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First Page: Refugee

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Some humans are born with powers. A touch of the Sight. A knack for finding money. Seductive beauty. Luck. Nothing truly powerful. Just little gifts that set them apart from other humans.

These tiny powers are like a sip of water to a dying fae.

A chill breeze curled around me, ruffling the leaves of the lemon tree I crouched beneath, wrapped in glamour so that I appeared to be nothing more than a clinging shrub. The breeze continued down the gentle slope to whisper through the ancient olive trees. Under their dense canopy darkness prowled, and other things not born of this world.

I shifted on the stony soil, shards of chalk and flint scrunching beneath my boots, feeling the weight of the sword at my back. There was a fae in the olive grove below, a dryad I suspected, lost and starving. So far I hadn’t been able to pinpoint her hiding place.

I caught movement at the edge of my vision. The family who owned these fields drove up, packed into the back of a rusty old truck, well wrapped against the dry winter cold. They piled out in a bright, chattering crowd. One girl ran ahead of the group, laughing.

Ayla, ten years old, suspected of having the sight by the old women who gathered and gossipped while minding the children. I had heard this, and much more as I perched on the roof above them, ruffling blackbird wings. Ayla was my bait. I trusted her gift would draw the attention of the dryad in the grove.

I shifted again, loosening up joints stiff from waiting. Today I would find the lost fae. What happened after that depended on how far gone she was.

Something moved deep in the olive grove, darkness shifting and taking form. My fae senses stirred at the touch of magic. This wasn’t my lost dryad. I curled my thumb and forefinger into a circle and put it up to my eye.

Through the impromptu faery lens, the world seemed to speed past me until I stood beneath the olive trees. I turned in a slow circle. What was here that had drawn my attention? The dim, cool shade of the grove contrasted with the bright hillside where I stood. A darker shadow moved, and another. A third oozed out from between two gnarled trunks, opening a maw ringed by yellow teeth. The hound crouched low, nose to the ground. Chaos light churned in the empty sockets.

I snapped my hand closed and the hillside rushed in around me. Corrupter hounds. No doubt also drawn to the faint touch of fae in the grove.
I sprinted down the hillside, slipping and sliding on the loose ground. The family looked up at the noise of my descent. But they would only see stones trickling down the slope, and maybe a flash of something on the wind.

I dove between the trees. In here I had no need for a concealing glamour so I ran in my own shape, a fae warrior in hide armour, bronze sword strapped to my back, hair the colour of a walnut shell braided down my back, feet in goat-hide boots thudding on the cool earth. A whiff of decay reached my nostrils. They were close.

I slowed and drew my sword, the hiss of metal on the scabbard loud in the silence. Not that I wanted to be silent. If they had followed the scent of the dryad here, then my own power must be a clarion shout echoing through the trees, hopefully distracting them from their prey.

Seconds later they appeared, oozing between the trunks. Where their foul bodies touched, the moss curled and died, and the little herbs growing between the roots withered and collapsed.

They spread out in a circle. I put my back to rough bark. The trunks offered plenty of cover for me, but also for them. And these were no mindless animations. There was human intelligence behind the empty eyes.

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. Cara Ellison
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 06:46:16

    I’m not the correct audience for this, but I really liked it. It was slightly purple, but not enough to turn me off.

    I liked the writing. I think you’ve got a good start.

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  2. Patricia
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 08:16:33

    I quite like this. I would keep reading.

    There was one part that threw me, though. You write: A darker shadow moved, and another. A third oozed out from between two gnarled trunks, opening a maw ringed by yellow teeth. The hound crouched low, nose to the ground. It wasn’t clear to me that the shadows were taking on a distinct shape so the teeth startled me, and the hounds seemed like a new element entirely. When I figured out that the shadows were also the hounds, I had to go back and reread to put the scene together properly.

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  3. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 08:25:54

    I agree with Cara – a bit purple, but definitely had my attention and I’d read on.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the first two paragraphs… they were effective, so I’d say they’re a fair exception to the show-don’t-tell rule, but I think if you’re going to go with them you need to polish them up even more than they are – I’d avoid the double use of the word power – “powers” that are “nothing truly powerful” seems like an oxymoron. And having ALL the sentences be short and choppy kind of takes away from the kick of that second paragraph. (It’s still got lots, but maybe it could have even MORE). Maybe something like “Nothing truly magical, just little gifts that set them apart from ordinary humans”?

    A few other things – your commas sometimes go a bit wonky – I think I’d add one to change “a dryad I suspected” to “a dryad, I suspected,” (or do something else to indicate that your narrator suspects it’s a dryad, not that it’s a dryad who’s already come under suspicion for something else); and I’d take the comma out of “I’d heard this, and much more” or else add one at the end of “more” to make it a true parenthetical.

    And I think the antecedent is too distant for the “They” at the end of the fourth-last paragraph – maybe “The hounds were close,” would work?

    But that’s all detail stuff. Overall, I really like it.

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  4. theo
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 09:07:30

    a fae warrior in hide armour, bronze sword strapped to my back, hair the colour of a walnut shell braided down my back, feet in goat-hide boots thudding on the cool earth.

    Okay, he’s running down the hill in anticipation of a fight which, I’m guessing by the tension you’re trying to build here, might mean loss of his life as well as the hounds and he’s stopping to think about how he looks when not wearing glamor? No, doesn’t work for me and again, this is another problem with 1st person. You want to get that description of your character in as soon as possible, but don’t realize it pulls most readers right out of the story. People don’t think of themselves like that, especially under extreme circumstances. He might be thinking about the scrabbling he’s doing, how many hounds, what he can do to take them out, that his sword has served him well and please, dear Tuatha De, help it serve him again, but not the color of his hair.

    There are questions here that I’d like the answers to so for that, I’d read on, though I think you’ve focused more on the family than the prey, but I wouldn’t continue with the inherent problems you’ve already shown in writing in 1st person. There are other minor problems that could be cleaned up and edited, but the major ones stop me cold.

    Kudos for putting it out there and good luck.

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  5. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 09:18:17

    @theo:
    I don’t know that it pulls MOST readers out of the story – one out of four here so far has noticed it and objected to it. We’ll have to see how others react, but so far I think it’s a minority that’s bothered by it.

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  6. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 09:29:18

    @Kate Sherwood:

    ETA: to clarify, that passage was part of what made me feel the prose was a bit purple. But it didn’t really pull me out of the story, and I don’t think purple prose is unique to first person writing.

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  7. theo
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 12:04:55

    @Kate Sherwood: Really? Because that is a very frequent comment any time there’s a first page written in first person. However, I’m sure there are those it doesn’t bother. But the writing would have to be stellar for me not to notice it and not do a ‘huh?’ And it’s not.

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  8. Mary
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 12:26:08

    I really liked this! I think it was one of the better first pages in a while. I don’t really have any critiques. I wasn’t pulled out of the story by the description of the protagonist (which I thought was a girl?) and I liked the oxymoron of powers vs nothing truly powerful.
    I would definitely keep reading, my one concern is that although I like the writing in this passage, I’m not sure if I could keep reading if the entire book is this stylistic. I liked it here, but if the story is 300 or 400 pages long that can get…exhausting.
    But overall I really liked it!

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  9. reader
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 13:14:50

    This is very vividly written, but you make references in 1st person that a 1st person pov would not make, such as describing hair color. You’re too much outside your 1st person character. Maybe you’re more of a natural 3rd person writer.

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  10. reader
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 13:19:16

    @Kate Sherwood:

    I’m surprised it doesn’t pull out every reader. It should. It’s an obvious new-writer mistake.

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  11. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 16:05:31

    @reader: I think a lot of things that bother people who write don’t bother people who only read. Look at all the nitpicks that can be made of wildly successful books – 50 Shades, etc. People still loved them even though they broke a lot of rules that new authors have shoved down their throats.

    From your tag, though, I guess you’re mostly a reader? So maybe my explanation doesn’t work for you.

    But I totally disagree about the idea of things that should pull out readers. If readers can enjoy a piece of writing, they should enjoy it, without worrying that they’re not picking on details that they should care about. IMO.

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  12. hapax
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 17:06:18

    I agree that this is well-written. It seems to be shaping up as the kind of story that relies heavily on how interesting and consistent the world-building is, but I certainly don’t see anything in the first page to indicate any sloppiness there.

    I do think this would work better as a tight third person, but perhaps that’s my dislike of yet ANOTHER first person fantasy and/or paranormal romance.

    Unless the narrator has a truly unique voice (and tough but secretly wounded isn’t), I’d try recasting it as third, and see how it goes.

    Among other things, it might help with my instant dislike for a protagonist who casually uses a little girl as “bait”.

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  13. wendy
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 17:51:41

    No pulling out for me. I am your audience and I want to read the book. Please keep writing.

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  14. Helen
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 18:35:45

    I check stories for two things, if it is written in first person and the copyright year. Pretty much I will put the first person book back on the shelf. I quite enjoyed this, but one of the other commenters said “he”, I never picked that up.

    This sentence really bothered me:
    Ayla, ten years old, suspected of having the sight by the old women who gathered and gossipped while minding the children.

    Is it a sentence?

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  15. Carolyne
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 19:47:19

    I think the author succeeds in finding an excuse for the first-person narrator to describe him(?)self, without resorting to looking in a mirror (or a stream, pond, shiny bit of metal, etc.). Telling the reader the difference between real form and glamour feels perfectly legitimate, a dialogue between the the narrator and their confidante (us).

    I honestly didn’t find part with the shadows awkward, and I enjoyed that we join the action in progress. I don’t need a narrator to be perfect from the start–but the part about the bait seemed more convenience than hugely threatening. And even if it were threatening, this is someone who isn’t part of our mortal world, and I want to know what their morals and priorities are and how the character will develop over the course of the story. There’s an immediate urgency, and an immediate sense of things going on below the world we know.

    Since (most???) readers like to have the grounding of knowing whether the narrator is male or female, you might want to include some sort of indication. But maybe the narrator is neither, or ambiguous. I don’t mind being in the dark a while, or longer, when dealing with the ambiguous world of fae.

    I’m in the demographic that enjoys first person, so I hope you’ll stick with it. Since you can’t please every reader, go with what feels right for this story.

    I’d absolutely read on.

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  16. MerylF
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 20:58:26

    Thank you for comments. The narrator is female. Normally I suppose we get a cue to the sex of the protagonist from the blurb and cover, but not so in a bare section of prose.

    As for the prose, I started out publishing short stories, and in that form there is a tendency toward more evocative language. I know that I like to read stories with lush, visceral imagery. I do take your point though Mary, that it might be too much over the length of a novel!

    As for the POV, well. Halfway through this draft I switched to 3rd person and didn’t notice for several chapters. So I think my subconscious made the decision for me. Draft #3 has been written in 3rd so far. We’ll see how that works out. Thank you Carolyne for your analysis, that’s exactly what I was going for.

    Helen, no it’s not a sentence. Strunk and White would be horrified!

    I’m glad most people liked it. Having this kind of objective view is invaluable, and I appreciate your perspective. Thank you!

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  17. JenM
    Jun 09, 2013 @ 11:01:18

    A bit late with my comment, but I wanted to post because I’m definitely your audience and I was sucked in and wanted to continue. I will say, though, that I prefer 3rd person to 1st so I’m glad to hear that you have rewritten it. I noticed the description and it slightly pulled me out of the story, but mainly because I was still trying to figure out if the protagonist was male or female (I’d love to read a Fae story that features a male). Since I like to get a picture in my head, I don’t mind the devices that authors use to get that description in there, although I do tend to notice them. Anyway, best wishes on the story and let us know if you publish it.

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  18. Cassie Knight
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 08:43:25

    Dear Meryl, everyone made great comments. The major thing I see is the first person versus third but I see your subconscious has taken care of that. I’d also recommend you dig a little deeper and work to show more of what your character is feeling and experiencing. Some of the passage made me feel like an observer not as someone experiencing the story. All that being said, I’m the Senior Editor at Champagne Book Group and if you are interested, I’d love to see a partial on this. I’ve put my contact information in the header. It’s intriguing and I love your voice – well done on getting that clear in the first page. Good luck!

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