Friday, July 6, 2012

First Page Friday

I can't believe it's Friday already!  Remember, if you or your friends would like a critique from a national editor, please submit your double-spaced first page to with First Page Friday in the subject line.  We've got two openings in July, so let your friends know!

The Entry
The Lost Kingdom
by Kris Ellsworth

There was once an old land where kings and queens reigned and magical creatures lived among mankind. In one of the most beautiful and fertile lands near a mighty forest, a small village thrived along a wide river that flowed from the forest. A sawmill had been built on the river because men found the wood along the forest line to be of the highest quality. With the success of the mill, the village started to be known as Miller Creek.
For many centuries, there had been no rulers, no magic, and the newer generations found stories of canotilas and ijiraqs to be nothing more than lore, a silly story to tell around the fire, or tales to get children to behave. Unknown to them, the magical community still existed but withdrawn from the mortal world. Instead, they hid deep within the swamplands found within the very forest that the mortals thrived on.
In the deepest part of the swamp, at the central part of the land, there laid the most fertile hammock holding the oldest of trees and the wisest of creatures. A circle of magnificent trees grew together, known to have been there since the world began. Although most trees die off long before a century has passed, these trees were of a special quality. They held within their depths the ancient spirits of the forest. Their combined powers governed the magical realm of the forest. Once a year, they emerged from their trees and gathered in council.
Has he come?” A soft voice came from the holly tree. From within its depth, emerged the form of the dryad, Ilex. He was thin and tall, and although he was younger than the rest of the trees and his skin was a beautiful polished white, it was wrinkled giving him an appearance of an old man. His lips and nails were of a bright red color. His garb was glossy green leather with a prickly, spiked appearance that matched the leaves of his tree. Upon his head was a wreath of holly, and in his hand a staff made of a holly branch.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

To begin, I’d like to talk about the first sentence in some depth. It reads, “There was once an old land where kings and queens reigned and magical creatures lived among mankind.”

This sentence misses the mark on a few fronts. First, it’s too generic. We have no concept of where this land is, and the fact that it’s a monarchy populated with magical creatures doesn’t tell us much more. It doesn’t make a strong enough first impression because it could be the opening of any fairy tale.

World-building is a vital element of fantasy writing, and the world in which your story lives needs to make a strong first impression. You need to establish in short order exactly what’s at stake in this world—e.g., rivalries, military conflicts, old betrayals and alliances, magical elements, etc. And don’t allow that world to become cluttered. In this first page, we learn that the unnamed land is populated with canotilas, ijiraqs, dryads, and other forest spirits. It feels like an unfocused potpourri of Lakota, Inuit, and Greek mythology.

Right now, the first three paragraphs read more like an information dump. You may want to start with a more concrete event and gradually work in some of the more general details presented here. Also, make sure to keep verb tense consistent. In the third paragraph, for instance, there’s a sudden shift to the present tense (“Although most trees die off...”).

The imagery of the “fertile hammock” is a bit confusing. I interpreted it literally at first and had to reread the sentence twice to comprehend that it was symbolic of the landscape. Generally, a hammock hangs between two objects, and it’s not clear what those two objects might be from the narrative. And would the deepest part of a swamp really be the most fertile? Also watch verb choice. The first sentence of this paragraph should read, “...there lay the most fertile hammock...”

As you revise this manuscript, consider what you can do to pull the reader in more immediately. Is there a pivotal event that can kick off the story? Which details are absolutely essential on the first page and which can wait? A strong beginning propels not only the reader, but also the author. You know when you’re “on” and in the zone, and when your story gains momentum right out of the gate, you’ll find that your writing becomes livelier and more cohesive. The readers will pick up on this energy, too, so it’s truly a win-win.

Thank you so much to Kris and Ms. Shreditor.  I think these critiques really help us all become better writers.  I also apologize for the weird formatting that is evident today in some paragraph indents.  Sometimes Blogger just hates me.  Apparently I need to give it chocolate or some form of Blogger love or something.  See you all next week, Blogger-willing!


Debra Erfert said...

It's difficult for me to read "world-building" stories, even more difficult for me to critique them. I mean, it isn't my world to build, so who am I to say how it should be done? I know there are rules and such, but I try to just sit back and let the story pull me into that forest and envision what the place and tree characters look like. I take it for granted that there would be words that I won't understand. You should've read the sic/fi I beta read last month. I understood little of the scientific terminology, but so what? It was a good bluff if not factual.

I think the most difficult part of a novel is that first paragraph, maybe even that opening sentence. I fret over it more than the ending.

Yay, to Kris for being brave enough to let Ms. Shreditor critique you first page.

Jon Spell said...

When I started the opening paragraphs, I thought, this reminds me a little of the setting of Pern in the first book. I was confused in the third paragraph, but not for the same reason as Ms. Shreditor - I couldn't tell who governed the forest (the trees, right?) and then the next sentence, they emerge from the trees. Ok, time to re-read. Oh, ancient spirits!

Regarding world-building, sometimes it's best to just jump into the action to grip the reader, then let on what kind of world it is. Imagine, instead, you had opened with the 4th paragraph, but left off the descriptions until later. On the other hand, sometimes authors leave you with too many questions about this world. I think of Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy. I was so lost during the first few chapters trying to figure out how things worked in that world.

I can see that the author has put some thought into this world. Interesting to see where it goes from here. =)