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First Page: Bad Magic

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The blurb:

When Regis was young, his mother told him a fairytale about a man trapped in a tower, cursed by a witch and guarded by a dragon, waiting to be awoken by his true love. Nine years old and no fool, Regis hadn’t believed a word.

Now he’s of age, and it seems his mother’s fairytale was more than a bedtime story. Because now there *is* a man asleep instead of a tower, and once Regis wakes him, the attraction is undeniable. Jonathan is perfect: soft-spoken and strong-minded, a warrior with a passion for justice and a loose idea of rules. He’s determined to bring down the witch who cursed him, and Regis is inclined to help.

Problem is, Regis himself is no Prince Charming. In fact, he’s the witch’s apprentice.

The first page:

By the time he was nine, Regis had realized that his mother knew about things before they happened. She would bring in the wash before there was a cloud in the sky; she had salves for bruises and bloody knees that hadn’t happened yet, lectures prepared for future misdeeds. And no matter what he was up to, she would catch him mid-act.

He attributed this strange omniscience to adulthood, and looked forward to the day he might abuse it.

Then the day came when a man in their village was killed. His mother took him to the funeral, where the body was placed on a pyre and lit. “I don’t understand,” Regis kept trying to say, but the adults shushed him. “No, really! What a stupid man. He — ” His mother gasped, horrified, stooping to grab him. “But why did he go into the woods if there was a bear there?”

“Regis, don’t be ridiculous. How could he have known?” his mother asked. When he began to explain, she clapped a hand over his mouth and hauled him off. She placed him on a bench away from the pyre and said, “Now, stay here until you’re ready to be behave,” and she left.

After the funeral, as she set down their supper at home, he spoke up. “Ma, did that man know he was going to die?”

“Adults aren’t psychic, dear.”

“Yes, they are,” he said. “You are.”

She didn’t even glance up as she spooned stew into their bowls. “That’s different. I’m a teller. It’s a gift that sometimes pops up in our family.” She tweaked his nose. “I’d hoped you’d have it, but it seems you’ve taken after your father instead.”

“Did you know that man was going to die?”

She paused, then said, “Yes.”

“Why didn’t you stop him?”

“I couldn’t have. My visions tell what the future is, not what the future might be. If I could have saved him, I wouldn’t have seen him die.”

This sounded monstrously unfair, as well as monstrously untrue. “You stop me from doing things all the time,” he said stubbornly. “If your visions don’t let you change the future — ”

“I have visions of myself stopping you. Eat your stew.” Regis huffed, decided that tellers were stupid, and went back to his dinner. He wondered why on earth his gifted mother lived in a backwater village in the middle of nowhere.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

19 Comments

  1. Marianne McA
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 07:15:46

    I’ve a bit of a mixed reaction to this. I like fairytales, so I’m your audience, I think. And I very much like the first couple of paragraphs.
    And I think it’s clever your hero is called Regis (assuming the guy in the tower is a prince) because it shows his mother knew what would happen all along.

    However the incident at the funeral reads oddly to me though I can’t quite put my finger on why. I think I either need more description of the funeral, or less – I don’t understand the relevance of the incident. Perhaps you’re trying to indicate that the mother’s gift mustn’t be spoken about in public, but that’s not clear to me.

    Equally the use of the word ‘psychic’ struck me as odd. Again, hard to pinpoint why. I think, perhaps, if Regis knows this word I’d expect his mum to explain the difference between psychics and tellers (even just to clarify to the reader what the difference might be.)

    But overall, I like it, and would read it.

    Good luck.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 07:41:37

    It’s all back story, but it’s charming back story and well-told, so I’m torn. I think I’d be willing to read about this much, but very little more, until you catch up and start telling the actual story.

    And I’m not sure about the tone. Again, it’s charming, but I’m wondering if you’ll be able to keep it up for the whole book. And if you can, I’m wondering if it would get grating after a while. I’m especially wondering about reading sex scenes or even adult-emotion scenes written in this light, fairy-tale tone.

    I think this is really well-written and can’t really think of any suggestions for improvement (although I do agree with Marianne’s points), but I’m hesitant about it all the same. How annoying!

  3. Shelly
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 09:12:01

    I agree with the other commenters. It’s a great premise and good opening. It’s not a great opening because it suffers from too much “telling, not showing.” Back story is fine but there are instances definitely when you could use more description to orient the reader, to give more of a sense of time and place. What is this village like? What does the boy and his mother look like? Where are we? There doesn’t need to be a massive info dump, but more of an interweaving of sensory details would definitely enhance the story.

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 09:41:23

    The “off” bit for me is Regis, his dialog and thoughts.

    EDIT: Not him as a character though, because he’s not going to remain a child in this story much longer, I assume.

    Which makes this opening then rather like a prologue. And as such, and in light of the “tell/show” comments above, maybe your story should start in a different place? It’s impossible to know, just from this opening, what comes next in your story. I’m leaving the rest of my comments unedited but adding this.

    I like the tone and voice for the piece, but Regis seems a tad too “modern” for the story. His words sound like they’d come from kid who lives next door to me rather than a fairy tale. When I come to his dialog or internal thoughts, for me it’s like hearing a classical piece of music and then for one measure, the orchestra plays jazz. It’s not that they play the jazz badly, but it’s not what I’m expecting. His “No, really!” is the one that sticks out the most. And his use of stupid and monstrously. It rings too modern for fairy tale land.

    Maybe he’ll grow out of it as the story progresses?

    I do like this line a great deal: “He attributed this strange omniscience to adulthood, and looked forward to the day he might abuse it.” I have a son and yes, a 9 year old boy would have thought exactly that. But I’m not sure a 9 year old would use the word “omniscience.” Power seems like something a boy would like to abuse more. Just my 2 cents. :)

    One thing I am frowning over. If she’s a teller, and passes it off so nonchalantly at dinner, why was Regis not to speak of it at the funeral? And if it’s not to be spoken of in public, why has she not explained it to him before this?

    Little boys are, as Regis is, very apt to blurt the most inappropriate things at the worst times. If you’re devoting writing real estate to make a point he’s misbehaving by bringing it up, then there should be more about why he wasn’t to speak about it. The mom just kind of brushes it off at dinner.

    I do like the story and would probably read further, even though M/M romance isn’t my thing. I think it’s a very interesting twist on the classic fairy tale and would be intrigued to find out what happens next.

    One tiny quibble: for the first graph of the story, reading this as a mom, it didn’t really read as being psychic as much as just being a really attentive mom. I usually caught my son in the act all the time, and have the bandages and Bactine ready well before they were needed. I may be psychic, but being a mom…and a single mom, which I get the impression this woman is…teaches you to think around corners.

    I realize that graph is written from the view point of a self-centered child (because they are like that) and it may be skewed to everything she’s “psychic” about that relates to him, but for me as a reader, I want something less pedestrian and an example that’s more unusual.

    Maybe include less specifics about him in the list and more non-specific incidents. The laundry is the odd man out as far as a list of incidents that show her psychic ability. A quick and dirty idea: she puts the pot on to boil and changes clothes (and makes him change) well before company shows up.

    (My quibble turned into three paragraphs…sorry. :) )

  5. Becky Black
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 09:45:00

    The word ‘psychic’ did feel incongruous to me. It’s too modern sounding.

    I was a bit confused by the funeral scene. Since the guy having been killed by a bear wasn’t mentioned until Regis mentioned it then I assumed that his mother shushed him because he was saying something he couldn’t have known without supernatural powers. But then his mother says he hasn’t got the gift, so I wasn’t sure what was going on.

    The last line ‘He wondered why on earth his gifted mother lived in a backwater village in the middle of nowhere.’ seems a bit too on the nose and a bit too advanced sort of thinking for a boy his age who doesn’t really understand the world yet.

    But aside from those points I liked it a lot and would definitely be intrigued to read more.

  6. They call me Finch
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 11:57:45

    Author here. It’s funny, but I spent months agonizing over this and I see all the comments are echoing many of my own fears. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to respond, or how, but thought I might anyway?

    Thanks for the comments so far; they have been invaluable.

    To clarify: his mother’s precognition is not secret. Because of the whole “can’t change the future” thing, tellers are fairly useless and entirely ignored. I looked back over the text to find where I went wrong. I’m assuming it’s the part where she stops him from speaking. In retrospect, it does seem like she’s trying to stop him from revealing important information, but she is, in fact, just trying to stop him from being rude. I’ll have to fix that somehow.

    Regis is unusually smart for a child. I was hoping to show that, but doubtless I went too far. It’s true that any nine-year-old, however well-read, would not know what “omniscience” means.

    I do spend a lot of time wondering if I should delete this chapter. On one hand, plot threads. On the other hand, seemingly pointless backstory. A vastly different potential first page for this book was posted a while back, and I’m beginning to think I should revert to it. http://dearauthor.com/features/first-page-features/first-page-bad-magic/ (For anyone who cares. It’s been improved since then, of course, with the help of the comments I received.) It would mean losing a small chunk of the plot, but would it be worth it to have a more compelling first page?

    (First novel I’ve ever written. This shit is complicated.)

  7. Loreen
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 12:07:00

    I actually love it! But I have been reading and writing YA lately. This seems like a great tone for a YA novel. I would read this if it were a kind of fairytale coming of age story. There could be a little sex or just some hints of it as he discovers his love for the prince. I agree with the previous commenter that the tone does seem “off” if this is going to be an erotic romance. (Disclaimer: I don’t read gay romance myself…) if I pick up a steamier romance, I want the opening chapter to be a little more sexy and intriguing in an adult way. I don’t really want to start thinking of the hero as a young child and then read about sex a few chapters later.
    I have no idea where you are going with this….as a YA coming out/ coming of age, I think it is great. As an adult romance, start somewhere else.
    Good luck!

  8. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 12:07:03

    If tellers are useless and ignored, does being a teller play a part for Regis later on? Is that one of the plot threads. If not, why is it in the story? And if it’s something easily ignored and considered useless, why does she hope Regis would have had the trait?

    Re: being rude. She could have said “Hush, you’re being rude.” And plopped his butt on the bench. As it reads, it sounds to me like she’s trying to keep the trait a secret, rather than discipline an unruly child.

    And I read the other first page. I like that very much (the “helped” version may be even better) as far as where the story starts.

    Is it possible to weave your recent first page’s backstory and threads into the old first page?

  9. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 12:52:57

    @They call me Finch:

    If this is meant to be an adult m/m romance, I’d be tempted to revert to the other version. It’s not that this isn’t good, but I’m not sure how it would fit with the rest of the story.

  10. cleo
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 13:12:56

    I like the blurb (despite a typo or two and the fact that it seems a little short) – I would buy this. Re-written fairy tale with dragons and gay men? I’m there.

    I agree with the other comments – I’m not sure if your story starts here. But I would keep reading this as it is. Just to see what happens next.

  11. Finch
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 13:37:00

    His mother is of small importance. Her fairytale/bedtime-story prophecy is played with throughout the story. First, it’s straightforward: she claims he will rescue his true love from a witch.

    Then it gets complicated. By the time he’s nineteen, he’s working for a witch, who tells him about about a hero called Jonathan White. Jonathan is her nemesis; she cast him into a magical coma nearly a decade ago. Jonathan has information the witch wants, so she sends Regis to “rescue” him. The prophecy is both fulfilled and subverted; the story moves on.

    It doesn’t get brought up again until near the end, when it’s revealed that the reason Jonathan picked a fight with the witch in the first place is because… *drumroll*… ten years ago a mysterious young woman told him a prophecy about how he’d one day meet his true love while fighting a witch. Unbeknownst to either of them, the first time Regis and Jonathan met wasn’t when Regis “rescued” Jonathan, but ten years ago, when Jonathan stopped in a small town to get his palm read.

    (*Before anyone gets confused, this is not a May-December romance. The first time they meet, Regis is nine and Jonathan is twenty-seven. The second time they meet, Regis is nineteen and Jonathan is still twenty-seven, because Jonathan has been in a magical coma for ten years.)

    Long story short, no, it’s not plot-critical, just an interesting plot thread. The reveal scene is lovely and I am loathe to remove it (I adore little plot twists), but I’d happily sell my soul if it meant a more gripping and genre-appropriate first chapter.

    It’s not YA. While the story does deal with nineteen-year-old Regis finding out who he is and what he wants, there’s explicit sex, mild kink, violence, and one scene of drunken revelry. (Does that make this New Adult? Hahaha.) So that’s another reason to delete this chapter, I suppose. :’(

    Glad I put this up here. I’ve been struggling with what to do for ages. Still haven’t decided, but it’s such a relief to hear other points of view.

  12. SAO
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 13:43:42

    @Finch
    I’d start with the witch giving Regis the task. That gives him a goal, which is a great start to GMC. If you can get us hooked on the goal (for which motivation and conflict will help) , the other stuff will come as a surprise.

  13. Finch
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 13:47:55

    @SAO:

    This might sound stupid, but. What does GMC mean? (As far as Google is concerned, it’s a car, haha.)

  14. Becky Black
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 13:48:37

    @Finch: If you’d like someone to read a bit more, the first chapter say, rather than just first page, I’m game.

  15. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 13:49:51

    Okay. Now I really want to read this! I write erotic romance and this would be something I’d be very much interested in. Not so much the page you’ve provided here though, although I do like it. But in light of what you’ve said above about what is included, I don’t think this page is relevant.

    But then, we’re given a first page. Then again, you’re giving an agent or publisher the same first page. But not this first page.

    There is a maxim: kill your darlings. You may have to commit some murders here to make this the story you want to tell.

    And I’d also be willing to read a first chapter.

  16. jules
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 14:42:32

    @Finch: GMC=Goal, Conflict, Motivation. Here’s a down and dirty explanation about GMC and revisions. You’ll need to read until about halfway through the blog post to get to the part about GMC but there’s other info that maybe helpful.

    http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/rip-and-rebuild-revisions-part-1/

    If you’re interested in learning more, Debra Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation, Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction, may be a good book to read. If you do decide to get a paperback copy, order through her website ($20) not Amazon ($30 ish). Hope that helps.

  17. Finch
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 15:15:12

    @jules: Thanks very much.

    @Becky Black & @Carol McKenzie: thanks for the offer! I would love an opinion on the first chapter, either this one or the other one I’m considering. Though they’re pretty short (Regis’s childhood is something like 3,500 words and Regis meeting Jonathan is maybe 2,500 words).
    Shoot me an email. I’m viridianchick and I’m on gmail.com.

  18. Carolyne
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 15:41:39

    I’m sort of chiming in to reinforce what others have said, but count me in as someone who loves the premise/blurb (typos aside). It sounds like exactly the sort of story I’d like to be reading RIGHT NOW. But, you know, you’ll probably want to finish writing it and polishing it and making it the best book it can be.

    I don’t mind starting off even a highly erotic m/m with a chapter on one of the heroes as a kid. If it’s a longer book, then there’d be more separation in the reader’s mind between the child version of the character and the mature one.

    That said, I’d want that first chapter to give me a lot of immersion in the world, not just info-dump: sights, smells, customs, what it feels like live there, what it was like at the funeral and was it his first one and do people die frequently from mediaevalandia causes and what the other kids were doing. That funeral scene could be a great, fully fleshed, gripping scene, with real emotion and tension, rather than the brusque “this happened, and it turned out he knew something he shouldn’t have, and mother warned him about it.” How did it feel to be scolded for something that felt natural to him, and how does it affect his outlook on his talents going forward? It could be the set up for what is going to happen in the rest of the story, both in terms of setting and emotionally. But something “real” should happen in it :) More than just a prologue, but a little short-story in itself that propels the reader on.

    Anyway, absolutely let us all know when you have your final draft done (which, alas, of course is only your editor’s “first draft”!).

  19. SAO
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 00:02:38

    @Finch

    Goal, Motivation and Conflict is a very helpful way to create good fiction. Your character has a goal, driven by a motivation, but is unable to reach his/her goal because. Some brief examples are:

    For example:
    Goal: The witch wants to get info Jon has.
    Motivation: She needs it to (something needs to be here)
    Conflict: Jon is her nemesis and will fight.

    Goal: Regis wants to get the info from Jon
    Motivation: The witch told him to
    Conflict: He falls in love with Jon and doesn’t want him hurt

    The reason this stuff all goes together is that if Regis is working for the witch and his goal is the witch’s goal, and his motivation is that it’s his job, then if there’s conflict, the reader doesn’t understand why he doesn’t just quit his job and work for someone else. Problem solved. He can live happily ever after with Jon by the end of Chapter 1.

    Rework it a bit (I’m making this up on the fly because I haven’t read enough of your book to use your plot as an example):
    Regis has spent his life watching his mother know people will die stupid deaths and be unable to stop it. He is a teller, too and doesn’t want to spend his life in frustration, if he sees a friend will be gored by a bear, he wants to prevent it. To do this, he needs powers, which he can learn from the witch. Note, now he has a powerful reason for working for the witch and if he quits, he is going to spend the rest of his life impotently watching bad things happen.

    So, now, his goal (to do what the witch wants) is powered by a strong motivation (be able to shape his life) and the conflict of Jon being the witch’s enemy is a serious problem for Regis. What if Regis chooses Jon and not power and Jon is in danger and Regis can only know it will happen, not stop it? Could he live with that? So to choose love, he has to face his worst nightmare (foreseeing the death of a loved one and being powerless to stop it).

    Obviously, you need stronger GMCs for your MCs, but having every char have one is good. It helps prevent scenes where minor chars only exist to further the goal of your MCs.

    This isn’t the world’s best explanation, but the idea is pretty simple and the book by Debra Dixon seemed like a one hour powerpoint or short magazine article expanded into a book. Google around and you’ll find plenty of writing advice summarizing the concept better than I have.

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