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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » 1st 13: Never Fall

   
Author Topic: 1st 13: Never Fall
Fooglmog
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First, here's my first 13:

quote:
Fall is breaking to winter. Snow and ice are beginning to cover the ground and the leaves which, just weeks ago, celebrated the end of another year are already being forgotten. I am home. It's been three years since I left here, on the journey which took me across the ocean. I couldn't show you where I was one any map, but the seasons didn't change. It seems strange, but often as I thought of home, I only ever thought of how it is in summer; never fall. Thinking on it now, missing this time of year, when the earth goes to sleep and waits for new things to begin, may be why everything which has happened to me feels so very, very recent...
Okay, so I've been bashing my head against a wall on another project, and decided it needs to rest so I'm starting work on another one which has been kicking itself around in my head. I've only written about 2000 words, all this evening, but want some thoughts on my first 13.

My POV character is a girl (early 20s) and the whole thing is 1st person. It's probably YA fantasy/adventure, and I'm working really hard on a "simple beauty" aesthetic. Thoughts would be appreciated [Smile]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Fooglmog, just so you know, you only posted about 10 lines.
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J_Jammer
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Fall is breaking into winter -- is a normal occurrence.

At the tale end of your selection you state that the seasons aren't that simple and that (if I'm not mistaken) winter isn't a normal as it is for us.

Hook people with the uniqueness of your story.

Such as starting with:

I couldn't show you where I was one any map, but the seasons didn't change. It seems strange, but often as I thought of home, I only ever thought of how it is in summer; never fall. Thinking on it now, missing this time of year, when the earth goes to sleep and waits for new things to begin, may be why everything which has happened to me feels so very, very recent...

My issue with reading these first few lines is the way you word your sentences.

Such as:

It's been three years since I left here, on the journey which took me across the ocean.

It's awkward to read because I see too many words. I better understand the sentence if it was (and without changing your words and only taking out a few) It's been three years since I left on a journey which took me across the ocean.

I hope that was helpful. If you need to read something else or to clarify what I mean, I'll be glad to.

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MattLeo
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Well I will respectfully disagree with JJ on this one and say you don't necessarily need to hook a novel reader in the first thirteen lines.

My study of novel openings suggests that while gimmicks to snare readers are common in the first thirteen lines, they are far from universal. What I primarily want to see in the opening of a novel is a narrative voice that (a) sounds fresh and (b) seems like something I can live with for a hundred thousand words or so. I think trying too hard to grab the reader in the first thirteen lines works against both these goals.

If you have a great hook, sure go ahead and use it. But don't struggle to make the opening *sound* like you're trying to hook the reader because then you'll sound just like everyone else who is doing exactly the same thing. It's better to open clean than with an obviously contrived hook. If you can sound distinctive, so much the better.

Now as to *this* opening, I think it is strong. It gives me a feel for your narrator, who is observant, introspective, but speaks in shortish sentences.

There are some minor editing issues, for example here: "Snow and ice are beginning to cover the ground and the leaves which, just weeks ago, celebrated the end of another year are already being forgotten." The commas around "just weeks ago" introduce an awkward rhythm into the sentence. I think its better without the commas, and I'd consider breaking the sentence in two, e.g. "Snow and ice are beginning to cover the ground. The leaves which just weeks ago celebrated the end of another year are already being forgotten."

Watch those commas; you want to sound smooth and so you don't want to go overboard with commas except where the rules require them.

For example "I couldn't show you where I was one any map, but the seasons didn't change." is probably fine, because it's conventional to introduce a clause that starts with a commonplace conjunction (and, but, for, nor/or, so) with a comma so it the pause doesn't ring in our ears. Consider the following sentence: "It seems strange, but often as I thought of home, I only ever thought of how it is in summer; never fall." The second comma introduces an awkward, graceless pause.

Openings are heightened areas, places where the reader isn't immersed in the story yet and so can easily be put off by awkward language or rhythm. Try reading your opening out loud and where it seems confusing or unnatural in rhythm, delete (or add) a comma or reorganize/split the sentence so everything flows natural-sounding.

For example "Thinking on it now, missing this time of year, when the earth goes to sleep and waits for new things to begin, may be why everything which has happened to me feels so very, very recent..." I think this sentence flows better if you delete at least one clause, e.g. "Missing this time of year when the earth goes to sleep and waits for new things to begin may be why everything which has happened to me feels so very, very recent..." Of course you could still set off the "when the earth ... begin" clause with commas is a valid and standard way to use commas

I think it's most important in an opening to avoid anything that suggests reading ahead will be tough sledding. Things to avoid are long and awkwardly constructed sentences, elaborate rhetoric or imagery, and action whose significance is hard to understand, or anything that suggests excess. Opening by painting the character's situation as you have done is fine.

You need paragraph breaks too.

The situation painting you are doing here might just be starting to wear out its welcome by the end, where I *might* want to see a turn toward getting the story moving; but I'd have to see once the paragraph and flow issues were resolved. Definitely try reading your opening aloud and see what it sounds like. Then lets see what we've got.

Small typo you use "one any map" where you must have meant "on".

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Denevius
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First things first. You have an interesting screen name, Fooglmong.

I actually found the first sentence intriguing. There's a lot of depth to it mostly because I've seen other writers use the seasons to foreshadow coming conflict, winter being a metaphor of that conflict.

Your overuse of the 'to be' verb kills any urgency in your opening lines, however.

'Fall is breaking'

'Snow and ice are beginning'

'I am'

'It's been'

You should try and avoid this in your prose, as it keeps readers at a distance, and makes the reading of your text tedious. It takes a very skilled writer to successfully pull of a story in present tense.

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