Thursday, August 03, 2006

New Beginning 40


The only man the General killed during the course of the battle was one of his own. He rode the man down with his own horse, tucked the man's gold-handled knife into his scabbed breastplate and then fled from the battlefield with the arrows of the enemy shrieking past. He rode east, driving the horse harder than any arrow it feared.

The General's forces had met the enemy in the gray shadows of the morning after marching all night. The General had expected the invaders to still be engaged in taking the fortified town of Brindy. Instead he found them encamped and fortified in the hills to the south of the town. There was a false dawn in the north and a smoldering stench in the air. Brindy was burning.

He tethered his horse, sat on the ground and contemplated the glow before him. His men were gone, mostly by the enemy's hands, he was alone, and his horse was exhausted. He had only two arrows, an empty canteen, some rope and a gold-handled knife. What he had learned studying the campaigns of Napoleon and Alexander, and the writings of Moltke and Sun Tzu was of no use to him now. There was only one legend he could call upon. What would MacGyver do?


Opening: Braun.....Continuation: ril

31 comments:

Dave said...

There's so much happening here. I think that the writer needs to decide what's the first action: killing the man and fleeing or finding Brindy burning.why is it important that he killed the man?

one of the things that struck me was "he rode east" - The direction doesn't matter. Any direction is "away." Another is that you riding a man down with your own horse is "too many words" and besides, would he use another man's horse? Is that detail necessary for the story?

Also, there is some action that happens before this sentence: "There was a false dawn in the north and a smoldering stench in the air. Brindy was burning." The sequence of events is forced march, meting the eney in the gray dawn, and then ? It's already the next morning for a false dawn to occur.

Dave said...

Please forgive my bad spelling and lousy English in the last post. The electric went off, completely off. It's hard to see a black keyboard in the dark.

Kanani said...

The voice here is reporting the events.
For drama this tense, you need to find a way to impart the action so that the reader feels like they are there. To do this you really need language that has some muscle and heft.

Let your reader feel the step of the horse, the sweating ton of musculature as he rides it, the sounds, smells and the heft of the knife. What is the shock of the man's (and by the way, who is the man --just low-ranking soldier or an officer?)

This is going to mean breaking down your sentences, and figuring out what to leave, what to take out. Slow down and see the scene.

Thanks for tossing this up here. Good luck with the rewrite.

Pete Tzinski said...

Problematic though it may have been, I liked the phrase "There was a false dawn in the north."

If nothing else, I thought that was a very good description of a fire.

Anonymous said...

I like the opening line! Terrific. But from then on I became more and more bewildered.

Too many words that provide a failure to launch. Again, a nice shave and haircut would benefit the setup, I think. Even Zombies can use a good barber.

PicAxe

Clampett said...

Hey Evil Editor,

I like your handle.

"Cessna-sized mosquitoes"

Is that out of place?
(in terms of timeframe)

Nikki said...

I'd read on. Can't find any grammar issues...only one clumsy sentence:

"The General had expected the invaders to still be engaged in taking the fortified town of Brindy."

Some good images - shrieking arrows, driving the horse on. I'd like to feel more of the fire.

I'd also like to know who the man killed is and why. I'd hope that would come up in the next paragraph.

Read the opening of The Lions of Al-Rassan for a similar set-up, which has just a little more to it.

MaryKaye said...

I'd keep reading. I don't mind the sparseness, as long as that isn't the style of the whole book; and I am drawn in by the situation.

Things could be a bit clearer, though: I had to stop and decide "does 'his own horse' mean the General's own horse or the dead man's own horse?" And the timing sequence could be clarified.

My guess is that this is a prolog, and the full story will be told more conventionally. If so, I like the effect here.

Macuquinas d' Oro said...

I agree with Kanani's comments. The central action of the first paragraph is riding the man down and retrieving (?) the dagger. I would like to see that scene more vividly.
I don't know a "scabbed" breastplate is.
I've somehow managed to avoid being shot at with arrows, so I have to ask: do they "shriek" past?

braun said...

Interesting comments - if somewhat contradictory.

Dave - the "false dawn" is in the north, where there would be no real dawn. Also, it's the man's horse, not the General's. That could probably be clarified.

Everyone else - this is just the first two paragraphs. I have a battle to cover and a man to kill in the next few pages. The opening lines are a teaser for the killing, which will come after the battle. Both will get described in much more detail. Some of which is hopefully "muscular and hefty", or what have you. I couldn't jam it all into 150 words!

braun said...

Also, that new ending is a serious groaner. Does EE have a weakness for bad puns?

Anonymous said...

"Also, that new ending is a serious groaner. Does EE have a weakness for bad puns?"

It appears so. Also zombies, but the airplane sized mosquitos are new from the buckets of bolts post recently.

BTW, Dave, your typing is amazing for not being able to see the keyboard, but I am impressed that your computer stayed on when the lights went out. I suppose the next thing was to ride your own horse over to the circuit box to reset the breaker for the lights.

E. M. #667 said...

This has real promise. I like the opening line very much - it establishes a "feel" right away. The second sentence, though, has some problems: whose horse, scabbed breastplate, "arrows of the enemy shrieking past". (Try "enemy arrows" instead of "arrows of the enemy" and delete the shrieking.) Third sentence starts out OK but I didn't like the way it ended up. (Horses generally don't fear arrows.) Think about what that sentence is intended to convey - is the General cruel, raking the horse with his spurs? Is he desperate, risking killing his horse to escape the battle? Is he determined to get somewhere else for some other reason? Then rewrite the sentence to accomplish that.

The second paragraph is much less forceful to me. Two "hads" in a row and then a passive construction ("There was..") You want to sustain that feeling from the first paragraph. Follow Kanini's advice and use the second paragraph to add muscle and heft - immerse the reader in the scene and the General's desperate flight, rather than fill in some backstory. You can do that later, after we've gotten into the page-turning habit.

Sounds like the kind of story I would read!

born_liar said...

I really like this beginning. It sets up an obvious question: why does the General kill someone on his own side and then flee? And what/where is Brindy? And why is it burning?

But all of these questions are of the "read on to find out more" type rather than the "the writer has no idea what s/he is doing" type. I would keep reading, for sure.

One nitpick: when the General rides down the man and kills him, he doesn't seem to actually kill him. He just takes the knife. Unless he's sticking it in the other man's chest... I got the impression that he was just grabbing the knife and putting it behind his own armor to keep his hands free? In which case, when exactly does the man die?

Rei said...

Well, one grammatical error jumped out at me: you refer to the man as "the General". The capitalization is wrong.

You capitalize a rank only when it comes before a person's name -- for example, "General Smith". If you wrote "I walked to the general", you use it lower case. Now, "The General" could be the name people refer to him by, in which case "General" would be capitalized, but so would be the word "The", since it's part of his "name". He could also have the name "General", but in such a case, using the word "the" in front of his name makes no sense at all.

braun said...

Possibly evil minion -

I don't know whether war horses are smart enough to be afraid of arrows or not. I don't know if arrows shriek or whirr or whistle. But I'm guessing you don't either.

"Think about what the sentence is intended to convey"... Actually, I thought about what the entire paragraph was intended to convey: a powerful, ruthless man escaping a very bloody battle. Which, I think it does - he's killing people, stealing horses, driving the animal to the breaking point - you get the idea.

"Enemy arrows" - I like "arrows of the enemy" better. It flows better to me. That's subjective, but... I wrote it.

You're a little confused about the passive voice... the 'hads' here actually indicate tense - events that have already occurred relative to the moment being described. Both sentences are in active voice (the forces MET, the General EXPECTED). Passive voice would be something like "it was expected by the General" which of course is a construction to be avoided at all costs.

A couple of commenters seem to feel that I should "stay with the scene" or I'll lose the reader. But I'm actually doing something that's pretty common, especially in film - start with a quick "stinger" to catch your interest and then the meat of the story proceeds in a less sensationalistic fashion. Don't think of paragraph 2 as a "flashback" - it's more the case that paragraph 1 is a "flash forward".

My theory: people will be curious enough to want to know WHY this guy is killing his own soldiers to stick with me for a bit. The next few paragraphs convey the battle and some of the setup, but they also further illuminate the ruthless quality of the General's character. They also bring us back to the point where he fights and kills one of his men and then escapes the battle, this time in much greater detail.

Remember, there's more than one way to tell a story.

Anyways, I'm enjoying reading (and reacting to) everyone's comments!

BuffySquirrel said...

In my experience, which is admittedly limited, arrows don't shriek. They sort of thrum. Shrieking would be a serious waste of the energy needed to keep them going.

otto said...

As an archer, you hope your arrows are as quiet as possible, but the can't help whizzing or whooshing by. Neither word, however, seems in proper voice.

The other thing that bothered me was the double use of "The General" in the second paragraph; same with the word "fortified."

Otherwise, it's action-packed and with the other comments taken into consideration, can be a great opener.

braun said...

Arrows often "whistle" in fiction, but it seems so cliche.

Also, if you were afraid of being shot by said arrow, the shrieking might seem somehow approrpriate, if not literally what they sound like.

I'm open on the "shrieking" question, but haven't come up with anything better.

Dave said...

concerning the computer - It's a laptop and it has a battery that maintains power.


If you are going to describe the complete battle where the general kills a man with his own dagger, steals a horse and rides away from his troops, don't waste that on one paragraph. That's a big dramatic story. Take the time to tell it.

This general is not a good man, we don't quite get that impression. you need to work that out.

Dave said...

Horses, horses, horses - -
My brother has horses and uses them for carraige rides. His best horse, a stallion, is blind in both eyes and pulls a cart around the park on open roads through car traffic. It has a high and attractive gait and no one seeing it knows that the horse is blind. IT has complete trust in my brother as driver.

So war horses will not "hear" arrows as such. They trust their rider and do as trained to perform.

If you could, talk to someone who trains and handles horses. It would help. I'm not that person.

Evil Editor said...

Based on unauthoritative websites devoted to the Flash, the Shadow, and the Lone Ranger, it's common not to capitalize "the," although The Shadow seems to prefer his "The" capitalized. If you equate General with Lone Ranger, your way is acceptable. Not that it would hurt to give the guy a cool-sounding last name, as the General sounds kind of ... general.

Technically it's the other guy's horse the way you have it, though The only man the General killed during the course of the battle was one of his own. He rode him down with the man's own horse, tucked his gold-handled knife into his scabbed breastplate and then fled the battlefield, the arrows of the enemy shrieking past. eliminates the confusion (though it may cause some about whose knife it is).

You could try "fled eastward from the battlefield, the arrows... and dump the last sentence. What does "driving the horse harder than any arrow" mean?

Even if its meaning is clear, when you're fleeing from a battlefield, you're obviously driving your horse very hard, if not necessarily harder than any arrow.

Rei said...

EE: Interesting. I had always heard that the whole title, which includes the "The", gets capitalized. Obviously, by your examples, it's flexible. :) I'll check into this some more.

Anonymous said...

When you send this out to an agent, if you don't grab them right away with examples of superb writing, they might not make it to word 151. Thy might see what most of us have, and decide to put it aside.

Writing a novel is much different than writing a screenplay. Syd Field's guide is not a reference for writing for novel.

No excuses. Get back to work.

E. M. #667 said...

Braun -
I don't know whether war horses are smart enough to be afraid of arrows or not. I don't know if arrows shriek or whirr or whistle. But I'm guessing you don't either.

You guessed wrong.

magz said...

well done braun! As both a horsetrainer and a shooter of most anything shootable (my personal hunting bow is an older Mirage compound, lefthanded with a 70 lb pull which does make arrows shriek hehe)

I found your intro both exciting and believable. I certainly read it as a smooth flow! You're correct; there are many ways to tell a story, and you do that well! regards, maggie

dgarfxj said...

In my limited experience, dinking around with bows and arrows, I think they make a "thwip" sound. Which sounds more like word verification than a menacing sound effect.

The general does not impress me as ruthless. To me he echoes Sisera in the Bible, killed by the woman Jael with a tent peg.

braun said...

Thanks for the advice EE - I'll see how I can incorporate it. And thanks to all who gave constructive criticism.

Anonymous said...

MisterEditor says:

braun,
Not sure if you realize this, but you come off as very defensive and thin skinned. I also noticed that you've stooped to the lowest form or whining: calling the other reviewers nitpickers on the other submissions when it doesn't resemble the love fest you think a critique ought to be.

Everyone here has taken the time to read, compose and respond --thoughtfully. That you chose to react like a porcupine is a reflection of only one thing: you've got to get over yourself if you want to be a good writer.

braun said...

So, my revised version:

...

The only man the General killed during the course of the battle was one of his own. First he mounted the soldier's horse and tucked the man's gold-bound knife into his belt. Then he rode the soldier down as he fled, trampled him beneath iron-shod hooves, and thundered from the battlefield with the arrows of the enemy shrieking past. He rode east, driving the horse harder than any arrow it feared.

The General's forces had met the enemy in the gray shadows of the morning after marching all night. The invaders were not engaged as expected in taking the fortified town of Brindy. Instead they were entrenched and waiting in the hills south of town. There was a false dawn in the north and a smoldering stench in the air. Brindy was burning.

...

You can check out a longer version of the excerpt here along with my notes on the changes.

braun said...

Nice new continuation, EE! A big improvement on the old one. I think perhaps I should explore the 'MacGuyver' angle.