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First Page: Unnamed Fantasy

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Readers, though, the way that I look at it is this: Would the hook itself interest you in reading the book. If yes, what interests you and if not, what would you change to make it more appealing?

***

The show was going fine until someone shot the Fool. Decent crowd, not too many fights breaking out, nothing had caught on fire, and Barthelme Banton had a head cold that was really cutting into his normally determined overacting.

Half the stage crew had gotten in a drunken fight with the other half, so I was running around trying to do the practical effects and all the special effects too. I’d jogged back and forth between the space where my stage model and magical effects were laid out and the galleries all night, and I was itchy and tired and covered in sweat.

I was up in the gallery, hauling up on a scratchy hemp rope as I tried to lift up the chandelier that had illuminated Banton’s touching death scene as Lord Paulus. The actress playing Lady Pauline had shed some moving tears, ably assisted by a handkerchief full of onions. The half of the crowd that wasn’t drunkenly feeling up the orange sellers had been soaking it up appreciatively, and then the Fool came tumbling on in his particolor hose to deliver the Epilogue and dance a scabrous little jig.

Usually I hated fools. We had a new one for this production though, an incredible acrobat. I was getting distracted watching him do backflips and tumbles, and the rope holding up the chandelier was starting to slip, when suddenly his body seemed to stop and jerk in midair. Rivers of red pulsed across the yellow patches of his motley. His flight was arrested mid-tumble, and he fell heavily to the stage.

I tied the chandelier rope off on a stanchion and dodged around the rafters while the sound of the gunshot was still echoing in my ears. Then I raced through the gallery, dodging the members of the audience who’d climbed up for a higher view, and pushed my way through the backstage area. My clearest thought was that Spruce was going to kill me if the Fool died. It was too late to replace him in tomorrow’s performance.

***

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30 Comments

  1. LizA
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 04:33:50

    Love the opening line. The feel is a bit Restauration England, which I like – I’d go on reading if I could!

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  2. Ann Somerville
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 05:11:23

    The first line is quite attention-grabbing, though the writing could be tightened up to remove the ‘was verbing’ constructions. Something like “I was getting distracted watching him do backflips and tumbles” could be easily rewritten as “Watching his backflips and tumbles distracted me”.

    Watch capitalisation – Fool v fools.

    I felt the details of the staging were a tad clich̩d. The actor with a cold is good Рthe handful of onions and the orange sellers were more from a Hollywood vision of ye olde playhouse. You can use this stuff, but perhaps more sparingly.

    Your narrator seems awfully cold. Their reaction to the Fool’s injury/death was really heartless, which might be the intention, but doesn’t make for an attractive character. Also, if this is supposed to be authentic olden times (and I’m guessing maybe it’s not) the narrator probably has to be a male. Either way, it might be nice to have a tad more about who the narrator is/what sex they are because they seem a little too much the dispassionate observer here.

    I’m only talking nuances which could be altered in tone, rather than needing a rewrite. Overall, it’s intriguing and I’d read on. Good work!

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  3. Jayne
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 05:25:11

    “I was” is used too many times. It became distracting to me. But I agree the whole is intriguing.

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  4. Kathleen
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 05:32:04

    Hmmmm…

    You’ve got a good strong voice, in my opinion. Your grammar is fantastic. This is a catchy opening.

    However, there are two places where you totally lost me… and one is the very beginning.

    Barthelme Banton had a head cold that was really cutting into his normally determined overacting.

    This sentence makes sense now that I’ve read the whole passage (although I still haven’t the slightest who Barthelme is… and if you open the book with him, shouldn’t we know by the end of the first page?), but… hey, you know what? It just occurred to me that Barthelme might be the Fool. Which makes total sense. NOW. Somehow that needs to be more clear.

    When I first read it, I didn’t realize that the “Fool” was a character in an act. “Show” can mean any number of things, especially to a character who thinks along the lines that this guy does, and I thought that “Fool” simply meant someone who was a fool. You know how authors will take an adjective, capitalize it, and use it as a name for someone in another character’s mind? That’s what I thought you were doing.

    Then, when the next paragraph started, I thought you’d totally switched from omni to first, and perhaps Barthelme was the one talking.

    Soooo… you need to somehow make this clear in the reader’s mind. You want them to know what’s going on right from the beginning. I think getting an “I” into that first sentence would go a LONG way. Even starting out with “I thought the circus show was going fine…” (or whatever type of show it is) would have made a lot more sense.

    …drunkenly feeling up the orange sellers…

    Maybe it’s just my ignorance, but what are orange sellers? Are they simply people selling oranges? I doubt it, because that sounds out of place, but… ::shrugs::

    Otherwise, I’d like to suggest that you try re-writing this without “backing up.” ie: instead of starting when the Fool was shot, then backing up and saying what was going on, then moving forward again… try only moving forward.

    I’d try it starting with something like, “I thought the ____ show was going great, all things considered.” Tell of the confusion that you’ve now got in past perfect tense, then shock us when the Fool gets shot. I don’t think that leaving the shot for the third paragraph is going to lose anyone’s attention.

    Then, I’d also try starting where you did, but finding a way to give the information that you’ve portrayed in those first three paragraphs through what happens AFTER the Fool gets shot. This would be more to change, because you very successfully portrayed a lot of information about the setting in those three paragraphs (I’m sure on purpose)… but if you did it once through the telling of what was happening right before the Fool got shot, then you can probably do it again while you tell what happened right after the Fool got shot.

    Then see which of the two openings is stronger. I’m betting that both of them will be stronger than what you have right now… because right here, although your portrayal of the scene and the character viewing it is excellent, the story starts with a bang, then seriously slows for those first three paragraphs because you backtrack. It’s one jump forward and three steps back. Why do that if you can jump forward and keep moving forward?

    I hope this makes sense…

    Edited after reading comments that just went in, that I don’t think the character sounds cold. He simply sounds like someone whose mind keeps thinking of extenuating circumstances and requirements, no matter what’s going on. I’m like that. Even when I was in the first moments of grief that my mother had just suddenly died, my brain was still forcing thoughts of plane tickets and gas money and paychecks and bills and what needed to be canceled that day in on me. My grief made me put off dealing with it… but those thoughts still came very quickly. (Granted, they weren’t my FIRST thoughts, but this was my mother, not a paid actor I’d recently met.) That’s just how my brain works.

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  5. Kathleen
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 05:38:37

    PPS… either one of those suggestions re: getting rid of the backtracking would fix the “I was” problem, too. :-)

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  6. Jayne
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 06:09:51

    Kathleen, here’s part of the wikipedia entry on Nell Gwynn who was one of Charles II famous mistresses.

    Charles II had been restored to the English throne in 1660, after a decade of protectorate rule by the Cromwells, when pastimes regarded as frivolous, including theatre, had been banned. One of Charles’ early acts as King was to license the formation of two acting companies, and in 1663 the King’s Company, led by Thomas Killigrew, opened a new playhouse, the Theatre in Bridges Street (later rebuilt and renamed the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane). Mary Meggs, a former prostitute nicknamed “Orange Moll” and a friend of Madam Gwyn’s, had been granted the licence to “vend, utter and sell oranges, lemons, fruit, sweetmeats and all manner of fruiterers and confectioners wares” within the theatre.[8] Orange Moll hired Nell and her older sister Rose as “orange-girls”, selling the small, sweet “china” oranges to the audience inside the theatre for a sixpence each.

    The work exposed her to multiple aspects of theatre life and to London’s higher society: this was after all the “King’s playhouse” and Charles frequently enough attended the performances. The orange-girls would also serve as messengers between men in the audience and actresses backstage; they received monetary tips for this role and certainly some of these messages would end in sexual assignations. Whether this activity rose to the level of pimping may be a matter of semantics. Some sources think it also likely that Gwyn prostituted herself during her time as an orange-girl.[9]

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  7. Kathleen
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 07:06:38

    Ah-hah! I bit of history I knew nothing about. Thanks!

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  8. Keri Ford
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 08:12:02

    I read your first sentence and thought wow. And then we went backwards. And then I thought we changed pov in the 2nd paragraph.

    Because of the backpedaling, I felt like you were sitting in front of me, telling me what happened. Like I was a cop and just walked up and asked, what happened? I think it would be a lot more engaging if we were able to read as it happened. I feel like you've done this set up because you've got a great first line and really wanted to use it. Might not be the case, but that's just how it came across to me.

    I didn’t find him cold at all. I thought of him as someone who didn’t know the victim all that well, so was continuing to do his job and trying to keep things under control the best he could.

    If it was me writing it, I'd probably start with him stopping the fight between the two stage crews. Then show everything that you've already written out and end the page or scene with the fool's death.

    Good work.

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  9. Lori
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 08:13:36

    Well, I felt I knew exactly what was going on and to be honest, I loved the entire “gonna kill me if The Fool died”. I’m not a lover of historical fiction (which this reads as) but I enjoyed this very much and was disappointed that it ended.

    Hey Jane: if there’s first page Saturday, how would you feel about First Chapter First Day of the Month?

    Okay, back to lurker mode…

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  10. Erastes
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 08:18:00

    I’m with most of the others – great opening line and for me, the action cuts in well – you really feel that the book starts with a gunshot and from there it up nicely. I’d definitely be interested in reading this. No probs with the capitalisation, I get what you are on about with making “the” Fool a proper noun but referring fools as lower case makes perfect sense.

    Well done.

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  11. cecilia
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 08:51:15

    I like it – the historical theatre setting seemed clear and I didn’t have any confusion about the pov. Orange sellers are a quick way to indicate the general era and I didn’t think that was overdone. I’m with Erastes on the capitalization issue. The one bit that caused a hitch in the reading for me was this:

    suddenly his body seemed to stop and jerk in midair. Rivers of red pulsed across the yellow patches of his motley. His flight was arrested mid-tumble, and he fell heavily to the stage.

    I thought the “stop and jerk” in the first part made the “flight was arrested in mid-tumble” confusing or repetitive. What is the sequence exactly? Is he mid-tumble, then he stops and jerks, blood appears, and he drops dead? Or does he (as it seems here), stop, bleed, start a tumble, stop again, and fall? I’m not a writer, so I don’t like to tell someone how it should be written, but I will say I wouldn’t have been puzzled if it read

    suddenly his flight was arrested mid-tumble. Rivers of red pulsed across the yellow patches of his motley and he fell heavily to the stage.

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  12. msaggie
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 08:55:58

    I would want to carry on reading this. However, I think the sentences are too long – the writing really needs tightening up. I would get rid of all those commas to make it more punchy (maybe this is your style – but there is a risk of being long-winded with long sentences) e.g. the second sentence I would prefer – “…Decent crowd. Not too many fights breaking out. Nothing had caught on fire and Barthelme Banton…etc” – or whatever it takes to break up all the long sentences. I agree with whoever said there is too much “was verbing”.

    It looks like a good start to a good story. Good luck!

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  13. Lejcarjt
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 09:30:31

    I have mixed feelings on this. It has good movement and gives a strong sense of place. However, the POV character doesn’t come off as sympathetic. They are talking about murder in a very light hearted way (or perhaps it isn’t lighthearted, but more of a sarcastic tone of voice? I don’t know.)

    My second issue is that I don’t have a good feel for the time. The voice is VERY modern, but the stage movements seem historical. Perhaps this is normal for fantasy though, I don’t know.

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  14. CD
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 10:05:38

    I had no problem following the PoV and action. I liked the backtracking: for me, it made the whole scene punchier. What I also really liked were the asides on the abilities of the actors and the attention of the audience – it showed the narrator as someone who is both intelligent and with a rather wry or even sardonic sense of humour. Also someone who is presumably responsible with all the galloping up and down behind the scenes.

    I wasn’t put off by the narrator’s reaction to the Fool’s death. It was clear that the Fool had only just been hired so it seems pretty realistic and very human to me that their first thought would be how this would screw up his/her already stressful life.

    The only thing I noticed was the same thing as Cecilia – just need to tighten up the language on that paragraph. Also the capitalisation of Fools, but those are minor points. Long sentences don’t bother me but that’s a fault of mine as well ;-).

    All in all, would definitely read more. Fantasy is my first love and would love to read one set in an Elizabethan or Restoration era as this seems to be. Also love old theatre settings. As long as the hero/heroine doesn’t turn out to be the long lost heir to a kingdom/prophecy, count me in as a reader.

    PS Need a good romance as well..

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  15. Sarabeth
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 10:09:34

    I am going to dissent, saying that while the first line had me interested, the rest left me cold and not wanting to read the rest of the story. The narrator is too cold for me, and I didn’t feel any compassion towards the fool either. Saying someone shot the fool had me envisioning a gun shot, which didn’t fit with the details of the fool and the orange sellers. That’s a perception problem that other readers will notice as well. Perhaps the time period allows it, but I kept thinking of fools and plays during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

    The descriptions are fabulous, though.

    his body seemed to stop and jerk in midair. Rivers of red pulsed across the yellow patches of his motley. His flight was arrested mid-tumble, and he fell heavily to the stage.

    My mind’s eye had no problem seeing that scene.

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  16. Maya Reynolds
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 10:20:56

    I’m going to disagree with some of the earlier comments. I had no trouble understanding what was going on. My problems were in knowing WHEN it was going on and the sex of the narrator. I could not tell if this was a modern recreation of an old stage house or a historical. The answer to that question would probably have helped with the answer to the sex of the narrator.

    As has been previously mentioned, the voice was very modern. However, I don’t see that as an impediment even if this is a historical. I recommended here last week Lindsey Davis’ detective novels set in ancient Rome. Her hero, Marcus Didius Falco, also has a modern voice, particularly when he is speaking internally. I like the contrast between the voice and the era, and it certainly hasn’t slowed the sale of her 18 novels.

    The thing you have to be careful of is the use of completely modern words. However, I just checked, and Shakespeare used the word “jog” in “The Taming of the Shrew.” I had previously thought that was a relatively modern term.

    I loved the first line although I would have set it off as its own paragraph.

    I think you need to have the narrator express some kind of reaction before the final line about Spruce. I liked that final line, but you need some sort of feeling before then. Actually two feelings: (1) His immediate reaction to the shooting. Was he frightened? Did he fear for someone he cared about in the cast; and (2) Since he does come across as heartless, I’d preface the Spruce comment with one that indicated he really didn’t know the Fool well. If you wanted to maintain what I suspect is going to be a somewhat humorous voice, you could say something to the effect of, “With the chronic turnover in cast, I never bothered to learn new members’ names or particulars until they’d performed in at least six shows so I wasn’t yet attached to the latest Fool.”

    This is good work. If it is a historical, remember that firearms were accurate only for very short ranges throughout most of their history.

    Lots of luck. I hope to see this one again.

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  17. Leah
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 10:34:54

    Your first sentence is great, and your writing is very clever. I had no problems following it, and I always like a sentence which is a little indirect, like the one about Barthelme. You did a good job at capturing the busyness of the environment, and I liked the description of the Fool being shot, although “rivers” of blood seemed a little extreme–wouldn’t the fabric of his costume absorb it? But that’s just me being picky, and I’ve never seen anyone shot.

    Still, although I admire your prose, I had a hard time connecting to the narrator. I don’t know that he (the voice seems male) is cold, so much as there’s something there, either in him, the voice, or the descriptions, that held me, as a reader, at arm’s length. Like I said, though, I thought your writing was artful, so this could just be me.It’s impossible to make that connection with every reader. I don’t think it has anything to do with the quality of your page.

    Great job, and best of luck!

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  18. Trumystique
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 12:45:24

    I have to delurk for this(especially as I am a SFF reader). I think this is compelling so far. I would certainly read it. I do agree with comments about tightening up the language re “was -ing”. Dont tighten it up so much that it is telescopic language because you will lose some of the richness of your writing.

    I have to heartily dissent with the folk who say the narrator is unlikeable or mention the historical setting has to match with the language or modern POV of the hero/ine or clearing up the ambiguity of sex of the narrator.

    No it doesnt folks- this is a fantasy. As a rule the author in a fantasy can do whatever they want as long as its internally consistent and make some sort of rational sense in the universe they are creating. So if they want a ye olde sort of world with guns s/he can do that as long as they explain it convincingly. This is not necessarily a historical in the sense of romance novels. One of the sort of (unfortunate IMO) tropes of fantasy is a default setting of a pre 18th century Europe which is usually patterned on the British Isles. So that for some reason you have characters speaking in a brogue with some “thee”s, “thou”s and maybe a few “ye ken”s thrown in. This is not universal by any stretch but its not uncommon.This is a fantasy trope which this author may or may not be referencing. Its hard to tell where this author is going but there is a freshness so far in the writing that make me think this novel may not be resting on tropes completely.

    Anyway I would love to read more of this work. Good job.

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  19. Tracey
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 12:57:08

    Definitely compelling. I was interested with the first line, and you held my interest to the end. I didn’t find the narrator cold at all–just busy, and dealing with a dozen hectic situations at once. And it didn’t take me long to figure out that this was Restoration England.

    I can’t think of anything that really needs fixing.

    I would buy this book now if I could. I want to know what happens next. Well done.

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  20. Estara
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 13:00:34

    Reader only opinion: I want to read more after having read these lines.

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  21. Val Kovalin
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 13:14:09

    This is well-written with a great first sentence that hooks the reader in. Your writing style has a smooth, flowing rhythm and I don’t find myself drawing a blank anywhere as tends to happen when something is unclear. It’s only 341 words, so there is not much information here other than a murder, but I’m intrigued. Here’s what I assumed from this, trying only to go with the information you gave us.

    Time period is further along than medieval because the Fool got shot with a bullet. This could be happening at any point between maybe the 1800s to modern day. (For all we know, this is an urban fantasy about people who own and operate a dinner-theater, ha, ha!)

    But it may not be our contemporary reality because our main character is lifting a chandelier on a hemp rope instead of a safer and more reliable nylon rope. The setting (place) I’m still not entirely certain about but this doesn’t bother me. I know it would come clear with another 300 words.

    I’m not sure yet if the first-person narrator is male or female (again, this doesn’t bother me – I know it would become evident soon.) I’m guessing he’s a male because of the upper-body strength needed to haul up those chandeliers. Though it would be unusual and fun if it turned out to be a woman doing such a physical job.

    The narrator strikes me super-competent, a little jaded with his job, and possessing a delightful cynical sense of humor (he notes the details about the overacting and the onions in the handkerchief).

    This 341-word section doesn’t really hint at the overall conflict facing your character, and that’s okay. I'm guessing that getting a replacement for tomorrow’s performance will be the least of the hero’s worries, and that the Fool’s murder isn’t important enough to solve since no one really knew him well (you mention that he’s a new one for this production).

    I’m guessing that this first page is meant to give the reader a vivid impression of our main character’s personality and livelihood on a normal (or at least semi-normal) day, and that his life will change dramatically in a few more pages.

    Just a bit more feedback here to give you my perspective on issues raised on the other comments: I had no confusion as to who Barthelme Banton is. He’s the lead actor (not the Fool) being watched by our main character from backstage, and you nail it down further when you say Banton is playing Lord Paulus in a death scene.

    The narrator didn’t seem cold to me because he doesn’t know the Fool. He’s under stress, trying to juggle his job plus the tasks of the drunken stage crew who are fighting each other, so his reaction to the shooting would be believably distracted and underplayed. Though I like Maya’s idea about the thought suddenly occurring to him that someone he DOES know and care about in the cast might be in danger onstage.

    Overall, well done! I would buy and read this.

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  22. SonomaLass
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 13:26:47

    I’m hoping the narrator is female. And I certainly don’t mind the “cold” tone, if that’s how it registers to others. I’m already intrigued to know know more about this person.

    I liked how you mentioned orange-sellers and guns both right away — lets us know (if the jacket blurb or whatever hadn’t already) that this is not a straight historical setting. Plus I have a theatre background, and I am happy to see a backstage setting for a fantasy novel.

    All the comments about “was” constructions are good, and of course almost everyone’s writing could stand to be tightened up. But I’m intrigued by the voice and the setting here, and I would definitely read on.

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  23. Castiron
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 14:23:13

    The general setup interests me. I’m fine with the narrator’s voice, and when the gun is mentioned I immediately assume it’s an alternate history or a fantasy world with some Elizabethan trappings.

    Any particular reason why Banton is named but the lead actress isn’t? I’m assuming that Banton will be a major character and the actress won’t, but if he’s a throwaway character, it’d work just as well to say “the lead actor had a head cold” or some similar wording.

    I don’t mind knowing little about the narrator at this point, but I’d expect to get some more information about them within a few pages.

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  24. Kathleen
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 16:48:13

    I have to chuckle, now that I’ve come back and read everyone’s comments. This is definitely a case of not being able to please all of the people all of the time! You’re definitely going to have to go with your gut and the way of telling the story that seems right for you.

    Best of everything! You’ve got skill… you’ll make it if the whole story follows through. :-)

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  25. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 17:05:47

    When I first read it, I thought of The Globe – you know, that cool theatre in London where they re-enact plays as they were in Shakespeare’s day.
    I was fairly sure it wasn’t a historical when I finished, because the language is so modern.
    From the top – “overacted” – not something that would have meant anything to pre 20th century audiences. Laurence Olivier was considered revolutionary because of his naturalistic acting style!
    “gotten” – in a novel written in these days, you know for sure that the writer is American. Yes, it was in use, but not very often.
    “jogged” – a really modern-sounding word. “Jog” used to mean “nudge.”
    “incredibly” – used in this way it’s 20th century slang.
    It was the cumulative effect. But, it’s labelled a fantasy, not a historical, so, yes, fine, another planet or something of the kind.

    The narrator is very shadowy. I never learn anything about him or her except that they are some kind of backstage worker. Why should I (the reader) care?

    The description of the death is, despite the gore, bloodless. It doesn’t stand out from the rest of the narration. The narrator is just – telling. There are no reactions except for the chilly one at the end which I didn’t really like.

    But for all that, great start, and if you have as much difficulty with beginnings as I do, superb. Just needs a little tweaking.

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  26. Leslee
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 17:47:37

    Could be interesting, would like to see and learn more about the narrator.

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  27. kirsten saell
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 18:18:01

    I thought the word choices themselves were refreshing and engaging–I’m okay with anachronisms like “jogged” and “incredibly” (although not “okay”, please never that!), especially in a fantasy. What did keep me from becoming really immersed in this was a great deal of weak/repetitive sentence structure, “I was…” being the most obvious. With a bit of shuffling, you should be able to shake up those weak sentences while keeping your voice, which is nice.

    I’m not put off by the narrator’s “coldness”, either. He (or she) seems very busy, with lots of responsibilities and an ability to keep a cool head that would be invaluable in a job like this. And a morbid sense of humor, which I have always admired.

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  28. K. Z. Snow
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 21:02:02

    As engaging at the premise is, I did have a problem with the narrator’s voice sounding too “modern” and, maybe, too nebulous. It just took me out of the setting, which was otherwise well drawn. (Too tired to say more–sorry!–but I am intrigued.)

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  29. DS
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 21:47:57

    With regard to the shooting though, if the author is thinking about a flintlock (or better a wheellock) hand gun then he or she should probably take advice from a black powder enthusiast– one (or even a whole club full) should not be hard to find.

    Hand guns from 17th century period are not as easily concealed and fired as modern guns (or even 19th century guns) and some handson experience might help develop the plot if it is to be murder mystery or at least lead to usable interesting details about how close the shooter would have to stand, weight of the gun, etc.

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  30. Miranda C
    Aug 02, 2008 @ 23:06:59

    I do agree with some of the earlier posts: watch the passive sentences. Try to avoid am, is, was, were, etc. Your writing will feel much more exciting if active. Unlike an earlier post, I felt you described and identified the introductory characters well. I didn’t feel any confusion over Barthelme Banton (identified in the passage as the actor playing Lord Paulus). The narrator’s attitude and reaction to the Fool’s death left my intrigued (not turned off). I now want to know the narrator’s life. What events led him (or her) to be so unaffected by violent death. I thought the sequence of events and overall tone worked well. I found this style of writing to fit in well with other SFF and/or mystery novels I have read. Not so well with romance, however (perhaps that is why so many of the other posters had a problem with it?).

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