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First Page: Unnamed Fantasy

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Once upon a time-Is that how all the stories used to start? After all this time, all this loneliness and solitude I’m not sure what I remember anymore-what is real? I was a man. I remember that much at least. Not just a man, but a knight. Remember that, wretched creature. Hold to that. A knight you were, cherished by the king himself. Respected. Renowned. The most beloved knight in all the land. A hero. And now-.Now I am a beast, trapped forever as a rangy wolf, with only the boundaries of this forest as a buffer from the human world that has cast me off. All that was good, all that was noble and knightly in me is gone now.

No, not all.

A knight is more than his armor. Pennants flying. The banquets. The fine clothes. Honor is not just to be found in the outward signs of it. I have to believe that.

He’d had fine clothes once. A fine home. Accolades. Honor. Respect. He’d had a life. A life and a wife and a place in the world.

But now I am a beast. What honor I possessed has disappeared along with my fine clothes and gold-etched armor. Along with my titles and honors and lands-Along with her-

His upper lip curled back over fangs dripping saliva. All lost, all gone, and now-

A low rumble escaped from his throat. Were it still a human throat the growl might have passed for a rueful chuckle. As it was the throat of a wolf, the sound was little better than a deep snarling. And now?

And now what?!

With a snarl and a spring he leapt from his woodsy alcove. Normally, he hid himself from the light of the day. The sunshine brought back too many memories of what he’d been, hammering home all too forcefully what he was now.

That day he found no rest wherever he went. He was driving himself wilder than he already was with all this soul-searching.When you are a beast, what does it avail you to try to think like a man?

Echoing growls from his ribcage reminded him of what his human ruminations had distracted him from for too long: Wolf, man or otherwise- he was hungry.

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

24 Comments

  1. DS
    May 16, 2009 @ 05:31:23

    I don’t know about this one. The opening is ok, but when the character starts to do wolf-like things I think it falls down. Why did he spring from his woodsy alcove? Most of the springing I’ve seen wolves do in nature films has been onto prey. I would suggest the author might want to do some research on the behavior of wolves and particularly the wolves of medieval Europe if this is where this is set.

    I’ve read a couple of good books based on medieval tales of people involuntarily transformed into wolves so the author has some stiff competition. The first person could be interesting– like a movie voiceover. But once it shifts to 3rd person nothing seems to happen. Emo wolf is emo.

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  2. ilona andrews
    May 16, 2009 @ 05:32:34

    A knight is more than his armor. Pennants flying. The banquets. The fine clothes. Honor is not just to be found in the outward signs of it. I have to believe that.

    He'd had fine clothes once. A fine home. Accolades. Honor. Respect. He'd had a life. A life and a wife and a place in the world.

    It’s good to know that his wife is at the very bottom of the list, after the banners, clothes, and food.

    From technical standpoint, you’re a good writer, but from emotional standpoint this snippet is full of fail. This is an opportunity to let us see what kind of man this person is. You ripped him open and we can look inside at his most precious memories.

    And what he remembers most is not the smile of his wife, the encouragement of his father, the proud moment of being knighted, not his friends, not his childhood home, but the wealth and luxury he enjoyed. I can’t muster any sympathy for him, unfortunately.

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  3. blodeuedd
    May 16, 2009 @ 05:38:12

    I am liking it, it makes me think about Fitz from Robin Hobbs book when he was trapped in his wolf.

    I understand the things he misses, and now I wonder what kind of beast he is. Depending on that would make my decision if I like it

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  4. joanne
    May 16, 2009 @ 06:50:01

    Wolf. I love it.

    Point of view changes, not so much.

    He’s also whining. It’s irritating — but I like your voice and would continue reading for a bit to see where the story goes.

    Thanks so much and much good luck with your writing.

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  5. Stephanie
    May 16, 2009 @ 07:07:55

    I read this and couldn’t help being reminded of Marie de France’s Bisclavret, where the aristocratic hero is trapped into wolf-shape by his faithless wife. That’s not a criticism–Bisclavret’s a great story and there are far worse examples to borrow from. I would read on for a few more pages, at least.

    I thought the style flowed smoothly enough, though I’m not sure about the juxtaposition between the hero’s internal monologue and the narrative. If the hero’s thoughts are becoming more wolflike and animalistic, would he really soliloquize to such an extent in the opening paragraphs? It might be worth trimming the first-person stuff at the beginning, if you’re going to tell your story mostly in third person–maybe get right to the heart of the conflict and start with the line: “A knight is more than his armor.”

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  6. Leah
    May 16, 2009 @ 07:17:38

    I’m just not a big shape-shifter fan, but I liked this one. The only thing that bothered me was the shift from 1st to 3rd. I actually preferred the 1st person section, but I can see where it might be hard to stay there throughout the book. Also, if he spends a lot of time brooding, which would be normal in his situation, it could, get a little old. Fantasy is not my fave genre, so I’m sure that others will have more useful comments.

    Best of luck with it!

    Leah

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  7. Lynne Connolly
    May 16, 2009 @ 08:28:18

    A few misplaced words – “rangy,” “woodsy” far too cutesy.
    Do more, go further. Make it really grungy, drop the cute words and go for it.
    Lancelot/Galahad as a werewolf is an interesting concept, I did a bit of it myself in “Chemistry of Evil” (but not a wolf), but to make a real impact, drop the olde worlde stuff and go for the jugular.
    Drop the internal thoughts as well. He’s a bit whiney, I’d prefer a lot more action and a lot less whining.

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  8. JoB
    May 16, 2009 @ 09:12:56

    I’m happy to see another hero-turned-into-wolf story on the shelves. My own snapflashconnection was to Ladyhawke.

    I would be delighted to meet another arrogant, hard-headed, gutsy, Medieval hunk with wolf problems. Yes.

    That said . . . Couple of things:

    1) You’re doing something with the POV and I don’t have enough of Chapter One to tell me what it is but I am troubled by it.

    I read along thinking about the mechanics of how you’re laying the story out instead of falling into the story.
    This is not wholly because I’m looking at it analytically. I think the ‘I’ versus ‘He’ is going to be a ‘whooops … missed step’ for many readers.

    So, Advice the First,
    (did I stop to say that all this advice is just one person’s opinion and should be taken with large heaping teaspoons of salt?)
    would be to reconsider and refine this slippage in and out of Italicked First Person.

    If you are going to drop the dual POV on page five . . .
    consider using one example of First Person up top, prologue-like, and then entering the here-and-now of the story.
    So simple and straightforward.
    the reader will not be dismayed by constant movement back and forth.

    OTOH, If you mean to keep up this switching through the whole ms,
    (and why should you not?)
    then by all means stick to your arquebuses,
    and the reader will get used to it and no longer jar and wince.
    The Italics do make everything relatively clear.

    2) Second Advice.

    Details suck us into the story, whether they are details of motivation or action or scenery.

    A pennant is general.
    A black-and-yellow, dragon-tongue-forked pennant if specific. The McFehan pennant is specific. My father’s pennant is specific.

    Loneliness and solitude are general.
    Seeing no human soul for six weeks is specific. Crouching in a thicket watching the charcoal burner for hours on end because he’s the only human in the woods is specific. Saying no word, not one, since Candlemass is specific.

    After all this time is general.
    After four months, eleven days, and some odd hours is specific.

    Now, not every noun and verb needs to be complicated and sharply-flavored. But there should be many intense and nobbly fragments floating in the general soup, just to make it interesting.

    So Advice the Second is to eschew generalities and give specific, concrete examples of more of the important points you are making.

    3) Advice the Third
    is to gritty up the protagonist.

    I know your POV character is a historical person and may think in sweeping heroic terms like…
    wretched creature
    cherished by the king himself
    most beloved knight
    the human world that has cast me off

    and you use these ‘romantic’ phrasings to build his ‘voice’.

    But . . . Ivanhoe and the pre-Raphaelites aside, your MC seems a bit flowery to be a competent, proved, hard-bitten warrior.
    IMO.
    He does not sound like he’s come through the Marne or Monte Cassion or An Loc, leading his men. It’s early in the story, of course, but, so far, neither his language nor his attitude speak to me of a great soldier.

    One could argue that men may poke large pieces of low-carbon steel through various bowels at midday and compose love sonnets at teatime. But if this is his essence — the poetic warrior — you may want to make the dichotomy of his nature clear at some early convenient opportunity.

    4) And you probably want to sweep out the most purple of the prose in any case. Fr’instance …

    woodsy alcove . . . for lair, thicket, perch, clearing.
    Echoing growls from his ribcage . . . stomach rumbling.
    and anything similar that crops up.

    It is not that great warriors do not think of themselves as springing from a woodsy alcove.
    Nobody does.

    5) You have not emerged us in the here-and-now of the story right off. We are rather in the ‘I am telling you a story’ phase. But this is page one, so I don’t have any problem with that at all.

    Looking through, I feel as if I have dumped a load of harshness on you. I don’t want to be critical of a story that strikes me as intriguing and filled with potential.

    I especially do not want to pound hobnailed boots all over the POV switching. What you’ve got strikes me as a difficult approach, but interesting. I’d be curious to see what you do with it, if it does continue.

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  9. JoB
    May 16, 2009 @ 09:23:54

    Can’t get in to edit. ‘immersed’, not ‘emerged’.
    Blast Word.

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  10. Maya M.
    May 16, 2009 @ 09:24:53

    Overall, I liked it and would read more.

    I did not have a problem with ‘general’ type descriptions rather than specifics since to me, that reinforced the idea of long stretches of time going by and blending into each other, and also of animal vs. human nature – a wolf probably wouldn’t care what color a pennant was. (This means more specificity would probably be a good way to differentiate between the wolf and man POV).

    My stumbling block was the repetition. Time/time, clothes and clothes and clothes, now now now – I can speculate that this was done deliberately, to achieve a particular effect, but it didn’t work for me as is. Maybe more synonyms? Or choosing the single most effective place to mention the general concept and then leave it alone?

    Good luck to you.

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  11. gwen hayes
    May 16, 2009 @ 10:35:29

    I’d keep reading, as I wondered right away the thing every author wants the reader to wonder on first page: why? and how?

    But I stumbled in the POV switches too.

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  12. Kate
    May 16, 2009 @ 10:42:23

    “The most beloved knight in all the land. A hero. And now….Now I am a beast, trapped forever as a rangy wolf.”

    I think the writing style is good and I like that you play with sentence structure.
    However, I don’t want to be TOLD by the character that they are a wolf. Hearing everything the Knight ONCE was – great. It got me interested in the character. But as soon as I knew he was a wolf — I lost some of my interest. Mainly because I was told so quickly.

    Knowing the character is a wolf is a HUGE reveal. But it kind of loses its impact because of where it is currently placed. Is there anyway to keep that reveal as a secret until the end of the chapter? Not knowing what kind of beast your character is would definitely keep a reader reading.

    Congrats on being brave enough to send out your words to be critiqued. I’ve been writing for 5 years and still struggle with it.

    Cheers.

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  13. Julia Sullivan
    May 16, 2009 @ 11:13:59

    I think this idea has great potential, and you seem like a skilled writer, so I’m going to be tough about the technical issues.

    A) I could not possibly hate the POV switches more than I do. You’re not gaining anything from it, because the third-person is just amplifying information that you’re getting from the first-person. And you’re losing something by it, because it’s annoying–it’s not worth doing anything annoying unless you’re gaining more than you lose by doing it.

    B) Also, both “rangy” and “woodsy”, as others have said, stand out, and not in a good way. Keep the locution medieval if you’re going to be medieval; switching it up with 21st-century words only works for comedy. (And if this is comedy, you might want to rethink the tone of the opening.)

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  14. LindaR (likari)
    May 16, 2009 @ 13:33:42

    I’m in the hate-the-POV-switch column. It kept knocking me out of the story and made me aware that I was reading. And there is blatant sayittwiceitis: now I am a beast, now I am a beast, ruminations on honor in two separated paragraphs.

    I do like the story itself, so far. I’m interested in the character. I want to know what happened, what’s going to happen. So that’s good.

    As Coleridge might say, these are good words in a good order, but not the best words in the best order. I think you need to start over completely. Forget the once upon a time schtick.

    Definitely rethink his priorities, as in move his wife up the list! (unless he’s not the hero???)

    I like the idea of putting off the reveal that he is a wolf. You could have him start off thinking about the life that he misses so that the reader thinks he’s Long Lost Guy, maybe returning from the war a la Ross Poldark or something. Then after he’s thought about his wife and honor and armor and home and whatever, his stomach could growl and he could start thinking about gettting something to eat; and as he goes about the business of getting his meal, the reader could realize something different is going on . . . .

    Anyway, good luck. This sounds promising.

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  15. Ros
    May 16, 2009 @ 14:05:03

    I think this is pretty good, to be honest. I like the premise and the voice of the character and I’d keep reading. My main crit would be to do with the italicised thought technique. I’d rather just have it all from a close 3rd POV and occasionally, if needed, include ‘he thought’ kind of tags. Italicised thoughts can, imho, work okay if they are included sparingly in an otherwise more distant narration. But if you’re going to have lengthy sections like this, especially on the first page, I’d find another way of doing it.

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  16. Tammy
    May 16, 2009 @ 14:49:17

    I agree with Julia Sullivan – great idea with lots of potenial, and I really enjoy the knight’s voice. You’re a skilled writer. I thought the story started off nicely, but before we reached the end of the first paragraph it turned into an info-dump disguised as inner monologue. Phrases like “Now I am a beast, trapped forever as a rangy wolf”, “Were he still human” are a little too heavy-handed.

    I think what bothered me the most about this open (in addition to the hinky POV)was that you told us he was a wolf via inner monologue before you showed us he was a wolf through physical action – robbing the wolf reveal of its impact.

    I also ask that you consider putting off the wolf reveal until the very end of the scene. Consider the following sequence: start the scene out in inner monologue. Establish the knight’s pain and despair, etc.. As the scene progresses, slowly and gradually embed physical details – he’s walking through the forest, snow is crunching under his feet (I wanted more setting in this scene), his stomach is growling, he has to hunt. Only at the end of the scene do you reveal that the being responsible for these educated, sophisticated, almost lyrical thoughts and emotions, this being hunting for his dinner, has to do so while loping through the forest on four legs, snout to the ground, tracking his prey and ruthlessly taking it down.

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  17. Kathleen MacIver
    May 16, 2009 @ 17:50:08

    I love your voice. It comes through strong and clear. Its vivid and it grabs the reader’s attention.

    The first POV switch was fine…but then the back and forth was jarring. I don’t know that you should cut them out completely, though…to me, the problem I see more is repetition. There’s a LOT of it in this section, and it makes me want to start skimming. I wonder, if you used one POV for his thoughts, and another POV for narrative, or something like that, if it would be easier on the reader? I really don’t know.

    But back to the first paragraph. It is slightly confusing to know if he’s talking to the reader, or at himself. He says that once he was a knight…that sounds like he’s talking to the reader (or anyone)…standard first person. But then he says, “You wretched creature” and I instantly felt that he was calling ME a wretched creature, or that maybe he was talking to someone else whom we didn’t yet see in the scene, even though he/she was there.

    Take the next two sentences. “A knight you were,” followed shortly by “now I am a beast.” It’s inconsistent. If he’s talking to himself, saying, “A knight you were,” then it needs to be, “And now you are a beast.” ie: the whole thing needs to be talking to himself as “you.”

    Keep writing! But whatever you do, do NOT let critiquers smother your voice, because it’ll make you stand out from the crowd! Take critiquers’ advice as clues to what you need to fix…but make sure you fix everything in your words and your voice.

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  18. an
    May 17, 2009 @ 00:13:03

    This could turn out to be really interesting. I definitely hope you keep writing this.

    Some comments –

    You use ellipses very often, seven times in this first section. That is too many times to use the same thing in such a short period.

    I know the ellipses are meant to show thoughts trailing off, but that is not what they are actually for. They show that something has been taken out.

    Like in the quote “I told that …… guy that if he didn’t take his hands off of me I’d break his …. face” Here, the ellipses show that I have taken out swearing that was in the original sentence.

    Find different ways to show thoughts trailing off because overusing and misusing ellipsis wears the reader out and draws him or her out of the story. It gets repetitive.

    There are also some basic grammatical errors here. Grammar can be difficult to learn, but I totally recommend the book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss. It’s fun to read and amazingly helpful.

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  19. Moth
    May 17, 2009 @ 19:54:53

    Author here. Hello! :)

    Thanks for all the great feedback and notes. I love the idea of delaying the reveal that he’s a wolf. Excellent idea.

    And, to answer the concern that his wife is not further up on the list of priorities, the story is loosely based on Marie de France’s “Bisclavret”.

    Oh, and for anyone interested, the query for this was posted while DA was still doing Query Saturdays (almost exactly a year ago, in fact):

    http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/05/31/query-saturday-garwaf/

    Thanks again everyone! :D

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  20. Debra Date
    May 18, 2009 @ 10:48:39

    I have no background in writing, but this;

    “Once upon a time…Is that how all the stories used to start? After all this time, all this loneliness and solitude I'm not sure what I remember anymore…what is real? I was a man. I remember that much at least. Not just a man, but a knight. Remember that, wretched creature. Hold to that.”

    Made me sit up in my chair.

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  21. Mischa
    May 18, 2009 @ 12:20:56

    I loved the back and forth dynamic the POV switches set up. I didn’t have any problems with them. Italicizing the first person thoughts made it very easy for me to switch back and forth. You do have to be carefull with it though, and make sure the wrong paragraph doesn’t get italicized or ‘he’ is used in a paragraph where it should have been ‘I’ instead, etc.

    Putting the wife last just made me think that she was a painful subject and wonder if she was someone he missed dreadfully or was the cause of his current state.

    I’m sure changes could be made to make it better, but even as it is, if I read that page in a bookstore, I’d buy the book.

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  22. Sarah Mayberry
    May 18, 2009 @ 15:31:39

    Moth, I thought this was great. I loved this first section very, very much:

    “Once upon a time…Is that how all the stories used to start? After all this time, all this loneliness and solitude I'm not sure what I remember anymore…what is real? I was a man. I remember that much at least. Not just a man, but a knight. Remember that, wretched creature. Hold to that. A knight you were, cherished by the king himself. Respected. Renowned. The most beloved knight in all the land. A hero. And now….”

    I have read all the Robin Hobbs Fitz books and this struck me as being not unlike the beginning of that series, which is not a bad thing since every idea in the world has been done a million times over. Me likes the wolves!

    I agree with the slight misstep at the first shift to third person – I wonder if making it an active physical sentence (ie “The wind changed and a scent came to him on the breeze” kind of thing ) might draw us out of the wolf’s head more and into the here and now, rather than making the first shift to 3rd another thought-y style thing…?

    Keep writing. Love the idea of this. Best of luck.

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  23. Catherine Dove
    May 18, 2009 @ 19:05:36

    1) I’m feeling like the odd man out here, but I like the POV switches. I think it makes the whole thing more lively and immediate, without the restrictions of 1st person. And I think it’s handled well here.

    2) I do agree about the reveal coming later being a better idea.

    3) The first paragraph up to the “trapped forever” part made me sit up in my chair, too.

    4) I feel as if I’m crazy, but I get the feeling from this that the knight, i.e. the man, was a bit of a jerk, and that as a wolf he’s learning what’s really important in life – but he still has much to learn.

    5) As for the wife issue, most medieval knights would put their wives low on their list, since most medieval marriages were political, so that didn’t trouble me. But I must admit that “Along with her…” does not make me think he’s talking about his wife! And that intrigued me.

    I really like the conflict in this, especially since, to me, the wolf-man is so much more appealing than the knight he remembers himself to be.

    I don’t understand yet about the woods being a boundary and why the sunlight bothers him, but I assume that will be developed.

    A few frowns -

    “fangs dripping saliva”? Not exactly a normal wolfish thing, especially since his hunger hasn’t been established. (Which reminds me, ending that page with “he was hungry” sure made me wonder what he was going to hunt!)

    “woodsy alcove” jerked me right out of the story. Architecture and nature don’t mix well like that, and anyway, what’s a wolf doing with an alcove?

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  24. E.D. Walker
    Sep 06, 2010 @ 19:57:41

    Author here. :)

    This actually sold after a few revisions, and is now available from Noble Romance Publishing as “The Beauty’s Beast”:
    https://www.nobleromance.com/ItemDisplay.aspx?i=173

    Here’s the “official” blurb:
    Lady Kathryn's father sends her to court to find a husband, but being penniless and disinterested doesn’t bode well for her success. Bored by the petty intrigues of court, her frustration and loneliness are eased when the king charges her with the care of his newest acquisition: a wolf he and his hunters have recently captured. What the king doesn’t realize is his remarkable pet was once Gabriel, his favorite knight, cursed into wolf form by an unfaithful wife.

    The beast’s too-knowing eyes and the way he understands and responds to her every utterance convince Kathryn he is more than what he seems. Resolving to restore him, she doesn’t count on the greatest obstacle being Gabriel himself. The longer he stays in wolf form as a captive of the court, the harder it becomes for him to remember his humanity and to fight his wolfish urges to maim and kill.

    As Gabriel and Kathryn grow to care for one another despite his horrific curse, rumors of an uncanny wolf reach the ears of Gabriel's former wife and her unscrupulous new husband, Reynard. Together, they plan to dispose of the king’s pet, knowing if Gabriel ever regains his human form he could strip them of everything they have schemed so hard to gain.

    Only Kathryn’s affection and determination stand between Gabriel the wolf and Gabriel the man. But when Reynard returns to court, will Kathryn's love be enough to keep Gabriel from exacting a brutish revenge that will condemn the wolf to death?

    To learn more about this book and my upcoming releases, visit me on the web at:
    http://heirtotheunderworld.com/

    ~E.D. Walker

    ReplyReply

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