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First Page: The Painted Prince

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Pain. His senses floated free, adrift. He saw himself on the bed, in a cruddy wooden room, small, dirty, dressed in poorly fitting clothes. Then he was back in his body and the pain shot behind his eyes like fire. Lava. He must have cried out, because then Lucalyn was there by his side and it was wrong, ridiculous, and he wanted to laugh but it came out a gasp.

“Julian, can you talk?” a soft voice, a cool hand. His skin was burning, a heat that flowed slow and molten up his arm from his hand, his pulped hand, where the crusaol was eating into his skin like a living thing. The pain kept him from thinking

“Lucalyn…”

“Call me Lucas, here,” the other whispered, and Julian wanted to laugh again, but the laughter was trapped in mind. You will call my Lucalyn, not Lucas. I am your prince. I am not your friend. I am not your lover. Hadn’t Lucas said that to him? When had Lucas said that to him?

Julian remembered everything. Or more. There was no way to be certain it was really everything. Though it was now all jumbled, images one on top of the other coming in bright flashes through the pain. He had planned to betray Lucalyn, twice. He had planned to, but had he succeeded? Had he meant it? His memories would not tell him and with the pain there was frustration.

The next time Julian’s eyes opened was because of the scream. It was loud, and shrill, and came from outside the thin cottage walls. His eyes stayed open, his head clearer than it had been for many weeks. Months. Over him he saw the woman. No sign of Lucas or the man.

“Where is he?” Julian’s voice sounded weak, dry, and he was angry, so angry he could barely keep a rein on the magic that flitted about him, untethered and dangerous.

“Don’t talk,” the woman said, forcefully but not unkindly. “Your friend will be back soon.”

“Where. Is he?” Julian bit out the words, hard, dangerous.

“Out with the others. He insisted.”

“Out where?”

“At the stones, there’s been a breach.”

“Where are we?”

“The grey border.”

“Lucas is fighting outlanders.”

“Yes.”

“Fool,” Julian pulled himself out of bed, head ringing. The crusaol on his hand throbbed with a pain that made the room fade to black. The crusaol demanded his full attention, the pain now like an insistent shouting in his ear. He told it to shut up and behave, because he had to find Lucas now and he refused to lie in bed any longer. That seemed to quiet it somewhat, thought the pain faded to something else. Resentment. That had to be his imagination. Going mad? Wasn’t that one of the symptoms?

“You can’t go out there,” the woman said, grabbing his arm. He was too weak to pull free. “Didn’t you hear? There has been a breach. There could be outlanders anywhere.”

“I don’t care about outlanders.”

“They will kill you. What will I tell your friend if you die?”

“What will you tell me if he dies, and you stopped me from helping him?” Julian said quietly. He was breathing heavily, but seeing clearly, and standing on his own. “Let me go.”

 

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

17 Comments

  1. Linda Winfree
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 07:41:28

    It’s not my genre of choice, but I like it and would keep reading. I had unanswered questions, but you know, that’s okay. I’d keep reading to learn more about his former relationship with Lucas, how he planned to betray him, what exactly the thing on his hand is. I had the good kind of reading unanswered questions, not the “What is going on here?!” kind.

    A few quibbles:

    I stumbled over the part where he remembered everything, maybe more, because then he’s struggling with what he doesn’t remember. That said, I am also reading a seriously ill narrator and his mind should be a confusing mess.

    “Where. Is he?” — I’d suggest simply leaving this as one question, without the period. The attributive informs is he bit the words out. That should be enough.

    Outlanders made me think of the popular books being turned into a television series. Not sure if that’s just me or if others would make the connection as well.

    Overall, I would read on. Thanks for sharing with us and best wishes.

    ReplyReply

  2. SAO
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 07:49:33

    I need to start by saying this isn’t my thing. I’m not into Sci-fi or fantasy.

    I think you have a problem with Julian lying weak in bed. For half of the page, he’s floating in and out of consciousness. He’s not doing anything, he’s passively experiencing sensations, giving you a passive MC. You can change this by giving him a goal to get out of bed, which you do at the end of the page, but you’ve done such a good job of portraying Julian as being at death’s door that getting up to save Luc seems foolhardy, rather than helpful.

    You have two paras of plot hints, but after reading them, I don’t know anything about who Luc or Julian are and what they are to each other. Then you have a long series of unattributed dialogue that tells us little about your world. It could tell us so much more with the addition of thought:

    . . .”Out with the others, he insisted.”
    Jul must have misheard. “Out where?” Luc wasn’t a fighter. He was a (whatever).
    “At the stones, there’s been a breach.”
    Jul (felt emotion). He pictured Luc (whatever). He had to get off this bed. He pulled himself out of bed. etc.

    I felt like the feelings you described didn’t jibe. You describe a lot of pain, then Julian wants to laugh. We don’t have the foggiest idea why Luc’s being there is ridiculous, nor does that tell us anything about who Jul or Luc are. He hears a scream, which sounds like it ought to evoke some emotion, but it doesn’t. He doesn’t even wonder who screamed or why. He doesn’t care, neither dismissing it as a raccoon nor worrying about what kind of creature is making whom scream in pain. Then he’s angry. Angry at what? At whom? Why? I sure don’t know.

    The para where you say Julian remembered everything is pure telling. You certainly don’t show us what Julian remembered.

    By starting with “Pain.” you make that the focus of the page. I suspect everything would work for you if you started with “Luc.” You’d have a goal, you’d show us the relationship and drop hints about backstory without us being confused. You’d probably have a great page.

    ReplyReply

  3. Carolyne
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 08:15:29

    I like it–I love the title and would take a look at the book just on the basis of being intrigued by that. I like the writing, but feel like I’m reading a page from the middle. So much has happened, complex difficult events, and I’ll have to carry all that information with me as the gaps are filled in.

    I think the previous two sets of suggestions will help with this, but would also suggest giving us less information so quickly. They’re not-lovers-not-friends but probably are, the name, the injury, the betrayal, the battle, the location, the outlanders. It’s just a little too much to hold onto at once and I lost sight of our narrator. Delaying a couple of details would help me focus on the urgency of him needing to get up and go…

    Overall I like and really want to see more.

    ReplyReply

  4. wikkidsexycool
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 08:53:39

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for submitting this. I loved your voice and your choices here. The title and a bit of the story reminded me of “The Warded Man” and “The Night Angel” trilogy with your hero being covered in some sort of powerful glyph (not sure that’s the right word here, but I can’t think of anything else at the moment), so I’d read on.

    I’m not sure this is the point to start your story though, if it is fantasy. It depends on the market audience you’re going for. There were a few things that could be cleaned up, like when internally he says:

    “You will call my Lucalyn, not Lucas.”

    I’m pretty sure you mean “You will call me Lucalyn, not Lucas.”

    But even with everything you’ve got going on, I enjoyed your hero’s determination and loyalty. I’m intrigued by his betrayal, the part where you state:

    “He had planned to betray Lucalyn, twice. He had planned to, but had he succeeded? Had he meant it? His memories would not tell him and with the pain there was frustration.”

    By that time I was already hooked, so I was a wee bit frustrated when you threw in a teaser, and with the additional questions he asks himself, I’m hoping the novel goes further into this.

    Please, PLEASE post more info on this tale (like a blurb perhaps) and let us know when it’s published.

    ReplyReply

  5. KimMarie
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 09:00:59

    I would definitely keep reading if this was the first page. (I do enjoy reading fantasy and sci-fi.) I disagree with most of SAO’s critiques and most of those changes would make it into a non-starter for me. I think the difference is in types of readers – some like a lot of description and story setup and others, like me, want the description to come with the action. I don’t want descriptions – it’s too slow and I get bored.

    With that said, if some of the unknowns brought up in this first page are not addressed pretty quickly, then the read becomes confusing and frustrating. I’ve read books where I felt like I’ve missed something because the characters have thoughts, feelings or actions that are predicated on something that hasn’t been explained (and often is never explained).

    Also, I do agree that it doesn’t make sense to have someone so bedridden and then he wants to get out of bed and fight – actually, if he wants to help is one thing, but if he actually does it is another. It is frustrating (and exhausting) to me when a character doesn’t behave appropriately within the context of the story. Yes, it’s fantasy but there’s still a world with rules and the action should occur within those rules – someone bedridden and in extreme pain probably could not get up and fight.

    ReplyReply

  6. hapax
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 10:09:40

    KimMarie already said everything I was thinking, but more succinctly.

    All I can add is that I’m completely hooked, and hope you’ll let us know when and where this is available!

    ReplyReply

  7. Wahoo Suze
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 13:49:33

    Love it! I’d keep reading.

    ReplyReply

  8. Viridian
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 15:22:07

    If it gets published, please come back and tell us! I would love to read it.

    ReplyReply

  9. Mary
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 17:35:27

    I don’t have a lot of critique, all I can say is that I wouldn’t read on. I don’t know why, I suspect that, although I love fantasy, this seems like a sub genre I don’t love.
    That being said, a lot of people seem to like this so good luck!

    ReplyReply

  10. Sirius
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 17:54:25

    I want :), especially if it is m/m.

    ReplyReply

  11. The Author
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 14:41:13

    Thank you everyone for the comments, I cannot express enough how much they are appreciated.

    Writing this I have had more trouble with the “where the story starts” questions than any other stories I have written, largely because of the memory loss elements. I actually originally wrote this passage as the beginning of the second part of the second book. I took a break from the series and have recently returned. I have been reworking the chronological presentation of events and I wanted to see how readers reacted to this as the beginning. I do agree there might just be too much backstory for this to be the beginning of the first book, and waking up in bed is not my favorite way to begin a book, but I am encouraged that a good number of people would read on. Many of the questions do get answered by the end of the first chapter (Julian talks to Lucas so that answers some questions but raises others, and we also find out about the thing on his hand). I am not doing any flash backs, just trying to get the backstory in through dialogue, action and very brief internal thoughts as memories come back to Julian through the first couple of chapters. That’s the goal.

    Wikkidsexycool was also kind enough to ask for something more, like a blurb. Here is a blurb:

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    The greatstones are failing, and outlanders are appearing again in the villages along the borders for the first time in hundreds of years. No help comes from the inner cities, which are being torn apart by internal power struggles. The fighters who could help on the borders are busy looking for the missing prince, but even they do not know whether their goal is to help or harm.

    Julian did not care about the struggles. He was focused on his family, his friends, and fulfilling the expectations of his ill father, not on remote dangers he could do nothing about. The border was the concern of others more capable than himself, and the inner city families would work out their conflicts as they had in the past. But when Julian wakes in a cottage on the border, his prior concerns are obliterated by a rush of lost memories full of struggle and sacrifice, and he realizes his true self had been taken from him. On the border the enemy who took his memories is now his only ally, and Julian is forced to rethink his allegiances and reevaluate the truths he thought he knew about their shared world.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

    That’s it! Whew, now even reading that blurb it sounds like a second book rather than a first, huh? I will keep editing! I think this starting point is working for me, but I will certainly have to get multiple people’s reaction to the final product.

    Thanks again everyone!

    Final thing – I hesitated a bit to add this, as it may be a rather charged question, but I thought I would give it a shot. I have been ruminating on the possibility of switching Julian’s gender. In fact, I have a half-written version where he is a woman, which I wrote to see if it would work. So I would ask, how would people have reacted to the passage if Julian was female? Better? Worse? Same? Assuming it is otherwise exactly the same.

    Any thoughts are appreciated, though I also would understand if people are moving on from my first page to other things. But I thought I would put the question about there since I am thinking about it a lot.

    Thanks again everyone for the wonderful site and opportunity for authors to get such thoughtful comments.

    ReplyReply

  12. Sirius
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 14:51:25

    Eh there is audience who won’t touch m/m, there is an audience who won’t touch anything that not m/m. I am more disappointed that you contemplate doing it in the first place because to me gender of the character is not to something to be switched easily and everything else in the story would just work the same way. I had seen way too many m/m romances where I strongly suspected the character was to be a woman initially and these romances make me want to give my kindle a flying workout. Sorry, you asked. I am sure many people will be happy if you make it m/f. I will not. And I am the reader who while does not read a lot of m/f, will happily read fantasy, urban fantasy, sci if where m/ f romantic storyline is present, as long as there is an action happens besides romance, lots of it. What I am trying to say is that I would not be unhappy if you initially presented this piece with m/f romance , but I am unhappy now if that makes sense? JMO of course.

    ReplyReply

  13. The Author
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 17:56:27

    @Sirius:

    Hi Sirius,

    Thank you for the reply, I am thankful you took the time to write. With this tiny passage it is hard for me to explain my thoughts on switching verses not switching, and I know it’s a charged topic. The book I wrote when taking a break from this one is a m/m in the same world, and there is no way a gender switch would work in that story. No way. I wouldn’t even consider it. But for this story I was considering it for a couple of thematic reasons I will go into here:

    It is now m/m and I like it a lot, and I don’t want to straighten my story for no reason. But after thinking about it, there are some big-picture story reasons that would make it thematically interesting and maybe even preferable for Julian to be a woman. First, there is an historical non-romantic m/f couple (well, unrequited romance, the m loves the f). They are the “makers” of the world, they pushed the outlanders beyond the borders, raised the stones and created the thing that’s on Julian’s hand. Julian is descended from the m and Lucas from the f. Like that of their ancestors, the Julian/Lucas storyline ends up transforming the world, but does so by dismantling rather than building. So I want to play on the parallels between the Julian/Lucas relationship and the prior m/f relationship. Many of the parallels are still there as m/m, but not all of them. I also like the idea of having a woman front and center in this major change for the world, just as there was a woman front and center for the “making.” It’s basically become a gender-representation issue for me in my completely fictional fantasy writing project. So I have these warring impulses of “don’t straighten characters be true to your story!” and “make women important in your (fictional) world where you are in charge of everything! Don’t make men responsible for all the big changes!” It’s a conundrum.

    The choice is even harder because I purposely structured this story so no conflict relies on the characters being in a m/m romantic relationship. There are plenty of other issues to create conflict between them, and between them and others. But because no conflict or major story events depend on Julian’s gender, it is possible to change without hugely disrupting the story. Which take us to characterization.

    I do want to keep Julian’s character as similar as possible. I share you annoyance at books that do this sloppily – I would do my utmost to prevent any change from resulting in kindle-throwing! Currently Julian is arrogant, excessively self-confident, reckless, makes decisions (too) quickly and sees things as black and white (though he evolves from this), all what might be called “masculine” traits, but I actually like the idea of playing with gender norms by giving these traits to a female character. I have a background in gender studies and spend a lot of my time thinking about how physical gender relates to gender expression, and how gender expression is different from sexuality. And accordingly the world I created does not have the same gender expression expectations as our world (though it has some). Of course there are a few points that would need tweaking (particularly a maybe-child who appears way down the story line), but as I mentioned above I purposely wrote this part of the story so the m/m nature of the romance is not necessary for the conflict. Since it’s the character backgrounds and mutual betrayals that create the conflict between Julian and Lucas, there would be similar problems and obstacles for a m/f couple. But I also recognize potential readers are from our world and so would certainly react differently to a female rather than a male, and that’s kinda what I was asking about in the context of this admittedly tiny passage.

    In the end, though the thematic mirroring is appealing to me and I want a woman involved in these events, I am leaning towards keeping the main story m/m, since that’s how I originally conceived of the story and it would take a lot of work to do the switch. There are women who are important in the events, even if they are not the main drivers in the same way Julian and Lucas are. On a more functional level, I do like how the story is now and think it meets my goals of Action! Betrayal! Politics! Princes! Big stakes! Sexual tension! I also realize this gender issue is probably something to go over with someone who has read the whole draft, rather than just a tiny passage – which is the reason I was hesitant to ask about it here in the first place. But I thought I would ask because I was interested in how readers would have reacted to just this first page if the gender was different. Would the pain / anger have been perceived differently? Would people have been more likely to view the character as a *victim* in some way? But it’s probably too much to ask people to put aside what I submitted and think about the characters in this other context.

    In any case, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I realize this is a long reply but I can write about this stuff all day and I thought it might be interesting for someone.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write!

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  14. Viridian
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 22:49:49

    I prefer m/m and f/f romance. When you asked the question about making the romance m/f, I admit, my knee-jerk reaction was “Don’t do it!”

    However — I did a little test. I copied this scene down into a word document and changed Julian’s pronouns around, and while re-reading it, I realized something. I honestly don’t care what gender Julian is. Julian sounds badass, and I like that. My perception of the character did not change with his gender. So you go, Author. You do what you do. I would read it anyway.

    (But if I had to pick, I’d rather read m/m.)

    ReplyReply

  15. Sirius
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 23:04:01

    Hi author thanks for explaining your reasoning. I definitely agree that you should go with whatever your muse dictates you and your audience will find you. I also would love to read m /m you already wrote but I get that you cannot reveal the title since it will destroy your anonymity.

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  16. RowW
    Apr 04, 2014 @ 17:14:29

    Julian can be a gender-neutral name. Or perhaps shorten it for a nickname of Jules. I’d pick one, the one that you feel is best for the overall story, and stick w/ it. Or possibly m/f twins? That can be over-done, or done poorly, but it might be an interesting twist =). Julian does seem like a bad ass character regardless of their gender. I didn’t get enough of the relationship in this sample to care whether it’s m/m or m/f (and I can read either =).).

    One minor nitpick (echoing what KimMarie said):
    If Julian’s fading in and out of extreme pain and/or consciousness, one doesn’t just leap up and go storm the castle, fight the baddies, etc. That stuck out at me as unrealistic. If you’re going to keep it, it *could* work giving the right motivation, just make it really, really clear. The threat of loosing a beloved to an enemy *can* make ppl haul their wounded asses out from having one foot in the grave to go save them. At least make it obvious that it’s painful, extremely hard for them and how pissed off they’d be about it … etc. ;)

    Overall, great hints of awesomeness. Can’t wait to read more!
    =)
    -r

    ReplyReply

  17. Author
    Apr 05, 2014 @ 00:53:49

    Wow thank you! It was so lovely to get this comment. I am still chugging away on the draft and this was a great booster :). What exactly Julian is realistically physically capable of doing has been a focus of edits and some research — I have really appreciated everyone’s comments. I have reworked this intro a bit in light of the comments but it is still a work in progress. Thank you thank you for further feedback!!

    And Julian is a guy — he just, is.

    ReplyReply

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