12 December 2008

First Page Entry

Listening to the Wind

The wind came from the north with a dark whisper, carrying a wild scent, fecund and raw. Ahnah listened and she watched. But the icy landscape of the Far Northern Reaches was bare of movement, empty of sound save for the wind.

The Spirit Lights flittered across the northern sky in an arching veil of red. Red sky; bad omen, Grandfather used to say.

She cast her mind out. The wolves were moving in from the south, drawn by the scent of fresh meat. Sanglak would need to set extra guards on the sleds. The three white ice bears would feed the village for an entire moon cycle; they couldn't afford to lose them.

Behind her, the ten hunters slept in the tent. They'd run hard all day, pushing the sleds, but were still three days from the village. Ahnah was uneasy. Killing the mother bear and its cub had angered the spirits. All day Ahnah had watched the clouds piling up into towering, forbidding demeanors. She opened her mouth to taste the wind. Tlamo--large wet flakes of snow--would fall soon. It would make for treacherous footing. Time to wake the others.

This makes for some beautiful scene setting, and if this reader has borrowed from Alaska for world-building, I'm cool with that. But, I don't really know if we're in another world or if we're actually in Alaska. From an editorial point of view, this is a problem because we're a speculative fiction magazine. I'm not going to waste my time on stories with no speculative elements--and so far none have turned up. This has a mainstream feel, and we just aren't going to buy mainstream fiction. That said, speculative elements turning up on the first page is more bonus than requirement. But as I read on, spec elements taking their time to appear becomes a bit of a ding against the story.

Speaking of first pages, however, :) as I do this game, I'm realizing how militant I'm getting about the story problem turning up within the first 200-300 words in a short story. Now, I'm sure there are great stories where this doesn't happen (feel free to point them out to me in comments if you like) but online fiction has a lot of competition out there for readers' attention. Consider the blog posts you read. Likely you prefer them to get to the point so you know whether it interests you or not. While conciseness is always important in the short form, my feeling is that nowhere is it more important than in stories that appear online.
That might be just my bent, and we certainly have published great long stories, some of them in the current issue.

But right now, all I've got is the first page. From this, the problem appears to be "getting home with meat for winter against natural odds."

My problem with this story, er, problem--if this is the premise-- is that nature doesn't really make such a great antagonist. Nature can provide obstacles for your protagonist, really good obstacles, but nature can rarely provide the kind of conflict and tension that sentient being v. sentient being can provide.

Of course, if this is speculative fiction, anything could happen here, anything at all. The wolves could be intelligent. Conflict could appear between Ahnah and her hunting party. The red lights could be from alien ships. She could be a time traveling anthropologist. See? Anything. So, since the writing feels competent, I would read on.


lesleylsmith said...

Thanks for playing, author! Nice writing. Kudos! I agree with Editor Betsy on this one. The writing is nice, I would keep reading...but we won't buy it unless it has a speculative element.
Good luck, author!

David E. Hughes said...

I really like the atmosphere this one establishes, and its a good start on the characterization of the protagonist. I disagree with my fellow editors on the speculative element. I think the "casting out" is speculative. These seem like powers beyond the ordinary human realm.

I would read on . . .

lesleylsmith said...

I didn't say it wasn't speculative...There's tons of stuff in here that could be speculative. I agree with Editor Dave that "casting her mind" does seem speculative; the ice bears might be, too. Intriguing...

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think that was an early morning miss on my part.

But, the author might think about how to pump up that aspect of the story at some point, to drive it home. Not necessarily that line, but in future graphs.

Thanks author!

P said...

Thank you all. I will agree that the spec elements were perhaps a bit too subtle in this draft. In an effort to smooth out some awkward language, I think I watered it down a tad too much. Nice to know! I appreciate your work and effort. Thank you.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think one thing that might help in that particular passage is if she senses something unusual--something that she definitely couldn't see or know because it's that season. I think I skipped over that in my pre-tea, early morning fugue because:

1. I see that usage pretty often (casting out with the mind--I've used it too)

2. wolves moving in, drawn by the scent of meat, is kind of what I would expect of wolves anyway. It didn't seem like incongruous knowledge.

But really, I think it was mostly me, not paying close enough attention. I assume there are more spec fic elements and I would have caught on eventually. :)

writtenwyrdd said...

I think you might have started with the line about killing the polar bear mother and cubs angering the spirits, thus anchoring us in the apparent problem right off. I liked this well enough, but it's a bit too thick with scene-setting and backstory before you get to the point. Delete the first 3 paragraphs and reuse that nice stuff after you tell us about Ahnah's unease.