I'm working on a major rewrite of a novel that I wrote in 2002. It has suffered from a very bad opening chapter, and has been through many iterations. I'm hopeful that I'm closing in on something workable.
The first thirteen lines are below. Would you read on? Did anything knock you out of the story?
A frigid wind blew off the snow-crowned peaks of Olowin's Spine and funneled down through the high col. Crickets chirped unseen in rocky crevices and the few stands of scraggly underbrush. The wind’s breath threatened a blizzard.
Aric shivered and gathered his cloak’s woolen folds close. He squinted up at the cliff face. The darkness just before dawn painted the stone a dim, featureless gray. He frowned.
"You’re sure this is the place, Torquil?" Aric asked, glancing at eldest of the three men beside him.
The scout nodded. His long, steely hair, pulled back into a queue, rustled against the side of his quiver. "I'm certain, Treelord. Caer Aman isn't the sort of place you forget."
Yeah, I think this is a nice opening, no major nits. It seems to start in a decent place and has a nice flow to it without seeming too desperate.
Couple of (very) minor nits:
quote: Crickets chirped unseen in rocky crevices and the few stands of scraggly underbrush.
This is probably just me, but the way this sentence is set up, it could read better as "Crickets chirped unseen in rocky crevices and scraggly underbrush."
The first paragraph seems a little strange in sentence 1 being about the wind, 2 about the crickets and then with 3 we go back to the wind. I think you might be better working that third sentence into the next paragraph when Aric shivers perhaps.
quote:The darkness just before dawn
Sounds very awkward, like you're trying to force too much information onto the reader at once. I think you could word this better.
quote: His long, steely hair
I think you might be able to get away without this comma. To me, the sentence reads better without it.
Posts: 34 | Registered: Jul 2014
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The first paragraph establishes a location, though it's cinematic, though it's pretty, it's static. Four features turn cinematic establishing shot clips into dramatic prose: antagonizing event, emotional attitude events toward the sensation events (visual, aural, olfactory, tactile, or gustatory), and viewpoint agonist involvement, event, with a dramatic complication, event--want and problem wanting satisfaction. Those four are lacking in the opening paragraph.
The remaining fragment is about the same in terms of lacking introduction and development of those features. Static opening, or oftentimes labeled "slow start." The main action events are acts involving static sight of static events and static objects, and unmoving characters. Unseen crickets, though they chirp, Aric squints, Aric glances at an elder scout.
Though ostensibly a routine and pendent interruption of the routine, for me the routine is too static. A routine about to be interrupted, as a best practice, ominously foreshadows menace or at least an antagonizing situation, antagonizing events, which first and foremost engage readers' empathy or sympathy and curiosity.
Once antagonizing events take place, a viewpoint agonist emotionally reacts to their causal stimuli. The reaction expresses an attitude toward the causal stimuli that establishes the stimuli's meaning from the viewpoint agonist's perspective, be that reaction thought, word, or deed.
For example, to span the four features given above, Aric's emotional attitude toward the frigid wind, the snowy peaks, the crickets, the looming blizzard puts him center stage within the "establishing shot." His thoughts, his spoken words, his deeds taken to minimize their problems: events, and his wants, minimized problems themselves wants and, vice versa, wants problems themselves.
Events introduce and develop settings and characters. Dramatic complication want and problem antagonizing events first, foremost, and always.
Though the action start is slow, the opening is also rushed, I feel. An event of consequence foreshadowed by the establishing setting shot to me is where the action begins, though Aric getting to the undeveloped "place" is the immediate goal, what his motivation for getting to the place isn't timely given. His want in that regard is to me where this scene's drama starts, the story starts, plot movement begins, reader interest begins. Note that "place" is the object of two sentences, neither giving a clue as to why the place is relevant to the action, the dramatic complication.
Use of "queue" to label a man's pony tail hairdo is problematic, a bit on the sophisticated side. That too could do with development of the hairdo's context and texture: contexture: who, when, where; what, why, and how it's relevant. Naming a motif anticipates readers will know the motif's meaning and can visualize it. Naming it at all lends a degree of emphasis to it that it is or will soon be consequential. Developing its meaning of the moment adds a touch more emphasis and as well develops relevant event, setting, and character significance for the moment and for later. Otherwise, if it has no relevance at the moment and later, it is irrelevant and meaningless.
I can't "hear" a queue rustle against a quiver due to a head nod. I hear a scratchy sound when I read "rustle." Swish maybe, thump maybe, though not from so slight a movement as a head nod. Catch on the quiver maybe. The intent is to describe the physical appearance of the scout, exotic appearance I understand. How at the moment the scout's appearance is consequential drives what happens, the event. The nod is the trigger event. Nods tend to be meaningless for readers generally. Again, emotional attitude reaction lends gestures meaning. Perhaps Aric perceives the scout is insulted Aric questions whether this is the place they've sought. Then the nod needs another contextual emotional cue, say a facial expression or hand gesture that imply the scout is displeased by Aric's implied accusation. Emotional attitude often needs two or more contextural cues to establish emotional meaning.
In general, the style--grammar and rhetoric--are strong and faultless. The writing craft is fair, though both rushed introductions and slow action. The voice lacks for clear and strong emotional attitude. Appeal-wise, I don't feel strong emotional or curiosity engagement, from lack of a antagonizing event that introduces the dramatic complication's want or problem wanting satisfaction.
Thirteen lines is a limited and challenging word count real estate to introduce necessary features, first and foremost is an emotional and curiosity arousing event feature, which is a dramatic complication. Aric is the viewpoint agonist; therefore, what he wants or what problem he wants to satisfy, as a best practice, should be the foremost introduction and development focus of the opening scene event.
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Thanks very much for your comments, Besmirch and Extrinsic.
The balance of how much information I'm trying to wedge into the opening with trying to make the darned thing readable has been by far the biggest difficulty. I try to put too much in it and becomes infodumpy, and if I don't put enough in, I'm afraid readers will be trapped in I-don't-understand-this-world.