I've been writing, still not quite sure the best place to begin this story. I find difficulties when going for an action/adventure opening, I enjoy description too much. So, bearing that in mind, what does the Hatrack Hive Mind think?
Chapter One -- The Cymru Forest Pine and juniper perfumed the gorge where resinous limbs rotted in haphazard disarray. High ridges rose to the west, with other ranges rising beyond that one. The immense spine of the world lay bare as rock and earth jutted high above all life, leaving the cordillera exposed to the midsummer sun which was so often clothed by snow and ice.
Foxchild sniffed the trail he followed, faint where the creature had brushed against leaf or branch, faint but unmistakable. He laid his hand on his sword, the hackles on his neck rising as he felt eyes following him. He’d found more than enough to keep his days busy, and one of those things was the healing of the ancient and ailing Cymru forest. He’d never smelled this scent before, a mixture of soft roses and something earthy, bestial and dangerous.
Part of what I see as a problem is that you're thinking visually in a medium that doesn't reproduce vision, leading you to begin, as the narrator, talking about things the protagonist can-not-see.
Remember, that character is on the ground, within the forest, and while he may know what lies a few miles away, it's both invisible and irrelevant to him. And fair is fair. It's his story, not yours. So why not let him stand center-stage, living the story as we watch? Why not focus on what matters to him in the moment he calls now? If he has reason to study the landscape, mention what he's focused on—and why. But even then, bear in mind that if he's seen it before, and isn't either moved by the view or using what he sees as part of his decision-mking, mentioning what could be seen by someone who's sightseeing serves only to slow the narrative.
Why it matters so much, is that our medium is inherently slow. To make the reader "see" the scene will take the traditional thousand words, which takes significant time to read. And in the words of Jack Bickham, “To describe something in detail, you have to stop the action. But without the action, the description has no meaning.”
More to the point is this advice from James Schmitz: “Don’t inflict the reader with irrelevant background material—get on with the story.”
Your actual story begins in paragraph two, but that could use a bit of squishing and refocusing to take out the fat and place it more into the protagonist's viewpoint:
quote:Foxchild sniffed the trail he followed, faint where the creature had brushed against leaf or branch, faint but unmistakable.
In this, you, the narrator, are explaining what can be as easily be presented as something he's observing in his moment of now. Is telling the reader that he's following a trail necessary If he sniffs, then reaches a conclusion that implies that he's tracking someone? This is a great place for the reader to learn who or what he's following—as he sees it—and do so naturally, in his viewpoint, rather than second hand, from a narrator who's standing between reader and protagonist, blocking their view of the action.
As a minor point, a hound tracking quarry doesn't depend on the quarry brushing a leaf or branch to catch a scent. While that might intensify it, some readers might question this point, as I just did, so why be specific when a sniff says the quarry went that way, and the intensity says how close he is?
quote: He laid his hand on his sword, the hackles on his neck rising as he felt eyes following him.
He can literally tell when someone is looking at him? How does he know it's not a bird, or some small animal? And if he knows it's happening that specifically, why doesn't he know where the watcher is? One of the problems of telling a story from the outside in is that you miss something like this. Had you been in his viewpoint, it would have been apparent.
In short, I have a really hard time buying this without knowing a lot more about him, the situation, and his abilities—which would means this opens in the wrong place. Moreover, given that he doesn't know who or what is watching, why is he worried? How can a scent we've never encountered be dangerous if we don't see a connection to something known, that is?
quote:He’d found more than enough to keep his days busy, and one of those things was the healing of the ancient and ailing Cymru forest.
This needs to be axed. We have an unknown being, Foxchild, who apparently lives in a modern Earth forest, but who appears to be nonhuman, tracking a being we know nothing about.
So there we are, in the middle of the forest, with this unknown being, when with no warning, you step onstage, stop the action, and change the subject to backstory. How can a reader, who's been placed into the action, see this as anything but an annoyance? You're telling them something they don't need at the moment, that they've not been made to want. In short, to Quote Sol Stein, “In sum, if you want to improve your chances of publication, keep your story visible on stage and yourself mum.”
quote: He’d never smelled this scent before, a mixture of soft roses and something earthy, bestial and dangerous.
Instead of stopping the action to explain, start the story where the story begins, when he notices the scene, classifies it, and decides to follow it. That would place the reader into the action, as him, and give that reader a reason to want to know more. Make them know the scene as he knows it. Make them care. If you explain what happened there's as much excitement as a history book or a chronicle of events. But if you make them live the scene as him with his concerns, needs, and imperatives, the future becomes uncertain, and therefore, interesting. Then, the reader has been given reason to want (or better yet, need) to know what happens next. Without that, why turn the page?
As an example, here's an alternate way of presenting an opening: - - - - - Foxchild stopped as the game trail he'd been following intersected another, frowning as the odd scent that had been teasing his nostrils for the past few hours reappeared: roses mixed with a bestial tang that brought the fur of his hackles up and sent his hand reaching for the hilt of his sword. Whatever it was, it resembled nothing he'd met before. Could whatever it was be related to the problem he was trying to solve? That possibility, combined with both curiosity and concern brought a nod of acceptance. Studying the ailing forest could wait.
That decided, he... - - - - -
Great writing? No, nor is it your story, just a parallel situation to illustrate another way of presenting the story.
Notice that while the narrator is present, it's in service of him, not as the central character. What's mentioned is what matters to him in his moment of now, presented as he perceives it.
We begin with an inciting incident, one that changes the direction of his day. He notices a scent. And as part of noticing, we learn that he's been wondering about it for some time. We learn that he's upset by it, that he's armed with a sword, that he's studying the forest, and that the forest is ailing. But not a word of that came from an all knowing narrator, delivered as a report. Instead, it's that matters to him, for reasons the reader is aware of.
In other words, I made implication, plus his perceptions and decisions, allow the reader to notice what's going on as-he-does.
The big change? Instead of being reported to the reader, they're placed into his viewpoint, focused on what matters to him. So, like him, they'll be wondering what's going on.
The key to holding a reader's attention is to make them feel as if they're living the story, instead of hearing about it.
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I knew Jay wouldn't like starting with description. I don't like it either, because I am no fan of description, it's hard for me to imagine and usually not worth it. (How can they see ridges if they are in a gorge?). But that's just me. Grumpy hasn't weighed in yet, but I think he likes a start of setting.
Jay also noticed two things I noticed. It solves POV problems to say that the main character somehow knew something he can't know, but both Jay and I responded to the contradiction of that. (Maybe: The creature probably wasn't nearby, but he couldn't be sure. I think that's a dog-whistle to the reader that the creature might be nearby.)
And, oddly, enough, we both wanted the story to start with that scent. Not the pines the bestial smell. Not sure why, but it seems like the logical order.
The smell of soft roses [pines?] mixed with something earthy, bestial and dangerous.
Story-wise I keep reading. These seem like fairly standard pieces (healing the forest, something evil), but they're good pieces. Nice how you managed to get them out quickly.
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quote:And, oddly, enough, we both wanted the story to start with that scent.
Not odd at all. It's the inciting incident. He was a researcher. Now, for reasons we're fully aware of, and approve of, he's become a hunter. But the event also sets up that while he's carrying a sword, he may not be as professional in its use as a trained soldier.
So in a single paragraph we know who we are, where we are, what's going on, and, tension has begun inching upward. The reader is oriented, has been placed in the protagonist's present, and, given a reason to want to know what happens next.
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As a reader I am not engaged with the fragment as submitted. The first paragraph is a piece of pretty, prosaic, pastoral prose which tells me nothing about the story; where it’s is, when it is or what it’s about. It doesn’t even seem to have any relationship to the character, Foxchild. There is nothing to link the description of gorges, rotted resinous limbs (of trees, I assume) or the immense spine of the world (whatever that is) to the forest he is in. But I suspect you know this already.
quote:Originally Posted by Silkienne Dvora: I find difficulties when going for an action/adventure opening, I enjoy description too much.
This prompts me to ask this question: Who are you writing this story for, yourself or the readers? Given what you’ve said, it appears you are writing for yourself.
Which is fine, as far as that sort of thing goes. However most writers with something, or even nothing, to say want other people to read their stories. And, here’s the thing: if readers don’t like what they’re reading, they’ll stop and move on to someone else; never to return. Such a reaction happens almost instantly.
Writers who want to be read must learn to know what readers want and then give it to them--in bucket loads. It’s not about what you like, it’s not about the difficulties you have with action/adventure starts (though why that should be I have no idea--actually I do, I just don’t understand why people automatically assume such a start needs a James Bond blockbuster opening), it’s about engaging the reader’s interest; grabbing hold of their tiny little imaginations and giving them a hefty dose of wonder and excitement, with perhaps a dash of curiosity.
If you are looking for a place to start then I see absolutely nothing wrong with the second paragraph. But it needs lots of work.
I hope some of this drivel is useful.
P.S. I do prefer stories to open with some kind of setting which fixes the character/action to a place, time, and context. Most published novels do open like this. All it takes is a sentence or two in some cases.