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First Page: Katarina, Historical Romance

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 Chapter One:Fateful Visitants

(August 1572)

 It was a day of blue summer breezes. I was resting in the meadow, wondering what kept the sun above, what made it move around the earth, when birds flew up in waves of panic. The ground beneath me shuddered, as if a storm were raging in the bowels of the world. I scrambled up to my look-out on the old Linden tree in front of the house, and then I saw them bursting from the woods. My nine-year old mind imagined two-headed hounds from the gates of Hell racing toward our farm, reptilian eyes blazing and serpent tails pulsing. The moment my mother, rushing from the house, laid eyes on them, she cried, ‘Run Katrin, run and hide!’

I had no time to run. But I moved further up the tree where the branches were densest. When the four of them arrived in front of our farm dismounting from their horses, I could see they were no hellhounds but armored men with weapons clanging and closed helmets disguising them.

But they were no shining knights.

Two of them forced mother to the barn. The one holding a pistol pulled her arms behind her back, the other yanked her by the hair, tearing sounds from her throat I had never heard before. Once inside, her cries were joined by our maid’s shrieks – a duet of horror. I don’t remember how I suppressed mine.  From the kitchen, where the other two soldiers had disappeared, came noises of bursting doors, hinges ripping from the wood, slamming, smashing. I thought that God had summoned the four beasts to announce that the world was coming to an end.

‘Where is it? Where have you hidden it, heretic?’ a man shouted inside. I am sure I heard sounds of crushing bones, like ice cracking against the river’s shore. The tortured screams of my stepfather
and uncle are etched forever into my memory.

One of the hellhounds emerged from the house carrying a large woolen sack that I had never seen before over his shoulder and dragging with one arm our only featherbed, while squeezing the wooden box where I kept my treasures under the other.  He scattered around the trinkets that were in the sack, but, unsuccessful in his search, left them on the ground, turning his attention to the bed cover, which he slashed as if he hoped to kill the eider duck again. A cloud of feathers rose in the air, becoming playthings of the wind. I feared that he might look up and see me watching him, but he didn’t.

The screams from the kitchen rose in pitch and volume.

Then the brute emptied my treasure box, and, since it contained nothing he wanted, threw it down, stepping on everything I cherished with spiteful anger: on the cross pendant my uncle had carved for me from the wood of a Linden tree and on the tiny ceramic pot mother had bought at the market. He did not spare the small clay doll that looked like a princess, and my most precious possession, a clay knight on a horse with a spear, presents from our landlord. Only two marbles escaped the fiend’s wrath by twirling away.

The heat forced the soldier to take off the helmet revealing his face, red with excitement, and his hair, black as a witch’s cat. Even though this happened seven years ago, his features are carved in my soul – the disdainful sneer, the scar licking his left cheek, the eyes speaking of nothing.

The noises and unbearable screams from the kitchen finally ceased when the other villain came running from the house waving a bundle in his right hand.

‘I found it, I think I found it.’ Aghast, I realized he was the youngest son of our lord, the Count von Teufelshausen. Everyone in the county knew him by his copper hair.

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

18 Comments

  1. Pamela
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 06:32:02

    I would read more. I definitely became interested in the story. That said, I think there’s room for improvement. First, this is a big information dump, and as our first introduction to the main character, it’s a little overwhelming.
    Second, it was hard to tell whether it was happening in real time or retrospect. All of a sudden, there’s a reference to “seven years ago” far into the retelling of that horrible event. Third, I think that a memory like this is not so easily relived – yet there is no reference to the speaker’s present say feelings about thinking through such traumatic events in great detail. Normally, a major life-changing trauma comes out it bits and pieces, painfully torn from memory.

  2. SAO
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 06:50:49

    After I got over the pretentious “fateful visitants,” I thought this had promise. You write smoothly and have lots of detail. However, this was too detached. Kat hears the screams of her parents, mentions a duet of horror, but then moves on to talk about her box of treasures. She watches a knight slashing a pillow “as if he planned to kill the eider duck again” without making a connection with the screams and people she presumably loved. She notes two marbles “twirling away” while unbearable screams are coming from the kitchen Presumably the screams are coming from her uncle and stepfather), but her attention is on the marbles. Then when the screams stop, there’s no thought about what this means. Neither for the horror visited on the people one assumes Kat loves, nor what will happen to her if every member of her family and household are killed.

    In short, the scene was well written, but Kat seems to be a detached bystander in it, and I’m feeling pretty detached, too.

  3. Bonnie Dee
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 07:25:25

    I think it’s a riveting opening and I would definitely read on. The descriptions are great but as others pointed out, the heroine has to be pretty detached in order to describe them that way. I’d hate to lose these great descriptions you’ve come up with though and wonder if it might be better to use third person. Just a possibility.

  4. Abbie Rhoades
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 07:37:57

    Hi Author of Katarina!

    It takes tons of courage to put your work out there for others to read! Kudos to you. Everything I suggest is just my opinion so don’t change anything unless it feels right to you.

    What you have written here is interesting, full of action, and kept me reading clear to the end. Good job.

    The first sentence needs to be stronger. It’s the very first sentence of your book. It’s the sentence that a potential buyer will read when contemplating purchasing your work so make it a good one. “It was…” is very passive structure. Make that first sentence pop. And the second sentence also contains a ‘was’ (passive verb). Try to use action verbs.

    “Even though this happened seven years ago, his features are carved in my soul – the disdainful sneer, the scar licking his left cheek, the eyes speaking of nothing.” This throws the timeline of the story off. I as a reader am thinking I am with a nine-year-old girl experiencing this as it happens. But, then I suddenly learn I’m actually with a sixteen-year-old as she remembers it. That throws me out of the story and makes me feel like the author has pulled a bait-and-switch just to get me interested. And now the scene feels like an info dump to me.

    Some people hate prologues, but if the real story doesn’t start until Katarina is sixteen, and you absolutely NEED this in there, then make this a prologue and start chapter one when Katarina is sixteen. Just a thought.

    I agree with SAO. A child’s focus would be on the terrible things happening to her family rather her toys. You could really make this scene gripping by conveying a child’s terror.

    Good Luck and Keep Writing!

  5. Katie
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 08:25:46

    I do not like first person POV, so I would not read anymore.

  6. A.
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 08:54:26

    Agree on the detached tone but maybe it’s intentional. I’m not one for prologues and would prefer this information be trickled throughout the present time narrative; good luck with it! You’ve got something very nice!

    ‘was’ isn’t passive, though. “The car was stolen” is passive – because the car didn’t do the stealing but “I was lying in the grass” is just past tense. “I’m lying in the grass” isn’t passive in terms of grammar – you could argue it’s passive just because the character’s just sitting there but that doesn’t mean removing “was” is going to make anyone’s writing stronger. Sorry. Just a little pet peeve. Seen this advice given to (new) writers a lot.

  7. Anon
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 11:53:20

    It certainly kept me reading and I had a flash of real disappointment when i reached the end and there was no more. So kudos for that, it’s not easy to write something people are disappointed to see end.

    I think there is definitely some room for improvement, some tightening up here and there, making it a bit more clear that this is a memory and adding in some bits to assure us your MC isn’t coming off as emotionless.

    Detached is okay, I think, because maybe that’s her way of coping with it, but make it clear it’s the 16 year old girl who’s detached, not the terrified 9 year old who’s in the heart of the memory. That could easily be one of the ways you make it clear it’s a memory and kill two birds with one stone.

    I hope you keep writing it and I hope you come back and tell us when it sells. I want to read the whole thing.

  8. Patricia
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 12:58:01

    I found this very gripping. As someone else said, I was sorry when it was over because I wanted to know what happened next. By the third sentence I was hooked. The first sentence, though, almost convinced me to give up. It’s very weak and does little to establish either the setting or the narrator’s voice. You could cut it entirely without losing anything. I also concur with the previous commentator who found the chapter title pretentious. I would prefer a simple chapter number rather than a title that seems to be trying too hard. That said, I was really drawn into the story and would gladly read more if it ends up published. Good luck!

  9. Sarina
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 14:10:28

    not digging the first person POV, but good material here!

  10. cbackson
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 15:07:28

    I liked bits of this a lot, and the detached tone didn’t really bother me – it’s pretty common for people to fixate on odd details during a trauma and for those to stand out in the memory. That said, a lot of the physical action didn’t make sense to me. She’s in front of the house, but she knows that her mother and the maid have been forced into the barn? Where is the barn? And she’s outside, but she knows that her father and uncle are in the kitchen? How? The soldier who comes out of the house seems like he needs a third arm to carry all of those items.

    I didn’t like the knights-as-hellhounds conceit; nine is pretty old for that and it was a bit confusing at first.

    Small point, but “linden” is lowercase in English. That you capitalized it, and something about the rhythm of the sentences, made me wonder if you might be a native German speaker, but that’s idle speculation.

  11. job
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 17:15:50

    I’d like to feel more firmly in the physical body of the POV character. I’d like to be fully ‘there’.

    What everyone said about detachment. She may be relating this story years later and she is not truly reliving the scene, but I still think — since she’s describing everything else — she might as well talk about her physical and emotional reactions. She might tell us what she did. “I was sick to my stomach and I hid my face, hoping they wouldn’t look up and see me.”

    Do you want to shade the language more toward that of a nine-year-old girl.

    reptilian eyes blazing and serpent tails pulsing.
    / like big lizards in silver scales

    arrived in front of our farm dismounting from their horses, I could see they were no hellhounds but armored men with weapons clanging and closed helmets disguising them.
    / stopped at the farm gate and got down. Not hellhounds like the pictures in church. Men in armor with the vizors down. They clanked when they their boots hit the dirt.

    Is she close enough to see what he’s smashing under his booted heel? To see marbles roll away?

  12. Lil
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 20:34:31

    I like the unusual setting, and there is a lot of potential here. But, like most of the other commentators, I have a problem with the emotion. You can have her concentrating on the marbles and her “treasures,” but it should be as part of an effort not to hear the screams of the people she loves. This is really close to being a terrific opening section. It doesn’t need a whole lot of work.

    I really would get rid of that first sentence. You can use something like that later on, bot for starters, it’s to weak. I can see that ;you want the contrast between the lovely day and what comes next, but you have that even if you simply strike out the first sentence.

  13. Lil
    Mar 31, 2012 @ 20:35:57

    I don’t know why I keep ending up with semicolons in the middle of my typing. It’s really annoying—to me, at least.

  14. Shy
    Apr 01, 2012 @ 00:26:36

    The scene is a bit purple for my tastes.

    The scene passes right through the territory of “appropriately dramatic” and right into the land of “so emotional that it’s a little listless”. I love the voice (and the details!), but I think you’ll find that if you tone it down, the reader will connect more, not less.

    I can’t put my finger on it, but something just seems wrong. Unless I’m mistaken, she’s an older girl, describing an event she recalls from her childhood. But it doesn’t sound right. She talks like an older girl, which is good… but she also talks like she’s LIVING the event instead of RECALLING it. She understands everything going on, even if she wouldn’t as a child, and the level of detail seems way too high.

    Some things should be a little blurry. Even if she’s traumatized. (Especially if she’s traumatized.)

    Ditto on what’s been said about the opening sentence. It’s a shame such lovely prose starts with a lifeless paragraph.

  15. Brussel Sprout
    Apr 01, 2012 @ 14:17:29

    Ditch the opening sentences – breezes aren’t blue, and the whole paragraph is too recounted and thought. Just put us there:

    A meadow, a breeze, the blues and yellows of the nodding flowers, the drone of the bees, the ominous rumble, the birds bursting from the bushes, my mother’s panicked call, Katrin, Katrin, hide. Hide now. I scramble up the linden, higher, higher then freeze at the sight of the armor, the drawn swords, the wild eyes of the horses and the froth at their mouths….

    Also, there are only four evil knights, that doesn’t seem like quite enough to subdue four adults, especially if the adults were vulnerable because of their religious beliefs. The stepfather and uncle : what were they doing at the point of the attack? Why don’t the women fight back at all?

    That said, I would love to know more…

  16. SAO
    Apr 01, 2012 @ 22:49:04

    @A
    “It was” may not be passive voice, but the structure itself is passive because it doesn’t convey much. We don’t feel it. The minute you remove “it” and keep to active voice and away from the trite, “the breeze blew” you usually end up with something that puts the reader in the scene more. “The light summer breeze ruffled my hair/wafted the scent of clover/hummed with the sound of a hundred crickets” sets the scene much better. Puts the reader there. I find this rule is particularly true for weather, where is it so easy to say, “It was a dark and stormy night” and move on.

  17. A.
    Apr 02, 2012 @ 01:24:10

    Oh, I was actually talking about the “I was resting” sentence right after it – completely agree about the weather one (and your active sentence examples were lovely!). Still, a sentence can be passive without have a “was” in there and I’d like it if the advice to not be passive that’s given to writers wasn’t so anti-was.

  18. A.
    Apr 02, 2012 @ 01:25:02

    *without having!

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