Saturday, May 10, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #50

Most Wonderful Author: Nidoran @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: Thief

Kaslen always thought herself to be a very good thief. The guards who caught her stealing, however, did not.

She sat on a  wooden bench in a dank prison cell so old that moss grew between the stones that made up the floor and walls. The cell had a single window, only a foot tall and twice as wide with iron bars added to obstruct both the view and any chance at escape.

She’d only been there a few hours (not even long enough to get a meal of stale bread and murky water), and her sentence wasn’t a long one.  For the crime of stealing a single apple from a stall in the market, her punishment was to be imprisoned for one night or lose a hand. Being an intelligent thief in addition to a very good thief, Kaslen chose the former.

Despite the guards thinking that she was one of the worst thieves they’d ever had the pleasure of putting in prison, Kaslen had the delight in knowing that everything had gone according to plan. So long as everyone suspected the contrary, Kaslen would always rest easy knowing that she was indeed a very good thief.

Kaslen’s sentence was so short the guards didn’t make her change into prison rags, as was typical. Instead, they took her boots, socks, and worn leather vest full of empty pockets (she left her valuables with someone she thought was trustworthy) so all she had left was her sleeveless undershirt and leggings.

Strong Points –
The strongest thing that resonated most with me was Kaslen’s voice. She comes through in every single sentence, and she sets the tone and the mood pretty darn effortlessly. Everything in the passage was an easy read, easy to follow, and Kaslen’s voice is a big part of that. Seriously, voice is such a pivotal component in fiction, especially for teen and kid fiction, so to be able to manage a good balance of it is A+.

And, on a similar note, I love the overall tone of what I’m about to get into. There’s this twisted seriousness that doubles back on itself and actually reads contrarily. An example is this line: “her punishment was to be imprisoned for one night or lose a hand. Being an intelligent thief in addition to a very good thief, Kaslen chose the former.” It’s the type of subtle humor that I really enjoy, and it keeps the tone almost airy.

Some Tips –
The writing itself is pretty solid, so the stuff I’m going to talk about is more conceptual – stuff to consider beyond prose. Story stuff. Yeah. So, let’s start with the biggest thing.

The intro is primarily setup, not the story. In this case, we get to hear a lot about the stuff that happened before the story begins. Kaslen was caught stealing something, Kaslen was put in a cell, Kaslen’s sentence was decided to be short, Kaslen had a trustworthy person hold her important things – but little about Kaslen now, in the moment, when the story actually begins.

Setup often answers questions before they’re asked, or gives answers before the answers are actually needed. The result, in this case, is a very slow start. Sometimes stories can get away with this, especially Middle Grade or the 200k word epic fantasy or space opera.

(What a weird duality. But also keep in mind that there’s always exceptions.)

But what we have to decide is how absolutely necessary it is to explain these things right now, delaying the start of the actual story. Is it possible that, maybe, the story started too late? If we need to give so much background information, should the story actually start sooner? Should the reader be shown these events rather than told?

Or, is the story very much starting at the right place, and these moments of setup should be dropped in as needed, rather than all in the beginning?

Or it could be that the story is just fine as it is. In the end, it’s a creative choice, and that’s all incredibly subjective. The opening as it is reminds me of “Throne of Glass” by Sarah J Maas, if I remember correctly (it’s been a whiiile), where the opening started right with the main character in the action of being dragged to face judgment after being arrested. I loved that, I did, and while the long and frequent jumps into story setup bugged the heck out of me, I continued on anyway.

So, ultimately, it’s a creative call for the writer to make based on what their story, which they know best, needs.

The few other issues I had were much smaller. First, let’s talk about the opening lines.

I could see why the two first sentences are there, since it comes around again in the third paragraph (though, to be honest, I missed the connection initially – it might have been because I had a short interruption while reading, but I can’t be sure), but to me the opening lines feel again like setup. A delay in the actual start of the story to make a superfluous point that the story later on might elaborate upon through showing instead of telling.

On top of that, the opening line is reiterated several types throughout the intro, and while this might have been by design, it felt a bit redundant to me. On one hand, it felt like Kaslen was trying really hard to convince herself she’s actually a good thief, while in fact may very well not be, but on the other hand, it felt like a lot of echoes for only the first page.

Finally, and this is just the fashion history nerd in me – I sort of mentally placed the story as a medieval fantasy (because of the cell and the laws of the world), but the description of the clothes threw me for a loop, what since the terminology is very modern as opposed to medieval.

So, the two contradicting elements weren’t agreeing with me. This might be cleared up if I was to read on, or it might actually be an inconsistency. I don’t know yet.

But, a good thing to always keep in mind is that credible fantasy worlds have a foundation on real history. Things came about for particular reasons, whether with technology or trade or travel. Fashion is equal parts available resources, trends, laws, religion, and so on.

So, when I see a medieval-type cell but modern clothing such as leggings and socks, I’m not sure what to expect.

(And, because I took a class on the evolution of western fashion, I’m going to be one of those snubs who notices little inconsistencies.)

Would I Keep Reading?
Despite the slow start and the things I said about all the setup, I actually would. I’m intrigued by the question of Kaslen in jail for stealing an apple, because it all seemed planned?? And I want to know why?? I mean, she says she’s a good thief, but then lets herself get caught for stealing an apple??? Mysteries.

♥ x 2,714 (Don't ask why.)

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