First scene of my fantasy book.

therapist

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Just finished writing my book. It is an adventure fantasy story about mushrooms. The title will be 'The Mushroom Forest' or 'Enter the Godshroom' I haven't decided. Here's the first scene i've been touching up. I've included a map, (this is a very rough version of the map) but I think it gets the image across that I want the reader to have before reading.
All critiques, thoughts, impressions are very much welcomed and appreciated.

map.png


The mushroom market of Jamala was bustling with its normal afternoon crowds. Merchants stalked the lines of stalls, hunting the best deals on dried mushrooms to sell in distant cities. Locals swaggered through in large numbers, selecting their favourite varieties for dinner. And tourists interrupted the steady flow of customers to goggle at all the stacks of fresh and colourful shrooms as if they were of another world.

Amongst the hundreds of stalls, Caruso’s stall seemed to be forgotten by the passing crowds. He wasn’t sure why. There was certainly nothing wrong with his mushrooms. His display boasted a popular selection of both Zone 1 edible shrooms, and Zone 2 medicinal shrooms. He hadn’t gathered them himself, but whoever had, clearly knew what they were doing. His honeyfungus had that shiny lacquered appearance that only the sweetest shrooms attained. His firetongues were plump and bright red and spicy enough to ruin your day. His sourcaps infused the air with a sharp medicinal tang. And his silverstems dripped with sticky silver ichor—just a thimblefull would soothe the sorest of throats.

But no one seemed to care. All week, Caruso had managed an embarrassingly small number of sales. He was starting to suspect there was more to this selling game than just sitting behind his display. Whatever it was, he had till the end of the day to figure it out, otherwise he knew Bozi would fire him.

When Bozi had allotted Caruso one of his stalls, he hadn’t given any real instructions, just told him that it was simple, that anyone can sell shrooms. Everyday since, Caruso had proven him wrong. He was starting to wonder if everyone in Jamala was conspiring to see him fail. Even the trusty library had let him down. He’d hoped to find some book or scroll detailing the strategies for selling at markets, but no such books or scrolls existed. Caruso would have to figure this out himself if he wished to avoid the look of disappointment on Bozi’s face—it was a look Caruso was becoming well accustomed to.

He watched the stalls around him, trying to understand why each one worked. The stall on his left was always popular. Run by a pretty doe-eyed girl, it was no great mystery why so many men flocked to her stall. Caruso himself was tempted to buy a few of her shrooms just for an excuse to make eye contact with her. The stall on his right was run by an older woman who spat on the ground every few minutes. Despite this, she had an uncanny ability to talk any passerby into a sale.

The man opposite relied on obnoxiously yelling out every variety of mushroom in his display, pitching his voice far above the background din of the market. The noise grated on Caruso. And so too did his success. Many crowded around the man’s stall as if he were putting on a show and buying his shrooms was the price of admission. Once, during a rare lull in his performance, Caruso had courageously attempted his strategy. It resulted in a memory he was determined to keep buried.

Other stalls achieved their success by luring customers with something unique and exciting. A common tactic was to roast spiceshrooms over a charcoal brazier. The smoke would smudge the air and fill it with that savoury, peppery aroma, attracting market goers like shroommoths to a purpleveil. Another popular tactic was to hand off sugarstems or berryshrooms to children and force their parents to pay. Caruso couldn’t see himself pulling that one off.

There were stalls that focused solely on Zone 2 medicinal shrooms. The most successful of these seemed to think they were licenced doctors, and gave wildly optimistic prescriptions for shrooms that did little more than soothe a belly ache or reduce a fever. And some stalls didn’t sell any mushrooms at all, but focused instead on mushroom leather and offered a range of boots and coats made from mycelium fabric.

Every stall found something that worked for them. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing. Everyone but Caruso. He wished Bozi had told him what to do, rather than letting him struggle on his own.

A tourist, wrapped in a dirty shawl, cast a disinterested eye over Caruso’s display. Buy something! Caruso willed at him. But the old woman to his right snagged his attention. Caruso strained an ear to listen in.
‘What are you after?’ asked the old woman.
‘You got any sourcaps?’
‘I have red parasols, they are much better. How many do you want?’ The woman spat on the ground.

The customer looked dumbly at her display, no doubt ready to buy whatever was suggested. Caruso considered telling him about his own supply of sourcaps, or that red parasols were a completely different thing. But it seemed a bit rude to steal her customer. The last thing he wanted was to make things awkward. He waited until the customer finished purchasing her red parasols, then decided to strike.

‘Uh…excuse me, sir?’ Caruso called out before the man walked away. ‘I have sourcaps.’
‘I’m good. I just bought me some red parasols, apparently they’re better.’
‘They are two completely different things.’
‘Nice try, lad. I ain't no sucker.’
Caruso took a deep breath. ‘I’m being honest, sir. Taste one of your red parasols, it will be bitter—not sour. They have none of the anti-inflammatory properties that sourcaps have. They do make a great tea, though.’
The man nibbled one of his parasols, gave the woman a glare, then examined Caruso’s sourcaps. ‘Alright then. I’ll give you 2gil a pop.’
‘Um…Sorry, sir. These are 3gil each.’
‘Well, I’m buying in bulk, so I’ll need a discount.’
Caruso’s heart leapt. ‘If you buy in bulk, I can do 2gil each. How many would you like?’
‘Five.’
‘Just five?’
‘S’what I said.’
‘But five isn’t “bulk”.’
‘I don’t give a sh*t what you think,’ the man slapped 10gil down, and helped himself to five sourcaps.

Am I being robbed? Caruso considered calling out for the nearest Forester guard. The Foresters were trustworthy. They ruled over Jamala and the mushroom forest, and controlled the trade of mushrooms. But Caruso didn't want to bother them with such a small discrepancy. He recorded the sale in the ledger and tried to forget about it.
 
It is an adventure fantasy story about mushrooms.
OK, well, that's original.

A few quick comments. The unusual focus on mushrooms drew me in, and the low-stakes tribulations of the MC were I thought quite welcome compared with the usual grab-by-the-throat opening. I think something fairly important to get the proper story started is due right after the end of this opening, though, otherwise it will overstay its welcome.

I would also like some hint of why Bozi hired Caruso, and why Caruso wanted a job he seems so ill-suited for.

The descriptions of the other stalls and how they operate perhaps go on too long. I would pick three. (It's often good to have three examples of something, not more unless you really need them.)

Finally, I appreciated the dry humour, such as this:
Once, during a rare lull in his performance, Caruso had courageously attempted his strategy. It resulted in a memory he was determined to keep buried.
(It was a good decision not to then detail the memory.)
 
My first impression was completely wrong, I think. When you introduced this as "an adventure fantasy story about mushrooms" I assumed the mushrooms were the characters. I thought the map showed their village radiating out, and the mushroom market was their place of commerce where mushroom people sold stuff to other mushroom people.

And when you wrote "stalked the lines of stalls," I figured that was a deliberate mushroom pun and prepared myself for more of the same.

But now I'm not so sure- this story seems to be about humans whose economy is centered on mushroom agriculture, yes?

Either way, cool idea! I like your writing style- it makes effective use of the whimsical mushroom names and paints a vivid picture of this bazaar. The characters have distinct personalities, even in such a short time. And even though Caruso's stakes aren't fully fleshed out (what's the big deal if he gets fired? Why does he need this job so much?) I still found him likable and relatable and wanted to see him make a sale.

I agree with Harebrain, though- I'd shorten the length of the intro just a bit (you can always use the cut material in later scenes) because I started to skim about halfway down.
 
One thing I would like to see in addition to what Harebrain and Outtalnc stated is more of a focus on Caruso. More on his thoughts and emotions as well as what the other characters are seeing about Caruso that make them just walk by him. Is it his voice, his looks and demeanor? There is something that the reader does not know to form an emotional connection to him, other than the want to see him make a sale.

It is obvious that Caruso can't haggle or assert himself to make a sale, but he seems to have more knowledge of about the mushrooms than we are being led to believe. That could be a good reason as to why he can't make a sale possibly?

Overall, a good story and looking forward to reading more!
 
Thanks for all the nice and helpful comments.
The descriptions of the other stalls and how they operate perhaps go on too long. I would pick three.
Yeah, I was anticipating this comment. When I was writing it, I deluded myself into thinking it was too interesting to cut.
I assumed the mushrooms were the characters.
That made me laugh. Sorry for the confusion. That must've been a weird and confusing time for you.
One thing I would like to see in addition to what Harebrain and Outtalnc stated is more of a focus on Caruso.
Yes I think I went too much into describing the stalls and the mushrooms, but the reader cares more about learning about the character.

One thing I thought I would get flagged for, is how passive this opening is. Caruso doesn't really do anything until the 10th paragraph. Is that a problem? I recently watched a youtube video of literary agents live critiquing first pages, and they seemed to be very turned off when the first paragraph doesn't immedietly ground the reader in the character as they do something in the scene.
 
Caruso doesn't really do anything until the 10th paragraph.
I am guilty of doing this with my MC too. The first half of chapter one my MC was an emotionless stick figure. The story actually read better without him! So now I am redoing it to more focus on my MC, and how to make my MC grab the reader's attention somehow in the first paragraph.

You know, before I joined Chrons, I would just read novels for the fun of it. But after spending time here I find myself studding novels more than reading them ...Go figure!:rolleyes:
 
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One thing I thought I would get flagged for, is how passive this opening is. Caruso doesn't really do anything until the 10th paragraph. Is that a problem? I recently watched a youtube video of literary agents live critiquing first pages, and they seemed to be very turned off when the first paragraph doesn't immedietly ground the reader in the character as they do something in the scene.
Agents don't necessarily read books in the same way as the rest of us (or as me, anyway). As I said, yours felt quite a refreshing change. Most openings, however subtly, scream "please like me!" (including mine, very likely). Yours didn't seem to care if I liked it or not, it was just there. In a weird way, that made it more attractive. Possibly (I might be overthinking this) it put me under less pressure as a reader.

That said, if you're planning to send it to agents, it's a good idea to pay attention to what they say. But how you would change this story opening to fit what they said in the video, I'm not sure.
 
I finished reading it, but I had to push myself to do it. For me, the paragraphs before he began talking told too much instead of showing. It would have been better if the descriptions of the shrooms was put in conversations the main character took part with other characters. There isn't a description of Caruso, whom I'm guessing is a young adult human male. Also, when I read the word shrooms, I prepared myself for one of them to be an illegal psychedelic. Bad me, you probably don't want one of the mushrooms to be that in your tale.

One good thing about the story was the sentences weren't too long. Each sentence could be easily read.

Will it need to be rewritten? Yes. However, the tale has potential. One thing you need to clarify is if the forests are all mushrooms with no plants, why is that? In this fantasy like others, you need to make sure the science is right. Good luck with writing your tale.
 
So now I am redoing it to more focus on my MC, and how to make my MC grab the reader's attention somehow in the first paragraph.
I'm going to do the same thing. My favourite book openings are ones that are very focused and grounded on the character.

For me, the paragraphs before he began talking told too much instead of showing.
Thanks for pushing through! I agree with your notes completely. Too passive and telly.
Also, when I read the word shrooms, I prepared myself for one of them to be an illegal psychedelic. Bad me, you probably don't want one of the mushrooms to be that in your tale.
Yeah, I assumed people would think about psychedelic mushrooms. I don't have them in the book, thought including them would be a bit lame, and feel too much like an unwanted easter egg.
 
Big picture:

The good: The sketch of the marketplace is drawn well. I get an impression of an honest but timid merchant who may not be cut out for this line of work (and since we are expecting a story, I anticipate something is going to happen soon).

The (only slightly) bad: I know it's not enough words to snag an audience, but I did worry about the lack of payoff. I was hoping that the dirty shawled stranger was going to be the inciting incident (and they still could be) but nothing happened.

I don't want to be one of those people who want a relentless pace in their books, but I wonder if a bit more could be happening or alluded to. Some hint of the wider world perhaps, some hint of the merchant's *real* dreams. Some hint of evil or adventure afoot. I'm expecting the timid merchant will soon be swept up in a grand adventure, but I'm still waiting.

The writing was very good. The only bit that bothered me was:
But the old woman to his right snagged his attention.
"his" is confusing here. Perhaps But, the old woman to his right snagged the stranger's attention.

Look forward to more samples if you post them!
 
I really enjoyed the opening. I too thought, from your intro, that it was to be a story of mushroom-people. But nothing in the story suggested that.

The map was not helpful to me. In fact, unless there is a big reveal related to the bullseye you are creating - maybe there is a something at the center - then it is distracting. There is no place in the world that has perfect concentric circles like that. I'm vaguely curious why edible and medicinal mushrooms cannot grow either together or apart in a more natural configuration. But also kinda annoyed by the map. Can't we have a mushroom culture without a MacGuffin at the center of a bullseye making it happen?

I personally liked the various stall descriptions. The idea of mushroom leather is curious and exciting. A chef friend of mine once emphasized that mushrooms when properly prepared are a replacement for meat. I can imagine this a world where nobody would think of killing and eating another animal. But, that memory came with the mushroom leather.

I look forward to reading more.
 
Some hint of the wider world perhaps, some hint of the merchant's *real* dreams. Some hint of evil or adventure afoot. I'm expecting the timid merchant will soon be swept up in a grand adventure, but I'm still waiting.
Thanks for your feedback! I believe everything you mention gets dealt with immediately folling this. (Bozi returns, fires Caruso, and sends him into the mushroom forest (which we find out is where Caruso really wants to be))
"his" is confusing here. Perhaps But, the old woman to his right snagged the stranger's attention.
Good catch.

Thanks for all your notes. @Cthulhu.Science

The map was not helpful to me.
This was helpful. I was hoping the map would create some immediate interest and mystery, as to what is in beyond Zone 2 and why we don't know. But I guess it's not really doing that. As for the circles, mushrooms do grow in circles in nature, that was part of the inspiration for my world.
 
Hello @therapist , am late to the game but I liked it and had no problem reading down. As opposed to @HareBrain the
It resulted in a memory he was determined to keep buried.
bit threw me, seemed like a piece of the background plot I missed or something. Like @Cthulhu.Science I'd say lose the map -I thought it did a big disservice to the text (some sort of 'Where's Wally' styled thing with the stalls sketched in would be great I reckon, but am no expert).
Fair play, great work
 
Hello Therapist and everyone else. This is my first post on this site. I used to be a regular at IMdb Shop Talk Writers till the site was sold and the new owners shut down the forums. I was done with writing at the time (or so I thought), but still missed that place and now that I'm writing again, I've been looking for a similar second home. I've eyeballed a couple of sites, but to me this forum looks the best bet. The excerpt by Therapist above convinced me.

Let me preface, Therapist, by saying, "Sorry." I'm probably going to be far too hard of a marker. That's not because I didn't enjoy the excerpt. I did and I think you have a strong premise, if you can exploit it fully. Which, IMO, should be the second thing you think about after conceiving your premise or concept.... ie, how can I most fully exploit the idea I have? That said, I don't know your plans, but trust you will squeeze every ounce of shroom juice you can out of this idea.

As to the excerpt and writing itself... Your prose strikes me as being a little on the callow side (don't let that put you off, we were all there at some point). I think a lot of my feeling comes down to word choice. but there are other issues. Let's look at the opening paras...

The mushroom market of Jamala was bustling with its normal afternoon crowds. Merchants stalked the lines of stalls, hunting the best deals on dried mushrooms to sell in distant cities. Locals swaggered through in large numbers, selecting their favourite varieties for dinner. And tourists interrupted the steady flow of customers to goggle at all the stacks of fresh and colourful shrooms as if they were of another world.

I think your opening line could do more work. I'm not a fan of "normal" here and I'm not sure why "crowds" is pluralized. You keep that consistent in later paras, but it strikes me as consistently wrong. You need to be talking about more than one crowd, which infers more than one place or perhaps time. "Stalk" and "swagger" are poor verb choices; they don't convey the connotations I think you are going for. Are the locals shopping in large groups or do they just make up a majority of the crowd? "Selecting" again doesn't work for me, maybe because you put them in motion in the first clause, not sure. And then "tourists"? This strikes me as an anachronism unless this is a feature of your world. How do they interrupt the flow? Are they blocking it? Are they tour groups standing in numbers?

Amongst the hundreds of stalls, Caruso’s stall seemed to be forgotten by the passing crowds. He wasn’t sure why. There was certainly nothing wrong with his mushrooms. His display boasted a popular selection of both Zone 1 edible shrooms, and Zone 2 medicinal shrooms. He hadn’t gathered them himself, but whoever had, clearly knew what they were doing. His honeyfungus had that shiny lacquered appearance that only the sweetest shrooms attained. His firetongues were plump and bright red and spicy enough to ruin your day. His sourcaps infused the air with a sharp medicinal tang. And his silverstems dripped with sticky silver ichor—just a thimblefull would soothe the sorest of throats.

Hundreds
of stalls? Seems a stretch. Is ignored (or something similar) more accurate than "forgotten"? Is this the right place to give expository about Zones 1 & 2? Seems clunky. At this point with normal and tourists and hundreds and zones, I'm really grasping to place when and where the story is. You can find a better word than "attained." "Infuse" again is slightly off. It means to fill something. Thimbleful has only one L.

But no one seemed to care. All week, Caruso had managed an embarrassingly small number of sales. He was starting to suspect there was more to this selling game than just sitting behind his display. Whatever it was, he had till the end of the day to figure it out, otherwise he knew Bozi would fire him.

I think you can do that second sentence better justice. "Mustered might be better than "managed" for example. "Behind his display" could be simply replaced with "here," and it would probably be more effective too. Does he know he would be fired? Has he been warned? Prior knowledge? "Was sure" indicates belief rather than knowledge; something along those lines might be better.

When Bozi had allotted Caruso one of his stalls, he hadn’t given any real instructions, just told him that it was simple, that anyone can sell shrooms. Everyday since, Caruso had proven him wrong. He was starting to wonder if everyone in Jamala was conspiring to see him fail. Even the trusty library had let him down. He’d hoped to find some book or scroll detailing the strategies for selling at markets, but no such books or scrolls existed. Caruso would have to figure this out himself if he wished to avoid the look of disappointment on Bozi’s face—it was a look Caruso was becoming well accustomed to.

Allotting Caruso a stall implies the produce is Caruso's, the stall Bozi's. What actually happened? Did he hire Caruso as a seller? "Everyday" should be two words here. You should just have Caruso wonder if, rather than telling us he was starting to. "Trusty library" is weak, you can do better to give us an image of the library and since we have few visual specifics about his world, you kind of owe it to the reader. "Dusty" would be better than "trusty," for eg. Books and scrolls have me wondering about time and place again (not for the last time either, lol). Before he was worried about being fired and now he's simply worried about a look of disappointment? And why does Bozi's disappointment matter to him? I'm not a high-ranking officer in the grammar gestapo but I think "well accustomed" should be hyphenated here.

I'd continue this way with the rest, but that would be somewhat unkind and I think you get the point. Go through the remainder with a fine-toothed comb, because there are some poor choices in the latter half of the excerpt too (for eg "discrepancy). The medical stuff and anti-inflammatory are going to be problematic, depending on what the setting really is. Now that's probably something I'd personally ignore till a late re-draft, TTYTT, and hope a better way occurs to me in the meantime. You might, for eg, want to reserve predominant use of Latin-rooted words for the medicinal descriptions and stick with more Germanic choices for everything else. I'd like to see you avoid some of the mealy value terms like trusty and trustworthy, and either choose something more incisive or more sense descriptive.

You do well with the three stalls, but then you return to describe the whole market again. That belongs at the top where you started that description. I suspect you weren't happy with the mental picture you were drawing and were working to expand it which indicates good instincts... you were right. But keep the general with the general and the specific with the specific, rather than bopping back and forth. That's the reason why you're getting criticisms on the pacing. Readers be all like, "I thought we were done with this bit." I'd also give the old lady exchange a few more lines and have her spit more often. The other two stalls are kind of clichéd, but she was done well---had one main distinctive (and funny) identifier. Make the other two just as strong.

So let's talk about tone. What sort of story is this? What kind of story promise are you making to me, the reader? Do you want this to be whimsical, serious, spiritual, fantastical, or epic (etc)? I think you're kind of going for whimsy as it fits the little I know of the story best, but regardless, you're not really committing to any style and just dropping hints of tone here and there. If whimsy is what you are going for, don't be afraid to give the narration that personality. It will likely take you more words to deliver the same information, but it will read with more ease and fun. And the same for setting. Are you choosing words and diction that match the setting? Is this a typical fantasy setting, for eg? It fights against that feel in a lot of spots.

And ask yourself at the end of every paragraph, "does this represent the feeling, the fun that I want to convey?"

Now for a little irony... After all my whinging about word choice, for me the strongest part of the writing (after premise) was your mushroom names. They are very well done and really helped me believe in the world. You've done a lot of hard work already. You've created a neat quirky concept, and expanded it with world, characters and plot... and have finished an entire first draft! Awesome! What you have so far is something to be proud of. But it's still a sproutling. It needs to be watered and cultivated till the words live and breathe with the effect you want to get across. Best of luck.

Edit:

I see above that Zones were inspired by mushroom rings. Why not then call them rings? This goes back to both word choice and exploiting the premise. And if there are only two why not create a more obvious hierarchy? Like say outer and inner. Or something else. I think the denizens of Jamala would be more likely to give them significance beyond a simple number.
 
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I enjoyed this beginning. The setting has a lot of potential and good use of subtle dynamics between the different merchants. I was wondering as I started reading it why you weren't listing mushroom names, as there's a lot of opportunity for creativity there, but then you went there. The ones you have are good, but you might also get weirder with the names -- not so literally describing what they do, but creating evocative images, like a pig ear mushroom or a pink oyster. This could also be a great opportunity for subtle world-building. If there are fantastic elements to this world like magical creatures or strange powers, the names of mushroom varieties could echo that.

One sensory detail I think it could use more of is smell. I imagine a mushroom market has a lot of those, pleasing and otherwise. How do the people react to the different smells?

It does start a bit slow, but rather than a generic description of the market, you might begin with character interaction like the conversation between Bozi and Caruso. Maybe play up Bozi's confidence (or complacency) and Caruso's excitement about this opportunity, so the letdown when he actually tries feels more impactful. That could also ground us in the character right off.

As a side note, you might be interested in The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. It's non-fiction, an anthropological study of the matsusake mushroom industry in the U.S., China, and Japan. She describes bartering dynamics in the forest camps where people forage mushrooms that this reminded me of. Might be good inspiration if you haven't read it.
 
This is my first post on this site. I used to be a regular at IMdb Shop Talk Writers till the site was sold and the new owners shut down the forums.
Welcome to the forum! If you haven't spotted it yet, there's an introductions section where you can tell us more about yourself if you'd like to.
 

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