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First chapter of an unnamed YA Fantasy novel (~1200 words)

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Old 03-20-2014, 04:28 PM
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Default First chapter of an unnamed YA Fantasy novel (~1200 words)


This is the first chapter of my first attempt at a novel, so please tear it to shreds . It is a YA fantasy that's basically my own take on Grim Reapers. The first chapter is meant to set the stage and tone more rather than provide exposition. I'll give a bit of info at the end to help explain where the story is going from there. I really dislike my first two paragraphs, but have yet to figure out a better way to write it. Anyways, on to the story:

--
In a dark narrow alley in London's West End, a young boy stumbled through the Christmas Eve snow. Today was his 8th birthday, though the boy was ignorant of this fact. He had never known his parents, so today passed like any other day for a child of the streets. He spent his day wandering through the districts taking advantage of the extra charity the holidays tended to bring. However, his young adventurous spirit led him a bit further astray than usual and eventually found him lost at this late hour.

The weather had not seemed so bleak when the boy initially ventured out that morning. For a child his age, heavy snowfall was something to be celebrated. After the sun had set, however, the boy's feelings for wintery weather quickly changed. The thin clothes he was wearing were drenched and did little to keep him warm. Numbness had begun to affect his fingers and toes and was slowly making its way up his arms and legs. He was exhausted and with each step, his body seemed to double in weight. It took everything he had to keep moving forward.

As he reached the middle of the alley, his body finally gave out. He stumbled face first into the snow and didn't move for several moments. His strength had all but left him. Very slowly, he managed to pull himself up. He sat against one of the cold brick walls of the alley and put his head back. A small gust of wind passed through the alley and the boy heard a soft rustling. Opening his eyes, the boy saw the remnants of a discarded newspaper lying nearby. Weakly, he reached out and grabbed it before another gust took it out of his reach. He wrapped it around himself as tightly as he could and closed his eyes again. His new thin paper blanket provided almost no protection from the weather, but it made the boy feel safe. Curled up and shivering, the boy quietly drifted off to sleep. The alley was still save for the slight movement of the boys chest and the visible trails of his warm breath against the cold air. Soon, however, even these ceased to move and the alley became quiet once again.

As the last of the boy's white breath dissipated into the night air, a faint glow began to appear around his cold body. The outline of a small animal began to take shape in front of the curled body of the boy. The creature was made of a similar ethereal whiteness as the glow surrounding the boy. When it had finished fading into existence, it appeared to be nothing more than a small kitten, though it still maintained its pale translucent color. The kitten was about the size of an apple and should have sunken below the blanket of snow on the ground. Instead, it sat there appearing weightless and immune to the cold.

The glow around the boy began to fade. At the same moment, a brighter glow appeared from the boy's chest, just above his heart. A brilliant white sphere emerged from the boy’s chest. Once it had fully separated from the boy's body, it stopped moving. It hung above the boy's heart like a pendant from a necklace. The bright glow from the sphere was greater than either the boy's or the kittens but was masked by the newspaper that was still wrapped around his body.

Suddenly, the kitten hissed and crouched defensively. Out of the dark end of the alley stepped the dark figure of a man. He was a short man, but had a lean build of an athlete. He could have passed for an older schoolboy, were it not for his thin beard and worn face. He wore fine clothes of various muted shades of greens and purples. However, his suit seemed more like an old motley than a traditional suit. He didn't seem to immediately notice the kitten or the boy. Instead he mumbled to himself as he softly walked forward. When he had moved to within a few feet of the boy, the kitten hissed again and repositioned itself between the man and the boy. It glared at the man with a mix of fear and hatred in its eyes.

"Ah yes, I almost didn't see you," noticing the kitten for the first time. "Well aren't you just precious."

The kitten backed up a few steps, lowering its head and raising its fur.

"Come now. No need to get violent. I'm just here on business. I won't hurt you. Or your friend," he said, finally looking over at the boy. He studied the boy's small huddled shape for a few moments. Suddenly he broke out in a childish giggle. "Oh my! This may just be an exciting job after all. The boy seems to have a morbid sense of humor" he exclaimed, his eyes still stuck on the newspaper wrapped around the small body. "You've gone and gift wrapped yourself! And not just with anything. No. You were cheeky enough to use the obituary paper! I must admit I'm a tad upset that you've gone and died now. I'm really starting to like you."

The kitten hissed again.

"Well aren't we just the church bell tonight," the man responded with a hint of annoyance as he dropped his gaze down at the cat. "Don't worry. I haven't forgotten about you. I was just admiring my lovely Christmas gift. But," he said glancing at the pocket watch he pulled from inside his coat, "I have dawdled here long enough. Time to get on with business."

He stepped forward and in a swift motion bent down and scooped the cat up in one hand. It made a few wild attempts to free itself, but to no avail. With his other hand, he reached out to pull the newspaper loose from the boy's body. As soon as the paper had separated from the boy's chest, the bright light from the sphere illuminated the alley. The man's eyes grew wide in excitement.
"My my. You're just full of surprises, aren't you," the man said cheerily to the boy. "Odin will be very interested to see this. And it looks like you may be seeing me later. But for now, it is time I departed. I really have stayed here quite long enough."

With that, the man swept up the orb in is free hand and placed it in his coat pocket. The kitten made another attempt to free itself from the man's grasp before he finally set it back on the snowy ground. He gave it a quick pet before turning around and walking back to the darker end of the alley. The man soon disappeared into the darkness. The kitten sat quietly for a few moments as its glow began to fade. It gave one last glance towards the cold shape behind it before disappearing completely leaving behind layers of soft snow and the frozen corpse of a lost young boy.
--

I plan on starting the next chapter with the boy waking up in something similar to purgatory where he is accepted into the ranks of the other Reapers (I'll name them something cool later). The way that Reapers work in my story is that as you die, your soul (the sphere) separates from you and is protected by your will to live(an animal, or the kitten in this instance). Reapers need to overcome the animal guardians to retrieve the soul and allow it to pass on peacefully. There's more to it, but I hope that's enough to get some good feedback. Thanks,

Light

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Old 03-20-2014, 05:42 PM
risk10 (Offline)
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You have a great idea here, LightTraveller, but there are some issues with your execution of the story.

I feel this is more a function of this being your first attempt, so the good news is there is plenty of time for you to improve and grow (aren't we all?).

I have picked up several 'global' issues with the text and used examples below to highlight them. Please bear in mind that this is my opinion. Feel free to use what you like

PACING:

It is slow, which can be fine, but there needs to be more happening. The age old issue of 'telling' rather than 'showing' is prevalent in this piece. The dye is cast in the opening paragraph:



Originally Posted by LightTraveller View Post

--
In a dark narrow alley in London's West End, a young boy stumbled through the Christmas Eve snow. Today was his 8th birthday, though the boy was ignorant of this fact. He had never known his parents, so today passed like any other day for a child of the streets. He spent his day wandering through the districts taking advantage of the extra charity the holidays tended to bring. However, his young adventurous spirit led him a bit further astray than usual and eventually found him lost at this late hour.

All in blue is telling me what he thinks, what has happened. There's no sense of how he feels, what he sees and hears. Consider this opening (it is rushed, not to be taken as a rewrite, just another way to think of it):

It was his eighth birthday, not that he knew what it meant to have a birthday. The biting cold of the Christmas Eve snow soaked through his clothes and into his bones. Every step ached, but he was glad of the charity of the season. At least he had a full belly.

Now, this ain't no Pulitzer Prize winner, but I hope you get what I am trying to say. It is more about how the character feels and less what the author wants to 'tell' you. But you still get the same message.

VOICE:

You seem to have trouble here. You start off with close third person (he did this; his breath was warm, etc.), then switch to distant thrid (the boy did this; the boy's breath of warm, etc.). You need to pick one and stick by it, as it was a jarring read for me. If this boy is going to be your MC (main character), I would name him in the first sentence too. As for close or distant third, that is your choice, but stick to one.

On the issue of voice, it appears rather stilted at times and lacks clarity. You use ambiguous words, leaving the reader unfulfilled. An example below:


Originally Posted by LightTraveller View Post
The weather had not seemed so bleak when the boy initially ventured out that morning. For a child his age, heavy snowfall was something to be celebrated. After the sun had set, however, the boy's feelings for wintery weather quickly changed. The thin clothes he was wearing were drenched and did little to keep him warm.
What feelings have changed? Why should an urchin celebrate the snow? It's cold, wet and completely unfriendly without a warm fire after playing in it. More specificity is required to draw the reader in.

REPEATED WORDS AND REDUNDANCIES

This is an oldie, but a goodie (as the cliche goes). I have highlighted in the small passage below some issues here:


Originally Posted by LightTraveller View Post
As he reached the middle of the alley, his body finally gave out. He stumbled face first into the snow and didn't move for several moments. His strength had all but left him. Very slowly, he managed to pull himself up. He sat against one of the cold brick walls of the alley and put his head back.
Everything in blue could be trimmed and the passage reads the same (if not easier). You like to use adverbs, which is fine, but use them wisely. Many adverbs we use in everyday speech do not translate well in narrative: 'just, finally, even, very', these need to be eliminated from your text as they do not do any work. I also believe the same for 'Suddenly'.

The sentence highlighted is a redundancy. You told us his body gave out - therefore his strength has left him. No need to tell us the same thing twice in three sentences.

The same thing goes for "of the alley" in the last sentence. We know he is in an alley. Where else would he find the cold brick wall?

DIALOGUE:

This is tricky, especially for people new to writing - including me.

Many people make the mistake of writing dialogue as we expect someone to speak. Nothing could be further from the truth, quite paradoxically. Dialogue needs to be 'speech in a perfect world'. No one would ever speak like that, but it also needs to feel natural.

Below are several pieces of your dialogue (though only one person speaks):

Originally Posted by LightTraveller View Post
"Oh my! This may just be an exciting job after all. The boy seems to have a morbid sense of humor" he exclaimed, his eyes still stuck on the newspaper wrapped around the small body. "You've gone and gift wrapped yourself! And not just with anything. No. You were cheeky enough to use the obituary paper! I must admit I'm a tad upset that you've gone and died now. I'm really starting to like you.".
Pretty much all of the blue should be trimmed. You could, perhaps, elude to the use of the obituaries with something like: "You've gift wrapped yourself. With the obituary paper!"

The trick is to pare the dialogue back to what is absolutely necessary. Take the second example:


Originally Posted by LightTraveller View Post
"Well aren't we just the church bell tonight?" the man responded with a hint of annoyance as he dropped his gaze down at the cat. "Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about you.I was just admiring my lovely Christmas gift. But," he said glancing at the pocket watch he pulled from inside his coat, "I have dawdled here long enough. Time to get on with business."
Then...

Originally Posted by LightTraveller View Post
"My, my. You're just full of surprises, aren't you," the man said cheerily to the boy. "Odin will be very interested to see this. And it looks like you may be seeing me later. But for now, it is time I departed. I really have stayed here quite long enough."
OK, I'll explaing the colour coding.

The red is all your speech tags. You only have one person speaking and you don't need all of them. It could be argued that you don't need any of them, but that is your choice as the author. I would strongly suggest you only keep two of the five at max.

The blue is all the 'unneccessary dialogue'. It does no work and should be trimmed.

The green is repetitive dialogue. You only need to state this once, probably keep the second instance, as it keeps with his departure. This is what I meant by "speaking as you think we would speak" and "dialogue"

Well, that's about it for now. I have spent the better part of an hour on this. Why? Because I think your idea of animal protectors representing our will to live is one of the most creative ones I have seen in these parts. It is well worth continuing on with this and I hope my critique helps in some small way.

Cheers.
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Old 03-20-2014, 05:51 PM
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I'll give credit to Risk10 ten for pointing out the critical stuff, but I must admit that in terms of your plot idea, you're off to a very good and interesting start.

With a bit more polishing, you stand a good chance of having a masterpiece on your hands.
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Old 03-20-2014, 07:07 PM
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Risk10,
Thank you so much for taking all of that time critiquing my work. I hope it wasn't too painful to read. I reviewed what you wrote and I think I understand everything you suggested. Certain parts you mentioned were things that I knew felt wrong, but I couldn't narrow down what I needed to change, so your comments were a huge help there.

The only thing that I am unsure about is your advice to name the character at the beginning. My original plan was to not give the character a name, primarily because I don't want him to have an identity tied to the world of the living. I intended for the first half of the book, where he adapts to the life of a reaper, to have him go by "Boy". Do you think that route will work? If so, how do you suggest I handle addressing him in the first chapter?

Also, I intended for this to be set roughly in the Victorian era (a bit cliche, but it feels like the best fit in my head) but I have no idea how or when to introduce that fact. Any advice on that?

Finally, thank you to both you and WritingFan27 for showing interest in my general premise. That is a much needed boost of confidence that I sorely needed. I hope to be able to share more with you all as I keep developing this.

Light
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Old 03-20-2014, 07:27 PM
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Nonsense! No pain at all. You write well - conveying your images and message. Please don't take the critique as a body blow (easier said than done, eh ), just my take on how it could be enhanced.

I got a Victorian feel from the writing, so there is success there. I think just describing the city (I was thinking London, but that may be due to my English heritage and bias), the clothes and the feel of the writing would further entrench that.

As for naming the character - it would be my preference, but no hard nor fast rule there. The only thing I would be careful of is the distance thing - switching from 'he' to 'the boy' was jarring for me.

It won't be easy writing without a name for your protagonist, but it has been done plenty of times (read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy to see how it's done). It may be easier to keep a distance at the start and refer to him as 'the boy' for the most part.
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Old 03-21-2014, 12:27 PM
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Risk10,
Thanks again for the response. I completely understand that what you've said is all critique and opinion, so don't worry. I'm not disheartened just yet. I will admit though that I had a lot more anxiety when I saw I had an initial response than I had expected. But so far everything has proved extremely helpful. I'll keep playing around with things and see if I can correct what you've pointed out and figure out a way to better handle the setting and handling of the character's name.

Light
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Old 03-23-2014, 07:05 PM
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Light,
I agree with all of Risk10's points except for naming the character. This is a story where I don't feel like I need to know the character's name. I feel like I know him in context, and doesn't matter if his name is Steve, Rick, Bill, or Tom.
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