YA Fantasy Book 2 opening second attempt

Plucky Novice

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Thanks for the critiques a week or so back. I've revised the opening based on the feedback which hopefully will have made it a bit punchier and removed the perceived POV issues.

As always, all thoughts welcomed.

********

Danny ducked as he sensed the cobblestone hurtling towards his head. He felt the wind ruffle his hair as it hurtled past and span round to snatch another out of the air.

A half dozen men stalked him. Hard, angular men with quarry dust thick on their clothes. One stood proud of the others, thick stubble on his face and a broken bottle in his grip. A vicious curved scar disfigured the taut muscles of his forearm. Ralendek’s deniers.

They looked serious this time. Danny’s eyes flitted around, searching for his escape route but the narrow street finished in a dead end a couple of dozen strides behind him. He didn’t suppose he could convince his attackers he was there to save them.

He’d have to take them on. He reached instinctively up his back, hand closing on thin air. A sickening grew in his stomach and he swallowed. Without a weapon he was only a boy facing a lynch mob. No, he was a Stoneborn facing a lynch mob. Maybe he could get away.

The men advanced cautiously, reducing the gap to a dozen strides. He stood fast, holding his nerve; if he backed off he’d have no room to move.

‘Nowhere to run boy,’ the man with the broken bottle said with a sneer of satisfaction.

‘We’re gonna snuff you out Stoneborn,’ yelled another, brandishing a makeshift club.

Danny steeled himself, desperate not to shake, not to show fear. He hefted the cobblestone in his hand, feeling its weight. Six strides. He dropped into a stance, trying to keep focus as his heart pounded in his ears. The men moved up on the flanks to catch him in a pincer. Three strides. A bead of sweat trickled down Danny’s temple. Just a little closer; his instincts screamed at him to run. The men hesitated outside of strike range. He whipped his arm through and released the stone.

‘No-’ The rest of the word evaporated in a muffled scream as the cobblestone smashed through teeth on its way into the lead man’s mouth. Danny turned and sprinted down the street towards the dead end. Heavy foot falls thundered behind him as the mob took chase. He glanced to the doors lining the street but none were open.

Just before he reached the end, Danny swerved hard to the left and jumped high up the end wall. He ran his feet up as he angled his body away and sprang off towards the side wall. High out of reach of his pursuers, Danny’s momentum towards the wall afforded him a couple of strides to pass over their heads before gravity caught up. He landed on his feet, a hand finding the ground for balance and charged back down the street. He skipped easily round a half-hearted tackle from the lead man. Shards of glass crunched under Danny’s feet and he winced as he saw blood escaping from the man’s mouth.

‘You won’t get away this time,’ a shout came from behind, ‘We’re not gonna let you bring war upon us.’

More yells from the pursuing men spurred Danny on. He hooked a lamp post to slingshot himself round the corner as he raced out of the street and into another. He had to make it back to the Stone Circles pub or at least somewhere busier. He skidded round a tight corner into the next turnoff, hoping his pursuers would lose sight of him. But they were quarry workers; fit, strong and in their prime. He wasn’t losing them.

He desperately tried to plot his route but couldn’t focus beyond the terror engulfing him as he hurtled down the short streets, taking turn after turn. The streets opened up, becoming wider with less houses and more space between them. The outskirts of Amicas. He’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and on the broader thoroughfare he could hear the drum of feet getting closer. He couldn’t out run them, not in a straight race. The heads of their early morning shadows bobbed next to him, steadily gaining.

He took a sharp change of direction and cut off between two houses, coming out on scrub land with more houses on the other side. Not much better. He willed his tired legs on, adrenalin pushing aside the burn in his muscles. He stumbled on the uneven ground but kept his feet, closing in on a fence before the buildings opposite.

He couldn’t hesitate, the fall of footsteps had thinned but at least two kept up the chase. Chest high, he launched himself at the top of the fence, grasped the rough wood in his hands and pulled. Flying horizontally through the air he cleared the fence, hit the ground in a roll and sprang out of it to find his feet, still moving.

Danny risked a glance behind, two men slowed to vault the fence. They breathed hard, their faces fixed in grim determination. He scampered between the houses and out onto the street turning back to the centre of Amicas.

‘Alright Danny,’ Scarlet’s familiar tones called out from behind him. He skidded to a halt and whirled round. ‘Out training again?’ she asked ambling along, a brace of adult priggins dangling from her belt, a strap slung over her shoulder.

‘Deniers. Run!’ Danny shouted, sucking in great lungfuls of air. He made to set off again. Scarlet didn’t move to follow. ‘Scarlet!’

The two pursuing men charged out of the gap between the houses. They barely registered Scarlet as their eyes found Danny and they slowed to approach, one armed with a makeshift mace and the other a wickedly curved knife, the rusty blade dull in the sunlight.

‘Stop.’ The authority in Scarlet’s voice halted the men’s progress and they glanced in her direction. The glance turned into a fearful stare as they looked down the shaft of a crossbow bolt, loaded and ready to fire.

Scarlet manoeuvred round the pair to put herself between them and Danny. Her aim remained as unflinching as the men’s fixation on the crossbow. No one moved. A dozen strides separated the two pairs; a standoff. Danny scoured the ground for some kind of weapon but found only dirt.

The man with the knife began to advance, ‘Out of the way girlie, we all know you’re not going to shoot.’

‘Girlie?!’ Scarlet resettled her cheek against the crossbow, ‘Another step and I’ll put this bolt through you.’

‘I don’t think so,’ the man said and took another step.
 

tinkerdan

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You have some filtering in your writing that might be slowing things down.
Things like look or looked and feel or felt and even sensed.

For instance your first paragraph.
Danny ducked as he sensed the cobblestone hurtling towards his head. He felt the wind ruffle his hair as it hurtled past and span round to snatch another out of the air.
Could easily read:

Danny ducked as a cobblestone hurled toward his head, its wind ruffle his hair and he span round to snatch another out of the air.

There are more and you could tighten the writing by being more aware of them.

Otherwise its a good and active scene.
 

Plucky Novice

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You have some filtering in your writing that might be slowing things down.
Things like look or looked and feel or felt and even sensed.

For instance your first paragraph.


Could easily read:

Danny ducked as a cobblestone hurled toward his head, its wind ruffle his hair and he span round to snatch another out of the air.

There are more and you could tighten the writing by being more aware of them.

Otherwise its a good and active scene.
Thanks for the critique.

The first "sensed" is deliberate - he doesn't see or hear it coming.

The "felt" in your example I deliberated over before including so it's useful to get this perspective. In my last posting I received feedback to shorten sentences. That led to keeping this as two and I included "felt" to make sense of the second sentence. I prefer your construct but it's a longer sentence and less punchy. Damned if you do...

"Look/looked" are words that I wrestle with to minimise in my writing, otherwise I'd be drowning in them. There are actually only two "looked", one "felt" and one "sensed" in about 1080 words. Perhaps this is still too high a frequency of use if you picked up on it.
 

tinkerdan

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If the intent is to suggest some sort of 'talent'.
Perhaps this:

Danny sensed a cobblestone hurling toward his head and sidestepped. Its wind ruffled his hair as he span round to snatch the next out of the air.

Keep it in logical order--sense then react. I think spinning after sidestepping might be easier than ducking and sidestepping; however that's all quibbling on my part.
 

L.L.Lotte

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I was going to comment on the first line as well but I see Tinkerdan has bet me to it, and agree completely with him. It's awkward, and the description in both sentences is so similar to each other that it feels like repetition. The use of hurtled/hurtling is the biggest cause of this.

As for the rest of it...

They looked serious this time. Danny’s eyes flitted around, searching for his escape route but the narrow street finished in a dead end a couple of dozen strides behind him. He didn’t suppose he could convince his attackers he was there to save them.

He’d have to take them on. He reached instinctively up his back, hand closing on thin air. A sickening grew in his stomach and he swallowed. Without a weapon he was only a boy facing a lynch mob. No, he was a Stoneborn facing a lynch mob. Maybe he could get away.
These two paragraphs bothered me. You see, at first he realises it is a dead end, then thinks he will have to stand and fight, but then at the end of the paragraph he is wondering if he can get away when he already seemed to decide there was no apparent escape. This is made worse by not following up with the searching for an escape path and immediately return to him standing his ground.

Danny steeled himself, desperate not to shake, not to show fear. He hefted the cobblestone in his hand, feeling its weight. Six strides. He dropped into a stance, trying to keep focus as his heart pounded in his ears. The men moved up on the flanks to catch him in a pincer. Three strides. A bead of sweat trickled down Danny’s temple. Just a little closer; his instincts screamed at him to run. The men hesitated outside of strike range. He whipped his arm through and released the stone.
Where is he going to run? It's a dead end. Maybe I'm just being difficult, but it's probably because he stopped running and turned to face them before actually getting to the dead end, instead of running until he couldn't run anymore, unable to find an escape.

If I was in his situation I probably would have kept running, trying the doors and then over the wall before even considering to stop and fight.


‘Stop.’ The authority in Scarlet’s voice halted the men’s progress and they glanced in her direction. The glance turned into a fearful stare as they looked down the shaft of a crossbow bolt, loaded and ready to fire.

Scarlet manoeuvred round the pair to put herself between them and Danny. Her aim remained as unflinching as the men’s fixation on the crossbow. No one moved. A dozen strides separated the two pairs; a standoff. Danny scoured the ground for some kind of weapon but found only dirt.

The man with the knife began to advance, ‘Out of the way girlie, we all know you’re not going to shoot.’
They are afraid of the crossbow, yet without any change in their fear, they go on to insult the woman pointing a deadly weapon at them. I think a cautious stare, rather than fearful, would be better used here. Because they aren't really afraid of her, based on follow up actions.
 

Plucky Novice

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@L.L.Lotte thanks for the comments.

Hurtling/hurtled a good spot. I think I've gone word blind at this stage. Too many revisions. I should have read it aloud.

I think the problem line is "take them on". I hadn't necessarily intended this to mean he'd fight them all but that he couldn't just run away. I could easily lose this line though.

It would be interesting to hear other opinions on your point on the crossbow. I think everyone is scared when they're looking at the sharp end. Once they realise it's held by a teenage girl I think they can overcome that fear and rationalise it away. They are also trying to convince her she won't shoot, to put doubt in her mind. Hence the behaviours.
 

HareBrain

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This is an improvement, but could do with some more smoothing and clarifying. Some examples:

Danny ducked as he sensed the cobblestone hurtling towards his head.
I think "towards the back of his head" might clear up some of the confusion with this.

He felt the wind ruffle his hair as it hurtled past and span round to snatch another out of the air.
This is a bit ambiguous, as the "it" that is hurtling past reads as being the same thing that then spins round. Also, the "it" could be the hair, or the wind. Logically, we know what you mean, but it takes an unnecessary moment longer to get there.

Also, why does he snatch the second stone out of the air, rather than just ducking it, which would surely be easier? Is he showing off?

Danny’s eyes flitted around, searching for his escape route but the narrow street finished in a dead end a couple of dozen strides behind him. He didn’t suppose he could convince his attackers he was there to save them.
Why was he heading for a dead end when he was attacked? If he was making for a doorway further along nearer the end, why can't he escape that way?

Keep it in logical order--sense then react.
Good advice -- with instinctive reaction before conscious/logical reaction. It really does make a difference if you get this order right, especially in an action scene.
 

Plucky Novice

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Really helpful as always @HareBrain.

I've got the logical order point registered. This was correct originally but I lost it in the edit.

Snatching the stone from the air: it's easier to dodge one projectile than two (try playing dodge ball). Also does this matter? This is foreshadowing a future event but it isn't critical.

Why was he heading for a dead end when he was attacked?
This was explained in the earlier draft (he was training in a quiet street) but feedback was to remove it as it wasn't realistic from a pov perspective.
 

Bruce MacLean

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I liked the scene, good action and I'm intrigued to see where it goes from here.

Beyond the comments above that you've already noted, I found 'dozen strides' mentioned three times (the first was 'a couple of dozen strides'). Are any other stride lengths available? :unsure:

Cheers.
 

Plucky Novice

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I liked the scene, good action and I'm intrigued to see where it goes from here.

Beyond the comments above that you've already noted, I found 'dozen strides' mentioned three times (the first was 'a couple of dozen strides'). Are any other stride lengths available? :unsure:

Cheers.
Thanks Bruce.

I may switch to the "Standard British Stride" and possibly a baker's dozen. A good spot, in fact "dozen" comes up four times. Too many and I am now going to have to see how many more of the sneaky devils have made it into my writing.
 

Jo Zebedee

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This mostly worked well for me, except the opening paragraph:

Danny ducked as he sensed the cobblestone hurtling towards his head. This would be much more immediate if you dropped the filters (which doesn't help as it's also not clear - I coudln't work out how he sensed it: corner of the eye, heard something, a displacement of wind) eg Danny ducked at the cobblestone hurtled towards his head, close enough to ruffle his air. He span and snatched another out of the air.
 

Plucky Novice

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This mostly worked well for me, except the opening paragraph:

Danny ducked as he sensed the cobblestone hurtling towards his head. This would be much more immediate if you dropped the filters (which doesn't help as it's also not clear - I coudln't work out how he sensed it: corner of the eye, heard something, a displacement of wind) eg Danny ducked at the cobblestone hurtled towards his head, close enough to ruffle his air. He span and snatched another out of the air.
Thanks Jo.

This is my latest version to address action sequencing - i.e. sense then duck, not vice versa.

"Danny sensed the cobblestone hurtling towards the back of his head and ducked. Its wind ruffled his hair as he span round to snatch another out of the air."

Although now I read it again I don't like "hair" and "air".

He doesn't sense it conventionally; he's not like you and I. The idea of this was to hook the reader into wondering what was happening but it seems to cause confusion (if you'd read book 1 it would be fine but I'm trying to make this accessible without book 1 being a pre-requisite).
 
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