was the masterís youngest daughter, the one with the golden cat-eyes that matched the color of her hair.
Crouching among the low-lying cotton plants to avoid being spotted by one of the white foremen, Amadi followed the child.
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited April 13, 2007).]
For the most part, I like this. I would read on. However, a few things caught my eye:
quote: September 1859 [Nit - If you start with a date, I'm curious to know the place, too.]
Amadi flexed her fingers[,] stiff from the years of the [Do you need sharp, when it's revealed that it cuts her?] cottonseed casing slicing her hands. Even after nearly forty years of working in the fields, the dry, fibrous plants still chapped her hands [,] despite the humid air.
She stood to watch a girl, no older than seven and dressed all in white, run across the cotton field, her sun-bleached hair flying behind her[, free of the ribbon that surely had tied it back that morning is this needed, if the ribbon's not there?]. Amadi raised her hand to shield her eyes from the late afternoon sun and saw that it was the masterís youngest daughter, the one with the golden cat-eyes that matched the color of her hair.
Crouching among the low-lying cotton plants to avoid being spotted by one of the white foremen, Amadi followed the child. She knew this girl, at least[Suggestion:, she] knew the prophecies that surrounded her since birth.
The girl halted at the edge of the tall sugarcane, looking at something clutched in her grubby shift, then dove among the willowy stocks.
Amadi followed soundlessly and stopped as the girl fell to her knees in the irrigation ditch[IMHO - This sentence should end here. I question whether the rest is relevant.-->] used to flood the field during the early growing days of the sugarcane.
I hope this is of some help.
[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited April 13, 2007).]
Stating with the date at the beginning feels kind of disjointed to me. It just feelsÖ wrong; like it was pulled from a different writing style than the rest of it. IMHO, Unless there is a specific reason I need to know it is September, and not 1858, I would rather learn of the [general] time in the flow of reading than to have a specific date spelled out for me.. I am curious as to where this takes place, but I would be willing to read on expecting the info to surface before too long. There was one thing I had to go back and reread a couple of times. The description of the girl running across the field gives me this mental picture: bleach blonde hair, white dress, intense sunlight. It would almost hurt my eyes to look at her if Iíd been looking down previous to seeing her. Minutes later, she is shown in a grubby shift. I realize how easily this can be true, given that intense sunlight on even light gray can be blinding. It just caught me a little off, which in turn pulled me out of the story.
Overall, I liked it. I think you paint a good picture. I would read more.
I'm wondering about your familiarity with the cotton plant. The terminology sounds a bit off to me, althought there may be some regional or historical differences, I suppose.
In my experience, the pod in which the cotton fiber and seed grow is called a "cotton boll." The casing is a "burr", which in itself sounds kind of sharp. To get to the cottonseed, you have to take the fiber out of the burr and tear the fiber apart. And cotton isn't a "low-lying" plant. It grows straight and at maturity can be two to four feet tall, with broad leaves that make for good hiding.
If you want to see pictures, try Google Images and enter "cotton boll." Or, if you know all this already, tell me to mind my own business. :-)
The other thing I noticed is something that has plagued my own writing. My characters have done a lot of "see-sawing." He could see this and he saw that. Instead of:
"...saw that it was the masterís youngest daughter, the one..."
It was the masterís youngest daughter, the one..."
And I fibbed: here's a third thing.
I've been wrestling with sentences that lead with an "ing" verb. For instance, I've been rewriting sentences like:
"Crouching among the low-lying cotton plants to avoid being spotted by one of the white foremen, Amadi..."
"Amadi crouched among the low-lying cotton plants to avoid being spotted by one of the white foremen and..."
Here's some feedback - take what works, leave the rest!
-Amadi flexed her fingers...are the fingers stiff from the years? or stiff from the casing slicing her hands? Too many possible relationships going on in that first line - can you lose some of the description to simplify? -next sentence - even after, and despite, in the same sentence? It made it hard to follow - mental timeline check...'after 40 years...but despite the humidity...' You could probably drop the "even" at the beginning and get more mileage. Then again, does the cottonseed casing matter much to the story? It's a lot of desciption for the opening line. I tend to err on the side of details that may not seem that important right now but are integral to the story when I do my first lines...but your mileage may vary. - She stood to watch a girl - this sentence provides a very clear picture, it's neat, but it's long. Can you break it up? - The "crouching, Amadi followed..." construct is one that in one of the writing books I've read recently, the authors recommend against over-using. It's only used once here that I could see, but just thought I would mention it. The authors (I think it was Self Editing for Fiction Writers) said it can get cumbersome, and can come off amatuerish. "Seeing the green cat by the door, Shelia headed for it. Watching it out of the corner of her eye, she saw it dart at a mouse. Grossing out at the sight, Shelia observed the cat eat the mouse. Retching in the hall, Shelia felt bad about the mouse." You get the idea.
I agree that the first line with the date feels a bit off. Perhaps because I don't understand why precisely Amadi would note the month and year as she contemplates her fingers. It seems more to me that the date would occur to her when she realizes how long she's had to pick cotton.
Also, I actually am drawn by the description of cotton (even if some of the facts may not be right, I wouldn't know myself). I think that perhaps the cotton, or the setting in which all of this occurs might make a great character. Not literally, of course.
But then of course my desire to learn more about the setting might reveal that Amadi isn't as interesting... well, I'd want to read the first few chapters, anyhow.
In a way, I disagree with the date thing...if it's the chapter heading or subheading, it will be in place with the historical novel protocol. Maybe just not in this tiny bit. (Though, being fantasy, being just loosely led in understanding by the setting is okay for most readers.)
Very evocative start. And the note about the hands is so revealing of the kind of person, while not too navel-gazing; that was a very good choice of detail. I'll read a few chapters for you, if you still want feedback. Message me about that, I guess.
Amadi flexed her fingers stiff from the years of the sharp cottonseed casing slicing her hands. - either needs a comma or some extra word - 'her fingers which were stiff' 'flexed her fingers, stiff from...' 'flexed her fingers to ease the stiffness that had developed from' etc
'even after' and 'despite' have a similar enough meaning that I wouldn't put them in the same sentence.
Might be nice to have a little more specifics about the fields--where are they, who owns them, what they look like, etc...just a little flavor.
She stood to watch a girl, no older than seven and dressed all in white, run across the cotton field, her sun-bleached hair flying behind her, free of the ribbon that surely had tied it back that morning. - Divide into multiple sentences.
I like the part about the ribbon and how the hair is now free.
golden cat-eyes that matched her hair - very vivid.
Would be nice to know why she wants to follow the child and why she must be secretive about it.