Saturday, July 28, 2012

First 250 Words Smash! #4

Most Wonderful Author: Kendra || Hintsloveswords @ tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah

The keep was burning.

House Morier, the most powerful house in the kingdom besides Marlow itself, had fallen.
The true culprit of the act will never be determined, but anyone with any mind knew that Syson was behind it. Syson, the man who made it very clear that he hated his brother, King Rogan, and wanted the throne for himself.

It was well known to the people of the kingdom that House Morier was very close with House Marlow. Why, the young prince himself was betrothed to Morier's infant daughter. It was really no surprise that Syson chose Morier as his first victim.

The screams of the dying could be heard for miles. All of the servants and minor nobility who lived in Keep Morier were burned alive. Lord Raffin and Lady Tara were already dead, of course, killed by Syson's assassins before the fire. Their three children, two adolescent sons and one very young daughter, were said to have been forced to watch their murder, and then killed themselves.

This was not certain, however. There was much confusion that night, and the next morning the keep was silent. Smoke drifted from the blackened ruin of the once magnificent structure like fingers reaching for the sky. The nobility wanted nothing to do with the place, and the lower class kept well clear of it.

Only one strange old woman approached the fallen keep that day, drawn by the weak, pitiful crying of a child.

Strong Points
Your technical skills are good and solid. Your sentence variation builds up tension, and this is a skill that often takes time to build up naturally and lyrically, so it seems like you have a natural eye for that.

I see some promise in your prose with phrases like “Smoke drifted from the blackened ruin … like fingers reaching for the sky.” I want to see you push that, and I have a feeling if you take my advice below, I’ll see more of it. Either way, I’d still like to see you push it harder, because I can see you’ve got it in you.

Some Tips
Firstly, you almost had me at the opening, except for one minor detail: passive voice. While passive voice can often work in narrative, it’s always good to double-check with a non-passive variation and see if that’s not stronger.

“The keep was burning” versus “The keep burned” (or smoldered or blazed or what have you).

I do like the pow of the first sentence, and I’m always fond of brevity and an opening line that’s its own paragraph, but after that, you fall into the trap that many opening manuscripts of the epic fantasy quality have: the submergence of exposition. I used to do the same because it felt like a great and epic way to start off an epic story, but it isn’t. A great and epic way to start off an epic story is to start with the story. History lessons should not be lead-ins. Your story doesn’t need a history lesson in the beginning to create intrigue or make sense. Start exactly where the story begins, or where the “conflict” begins with your main character(s).

I critiqued a piece once that had the same problem, and after she took in the advice from me and other readers, she did much better. I’m going to make the same suggestion: throw out this entire opening. Start with your main character (which I presume must be the source of the wailing) at the point in which the story actually begins. All the history can be unloaded organically through the action and dialogue of your story instead of spoon-fed.

I’d even recommend (the same recommendation that I also gave the aforementioned writer) that you abstain from the epic omniscient flair in your narrative, such as “Why, the young prince himself…” and “This was not certain, however.” This can fall into the category of gimmicks to create that epic fantastical feeling, but you don’t need that.

Also, in what tense are you intending to write your perspective from? Past? Present? Future? Because you’ve got a little bit of everything in there: “The true culprit of the act will never be determined”, “It was well known…” and “were said to have been forced…” are examples of all different perspectives.

Would I Keep Reading?

Not yet. I’m sensing that this is a prologue, and personally I put down any novel that begins with a prologue or some sort of preface. Here’s why. (The writer of that particular blog entry is a very respectable agent at a big lit agency as well, and anytime I critique someone with a prologue, I send them thataway.)

If you do decide to take this advice, I would love to see a redo of your opening. I feel like this isn’t a proper demonstration of your skill as a writer, so I hope you do resubmit!

Good luck! ♥

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