The Shorewalker - Opening (Revised)

Shorewalker

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Firstly, heartfelt thanks to all of you who have commented, made suggestions, debated and generally offered whatever you could to my previous efforts. Critiques can often sting, but they are never without merit.

I've found myself balancing a lot of what has been said. Some stuff I've immediately latched onto and used. Some I've given real thought to...and then come up with my own version that I think has hit the right mark. Some I've thought about...and then discounted, perhaps because what has been written serves a future purpose, or it simply doesn't fit with my own vision.

Apologies if the last bit sounds arrogant...it isn't meant that way.

Anyway, this is what we now have. I hope a number of you can see your own little bit of influence, because trust me, many of you are in here!

*****​

“State your business in D’raynar, lad!”

Jenn flinched from the sharp edge of the voice. She did that a lot these days, a tic that had developed in response to harsh words and loud noises.

His face florid and jowly, the Town Guard was close enough for her to smell the sharp tang of his sweat and the sour ale on his breath. His livery looked tired, his breastplate and helm dull and unpolished. Holding his halberd horizontal before him, he was barring her path.

Stomach knotting, Jenn kept her eyes on her worn boots, her face hidden away in the cowl of her cloak. At her hair line, the tickle of sweat began to march down her brow.

Gods! Don’t stop me now. Not here. Not when I’m so close.

“Just…just hoping to meet with some…friends, sir.”

Her words came out low and tremulous. They must have surprised the man, for he stepped forward and pulled back her cowl. He started, and she imagined that her cropped hair and haggard features had not been what he was expecting. He recovered his composure quickly.

“Not a lad at all, then, eh?” His smile was unpleasant. “Still, the question remains…what do you want in the city? Do these friends happen to have names?”

Seized by black dread - her trusty travelling companion - Jenn could not meet the guard’s eye. Neither was she keen on providing a true answer. This time last year, a man like this would have bowed before her, perhaps opened a door at her approach whilst offering a respectful smile.

That was before her old life had been scoured away by fire and steel. Those men who had served her father were now as dead as the smouldering ruins of Harmengarf. Now she could not help but view everybody with suspicion, wondering whether they would be the one to slip the blade between her ribs.

Before the hulking city gates, she shuffled and mumbled, the desire to flee balanced by the exhaustion that had her legs feeling like lead.

“I asked you a question, girl.” Jenn was tall, but still the guard loomed over her. “You don’t look the sort we want in the city without good reason.”

The words stung, anger simmering below the thick layers of fear that almost suffocated Jenn. Rage was possibly the only thing that had forced her onwards these last few month, but it would not serve her well here. Instead of delivering a sharp rebuke, she slid her gaze up at the ominous skies, these pregnant with rain, and then the high, crenellated walls of the city. She reminded herself of what might be inside.

Vengeance.

“Please, sir, I just need to…”

“Is there a problem, Grandol?”

Jenn’s interrogator turned at the sound of the voice. A second guard approached, an older, rotund man. He had just allowed three laden carts to rumble in through the gates without much in the way of questioning.

“Not really, captain. This girl wants in, but won’t tell me anything of her business.” The tall man sized Jenn up again. “I reckon we’ve got enough beggars of our own without adding to their number.”

“Well, she might not be the best dressed traveller we’ve ever seen,” the second man stopped at Grandol’s shoulder, “but that doesn’t mean she’s going to be leeching off the good citizens.”

Jenn would still not look up, but she liked the tone of the man’s voice. It sounded reasonable, kindly even, a laugh not far from his lips.

“So, lass, why have you come to D’raynar? It’s not that we don’t appreciate visitors, but we’d prefer it if they had good reason to be here.”

“I need to find some people,” Jenn mumbled, shifting her travel pack around on her shoulder nervously. As vague as the answer was, it was at least the truth.

“Which people, lass?” pressed the older guard.

Jenn hesitated, wondering whether honesty would buy her laughter or a time in the city gaol. What did she truly know of those she sought, other than they were mercenaries and good with cold steel?

That had been enough to bring her halfway around the world, though. She needed men handy with blades and the appetite to use them. For what had been done to her family, answer had to be given.

“I…I’m looking for the Watch.” Her boots remained inordinately interesting. “I’ve heard that I might find them here.”

The younger guard snorted, a sound of derision that was cut off as the captain slapped him on the arm. Her head remaining bowed, Jenn felt the first few drops of rain splash onto it, large and chill. She needed to get inside D’raynar and not just because of the Watch or the weather. She slid her gaze sideways, across the rolling fields to copses and woods. There were things out there, treacherous things, and she was possessed of a certainty that they were getting closer.

The elder guard spoke again, his tone sympathetic. “Lass, the Watch are not the sort of people you should be around. They’re dangerous types, likely to lead you into trouble. Besides, whatever it is you want them for, they’ll expect a healthy fee and…Well, no offense, but you don’t look like you have two bits to rub together.”

Jenn could feel the tears coming again, the indignities heaping on her shoulders. There was a time when she had wanted for nothing, a time when she would have rolled through wide city gates in a gilded carriage.

She almost crumbled then, almost fell to her knees in the dirt in final surrender.

Would that be so bad? Could anybody blame me?

Some strength remained though, just enough to keep her spine straight.

“Please, I beg of you. I need…I need the Watch.”

The man stared at her intently, his gaze running over her face before settling on her eyes. His expression slowly melting in understanding, he sighed.

“I do believe that you do, lass.” Stepping aside, and dragging Grandol with him, his arm swept towards the gates.

“D’raynar welcomes you. Go safe and I hope you find what you need.”


*****

Squeezing further back into the archway – she thought the door it covered a gate into somebody’s walled garden - Jenn pulled her cloak tighter around her neck and shivered. As she had feared they would, the black skies had finally split wide. Pouring from the rips came curtains of rain, these hammering down onto the tight street, sending folk scurrying for shelter in doorways and beneath overhangs. With the thoroughfare beneath water, garbage swirling across the cobbles like decaying water lilies, Jenn had thought it best to pause. Damp and miserable, she now watched as urchins splashed laughing through the filthy runnels whilst one old woman wrapped her shawls tight around hunched shoulders and hitched up her ragged dress. Opposite Jenn, run-off cascaded from the tiles of crooked roofs, small waterfalls that steadily increased in speed and power.

As thunder again rattled doors and shutters along the street and a distant hound howled out his outrage, Jenn chanced a peek up to the heavens. The weather looked to be in for the day and perversely, she found herself relieved. The storm’s arrival had delayed her arrival at journey’s end, giving her opportunity to think.

True, the hundreds of leagues she had already travelled had offered enough time for consideration. However, this relatively short distance across the city somehow felt just as long as her many months on the road.

She had hauled her own concerns across the kingdoms but now she fretted on the conversation with the guards at the city gates. The captain’s words of warning had been sobering and she wondered whether any of this made sense, whether any of it was sane…and whether her efforts would make the slightest bit of difference anyway.

But they had to; it was as simple as that. She was the only one left to speak for the dead. Giving up was an option she refused to entertain. Wrestling down her worries, she straightened and strode out into the teeth of the storm. With froth-topped rills of sewage lapping over her travel-worn boots, she set her jaw and turned up the hill.

Trudging along hunched over, the rain battering a chill into her bones, Jenn ached for the simple comforts that had been stripped from her; the soft caress of clean sheets on her own bed, the hearty aroma of pheasant and beef drifting up from the kitchens, the dappled sunlight cascading down through the branches of the hoary oak in the lily gardens behind the keep.

She held tight to those memories, keen-edged reminders of what had been lost, and for that loss, she would insist that there be an accounting.
 
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Appello

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This is much improved from your first entry, but it still needs a little work. In particular:

-You need to kill that darling. What darling am I talking about? Why, the weather, of course :p

Here's where thinking of your story's shape can really help you (Sanderson talks a bit about this on his youtube lecture series). Basically, think of your story as a piece of music - it starts off slow, builds to a climax, has a crescendo and a discordant bridge, and then finally reaches a satisfying ending. A story is a bit like that (I'm simplifying massively here but bear with me). Now, within a story you have chapters, and within chapters you have scenes, and they all have their own mini-structures too. What we have here is a scene (despite the break you've inserted, as far as I can see the 2nd half is more or less a continuation of the 1st).

Now, if you were to sketch a rough kind of 'energy graph' for this scene (like it was a piece of music, for example), you would start off slow, as Jenn arrives at the gate, then grow and grow as her confrontation with the guards releases titbits of information to hook the reader, reaching a sort of mini-crescendo as Jenn successfully wins entrance into the city, and her vengeance. And then... and then....

And then we segue into a random description of the weather, the streets, the children, the people, the drainage system...

Basically, everything but a continuation of the momentum building crescendo you were building in the 1st scene. It's like you're in the middle of a car-chase and the drivers suddenly stop to admire the architecture of the buildings around them. Or you're just about to win an argument and then decide to take stock of everything the other person is wearing. Or you're Frodo about to toss the ring into Mount Doom but before that happens you want to note the geological features of the volcano, and the build of rock sediment that indicates the neolithic era and that particular hollow cave carved out by the lava over the centuries and....

Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. In fact, you literally say it yourself in the story:

The storm’s arrival had delayed her arrival at journey’s end...

The question is, why would you want to do that? You've built a great opening, you've set up intrigue, you've introduced a goal and a character motivation and a purpose, and then you stop to ruminate about the rain. It's a momentum killer.

In fact, the entire 2nd part of this is literally nothing more than writerly self-indulgence in character rumination that doesn't need to be there. You're attached to the description of the town, the weather and the people, because it's nicely written and there's some neat description in there. But you need to step back and view it objectively. Again, if you were graphing this scene, the moment Jenn wins entry to the town the upward curve of your momentum would take a massive nosedive, and flatline for the rest of the scene while Jenn pauses, looks at the sky, hunches in the rain, sulks, pouts, and generally does everything possible to avoid moving the story on.

My advice? Cut out virtually the entire 2nd part (copy and paste it into another word document so it's not lost forever), and just go straight to the part where she gets to her destination and that drunk guy gets thrown out the door. Then tuck this scene away and come back to it later, and try to see whether anything you've cut is actually missing from the story. And not missing in the sense of it being a nice turn of phrase, or a neat bit of description, but as in genuinely, the progress and engagement of the story lacks something from its absence. I can almost guarantee you that it won't be.

Just say it's raining and get on with it. The bits of backstory can be included during the dialogue in the next scene, where she meets the Watch.
 

Shorewalker

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I've already cut 150 words out of the street scene, goddamit! (LOL)

Yeah, I can see the sense. I think I'm going for mood matching emotions here...somewhat heavy-handedly, admittedly. I also want to convey her hesitation, her uncertainty.

I think perhaps I'll open the 2nd scene with 'Trudging along hunched over...' and add in a few bits from the previous paragraphs to give some sense of place.

Cheers for all the thoughts/ideas!
 

Appello

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I've already cut 150 words out of the street scene, goddamit! (LOL)

Yeah, I can see the sense. I think I'm going for mood matching emotions here...somewhat heavy-handedly, admittedly. I also want to convey her hesitation, her uncertainty.

I think perhaps I'll open the 2nd scene with 'Trudging along hunched over...' and add in a few bits from the previous paragraphs to give some sense of place.

Cheers for all the thoughts/ideas!
Haha, I told you cutting was a pain in the proverbial! And look, it's totally fine to ignore me (I ignore myself most of the time too :oops:), but I just know that from my experience, even when cutting seems like the most painful and difficult thing in the world, and even when I'm sure that in two months time I'm going to put it back in because it's definitely necessary, almost always, I find that my story survives just fine without it. In fact, sometimes I'm genuinely shocked at how little I miss passages which, at the time I wrote them, I could have sworn were some of my best work. *Shrugs*

I get that you want to convey her hesitation and uncertainty, but consider: 1) you already did a fair bit of this in the 1st part and 2) what you're essentially doing when you slow the scene down like this is 'telling' the reader (eh gads, not the dreaded telling!) that she's uncertain and hesitant, rather than 'showing' those emotions as the scene unfolds naturally.

From what I've seen, you have enough skill as a writer to incorporate her emotions into the active story itself. Trust me, if I didn't believe you could do it, I wouldn't bother being such a pedant about it :p

Happy cutting! ;)
 

Brian G Turner

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It's getting better, but what should be a simple exchange drags on and on, and focuses more on small details of observation and body language.

I would expect this opening exchange to be very brief, and use it to - briefly! - explore Jenn's inner turmoil, in order to set tone. Actually, do we even need that opening exchange? All it seems to establish is that Jenn enters a city - but it's very static and needs some sort of sense of moving forward IMO.
 
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Phyrebrat

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Hi,

I think it’s far too bloated and awkward. For example:

State your business in D’raynar, lad!”

Jenn flinched from the sharp edge of the voice. She did that a lot these days, a tic that had developed in response to harsh words and loud noises.
What is the point of that awkward insertion about her tic? Is it relevant to an actual occurrence later on? Why is it told to us?

If it is needed, then you’d be well advised to reword it. Show her reaction to loud noises and harsh words rather than tell us. If she falls apart at loudness we need to see it happening rather than through a throwaway Line.

Apply that rationale to all of your work. Cutting 150 words is nothing for such a pedestrian scene.

As an exercise it might help to:

1) rewrite cutting 10% content or 150 words.
2) read and rewrite cutting another 150
3) keep doing this until the scene falls apart, making no sense.
4) Allow yourself to add 150 words
5) repeat until you find a sweet spot of a streamlined excerpt in which every word earns its keep.

:) good luck

pH
 

Shorewalker

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Cheers, peeps!

I think the first exchange needs to stay, to show her desperation, rather than just have her ruminating on it during her trudge up the hill...but it can certainly be cut down.

And I'm now pretty certain that I will end up with just 'it was a dark and stormy night' and be done with it. ;)
 

The Judge

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Just to chime in with everyone else, though I'm not automatically against slow openings, I do think you need to speed this up quite a bit. You spend 1000 words, about 4 pages, simply getting her to the stage where she's allowed into the city. I can understand why you want this confrontation, but I'd suggest cutting it in half at least. I've only skim-read your previous threads and the critiques you've received there, but I think other members were encouraging you to fill in more of her inner emotions in the opening. I have to say that for me, this goes too far, and some of those angsty moments would be prime candidates for pruning. And while the previous haughty, spoilt-princess tone she adopted to get in might have alienated some, to my mind you've now gone too far the other way and made her too wimpish and passive. (Yep, this is what's known as ITPE -- Impossible To Please Everyone!!) For me, that determination you have her showing in the final lines of the second scene would be better off appearing in the first scene somewhere, and instead of "Please, I beg you" it's simply "I have to get the Watch" or something equally strong.

As far as the second scene is concerned, I agree that however well written -- and there are some lovely touches there -- it goes on too long. It's simply raining heavily, after all, and there won't be many of your readers who haven't encountered heavy rain before now so there's no need to go into lengthy detail as we can imagine it for ourselves. What perhaps might save some of it, if you want it saved, is to transpose the action from wherever she is in that archway to somewhere just opposite where she's making for, which also avoids the issue of really-one-scene-cut-in-two ie she's reached the place where the Watch are, but it's when she's only a few feet away her courage momentarily fails her.

I think, though, that this has the makings of something very good, and I'm interested in reading more. Good luck with it.
 

Shorewalker

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Many thanks for that...and yes, I'm somewhat caught between the two stools with Jenn's mood/attitude. She's isn't a spoilt princess, but I liked the touch of anger at the end of the first passage. It's as though she has reached breaking point, but instead of debasing herself further, anger flares. It's making it sound edgy, but not haughty.

As for too much inner drama...yes, I think you might be right. I honestly don't believe that we need everything in at this stage...I think that so long as the reader is intrigued, I don't necessarily need them to be fully involved and sympathetic...yet.
 

Toby Frost

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There's certainly some good writing in here and many of the descriptions are very strong. As has been suggested, while I'd cut the second part, I wouldn't delete it.

Personally, I find Jen too downtrodden to be very appealing as a lead character and credible as someone seeking revenge. I would have expected someone seeking vengeance to be at least bitter and angry, and rather more driven than Jen seems to be. She comes across as rather defeated and weedy to me. I'm coming to think that the thing that makes a character compelling when I first meet them (whether I like them or not) is dynamism, not virtuousness or pity. At the moment Jen feels like something of an authorial punchbag. I would like her far more if she had a plan more than just generally getting revenge, or even if she was trying to find someone in particular.

Sorry if that sounds very harsh: it's not meant to. There's a lot of good stuff here and I agree that it's got potential to be really good.

(Oh, and one small thing: someone mentioned apostrophes in fantasy names. I agree: I don't really know how to pronounce D'raynar and it does look a bit cliched to me.)
 

Brian G Turner

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Don't know if of interest, but after I was first edited I was told that my characters weren't developed enough - so I rewrote them, and then was told that I'd made them too mopey and that they needed to avoid self-pitying. I don't know if that's useful to you but I thought I'd mention it in case of help. :)
 

Shorewalker

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Yeah, I'm looking to walk a razor's edge here, Brian...and my feet are starting to hurt!

Toby, thanks for the comments and I know what you mean about Jenn. As the first three chapters unfold, you understand why Jenn is as she is...she hasn't just lost her home and family...and you appreciate that what she has managed to do is actually quite remarkable. She is deliberately a nothing right now...but the story is about how she becomes something far greater.
 

EJDeBrun

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I'm going to chime in here and talk about character a little bit. Personally I think the problem with Jenn and what a lot of people might be reacting to is what I mentioned before which is she's not appealing right off the bat.

In other, blunter words, she's not very likeable.

This could be for a couple of reasons, but I'm going to guess it's how she acts in this opening scene. See, I get that you're trying to show her being down on her luck etc, but this scene is crafted in a way that directly highlights the negatives of her personalities and none of the positives while also setting her up for failure instead of success. Her ability to get past the guards is not UP to her. She does nothing to convince them, it's really up to the guard captain to take pity on her and let her pass.

And I have to say, if your MC is relying on another character's PITY to get somewhere, she's going to lose the interest of the reader pretty fast.

So you need to make some adjustments. Have her be downtrodden but maybe with some spirit of fighting back. SHOW she fights back and is intelligent by making GOOD arguments against the Captain and SWAY him, so she's not relying on HIS charity to get through the gates, but on the wits that helped her survive to that point. Then you're showing the reader that while she might have had all these terrible things happen to her, she IS moving forward on her own. Taking action.

This will help make the reader sympathize enough to care about her.
 

Brian G Turner

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The whole scene is static, so why not start either before - approaching the city - or else just after, when moving through it - allowing us to feel her sense of desperation and vulnerability?
 

Montero

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Liked your change at the start, recognised my advise in use :D.

Other than that, it's better, there's a way to go. What folks have said already, plus I am not keen on some of your sentence structures - I think that is not helping you with a sense of movement. They lack immediacy. For example

and she was possessed of a certainty that they were getting closer.

Why not "she was sure they were getting closer".

Stare hard at anything with "had been" and "was" and see if you have to write it that way. Sometimes you do, but it is often a culprit when your book feels like it is dragging or static.

Then, to me this paragraph is all over the place.

Squeezing further back into the archway – (1) she thought the door it covered a gate into somebody’s walled garden - Jenn pulled her cloak tighter around her neck and shivered. (2)As she had feared they would, the black skies had finally split wide. (3) Pouring from the rips came curtains of rain, these hammering down onto the tight street, sending folk scurrying for shelter in doorways and beneath overhangs. (4) With the thoroughfare beneath water, garbage swirling across the cobbles like decaying water lilies, Jenn had thought it best to pause. Damp and miserable, she now watched as urchins splashed laughing through the filthy runnels whilst one old woman wrapped her shawls tight around hunched shoulders and hitched up her ragged dress. Opposite Jenn, run-off cascaded from the tiles of crooked roofs, (5) small waterfalls that steadily increased in speed and power.
1) OK, you are wanting to tell the reader that the town has walled gardens - but why the heck would Jenn care where the gate went?
2) You've only just mentioned her being sure it was going to rain and wanting to get out of it, so I think this is superfluous
3) A bit hyperbolic - and since clouds don't open in gaps to drop the rain my brain stuttered a bit at the picture
4) Rain is hammering down, people scurried for shelter, "Jenn had thought it best to pause" - anti-climatic as well as unnecessary. (And with the rain hammering down, it was a good idea to get out of it, the swirly stuff at ankle level I'd only mention if it started to flood into the archway - but I wouldn't bother with it.)
5) Not needed and speed and power in an odd way comes off as modern.

I too found some of the people descriptions excessive, so if it were me, I'd trim down to:

Squeezing further back into the archway Jenn pulled her cloak tighter around her neck and shivered. Rain hammered down onto the narrow(? is that what you meant by tight?) street, sending folk scurrying for shelter in doorways and beneath overhangs. Water cascaded from the tiles of the crooked roofs, splashing back into the archway and wetting her legs.

Edited to add -

Toby, thanks for the comments and I know what you mean about Jenn. As the first three chapters unfold, you understand why Jenn is as she is...she hasn't just lost her home and family...and you appreciate that what she has managed to do is actually quite remarkable. She is deliberately a nothing right now...but the story is about how she becomes something far greater.
Yeah, OK, but you saying this is a bit more of the same thing I called you on in the previous thread - it really doesn't matter how well you develop her in the first three chapters if she isn't working well on the first page. I've forgotten where I saw it - somewhere online - but it was pointed out that you won't be standing there behind every reader saying to them "yes, I know she's a bit nothing now, but she gets a lot better, stick with it".
 
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Shorewalker

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The whole scene is static, so why not start either before - approaching the city - or else just after, when moving through it - allowing us to feel her sense of desperation and vulnerability?
My first attempt actually did start with her inside the city. The scene at the gates was crafted in response to feedback here, but if it's not doing its job...

Regarding Jenn and how engaging she is, I tried anger, but she then comes across as haughty. I don't want her to be spirited or enterprising at this point, as that would diminish what has occurred and also confer on her traits that she does not yet have. The fact that she still remains upright is miracle enough. I don't want her to be seen as a hero, or anything close to that...not yet.
 

EJDeBrun

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My first attempt actually did start with her inside the city. The scene at the gates was crafted in response to feedback here, but if it's not doing its job...

Regarding Jenn and how engaging she is, I tried anger, but she then comes across as haughty. I don't want her to be spirited or enterprising at this point, as that would diminish what has occurred and also confer on her traits that she does not yet have. The fact that she still remains upright is miracle enough. I don't want her to be seen as a hero, or anything close to that...not yet.
I think Montero stated it really well: a writer doesn't have the luxury to tell the reader beforehand, yes I know she's a bit mopey now, but she's going to get better later.

And I don't think she has to come off as a hero. I think she just has to come off as interesting. At least having some kind of determination at the very least or how did she survive long enough to even get to where she is?

I'd also like to point, logistically, she tells the guard captain she's looking for the Watch pretty easily. Why not just start with that? I think at the very least her honesty would show her desperation and determination to get to her goal. Dancing around that topic is possibly extending the scene too long as well as diminishing her character. Just a suggestion.
 

Shorewalker

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She doesn't come right out and say it because (a) she's suspicious of everybody and (b) she knows so little of the people she's looking for that she doesn't know how her admission will be taken. Both of these points are made. For all she knows, the Watch might be outlawed, or their business forwned upon, hence the line...'Jenn hesitated, wondering whether honesty would buy her laughter or a time in the city gaol.'

I personally feel that the character and her circumstances are interesting (who is she, what happened to her previous life, who is out there, why does she want the Watch, who are the Watch?), but perhaps not as engaging/sympathetic as she could be. I don't think I need the reader to be fully on her side...yet...but I do need them to be interested enough to have those questions answered.
 

Montero

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I had the thought overnight that maybe you are starting the book in the wrong place. It is possible to think out the character's entire story and do that well, then choose a point at which the book starts, but to get it wrong. In terms of starts, why are you not starting back at her old life where it all goes to pot and then follow her on the road to where she is now? Follow being a few key scenes, not a mile-by-mile account. A lot of fantasy classically starts with one chapter to show how nice things are, or even a few pages, then the invasion rolls in.
 
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