YA Fantasy opening (circa 800 words)

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
Joined
May 11, 2018
Messages
95
Location
UK
#1
This is the first time I've posted my writing, aside from the short story comps. All critiques are welcome and thanks to all reviewers for taking the time and energy to support me. Would you read on?

****

Standing alone on the western slope of a small hill was a modest wooden house, all on one floor with a number of clay chimneys sprouting haphazardly from the roof. The hodgepodge of repairs and improvements made over the years gave it the look of a giant angular patchwork quilt. The inside was in keeping with the outside, everything tired and worn from decades of use, mended many times but just the right side of broken to be useful. It had a well-loved warm and cosy feel, the type of place that might have been witness to a lifetime of afternoon naps.

On this particular September evening oil lamps lit up the interior with a warm yellow glow as Sarrien Benwick paced up and down, deep in thought, absent-mindedly stroking his short scraggly silver-grey beard.

He walked past the large smoke-stained fireplace, oblivious to the dying embers on the grate, up the slight incline to a dark wooden trunk resting up against the far wall, a deep crack in the wood restrained by black metal bindings, turned round and walked back. A furrowed brow over unfocused blue eyes, he reached his favourite chair next to the fireplace and sat down, stood up and walked back up the slope again.

‘Something wrong dear?’ asked Amelda, Sarrien’s wife, who was making a cake in the kitchen on the far side of the room.

‘Hmmm…’

‘Sarri.’ she raised her voice.

‘Oh it’s nothing, nothing.’

She looked up from beating her cake mixture in a clay bowl cradled in her arm, yellow glazing flaked off the outside. ‘Nothing? You’ve been restless ever since you got back from the Sanctum.’

Sarrien finally noticed the fire was out, threw a couple of logs onto the hot embers and started prodding at them with a timeworn poker. ‘Well nothing much anyway.’

Amelda stopped her beating ‘Is it this big storm coming? Is that what’s bothering you?’

He stood up from tending the fire and satisfied it was well alight, walked over to the kitchen, the familiar smell of baking emanating from the wood fired oven. He leaned on the side and took a deep breath.

‘An inspector has turned up, unexpected and uninvited. She was at the Sanctum earlier.’

‘From Phaerox? What for?’

‘Yes from our illustrious capital, a Miss Osfelia Ribbal. As to what she’s here for, I’m not entirely sure, she has been less than forthcoming.’ he said shifting his weight over to one side.

‘They’re not due a visit to the academy are they?’ Amelda asked as she resumed her onslaught on the thick golden-brown cake mixture with a well-practised rhythm.

Sarrien scowled ‘No they’re not. Braytree’s behind this I’ll bet, she’s questioned what we do here ever since she became Premier.’

‘Maybe she’s interested.’

‘Perhaps but I don’t trust her given how she came to power.’ he said with a shake of his head, that ruffled his thinning but still shaggy hair.

‘It can’t be helped now, we’ll just have to hope for the best. Now then that ought to do it.’ Amelda half poured, half spooned the mixture into a blackened baking tin.

‘How far will hope get us? Anyway, I must get back over there and make sure the academy is prepared for the storm, although I’m sure the Cartwrights are on top of everything.’

Sarrien put on his thick hedgal-hide coat and sat down carefully on a rickety three-legged stool to put his boots on. ‘Well at least we haven’t seen any Storm Warners’ he said grabbing his staff from its place next to the door, his hand resting comfortably on the familiar grooved grip. It was scuffed, scratched and what looked like teeth marks were gouged out of the wood; the scars of a long partnership.

‘I may watch the storm from one of the towers so I could be a while.’ he slid the heavy bolt back and lifted the door latch.

‘I know. Be careful’ said Amelda as Sarrien stepped outside, letting in a blast of cold air.

He put his hood up and pulled it tight down around his face to shield himself from the powerful wind. Making his way north, up the narrow stony path that wound its way through the rolling green grounds of the academy, Sarrien’s limp was less noticeable as he leaned into the wind.

After several minutes the light grey outline of the Sanctum rose into sight, deceptively diminutive against the cliffs behind. Silhouetted against the backdrop a tall, slender figure further up the path headed in his direction. The figure was closing fast, moving with an unnatural ease, seemingly unaffected by its battle with the wind.

Sarrien progressed more slowly, heart quickening a beat as he gripped his staff a little tighter. The figure continued to move purposefully towards him, its face bound up against the gales. With only a few strides between them, Sarrien stopped and almost imperceptibly moved into a stance. The figure didn’t falter.
 
Joined
Aug 12, 2016
Messages
254
Location
Hampshire
#2
I very much liked the opening scene setting, I thought it both descriptive and atmospheric. However, we are introduced to several story elements and characters: Sarrien, Amelda, the wooden chest, an Inspector, Miss Osfelia Ribbal, the Braytree’s, the Academy, the Cartwrights, Storm Warners, the Sanctum, none of which are explained in detail. It might be less taxing on the reader, to introduce less and explain a little more.

There are a few grammatical errors that break up the flow, and, IMO, a little too much telling; however, I would have kept reading because I was intrigued to discover more about the figure approaching through the storm.

One minor, technical, point: Amelda, we are told, is baking a cake; however, Sarrien smells the baking cake before Amelda has poured the cake mixture into the baking tin.
 

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
Joined
May 11, 2018
Messages
95
Location
UK
#3
Thanks @VinceK that's really helpful. Some of these points become clear quite quickly as you go through the chapter and others develop through the book - we've only got 800 words here.

Nevertheless I could quite easily reduce the number of things introduced at this stage. The chest for example has no relevance to the story I was just trying to paint a picture of the house.

In my mind there was more than one cake - a serial baker! Is that confusing?
 

Kerrybuchanan

Delusions of Grammar
Joined
Aug 3, 2014
Messages
2,149
Location
Ballynahinch, County Down
#4
First of all, I have to say I've read far worse beginnings in trad published fiction. Also, you may take or leave my suggestions, and no offence will be taken!

A few general comments, though. Parts of this are lovely and atmospheric, but occasionally you go a little overboard on the adjectives and adverbs. Maybe try to reduce them a little?

Watch your dialogue punctuation. There are numerous great articles in the Toolbox. I don't have time to hunt them down, but I'm pretty sure both @Jo Zebedee and @The Judge have shared really good tips in the past.

Standing alone on the western slope of a small hill was a modest wooden house, all on one floor with a number of clay chimneys sprouting haphazardly from the roof. The hodgepodge of repairs and improvements made over the years gave it the look of a giantcomma angular patchwork quilt. The inside was in keeping with the outside,colon everything tired and worn from decades of use, mended many times but just the right side of broken to be useful Love this. It had a well-loved warm and cosy feel, the type of place that might have been witness to a lifetime of afternoon naps. and this

On this particular September eveningcomma oil lamps lit up the interior with a warm yellow glow as Sarrien Benwick paced up and down, deep in thought, absent-mindedly stroking his short scraggly silver-grey beard.

He walked past the large smoke-stained fireplace, oblivious to the dying embers on the grate, up the slight incline to a dark wooden trunk resting up against the far wall, a deep crack in the wood restrained by black metal bindings, turned round and walked back. A furrowed brow over unfocused blue eyes, he reached his favourite chair next to the fireplace and sat down, stood up and walked back up the slope again.

‘Something wrong dear?’ asked Amelda, Sarrien’s wife, who was making a cake in the kitchen on the far side of the room.

‘Hmmm…’

‘Sarri.’ she raised her voice.

‘Oh it’s nothing, nothing.’

She looked up from beating her cake mixture in a clay bowl cradled in her arm, yellow glazing flaked off the outside.Don't think we need this much info about the cake bowl ‘Nothing? You’ve been restless ever since you got back from the Sanctum.’

Sarrien finally noticed the fire was out, threw a couple of logs onto the hot embers and started prodding at them with a timeworn besides, pokers tend not to change much over time, except for discolouration from the heat poker. ‘Well nothing much anyway.’

Amelda stopped her beatingfull stop ‘Is it this big storm coming? Is that what’s bothering you?’

He stood up from tending the fire and satisfied it was well alight, walked over to the kitchen, the familiar smell of baking emanating from the wood fired oven. He leaned on the side and took a deep breath. I think it'd move on more fluently if you binned most of this.

‘An inspector has turned up, unexpected and uninvited. She was at the Sanctum earlier.’

‘From Phaerox? What for?’

‘Yes from our illustrious capital, a Miss Osfelia Ribbal. As to what she’s here for, I’m not entirely sure, she has been less than forthcoming.’Check your dialogue punctuation. There should be a comma after this dialogue. OR you could remove the 'said' and turn this into an action tag, in which case the full stop should stay he said shifting his weight over to one side. He shifted his weight....

‘They’re not due a visit to the academy are they?’ Amelda asked as she resumed her onslaught on the thick golden-brown cake mixture with a well-practised rhythm.

Sarrien scowled ‘No they’re not. Braytree’s behind thiscomma I’ll bet,full stop she’s questioned what we do here ever since she became Premier.’

‘Maybe she’s interested.’

‘Perhaps but I don’t trust hercomma given how she came to power.comma’ he said with a shake of his head, that ruffled his thinning but still shaggy hair.

‘It can’t be helped now,full stop we’ll just have to hope for the best. Now thencomma that ought to do it.’ Amelda half poured, half spooned the mixture into a blackened baking tin.

‘How far will hope get us? Anyway, I must get back over there and make sure the academy is prepared for the storm, although I’m sure the Cartwrights are on top of everything.’

Sarrien put on his thick hedgal-hide coat and sat down carefully on a rickety three-legged stool to put his boots on. ‘Wellcomma at least we haven’t seen any Storm Warnerscomma’ he saidcomma grabbing his staff from its place next to the door, his hand resting comfortably on the familiar grooved grip. It was scuffed, scratched and what looked like teeth marks were gouged out of the wood; the scars of a long partnership.

‘I may watch the storm from one of the towerscomma so I could be a while.’ he He slid the heavy bolt back and lifted the door latch.

‘I know. Be carefulcomma ’ said Amelda as Sarrien stepped outside, letting in a blast of cold air.

He put his hood up and pulled it tight down around his face to shield himself from the powerful wind. Making his way north, up the narrow stony path that wound its way through the rolling green grounds of the academy, Sarrien’s limp was less noticeable as he leaned into the wind.

After several minutescomma the light grey outline of the Sanctum rose into sight, deceptively diminutive against the cliffs behind. Silhouetted against the backdrop a tall, slender figure further up the path headed in his direction. The figure was closing fast, moving with an unnatural ease, seemingly unaffected by its battle with the wind.

Sarrien progressed more slowly, heart quickening a beat as he gripped his staff a little tighter. The figure continued to move purposefully towards him, its face bound up against the gales. With only a few strides between them, Sarrien stopped and almost imperceptibly moved into a stance. The figure didn’t falter.
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Joined
Nov 10, 2008
Messages
9,988
Location
nearly the New Forest
#5
No time to do a proper critique just yet, though a quick read makes me think this could usefully be trimmed a little as it's a bit flabby. For me, too, that omniscient first para isn't doing the story any favours, and I'd prefer something that was more centred on a close POV, but that's personal taste.

However, to respond to Kerry's point about The Toolbox, there are now two editions -- the original and the essentials. The Toolbox -- Free For All and The Toolbox -- The Important Bits

I'd suggest starting with the latter, which is shorter and less messy, and then if you feel up to it, venture onto the former, which has a lot of posts going off at tangents which can be fun and interesting, but also a bit confusing! Both have Jo's post giving details of dialogue punctuation which will certainly be of help here.
 
Joined
Aug 12, 2016
Messages
254
Location
Hampshire
#6
Thanks @VinceK that's really helpful. Some of these points become clear quite quickly as you go through the chapter and others develop through the book - we've only got 800 words here.

Nevertheless I could quite easily reduce the number of things introduced at this stage. The chest for example has no relevance to the story I was just trying to paint a picture of the house.

In my mind there was more than one cake - a serial baker! Is that confusing?
"we've only got 800 words here."
Precisely :)

"The chest for example has no relevance to the story"
Remember Chekhov's gun :) As Sarrien had taken the trouble to introduce us to the chest, I assumed it had relevance.

"a serial baker!"
It's only a minor point, but you could mention that Amelda is always baking.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast. http://jozebedee.com/newsletter
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
16,270
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
#7
Well done for posting up. Be warned, I have teeth, but if there is anything in this you're not sure about/wincing at/ please feel free to ask about!

Standing alone on the western slope of a small hill was a modest wooden house, all on one floor with a number of clay chimneys sprouting haphazardly from the roof. The hodgepodge of repairs and improvements made over the years gave it the look of a giant angular patchwork quilt. The inside was in keeping with the outside, everything tired and worn from decades of use, mended many times but just the right side of broken to be useful. It had a well-loved warm and cosy feel, the type of place that might have been witness to a lifetime of afternoon naps. This is a risk, starting in the omnipresent, but I'm still with you at this stage. Keeping it short is the key, I think!

On this particular September evening oil lamps lit up the interior with a warm yellow glow as Sarrien Benwick paced up and down, deep in thought, absent-mindedly stroking his short scraggly silver-grey beard. this, though, starts to push it a little, I think. It's not the writing that is the problem, but the story telling elements. So much of this could be introduced through the story, rather than stopping to set the scene in advance, and I think it would be stronger for that.

He walked past the large smoke-stained fireplace, oblivious to the dying embers on the grate, up the slight incline to a dark wooden trunk resting up against the far wall, a deep crack in the wood restrained by black metal bindings, turned round and walked back. A furrowed brow over unfocused blue eyes, he reached his favourite chair next to the fireplace and sat down, stood up and walked back up the slope again.See, this bit is more like what you need - look how much you have shown us through the character actions? The more you can do that, the smoother your story telling will be.

‘Something wrong dear?’ asked Amelda, Sarrien’s wife, And, again, - just some wee storytelling tricks would help you here. "Something wrong, husband-dear?" tells us their relationship without the omnipresent narrator having to pop in and let us know. :) who was making a cake in the kitchen on the far side of the room.

‘Hmmm…’

‘Sarri.’ she raised her voice.Others have mentioned it - in the toolbox there's a post on dialogue punctuation that should help with the punctuation. :)

‘Oh it’s nothing, nothing.’ How is he feeling? Does he not want her to know? Not want to worry her? Think whatever it is, is trivial? Is he conditioned not to share things? Or frightened to? Or is she a bully and he doesn't dare tell her he's lost their income? All these sort of things make the character richer and keep the reader involved - if you can drop the hint, it can also be a hook.

She looked up from beating her cake mixture in a clay bowl cradled in her arm, yellow glazing flaked off the outside nice little bit of detail. ‘Nothing? You’ve been restless ever since you got back from the Sanctum.’

Sarrien finally noticed the fire was out, threw a couple of logs onto the hot embers and started prodding at them with a timeworn poker. ‘Well nothing much anyway.’

Amelda stopped her beating ‘Is it this big storm coming? Is that what’s bothering you?’I think you could cut to the chase much quicker here. Books aren't really about painting the scene as it is but keeping up pace, and here you're getting caught up and not moving things on.

He stood up from tending the fire You could drop this - we know what he was doing and satisfied it was well alight, walked over to the kitchen, the familiar smell of baking emanating from the wood fired oven. He leaned on the side and took a deep breath.

‘An inspector has turned up, unexpected and uninvited. Ah, see, that's your hook. If you can get to this quicker, I think it would be good. She was at the Sanctum earlier.’

‘From Phaerox? What for?’

‘Yes from our illustrious capital, a Miss Osfelia Ribbal. As to what she’s here for, I’m not entirely sure, she has been less than forthcoming.’ he said shifting his weight over to one side.

‘They’re not due a visit to the academy are they?’ Amelda asked as she resumed her onslaught on the thick golden-brown cake mixture with a well-practised rhythm.

Sarrien scowled ‘No they’re not. Braytree’s behind this I’ll bet, she’s questioned what we do here ever since she became Premier.’

‘Maybe she’s interested.’

‘Perhaps but I don’t trust her given how she came to power.’ he said with a shake of his head, that ruffled his thinning but still shaggy hair. This is a bit of a 'you know, Dave' info dump. Try to only pull out what's needed for now - it's okay for us not to know everything and to have questions.

‘It can’t be helped now, we’ll just have to hope for the best. Now then that ought to do it.’ Amelda half poured, half spooned the mixture into a blackened baking tin.

‘How far will hope get us? Anyway, I must get back over there and make sure the academy is prepared for the storm, although I’m sure the Cartwrights are on top of everything.’

So, what I have here is that someone has arrived and there are some politics behind it. What I don't have - and would like to have - is what the stakes are. What can this inspector do that threatens your characters? That's what I care about, not the politics or chit-chat.

Sarrien put on his thick hedgal-hide coat and sat down carefully on a rickety three-legged stool to put his boots on. ‘Well at least we haven’t seen any Storm Warners’ he said grabbing his staff from its place next to the door, his hand resting comfortably on the familiar grooved grip. It was scuffed, scratched and what looked like teeth marks were gouged out of the wood; the scars of a long partnership.

‘I may watch the storm from one of the towers so I could be a while.’ he slid the heavy bolt back and lifted the door latch.

‘I know. Be careful’ said Amelda as Sarrien stepped outside, letting in a blast of cold air.

He put his hood up and pulled it tight down around his face to shield himself from the powerful wind. Making his way north, up the narrow stony path that wound its way through the rolling green grounds of the academy, Sarrien’s limp was less noticeable as he leaned into the wind.

After several minutes the light grey outline of the Sanctum rose into sight, deceptively diminutive against the cliffs behind. Silhouetted against the backdrop a tall, slender figure further up the path headed in his direction. The figure was closing fast, moving with an unnatural ease, seemingly unaffected by its battle with the wind.

Sarrien progressed more slowly, heart quickening a beat as he gripped his staff a little tighter. The figure continued to move purposefully towards him, its face bound up against the gales. With only a few strides between them, Sarrien stopped and almost imperceptibly moved into a stance. The figure didn’t falter.
Okay, I think this has quite a lot of promise. But I do think there are story telling bits in it that could work harder for you - telling us less, getting to the stakes quicker, and cutting some of the padding out. Also, I felt character interaction was lacking. Her husband went out to a storm, but Amelda doesn't kiss him, or do up his coat collar, or anything to show she cares. That makes me feel either the storm isn't that danger (reducing your conflict) or they don't care about each other. If the latter, I want to know why because that's not the way it felt throughout.

For me, then it's both needing to be quicker to get into the story and slower to get into the characters. Which is possibly really confusing :(
 

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
Joined
May 11, 2018
Messages
95
Location
UK
#8
Okay so not a disaster but I clearly don't understand how to punctuate dialogue - I will learn.

@Kerrybuchanan thanks for the really helpful feedback, I can already see my way to removing a healthy slug of adjectives and adverbs. I think I've been too focused in the opening on painting a picture rather than getting on with the story. Thankfully my overuse of adjectives and adverbs doesn't appear to manifest in the rest of my book.

@Jo Zebedee again thanks for the thoughtful feedback which was fine - no teeth marks in my hide. :giggle:. Some really good observations here. If I've grasped the essence of it; there is insufficient focus on the point of the scene - what I am trying to convey. Also the point on lack of human interaction is great, something which could well be lacking throughout my draft. I will add it to my ever-growing list of editing fixes!
 

Kerrybuchanan

Delusions of Grammar
Joined
Aug 3, 2014
Messages
2,149
Location
Ballynahinch, County Down
#9

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
Messages
1,783
#10
Don't worry Novice - I didn't understand how to punctuate dialogue when I started out here either and I got no death threats from my critiquers on that subject last time around. (The less said about the rest of my grammar the better...)

As for your work -

I like your voice and I like your attempt to frame. However, there are two notable places where this piece could be stronger imo:

The first is the adjectives. This piece is overwritten for my tastes - there's too much definition of each individual thing. Just in terms of the household goods: We have “black metal bindings”, “yellow glazing flaked off the outside”, “timeworn poker”, “wood fired oven”, “blackened baking tin”, “rickety three-legged stool” - these things slow the pace of the narrative and they're not necessary. They're not necessary because you've already gone to some lengths to establish what the feel of the place is: we know that there's going to be tired and worn things there. Trust us to carry that picture in our head with minimal reminder. Now, I know this is aimed at YA so maybe the standards are for more adjectives there, but I can't think there's that many more adjectives.

The second is focus. Because there's there so many elements introduced in such a short period, I'm a bit confused as to what's going to be important, what the scenario is. I also don't get a good sense of who Sarrien is. As such, it lacks the clarity to draw me into the story. I think the story would benefit from reducing the number of elements introduced so quickly and concentrating more on what elements you do introduce at this point.
 

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
Joined
May 11, 2018
Messages
95
Location
UK
#11
@The Big Peat thanks for the critique. That seems pretty consistent with the other feedback. I've deliberately tried to avoid info dumping but the balance seems wrong. Less elements and more focus on developing what is retained is the message I'm receiving (without the adverbs and adjectives).
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Joined
Nov 10, 2008
Messages
9,988
Location
nearly the New Forest
#12
This is me, paying the price of staying away so long from Chrons that the whole structure has changed without me noticing.
Not at all! I only faffed around with copying things across to the Essentials thread in July, and there wasn't any kind of announcement about it then, so probably only a handful of people on Chrons know what I did! (And Welcome Back! Hope things are going well for you.)
 

Similar threads

Top