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First Page: UNTITLED FANTASY

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Blue’s boots sunk into the sand. A gust hurled even more curls into her face. She paused and tightened her bun. This unholy constant wind from the sea to the hills only got worse at night, so what was this guy doing here? Why wasn’t he in a nightclub? Tourists didn’t come to Whitehills for the beach. Most of Dunesea was a beach, and there were better ones south. A young Grenodian from an old family should have been sucking up bluestripe in the city.

But here he was.

The subject strode purposefully toward the weathered hills. His brown hair was longer than the picture in her handcomp. The wind blew it–and his coat–straight forward. His shoes must have been full of sand. What was he doing?

“Subject sighted walking west toward foothills near Sunrisan border,” she said into her wrist. “List time.” Oh, he’d better not go north and cross. Her license wasn’t exactly valid there.

“Mr. Gate?” Blue broke into a run. A hand instinctively reached for her e-stun. No. Why that? Sure this was strange. He was likely completely gone on the stripe, but the situation wasn’t anywhere near that. Calm down.

“Mr. Gate,” she repeated as she drew near, “your family is very worried about you.”

He strode on, as if she had said nothing. As if she wasn’t even there. Mother Time Unchanging, was he really that gone?

She maneuvered herself into his path. “Look, I’m not the police.” She thrust her license forward. “See. I’m just a freelancer. I need to get you on a flight back to Grenod.”

From this angle, Blue finally got a look at his face. Yes, it was the man in the picture, but his eyes–they glowed. She gasped and took a step back. What? They were the same color as the stars above them. It was like something out of a period holo.

Something hit her chest.

The world lurched. Her back hit sand. She raised her head so her unarmored scalp and neck wouldn’t scrape as she slid across the beach. The rest of the air that hit her rushed over her face. Air?

She relocked her sight onto Gate. He finally seemed to notice her. Well, he was certainly walking toward her with his face all contracted in concentration and annoyance.

What was he going to do next? Blue didn’t want to find out.

So it came to this.

She slid the stunner out of its holster and readied it in one practiced motion.

She hoped they wouldn’t sue.

Her thumb unleashed a brief onslaught of lightning. When it reached Gate, he vibrated . He blinked, and the starlit eyes vanished, replaced by ordinary brown. The eyes then closed as his legs gave out from under him. He collapsed onto his hands and knees.

Blue released the breath she held. She rolled and brought herself to her feet. What in time just happened?

Solstice has a condition, one of his mothers had said. Condition, indeed. A man with the antiquated and useless title of “Mage” on his birth certificate just went and conjured something like it was two hundred years ago. As if the curse never happened.

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. SAO
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 07:19:23

    I thought there was a lot of action on the page, drawing me in, but it was very hard to read because you got your motivation-reaction units all wrong. Blue reacts before we know what she’s reacting to.

    “So what was this guy doing here?” is the first time we are aware there’s a guy in the scene, but it’s a reaction. We don’t actually see him until para 3.

    She breaks into a run, obviously in response to something he’s doing. We don’t see or know what he’s doing, except that he’s striding over the sand and she’s presumably following. If she just sighted him, wouldn’t that be her first thought — he’s nearly out of bounds? If not, then he started running, in which case we should see that before she gives chase.

    Next she says, “this was strange” but we don’t see anything strange.

    Motivation reaction units means that you have to show events in the right order. See/feel, instinctive reaction, then thought. You have a lot of reaction we don’t understand coming before or instead of the event she is reacting to.

    The correct order is, Her hand grazed the hood, nearly burning. Ow! She jerked her hand back. Damn, the car’s overheating, coolant must be low. (now we now why panic is flaring) where can you get engine coolant?

    I didn’t quite get was bluestripe was, because the heroine’s name was blue, equally, I tended to add ‘the’ in front of Gate and get, “when it reached the gate” and picture a fence.

    Clean this up and it will be a great start.

  2. SAO
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 07:22:09

    Sorry I had a stray para, number 6, which I meant to delete. Ignore it.

  3. Kate Sherwood
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 08:03:10

    I think this has a lot of potential. A lot. I’d keep reading as is, but I think you could make me love it instead of like it if you cleaned it up a little.

    It’s always a careful balance when you have a lot of new ideas to present to readers – you don’t want infodumps, but you need to give us some idea of what’s going on. I think you did a great job of resisting the infodump temptation, but left me feeling a bit dazed by too many unexplained things. The place names, the gadgets, the characters, the setting: they all flew at me pretty fast, and I didn’t really enjoy the sensation. I’d leave some of it out, and add it later.

    And I was definitely thrown off in the first paragraph when you just started talking about “this guy”. What guy? And some of the time, you’re saying things that should be clear, but because I’m already a bit off-balance from the blizzard of new ideas, they aren’t. Like “a hand instinctively reached for her e-stun” – I didn’t get that it was HER hand until the next sentence.

    I thought the second half was much stronger than the first, once you stopped throwing ideas at me and gave me some action.

    Overall, as I said, I’m intrigued and really like the set-up, but I think you need to calm it down a bit and work on clarity. For my taste, at least.

  4. Carolyn
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 08:52:46

    @Kate Sherwood: “Like “a hand instinctively reached for her e-stun” – I didn’t get that it was HER hand until the next sentence. ”

    My editor calls that a wandering body part and it’s a no-no at that particular publisher.

    I agree with SAO. A couple of times I was thinking ‘what the heck is she talking about?’ and then – oh, so that’s what happened. It really broke the flow of the piece.

    But I still liked it and would read on. Good luck with it.

  5. kali
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 09:06:53

    I read sf/f, so I didn’t find the unfamiliar terms and ideas a problem–I just store them aside, trusting the author to make the important details clear as the story goes on. So I’m glad you didn’t spend time explaining things and just got into the action.

    You throw quite a few signals in the text that this will be sf, so at first I wondered if the genre had been mistagged, but the ending “the antiquated and useless title of ‘Mage’” made me curious as to what happens next. The chaos of magic running loose in a well-ordered society has great potential–I’d like to see how that plays out.

    As others have pointed out, the writing is a bit rough. A good beta reader will be of help, but here’s two things to watch:

    1) Cause and effect. Let us see the cause before showing us how she reacts. eg, “Her back hit sand and she slid across the beach, raising her head so her unarmored scalp and neck wouldn’t scrape” ie, she slides, then reacts to the sliding.

    2) We need to see what the pov character sees. eg, “Blue’s boots sunk into the sand as she followed the tall figure across the dunes toward the Sunrisen border” Once we can see him, she can wonder what he’s up to, and why he’s not sucking down drugs in the city.

    There’s a great deal of potential here, so good luck.

  6. JB Hunt
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 09:20:37

    I would echo all the great suggestions mentioned so far. There’s revision to be done, but you’ve definitely hooked me. I’m interested in the characters and their world.

    I have one minor edit to suggest. Make the items being compared clear in this sentence: “His brown hair was longer than the picture in her handcomp.” Is his hair longer than IN the picture? Or is the length of his hair being compared to the length of her handcomp? When I first read the line, I really stumbled.

    Best of luck with what promises to be a very interesting story!

  7. theo
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 09:22:55

    I don’t read SF/F anymore though I did for a long time so the odd place names and such don’t necessarily bother me.

    What I found very hard to read here is not only what SAO and Kate have pointed out, but the fact that we have so many articles in here, it removes me from the story and makes for disjointed reading.

    The hand
    The subject
    Something hit
    The eyes

    It makes it all impersonal and frankly, because of all the other problems, makes me not care.

    Also, I’m going to guess that there are italics in this paragraph somewhere:

    “Mr. Gate?” Blue broke into a run. A hand instinctively reached for her e-stun. No. Why that? Sure this was strange. He was likely completely gone on the stripe, but the situation wasn’t anywhere near that. Calm down.

    that give some context to the disjointed sentences, that didn’t translate to the page here. But it makes me leery that it makes no sense and I wonder if the rest of the story holds a lot of these. If so, then it’s definitely a no-read for me.

    I think the story underneath the problems might be good. But right now, I don’t care enough to find out. Voice is a unique thing, yes, but don’t make it so unique that your story only makes sense to you.

    Kudos for putting it out there and good luck.

  8. Bren
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 09:26:43

    Good writing. However, I stumbled my way through the first three paragraphs. It was really hard to figure out what Blue was doing (and using her name as the first word really threw me off because I had read the sentence as “Blue boots” and had to go back and re-read the opening sentence once I realized that “Blue” was the protag’s name.

    Frankly I think you should cut the first three paragraphs and start with the dialogue in Para 4. That’s where I really started to get hooked into the action. Work some of the info from the 1st 3 paras into the later paragraphs and don’t spend too much time talking about the wind.

    You’ve got some really interesting world building here. A fantasy world with modern-style technology and a curse that prevents the use of magic (except for this Gate guy).

    Also, insert some sensory details… give us a feel for the wind causing her hair to lash her face or blow gritty sand across her skin. Is it hot? Cold? Is it the height of day? Is the glare of the sun off the stand burning her eyes? Put us in the moment.

    Here’s a suggestion for editing, use or discard at your discretion… I mostly just rearranged what you have, reworded a teeny bit and took out most of the bits about the weather.
    ———————————————-

    “Subject sighted walking west toward foothills near Sunrisan border,” Blue said into her wrist. “List time.”

    The subject strode purposefully toward the weathered hills. His brown hair was longer than the picture in her handcomp. Blue’s boots sunk into the sand (as she trudged after him).

    This unholy constant wind from the sea to the hills only got worse at night, so what was this guy doing here?

    Oh, he’d better not go north and cross. Her license wasn’t exactly valid there.

    “Mr. Gate?” Blue broke into a run. Her hand instinctively reached for her e-stun. No. Why that? Sure this was strange.

    Why wasn’t he in a nightclub? Tourists didn’t come to Whitehills for the beach. Most of Dunesea was a beach, and there were better ones south. A young Grenodian from an old family should have been sucking up bluestripe in the city.
    But here he was.

    He was likely completely gone on the ‘stripe, but the situation wasn’t anywhere near (needing an e-stun). Calm down.

    “Mr. Gate,” she repeated as she drew near, “your family is very worried about you.”

    He strode on, as if she had said nothing. As if she wasn’t even there. Mother Time Unchanging, was he really that gone?

    She maneuvered herself into his path. “Look, I’m not the police.” She thrust her license forward. “See. I’m just a freelancer. I need to get you on a flight back to Grenod.”

    …. (the remainder is unchanged).

  9. Jody W.
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 09:36:55

    I think a different opening paragraph might be in order. I don’t have any suggestions, but I did want to comment that the worldbuilding and new terms were all good with me. I’d definitely have kept reading.

  10. Melissa
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 10:56:36

    I don’t have much to add to the comments that have already been made. I agree with most of the comments. I think this piece could use some work, but I like it.

  11. Liz Mc2
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 12:25:30

    I found the world you are building here intriguing, though I agree with others who pointed out ways you could ease your reader into it more effectively (especially SAO’s point about motivation-reaction sequence).

    One small thing: I feel like there have been an awful lot of first pages lately where the wind blows the heroine’s hair into her face so we can see what it looks like. I do not care that she has curls. Especially in the first paragraph. Very tired of this device.

  12. JL
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 12:46:57

    I’ll add my voice to the chorus saying that this is good, but the advice given in the earlier comments is crucial to making it great. I really liked the set up, but anytime I have to read multiple passages over and stop to think about what’s supposed to be happening, I give up on a book. But don’t be discouraged, dear author. Revisions are pretty smooth sailing when you get unanimous advice from multiple people that doesn’t contradict itself.

    The only other comment I had was that I was totally thrown the moment you mentioned ‘nightclubs’ since this is labelled as fantasy. I’m assuming it’s more urban fantasy. I might be the only one that is concerned about that distinction, but I read a lot of UF, and only a little Fantasy. It might throw off readers, agents or publishers. If it is straight Fantasy, then, well, maybe I should just try reading more Fantasy books :)

  13. cbackson
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 13:01:09

    I liked this a lot, but I felt a bit disoriented (and not in the normal, “this is SF/F, and it’s a new world” kind of way) at the beginning. Small a factor as this may seem, it doesn’t help that the characters’ names aren’t clearly identifiable as names – it’s a bit confusing. That said, I felt like maybe the primary problem was that you didn’t know how to begin. The writing was significantly smoother and more compelling by the end – and the last bit really grabbed me.

    I was an undergrad creative writing major, and for me it was incredibly common for my professors to take my stories and cross out the first paragraph. I suspect that the best beginning for your story might be the scene that follows this one, even if you needed to write this one to orient yourself and your story in this world.

  14. Cathy Burkholder
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 15:49:36

    I don’t have anything substantive to add to the previous suggestions, but I just wanted to say that I would definitely want to keep reading if cleaned it up. I look forward to reading the rest of the story at some point!

  15. Author
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 17:59:53

    Thanks, everyone.

    I knew something was off about the way I describe characters’ actions, so I recently enrolled in Angela James’ Before You Hit Send self-editing workshop. I heartily recommend it. One of today’s lessons, interestingly, is entitled “Body Parts Gone Wild.” I’m sure it will help my “wandering parts” problem.

    As for MRU’s, I guess I need to get my copy of Techniques of the $elling Writer off the shelf and read those sections again because I obviously haven’t internalized the concept. I think this time, I will find a book on my Kindle and analyze how the author does it.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to comment. You’ve all been a great help today.

  16. Tasha
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 21:34:32

    I know the pluperfect has fallen out of favor, but it has its uses. I think you could use it to make clear what’s happening now and what happened in the past, especially with the last sentence.

  17. DM
    Jan 29, 2012 @ 10:04:53

    @Author

    MRU’s take time to internalize, and unfortunately, a lot of published authors aren’t particularly good at them either. Swain’s coverage of the topic is great, but you’re right–the best way to internalize action writing is by “training your ear” for it by reading/hearing good prose. A great way to do this is by reading screenplays, because they’re written for clarity of action. They have to be–they’re a blueprint hundreds of people need to refer to in order to bring the movie to life. Action and reaction have to be in the correct order. You can find a lot of classic scripts online for free these days. Or try authors like George MacDonald Fraser, who wrote both novel and screenplays. Good luck!

  18. Lil
    Jan 29, 2012 @ 19:35:33

    What on earth is an MRU?

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