Hi there, below are the first 13 lines of my first novel. It's an urban fantasy/horror type of story. So far I've got just over 9100 words. Please let me know what you think of these 13 and whether or not you'd keep reading.
The first thing I became aware of, the very first thing was the sound of a dog barking. I could hear some little dog yipping away at something and it would not stop. It went on in that seemingly mindless way that dogs have and it wormed its way into my consiousness until I could hear it clearly. After that, I was aware of nothing else but darkness and an awful, driving need but first there was the dog. I donít particularly like the sound of a barking dog. In fact, that sound ranks in the top 5 of sounds I would gladly never hear again. The brilliant part of it is that I own 3 dogs. Well, I used to own 3 dogs. All of which tended to bark at almost nothing several times a day. Something would set one of them off and instantly all 3 are shouting at the world. It
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited February 23, 2010).]
I'm going to derail for just a moment and ask if we're supposed to judge the first 13 as a reader holding the book in a store with ten bucks burning a hole in my pocket or as a possible agent reading the first page of a MS I have on my desk. It seems many people here have become great judges of other people's work through lots of practice, (and of their own) so as the new guy I'd just like to know how I should be looking at people's first 13.
Now, as for these,Ppease remember everything I type, as with pretty much everything on every board everywhere is just my opinion.
Cut out the first 7 words. They are redundant. We can assume you are a vampire by the title so just hit us with the very first thing... Would not = wouldn't Take out the word seemingly. Wormed is a great word. Awful driving need for what? I assume to FEED, but tell me and describe it like no one has ever done before then hit me with the but first the dog and I have to imagine that despite this unbelievable need, the dog is actually more powerful.
Throw away the rest and start your action. It's time to get the party started. Go do whatever it is you're going to do to that little yippy dog and I can't wait to read what it is you decide. That will set your character up nicely.
First off... Best title for a vampire story ever!
Second, welcome to hatrack.
on to the 13 lines:
I'll be blunt - the first 13 not working for me just yet. I get the tone is probably meant to come of as a semi-sarcastic, quirky, humorous narrator (smart-aleck, or smart-a** also comes to mind), but it's not yet working to give the reader an idea about your narrator/MC.
Right now all I get about your MC is he/she is unsually obsessed about dogs and their barking. Is that the impression you want your readers to have of you MC?
I think you want to give the us the personality of your MC by the tone and style. I would say deal with the dogs quickly and move on to more jucier "vampiric" things in the first 13.
Also these days, for any vampire story, the first thing I now automatically seek is why is this version of vampire worth getting to know/read about? What should your vampire say or do in the opening lines to absolutely capture the reader?
Honestly right now I'm getting a Teen Wolf meets Rain Man vibe - if that's what your going for, mission accomplished. If not, you got work to do...
The narrative seems a bit rambly. I am not sure if that is what you intended. First person POV can be hard to pull off if the mc has a strange voice, so although this may be how your character thinks, I suggest toning it down some so it doesn't annoy the readers.
You also have a lot of redunduncy. The first line for example.
quote:The first thing I became aware of, the very first thing was the sound of a dog barking.
Cut the bold, IMO. THis may be intentional, but you really don't want a redunt sentence to the first sentence an editor sees.
I bolded other areas that seemed redundant to me. I suggest cutting them out and seeing if it reads better.
quote:I could hear some little dog yipping away at something and it would not stop. It went on in that seemingly mindless way that dogs do and it wormed its way into my consiousness until I could hear it clearly. After that, I was aware of nothing else but darkness and an awful, driving need but first there was the dog.
I stopped here because the rest is back story and as others have said, get past the dogs and get to the story.
I also changed "have" to "do" (in italics). I think "do" works better.
Also since he is a vampire, shouldn't you emphasize the driving need more.
Anyway, good luck with this. Oh and I agree that the title is pretty cool.
I don't believe anyone else has mentioned this; I am very wary of any opening along the lines "The first thing I became aware of". My reasoning is explained in the Turkey City Lexicon under White Room Syndrome. I realise it's a bias, but if there's a chance your future editor shares it, you may want to steer clear of this opening.
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I have to agree with BenM, not because I know what the Turkey City Lexicon is, but because when I start reading a first person pov, I feel a little disconnected by statements like "The first thing I became aware of..."
I also agree with other posts that there is too much about the dog. You have some strong descriptives, so I can see why it would be hard to cut, but there is just so much of it!
I love the voice and attitude you've created, and if I were looking for a good vampire novel in the book store and chanced upon this one, I'd buy it for sure. Keep the title, by the way, it is fantastic! Good luck with this!
I haven't read any of the other comments but I thought I would add my thoughts.
My concern with this opening is that you go on too long about the dog barking without demonstrating why the dog is important. I would assume that since you are spending as much time as you are with this dog that this would be an important bit of information for the reader. However, I do not get that feeling with this opening.
In addition, since I know nothing about this character yet I have difficulty in feeling a connection with him or her. In fact, we don't even know the character's gender or name, nothing to assist with the reader's connection.
Your writing is readable and the voice seems to be coming out fine, but the story itself does not pull me past this section.
Hi there everyone. Thanks so much for the input. It was very helpful. Here is a revision of my first 13.
Somewhere in the darkness, a dog was barking. The sound was muffled, like it was trying to bark around a mouthful of socks and as I focused on it, I slowly became aware of my surroundings. I was lying on my back, wrapped in an almost tangible darkness that smelled of sawdust and stale sweat. I tried to move, but I ran into the walls of something very solid on both sides and above me. It wasn't much larger than I was and I had just enough space to knock against the walls. I had an instant to wonder where I was when everything was blown away by the sensation of a terrible need. I call it that because to call it something like hunger or thirst just wouldnít cut it. Like saying being slow roasted to death hurts-it's accurate, but you just donít get it until you feel the heat.
The first paragraph felt a little slow, but this is where you hooked me.
quote:I had an instant to wonder where I was when everything was blown away by the sensation of a terrible need. I call it that because to call it something like hunger or thirst just wouldnít cut it. Like saying being slow roasted to death hurts-it's accurate, but you just donít get it until you feel the heat.
I would only make a few changes to tighten it even more. Perhaps something like this (just an opinion)
I had an instant to wonder where I was before being overcome by the sensation of a terrible need. To call it hunger or thirst just wouldn't cut it.
This update has more to draw me in and pique interest. We now have a problem that pulls us into the story. I have a couple things that did pull me out of the story momentarily.
quote:like it was trying to bark around a mouthful of socks and as I focused on it
I had difficulty envisioning what you intended here. I think you mean that the sound of the barking was muffled. However, the first image I had in my mind was a dog trying to bark with socks in its mouth. Since I have a dog that loves to play ball and often barks with the ball in its mouth I don't know if this is quite the sound you want. I think you ought to focus more on the "hearing of the sound" rather than the "source of the sound." I don't like giving specific suggestions because everyone writes in their own way, but perhaps the bark sounded muffled as though his ears were stuffed with socks.
quote:I tried to move, but I ran into the walls of something very solid on both sides and above me
Specifically I had a problem with the word "ran" in this sentence because the first image in my mind was that he was standing and walked into a wall. The next sentence comes as a contradiction to my first image and pulled me out of the story a bit.
Overall, a much better beginning than the previous version.
* Edited to "quote" the text and spelling.
[This message has been edited by WBSchmidt (edited March 06, 2010).]
I liked the first one better. You write a little like I do, though, and are getting similar complaints because of it, so don't go too much on that.
I am also writing a vampire story though mine is more about adjustments necessary on the spiritual plane and personal growth than horror. It started out as a really fun little short story which had me giggling like mad.
We can exchange chapters if you like. I have a similar episode in my first chapter and we can compare notes. I am trying to stop telling and it is so hard.
Charity, I kicked around words like "Overcome" and they didn't quite pack the punch I was going for.
WBSchmidt, I've got a dog that does the same thing It was sort of the sound that I was looking for. I didn't want to imply that there was anything wrong with the speaker's ears/hearing.
On the "Run" thought that you had...Interesting. I hadn't thought of it like that but, since you mentioned it, it makes total sense. I find it even more interesting because I would have used "Ran into" in normal conversation. I'll have to think that one over and decide how I want to do it.
quote:I've got a dog that does the same thing It was sort of the sound that I was looking for. I didn't want to imply that there was anything wrong with the speaker's ears/hearing.
I think I understood what you were trying to do with the sound. My assumption was that he was hearing the sound from underground or something similar that would muffle the sound. It's interesting how people with similar experiences interpret those experiences in different ways.
First off, we have a much better sense of exactly what you're trying to do in the second version. It's more interesting and brings us into the story better than the tirade on the dog.
Secondly, I think there is still so much more you can do to tighten this up. With the first sentence you need to give us something to make us stop thinking about picking up the dry cleaning or the kids at the park. Claim our attention so we read the next sentence and the next...
I am pulled from the dark nothing of my existence by the muffled sound of a dog barking. I open my eyes and inhale sharply with fear as I am struck by my blindness. I reach out, trying to identify my surroundings and discover I am trapped in a small room or . . . a box? Strange that this thought might comfort me, I at least know I'm not blind, and I explore my surroundings more thoroughly . . .
Insert more of whatever he feels or comes next here and maybe bring us back to his annoyance with the dog with one line shortly thereafter with something like:
Won't someone please muffle or kill that dog?
Now, this is written in about 2 minutes as I wolf down a bowl of cereal before heading off to work, so I know it's not a perfect example of what I'm trying to say. But I hope I've at least given you more ideas and/or things to think about. Writing first person, I'm told, is supposed to be very hard. I've found I prefer it and it's really quite fun once you get the hang of it. And while I don't write horror (not yet at least) I do love reading it and I think from the little bit you've shared with us this could be an interesting piece.
quote______________________________________________________________________ I had an instant to wonder where I was when everything was blown away by the sensation of a terrible need. ______________________________________________________________
Great line there! It also made it clear to me that MC was in a coffin. (yes?)
Second sentence was a little off... quote_______________________________________________________________________ The sound was muffled, like it was trying to bark around a mouthful of socks and as I focused on it, I slowly became aware of my surroundings. _____________________________________________________________
Better second time around. (I am new at critiquing so take that into account )
[This message has been edited by Posie70 (edited March 18, 2010).]
Posie 70, if you want to set things you are quoting from someone else or from some other post apart with the lines, you just need to put [quote] at the beginning of the quoted material and [/quote] at the end of the quoted material.
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I agree "overcome" is weak. The only problem that I had with "blown away" was I envisioned exploding coffins and wood splinters going everywhere. It is probably just me though since I'm working on my "explosive" scenes right now. My "blown away" refers to half of a poor saps face...
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The first version has better prose, the second has better story.
1. Waking cliche. It's been mentioned. It would be a shame to write a novel and have it rejected because it's the tenth waking start they've read that morning. I would re-think it.
2. The first version has a little poetry to the prose that the second lacks. Probably more time spent on the first...Word choices seem better.
3. Write numbers where possible. Five should be written as five, not as 5. Five million, six hundred and twenty eight thousand, two hundred and fifty-eight may be better written as 5,628258.
-The first thing I became aware of, the very first thing...
Repetitious. Redundant. You have 13 lines--use them wisely.
5. Dogs? You mention a 'need', but then don't mention it again despite alluding to it being 'awful' and 'driving'. Feels a little like with holding. We know he wants blood and I don't think he would think of that need without thinking of blood.
Too much about the dogs. Who cares about what makes dogs bark?
6. Title? I, Vampire? I, Robot? Hmmm...
7. Your second piece and to a degree the first piece both feel a little removed.
--I had an instant to wonder where I was when everything was blown away by the sensation of a terrible need.
This is telling. You are telling me everything was 'blown away...' not showing me everything getting blown away. It's harder to do, but more experiential for the reader.
Why not show me his experience of the growing hunger? Show me the awareness growing in his mind that only blood would satisfy the need he feels. Besides, then you wouldn't need the explainations of how 'calling it hunger or thirst...' and 'saying being slow roasted...' wouldn't be required if you could successfully show the hunger's all-consuming nature, would you? While these explanations provide a little characterisation they don't bring me into the scene rapidly.
You have to paint a picture fairly quickly at the beginning...
Would I read on? Not at the moment. Your prose has promise, but the cliche and telling and my lack of immersion in the scene suggest you've a bit more refining to do...
In my opinion, of course.
[This message has been edited by skadder (edited March 10, 2010).]
If your character is recalling when he first awoke as a vampire: inside a coffin, hearing the muffled sound of a dog barking because his hearing is now more acute and can hear through six feet of earth, then I get it. If I'm wrong, sorry. Either way, it's not enough of a hook for me. For me, if he is recalling a memory, then he would just tell me (the reader) that he was in a coffin, not:
quote:I was lying on my back, wrapped in an almost tangible darkness that smelled of sawdust and stale sweat. I tried to move, but I ran into the walls of something very solid on both sides and above me.
I say this because he knows the past; he knows where he was (i.e., inside a coffin) and would say so, or should.
Now, if your tense was different, more in following the present and I am experiencing his "turning" as he is, as it is happening (not as it happened) then I could be convinced otherwise.
Me thinks you are trying too hard to write mysteriously, as if this alone will capture the readers attention. Some have suggested "feast on that dog already and shut it up!" I would say the same about your vampire, "tell me you're in a coffin then get out of it and feed, then move along."
As an aside. Of all the vampire tales (Stoker, Rice, Meyer, et al) I still have a fondness for Bram Stoker's Dracula. It worked in the first person because he wrote in the form of journals of his characters, and as journals the entries allowed me to follow the events not as they were being recalled later, but as they happened (or at least as near to when events happened). It is not unlike reading the Journals of Lewis & Clark. I have read those, too, and it is as though I am with them on their journey up the Missouri.
So, Ken, if your character is "speaking" through journals then more power to you, but for me you would have to be upfront about it, as Stoker was. I don't think it would be considered copying Stoker, but it might be considered cliche.
Thanks everyone for you input. It's very helpful. I've noticed a common theme of "He's a vampire...just get up and let the bloodletting commence I think it might be worth it to mention my take on the story.
You all know he's a vampire from the title. My MC, however, doesn't realize he's a vampire initially. He's been turned and left and the story doesn't pick up until he "Wakes up" so to speak and all the instincts kick in. Yes, I'm seeing that its a bit cliche but it's such a minor point and I cant remember reading about any stories that start off at "Vampire: Day 1". If there's one out there like that, can anyone recommend it?
Yes, there is a bit of withholding but it's first person so we've got to learn at his pace. He's not immediately aware that its a need for blood...he finds out soon enough though.
Does any of this clear up parts of the first 13?
I'm starting to think that I should have mentioned this sooner to put some perspective on it.
You could start the story with him trying to appease his hunger with different things and not having any success until he finally smells blood, and bingo!
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Clearing things up in a forum does not equal clearing things up in your novel. If we are to learn the ways of a vampire as your MC learns them then your story should logically follow a chronological style, no flashbacks, because said flashback means knowledge of what was and so there would be nothing to withhold.
If your goal is to write by withholding, then you may have to be the first to write a "Vampire: Day 1" story.
I suppose there is a flip side to all of this. That is that you can write it so your MC is answering questions put to him, but then you'd have to rely on a lot of dialog. "Interview" by Rice comes to mind.
@Edward: There are no flashbacks. The story progresses in order as the MC figures things out in his world. Unless you're referring to writing in "First person" which would make everything, essentially, a flashback...and wouldn't it also be considered writing by withholding as well? I hadn't thought of this as a 3rd person type of story so I'll have to consider that.
@Corky: Later on in the chapter, you find that the MC (and the dog for that matter) have been placed in a specific location. He doesn't have the option to "Taste test" so to speak. He finds out pretty much right away what the "Need" is.
[This message has been edited by Ken S (edited March 17, 2010).]
I'm starting to really like this. Very interested in hearing more. Sounds like you are "fixing" it up well. And you've cleared up some questions for me.
One thing that bothered me was the "ran into the walls". To me it made it feel like he had more space, the word ran...maybe something like...
"I tried to move but found myself constricted. I traced my fingers along a wooden ceiling mere inches from my face..." something like that (I think alot about being in a coffin - okay not alot - I am VERY claustrophobic in confined spaces so it would freak me out).
@Posie70: I thought quite a bit about the whole "Ran into.." thing. It's what I would use in normal conversation so it "Sounded" right when I was reading it at first. Then when I took a look at it later, I got what other folks were saying about it. I ended up changing it
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