Thursday, May 10, 2007

New Beginning 276

Above us, brittle in the gusting wind, frozen branches strained for the sun. Our horses struggled through drifts that punctuated the road at regular intervals; the jingle of the bells on their tack, which I had hoped would lift the gloom that hovered over me, instead sounded chill, and as the sharp cold of the thinning air confirmed that Joshua and I were nearing the Abbey, only the memory of my father’s words urged me forward. Father had charged me with becoming the next Contender--and with discovering what had become of my brothers who had gone before me to the Abbey of the Mirror.

Joshua, alone, had accompanied me on this, the final leg of my journey. His breath steamed before him now, leaving a dusting of frost on his graying beard. He saw how I shivered despite my furs, and passed me a coarse blanket from within his saddlebag. I clutched it to my chin.

"I fear you need this blanket yourself, Joshua," I said.

He smiled. "I have traveled on colder days, my lady."

Jingle bells: $5.00

Coarse blanket: $28.00

Horse tack: $700.00

Listening to Mother, who said don't listen to Father: Priceless

Opening: Jennifer French.....Continuation: takoda


Dave said...

A woman thinking about her situation in a horse drawn carraige on a cold day.

I think that's a little passive for an opening. It's well written and I like the description but there's nothing much else to hold me to the story.

Anonymous said...

Your second sentence is sixty-three words long. It presents the reader with horses, drifts, punctuation, the road, the jingle, bells, tack, hoping, gloom, hovering, chilliness, cold, thinning air (presumably we're going uphill?), a character, another character, an Abbey, a memory, and another character. That's far too much, and I even left out a couple of things.

I'd be more likely to read on if you started with the second paragraph, which gives me a character and an action. The first paragraph is far too slow, since I have to keep stopping my reading to re-visualize the picture.

Bernita said...

I suggest you begin with the second sentence, and then break it up - with periods after "intervals, chill," and possibly "Abbey." The first sentence could appear later.
The writing IS nice though.
Joshua is apparently on horseback. Is she also?

Minion 828 said...

I didn't find the length of the second sentence bothersome. Perhaps the long sentence helps set the mood of a long and slow trip, just as short sentences are often best when describing rapid-fire action. I'm willing to do a little work if there's a reward. Naturally I want them to reach the abbey very soon, but if the story begins as they enter the abbey gates, we may lack information that we'll have to get in backstory.

whitemouse said...

I thought the writing was beautiful. I'd like to see a plot kick into gear soon, but there's already tension and I think this works.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think this is rather nice, but what you have here either isn't your beginning or it needs some drama added in. I like the tone, though, I like it a lot. It feels formal and old fashioned, which seems to go with the situation and the characters.

The main character is pondering her situation and riding a horse in the freezing cold. The cold is cold and there is no real drama to it, nothing is at stake. And the amount of information about her dilemma is both too much and too little for a first paragraph.

If you are going to thrust all this info upon us immediately, then please tells us what is at stake besides her not wishing to follow her father's instructions to become "the Contender." Give us the Why, not the What. Give us the reason for your character's feelings and make us understand. We don't necessarily need all this info in the first paragraph to do that. In fact, you might just give us the bit about following her father's wishes and not being happy about it, leaving the info about the Contender and what that entails for later on.

And I agree that you need to break up that huge second sentence. It's not even grammatical.

I do have one observation on word choices. As an example, you say that drifts puncutate. That image just doesn't work, because drifts, well, drift. The even sound soft and smoothe and pillowy, whereas punctuate is staccato, pointed, thrusting. While your choice wasn't bad, I think that looking at such couplings can improve your work so that you can saturate your prose with the moods you want to evoke.

Anonymous said...

Continuation: maybe not priceless, but pretty good!

I liked the pace of the opening. I was getting into it until it sounded like fantasy, ending my anticipation of something moodily, mysteriously historical. Which it may be, except with Contenders.

I do agree, though, that the second sentence would benefit from being divided.

Nice words for sentence endings: bells, chill, Abbey.


Robin S. said...

I agree with minion 828 and whitemouse - I like it as an entry into the world of this story. I like the flow of the words.

takoda, your continuation was really good!

M.W. said...

"Above us, brittle in the gusting wind, frozen branches strained for the sun."

Already in the first sentence there is a dangling modifier. The clause, "brittle in the gusting wind" appears to modify "us." The rule is the descriptive clause modifies the closest noun, which would be "us." Although, I believe the author wanted the branches to be brittle. The second sentence as others have noted is too long with too many nouns and descriptors. As such, the main action and scene is vague and not as crisp and clear as the cold day it is describing.

Evil Editor said...

If the 2nd sentence were broken into three sentences, it would still be the same amount of information to absorb. The difference being, it would lose some of the author's style. If one finds the style too much work, or not to one's liking, better to merely say so than to declare the sentence too long.

For some interesting comments on sentence variety, specifically long sentences, check out this post. Skip the first paragraph about what a sentence is.

BuffySquirrel said...

If sixty-three words is a problem, don't ever read Dickens, or Austen, or Woolf...I think I counted one of her sentences at 200 plus words before I lost my place.

That said, doesn't the "which" refer back to "tack" rather than "bells"? I always get confused with that one.


Dave said...

I'll go back and repeat what I said in my previous post. I didn't fuss about the length of the second sentence because it has a certain power and elegance to it. The internalized struggle that it represents is a literary (IMHO) way of beginning. The speaker is comparing the struggle of the horses in the cold to her own internal indecision.

I also think that the way it is written: "Father had charged me with becoming the next Contender--and with discovering what had become of my brothers who had gone before me to the Abbey of the Mirror."
is weaker than the first sentence.
It needs to be stronger - - maybe: Father's twin charges - to become a Contender and to learn the fate of my brothers, knifed through my mind like the cold of the day pierced my body. The Abbey of the Mirror would offer no respite.
or something like that.
That would present the ideas with a powerful set of images - anticipation, dread, the unknown mystery.

I also think that "contender" is weak. The name of whatever that is should be more vivd, courageous and daring.

McKoala said...

The tone and description is nice; a few slips like the 'brittle', but overall it paints a clear picture. I didn't like being told so starkly that she had been charged with the job of contender - Dave's suggestion of showing how she feels about it; the dread the thought engenders, is interesting and might soften this.

How can the sharp cold of the thinning air confirm she is nearing the Abbey? I just didn't understand that, I'm afraid.

punk due8 said...

Our horses struggled through drifts that punctuated the road at regular intervals; the jingle of the bells on their tack, which I had hoped would lift the gloom that hovered over me, instead sounded chill...

Makes grammatic sense to me. Pedants might whine that it seems to say that the tack was on the roads, but that's where intelligence plays a role in reading. But yeah, crusty mounds of snow might punctuate, but not drifts.

Joshua, alone, had accompanied me on this, the final leg of my journey.

Joshua was not alone; I was with him:

Only Joshua had accompanied me on this final leg of my journey.

Dave said...

The Abbey is probably located on top of a mountain. I'm guessing this because horses are used for transportation. In the time of powerful abbeys and monastaries, they were built high, like castles to prevent attack from above. It's hard to charge uphill.

AmyB said...

This is good overall so I'm going to be picky :).

The first sentence is awkward. I don't like seeing a modifying clause before the subject in the opening sentence of a book. Also, "frozen branches strained for the sun?" I don't get it. They're frozen. They have no leaves. Why are they straining for the sun?

Your second sentence establishes the setting much more effectively than the first. "Our horses struggled through drifts" immediately gives me a mental picture of the scene, while the first sentence does not. I'm in the camp that thinks you should break up the second sentence. The bit starting with "As the sharp cold of the thinning air..." expresses a completely different concept than what comes before. I don't think there's any benefit in making compound sentences out of unrelated concepts.

In "his breath steamed before him now," I'd drop the "now." We know it's "now."

Anyway, this is nice overall, with some pretty setting details and enough mystery to hook me.

Dave said...

I thought of another detail that might help the writer. If you look at authentic western photos, you can see those long coats that they wore.

Now in case you wondered why they wore nearly ankle length coats when they road astride, in the winter, the coat drapes over the legs in front and doesn't hinder the boots. That kept the rider's legs warm from the heat of the horse's body.

The author doesn't mention if Lily is astride or in a wagon (cart). The blanket implies wagon and a team of horses. Not two individals riding astride or even side-saddle.

AmyB said...

Dave, that's a good point. I originally assumed the pair were on horseback, because if the horses are "struggling through drifts" they likely aren't pulling anything. Carts are no good on snow. They could be pulling a sleigh, but I'm pretty sure even a sleigh can't handle big snowdrifts.

However, the mention of bells on the tack suggests a sleigh. By the way, a more specific word than "tack" might help. "Harness," for example, would make it absolutely clear we're dealing with a cart or sleigh. "Saddle" would make it clear they are on horseback. "Bridle" could apply to either, but would give us more of a mental picture--though bells on the bridle might frighten a horse.

"Saddlebag" implies that they are riding horseback, but the use of the blanket suggests otherwise. In short, we are getting some mixed messages.

Twill said...

I thought the first sentence seemed fine - "Above us,..., branches" - although I had the same problem with frozen branches reaching for anything.

But I have a different problem with the second sentence. My sight is cast upwards, toward the branches above. Then, suddenly above us, there are our horses struggling. What????

Perhaps "Before us, our horses struggled..."

Otherwise, I would agree, extrememly passive beginning. Is there a way that she can be thinking about a future choice rather than a past decision?