Wednesday, April 23, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #48

Most Wonderful Author: AwayLaughing @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Aly
Working Title: In Living Memory

Neiar, who was half asleep from a long day of doing nothing, jerked awake when the large doors of the antechamber banged open and yet another woman was escorted in by black clad Sentries. With her she brought the crackle of magic, strong and clear despite the dampening spells. The girl next to Near leaned subtly toward him, one hand coming to his arm, squeezing gently.

“Hedgewitch, maybe,” she said, voice pitched low. Neiar nodded, his own fingers clutching at his chair. The woman who came in was tall, hair a vibrant red. She wore simple but clean clothing with no adornment, likely not a College wife, or a member herself then.

“Hra Yanta Fletcher,” an old, stately man spoke, voice like rasping paper. Unlike Neiar and the Chroniclers, this man was dressed in vivid oranges and blues, the peacock to their sparrow. “You are here before this emergency assembly today because you claim both twins,” he looked pointedly at her stomach, “and family magics. If these claims be false leave now. If not, come forward and state your full claim.”

The woman didn't hesitate, she stepped toward them with her back straight. “I am Yanta Fletcher, daughter of Malol ki-Rant. I am mother to a promising runecrafter, and through marriage claim cousin-kin to the 52nd Memories.” The declaration sent a shock through the crowd, and Neiar's stomach plummeted, bile creeping up his throat. The girl on his right squeezed his arm again, though he saw her fingers shaking.

Strong Points –
There’s some strong word choice here that I really enjoy. “The crackle of magic” and “the peacock to their sparrow” are particularly evocative phrases that give the writing a unique feel, not just repeating the same old clich├ęs. The balance between dialogue and action was also well-done. Not focusing wholly on one or the other kept the scene from stagnating, and allowed for world-building at the same time as moving the action along.

On that note, there’s a clear emphasis on world-building that is both promising and attention-grabbing. Again it gives me the feeling that this story is something new and original, and that’s enticing to a reader who may have read hundreds of fantasy novels before. A good way to hook one of these readers is by immediately showing why your book is different, whether it’s interesting characters, a unique setting, or a gripping plot.

And—this is just a personal thing—I really like books that don’t handhold you with pages of info-dumping before letting you get on with the story. I enjoy when I’m allowed to learn about the world through the story itself.

Some Tips –
However… there’s such a thing as too much world-building. Or at least too much world-building all at once. There’s simply so much stuffed in there that I don’t have space to be intrigued, I’m just confused—and I’ve read it several times! The section tells me that there’s something important about magic, there’s some fellows named “Sentries” that appear to be guards, there’s a College, everyone’s clothing is really relevant, there’s Chroniclers, twins and family magic matter for some reason, there’s some sort of legal claim associated with this, there’s both hedgewitches and runecrafters (whatever each is in this context), there’s something called the “52nd Memories”, and that’s either repulsive or really bad. That is… an awful lot of things for a reader to keep track of in the first four paragraphs!

In short, it needs to get cut down.

In the first pages of a story, the reader doesn’t know anything about the world. They have no idea what details are vital to the opening scene, and which are irrelevant and could be skimmed over at first. Instead, the narrative has to do that work for them, focusing on the most important information in the scene, the stuff that absolutely must be introduced. (In this case, it appears to be things like the nature of magic, the twins, whatever the 52nd Memories is, etc.) Highlighting the most important bits while minimizing less-important details or moving them elsewhere lets you regulate what the reader learns and when.

An example:

She wore simple but clean clothing with no adornment, likely not a College wife, or a member herself then.

Not knowing the world or characters, I don’t know if this is actually going to be important later on, but it doesn’t seem hugely relevant in this context. Consider moving minor details like this later in the story, to a scene where they’re more immediately important or to a scene less focused on world-building in general.

At the same time, for all these broad world-building details, there’s not a whole lot of context given to the immediate details. The scene could benefit from adding more of these—describing where the settings are, why they’re there, who else is in the room, and so on. Starting a story quickly and getting right to the action is a good way to avoid the trap of too much description, but too little runs the risk of not giving the reader the context they need to understand a scene. Expanding the intro or starting earlier could offer the space to add in those descriptive details. As with world-building details, there needs to be a balance between too many details and not enough, but in this case I think there’s room for a little more.

Other than that, watch out for repetition. An example is with the woman’s introduction.

    yet another woman was escorted in

    With her she brought the crackle of magic

    The woman who came in was tall

There’s nothing wrong with each of these phrases in isolation, but when put together, it’s an awful lot of “a woman entered the room”. Consider how phrases flow overall, not just in their immediate context.

Finally, I’d like to see more of Neiar’s character. I get the impression he’s the main or at least viewpoint character, but aside from him seeming appalled or upset by the mention of the 52nd Memories, we don’t get much about how he views the scene and why. This goes hand-in-hand with expanding the scene to give more description and context, but it’s something to pay particular attention to.

Would I Keep Reading?
Not yet. Like I said, I like books that let you work out the world as you go along. But here, it’s too much of a good thing. A balance needs to be struck between giving the reader the information they need and overloading them with unnecessary details. Unfortunately, right now the balance is leaning pretty far toward the “overload” side of the scale. Work on focusing the reader’s attention only on the most relevant details, and I think it’d make for an even stronger and more gripping intro. Best of luck!

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