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First Page: Child of the Essence – YA Fantasy

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On the morning of my sixteenth birthday, as I doze in and out of my inner fantasies, a large gloved hand sweeps the hair from my forehead. I peek one eye open, shifting on the mattress to see who it is, and the corner of my mouth lifts.

Richard.

All week he hinted he was planning something for my birthday, teasing as I followed him on his afternoon duties. And now here he is, sitting on the edge of my bed with stubble on his cheeks and a curly mess of brown hair hanging to his chin. He wears his guard uniform. He must have been relieved from duty only minutes ago, but his eyes are bright and alert with excitement.

Grabbing his arm, I curl my fingers around it, keeping it close to my body, and close my eyes once more. I don’t want to get out of bed. For one, it is ridiculously early; dawn has yet to arrive, starlight still visible and a cool spring breeze wafting through my open window. And it is my birthday. I should be able to choose when I wish to wake up.

But Richard doesn’t wait for my consent. In one big swooping motion that sets my heart beating much too fast to be normal, he lifts me from the mattress and cradles me against his armoured chest. With my boots over his shoulder and my cardigan on my lap, he carries me down the stairs, through the empty corridors of the manor. The way he holds me, snugly against his chest, fills me with his warmth. I find myself falling asleep again in his arms until the scent of the stables reaches my nose and I’m brought back to the waking world with all its smells and sights and sounds.

At the rear of the manor, the stables are dank and dark, but when we enter them I clearly spot my favourite horse, Dolly’s tawny silhouette chewing methodically while she waits outside her stall. A saddle is already strapped onto her back, the bags bulging with supplies for our ride.

Richard sets me onto a bench beside Dolly’s stall and begins lacing my boots.

“Where are we going?” I say, scrubbing at my eyes. Nothing ever happens this early in the morning. The flies that usually swarm the horses in the daylight aren’t even buzzing, though I spot a few crawling along the tops of the nearby stalls, sluggish and dismissive of Richard’s and my closeness.

Maybe he wants to show me the sunrise, though I’ve seen it many times before from my window.
Richard finishes lacing one boot and goes to work on the other, not lifting his eyes to mine, but his ears quirk under the curls of his hair telling me he’s smiling. “Have you ever heard of a surprise?”

Yes, and I despise them.

He finishes with the other boot and I slip my arms into my cardigan. Richard lifts me onto the saddle, then swings up behind me, his hands grazing my sides as he handles the reins and nudges Dolly into motion.

It starts off as a slow canter as we move away from the stables, then our speed increases to a gallop. In a dazed state, my head lolls back against Richard and I rest my eyes waiting for our motion to stop. I think of where he’s taking me. Nowhere I have not been; I have been pretty much everywhere within the priest’s property. I’ve spent almost my whole life here, after all.

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

15 Comments

  1. SAO
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 04:36:30

    You write smoothly, but Unnamed Protag is completely passive in the whole page. She has ZERO goals, plans, thoughts. In fact, Unnamed is half asleep, even with a surprise looming and on horseback. Excuse me while I yawn in sympathy.

    You have a huge amount of detail, which, in general, is a plus, but plenty of it is unnecessary and some of it contradictory. Do we care about the flies? How can anyone be snuggly and warm against an armored chest? Sounds distinctly uncomfortable to me. I thought from her boots over his shoulder, her feet were in them, which was an uncomfortable way to be carried and an uncomfortable way to sleep.

    Simple present tense sounds unnatural and distancing to me. Properly used, it’s for general statements (she is a girl) and habitual actions (she lives in the priest’s compound), not for actions that are happening now (note the present progressive, “are happening”). I can figure out what you mean, but I find the tense saps urgency from everything. That’s me. One reader. I know I’m not alone, but I also know I’m not in the 99% on this issue.

    What you need on this page:
    1) For unnamed to be active. To think, to do, to be AWAKE!
    2) to start your story problem.

    As it is, sorry to say, it’s a well-written yawn.

  2. Anne Gresley
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 06:24:24

    Aside from the point about snuggling up with a suit of armour, I disagree with SAO. I really like this. The fact that the protagonist is sleepy on the first page didn’t bother me at all–not all stories need to begin the exact same way–but it would bother me if she remains passive. As long as your heroine wakes up and starts doing something within the first chapter, I’d be interested in reading on.

  3. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 06:37:52

    I agree that a lot of the detail is unnecessary, and it bogs down the clarity of your message. Even in your first sentence, you’v got the redundant “inner” – are any fantasies “outer”?

    And some of the detail strains the bonds of the POV – again in that first sentence, could she tell that it was a large gloved hand before she opened her eyes, especially when the hand is touching her hair more than her skin? Other little details jarred, too – can a silhouette be tawny? I always think of them as being dark. And I’m not sure what she’d be silhouetted against, since it’s still dark out.

    Overall, I was a bit amazed that this girl could stay half-asleep through all this. Riding double isn’t nearly as comfortable as riding single (unless they’ve got some sort of special saddle?) and there’s a lot of motion involved. I’m hoping she was drugged or otherwise incapacitated, because otherwise I really think she should have woken up. I was also unimpressed that they left the barn at a canter (usual rule is to walk the first and last half-mile), and that Richard seems to be kidnapping a sixteen-year-old. (I’m really hoping Richard is a villain who’s been seducing her for a long time and is now about to hand her over to the big bad. If he’s a good guy and this is just a nice morning ride, I’m bored!)

    Tiny note: cardigans are a pretty prosaic clothing choice. I can appreciate the revolt from fancy elf-spun gowns, but… a cardigan? It feels too modern, for me. And what’s she wearing on her bottom half? Clothes for riding are generally not clothes someone would want to sleep in, and if their ride is long enough that they need bulging saddlebags full of provisions, I think she’ll be uncomfortable in sleeping clothes.

    Another note: she didn’t have to pee? A long ride on horseback with a full bladder is NOT romantic OR adventurous. It’s just uncomfortable.

    I don’t know. So much of this page was used up with descriptions that I don’t feel like I really have a clear idea of where the story’s going, or whether I like the route you’re taking us on to get there. Could be great, could be awkward. Hard to be sure.

    I don’t have a problem with present tense, and especially as this is YA, I don’t think it should catch the target readers by surprise.

  4. Marianne McA
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 08:34:53

    I’d a problem with the cardigan too, just because it seemed to belong to a different time period than the guard uniform (Cardigans are after the Crimean war.)
    And I also read it that the silhouette was chewing (rather than the horse chewing) which seemed odd. (And again, silhouettes – and I only know this because KJ Charles had a post on it recently – are after 1760. But maybe this is more recent than I’m supposing.)

    Overall, I liked the writing, but I didn’t buy the sleepiness. She (I’m assuming ‘she’ because of the cardigan) is only dozing at the start of the page – not dead to the world. And then this exciting person wakes her up, and she’s going to find out what all the hints have been about, and it’s her Birthday!!! and stables in the early morning are cold – what does it take to wake this child up? I have teenagers, so I’m not underestimating how hard it can be to wake them, but this seems unnatural.

    But in general, I like the voice. And I’m a bit intrigued that someone who seems to have such a limited life despises surprises. So I’d consider reading on.

    Good luck.

  5. cleo
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 09:46:13

    Between the armour and the cardigan, I don’t know when this takes place.

    I found the set up a bit creepy – it may just be me and my personal baggage, but I was a bit on edge for the first few sentences, waiting for something bad to happen. It became obvious that within the story the narrator is OK with a grown man coming into her bedroom, waking her up (by stroking her face with his gloves on), picking her up (without her consent – that phrase really got me) and carrying her into the stables, but I am not OK with it (or at least I’m not sure if I’m OK with it).

  6. Carol McKenzie
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 10:00:08

    Hi Author, and thanks for sharing.

    The only thing I come away wanting to know more about is why a priest owns property.

    I agree with SAO; nothing happens. Is your heroine going to be comatose for the entire story? I get the sense she’s going to be out until they reach their destination, which may be in another page or two. Think about an editor or publisher reading this first page. Do you want them to meet your heroine like this? Sleeping her way through the first pages of the story?

    I’m the second reader who’s not in love with the simple present tense, for the reasons SAO states.

    As mentioned also you have POV breaks, big ones, that pull me right out of the story. Starlight cannot be visible if her eyes are closed; neither can the hand that wakes her. She can deduce it’s gloved once it touches her face, but not before.

    Some of your passages are clunky: her being carried is confusing. I get, after reading it a few times, he’s carrying her against him, like you’d carry a child, arms beneath shoulders and knees, but the first image we get is her boots over his shoulder. I think boots are on feet, feet over shoulder…he’s carrying her like a sack of grain. But then he’s lacing her boots. So…you know, I’m confused again.

    Cardigan is an odd word choice for a garment, and while I get it’s a fantasy, it’s still an odd choice for a garment. It’s simultaneously too modern-sounding for the story and too old-fashioned sounding to a modern ear. It falls awkwardly in between.

    I can’t tell from this brief snippet if there’s something here I’d be interested in reading more about. Your MC isn’t ‘there’ enough for me to form an opinion. I know more about Richard at this point, although he’s pretty much a blank slate as well.

    Good luck, and if you have a blurb, I’d be interested in reading that.

  7. JewelCourt
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 10:38:59

    @cleo: The opening also creeped me out. An adult man looming over a teenage girls bed reads predatory to me.

  8. Elizabeth
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 10:58:37

    I also found the opening creepy. The bedroom setting and the explicit age difference, her passivity and the use of the word “consent”, all make me expect molestation. But no! It’s a kidnapping. A peculiarly awkward kidnapping (HOW can he carry her boots over his shoulder? Are her feet in them? Did she sleep in her boots? No? How’d he shove her feet in them without waking her up?). Her lethargy seems like it would have to be drug-induced to be so deep, which sets the meter back to molestation.

    But she apparently doesn’t care, so I don’t either.

    I would need a reason to care about her in order to get past the first page. But I’m not drawn to creepy, so maybe I’m not your audience.

  9. theo
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 13:29:28

    I’m sorry, but this set off every alarm in my system. YA fantasy isn’t something I normally read, but I have to wonder if she’s recounting some horrible experience here. Sixteen year old girl, much older man, her birthday, his…present? I’m still sitting here shaking my head. And here’s a big part of why. I have no grounding here, no idea where or when, nothing that tells me of any relationship between the two to tell me if he’s a good guy or if he’s been stalking here while pretending to be a good guy. So when he carried her to the stable, I wondered if he was going to take her innocence there. Then when they’re on the horses, I’m wondering if he’s taking her far enough from the house that no one will hear her screams. That coupled with the tense just made this opening too creepy for me and I wouldn’t read on.

  10. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 13:46:05

    A lot of us are picking up on the creepy vibe, and the too-sleepy thing… how cool would it be if all that was deliberate? Like, in the first sentence, she’s talking about her fantasy… what if all this was her sexual fantasy? Consent issues, stuck between being awake and asleep, etc.? The strange attention to detail could be part of that, too.

    Or maybe it’s really happening, but she HAS been drugged and the reader is being lulled into a false sense of complacency and then there’s going to be some big violent nastiness and it won’t have to be described all that much because just the shock of being pulled out of the calmness will be impact enough?

    Author, please let it be something like this! I LOVE books that play with my expectations, and set me up and then pull the rug out from under me. (I guess I like being manipulated, as long as it’s well-done). I want to read this book, if this first page gets subverted by the rest of the story!!!

  11. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 13:50:53

    Ooooh, what if it’s the sleepy girl that’s the violent one?!? Like, she’s a supernatural creature that needs to feed (hence the sleepiness!) and when Roderick or whatever his name is gets her far enough from the priest’s house she’ll strike!

    The priest has been trying to tame her and teach her control because he was there when her pregnant mother was cursed to have a monster-baby, and even though the priest used to be a warrior he has since devoted himself to piety and searching for a cure for the baby (because he was secretly in love with the mother, naturally, even though the mother was married to the priest’s best friend/brother!).

    Damn, this happens too often when I read these first pages! I get all caught up in the story it COULD be and ignore the story the author actually wants to tell. Sigh. Probably I’m not guessing right… but if I am, I want to BETA!!!

  12. Mary
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 13:56:04

    I agree with most of what is being said about how it was odd to me that she was sleeping through everything, but I read the man as being a brother or brother figure rather than romantic.

  13. Jane Lovering
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 13:57:36

    Dolly the horse – does she have a haynet? Because she’s outside her stall ‘chewing methodically’, and this gave me the image of a cow chewing the cud. Which horses don’t do. They don’t stand there chewing away, they pull at their haynet, or whiffle the ground for nuts, or kick a bucket around.

    It just made me go ‘whuh’?

  14. blodeuedd
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 13:57:49

    Everyone else has said it better than I, and honestly the only thing that bothered me was in fact the cardigan, nothing from this first page says fantasy to me.

  15. Amanda (not that Amanda)
    Apr 27, 2014 @ 18:34:44

    Unlike everyone else, I didn’t have much of an issue with him carrying her and where the boots were, but I am going to second the use of “consent” here as feeling out of place or ominous, depending on where this is going. If you’re avoiding the creepy vibe, perhaps without waiting for her “say-so,” for her to fully wake, something else.

    The only other thing that bugged me is she’s been wheedling him about this surprise for some time now. But she “despises” surprises. She’s been, by all accounts, on board with this one, and I just can’t reconcile the two. Does she wish he’d just TELL her what’s going on already? Or is she along for the ride, pretend despising to try to get it out of him, without, apparently, saying a word?

    I would read on, for this one, but I’d want a clearer picture of the heroine’s personality within a couple of pages, because so far I’d just describe her as “sleepy.”

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