This is fantasy novel. I've written the last half, and am trying to make a first half to match it.
When the wind was right, John could hear the shrieks all the way from the Demon Hole.
“It’s just the wind,” the guard had said, when John asked him. He had been one of the more decent street patrollers. “That wasteland out there is covered with chasms and ravines, like a demon tore into it with its claws. And the wind never stops, so it goes roaring through the canyons and makes that awful noise. There's nobody out there but those crazy monks. And maybe one or two others.”
John sighed as he remembered that long ago conversation. Guards had been nicer back then.
Then he snorted. A fifteen-year-old longing for the good old days. He’d better not mention that to any of the parishioners
Reads smoothly, interesting character (salty, experienced 15 year old). I like it.
Something about the guard's lines bugs me. I THINK it's because that down-homey "ain't" comes out of nowhere. Before that, he doesn't sound so down-home, and then suddenly his speech style changes.
That's minor. I like the passage. I would keep reading. I don't have time to read a novel, but if you need a chapter crit, hit me up. I'm interested in the story.
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My concern with the guard's dialog is that it's obvious he isn't talking to John, he's talking to the reader filling in information about the Demon Hole.
The conversation with the guard happened at some point in the past, so I'm left wondering how old John was then if he's 15 now. And actually, as this is his POV, John doesn't actually sound 15. He sounds much older.
Ultimately, I think the opening feels a bit rushed. If these are the first lines of a novel, you can slow it down, perhaps introduce us more to John, who he is, and what his situation is.
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When I read this, I feel a kind of disconnect, I'm not aware that the conversation that John is having with the guard is a memory. Until the sentence after, indicating "long ago conversation." Though it explains why the past-tense passive of "has" is being reused. Which put me off to a bit to be honest, I think this could be avoided if the memory is a more descriptive composition rather then dialogue? Maybe? I'm not sure. It just makes me feel as if I'm being told a lot of things as opposed to shown. Which is something of a wasted opportunity, I believe you could give the reader some good characterization about how John preserves the guard, the information shared, etc.
Also where are we? I know we aren't in this wasteland, it's vaguely out there somewhere, outside a city, a building a town. I can only speculate some kind of town or city because of the street patrollers. The beginning seems to lack action, maybe John's doing something that triggers the memory, in a specific place where it's very easy to hear the wind.
I do like the first line, immediately I want to know what The Demon Hole is. And it does not sound pleasant. I'm also curious as to what kind of life this fifteen year old may have lead, to bring him to a point where he feels/read older then he is. And who are these monks?
There's some good ideas in this opening, I think fleshing them out will help considerably, I always find it easier to cut excess then to add things. Best of luck with it!
P.S. I also love that a fantasy novel's character is named John, and not something unpronounceable or really fanciful. Seriously, it's awesome.
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When the wind was right, John could hear the shrieks all the way from the Demon Hole. They echoed through the grimy streets and rattled in the alleys. The boy slipped into the chapel, avoiding the guards who patrolled the streets. He would almost rather deal with thieves than guards.
In the chapel, at least, he felt safe. The sign of the Living Flame hung on the wall, and an unquenchable fire burned on the hearth. John didn’t know what it burned, but he knew it wasn’t wood. Otherwise his days would be filled with chopping, rather than cleaning.
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I still think you're trying to do too much with these opening lines if this is a novel. From the very first line, we have backstory. It would be better if we were with John in the present moment on the street as the sound of shrieks carry on the wind. Just that first line expounded would be a more engaging opening paragraph.
The third line could be almost a page as we see John avoiding these guards.
The description of the chapel could be a couple of paragraphs.
To me, you're just doing too much in too short of page space for a narrative that'll carry on for thousands of words.
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This start arouses several curiosities: notably Demon Hole and the Chapel of the Living Flame. They are places, setting features and milieu motifs. Setting's identities are time, place, situation, and agency. Milieu's connection is through the situation identity. The milieu is one which folk beliefs influence the people, superstitions, which implies a time past when superstitions controlled people's behaviors. The folk motifs, guards and thieves' activities afoot, and a servant boy or young man implies the place also is a time past. Somewhat time and place introductions are set up, the situation and agency not so much.
Setting development is nextmost after event an opening essential, ideally developed in coordination with event, character, and idea. Orson Scott Card's MICE quotient is a practical guidance theory for starts, middles, and ends, and scenes generally. Other scene development essentials include discourse--thought, speech, and narration--and action, sensation, and emotion.
Distance, too, is a scene essential though yet more elusive a principle than the above enumerated features of narrative generally.
Scene development encompasses all the above. Denevius notes the fragment's sentences each could be unpacked into paragraphs at least. A somewhat slower start would develop each motif's mythology further, their "telling details" portrayed as John's subjective perceptions, sensations, thoughts, actions, and emotions--emotional attitude--toward each. The fragment develops a degree of each motif; however, one motif is introduced and the narrative moves on to another with only limited development.
Let's unpack the motifs. First, though, we'll interpret the intent of this fragment and openings generally. Evoke readers' emotions such that they align with, associate with, and are engaged by a narrative within its reality imitation. Readers transport into a narrative's secondary world from their otherwise everyday alpha routine worlds. This is the reader immersion spell: a proxy reality readers emotionally respond to within a narrative in which they participate emotionally. When readers loathe or hate a villian, like and encourage a hero, are enraptured by a scenic vista, they are participants; they are engaged.
This fragment is over-distanced in those regards. Though a few scene features develop for each motif, their development is through summaries and explanations. Suitable distance would focus on one motif, establish its relevance to John, in this case.
The Demon Hole and its shrieks, for example, are an initial event of substance, though under-developed. The motif's place and origin of the shrieks is a distance away. Spatial distance is remote, from a distance away from John. The shrieks are immediate influences, though, and underdeveloped as they pertain to John. Likewise temporal distance, the Demon Hole is far enough away a span of time would pass for John going to its location. In such ways are time and space distance closely knit.
Aesthetic distance, likewise, over-distanced here, comes from personal closeness to ideas, events, settings, characters, and agencies. The Demon Hole shrieks effects upon John in this case. The shrieks travel the town's streets. Would not such an inescapable sound drive the townspeople, and John to want to live elsewhere? Probably. Why not for this situation? That "telling detail" is an immediate essential. How and why John perceives the Demon Hole's inescapable noise cause him wants and problems.
Perhaps the sound may be mitigated indoors. That then could be John's immediate want, getting out of the outdoors and into an indoor place. Then the guard patrol becomes a problem that impedes his want. First, though, more fully develop the shriek's agency from John's immediate notice. Note that the first sentence's verb and syntax, generally, signal narrator perception and voice, not John's. Another example of over-distance. The narrator's, if not writer's, observation place is remote from John's place. Closer distance observes from closer by.
The verb culprit is the summary and explanation term "could hear." "When the wind was right, John could hear the shrieks all the way from the Demon Hole." Note also "the wind was right" gives no direction, from the east, west, north, south, from the shanty side of town, the Desert of Lost Souls outside town, whatever, a direction that establishes the hole's location and distance.
"the shrieks" uses a definite article for an as yet indefinite motif. Likewise, "the Demon Hole" capitalized, a proper noun, takes no article. Proper nouns and articles are used for vessel names and publications, like the S.S. Horatio or the Asweego Daily Gossip, or organizations, like the Department of Cruel Pranks. Ostensibly, they are either actual ships or flagship-like organizations.
Note also that an intent to name the viewpoint agonist John emphasizes him more than the sentence's proper subject: the Demon Hole's shrieks. This too creates over-distanced distance. The intent should be shown from John's perspective, not told from narrator or writer's perspective and locations about John.
For illustration and wildly projected: //When a north wind blew, far away Demon Hole's shrieks haunted John's ears.// The shrieks are the doers of the event; John the done-to character. That syntax introduces a character's name and closes distance into the character's immediate time, place, situation, and agency. Next, the town setting could be developed while John goes to his job at the chapel.
John wants to get indoors as soon as possible to mitigate the shriek's disturbing agency. Guard patrols and thieves impede his way. However, portray their agency in the immediate time, place, situation, and agency they impede John's travel. A patrol approaches; John hides. A thief near the hiding place stalks John. He escapes both by guile and savvy wariness. Maybe he takes a rooftop or tunnel route rather than the direct route he planned and usually follows. In narrative terms, his alternate route is a reversal caused by discoveries guards and thieves impede his normal route. Discovery and reversal are scene essentials too. Demon Hole shrieks also are an impediment. They cause John to be less cautious and confused. For examples.
The motifs arouse my curiosity, though the method of their delivery leaves me under-engaged. I would read on as editor, not as reader, to see if the writing strengthens, probably won't, so I wouldn't read much more than a few hundred words. Maybe the plot engine picks up steam at another start line. Maybe not.
The motifs are strong; the delivery not so much.
Edited to add: By the way, "Demon Hole" is part of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons novel, a term Brown attributes to poet John Milton by way of artist Raphael about the oculus in the dome of the Roman Parthenon. That image by default is my impression of this fragment and novel's "Demon Hole," though a natural feature rather than a human-made feature.
Thanks for the feedback. It looks like I have a lot of fleshing out to do, but the bones are in the right shape.
Regarding proper nouns and articles, I think I'm going group the Demon Hole with the Grand Canyon, the Lincoln Memorial, the Great Salt Lake, and the Statue of Liberty.
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The third version is clearer though doesn't work for me in stronger terms.
A shortfall for me is the narrative point of view is the narrator's looking in from outside the scene. Third person omniscient even if limited to a single viewpoint character for a best practice either needs to express commentary of an emotional nature if from an external viewpoint or be from the inside of the scene looking out from a viewpoint agonist's perspective and attitude and emotions.
Emotional commentary from either narrator or viewpoint agonist is an essential prose feature. This fragment is bland for both or either narrator or viewpoint agonist. For me this is summary tell lecture.
Verbs like to hear are "tells" from summarizing a sensation action rather than showing in scene the bald and strong sensations themselves with suitable emotional attitude.
First sentence, for example: "When the wind was from the east, John _could hear_ the shrieks all the way from the Demon Hole."
"Shrieks" is the operative and significant and substantive subject matter verb of the sentence. "Shrieks" has nerve-grating emotional significance, for example.
Four different main ideas compete for attention: East wind _blows_, John _hears_, Demon Hole _shrieks_, and Demon Hole _is_ some uncertain distance away from John. That breakdown illustrates that each main idea has its subject and its verb, though the verb implied if not given.
That breakdown to me indicates four sentences are warranted. For illustration: //Eastern gales blew cold, stiff gusts across town. From a mile outside town, Demon Hole shrieked. Haunted wails carried through blustery town lanes to John's chilled ears.//
Next would come a personal reaction of John's to the the shrieks and cold, though not a bland narrator tell like "The boy shivered."
"It was bad enough walking through the dirty streets at dusk without the additional noise."
That sentence has several characteristics of free direct thought, or stream of consciousness, from John's personal viewpoint. The sentence is a personal thought and reaction to the prior emotional sensory stimuli, though on the emotionally neutral side: bland; and could be stronger prose style.
The "it" is a pronoun with a vague or nonexistent antecedent subject. Use of pronouns as sentence subjects without a clear or definite antecedent subject is a sentence expletive. Expletives are useful for stream of consciousness thoughts and speech; however, other stronger and clearer options should as a best practice be considered.
If "it" is left out, the sentence's meaning and intent doesn't change, for example.
Likewise "bad enough" has idiomatic qualities suitable for thought and speech; however, the emotional strength and clarity are lackluster from the generic, everyday contemporary nature of the idiomatic expression. The expression works for conversation in the flesh because nonverbal, nonvocal cues and gestures provide the expression's intent, meaning, and emotional value of "bad enogh."
Likewise "dirty streets," which are dirty from what? Grime, grit, sludge, paper or straw trash, volcanic ash, sand, earth, loam, peat, fireplace soot, etc.?
"At dusk" is a significant time marker for "telling" a definite time, though easily missed among the sentence's idea clutter. Dusk is a liminal time, this one a transition time between daytime and nighttime. Liminal motifs are strong items for foreshadowing if they are emphasized and not jammed in among cluttered ideas.
"Without the additional noise" switches from the informal "thought" voice of the earlier and main sentence clause to a formal voice sophistication, switches midsentence to neutral narrator voice. A diction choice of a stronger emotional attitude yet nonetheless informal I think is warranted. The clause is restrictive; therefore, unseparated by a comma or other punctuation. A discretionary dash would artfully signal the change in voice from clause to clause. "Additional" remains problematic though.
To stay or keep in touch with John's internal and internal to the scene viewpoint, an emotionally stronger and more specific adjective is indicated instead of "additional." Or the sentence recast such that the main idea is clearer and stronger and suitably emphasized.
"Especially since that unkempt man had been stalking him since he left the market."
That sentence backtracks the chronological time. Doubling back this early in a narrative signals a start at different, perhaps earlier, now moment is warranted. If John notices the man follows him, the moment he notices is the ideal time to start from.
"Unkempt," likewise a change to formal language and itself a generic term.
"The market," likewise a generic term and as well an anachrony moment. The scene could, for example, open in the market, the east wind rise, Demon Hole's wails begin, and marketplace vendors and shoppers scurry for shelter. Then John notices the unkempt man skulking along after him.
The last paragraph exhibits similar narrator "tells" and generic action and lackluster emotional strength and clarity.
"Ducked" tells an action external to John, for example.
"Bypassed" is sophisticated diction.
"A heap of trash" blunts its emotional texture. //A trash heap// is stronger and clearer and more informal diction. "Of" often is used to avoid a possessive noun's apostrophe. A test for whether "of" is necessary or persuasive is whether a recast phrase without it changes the meaning. //A trash's heap// for example.
"flattened himself" evokes an image of a literal flattening of his body and likewise is a narrator tell.
As is, the sentence rushes through and crams, again, several main ideas together. The three events are sequential and intended to be shown as happened in quick succession. However, without emotional texture the sentence jumps abruptly through the action.
Several features create a degree of interest and start the dramatic action, though the rushed and crammed action loses them among clutter.
Demon Hole, the setting and milieu, the stalker, and where John goes are curiosity arousing features. However, I have little emotional caring -- empathy or sympathy -- for John. I don't know what he wants -- first and foremost --only that he's mildly, if at all, troubled or emotionally upset by Demon Hole and the stalker. I would not read on due to the above matters that do not work for me and, frankly, actually disturb my reading, like multiple speed bumps in a shopping center's lanes.
quote:When the wind was from the east, John could hear the shrieks all the way from the Demon Hole.
This is a nice sentence, and it does immediately make the reader wonder about the demon hole. But it doesn't quite work here for me. It puts distance between the reader and character because it is not immediate. It isn't telling the reader about what is happening right at that moment in the story.
My suggestion is to start with the present. I'm going to just rearrange your words. Let me know if you have a problem with that.
quote:The demon shrieks echoed through the streets and rattled in the alleys.
After that I think you should get a little deeper in his POV. Do the demon shrieks startle him or freak him out? Is he used to it, like we are with honking car horns. I feel like you are trying to get the story moving, I think it would be a stronger beginning if you kept with the demon hole for a little longer. How your main character responds the demon shrieks is a great opportunity for characterization.