21 July 2009

First Page Entry #2

When twilight brought sirocco winds sweeping through the mud brick alleys of ancient Aplinar, Meida roused from a sweaty doze to prepare for the evening. She braided her damp curls and donned the local fashion, a loose-fitting salwar tunic and baggy kameez pants of the working class, then draped herself in a dark blue chadri. Made of silk and embroidered with a pattern of leaves and vines forming glyphs intended to guard the wearer's virtue, the chadri was high caste, expensive—and something Meida might have chosen to wear in the long ago days at the Temple. It was also stifling, both because of heat and the magical cloud it settled upon her aura. The expensive bit of camouflage would go down the nearest midden as soon as she was done with it, and good riddance. But for now it masked her power and the various charms, gris-gris and mundane weaponry she carried on her person.

She checked her gear one last time, made sure all was ready for a hurried departure, coded the biolock on her bags with a thumbprint, and sketched a glyph of aversion across both possessions and the rickety door. Then, in a ritual as old as her freedom, she checked the rubies at forehead, wrist, ankle, neck and navel, ensuring they remained bound against the golden semiconductors tracing her skin.

Here's an instance of personal editorial bias: this writer has hit upon a favorite of mine. Well written epic-style fantasy, sword and sorcery, and medieval-esque worlds are not something we see a lot of in our slush (well-written being key). I love me some magic and swords and folks getting around on horses.

I have a hunch this will be a well-written tale. We're in a new world, and I'm grounded and intrigued by the clever use of contrasts (what she's wearing verses why she doesn't want to wear it and how it alludes to her past; expensive, disposable clothes verses rickety doors). We suspect she's in some danger, not because the author ever mentions it but because this is a classic example of showing: the care with which she dresses and protects her belongings indicates some threat.

Plus there's nary a line of internal narrative in sight. That's another personal bent--I'm not crazy about a ton of internal narrative, especially when it stands in for showing a character in action. To me, internal narrative often stops the story and feels too intrusive. However, some editors greatly favor well-written internal narrative, even editors on staff here at Electric Spec. :)

In a couple of hundred words I know a dozen things about this character and setting:
  • She's in an ancient city
  • at twilight
  • it's windy (Hemmingway says "don't forget the damned weather")
  • she lives in a world with distinct castes
  • she's a careful, capable character
  • likely adult
  • she used to go to Temple--there's religion (briefly mentioned details flesh out a world)
  • she's a she (you'd be surprised)
  • she's in potential danger
  • with a past she doesn't want to return to ("a ritual as old as her freedom")
  • she has money or means of some sort (expensive, magical clothes, bags, rubies)
  • she does her own magic,
  • indicating a level of education and sophistication

What I don't know is the story problem. That's okay so far because the action strongly alludes to one.

Now, all that said, there are questions I'd be asking myself as I read, especially if a problem didn't present itself pretty quick. Starting a story when a character wakes up is ancient cliche. Would the story work better if it started when the character was fully awake? Next, we learn a lot from her getting dressed, true. But you have, say, 3-5K words to get your entire story across. If the narrative continues in this leisurely pace I'd start wondering if only mundane stuff was going to happen for pages and pages. (Showing mundane action in great detail is something Lesley aptly calls "walking the dog".) This is something we notice in those 6999 word tomes in which every action and outfit is outlined in exhaustive detail.

There were several unfamiliar words to this editor: sirocco, kameez, chadri, salwar. Big, made-up, and unfamiliar words makes fantasy fun! And it's a sign of confidence in a storyteller, dropping slang and world-specific terms in-text without explanation. But think carefully about how many you want to throw at a reader at once.

A couple of elements in the last graph threw me as SF over F, which were biolock and semiconductors. I like when genre elements mingle. Heck, my own WIP is a futuristic multi-world fantasy with a ton of SF weaponry and a mix of ancient and future socio-economic conditions. But I think you have to warn a reader early on that the combination of elements is not going to be standard fare. Is this early enough? I don't know. Like I said, I noticed it. But I wouldn't stop reading for it.

All in all, I'd definitely read on.

Thanks for playing and keep 'em coming! We have several, but there's always room for more, so tell your friends. :)


Sarah Laurenson said...

At first, I wasn't sure. It seemed like it might take long to get into the story. And it still might. But then, the picture was being drawn by an elegant hand and I was there.

I almost want to say: cut a bit out of the first few sentences. And I almost want to say: leave it as is.

Well done. Hope it continues to be this interesting and still brings in the story itself.

sirocco is not a problem for me though I did think there was a c after that first s. That actually placed me geographically in India or thereabouts. Geography is not my strong suit.

I assumed the rest were Indian names for different pieces of clothing. Names I'm not familiar with but would like to learn more after reading this.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

Yeah, I purposely did not look them up because I wanted to make the point that not everyone will know your words, and that's often okay.

Thx Sarah.

writtenwyrdd said...

Yes, it's set in India, in a far flung future, so there's tech and there's magic.

My reaction to this is the same as you guys: Is this too leisurely a start? Is starting with waking up a Bad Idea?

The place is taking over my brain and I'm having trouble getting this story finished. I suspect it wants to be a novel; but I'm aiming for 5,000 words for a specific anthology market.

I started toying with a new start yesterday, one where she arrives in Athlinar (via zeppelin) instead of waking up. Going to stick with the original, I think.

Glad you guys find a lot of positive things about it, anyhow!

Deb S said...

I also dig epic fantasy and think you did a great job of world-building. Cool inter-twining of fantasy and future tech. I'm intrigued. But I do agree all the 'getting dressed detail', especially at the start, bogs down the story.

Nice piece of writing though and the character portrayal is deftly handled.

Sarah Laurenson said...

WW - this is yours? Awesome!

I really like this beginning. But I'm still coming back to tightening up the very first part to help it move a little faster right from the start.

What if:

Twilight brought sirocco winds sweeping through the mud brick alleys of ancient Aplinar. Meida braided her damp curls...

reader said...

I absolutely LOVED this!
I want to read more.
Great opening!!!

Dearth of Reason said...

I am impressed with how much you convey in so little. However.... Maybe this a guy thing. I always struggle with detailed descriptions about attire. As an opening, I'm lost immediately.

Assuming you leave things mostly as is, if I could have a sense of urgency detonated in the first line or two, I might be swept up by such skillful prose as you have on your first page.

I'll explain. You set a fascinating scene that transports us immediately: "When twilight brought sirocco winds sweeping through the mud brick alleys of ancient Aplinar..." Between that and her waking and dressing, I crave a taste of onrushing violence. "... the artificial thunder of hooves rode the sun's last rays, as an army of fanatical eunuchs and their legions of lethal crickets onrushed violently toward the city, prepared to gain vengeance or die."

Like I said, maybe it's a guy thing, but I'll read quite a bit of apparel contemplation, in high anticipation, to find out how she contends with the bloodthirsty eunuchs and their crickets of death.

Sarah Laurenson said...


crickets of death

Ah hahahahahahahaha

That's wonderful!

lesleylsmith said...

Thanks for playing, author! We appreciate it. :)
I thought this piece was beautifully written, including the words: sirocco, kameez, chadri, salwar--which put us in a desert environ. If this was the beginning of a novel, I'd be thrilled. As a short story...
I would keep reading BUT I hope we get to the protagonist's problem sooner rather than later.

lesleylsmith said...

We all have our writing methods.
Writtenwyrdd, you may need to write 6000, 7000, or more(!) words and then come back and cut it to the bone to fit into your anthology limit. Good luck!

reader said...

I vote for a novel too!

writtenwyrdd said...

"I'll read quite a bit of apparel contemplation, in high anticipation, to find out how she contends with the bloodthirsty eunuchs and their crickets of death."

Oh hahaha! Great one!

You guys are great. And you've helped me see how I can fix this. I'll have to leave it alone for now, though so I can find the ending. It's here someplace...I just have to see where I left it...

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I'm still not convinced it needs much fixing. I'd have to see what comes next.

writtenwyrdd said...

Thanks, Betsy!

David E. Hughes said...

Wow--with so many comments, it feels like the train has already left the station on this one. I'm one of "those" editors at E-spec that likes some internal narrative. Even so, I thought this beginning worked very well. I'm okay with not knowing the story problem within a few hundred words IF (notice the big if) there are other things drawing me into the story. One of those things is an original world that is evoked in an active manner through the protagonists actions. I feel this sub is a good example of that. I also agree with Bets that we tend to get more sci-fi, horror and contemporary fantasy than we do epic-style stories. That would attract my attention as well.

writtenwyrdd said...

As a follow up, I thought I'd show you guys how I changed the opening based upon your thoughts:

Meida arrived in Athlinar as sunset poured blood across the bay, its ruddy light turning the city's minarets into ruddy torches, the crumbling mud brick of the sprawling, ancient ghetto into something that almost, for a moment, might be glamorous. Then, juddering slightly, the zeppelin dropped lower, and the panorama was lost to the shadowed recess of the aerodome.

While the zeppelin nosed into the docking platform, Meida prepared for her evening. She rebraided her hair into a less functional and more decorative coil, then covered her loose-fitting salwar tunic and kameez pants-- common wear throughout the region and therefore anonymous-- with a dark blue chadri. Made for a high-caste matron of copper-shot silk and embroidered with glyphs to guard the wearer's privacy, the chadri was stifling, not because it trapped the heat already filling the small cabin, but because of the magical weight it settled upon Meida's aura. The expensive bit of camouflage would go down the nearest midden as soon as Meida was done with it, and good riddance. But for now it would mask her identity, power, and the various charms, gris-gris and mundane weaponry she carried on her person.

She stowed her gear and coded the biolock on her bag with a thumbprint, and sketched a glyph of aversion. Then, in a ritual as old as her freedom, she checked the rubies at ankles, wrists and chakra points, ensuring they remained bound against the golden semiconductors tracing her skin. As a final gesture, she spoke a Word, tapped the ruby bindi on her forhead, and felt the electric tingle as power lit the circuits of the protection spell.

writtenwyrdd said...

(and yes, it is still rather draftish in this version.)

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'm not getting as much of an image from this version as I did from the previous one. As you say, it's draftish. The first one had me tasting the sand, feeling the heat. This one is a bit clunky - the flow isn't there yet - but it adds very interesting elements - like the zeppein.

Perhaps after more revision, this one will have the finesse of the other and be better.

writtenwyrdd said...

Darn. Maybe I should stick with the original then. Don't you hate second guessing yourself?

Sarah Laurenson said...

How can I hate what happens all the freaking time?

I dunno, WW. Maybe massage this one some more and post it again?

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