An unselfish wish made on the horn of a unicorn will come true. Our wish? To support the writing community by giving constructive tips and criticism through submissions. Check out the submissions tab for more information. We can survive the crucible of fire together.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

First Chapter Critique - part one


Title: Dark One’s Mistress
Genre: Adult Fantasy

“Clarabelle!” The cry rang out across the street, scattering the pigeons resting atop the roofs and sending the nearby cats into a fit of hissing as they scampered for cover. I immediately get the feeling of a city with rooftops and pigeons in which case I doubt these city cats would pay much attention to a bit of shouting – imo. And I cut that bit only because I think it reads better, more smoothly. Again, just my opinion.

Clara halted on the edge of the street, her face burning as the echo of her mother’s manly bellow continued. (Is this the first time her mother has called for her in such fashion? Just asking…) All around her, men and women paused in their daily business. The street gained an eerie silence. In the past, she’d heard worldlier folk boast that such deathly quiet could only be heard here in Everdark.

Then someone coughed, another person sneezed, and the sounds flooded back. The hum of talk. The clink of coins. A few turned to stare at her, the young woman in question, but mostly, the irate cry seemed to be forgotten. Again, if this is a city, I would think mothers hollering for their kids would be fairly commonplace, after all, cities are noisy places. But perhaps there’s a reason for Clara’s mother to be yelling…

A sigh huffed through her lips. Why does she have to scream like that? She contented herself with the roll of her eyes, wishing the heat in her cheeks would fade. It wasn’t as if she was some small child. She knew her duties well. Knew the streets even better. I cut that bit because I like this inner dialogue and wanted to stick with it. And I wonder what Clara’s duties are…But I also wonder why part of Clara's thoughts are italicized but not the rest.

She shuffled her burden: bread, cheese, a skin of goat’s milk and a tiny, dog-eared book on the world beyond. The last was for herself. Literally titled The World Beyond. Beyond what, she didn’t know, but it sounded intriguing.

In the pit of her stomach, Clara knew concern hadn’t driven her mother’s voice. She’d taken too long, pure and simple. It wasn’t her fault the baker’s son had gone missing was it now? She’ll find some way to blame it on me. I’m a little confused here by how these sentences are connected. On the one hand Clara thinks her mother isn’t concerned. On the other, she knows she’s taken too long with her errands, hence her mother yelling for her (I assume). But what does the missing baker’s son have to do with it and why would Clara be blamed? Is her mother just angry/impatient or did you mean to say her mother was concerned precisely because of the missing boy?

Knowing her mother, she’d have expected Clara to come running back. Oh yes, my burden is ever so light. And if she fell and ruined it all? Why she’d be treated to one of her mother’s clips over the ear. Or worse, she could twist her ankle on the uneven stones that dared to be called a road. Nature could’ve made a better surface than this. She could’ve sworn she’d heard her mother saying they were repairing the roads.
Or had she meant the Road? (oh, and what Road might that be?)

Her gaze lifted to the shadowy bulk of the citadel perched atop Mount Winding. In the morning light, she could just make out the towers. Three, though she’d been told there were actually six, rising like the points of a crown around a pointy head. (I think the image works better on its own) On a clear night, when they’d lit all the torches, the fortress looked like a mask with a giant, shadowy maw and horrible, glowing eyes.

She staggered, the ground underfoot feeling a lot softer than it should have. A yowl at her feet revealed it to be one of the braver cats. “Scat you flea-ridden pest!” Watching the tawny animal streak off into the shadows, she heard a soft, slightly wet, thud. Oh no. What had she lost? Clara patted the bundle. Bread, cheese ... My book! She searched her wares again for the tiny tome, stamping her foot when she found nothing.

Her toe landed on something small and a little spongy. Wincing, she glanced down past her arms and caught the dark edge of what her gut told her must be the book’s spine. Further juggling allowed her to see the soggy filth it had landed in. Drat! It had cost her a whole copper. Her mother was going to thrash her for wasting money. She just knew it.

“Out of the way!” a man cried, his voice cutting through the square’s natural chatter. Fast filling the void came the clop of hooves and the rattle of wheels on cobblestone.
 
Horses? Not many round here bothered with the beasts. (hmm, why not? I wonder…) Clara skittered towards the edge of the street, finding herself backing into a pole belonging to one of the many stalls lining the streets. Her burden (singular) slid in her arms. She drew them (plural) closer, determined not to lose any more. 

Now, let me just say that my comments/suggestions are based on my first read through without knowing much about this story besides the fact that it's an adult fantasy. That said, it feels like it might be aimed at a younger audience because of Clara, who strikes me as a young girl who is still under thumb of her mother and resents it. But, this is just the first two pages so, we shall have to wait on that score...

I like the way the description is placed which is giving me a picture of the city as Clara makes her way home and I also like the little things that are thrown in to pique my curiosity like the missing baker's boy, the fact that horses aren't common and the roads vs The Road, which has a distinctly ominous feel to it. These are all good reasons for me to read on and find out more about Clara and this city.

11 comments:

Charity Bradford said...

This is interesting, and like Marcy I've got enough questions I want answered to keep reading.

I'm a bit confused at how old Clara is. She refers to herself as a young woman so I thought 18-21 or so, but she refers to "bread, cheese, a skin of goat’s milk and a tiny, dog-eared book" like it's a lot to carry. This makes me think she's younger or maybe really petite. I know I can (and often do) carry much more than this at a time. She's afraid of getting her ears boxed (young) but she looks at the world around her with quite a bit of maturity.

As for the missing boy. I read it that he went missing, the mom doesn't know yet, but when she finds out she will find some way to blame Clara for it. This peaked my interest. Why would Clara be blamed for the missing boy?

Isn't it funny how we can each read the same words and think different things?

I also saw a smaller village near the citadel set up on a mountain.

And I'm really curious about the horse rider as well.

mshatch said...

Good call, Charity, thanks :)

Lexa Cain said...

I think MSH did a great job with the edit. Overall, the things I liked best were the voice and the description of the citadel. But I'd read it under the impression I was reading an MG fantasy (don't know how I got that idea -- must be blind), but I now think the voice and style are too young for adult readers. I also think there isn't enough action or tension to pull readers into the story. However, I don't read much epic-fantasy (which is what this sounds like), so maybe world-building is a typical way to start a story and the tension comes later.

Donna Hole said...

I actually liked the sense of guilt and startlement in the opening paragraphs. I'm sure a child attuned to their mother's voice and personality would hear - even on a busy street - a shout. And I liked the way the city setting was built.

Some of the deletions I would have advised too, and many of the dropped in info was confusing. But it was the consistent use of pronouns that threw me.

The voice is interesting. I'm anticipating a lot of character growth due to the elevated internalizing. It is difficult to engage a reader with a character personality that starts off with this intensity, as more effort needs to be made to make her sympathetic to the reader. I also get the impression of a younger character, but again, she could just be repressed, and will bloom as she realizes her own value.

I'm wondering if the immature personality is written into the opening scene on purpose; and if so, I'm sure the novel will be more exciting for it. Sometimes character growth is more important than plot.

I'm referring, of course, to Shea Ohmsford's growth in The Sword of Shannara series. Nothing wrong with a self absorbed introvert as a MC, one who has a special gift and has to be taught to appreciate the gift, and themselves. In my opinion, at least; as I enjoy complex characters.

.......dhole

mshatch said...

thank you Donna for commenting. The more comments the better than author can get a sense of what's working, and what's not.

mshatch said...

THEN the author can get a sense of what's working (not than). Sorry, just got up!

mshatch said...

Adult fantasy often starts much slower than YA and MG and those that read it are usually well aware that there might be some world building to start. And as long as it's well-written and interesting I for one don't mind a bit.

DEZMOND said...

methinks the editor is too meticulous and a bit mean. Most of the comments the editor left on this piece show a person who thinks editor's job is to cut out and criticise as much as possible. I say this as someone who works in the publishing industry. Stay away from editors who are not helpful and constructive and above all professional.

DEZMOND said...

PS I didn't know you're the editor in this case when I wrote the comment, but I still stick to the stated opinion :)

mshatch said...

I apologize if I appear too harsh. That is certainly not my intention. I did my best to suggest what might make the piece work better and show what is working. But perhaps I need to temper my comments.

Brooke R. Busse said...

Yes, it is fascinating. I read it as meaning that because the baker's son was missing, there wasn't as much help at the bakery, therefore it took longer for Clara to get the bread than it should have according to her mother.