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sfxfantasy
February 13th, 2006, 09:28 PM
Hi,
I'm new to writing and have been rewriting my books over and over again, trying to get it right.

Does this work as the opening for my first book?

-----------------------
Heart racing, lungs about to burst, an athletic young woman clothed in a long, intricate white gown fled for her life. Sarah dared not look back. Her merciless captors were after her. Pursuing her relentlessly.

She strained her eyes trying to find her way through the tunnel. It was lit solely by the moonlight that seeped through the holes in the old stone brick roof.

She slipped on the worn stone brick ground and fell over the bones of another prisoner. Her rough strong hands broke her fall.

The revolting stench of death hung in the still air. She shuddered at the thought of the repulsive creatures that had eaten the flesh and skin of this prisoner.

“Ssssaraaahh.. Ssssaraaahh..”
The hissing voices of her captors filled the air. “There issss no essscape..”

Emerging from the tunnel, her large, brown, soulful eyes darted around the immense courtyard. Looking for the best way to escape. From the corner of her eye, she saw a pile of half eaten human corpses. A warning to those who dare try to escape.

Adrenaline pumping through her veins, she ran. Her short brown hair bouncing with every step.
She sprinted as fast as her lean muscular legs could carry her. Still, she was no match for the Ven’eelgs that pursued her.

“Where are you going Ssssarah?” asked a Ven’eelg. “The masssster wantsss you,” it hissed menacingly.

They reached for her. Slithering towards her, faster than she had anticipated.

A Ven’eelg sprang up towards her, hissing furiously, spitting out a lethal black venom at her.

Instinctively, she dodged the poison. The venom landed on a rock instead, dissolving it instantly. The Ven’eelg’s yellow eyes gleamed menacingly, following her every move.
In her mind she saw her childhood buddy, Simon writhing on the ground in agony. Screaming in the pain as the venom burned through his skin, spreading through his entire body, eating up its flesh and then his bones. She shuddered thinking of the slow agonizing death he suffered.

Its diamond shaped head turned to face her, as if it was about to sink its sharp fangs into her tender skin.

Images flashed through her mind. Memories of those fangs piercing through the skin of her cousin Joey, injecting its poison directly into his bloodstream. Sending him screaming as his body shook uncontrollably on the floor.

His face contorted, his skin shriveled up, the black venom oozed out of his eyes, nose and mouth.

The Ven’eelg stood upright like a man with human-like arms on its torso. She recalled how strong the arms of these creatures were having seen them rip off the arms of a fellow captive a while back.

She looked at the lower half of its body. Instead of legs, there was the slithering, leathery, scaly tail of a snake. Images of that tail squeezing the life out of a young child flashed through her mine.

“Enough!” she cried. Something snapped inside her.
Her eyes darted around.
She saw a large shard of glass lying on the ground. She bent over and picked it up.

Knees bent, glass in hand, ready to attack her attacker, Sarah assessed the Ven’eelg in front of her.

Images of Lily came to her mind. When a Ven’eelg approached her, she lunged at it with a steel knife. The knife broke as she tried to stab through its leathery tail. Her sister paid a heavy price for that defiant act.

“The tail is leathery but skin on its torso looks as thin as human skin,” she thought.

She turned on her attacker and stabbed the beast’s torso with the glass. “For Lily!” she cried.
Black blood spurted out. The creature shrieked in pain. That caught the attention of several other Ven’eelgs around her.

“You vile human!” it screamed as it lashed its tail at her.

Sarah ran for her life, right into the path of two other such creatures.

“The massster isss not letting you go,” one of them hissed at her.

“The massster.. I am getting really sick of this masssster. Whatever it is, let it go bother someone else,” she thought to herself.

There were just too many of them. Whichever direction she ran, she could not escape.
One Ven’eelg grabbed at her leg, but missed. She ducked.

At that instant, she felt a tingly sensation as if something hit her funny bone, but it was stronger and resonated throughout her entire body.

It grabbed at her again. This time, she leaped away. Her jump led to flight. In amazement, she found herself flying away from her attackers. It was an incredible feeling, soaring up in the air, like a bird that had just been set free.

Flying away from the Ven’eelgs, she could see that the ruins were that of an ancient castle. The castle’s entire courtyard was now filled with these monsters.
--------------------

that's the first few pages of the first chapter. She still faces more things in that chapter and in the subsequent ones.

BrianC
February 24th, 2006, 10:19 AM
All right -- I’ll give this a try as you seem so sincere about getting feedback, and no one else has responded. First, a caveat: everything that I am going to say here is intended as constructive criticism. Please take it in that way and please read all the way to the end of this post.

This excerpt contains a number of technical errors that disrupt the flow of reading. These errors alone may be enough for an editor or agent to give your work a pass. In particular, the repeated use of sentence fragments and awkward sentence constructions are problematic.

A sentence *must* contain, at a minimum, a subject and a verb; one that lacks either of these required elements is fragmentary. Your opening paragraph provides an example:


Heart racing, lungs about to burst, an athletic young woman clothed in a long, intricate white gown fled for her life. Sarah dared not look back. Her merciless captors were after her. Pursuing her relentlessly.

Here are three complete sentences, each with a subject and a verb (Woman|fled Sarah|dared not look Captors|were after), and one fragment. Ignoring, for the moment, the awkward tense of the verb 'to pursue', the sentence lacks a subject. Who was doing the pursuing? The remainder of the excerpt contains a number of sentence fragments (“Looking for the best way to escape.” “Slithering towards her, faster than she had anticipated.” “A warning to those who dare try to escape.” Et al.). While it is true that some writers occasionally make use of a sentence fragment, especially in 'modern' literature—J.P. Donleavy was a master of the ubiquitous fragment, for example—for an unknown, first-time author trying to impress an editor or agent, it is more likely a death knell.

There are two easy ways to correct the fragment problem in this excerpt. One is to connect the fragment to a complete sentence (“Her merciless captors were after her, pursuing her relentlessly”). The other is to give the fragment what it lacks (“Her merciless captors were after her. They pursued her relentlessly”). You may find other ways to resolve the issue.

In addition to sentence fragments, the excerpt includes some awkward sentence constructions that distract the reader. For example, and I will admit that this is a personal peeve and that other readers may not have the same problem, you repeatedly end sentences with the word 'her.' The difficulty with this word is that it can be both an object (“I gave the pen to her”) and a possessive pronoun (“I borrowed her pen”). The context of the word provides the clue that the reader needs to understand its use in each instance. Your first paragraph, again, gives an example of an awkward use of this ambiguous word.


Heart racing, lungs about to burst, an athletic young woman clothed in a long, intricate white gown fled for her life. Sarah dared not look back. Her merciless captors were after her. Pursuing her relentlessly.

In the second sentence the word 'her' is a possessive pronoun, while in the last it is an object. In between, however, are the captors after Sarah or Sarah’s unstated possession? For a fraction of a second the reader (or at least this reader) must ask this question rather than paying attention to the story. Perhaps it is best just to avoid ending sentences with the ambiguous 'her.'

There are other instances of awkward sentence construction. Take this sentence, for example:


She recalled how strong the arms of these creatures were having seen them rip off the arms of a fellow captive a while back.

This sentence needs, at least, a comma before ‘having’ to clearly indicate to the reader that what follows is a dependent clause. It might be best, even with the comma in place, to drop ‘how . . . were’ because the use of the past tense of ‘to be’ suggests that the Ven’eelgs were strong once but are strong no longer. So, try this out, as a suggestion: “She recalled the strength of these creatures, having once seen them rip off the arms of a fellow captive”.

Beyond technical issues, however, this excerpt suffers from an overdose of modifiers. By this I mean the repeated long, excruciating, convoluted, extensive, and elaborate use of unnecessary, misplaced, ill-advised and clumsy adverbs and adjectives. Do you see how this practice can transform a concise sentence (“By this I mean the repeated and elaborate use of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives”) into a nightmare for the reader? Again, one need read no further than your opening paragraph for an example.


Heart racing, lungs about to burst, an athletic young woman clothed in a long, intricate white gown fled for her life.

Sarah’s gown was long and intricate and white. (A minor point: you need a comma between ‘intricate’ and ‘white’). A writer can get away with this modifieritis once in a while, but you fall back upon this construction time and again. In this excerpt the reader encounters “old stone brick roof(s),” “worn stone brick ground,” “large, brown, soulful eyes,” and “slithering, leathery, scaly tail(s).” The rules of thumb that I follow is not to use an implied modifier, not to use debatable modifiers, and certainly not to use contradictory modifiers. Accordingly, I would drop the word ‘long’ from your first sentence, as it is implied by ‘gown’. I would drop ‘soulful’ because it is debatable. Finally, as it is contradictory for something to be both leathery and scaly, I would drop one or the other of these adjectives.

However, being a matter of style, and the use of long chains of modifiers being somewhat popular these days, perhaps I am too sensitive. You will have to decide the style of your own writing. Many, many books are sold that are filled from cover to cover with heavy chains of modifiers.

Most seriously, however, the excerpt fails to engage the reader in Sarah’s desperate predicament. The sense of terror and panic that this young woman should be feeling is not communicated to the reader. In short, it doesn’t feel real. Engaging the reader, making the reader empathize with the characters represents the trickiest art of the writer; perhaps mastery of this art is too much to ask of the first-time author. Nevertheless, your reader is going to demand some level of engagement and the bookstore browser, reading the first page of your book, may very well give it a pass.

Here is a young woman, wearing only a diaphanous gown, fleeing for her life in the night from a small horde of nightmarish creatures. Mutilated bodies lie all around her and the revolting stench of death hangs in the air. But there is no sense of terror, no suggestion of panic. Indeed, even while she is menaced by the Ven’eelgs, Sarah draws upon her experiences and rather coolly calculates that the hide of the creatures is thin and vulnerable over their chests. Naturally, you have some mysteries that you do not want to reveal at this point: who is Sarah, how did she come to be captive in an ancient, ruined castle, who is the master, and how does she suddenly fly? Perhaps Sarah is actually a mighty warrior, in spite of her youth, and she is well used to ‘assessing’ her enemies in combat. Perhaps. Though this fact, concealed, may explain why she did not panic, it does not help the reader to engage in Sarah’s predicament. You have to give the reader enough information to understand the character’s actions and motivations, while also keeping enough concealed to make them want more.

As a corollary to this problem, be wary of the deus ex machina, the ghost in the machine. Sarah escapes, inexplicably, by flying away from the castle. Few things raise the hackles of readers more than having a character placed in a desperate situation and then having the writer ‘rescue’ him or her by the sudden appearance of the ghost in the machine. Sarah flies. Okay. But you cannot wait too long to give a plausible explanation. Otherwise, you will lose those readers that you managed to hook initially.

All of that being said, I want to strongly encourage you to continue writing. Keep working on it. You have the one thing that a good writer absolutely needs, especially in the fantasy genre: a powerful imagination. Perhaps you need to polish your story-telling skills, but the foundation of future masterpieces seems to be there.

sfxfantasy
March 8th, 2006, 04:01 AM
Thanks. That was the feedback I really needed. At least I know how to move on from here as what I had written still didn't seem right.
The modifiertis is the easiest to address. The others need more effort on my part but that is part of the process. The problems you mentioned need to be corrected throughout my entire novel.

BrianC
March 8th, 2006, 08:15 AM
You're welcome. All writing is a process of changing and learning. It is not uncommon that a story will evolve as it goes along and will end up in a place very far away from where you assumed it would lead when you first put pen to paper. But you will also find, especially if this is a novel that you are working on, that your writing will also evolve and will be quite different in the end. (Second drafts are for making everything actually work. :) )

BTW, I like the name Sarah; it's my wife's name. Rarely do you see "normal" names in fantasy. Like that your main character's name is something familiar and pronounceable. It also gives the lizzzards lots of opportunity to hiss menacingly.

TrueScorn
March 10th, 2006, 12:04 AM
This looks like the premises of an interesting tale. BrianC above pretty much covers all the bases, especially with the deus ex machina.

The fragments you have probably will jar just as much with a simple transition from "Pursuing her relentlessly" to "They were pursuing her relentlessly"
It would smoothen our if you were to put it in the passive, such as "Their pursuit was relentless"

I normally fret over a stories plot in critiqing, but so far the only thing I've gleaned is that this world has a long, vicious history with the Ven'eelg and that Sarah has some unusual characteristics. One thing did stand out, when she bent to pick up a bit of glass. Did the creature just watch her pick up a weapon?
Either this needs to be a bit more hurried "She quickly scooped the sharp glass edge off the ground, watching the Ven'eelg warily"
or the Ven'eelg come off as arrogant and have it not care whether she has a weapon or not.


Anyhow, like to see more of this so I can get a real feel of this world you have yet to name

sfxfantasy
March 10th, 2006, 12:50 AM
Actually, in the story I am trying to tell, the action moves really fast. More like instinctively grab something and stab in a single motion. Basically the characters strike first before the enemy can react. A second's delay can mean the difference between life and death. They often rely on the element of surprise.

Problem is how do I write to show fast paced action? Sort of blink and it is over kind of thing.

I'm still working on the rewrite. Will post a link to the first 3 chapters when I've done those to my best ability.

sfxfantasy
March 24th, 2006, 07:26 AM
Thanks for the feedback.

I redid the entire book with all your advice.
Set up a website www.sfxfantasy.com (http://www.sfxfantasy.com) to show the fantasy universe in which the book is set including plenty of sample chapters and excerpts from that book. I even bought some graphics for the illustrations as well. It is my first attempt and I am going all out for it and am selling the full trilogy as a single book in Lulu. http://www.lulu.com/content/273211


Thanks again for your advice.