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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » Through the Stones, Chapter 1 "Night Secrets"

   
Author Topic: Through the Stones, Chapter 1 "Night Secrets"
dmsimone
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Historical fantasy, 85,000 words. Entire book is written and I went through 2-3 drafts. Took ~2 years of on and off research and planning, 1 year 8 months to write all drafts. The first 13 lines of Chapter 1 are below. Please provide feedback on these 13 lines. Thank you in advance!

Ocean voyages were treacherous. Pippa's father traveled far and traveled often, and the goodbyes were always sad. No one likes goodbyes. There are hugs, kisses, and the hope for safe travels, but mostly there are wishes for a speedy return.
Pippa's father, Bjorn, was an enormous man with wild red hair and a beard which was braided in some places but otherwise completely covered his face. His twin brother, Pippa's Uncle Edvard, had the same fiery hair but he shaved away everything on the right side of his head to reveal a swirly blue tattoo on his scalp; it was the only way to tell them apart. When the twins were babies, they were so mighty that they had together fought and beheaded a fire-breathing serpent. Bjorn and Edvard were born in harsh lands across the Great Eastern Sea - the place

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Denevius
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I can't help but wonder why you chose a passive voice to open your novel with. As well as a lot of backstory. But then, I don't typically read historical fantasy, and as I think of it now, I'm unsure what you mean by it. Alternate history in the mode of WATCHMEN?

There are some good lines here, however. The last two in paragraph one briefly sucked me into he narrative. The first sentence of the second paragraph created a confusing image, though. How is his beard braided in some places but otherwise completely covers his face?

Also, in these opening two paragraphs, you introduce a lot of characters as well as an imagined location. That's a bit much and makes it hard to really anchor myself in the opening.

From this opening, I can't say I would read further. But then, as I don't read historical fiction, I can't say any novel within that genre I would read further. So, my opinion here has to be taken with a liberal grain of salt since this isn't a genre I'm into.

Anywho, if you're looking for readers for a couple of chapters, I'll swap fiction with you. Say, 10,000 words or less.

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Disgruntled Peony
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I'm a big fan of historical fantasy, so I may be a bit biased here, but I'll do my best to be objective.

Your prose is skillfull overall. There are some minor awkwardnesses. For example, you might want to say 'covered the lower half of his face' or some such instead of 'completely covered his face'. On the other hand, I get what you're trying for with that description. When my husband's beard grows out, it's massive.

I don't get a strong idea of who Pippa is in this fragment (aside from, likely, a child). I do, however, get a decent sense of the setting. To me, the only thing this fragment seems to be missing is how Pippa feels about these things. A more personalized emotional reaction to the goodbyes would really bring this up to the next level.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by dmsimone:
Historical fantasy, 85,000 words. Entire book is written and I went through 2-3 drafts. Took ~2 years of on and off research and planning, 1 year 8 months to write all drafts. The first 13 lines of Chapter 1 are below. Please provide feedback on these 13 lines. Thank you in advance!

Ocean voyages were treacherous. Pippa's father traveled far and traveled often, and the goodbyes were always sad. No one likes goodbyes. There are hugs, kisses, and the hope for safe travels, but mostly there are wishes for a speedy return.
Pippa's father, Bjorn, was an enormous man with wild red hair and a beard which was braided in some places but otherwise completely covered his face. His twin brother, Pippa's Uncle Edvard, had the same fiery hair but he shaved away everything on the right side of his head to reveal a swirly blue tattoo on his scalp; it was the only way to tell them apart. When the twins were babies, they were so mighty that they had together fought and beheaded a fire-breathing serpent. Bjorn and Edvard were born in harsh lands across the Great Eastern Sea - the place

This sounds interesting (and I have written one historical fantasy).
Is Pippa the main character? Then yes, more showing her emotions. Don't tell me she's sad. Show me she's fighting back tears, or clinging to her father with his massive beard scratching her cheek. The closer we (as readers) can get to the main character right here at the beginning, the more we'll be hooked and want to read on.
Maybe include the bit about how mighty her father and his twin are as an internal thought Pippa uses to reassure herself that they'll be all right, so it flows more as belonging with the current action.
I'm not sure you really need the description of Uncle Edvard right here. In general, the fewer named characters right at the beginning, the easier it is for the readers to get oriented and anchored in the story world.

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extrinsic
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An individual reflects upon her ancestry's legends and a pendent separation.

The writing mechanics are polished to an above average degree. The story craft aesthetics are about par for a first novel foray by a challenged writer that is shy of a first appeal mark.

The fragment entails backstory instead of story movement, little to no emotional disequilibrium development, and little clear introduction of what the novel is really about. Three related features entail all three dramatic developments; that is, motivations and stakes and forces in diametric opposition -- complication's wants and problems motivations and conflict's forces and stakes in opposition.

No clue or cue of the above given in the fragment. One of thirteen lines' more essential intents is to engage readers' interest in that brief word-count real estate by cues and clues of what a narrative is about on congruent levels of concrete and abstract actions: concrete, tangible forces, motivations, and stakes contests; and abstract, intangible emotional-moral force contests. This fragment doesn't work in those senses for me.

One possible, two, really, and confused, sentences of the fragment contain possible considerations for how to accomplish the above: "Ocean voyages were treacherous." and "No one likes goodbyes." Those two are maxims, proverb-like sayings, that at least express what the scene's immediate dramatic action is about. In quick succession, though, they defuse each other's strength, clarity, and relevance to the action at hand.

Both are somewhat short-term for a novel's length, though they offer a bridge complication-conflict for the moment, until the main complication-conflict arises. The second one, "No one likes goodbyes." is the more potent one due to its greater immediacy. If that is the intent of the fragment's action, that then is the focus of best practice and effect for the fragment's development.

However, the negation statement is contraindicated; a positive indicative mood statement is usually stronger, clearer, more fluent, and appealing. "Parting is such sweet sorrow" (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet), for example. //Goodbyes are so bittersweet a blessed curse.// Or some such, such that the saying expresses the action of the scene's moment in close to a viewpoint character's stream-of-consciousness voice, estranges narrator voice, and introduces what the dramatic action of the immediate-now moment intends.

In any case, Pippa reflects in isolation alone and apart from the setting. Engaging dramatic action contends with external influences, and internal as well. Either and both are far more engaging in concert. In other words, shown more than told. The external influence developments -- vague and distant touch upon tangibles, nondefinitive time, place, and situation (setting) -- are short of best practice effect for an engaging fragment start.

Like what does Pippa personally want and newly this moment in the immediate here and now of whatever place this action transpires that is prevented from realization? That single feature, if realized, does most, if not all, of a start's heavy lifting functions.

The standout strength for me, that works for me, is implications Pippa is about to be ripped from the anchor of family, suggested by the proverbial line "No one likes goodbyes." Albeit problematic for me.

I would not read on due in the main to an expectation the whole wanders adrift as much as the start.

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dmsimone
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There is nothing so satisfying as getting the kids to bed and logging in to read some excellent feedback.

This is amazing input! I am very appreciative. Funny how so many comments and suggestions are now so obvious...I wonder how I did not notice before. Maybe because I've been staring at it for too long? This is great stuff for me to chew on and make the opening stronger. Also, so much of it is applicable to the entire work.

I read the first thirteen lines of a bunch of books on my bookshelf: Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Ender's Game, Mists of Avalon (my absolute fav), Harry Potter (incidentally, Sorcerer's Stone breaks all the rules stated above and in this forum...makes you wonder)...you can tell which grab and which do not.

Denevius - Will totally swap chapters with you. I'm always looking for something new to read.

Disgruntled Pony - Yup, you are totally right.

Meredith - I recently gave the same feedback to someone else. It's so hard to critique ones own work. Thanks.

Extrinsic - You wrote a thesis and are so astute! I don't know if I should be intimidated, humbled, or ?? Thank you very much for taking the time.

The story takes place in 880 AD Britain/Scotland (at least, what Britain and Scotland looked like back then) but is fantasy with magical elements. It is also intended for a somewhat younger audience, i.e. middle schoolers. Pippa is indeed a child, and is 6 at the start. The emotional reaction to the goodbyes happens later in the chapter when they do in fact say goodbye (sort of) so at least you picked up on that in the first 13.

Thanks again!

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extrinsic
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The comments above reflect challenged writers' struggles: challenges all writers struggle to overcome. We see their challenges-met somewhat awkwardly as shortfalls more easily in others' work than our own -- part of the workshop paradigm -- and we struggle to unravel in the works we admire and struggle to incorporate in our writing.

The start of the Potter saga, for example, meets the challenges of starts through the same ones of Hatracks's thirteen lines. A distinction there is how that start differs from the general principles that span all starts. Not rules, nor codes, certainly not laws, more general guidelines, really. The Potter saga start opens with a narrator voice, and narrative point of view introduction that immediately estranges narrator voice in favor of a Dursley family voice and transitions into a close reality imitation mode. The inert, covert narrator voice never far from need and seamlessly transitioned into and out of as circumstances indicate.

A camera analogy serves to illustrate the distinctive method of the saga: The camera recorder is a roving spy eye that lights what foremost matters at any given moment, the narrator an invisible attitude-less bystander who speaks subtly though is unseen, ever. The narrative, in other words, is prepackaged for easy film adaptation, few, if any, internal life discourses, few thoughts, few dreams, and all timely when they transpire. Most of the dramatic action is external discourse: speech, action, description, narration, emotion, sensation, explanation, and more, depicted from viewpoint persona perceptions, keeps closest in touch to the Potter boy, and to as little as practical a narrator persona's perceptions.

The first lines illustrate:
"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were _perfectly_ normal, _thank you very much_. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, _because they just didn't hold with such nonsense_."

Narrator explanation though estranged by interjection-like emotional expression, the parts above bracketed by underscores that are patently a Dursley family voice. The second sentence foreshadows the whole; that is, things strange and mysterious and other than perfectly normal and with which Dursleys do not hold. Intensive case "such" modifies "nonsense" and the negation statement signals an irony, negation statements' prose strength. The net effect of the start is an emotionally charged, engaging social commentary, a moral commentary: This that follows will be a strange and mysterious, vivid and lively moral values contest satire.

Nor does that narrator introduction dwell long, not past those two sentences, before seamless transition into in-scene action, though of a prelude's introduction nature. The start prelude wraps up when Hagrid arrives at the tower to bring eleven-year-old Potter to Hogwarts.

The point above is that though different from the more presently common in medias res action start, this starts with narrative point of view, at the start of the action, and with narrator introduction that signals this is invisibly narrated only when necessary. The method could be labeled cinematic. This method can be reconciled in a broader brush stroke of common narrative essentials, and starts, only distinguished as one narrow narrative type identifiable by methods unique to prose as a cinematic interpretation and depiction-like form through written word.

[ May 07, 2016, 02:00 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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walexander
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And Rowling was rejected by twelve publishers for harry potter before Bloomsbury took her. Lucky number 13.
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Grumpy old guy
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I am not at all certain what age range a 'middle schooler' is but I'm pretty certain I am beyond it. Thus my opinions may not be relevant.

I would not read beyond the first sentence. This is not because the story opens with a narrator; a lot do. My main problem is my perception of the narrative distance. For me these thirteen lines read like a narrator relating a tale of long ago to his audience as they sit around the camp fire; I am not 'there'. I can't smell or taste the salt on the air, I can't hear the creaking of the boat's stays, nor the lapping of the waves against the jetty's pilings. This 'distance' is first telegraphed by the use of the word were in that opening sentence.

My next issue is the opening paragraph; it reads like a cheap platitude. To me it looks like the writer is trying to appear profound; but that could just be me--I am after all old and cynical. However, deleting that first paragraph leaves me, as the reader, nowhere; I would not know this story had anything to do with the sea or travelling--if indeed it does.

As an opening, I feel this fails to launch the story, any story. All I have is a vague and confusing description of two twin brothers and what appears to be an apocryphal tale of them killing a fire breathing serpent.

Phil.

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dmsimone
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Grumpy old guy - I hear you loud and clear! I also don't think I have the ability to write anything profound [Smile] For the age range, think 11-13 years old. Here's an attempt at a re-write. I hope it's a little better:

Pippa’s father patrolled the surrounding countryside with a spear and a sword. He was searching for something, but didn’t hunt. And he spoke in whispers with the other grown-ups, all of them thinking the children didn’t notice. Bjorn should have been readying his ship and meeting with his crew, but he did neither of those things.

Pippa found him in a nearby grove, studying the sky and squinting through thick, gray clouds. He smiled when he noticed her. "Is it already time for supper?"

“Yes. What are you looking for, anyway?”

Bjorn knelt to hug his daughter, enclosing her with gargantuan arms. His wild red hair and crazy, braided beard were itchy against her neck. Pippa thought he smelled like pine needles.

“I have a present for you. I've been holding on to it for a while

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Grumpy old guy
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Anyone can write profound prose, just NOT on demand. It usually comes unbidden in the dead of night or the darkest hours before dawn.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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The second version feels like the narrative distance has gotten a bit closer, to me. There's some awkwardness here that wasn't present in the previous draft, which indicates to me that this version has probably received less polish (not a bad thing, just an observation). I do like it better overall; it gives a stronger focus on Bjorn, so I have a stronger sense of his character. Essentially, from a reader's perspective I have someone to focus on.

Potential thoughts for improvement (all to be taken with a grain of salt, as this is your story, not mine):

If you move the last sentence of paragraph one to the beginning of the paragraph, it might do a better job of framing the opening.

You call Bjorn "Pippa's father" and then, later, "Bjorn" with no context. I got confused for a second because I thought they were two separate characters. My recommendation to fix this is that the first time you introduce him, you say "Pippa's father, Bjorn" instead. That clarifies on the name and who he is in such a way that you can use either description of him from then on without confusion.

Pippa's line of dialogue, "What are you looking for, anyway?" sounds a bit modern to me. I think it's the use of 'anyway'.

Another note, although minor, is that you probably don't need to include 'Pippa thought' in the last sentence of paragraph four. The sentence would read better without it, in my opinion. When I'm editing my own work, I tend to cut '[character] thought'/'[character] said' bits out of my prose whenever possible because I feel like they impede the flow of the narrative.

[ May 08, 2016, 09:23 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:

You call Bjorn "Pippa's father" and then, later, "Bjorn" with no context. I got confused for a second because I thought they were two separate characters. My recommendation to fix this is that the first time you introduce him, you say "Pippa's father, Bjorn" instead. That clarifies on the name and who he is in such a way that you can use either description of him from then on without confusion.

Alternatively, I always refer to characters as my point-of-view character would think of them. If someone has a nickname, or relationship, especially one that only certain characters would use, I'd probably use that. So, for instance, in the DUAL MAGICS series, my main character's stepfather's name is Danar. But, when the main character has the point of view, I always refer to Danar as Pa.
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dmsimone
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Wow - you guys are fast!

Yes, its completely unpolished because I just wrote it but if it's moving in a better direction than the original then I'll stick with it. Agree with what everyone said about the POV. Now that I'm reading it this morning I can see that.

Thank you!
Danielle

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extrinsic
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The new version is closer narrative distance -- closer to Pippa's sensory perceptions and thoughts and voice. The narrator's voice is still prominent though and could be estranged more through deeper immersion into Pippa's being here in the immediate now moment.

The first sentence, for example, "Pippa’s father patrolled the surrounding countryside with a spear and a sword." How does a six-year-old reflect this event to herself such that the third-person narrator report immerses into Pippa's being?

"Pippa's father," "patrolled," and "surrounding countryside" don't suit such a voice. The voice need not be baby talk, only couched in a savvy six-year-old's voice. Curiously, personal pronouns, like her, fused to affectionate names, like Da, estrange narrator in third person. //Her Da//. Not Her dad or Her father; and capital case the pet (endearment) name as a proper noun.

Instead of "patrolled," for example, something to the effect of soldiered, or stomped, something within a savvy six-year-old's playtime or family time vocabulary, perhaps a precocious vocabulary too. Consider where and from whom she develops her vocabulary. Did a playmate teach her the word? Or did Mater ask Pippa not to tromp dust on the lodge's dirt floor? Or did a storyteller (seanchaí) teach her vocabulary terms?

Similar consideration for "surrounding countryside," though another consideration. Does Pippa see, in the long and vague span of time a surrounding countryside patrol entails, Da tromp its far and wide circuit? Or is the detail one she presumes, hears thirdhand, or knows from a past experience? Otherwise, does she see Da on his circuit at one snapshot moment of time and projects the rest?

The object phrase "with a spear and sword" at the sentence end defuses the little intensity the sentence contains. An opening sentence ideally escalates intensity from start to end.

For demonstration purposes: //Her Da held a spear and sword and tromped the boat yard's tall grass.//

Two other sentences selected for illustration: "'Yes. What are you looking for, anyway?'" The historical era's language avoided object-preposition separation: dangled preposition "for" apart from object "what." That's a recent everyday conversation idiom. "anyway" is an adverb use and is dangled apart from its verb's emotional modification, likewise a modern idiom, unconventional for the era. //"Yes. For what [anyway] do you look?"//

"Pippa thought he smelled like pine needles." "thought" and "like" are problematic hedging: He does smell of pine needles. What, his clothes? His body? //Pine needle smells scented his coat.//

I could explicate ordinary folk dialect from the era's milieu, though that would be of little utility. Many contemporary readers couldn't or wouldn't want to long follow it. The second sentence above, for example: //Yea, Da. You what seek?"//

This is enough mischief for now. The second version is much stronger and clearer, more artful, Pippa reality imitation. Immersion.

[ May 09, 2016, 01:02 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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dmsimone
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This is outstanding advice. I applied all of the feedback everyone provided to the entire first chapter, and it is now much richer. I need to pay special attention to the narrative voice throughout. What an incredible difference it makes!

Extrinsic, interesting that you comment on the languages of the era. The British Isles in that time period was divided into separate peoples and clans, each with their own Kings and Chiefs. The languages were equally diverse: Celtic, Ango-Saxon, Welsh, Cornish, the dying Pictish speech...plus all of the Nordic influences. My main characters would technically speak Old Norse with a smattering of Anglo-Saxon. The English language we are familiar with - even the Old English of the middle ages - did not yet exist. Speculating on every day vernacular is doubly tricky because very little was written. Most of the populace was illiterate, and the dominant alphabet of the time was Futhark, which was comprised of 36 unique runic symbols. Latin would spread later with the emergence of Christianity.

Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth is placed a few hundred years after my setting. I don't recall any attempts to explain or incorporate the various languages of the day, and although the character dialogue avoided modern inflections it was readable and relatable, infused with Follet's own humor (occasionally). I think trying to simulate the era's speech would be very challenging and possibly frustrate the reader, and in this case my target audience is a younger group.

Another thing Follet did really well was show that the things that drive human nature - love, jealousy, hatred - persist throughout the ages. That comes across in the dialogue without being mired in the details of the era's language usage.

Thank you again!

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extrinsic
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Proto- and indo-languages can be and are knowable. I pieced together a syntax common to late to post-neolithic, early metal age into iron age cultures from a number of sources -- lingo-genetics, for instance.

A common feature across indo-languages is the absence of many connective words, conjunctions, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, particles and articles and inflections modern languages entail. No punctuation use at the time, though. Conceded they are tedious to read.

The syntax is simplified to a fault: subject-person of highest rank first, sentence subject person second, other sentence subject third, verb fourth, rarely, sentence object phrase, rarer still, subject, predicate, and object compliments and complex and compound sentences, no loose or periodic sentences.

The diction is milieu context sensitive and simple one or two syllable words mostly; otherwise, for era-suited fiction, a language's vocabulary is irrelevant. Simple Modern English suffices instead.

I, you come. I, you lance give. You food give. You water give. You go.

[ May 10, 2016, 03:46 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
Most of the populace was illiterate, and the dominant alphabet of the time was Futhark, which was comprised of 36 unique runic symbols. Latin would spread later with the emergence of Christianity.
Yes. most of the populace of what is now called the British Isles were illiterate. No, the runic alphabet was replaced about this time by a minuscule Latin one. This site may give more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_English_Latin_alphabet. Note: It may take some hunting, the link doesn't take you to the page directly despite that being the web address of the actual page.

No one knows what Old English actually sounded like when spoken; there is only one surviving text that might give insight into grammar and syntax--if it wasn't a religious translation of Latin, which renders it useless. The closest we can get to it is the Middle English of the time of Chaucer.

Just what part of the islands is this story set in?

Phil.

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dmsimone
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Oh dear, I am now checking this forum at work. I am glad we don't have a mobile app...

Phil/Grumpy Old Guy (which do you prefer?) and Extrinsic...yes, Latin was emerging around this time, probably thanks to the monks, but I think it is really hard for historians to pinpoint it accurately. I think 700-1000 is the accepted range of inflection? The study of languages and alphabets is fascinating, don't you think? I researched a lot of this before I started writing this book. In a later chapter, two of my characters have a brief discussion on this topic.

The first two chapters take place near Jorvik (now York) and then relocate to a fictitious island in the Hebrides, not far from Mann. They travel via magical means...this is a fantasy after all!

I also love this era. Yes, living conditions were brutal, life expectancy was low, and the most dangerous thing a woman could do was give birth...but there are many possibilities for good fiction.

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InarticulateBabbler
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Okay, so I tried not to read the other critiques. It is more valuable--IMO--to give you my thoughts and let you see if they second another critiquer's or go my own way.

My take:
quote:
Ocean voyages were treacherous. [Pippa's father<--in Pippa's PoV, this would be the name by which she calls him: Pappa. Father, Daddy, Pops, Da, Fa, etc.] traveled far and [traveled<--IMO, cut this. "traveled far and often" is concise and it's not talking down to your audience.] often, and the goodbyes were always sad. No one likes goodbyes. There are hugs, kisses, and the hope for safe travels, but mostly there are wishes for a speedy return.

Pippa's father, Bjorn, was an enormous man with wild red hair and a beard which was braided in some places but otherwise completely covered his face. His twin brother, [Pippa's<--IMHO, cut this. She's only going to call him by this-->Uncle Edvard], had the same fiery hair but he shaved away everything on the right side of his head to reveal a swirly blue tattoo on his scalp; it was the only way to tell them apart. [When the twins were babies, they were so mighty that they had together fought and beheaded a fire-breathing serpent. Bjorn and Edvard were born in harsh lands across the Great Eastern Sea - the place<--Backstory. Also, it's info-dump-ish, so it doesn't feel like the story is progressing. For me, I'm not sure why Pippa's mentioned, but not the PoV, nor why the story is going backward before there is any hook to move it forward.]

Second version:
quote:
[Pippa’s father<--Same problem here. This isn't what she/he calls him.] patrolled the surrounding countryside with a spear and a sword. He [was searching<--Why not use the stronger verb: He searched for something. . . ?] for something, [but didn’t hunt<--I think this could be clearer rearranged a little, such as: "He wasn't hunting, but searching for [don't withhold what he's hunting for, especially if it's important.]. And he spoke in whispers with the other grown-ups, [all of them<--IMHO: cut this. it's extraneous.] thinking the children didn’t notice. [Bjorn<--Your mentions of Pippa, make me think this story will follow her, so this isn't what she'd think of him as. (I'm guessing Pippa's a girl, sounds like it.)] should have been readying his ship and meeting with his crew, but he did neither of those things.<--[This is the second time I'm thinking about Hemingway's advice not to write a negative: You're telling me what he's not doing, while all of the time avoiding telling me what he is. Not a good way to hook me.]

Pippa found him in a nearby grove, studying the sky and squinting through thick, gray clouds. He smiled when he noticed her. "Is it already time for supper?" [This starts in Pippa's head and then hops to Bjorn's.]

“Yes. What are you looking for, anyway?”

Bjorn knelt to hug his daughter, enclosing her with gargantuan arms. His wild red hair and crazy, [braided beard were itchy against her neck. Pippa thought he smelled like pine needles.<--Nice inclusion of sensory detail through PoV!]

“I have a present for you. I've been holding on to it for a while

I know the age group you are trying to write to, but they comprehend far more than you give them credit for. Don't write down to them, just avoid the $1 words when a $.25 word will do the trick.

I hope this helps.

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Erik Giles
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I enjoy the imagery and the 'promises' of adventure implied in this opening.

If the rest of the work is similar, at this stage it seems you've got the content, now all you need is to tighten it up. Prose could be more precise and compact, and that comes with the polishing phase as you said you hadn't done yet.

Example - if the twin is Bjorn's brother, we already know he's Pippa's uncle, thus this could be edited out. Someone wrote (I forget who) 'If I'd had more time I would have written a shorter letter'. With this promising content you will get there.

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Grumpy old guy
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While the narrative distance has been closed, this opening feels unfocused to me. We begin with a narrator describing the scene; almost disinterestedly. We then move into Pippa's viewpoint and what I might consider an appropriate opening--except for the abrupt viewpoint switch to Bjorn. But perhaps that's just me.

There are lots of different ideas about how to best start a story. For me, the first thing is to identify what the story is really about and to then find the 'right' place to start. Once that is found I consider it best practice to firmly set in the minds of the reader who the viewpoint character is. In the case of your story I would imagine that is Pippa.

In setting up the viewpoint character at the start I also have to consider what information the reader will need to understand almost immediately where we are and what is going on. By this I don't mean that you need to set the plot in motion right away but rather that you need to show the reader who Pippa is, where she is (setting up character and milieu), and what she's doing right now--why she is out in the wilds looking for her father.

Finally, while not being an expert in the likes and dislikes of middle school readers, but being aware of the world we live in, I imagine that as readers they would prefer a more immediate and immersive opening to a story rather that the dry words of some disembodied narrator.

Hope some of this waffle is useful.

Phil.

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NORWEGIAN
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I thought the revised draft was significantly better. The first version didn't capture my interest whereas the second piqued my curiosity.

In the revised draft where you wrote that Pippa's father was patrolling with spear and sword, my immediate reaction was that he was looking for some enemy trying to sneak up on them. Was that your intention? When you said, "He was searching for something, but didn't hunt," I wasn't clear what you were getting at. Did that mean the patrol was a cover to permit him to search for something that had a different purpose than the patrol? By not hunting, did that mean the search wasn't really a serious one?

You could reframe this by by focusing on Pippa's interpretations, perhaps something like: "Pippa heard her father and the other adults whispering so the children couldn't understand. She wondered what they were hiding. She saw her father took a sword and spear on his patrol, which was unusual. Why was that? Was he afraid of something? What did the adults know that they were refusing to share with the children?"

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dmsimone
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Thank you Norwegian for your input. I actually completely scrapped chapter 1 and rewrote it...I think for the 4th time.
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