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Author Topic: *Revised* Etherfall (Fantasy)  (Read 4282 times)
PHCrockett
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« on: June 15, 2017, 09:30:18 AM »

Hi everyone,

Based on some feedback I received elsewhere, I decided to do a complete rewrite of the opening for my novel, Etherfall. I'd love some feedback on the new version if anyone wants to slog through it. The original opening is still posted if anyone wants to look at it for comparison.  Thanks!

Chapter One

Nolan trudged into the tiny village and wondered if death would find him there.  The ramshackle buildings that huddled together as though in fear of the wilderness around them seemed innocent enough, but as he approached Nolan felt a familiar unease fluttering in his chest.  A few villagers clad in drab clothes gave him suspicious looks as he passed, and he pulled the hood of his threadbare gray cloak lower over his face.  His growling stomach reminded him of why he had come here, so he hiked up his pack and made for a weathered two-story building.  A sign on its front identified it as an inn.

Nolan paused to look through the inn's open window, heart racing.  A glance relieved his fears, and he let out the breath he had been holding.  Nolan wiped away a drop of sweat from the black hair hanging over his forehead and pushed open the inn's front door.  Warm, flickering light shone on the rough wooden floor and shoddy furniture of the common room.  Two men in dirt-stained clothes clutched mugs at the rough bar, several more sat around tables, and another lay passed out on the floor.  No one in black armor was waiting for Nolan... this time.

Thank the Ancients, Nolan thought.  He hobbled across the room, the clack of his walking staff cutting through the low murmur of voices.  The two men at the bar looked up, but went back to their drinks after a moment.  Nolan skirted a puddle of vomit near the sleeping drunk, its surface roiling with green pinpricks as a swarm of sanimotes fed on it.  A spasm of pain shot through Nolan's left leg, and he sank onto a barstool of questionable construction.  He tried to ignore the aroma of cooking meat that wafted from behind a closed door in the back wall. 
A burly, dark-skinned man short enough to have dwarf blood looked up from the mug he was wiping.  "Haven't seen you in these parts before.  What'll it be?"

Nolan smoothed his scruffy beard and sat up straight.  "Good evening, sir.  I'm a traveller passing through, and I'm looking for work."  He had recited this speech so many times he could have made it in his sleep.  "Do you have any odd jobs that need doing?  I'm good with my hands and I have a head for numbers."
The innkeeper frowned.  "I got no use for numbers around here, and I have a boy to carry wood and wash dishes already."  He looked down at Nolan staff leaning against the bar.  "An able-bodied one at that."
Nolan held back a sigh.  "Do you know of anyone else who might have work for me?"
"I doubt it.  We take care of our own around here."  The innkeeper set the mug under the bar and raised an eyebrow.  "No hard feelings, but if you're not going to order something I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"Of course."  Nolan bit back a sarcastic reply.  "A man's got to make a living."  He reached into his cloak for his coin pouch.  "What do you have that's cheap?"
"Beer's five coppers and lifeapples are seven."

Nolan hesitated, but another gurgle from his stomach made up his mind.  He placed seven of his remaining ten coppers on the bar.  "I'll have a lifeapple."
The innkeeper nooded and took Nolan's money, then reached under the bar and held up a wizened, fist-sized fruit.  "We're out of blues and greens.  Red okay?"
"That's fine."  Nolan took the lifeapple and bit into it.  The Ancient-created fruit had the taste and texture of dried beef, but made a poor substitute for the cooking meat that still tantalized Nolan's nose, but it quieted his belly's complaints.  Nolan popped the last bit into his mouth and chewed.  Now that he had solved his hunger, his thoughts turned back to his nearly-empty coin pouch.  "That's a fine artifact you got there."  Nolan pointed to the ceiling where a square of pure white hung suspended in a wooden frame.  The light it gave off flickered like a windblown candle but shone brighter than a dozen torches.  "Did it come from nearby?"
"No, that's from out of town.  I paid a pretty copper for it, so don't go getting any ideas."

Nolan believed him.  Even damaged like this one was, Ancient lights were valuable.  A fully-working example would have fetched more money than many people saw in a year.  "I'm not looking for trouble.  I was just wondering if you have any ruins worth visiting."
The innkeeper gave him an appraising look.  "Treasure-hunter, eh?  Well, we've got some ruins not too far away, but I wouldn't bother with 'em.  They've been picked clean by your kind already.  Besides, I hear tell the place is haunted."
Nolan shrugged.  "Most ruins are.  Still, I'd like to take a look.  Maybe there's something there the others missed."  And selling artifacts is probably the only way I'll make any money off this spawning village.
"That'll be three coppers for the directions, stranger."
Nolan scowled and slapped a coin on the bar.  "If the ruins have already been picked over, your directions aren't worth three.  I'll give you one."  It stung to part with another copper, but Nolan couldn't afford to leave behind people with grudges.  There was no telling who they might talk to.
"Fair enough."  The innkeeper smiled.  "The ruins are about an hour's walk from here.  Maybe an hour-and-a-half for you.  Follow the south path until you get to the Edge.  It's hard to miss."
"Thank you sir."  Nolan grabbed his staff and slowly got to his feet.  He stood until the pins and needles in his bad leg faded.  "Have a good evening."

The tavern door opened, and room went dead quiet.  "Damn, Elderthralls!" one of the men at the bar muttered.
Nolan's blood turned to ice.  With his heart pounding in his ears, he turned around.  Half a dozen men dressed in black leather armor were pouring through the door.  A purple infinity sign on each breastplate proclaimed their allegiance to their master.  Nolan reached for the concealed weapon under his cloak, but stopped himself.  No, not now.  They might not be here for me.  They might not even know who I am.
The Elderthrall in front sneered and put his hands on his hips.  "Time to pay your tithe!  The Eldest is hungry and so are we."  The band of thralls pushed through the room, barging past people seated at tables and kicking the sleeping drunk out of the way.  Nolan stood up and backed away along with the other two men at the bar.  He waited as the black-clad men filed past, mouth dry and and hands clamped around his staff to hide their shaking.  The first four thralls went by without paying him any heed.  The fifth shot him a bored glance.  The last one looked straight at Nolan.  For an instant the man's shaggy gray eyebrows drew together in his rugged face and his lips tightened almost imperceptibly.  Then he moved on, sitting down at a stool at the bar with his fellows.  They began demanding beer and food, and the innkeeper had the sense to not ask for payment.

The blood roared in Nolan's ears, and he felt sweat beading on his face.  Hive, did he recognize me?  Does he know who I am?  Out of the corner of his eye he saw the other bar patrons sidling towards the door, and he forced his feet to move.  Either way I've got to get out of here.
Nolan stepped through the door into an ominous stillness.  The villagers had all disappeared, and the setting sun shone on a deserted dirt path.  The only signs of life lay to the north, where a band of black-clad men clustered around the town's only store.  The main road in and out of town ran right past them.  Nolan turned to the south and began walking as fast as his aching leg would let him.  His mind raced far faster than his steps.  He couldn't go north.  The risk was too great that one of the other Elderthralls might recognize him.  Farmland covered most of the terrain to the east and west, and would offer him little concealment.  That left the forest to the south.  Well, Nolan thought.  I wanted to visit the ruins anyway.  He followed a sluggish brook to the outskirts of the village and past a small tannery, the water downstream green with sanimotes feeding on its waste products.  The stream turned west and Nolan crossed it on a rickety wooden bridge.  Directly ahead a dark green wall of forest loomed, trees reaching into the air.  Beyond the trees the Edge rose higher still.  The shimmering purple barrier usually gave Nolan a feeling of comfort.  People didn't like to live near the Edge, and where the population was sparse, so were Nolan's chances of being recognized.  But not today.
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Classic Camp
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« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2017, 11:58:35 PM »

I hadn't read the first one, so can't compare, but this appears to be a solid opening. I particularly liked the use of strong action verbs. Perhaps that sounds odd, but it's something I often look for in good writing. It really makes a huge difference. There are a lot of questions about background, but I suppose those are answered later in the story. My only complaint (and it is minor) is I can't picture what the characters are doing. Is the bartender wiping a glass while he speaks, or pouring someone else a drink? It brings out the characterization more when people are doing something while speaking in a scene. Just my two cents, of course.
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mafiaking1936
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« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2017, 08:49:15 PM »

So, overall I'd say you've done a good job of setting up the tension in the scene, and of planting the appropriate questions in the reader's mind- Who is this guy? Why are those goons after him? What kinda ruins are these? How'd his leg get messed up? His immediate motivation- money and food to survive- is made clear. If I were a typical agent (i.e., a narcissist with the attention span of a goldfish and who pretends to want something fresh and new but also demands the familiarity of a standard story format) my main concern would be that you've got a few common tropes going here, right? The story starts in an inn, and a stranger arrives. Followed by toughs in costumes that let you know they're baddies. Not saying it can't work (especially since my own novel has a brief scene in a taphouse after the hero evades some goons), but if there's a fellowship that journeys to win some MacGuffin and save the world in the subsequent pages, you might have some trouble. Not a bad start though. Some specific suggestions are below.





Nolan trudged into the tiny village, and wonderedwondering if death would find him there.  The ramshackle buildings that huddled together as though in fear of the wilderness around them seemed innocent enough, but as he approached Nolan felt a familiar unease fluttering in his chest.  A few villagers clad in drab clothes gave him suspicious looks as he passed, and he pulled the hood of his threadbare gray cloak lower over his face.  His growling stomach reminded him of why he had come here, so he hiked up his pack and made for a weathered two-story building.,  A a sign on its front identified identifying it as an inn.

I've focused on the first paragraph, since it's the most important. I see some fat you could trim here. Many times you can break the monotony of description simply by replacing "and verbed" with "verbing" once in awhile and taking out "that." I'd recommend going though the text and seeing where you can cut any unneeded words. It's saved me hundreds altogether. Also I note you have a lot of adjectives, which aren't as bad as adverbs but they can cause things to drag. It can be tough especially when describing your world and MC for the first time, but I'd recommend removing at least half of those or finding another way to convey the info.

Nolan paused to look through the inn's open window, heart racing.  A glance relieved his fears, and he let out the breath he'dhad been holding.  Nolan wiped away a drop of sweat from the black hair hanging over his forehead and pushed open the inn's front door.  Warm, flickering light shone on the rough wooden floor and shoddy furniture of the common room.  Two men in dirt-stained clothes clutched mugs at the rough bar, several more sat around tables, and another lay passed out on the floor.  No one in black armor was waiting for Nolan... this time.

Some simlar trimming here. We know what door he's opening, so no need to elaborate. Try to apply this philosophy throughout, and you'll shave a lot of word count with little effort.

Thank the Ancients, Nolan thought.  He hobbled across the room, the clack of his walking staff cutting through the low murmur of voices.  The two men at the bar looked up, but went back to their drinks after a moment.  Nolan skirted a puddle of vomit near the sleeping drunk, its surface roiling with green pinpricks as a swarm of sanimotes fed on it.  A spasm of pain shot through Nolan's left leg, and he sank onto a barstool of questionable construction.  He tried to ignore the aroma of cooking meat that wafted from behind a closed door in the back wall. 
A burly, dark-skinned man short enough to have dwarf blood looked up from the mug he was wiping.  "Haven't seen you in these parts before.  What'll it be?"

Nolan smoothed his scruffy beard and sat up straight.  "Good evening, sir.  I'm a traveller passing through, and I'm looking for work."  He had recited this speech so many times he could have made it in his sleep.  "Do you have any odd jobs that need doing?  I'm good with my hands and I have a head for numbers."
The innkeeper frowned.  "I got no use for numbers around here, and I have a boy to carry wood and wash dishes already."  He looked down at Nolan staff leaning against the bar.  "An able-bodied one at that."
Nolan held back a sigh.  "Do you know of anyone else who might have work for me?"
"I doubt it.  We take care of our own around here."  The innkeeper set the mug under the bar and raised an eyebrow.  "No hard feelings, but if you're not going to order something I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"Of course."  Nolan bit back a sarcastic reply.  "A man's got to make a living."  He reached into his cloak for his coin pouch.  "What do you have that's cheap?"
"Beer's five coppers and lifeapples are seven."

Nolan hesitated, but another gurgle from his stomach made up his mind.  He placed seven of his remaining ten coppers on the bar.  "I'll have a lifeapple."
The innkeeper nooded and took Nolan's money, then reached under the bar and held up a wizened, fist-sized fruit.  "We're out of blues and greens.  Red okay?"

Around here is where I kinda started to lose interest. Be sure to keep the plot moving along, especially in the beginning when the reader has yet to make any emotional investment in the story.

"That's fine."  Nolan took the lifeapple and bit into it.  The Ancient-created fruit had the taste and texture of dried beef, but made a poor substitute for the cooking meat that still tantalized Nolan's nose, but it quieted his belly's complaints.  Nolan popped the last bit into his mouth and chewed.  Now that he had solved his hunger, his thoughts turned back to his nearly-empty coin pouch.I don't think that part is really necessary. "That's a fine artifact you got there."  Nolan pointed to the ceiling where a square of pure white hung suspended in a wooden frame.  The light it gave off flickered like a windblown candle but shone brighter than a dozen torches.  "Did it come from nearby?"

You've got a sentence here with a double "but." Break into two sentences or cut one.

"No, that's from out of town.  I paid a pretty copper for it, so don't go getting any ideas."

Nolan believed him.  Even damaged like this one was, Ancient lights were valuable.  A fully-working example would have fetched more money than many people saw in a year.  "I'm not looking for trouble.  I was just wondering if you have any ruins worth visiting."
The innkeeper gave him an appraising look.  "Treasure-hunter, eh?  Well, we've got some ruins not too far away, but I wouldn't bother with 'em.  They've been picked clean by your kind already.  Besides, I hear tell the place is haunted."
Nolan shrugged.  "Most ruins are.  Still, I'd like to take a look.  Maybe there's something there the others missed."  And selling artifacts is probably the only way I'll make any money off this spawning village.
"That'll be three coppers for the directions, stranger."
Nolan scowled and slapped a coin on the bar.  "If the ruins have already been picked over, your directions aren't worth three.  I'll give you one."  It stung to part with another copper, but Nolan couldn't afford to leave behind people with grudges.  There was no telling who they might talk to.
"Fair enough."  The innkeeper smiled.  "The ruins are about an hour's walk from here.  Maybe an hour-and-a-half for you.  Follow the south path until you get to the Edge.  It's hHard to miss."
"Thank you sir."  Nolan grabbed his staff and slowly got to his feet.  He stood until the pins and needles in his bad leg faded.  "Have a good evening."

The tavern door opened, and room went dead quiet.  "Damn, Elderthralls!" one of the men at the bar muttered.
Nolan's blood turned to ice.  With his heart pounding in his ears, he turned around.  Half a dozen men dressed in black leather armor were pouring through the door.  A purple infinity sign on each breastplate proclaimed their allegiance to their master.  Nolan reached for the concealed weapon under his cloak, but stopped himself.  No, not now.  They might not be here for me.  They might not even know who I am.
The Elderthrall in front sneered and put his hands on his hips.  "Time to pay your tithe!  The Eldest is hungry and so are we."  The band of thralls pushed through the room, barging past people seated at tables and kicking the sleeping drunk out of the way.  Nolan stood up and backed away along with the other two men at the bar.  He waited as the black-clad men filed past, mouth dry and and hands clamped around his staff to hide their shaking.  The first four thralls went by without paying him any heed.  The fifth shot him a bored glance.  The last one looked straight at Nolan.  For an instant the man's shaggy gray eyebrows drew together in his rugged face and his lips tightened almost imperceptibly.  Then he moved on, sitting down at a stool at the bar with his fellows.  They began demanding demanded beer and food, and the innkeeper had the sense to not ask for payment.

The Blood roared in Nolan's ears, and he felt sweat beading on his face.  Hive, did he recognize me?  Does he know who I am?  Out of the corner of his eye he saw the other bar patrons sidling towards the door, and he forced his feet to move.  Either way I've got to get out of here.
Nolan stepped through the door into an ominous stillness.  The villagers had all disappeared, and the setting sun shone on a deserted dirt path.  The only signs of life lay to the north, where a band of black-clad men clustered around the town's only store.  The main road in and out of town ran right past them.  Nolan turned to the south and began walking as fast as his aching leg would let him.  His mind raced far faster than his steps.  He couldn't go north.  The risk was too great that one of the other Elderthralls might recognize him.  Farmland covered most of the terrain to the east and west, and would offer him little concealment.  That left the forest to the south.  Well, Nolan thought.  I wanted to visit the ruins anyway.  He followed a sluggish brook to the outskirts of the village and past a small tannery, the water downstream green with sanimotes feeding on its waste products.  The stream turned west and Nolan crossed it on a rickety wooden bridge.  Directly ahead a dark green wall of forest loomed, trees reaching into the air.  Beyond the trees them the Edge rose higher still.  The shimmering purple barrier usually gave Nolan a feeling of comfort.  People didn't like to live near the Edge, and where the population was sparse, so were Nolan's chances of being recognized.  But not today.

Final point- check the format of your post. You can see that several paragraph breaks didn't carry over when you pasted the text. It's not so important here cause I can obviously tell where they should be, but if you send text to an agent you want to be absolutely sure that what they actually see is correct. I've fought so much with pasting bits into the body of emails that get totally screwed up.

ETA, just got rejection #50. Maybe you shouldn't listen to anything I say.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2017, 09:38:24 PM by mafiaking1936 » Logged
PHCrockett
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« Reply #3 on: June 30, 2017, 11:08:17 AM »

Thanks for the feedback, mafiaking1936. This is helpful.  My current opening is actually a little slower than my old opening, which tried to cram a lot of world-building into a couple pages, so it's good to know where I might need to speed things back up.  Fortunately, there's no MacGuffin-seeking in the next few pages.  It's "protagonist finds an object that gives him magic powers" instead, which is a completely different trope.   Grin

Good luck with querying. I'm hoping to get back into that particular slog myself pretty soon.
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Dribbydrawers
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« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2017, 01:57:39 PM »

I'm not one to normally read this genre, but I really appreciate the relatable opening - a traveler, engaged in natural human activities, hardly any new language, but those terms introduced are quickly understood, scenery that relates to the characters, especially the relics and ruins of the Ancients, and no crazy new technology. I'm definitely intrigued by existing people who haven't mastered what an now-defunct group was capable of, and I hope the main character can fight off the bad guys. Thanks for this writing, I truly enjoyed it.
« Last Edit: August 27, 2017, 07:32:24 PM by Dribbydrawers » Logged
PHCrockett
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« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2017, 06:28:05 PM »

Thanks!  I'm glad you enjoyed it.  Hopefully the agents I'm querying will too.
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