Driftwood opening chapter

Discussion in 'Critiques' started by Martin Gill, Dec 30, 2016.

  1. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2015
    Messages:
    211
    Ok here's just the first bit reworked. I want a better word than "Reki stood..." and I haven't really polished this yet, but I think this could work OK...

    >>>>>>>>>

    Reki stood knee deep in the foamy swell, making sacrifice to the Fishgiver for their sodden lives after the whipping the storm had given them. Gods, but he could use the luck. They’d huddled for three days and three nights while Grandfather Sky had beat lightning from broiling black thunderheads. Rain lashed the rocky shore. Gales rent towering pines. Winter’s-blade cut deep. Now the sky god had finally lain down his hammer, Reki made a meagre offering in the hope that the sea would yield a bounty that morning. A mangy cormorant flapped in his oar-callused hands. He wrung its neck, bones cracking.

    “Ahti take my offering.” His voice rung out over the lapping swell. He hurled the broken bird out into the bay. It splashed like a ragdoll and washed back to shore, rolling limp and wet-winged to tangle amongst the black smear of seaweed marking the ocean’s edge.

    “An ill omen.” Hakkon the Godcaller stood at Reki’s side, his voice flat and blunt.

    “I told you to do it.” Reki shrugged. “You keep telling me you are closest to the gods.”

    “And you keep telling me you are the captain.”

    “We should have eaten the damn bird.” Reki’s stomach growled.

    Crooked Arin’s call banished sour thoughts of punching Hakkon. He gazed down the sandy strip, cormorant forgotten. The white beach ran a mile or more until a rocky headland severed it, jutting out into the crashing waves, hazy with ocean spray. The forest grew almost down to the shore, great swaying pines buffeted by the breeze, tower-tall, their thick roots gnarling into the sandy topsoil. Nearby the storm had felled one, sending it crashing through its brothers to hurl clods of dark, wormy earth across the sand.

    There, a bowshot or more up the beach, Crooked Arin stood gesturing wildly with his one good hand. He was shouting, but the wind whipped his words out to sea.

    “What’s he saying, the old fool?” Reki strained to hear.

    “Something about a girl, I think.” Una spoke, her young eyes spying more than Reki could at a distance. She was bright eyed and bouncing like a spring hare despite their lack of food and sleep. She started forwards, looking like she wanted to burst into a run. “He’s found a girl.”
     
  2. HareBrain

    HareBrain Bunny of Wonder Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2008
    Messages:
    8,355
    Location:
    West Sussex, UK
    I do think that works better as a basis, but I still think you can cut out the description of the storm. Something like this, maybe:

    The sky god had finally lain down his hammer, and Reki stood knee deep in the foamy swell, hoping after three days and nights of storm and hunger that the sea would yield a bounty. A mangy cormorant flapped in his oar-callused hands. He wrung its neck, bones cracking.

    Whatever you decide regarding that, in your first paragraph you've given two reasons, in two places, for him making a sacrifice -- as thanks for their lives and in hope of food. I think one is better. I'd also be wary of "cormorant forgotten", as it risks suggesting it's not important, and creates a kind of break between the sacrifice and the finding of the girl -- when you might want to leave the reader to infer an actual connection.
     
    GreenKidx likes this.
  3. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2015
    Messages:
    211
    Good point. And that gives a stronger reason for Reki in particular to insist they don't just leave and do spend the time to check her out - the gods have dropped her in his lap thanks to his sacrifice. This has been bugging me as Bran's earlier comment got me thinking - right now hes cold, tired, hungry, in danger of being attacked by natives and he's late on delivering his cargo. WHY would he stay? This gives me a stronger reason. I even have her saying "the gods do love you, they sent me to you" way later on in the book but I'd totally missed the opportunity to make that link stronger from the word go.

    Thanks :)
     
  4. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Messages:
    18,747
    Location:
    Highlands
    Yep, I agree about cutting back on the storm. I figure you love the words involved, and you do write well - but there's a danger of it being a distraction from the narrative. The more you focus on immediacy, the stronger the story will come across.
     
    GreenKidx likes this.
  5. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2015
    Messages:
    211
    This works. So what's important here isn't ALL the words, but it's getting enough of a saga style into the opener to lodge the reader in that poetic Beowulf kind of world. Phrases I like can always be drip fed into other sections. Most of the book is set in and around the sea so I've got ample need to describe storms and waves :)

    What I have just thought though is that some of that could come from the characters dialogue. Making a sacrifice gives Reki an opportunity to speak more "formal" words.

    But I think this is gelling better now. Reki is hungry, makes sacrifice to the sea god for food. Immediately finds a girl washed up. Assumes she's either/or a supernatural creature and/or sent by the gods. Therefore, he helps her. This is a stronger setup for what ensures and their relationship. It actually gives him stronger motive to risk his neck later. One of the recurring themes is he's actually Finnish, not Norse, and everyone tells him he's so far from home that his gods can't hear him anymore. So if he sees the girl as his link to his gods that works.

    This has been super helpful. Thank you all for really digging into this.
     
    Brian G Turner and HareBrain like this.
  6. tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2012
    Messages:
    2,800
    Location:
    Either I'm dense or this interface doesn't like me
    I do like this a lot better and it is easier to get through and comprehend and short enough that I can forgive the purple feel in the first paragraph.

    What might help reduce that feel is to get rid of 'after the whipping the storm had given them' because that's what the purple part is describing and without that lead in instead of being superfluous it then become the way of saying that with more words and almost makes it necessary.
     
  7. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2016
    Messages:
    762
    I keep trying to critique this and finding my brain failing me.

    I love the voice of it. I love the feel. It doesn't click with me as something I'd want to read the rest of and I can never quite work out why. I think the advice you are being given about sharpening it up and getting right to the meat of the matter and discarding the fat is good, although I think a bit of fat for flavour is a good idea. The hints of saga language are the biggest draw here and I think they would be even with a really good story opening.

    I think the bit you posted at the top is better but right now, as a reader, I'd like to spend more time with Reki and getting to know him and the world with his eyes.
     
    GreenKidx likes this.
  8. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2015
    Messages:
    211
    Do I need to post a longer piece? This is only 800 ish words and I chose the cut off point at precisely the moment the action starts. The next 2 chapters are much more active/action based.

    Things I want/need to keep...
    • An element of the saga language - that's part of the point in trying to write in this style. I don't need all of it, but I want an early hint that I'm taking literary cues from the likes of Beowulf, etc. I understand that's going to polarise opinion in places, but I'm not labouring under the belief that I'll please everyone.
    • The find a girl... thats the fundamental set up for the story.

    Things that can flex...
    • Beyond Reki and the "girl", who is in the opening scene
    • The sacrifice (though I like it and thematically HareBrain's link to the girl washing up and Reki's belief that the gods sent her is better than where I started)
    • The storm - other than there was a storm, which is why the girl washed up, I don't need to describe it. I wanted to, but I can ditch it. What I don't want is to moderate all the language down to something that's lacking the voice I'm aiming for. I did that in my previous work and its gone nowhere. I write and edit factual content for work - I know I can hammer out crisp, precise, dull prose telling you how to run an eCommerce business :)
     
  9. StuartSuffers

    StuartSuffers The Truth shall set you "Weeeee!"

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2016
    Messages:
    538
    Better than before, for sure. Keep it up. (pink means delete. Comments and suggested changes in brackets)
     
  10. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2016
    Messages:
    762
    I'm all up for reading a longer piece. And I don't think the sacrifice is a problem.
     
  11. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2015
    Messages:
    211
    I'll post a longer draft over the weekend. Rather than rework the first few lines again I'll post as is and see if reading slightly more changes anyone's perspective.
     
  12. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2015
    Messages:
    211
    Ok with the various edits the entire first chapter is now just under the 1500 word limit. This is now some way between my original draft and some of the edits based on you guys' feedback. Thanks for your comments so far. So here goes...

    >>>>>>>>

    Reki waded into the foamy swell, a mangy cormorant flapping in his oar-callused hands. He wrung its neck, bones cracking. A meagre sacrifice to the Fishgiver for their sodden lives after the whipping the storm had given them. Gods, but he could use the luck. They’d huddled for three days and three nights while Grandfather Sky had beat lightning from broiling black thunderheads. Winter's blade had cut deep. Now the sky god had finally lain down his hammer, Reki's empty stomach growled. Bitter waves licked his boots. Sea spray salted his lips.

    “Ahti take my offering.” His voice rung out over the lapping swell. He hurled the broken bird out into the bay. It splashed like a ragdoll and washed back to shore, rolling limp and wet-winged to tangle amongst the black smear of seaweed marking the ocean’s edge.

    “An ill omen.” Hakkon the Godcaller stood at Reki’s side, his voice flat and blunt.

    “I told you to do it.” Reki shrugged. “You keep telling me you are closest to the gods.”

    “I doubt your ice-addled gods have ears long enough to hear your whinging prayers. When you left the Finnmark you left your gods there with their feet rooted in the snow and frost turning their whiskers into the bare birch branches of winter. You should pray to gods that hear you. And besides, you keep telling me you are the captain.”

    “We should have eaten the damn bird.” Crooked Arin’s call banished sour thoughts of punching Hakkon. Reki gazed down the sandy strip, cormorant forgotten. The white beach ran a mile or more until a rocky headland severed it, jutting out into the crashing waves, hazy with ocean spray. The forest grew almost down to the shore, great swaying pines buffeted by the breeze, tower-tall, their thick roots gnarling into the sandy topsoil. Nearby the storm had felled one, sending it crashing through its brothers to hurl clods of dark, wormy earth across the sand.

    There, a bowshot or more up the beach, Crooked Arin stood gesturing wildly with his one good hand. He was shouting, but the wind whipped his words out to sea.

    “What’s he saying, the old fool?” Reki strained to hear.

    “Something about a girl, I think.” Una spoke, her young eyes spying more than Reki could at a distance. She was bright eyed and bouncing like a spring hare despite their lack of food and sleep. She started forwards, looking like she wanted to burst into a run. “He’s found a girl.”

    “That’s the last thing we need, Crooked Arin let alone with a girl.” Reki shook his head at the thought. “Come on, let’s see who he’s found before he tries to stick his rancid old c**k in her.”

    “We should go.” Hakkon glanced to the treeline. “Before the they sniff us out.”

    “You worry too much.” Reki laid a hand on the older man’s shoulder and pushed him gently forwards. “Come on.”

    He led them up the beach, Una at his side, Hakkon grumbling behind and Ruði the Steersman trailing silently at their tail, spear butt ploughing a shallow furrow in the sand as he dragged it behind him. Crooked Arin crouched over the slumped body by the time they reached him, a toothy yellow grin smeared over his dirty face, langseax in hand, heavy blade aglimmer in the wan morning sun. He reached hesitantly with the weapon to prod at the girl sprawled face down in the damp sand, sea foam kissing her bare feet. Salt rings stained her pale linen shift. It clung damp to her wiry body.

    “Careful, she might be a Selkie.” Reki peered at her, hesitant to get too close lest she grab him and drag him down in a watery embrace. The chill touch of the wave-death set him shuddering. No sailor should endure that.

    Crooked Arin staggered back, slipped and fell on his arse. He furrowed his black brows, hawking phlegm into the sand, a ward against evil. He clutched at the bone-carved Mjolnir hanging at his throat and glared up at Reki. “I say we throw her back to Njord.”

    “She’s not a Selkie.” Hakkon shook his head with a faint look of despair.

    “How can you be sure?” When he was a lad, his grandfather had filled his mind with such tales, but in truth, Reki had never seen a selkie before. Still, selkie or no, she reeked of trouble, a lone girl washed up after a storm, and Reki was trouble rich. Probably best if they left her. He thought of the cormorant, and of Hakkon's words. What if the Fishgiver had heard him? Though this was hardly the bounty he'd had in mind. He elbowed Ruði gently in the ribs. “Help her up, big lad.”

    Ruði leant on his spear and bent towards her.

    She sprang.

    She howled like a Bien Sidhe and hurled a handful of sand in Ruði’s eyes. He yelped in surprise and before any of the others could move, she was up and on him. Grabbed the spear, pounded a knee in his b*ll*cks and down the big man went. Ruði crashed into the surf and the girl had the weapon. Hissing like a cornered wildcat, she lashed at Crooked Arin. He fumbled backwards, arse in the sand, batting the darting spear point away from his face with his blade. Steel clattered on wood.

    She’d have skewered him, but Reki stepped inside her reach. She caught him coming, though not quickly enough. The spear lashed round, but Reki was too close. He caught the shaft on his side. That would leave a bruise. He grunted, looped one arm round the spear. She pulled against him, they staggered and Reki punched the lass hard in the face.

    She crumpled.

    With the spear free from her grip, Reki toppled sideways and thumped down in the sand beside her.

    “Gonna cut the bitch’s head off.” Crooked Arin spat venom and staggered unsteadily to his feet. Una sniggered at him. He snarled and took a threatening step towards her, two foot of razor-honed steel brandished before him. “And you can shut your mouth, you little cow.”

    Una barked a response in the guttural Seal Islander tongue she only used when something had her riled and would have gone at Crooked Arin tooth and nail if Reki hadn’t scrabbled to his feet and shoved himself in between the snarling shipmates.

    “Ukko's hairy balls, what’s wrong with you both?” He jammed the spear butt first into the wet sand and shook his hand, frowning. His fingers were already swelling. Her head had been harder than he’d expected. He turned his back on the squabbling shipmates to look at the girl.

    She sat in sullen silence, shivering. Her dirty blonde hair clung sea-wet to her cheeks, bright eyes defiant. Reki stared, for Akka’s spell was upon her. She was beautiful, hardly of this world. Yet there she sat, pale and exhausted, dark smudges under her eyes and an angry red welt on her forehead where Reki had hit her. Her dress marked her as lowborn, her bearing said otherwise. This one was no thrall.

    “What do they call you?” Reki leant on the spear and grinned at her with the smile he reserved for the pretty young daughters of gold-rich sea-jarls, but she said nothing in return. Just glared at him, a fierce glint in her eye. Even drenched in brine and caked in damp sand, she looked far from defeated. “What’s wrong? Ravens got your tongue? Well never mind. Ruði, try again and help her up.”

    Ruði, wet through but at least back on his feet now, shot Reki a black look. Shaking his head, he stepped towards the girl.

    And an arrow took him in the neck.

    They all stared for a moment at the yard of pale ash wood jutting from Ruði’s throat, the tattered white tufts of its fletchings, its broad hunting head slathered in dripping red blood. Ruði mouthed a silent word and collapsed face first into the sand. Reki felt the snap of an arrow zip past him. Another thudded into the sand.

    Then the war cries came. Howling fox yips, echoing whoops singing through the pines. It meant only one thing.

    “Cruinthe.”

    Reki spun with the shock of violence. He bent to grab Ruði. Blood pumped in dwindling gouts, clouding the lapping waves red. There was no saving him. Another arrow whipped past, splashing into the sea. Reki reached out a hand and hauled the girl to her feet. He turned back down the beach, back the way they’d come, through the crash of the storm-churned waves, through the salt spray, back to where Sindsro lay, keel-beached and storm-lashed on the sandy shore. He yelled for all he was worth.

    “Run!”
     
  13. tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2012
    Messages:
    2,800
    Location:
    Either I'm dense or this interface doesn't like me
    I like this; but that's just me again.
    Even though the adventure doesn't begin until near the final lines, I'm getting a feel for it and it reads well and begs for more.
     
  14. GreenKidx

    GreenKidx Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2010
    Messages:
    252
    Hello , I think that the 3rd and 4th drafts posted here work much better for me. To be honest I read about two paragraphs of the original post and then gave up on the rest. Previously, it felt as if the goal of the excerpt was to use beautiful language rather than tell a great story. (That is a valid choice and many writers indeed choose to go that way. It is just not something that attracts me to a novel.) However, with the changes made the focus is now on the characters and the story. As a result I feel the text is a lot more inviting. I was almost instantly attached to Reki in later (posted) drafts.

    Additionally, I have to agree with a previous poster (HareBain?) that non-English characters in an English language text is a hard sell. Honestly, either one of two things would happen depending on when I discovered it. If I noticed before I purchased the book I'd probably place it back on the shelf and look for another. If I had already purchased the book then I would just mentally think "Rudy" every time I read "Ruði".
     
  15. Appello

    Appello Literary Hitchhiker

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2012
    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    Inside my head
    I love this kind of story. Historical fantasy, it's my bread and butter - I'd read it for breakfast if I could :p

    Anyway I think the piece works really well and you have a great voice. It flows well and the characters seem interesting and dynamic. I was going to suggest you might have one too many but having seen now that one of them meets a quick end I can see why you did it that way.

    Just going back to the beginning, here's my two cents - I agree with the others that any and all conversation/description unrelated to the girl *after* the crooked dude has started yelling detracts from the tension. If they are on the run, and in danger, then any of their compatriots starting to yell unexpectedly from a distance should put them immediately on edge. It should demand an immediate response, and take up focus. This is why I don't think the cock joke works too well in this context - I just can't see this being the time and place for lewd sexual innuendo, particularly given they are inclined towards belief in the supernatural and at this point have no idea whether the girl is dangerous, supernatural or even dead. The line 'That’s the last thing we need, Crooked Arin let alone with a girl' is enough to establish Arin's worthiness for his moniker; the additional cock joke just reads as unnecessary and in my opinion pulls the reader away from what should be a 'hold-your-breath-what's-going-to-happen-next' kind of moment.

    The other thing that got me thinking was, why is ol' mate Crooked wandering away up the shore in any case? If they are in danger, and on the run, surely the instructions would be to stick together, especially as less than ten minutes later they are getting arrows in the neck, suggesting they're not exactly sheltering in a safe haven. Thinking on that, and also the somewhat stilted 'we should have eaten the bird' line from Reki which just doesn't sit right with me for some reason, perhaps because it doesn't blend with his apparent piety and it seems kind of irreligious to be immediately taking back your sacrifice moments after offering it (kind of like taking communion and immediately saying 'I wish it was whiskey' or something)... Anyway it got me thinking of another way of doing it:

    -Have the scene opening with Reki, Hakkun and Crooked (plus the others) discussing their next movements, as they emerge out of their storm-drenched stupor. One of them has a captured bird. Crooked is advocating eating it, while Hakkun thinks it should be sacrificed to the gods. Reki is forced to choose between these two divergent opinions. He decides to sacrifice the bird, causing Crooked to storm off up the beach in a sulk muttering about wasted food or somesuch (here is where you would put your description of the pine trees, which I quite like but which isn't in the right place in the current version, coming as it does immediately after Crooked starts yelling - again, too much description ruins the tension). During this exchange you could also mention something about the need for quick escape (maybe Una is in favour of immediately leaving, or something) and shoehorn the threat of danger of the Cruinthe that way. Reki should feel the imminence of the threat and keep looking about him with nervous agitation - their movements should be quick, quiet and urgent - that way you maintain the tension while this hurried conversation takes place and it doesn't become just a boring group discussion.

    -Then, Reki goes off to sacrifice the bird, it gets rejected and he feels like he chose the wrong option, leading to his dialogue with Hakkun which I really like. Then Crooked starts yelling and you can go straight into full action mode once the girl is spotted, having them race over and argue about what to do with her followed by her attack and the subsequent ambush, all of which you wrote really well and which I read through with great interest and anticipation.

    That is how I would frame it anyway. But as I said it's great writing and was generally a pleasure to read. Let me know when the book comes out ;P
     
    pambaddeley and HareBrain like this.
  16. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2015
    Messages:
    211
    Hey, thanks for the ego boost and also for the excellent idea. That could work really nicely as a structure. I'm pausing on this now as I really need to finish the damn thing rather than polish the first chapter, but this is great input.
     
    Appello likes this.
Loading...

Share This Page