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First Page: Wind Out of Twilight–Science Fiction

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***

The worm wind is the night wind. Cool and moist and bearing strange scents, it flows from the east, out of the dark lands, all the way to the steep flanks of Sunbreaker and her children. There it condenses into fog, a heavy, clinging fog that fills the throat and smothers all sound except for the plink of water dripping off eaves.

And the skittering noise following Alice Standish up Pickaxe Street.

Alice stopped, tightening her grip on her shopping basket, and peered uselessly into the whiteness that shrouded her. Finlochen was as safe as any city could be, now that Ned had driven the Usurper out, but a woman alone still needed to be alert, especially in such heavy fog. A murder could happen at your very feet, and you’d never know it.

Silence. Wondering if she’d just heard the trickle of water in a downspout, she climbed a few more steps and it happened again, almost under her feet. Skittering steps that stopped when she did. Gently, Alice set her basket down and slid a small dagger out of her sleeve, holding it out of sight in the folds of her skirt.

Tick. Tick. Silence. Tick.

A tiny, hesitant, chirp.

With a snort of laughter at her own foolishness, Alice slid the dagger back up her sleeve and waited patiently until the guinea, no more than a foot tall, its ears laid forward ingratiatingly, inched toward her out of the fog. It had its tail clutched in its hands, and its faceted, golden eyes fixed on her shopping basket with obvious hope.

Alice, moving slowly, knelt on the mossy steps and offered an apple. The guinea had a hard time deciding which was more important, its tail, or an apple, but it finally let its tail go to take Alice’s offering, easily the size of its head, in its tiny, human-like hands.

It bowed, she bowed. Bearing its prize aloft, it darted back into the fog. Alice stood, shaking out her damp skirts. No one had ever proved it was good luck to feed a guinea, but she had more than enough, thanks to Ned–even if he was being obnoxious in not letting her leave Finlochen–and there was no harm in sharing. Still smiling, she started back up the steps.

And bounced off a hard chest.

A stunned moment as she stared at black leather sewn with strips of wolver fur, manacles dangling from a studded belt. Her eyes traveled up, snagged on the crown branded on one stubbled cheek, couldn’t see past it to anything else.

Bounty hunter. Her breath stopped, the air too thick to breathe.

***

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36 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 04:51:08

    I really liked this. My only quibble was the breath/breathe repetition in the last sentence, and you could drop the last phrase with good effect. I’d definitely read more and loved the world being woven, the description. Nice work, author.

  2. Dalia
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 05:01:47

    I would definitely read on! Too bad this isn’t ‘first chapter Saturdays’ ha ha.

  3. Leslee
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 06:04:58

    I really liked it. I would read on!!!

  4. Courtney Milan
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 08:47:50

    Ooh. Loved it from the first sentence.

  5. vanessa jaye
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 09:25:52

    Really loved this! I would absolutey read on.

  6. Mrs Giggles
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 09:27:28

    I love the way the author has created such a vivid atmosphere for this excerpt. It is creepy, I can almost feel the heroine’s nervousness, and I want to read more.

    Having said that, a few quirks distract me from the overall story.

    “Guinea”. Are we talking about an alien/mutant version of the guinea pig? When it comes to guineas, I think of the coin.

    Cool and moist and bearing strange scents, it flows from the east, out of the dark lands, all the way to the steep flanks of Sunbreaker and her children.

    “Strange scents”? I’d suggest replacing “strange” with something more descriptive. Is the scent foul? Unusually fragrant? Strange can mean many things, and I find myself wondering why the author didn’t elaborate on this when she had paid painstaking attention to detail to the rest of her story.

    Alice stopped, tightening her grip on her shopping basket, and peered uselessly into the whiteness that shrouded her.

    I don’t think “whiteness” is an accurate or good word to use when it comes to describing thick fog. Fog isn’t white. I wish I can think of a better word to use, but hey, I’m not the write here, and you know what they say about those who can’t write…

    Her breath stopped, the air too thick to breathe.

    Like Ann, I find this sentence awkward.

    My post is a little too much on the nitpicky side, but be assured, if this gets expanded and published, I’d be interested in reading it. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.

  7. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 09:33:39

    I’d read more. Definitely.

  8. ME
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 10:09:07

    love the voice…wanted to read more

  9. Erastes
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 10:19:14

    One of the best ones I’ve seen, I like the description very much and the imagined animals – guinea didn’t throw me – I’m patient enough to get more description on the fauna later – intrigued, I am!

    I don’t like the short sentence-the worst offender being: “And bounced off a hard chest.” This is a clumsy way that writers use to create tension and it doesn’t ever work, in my experience, but that’s the only sentence I found awkward, the rest is very promising – and I’d certainly read on.

  10. Maya M.
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 10:24:45

    Loved it.

    Had no problem with the term’guinea’ – made me think of guinea hen, which I guess this was not (due to human like hands) but the term, plus her holding a basket, plus her wearing long skirts made me think of high fantasy type tales.

    The only thing that took me slightly out of the story was the name ‘Ned’. It seems a regular-person sort of name (on a level with Alice) – not the kind of name that would be attached to a person capable of ousting someone called the Usurper. That was a bit of a disconnect. But then further on we learn that this same Ned has a link to Alice that allows her to be more generous with her food than others (presumably). Yet here she is walking alone in the fog, frightened of suspicious noise. The question ‘why’ is interesting.

  11. karmelrio
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 10:26:27

    Great rhythm in the words. I like your use of occasional sentence fragments to reflect Alice’s thoughts.

    The only issue I really had was with the first paragraph. I tripped right away on on “worm wind,” thinking it might be a typo for “warm,” and re-read it three times. And the rest of the paragraph read… a little purple to me. This may be a personal preference, but I find ‘weather condition’ openings to be a little cliched.

    I think “The skittering noise followed Alice Standish up Pickaxe Street” is a stronger opening, but again, personal preference.

    Same quibble as a few others with the repetition of breath/breathe in the last sentence. You might consider the following:

    A stunned moment as she stared at black leather sewn with strips of wolver fur, manacles dangling from a studded belt. Her eyes traveled up, snagged on the crown branded on one stubbled cheek, couldn't see past it to anything else. Her breath stopped.

    Bounty hunter.

    Great read! Rock on. More more more.

  12. shenan
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 10:38:29

    —-The worm wind is the night wind.

    This has me confused. If the worm wind is the night wind, why call it the worm wind instead of the night wind? What does it have to do with worms?

    —-clinging fog that fills the throat

    This has me confused as well. How does fog fill a throat? How would you know? Is it so heavy that it chokes? Is it cold? Why doesn’t it fill the nose as well?

    —-and smothers all sound except for the plink of water dripping off eaves.

    Why doesn’t it smother the sound of water dripping as well as every other sound? And by “smother” do you mean the flog blocks sound altogether? Or do you mean it muffles distant sounds so they are harder to hear?

    I like the use of the word “plink” there.

    —–And the skittering noise following Alice Standish up Pickaxe Street.

    Does this refer back to sounds that AREN’T getting smothered? Having it set off as a partial sentence in its own paragraph is confusing. I had to go back and read the previous line, and even then I’m still confused.

    I like “skittering” — nice visual. (Even if it is used to describe a sound.)

    —–Alice stopped, tightening her grip on her shopping basket,

    This is probably just me, but the phrase “shopping basket” sounds too modern. When I read that I envisioned one of those plastic baskets with the handles you can use to carry small items in some stores.

    —- and peered uselessly into the whiteness that shrouded her.

    Can one peer usefully?

    —–especially in such heavy fog. A murder could happen at your very feet, and you’d never know it.

    How heavy can a fog possibly be that someone could commit murder right at someone’s feet without the potential witness noticing? Those walking the streets can hear water dripping off eaves, but not someone getting murdered inches away? And how is it this woman can see to navigate the streets — or see a small creature coming out of the fog — but not see murder done at her feet?

    —-Silence. Wondering if she’d just heard the trickle of water in a downspout,

    If all is silent, how is she hearing anything? And wasn’t she already hearing water coming off the eaves?

    If sound is muffled or blocked, how can she hear water trickling in a downspout? Wouldn’t that be hard to hear even if you were standing right by the downspout?

    —-she climbed a few more steps and it happened again, almost under her feet.

    Wait. She wouldn’t hear a murder taking place at her feet, but she can hear what she thinks is water trickling? Then she hears a chirp.

    —–Skittering steps that stopped when she did.

    So many sentence fragments that don’t flow take me out of the story while I try to figure them out.

    —-Gently, Alice set her basket down and slid a small dagger out of her sleeve, holding it out of sight in the folds of her skirt.

    I like the contrast between a woman going out shopping and that same woman having a knife up her sleeve. One is so Housewife Running Household Errands. The other is so Assassin in the Shadows. Makes me want to know more about the woman and who she is.

    —–A stunned moment as she stared at black leather sewn with strips of wolver fur, manacles dangling from a studded belt.

    There seem to be words missing here. I read it three times, and I still have trouble with it.

    It’s too bad the excerpt ended just when it started to get interesting.

    Just as a matter of curiosity — is this SciFi or Fantasy? It reads so far like a Fantasy to me. I don’t read Fantasy, but I’d read more in a SciFi story to find out more about that bounty hunter.

  13. joanne
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 10:44:02

    I liked this first page entry so much, and I haven’t picked up a SciFi book since… well, that might be ever.

    I loved the insertion of the little guinea hen and the heroine’s (?) interaction with it at the beginning of your story. That scene makes a nice invitation to visit this world that you’re building.

    Much good luck and thank you.

  14. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 10:59:04

    Awesome! Vivid and unique. I already like the heroine, and I love all the odd, interesting details.

    Maybe this isn’t a romance, but if the hero is the bounty hunter (mmmm!), you have a great set up for romantic conflict.

  15. Gennita Low
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 11:11:42

    I love this first page–it introduces all the interesting elements (a bit of backstory, fear, a little distraction, then WHAM! Danger!) and makes the reader eager to turn the page.

    Well done!

  16. Bev Stephans
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 11:14:21

    This is a very promising start. I would like to read more.

  17. Leah
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 11:59:05

    This is great! The writing is so vivid and I could see and hear everything you described. A definite “tub book.” Keep it up and let us know when it’s coming to a bookstore near us!

  18. Ciar Cullen
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 14:13:06

    Loved it! The fragments don’t bother me as much as others.

  19. Jage
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 14:25:58

    I loved it. Only thing that stopped me was that worm wind bit.

    I also liked her interaction with the guinea, and I’m interested about the Bounty hunter and why that would frighten her if she’s on first name terms with the ‘king’. [I'm assuming Ned is the king since he ran out the Usurper].

  20. Lori
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 14:28:49

    I’m not a sci-fi reader at all but this read brilliantly. If you aren’t published, you shall be no doubt because this is that good. And I do like fragmented sentences personally, it’s how we think and talk and translates well to me.

    Please let us know the future of this. You might turn me into a sci-fi reader after all.

  21. Jill N. Noble
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 14:40:58

    Excellent. Needs a bit of editing, but so what? :-) Please let me know when this is published so I can read more!

  22. JoB
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 16:13:39

    Very, very fine.

    May I offer two nits and a substantive comment.

    The nits.

    – Stop using ‘Alice’.
    Use ‘she’.

    The ‘he’ or ‘she’ pronoun belongs to the POV character.
    Unless you’re foolish enough to bring another female on-stage, you will not need to use ‘Alice’ in narrative till you change scenes.

    – Doublecheck sentences that begin with ‘And’.
    You got two important sentences with leading ‘And’s.

    ‘And’ mushes up your cadence. It sounds weasily. It softens the blow.

    (Think of ‘And” at the start of those last two sentences.
    NOT an improvement.)

    Did I tell you this snippet was very fine? It is.
    Your imagery is beautifully done.

    The substantive suggestion.

    Make it clear whether this street is safe.
    Or not.

    This can be a street where harmless, respectable women walk with reasonable safety,
    or it can be a street where a woman must draw a knife at every odd noise.

    If it’s the first, you must justify Alice drawing her knife at a bitty small skritching on a relatively safe street …
    (Is she morbidly nervous? Is somebody after her? And if somebody’s after her, why isn’t her knife READY?)

    If, OTOH, this is a dangerous alley, you have to justify Alice strolling there, blithely alone, in the fog, with a knife it takes her three minutes to extract.

    You don’t have to EXPLAIN what’s going on … you just have to make it logical.

    Did I tell you this was splendid?

  23. Lorraine
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 16:31:19

    I really liked it. However, the first paragraph was a little difficult for me. Worm wind tripped me up, as did “Sunbreaker and her children”. At first read I thought it was a story about Indians in the American West.

    I think the tension built really well. The description of the fog made it easy to see in my mind’s eye. And I loved “And bounced off a hard chest.” It made me gasp…a sure sign that I’m already involved in what I’m reading.

    Well done!

  24. kirsten saell
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 18:02:16

    I loved the worm wind. It didn’t even occur to me that it might be a typo for “warm”. It made me think of Dune, then maybe dragons.

    I am also a fan of sentence fragments, so you won’t hear me complaining. The last sentence is kind of anticlimactic, though, and takes the oomph out of everything that came before it.

    I read a lot of fantasy, not so much sci-fi. The prose here has a distinctive fantasy feel that would have me reading more, even if there were spaceships and astrophysics in the next paragraph. It could be tightened a bit, and you could probably lose some of the commas, but overall, very well done!

  25. KristieJ
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 18:13:26

    I also really enjoyed this and want to know more!!

  26. Maya M.
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 19:23:42

    personal opinion:

    I don’t see any problem with the term ‘worm wind’. Calling it ‘night wind’ instead would be so much more boring. Why is the Scirocco called Scirocco instead of ‘dry desert wind’? Which is more poetic: ‘El Nino’ or ‘pervasive oceanic geographic force’?

    Also, ‘worm wind’ creates a sense of expectation to find out what the morning, afternoon and evening winds are called.

  27. Nervous First-time Author
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 20:20:07

    I don’t know if it’s an etiquette violation to post on this thread, but I’ll risk it anyway to say thanks to everyone who responded, even, no, especially, the nitpickers :) The novel is ready to go out to agents, and I know how important the first page is in catching the jaded eye. You’ve all helped tremendously.

  28. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 20:51:15

    Very nice! Not my thing at all, this genre, but I’ll follow a good author anywhere. You created a good atmosphere, and you didn’t dither too much before she bounced. A few nitpicks, but everyone else has covered them.
    Go for it, and the best of luck with the agents, I’m sure you’ll find a publisher in no time!

  29. Robin
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 21:38:01

    Really liked it, including the first sentence. I don’t know if it’s steampunk, but it hit me with that aroma, which makes me even more interested in reading more.

  30. Masha
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 21:39:55

    I found the transition from present tense in the first two paragraphs to past tense in the third jarring. It’s nitpicking and obviously didn’t bother anyone else, but it’s probably worth considering changing the entire page to past tense.

  31. Seressia
    Nov 30, 2008 @ 03:18:57

    Liked it. My only thing would be a genre clarification, but it could just be me. If it’s another planet (and they know they’re on another planet) and there is space travel, that makes it science fiction. If this is their world chock full of fantastical creatures, no robots, aliens, ray guns or space travel, then it’s fantasy.

    YMMV, but if your query letter says science fiction and there is no science involved, it may throw the agent. The writing may make them forgive you, however.

  32. Ann Somerville
    Nov 30, 2008 @ 06:02:53

    If this is their world chock full of fantastical creatures, no robots, aliens, ray guns or space travel, then it's fantasy.

    Not necessarily. But she could just label it speculative fiction and that covers a multitude of sins.

  33. Linda Rigel
    Nov 30, 2008 @ 15:02:01

    Science fiction = about possible worlds

    fantasy = about impossible worlds (though of course said worlds must have their own logic)

    This was a definition one of my professors gave in a Fantasy and Romance class. I think it’s useful.

  34. Linda Rigel
    Nov 30, 2008 @ 15:05:14

    I liked this too. The worm wind threw me — not because I didn’t like it, but because I didn’t understand it. I was confused for a while as to whether the scene was in the country or in the town.

    But I was drawn in and cared about Alice right away. I thought the interaction with the guinea was endearing, and I hope it turns out that it is lucky to feed one.

  35. orannia
    Nov 30, 2008 @ 16:28:48

    It really drew me in. And I liked the line ‘And bounced off a hard chest’. I was still thinking of guineas with tails and it gave me a bit of a shock :)

    Good luck with the submission!

  36. MaryK
    Dec 01, 2008 @ 03:50:21

    Wow, I loved this. I was so into it I got a jolt when it ended. I don’t usually comment on first page entries because I don’t have credentials other than being a reader, but I think I could be a big fan of this book so I’ll add my two cents.

    The only real problem I had was the “worm wind” – wondering if it was a typo. I think it would’ve worked better for me if the known phrase had been first: “The night wind is the worm wind.” The “strange” scents didn’t bother me because they’re coming from the dark lands, and the second paragraph-sentence was actually what hooked me into the story with its abrupt change. I thought Ned was a rather mundane name, but it made me wonder about a Usurper-driver-outer named Ned. I’m dying to know who the hero is. There is a hero I hope? Are Ned and the bounty hunter the same person?

    Please let us know when this is published. I definitely want to read the rest of the story.

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