Hole In The Sky Opening

  1. Dan Jones

    Dan Jones Refreshed

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    I'm having a look at the arc and thread of Sand, one of the POVs for HITS, and I'm toying with this chapter as the opening to the book. I previously posted a chapter from the POV of Grub, which could also act as the opening chapter. As it's a SF/fantasy crossover (with Sand's being the fantasy thread) I'm not sure which opening serves the text best. Having Sand first will seem like a kind of prologue (even though it's not) because it feel so different to the other POV chapters which come after it (such as Grub's). So would this work as an opening in an SF novel? This is around half of Sand's first chapter.

    Sand I
    Sand plunged his hands deep into the wet clay surrounding his ankles and wiggled his fingers, exploring its sticky pliability, searching for the unformed ideas that might lurk in there. His head throbbed brutally with the hope that he might find something worth forming. In the clay his fingers clicked hard, aching, fatigued, and yet, he was unable to withdraw them for fear of a beating, so he held firm, seeking what had to be sought, what had to be made, what had to be sacrificed.

    The clay moved like a thousand eels merging and unmerging, as it always did, but his fingers were strong, and well-practised, and felt out what was there. He didn’t know why the Crucible, being self-contained, had currents and eddies and movements below the wet line, but it did. Sometimes he didn’t want to know. Knowledge was a burden the free had to bear. All he and his kin had to do was make.

    Something moving in the clay found his hands, and he instinctively clamped them tightly around the clod. His hands made a wet sucking noise as he brought them above the wetline and to his face. Opening his left hand, he peered at the muck and fingered it with his right. Nothing formed, as of yet. He closed his eyes and focused upon the clay, moulding it with both hands, letting his fingers do what they knew how to do, hoping upon hope that it would be a something, a something that the Axidents would approve of. A spasm of fear tripped along his arm as he recalled the last beating he had taken; the imprints of Axident Shame’s fists were still imprinted into his flesh, and he winced at the memory of it. Squeezing that trauma from his mind, he refocused upon the clay and let his fingers do the work they were made to do.

    Staccato chattering fell down from the upper reaches of the Crucible wall, and Sand jerked his neck up to view its source. From the corner of his eye he saw his neighbour do the same, and his neighbour’s neighbour, all the way along the line until all the Sands in the Crucible had turned their gaze from the half-formed, wet messes in their clutches towards the palatial balcony overlooking the Crucible, to see which of the Axidents would emerge. Sand’s legs prickled as they sensed the nervous twitching of his neighbour. Whenever one of the Sands moved, with their legs ending at the ankle in the clay soup, the ripples could be felt across the Crucible, so that tremulous fear spread like a rash to all the slaves tethered in that gruesome place.

    Upon the balcony appeared two figures, slender, robed in green and grey, talking animatedly with one another. Next came a much larger figure, taller by over a head than the former two, and broader to boot, with arms that could uproot trees. Sand had to strain his eyes to see them all, but even from this distance, the leathery, reddish copper skin of the third, larger Axident put that familiar feeling of loathsome sickness into his throat. Axident Shame. He peered at the half-thing in his hands: it looked like part of a tail, as he might have seen on a two-legged beast, or perhaps a four-legged beast of his own creation. He tapered out the clay to give it greater shape.

    I hope you are worthy, little tail, he thought.

    The tail, grey and slimy, wriggled in his palm as if in response.

    “Sands!” barked the first Axident from the balcony, his voice slow and croaking, as if he were sucking in air as he spoke. “I bear a message from The High One. He says he is dangerously sick. You slaves must show your worth by the value of what you can produce in that sea of sh*t you know as your home. Your offerings may save The High One by showing the worthiness of our world to the Sky Dwellers. The time is now for an Appraisal. Show us what have you mustered. If it is worthy, you will have saved not only the High One, but yourselves.”

    The three Axidents made their way down into the Crucible, wading sloppily through the clay in their sandals, hitching their robes up but not avoiding getting them covered in muck. Sand watched as they made their way to the first row of sands, and took the offering from the first sand in that row.

    Sand couldn’t see what his brothers and sisters had made in the lines ahead of him; all he would know was whether it would be deemed acceptable. Through the rows of his spindly, backbroken kin, all stuck in the clay by their ankles and bent double like withered vines, he could see the first two Axidents looking over the first offering. Sometimes he wondered how big the Crucible was. He had once looked over his shoulder and seen nothing but more sands, all different in form and shape, but all locked into the clay, and all with the same wilted, forlorn look of the slave. He never looked behind himself again. The Sand next to him had told him the Crucible was as big as the whole world, but he knew that could not be true, for while the Crucible was part of the High One’s Palace, not all of the Palace was part of the Crucible. The day he had grasped this concept had made him sad, for he had acquired knowledge, and could do nothing with it.
     
  2. Stable

    Stable Watching you from upside down

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    It's interesting, but I'm not convinced it's gripping enough to stand as the first chapter. I feel like I'd need to be at least a little invested in the world before I started to care enough.

    I went back and read your other posted chapter. Of the two I think it works better as an opener.

    I'm not sure if you're looking for more detailed critique, but the description from "A spasm of fear..." felt awkward. If he's sore from a beating I'd suggest working that in somewhere else where it will be a little more organic. ($0.02)
     
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  3. TheDustyZebra

    TheDustyZebra Inspired. Or possibly insane. Could go either way. Staff Member

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    I'm afraid I can't get enough notion of what's going on to make me want to continue, if this was the first chapter. I start skimming about halfway through to see if anything makes more sense. (I haven't read your other chapter, so that's coming at it fresh.)
     
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  4. HareBrain

    HareBrain Bunny of Wonder Staff Member

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    I prefer this to the other, and I like it a lot: it has a clear sense of a very different world, and would make me excited to see what else the author would come up with in the story. I think you're walking a bit of a tightrope, though. For example, here in the second paragraph:

    We're already a struggling a bit with trying to work out where we are and what's going on in this very alien place, and now suddenly here's another new name and you're almost rubbing in our face how obscure it all is. This might seem extreme, but when browsing first pages, being told the POV doesn't know something about something I've never heard of before might be enough to make me abandon. If that bit were removed, I don't think I'd have that problem. (And later mentions of the Crucible are fine; it's just that here, something rubs me the wrong way.)

    There are also a couple of places where it wants tightening to speed the pace up IMO, because though the setting and "culture" are interesting, what we want is things happening. Here, for example, you really need only the first line (up to "taken"), the rest isn't anything we need right now.

    And same here, I'd suggest. You're explaining why they look up one after the other, which I'd noticed, but I'd leave that as an intriguing little detail for the moment and explain the ripple effect later.

     
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  5. tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    I like this:
    It has this hint of alien world and alien thought to it that makes it intriguing; though a bit difficult to fully understand right away.
    I don't think I need to understand at the moment because there are images that parallel things that aren't alien and at least allow me to make some educated guesses as to what is occurring. And now I'm interested in finding out how right I might be. Clever way to draw the reader in.

    I have a personal foible about this paragraph.

    For some reason I disdain the use of something unless it just has to be there or it adds some poetic nature such as in Something wicked this way come.

    In this instance the first something is out of order because of the progression later on that uses something twice and I can live with that.
    I'd prefer:
    It found his hands, and he...
    That way later we progress with:
    ...it would be a something, a something that Axidents...
    However I might go with:
    ...it would be something, a something that Axidents...

    Also and this is just my twisted mind
    Axidents
    accidents

    I kept getting wierd images with this name.
     
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  6. Dan Jones

    Dan Jones Refreshed

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    Thanks all.

    I think, on balance, and despite the reservations, Stable and Dusty, that I am going to be bullish and stick with this chapter as an opener. The alien / weird vibe I'm going for is precisely why I want it as an opener, to create a big sense of contrast to the more familiar world we see in the next chapter, Grub's.

    But point taken, more clarity is needed if it's not going to throw the reader off completely. HB is right - it's a tightrope; I want that weird feel to the text – and it is a very strange, fantasy-esque world where the normal laws of physics and matter do not apply - but obviously the reader must be able to picture it, even in some abstract way.

    This is exactly what I meant when we were discussing Blackwing the other day. There's no mystery around the Crucible - it's simply the big bowl-type arena in which Sand and his brothers and sisters live and work, but I can see that it looks off-putting without that clarity. Throwing made-up proper nouns out there at the very beginning of a book is a risky business.

    Anyway, it's really good feedback, and I'll be feeding it back into the text, for sure. Thanks.

    I had to read this three times before I twigged you meant the word "something" as opposed to something you couldn't put your finger on. Semantics...
    I'll have a play about with it.

    Good. That's the idea :D
     
  7. Luiglin

    Luiglin by day Stuart Orford by night Dark Lord's scribe

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    There's enough in there to make me want more. I enjoy tales that open on a small scale and give hints of greater world.

    My only concern is the use of the sand(s). I can see the idea. Just think that maybe it needs a bit more when going from the single person to the many. If that makes sense :)
     
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  8. Stewart Hotston

    Stewart Hotston Well-Known Member

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    My comments within. Overall, it reads too distant without enough of a hook or emotion to grab me. In some ways it feels like a prologue but without the sense of urgency I'd want to make a prologue worthwhile.

    I'd also say that the writing is too contingent - like the spoken word. You're the author and you know what's going on, so make your character's thoughts more definite (you'll see I've edited a couple of places where this is the case as examples).

    It sounds like an interesting world that you've thought about clearly, so keep pushing on through and I hope some of this was helpful!

     
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  9. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    I like it with reservations.

    The hook, for me, is insufficiently pronounced. There's no immediate action, no obvious incongruity or question, no really strong personality. There's elements of all of them except the immediacy, but nothing that really totally grips.

    I also find the profanity dissonant as it comes across as an official communique and who swears in those?

    That aside, I like the weirdness and the language. I think I find the premise more interesting than the previous chapter. I just think that if this is the first chapter, something needs to be a hook.
     
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  10. Dan Jones

    Dan Jones Refreshed

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    Thanks Stuart and Peat. Thanks also for the line edit, Stuart. Repetitions are my Achilles heel.

    I'm getting the feeling that I'm trying to square the circle with this. To me, one of the intended outcomes from creating a very weird, non-conventional world where things like logic and language are deconstructed, should be a sort of strange cognitive dissonance on the part of the reader. But decoupling this illogical world from the conventions of storytelling, like a clear hook, risks alienating the reader completely.

    For what it's worth, in the second half of this chapter there is a more immediate threat, where the Axidents come and check all of the sands' creations and administer brutal beatings if they're not up to scratch. That is still weird, but at least there's the primal agency of fear, which should be universal. Perhaps I should strip out some of this and get to that sooner. I'm still being bullish, but I think this first chapter, being set in this odd world, has to have crystal clarity.
     
  11. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    You have hints of his fear and the need to have something to avert punishment there; maybe exaggerate it a bit more?
     
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  12. sahlmi

    sahlmi Well-Known Member

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    I do like your concept, but for me, the things that stood out as somewhat lacking were:
    clarity, concision, emotion, and flow. I feel you could have said the same things with far fewer words, yet have a stronger impact. I also felt very distanced from the scene because Sand's emotion weren't very strong to me. I don't mean overly dramatic or anything, just more convincingly written. I also wouldn't call it a "smooth read." I had to stop to re-read too many times to get what was being said. That's what I meant by lacking flow.
     
  13. Bowler1

    Bowler1 Senile Member

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    The opening was too focused on detail with not much happening. I had no feeling for the wider world or developing story and I struggled to maintain my interest. And with respect to your good self Mr.Jones who can clearly write, you know all too well that an opening has to pull a reader in quick and character introspection is not a good vehicle to acheive this.

    Your determination to stick to your guns is a stubborn trait that will help you write books, but flexibility is needed to make changes and improve. What if an agent asked you to makes changes, will you refuse then?
     
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  14. Dan Jones

    Dan Jones Refreshed

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    Hmm. I'm not sure I agree with this, and if it's a 'rule' then it's not one I've come across before. My take is that anything can be an opening, so long as it's written well, with clarity and pace and purpose. That's just my two pence, obvs. I take the point that the piece above needs more clarity, however.

    I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I am going to remain bullish about my own vision for the piece - I don't think the ambition is awry, but I can see where some of the execution may be, and that's what I'll have to change. If I'd not been flexible in the past, I wouldn't have improved to the point where I am now, and I know I'm a much better craftsman than I was four years ago. At the same time, I have to remain confident in where I want to take my own work, otherwise I'd be adrift. This piece is only a first draft, and I believe that it can/will work - with some extra work.
     
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  15. Bowler1

    Bowler1 Senile Member

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    Good lad Dan, I do like your determination. Go for it.
     
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  16. Suzanne Jackson

    Suzanne Jackson Formerly crystal haven

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    I really like this, and didn't find it a problem that the character doesn't understand why he's to do what he's doing, although I would like something more to grasp hold of in way of explanation quite soon after this scene.
     
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  17. cidetraq

    cidetraq Member

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    Sometimes I like intros that are heavy on action, conflict. This doesn't really move that fast. It doesn't seem quite like an intro to a book, but maybe to a chapter or a new section exploring this new point of view.
     
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