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Author Topic: Symbia Book 1 Opening
Christian Behr
Member # 10043

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Fighting panic, I yanked on the handle to the exit, forgetting how I had already tried it and it had refused to open. I kicked it. “Stupid old-fashioned...door!”
Glancing back at the fire, I saw that it had climbed the support all the way to the shelf that encircled the single room as puny as my mother's kitchen. Within moments all one-hundred or so manuscripts, our Society's entire collection of written knowledge, were engulfed. Dying.
The flames also found the wood columns embedded in the clay wall and climbed these to the rafters and the underside of the roof, spreading everywhere. It was hopeless to try to save the old library. That was no reason, though, that this young woman should also perish.

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You have a few interesting things here. First, there's the immediate threat of being locked inside a burning room. Second, there's the fact that all of the Society's (I take it Society is a proper noun, like Church... but then the speaker would be unlikely to refer to it as "our") written knowledge. This brings to mind either a kind of dark age or, more likely given from the description of "old-fashioned... door," a postliterate society.

So, there's the hook.

However, I wouldn't keep reading, because the writing has not pulled me in. You have a burning room, this brings four senses to mind:

First- Visual. Light. It will flicker around walls and glow through smoke. While it may be the most obvious element of a fire, it's also the least important. But it can show us where the fire is and is not.

Second- Smell. This is going to vary based on what's burning and will show us something about the building. Does it smell like a camp fire, or of a tire fire, for instance?

Third- Sound. Not only do you have the crackling of the fire, you have the sound of weakened supports collapsing. This can show us the room's structure.

Fourth: Touch. Not only is fire hot, but smoke burns in the eyes and lungs. How long has the narrator been working at the door? How hard? Well, if his lungs burn and he has difficulty breathing, touch shows us the narrator's already been through an ordeal.

But, we've got none of that detail here. There's a fire, we are told. The fire is inside the wall, we are told. The narrator is panicking, we are told. This opening tells me a lot of things. It shows me very little.

Then there's this young woman thrown in at the end. I don't know if the narrator is referring to another person, or to herself. I also have no real reason to care. I'd suggest if you've sacrificed anything from the fire and the books to get the woman into the first thirteen, put it back. You've got enough concepts to work with here that you don't need her yet.

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Member # 9138

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I felt like the part about the woman should go after the first sentence. It may just be me, but I'd personally be pulled in more if that was moved up near the beginning.

It seems like the narrator has deep feelings for those manuscripts, but it doesn't quite come across the way you described that section. It comes across, rather offhanded or carefree - as one may describe a dying bug.

How is the character reacting to those pages burning? Is he lamenting their loss, indifferent, or angry at the fire's unscrupulous appetite? Remember that the fire itself can be seen as a minor character in scenes like this. Show what it's doing. I.E. licking at the roof beams, etc...

Also, the character is alive right? He can feel the heat, choke on the smoke, and panic as a door won't open.

My advise, let the scene live through your characters, including the fire itself.

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Carl F
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Trapped in a burning room... good start. You lost me in your mother's kitchen.
I liked MikeL's suggestion of getting the young woman nearer the start. Perhaps tell us a little more about her. I was confused about who the narrator was.
In another posting, it was suggested that the writer actually draw a floor plan of the room involved. It helps them visualize where to look for things.
The "Society" begs to have more description or its full name soon. Why should I care if their books all burn?

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Having read the first few chapters, I have plenty of desire to keep reading. That said, the first 13 are picked apart to death these days, moreso by editors and agents than by readers.

I definitely agree that describing what it's like to be inside a fire can instill panic in the readers and help them empathize with the panic the POV character is feeling, far more than just telling them she's panicking. In fact, if you write it strong enough you don't even need to tell them she's panicking at all, they'll know.

I've had the unpleasant experience of fighting an out of control fire. In this case it was a blaze that started on our land, small by wildfire standards. But even so, in the open air and in high wind, the choking smoke and heat from even several yards away was something you can't really describe unless you've felt it. Being in a burning room, trapped, is a far far worse situation. I think you could easily describe it in a way that would have readers fighting for breath themselves.

Sight: She won't be seeing much, since opening her eyes against the burning smoke and heat will be a Herculean effort, and what she does see will be blurred by tears.

Smell: Every breath is going to feel like her lungs are on fire. The smell itself will come in second to that pain. Half her breaths will end in her coughing the smoke back out, leading to the very real fear of asphyxiation.

Hearing: In the state she's in she might not hear anything at all, or if the fire's large enough to be deafening all she'll hear is a ringing in her ears. Add lightheadedness to that and hearing might be better left untouched to make it more surreal. Like looking outside and seeing people's lips moving but not hearing them.

Feel: We've all stood by campfires and felt the heat drying our skin and making us have to blink faster. In this case that heat will cross the threshold of pain tolerance. Even if she doesn't get burned, in that heat she's going to feel like she is.

Clear thought: We all know what to do in a fire. When it actually happens all that flies out the window and there's only one thought: GET OUT. It's not even so much a thought as a desperate instinct, one she's going to be feeling to the point of hysteria. She'll be slamming herself against the door, against walls, trying to find a weakness. Stumbling around the room desperately looking for an escape while shying away from the heat of the fire. She's not going to care if she hurts herself, and that's as big a danger as the fire itself.

The window glass itself might give her pause, since getting cut could be a danger in its own right, but if she's desperate enough I could imagine her smashing her fist through the glass and pulling herself through even if she cuts herself.

Just some thoughts.

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Grumpy old guy
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As a former firefighter, in house fires where the occupant has died, it is not uncommon to find the body in a cupboard or closet trying to 'hide' from the flames. Unless, of course, they've been overcome by the smoke. Most fatalities in building fires are caused by asphyxiation, not the flames.


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Christian Behr
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I appreciate all of the suggestions. Some of them are already incorporated into the chapter, but just not into the first 13 lines. Of course, where in the chapter to put those details is a craft I've not yet perfected.

The young woman and the narrator are the same person. I'm struggling with how to reveal that the narrator is a young woman. Before I put in that line, people would read the chapter and say, "him" "him" "him". I suppose it is fair to suppose that a narrator will be of the same gender as the writer. But if readers aren't informed on her gender quickly, they'll probably get disoriented and confused...and she's not wearing a skirt or dress that she could worry about catching on fire, either.

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Grumpy old guy
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That is one of the problems of first person POV. Until someone calls out her name, or some other gender identifying thing occurs, usually the narrator is assumed to be male. A preconceived bias that can't easily be overcome.


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Christian Behr
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Ok, folks, here is version 2: Let the hacking commence.

I'm not the kind of girl that squeals when a nezumi hisses at me, cries if I scrape my finger while carving my arrowheads, or faints in the presence of various sorts of danger. Danger, including, for instance, like being trapped in a burning building.
Rather, I calmly survey the scene and consider my options. A door that refuses to open, even when I kick it and curse at it. Flames igniting the manuscripts on the shelf, and then the shelf itself. No barrels of water conveniently located in the room. And no exits to be seen besides the stubborn door. Unless the window could be considered an exit. Ahhh. See how smart I am?

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Jed Anderson
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The building is on fire and she "calmly surveys the scene?"

I'm already bored. Your first one started off much stronger.

You are worried about her being identified as a woman right away, so try this:

"Looking back at the flames, I pulled at the buttons of my blouse..." or something like that.

You need to keep the intensity of the first version and find a way to mention an article of clothing, or how in a random thought she realizes the manicure she just received is now worthless. Something subtle and feminine. You don't need to just throw it in the reader's face.

"The lifted heel of my shoe twisted and broke when I kicked at the locked door."

Also, the fire in your first version does not feel real at all. Talk to a firefighter or someone who has experience in dealing with fires. Tell about how the heat sucks the moisture from her mouth. The blasts of heat push her long hair around. Anything to convey the temperature and make it feel real.

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