03 December 2008

First Page Entry

Just got a few more today, so the game continues...

Tina stepped gingerly out of her shower and into the automatic dryer where jets of hot air also dried off her long, auburn hair to their natural curl. The atomizer added both a body spray and deodorant, further soothing her stressed and bone tired soul. It contributed to a not unexpected drowsiness after three weeks of intensive duties as border rider in Orloman, her small country's western reaches.

That time aboard her steed, a spirited female Dacer which she'd named Frida, an 18-hand, four-legged beast best described as a wonderful cross between an ancient equine and a Mandosarian water walker, while uneventful, was nonetheless draining from the onset of an early winter. During her duty rotation, she had had nothing for food but field rations, washed down by sips from flagons of Bersalean fortified red mead. Her mostly gentle mount was content with Chilicoot grass and the brackish water so abundant... until it froze.

For the last two days, after the mead was gone, she'd used the portable heating/filtration system to prepare water for herself and Frida.

With nowhere to sleep on the frozen ground, she had dozed fitfully in the saddle, while her steed caught some shuteye, from the light of dawn to early afternoon.

On the face of it, there's nothing overtly wrong with the writing. A few minor things tripped me up, nothing that a detailed edit couldn't fix. I do, though, notice the adjectives and adverbs: 30 or so. Out of 200 words that's 15% and sometimes they seem to replace weak verbs or almost repeat the idea best expressed by the verb--dozed fitfully, for example. Some of the more specific modifiers really work for the story, though, like the description of the Dacer. The rest--like long, auburn hair and not unexpected seem to bog it down.

As this is basically a tired someone getting out of the shower leading into backstory, this writer might consider using front page real estate more effectively by cutting modifiers (leaving more room for important ideas expressed by way of nouns and mostly verbs-action) and maybe even cutting this scene in order to get to the problem and to better show off your character. Remember, we're meeting your protag for the first time. I don't learn much about her or her situation but that she's tired from border riding and that she's got long, auburn hair.

However, I'm curious about several juxtapositions: the ordinary name Tina which indicates we're on Earth, dealing with an Earthling, or a descendant thereof; the shower, automatic dryer, and atomizer indicates some level of technology; that she rides a Dacer (creative to come up with a new animal!) in her job as a border rider (I'm guessing that's some sort of guard); the ancient equine (indicating we're in the future); "field rations" maybe a military mindset?; the wine lending an air of medievalesque fantasy, which I enjoy. These elements combine to make me want to read on. But frankly, if I had to continue to wade through unnecessary modifiers, I'd probably reject it.

A note: this is my subjective style thing. My personal style is pretty plain. As I grow as a reader and a writer, my preferences lean toward plainer writing. This doesn't mean all modifiers are wrong or that I never use or appreciate them. But to me they must be essential. Other editors may not feel the same way.

Thanks for having the guts to put your stuff out there! I hope this game is helping writers learn and think more about short story writing.

Feel free to comment in the thread. Discussions, and especially disagreements, are the best way to learn even more.


lesleylsmith said...

Kudos for playing, author! :) The writing here is definitely competent. My first impression is this reads more like a novel first page than a short story first page. Nothing happens; this is all setup. Getting out of the shower isn't too interesting, and so far, the backstory isn't too interesting. In a novel, the reader is happy to go on a long journey with the reader and a long setup is fine.

IHMO, a short story needs to be more concentrated. Did something happen while the protag was on patrol? If so, show that event; that would be interesting.

I agree with Editor Betsy that there are lots of neat hints about this world, such as the atomizer, ancient equines, Mandosarian water walker, Bersalean fortified red mead, etc. I would keep reading to see what's going on here.

An editorial note: we do edit stories for publication at Electric Spec. However, if a story does need a lot of cutting in our opinion, that could be a strike against it when we're making publication decisions.

David E. Hughes said...

Thanks for the page, author! I do think this is a great opportunity to give the kind of feedback we can't give when we pass on a story.

For this story, I probably would have skipped to the end to find out where the story was going. Why? I don't understand the author's choices. Why pick a mundane event (a shower) for present action and then distance the reader using narrative backstory (the border patrol) for the more interesting one? I also don't have a hint of what the conflict is going to be.

Bet's comments on "less v. more" are interesting. I was just thinking this morning that I should ask Gremlin to do a blog post on phrases that tend to bog down writing. I figure he'd probably have something to say about that.

Thanks again for your submission.

writtenwyrdd said...

For my personal taste this opening doesn't work to grab me. I generally don't mind a slow opening, but the ones that work have a purpose which shows itself almost immediately. The purpose can be to show the world (which this opener does to some degree) or to show a situation that will be critical to the protagonist in some fashion. But the details you use here don't point my focus in any particular direction in the first paragraph; and then we jump to the backstory with unrelated details in the second paragraph.

What I think this opening needs is for the author to select what the opening is supposed to communicate and use details that do that and only that. Mixing the backstory with the shower details gives a bit of a mixed message as they are now.

But perhaps with the removal of some of the adverbs and some tightening that will be resolved.

I doubt I'd have read on if I saw this in a bookstore, but the world does sound very intriguing.

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