Monday, March 14, 2011

New Beginning 842

It wasn’t so very long ago, even by mortal years, when men offered up their sons and daughters for sacrifice on Beltane night. The world, as a consequence, grew strong, for blood holds powerful magic, especially when freely spilled and freely given.

My people grew strong as well.

The Tylwyth Teg our Welsh cousins called us -- the Fair Folk. Not that they believed us fair. Cold and cruel we were to them. They only named us so from fear, exchanging flattery for our goodwill. In the Old Days, when magic ran like wild heather across the land, it was easy to forget men held the power and that our fate was bound in theirs.

But cliff by cliff and moor by moor, our land was lost to men who knew us not. Who feared us not. Who eschewed the Old Laws that ensured the balance between fae and mortal worlds alike. The new kings whose fathers’ fathers had been born far to our east insisted their law take rule. Civilized Law, they named it, as if naming a thing made it so. As if naming a thing made it right.

And one among them, a leader, did hold forth and rail against us. We were “responsible for all the wars in the world,” he said, and claimed we had murdered his savior. Though he came from an island of criminals, far away to the east, he was celebrated by the humans. They accorded unto him great power, wealth, and respect.

Aye, we learned to hate and fear him, this one they called 'Mel Gibson'.


Opening: Anon......Continuation: swcc

18 comments:

Evil Editor said...

P1: Get rid of "especially." I'd get rid of "as a consequence" as well. Also, does it have to be "The world" grew stronger? Not sure what that even means. We grew stronger or Our people grew stronger makes more sense, as Beltane isn't a world-wide celebration.

P3: Cold and cruel we were to them isn't needed, as the previous sentence implies the same idea, and also because you don't want readers to think the narrator is Yoda.

P3. "eschewed" isn't strong enough. It should be "rejected" or "spurned."

"Insisted" also seems weak. "Commanded" is more like what I think you're going for.

Anonymous said...

J.R.R. Tolkien is dead, alas, and this style is seriously offputting, with its backward sentence constructions and its assumption of universal maleness.

Anonymous said...

Is the blood really freely spilled and given if the men offered up their sons and daughters? I suspect there is a child or two from Beltane night who would so no. And maybe f.u.

Adele said...

Maybe too much atmosphere - by the third para I was imagining the listener rolling his eyes and eyeing the exit.

Maybe this isn't the right place to start, because you have not given me any information about the story, and I am left with a lot of questions that make me want to put the book down. Who is the narrator talking to and why? Is this a historical or a fantasy? Real details, like Beltane and the Welsh, make me think historical, but I don't know.

I do know Beltane refers me to the ancient Celtic world, but these people could be in modern-day Brittany, Ireland, Cornwall, Scotland. I'm leaning towards Scotland because of the reference to wild heather - do you really want your reader taking time out to ponder the range limits of heather growth in pre-Roman Celtdom? Or maybe you've created an imaginary country - I just don't know.

I'm not an expert on Celtic archaeology - I know there is proof of sacrifices having happened, but your first sentence sounds like there was a regular line-up on that one night of the year. I have not heard of that, so now I'm thinking it better be a fantasy, because if it's supposed to be history I'm stopping reading right here.

You haven't given me any reason to care for the narrator or his people. Yes, it's tough when people take over your world and change it, but since he admits to cruelty and blood sacrifice I don't feel an urge to restore the old ways.

vkw said...

I liked it. I would read on and I loved the continuation.

I agree with EE, it should read unless the author really meant the "world" right down to the gnats, "The people grew strong . . .

Yep get rid of "cold and cruel. . ."

I would suggest changing the fourth paragraph's first sentence . . it's starting to read like the beginning of a movie and only Star Wars can get away with it.

But our land was slowly lost to men who did not know us. Men who ignored the Old Laws that had for centuries balanced the fae and mortal worlds.

(I am not sure where the author is going with "civilized law" because wouldn't the comparison be between religions? Maybe? Rather than culutural laws? I'll need to know more to be certain. . . )

Again I like it and I would read on. I would warn there is a line between being mysterious/enticing and annoying. The author is tittering on that line . . . let's get to the MC now

Kings Falcon said...

On the positive side some of the images - "magic ran like wild heather across the land" - are nice. Although I do wonder how heather runs. Use of the "Beltane" also sets up a likely location.

I don't mind that the prose is very formal and entirely an info dump for the first few lines. BUT you are going to have to work really hard to keep me reading much futher. Isn't there some what you can move the information - i.e. that an older race was ousted by a younger one - into dialog? If an elder is giving this history lesson to a child, than let me know that. Tell me that old Rastefthwer lectured young Willwothatz.

The "epic" language is making this read very ponderously. The opening is also cliched which is going to make your job of comvincing me to read on harder still. You must show me something new and exciting to push past all the other Tolkien/ Jordon/ Sanderson wannabes.

I'd also like to see a character, even if its not the MC somewhere in this. Whose story is this? What's it about? I don't get any sense of the answer to those questions from the opening.

Chelsea P. said...

I liked this a lot, although I must admit the sacrifice thing irked me. The concept of pagans committing human sacrifice has been so skewed by later religions, I definitely lean toward the side of skepticism. Especially here, where they're sacrificing on a fertility holiday. Isn't murdering children kind of the antithesis of fertility? (Not taking a stab at you, author, just the people who purposefully vilified pre-christian religions in the first place.) So that part was hard for me to swallow, but I thought the rest was lovely. I love fairy stories, especially those about the foolishness of man (I just do, okay?) And this has some really nice elements in it. I enjoyed the part about the title "Fair Folk" being given out of fear. Nice touch, and it shows your knowledge of the mythology. I would read this.

Continuation was priceless.

Faux Tolkien said...

Author here.

@Evil Editor: Thanks for the constructive edits! Quite helpful.

@Anon: I am usually ultra-sensitive to male domination theming, so I'm particularly keen to know how to resolve the perception here. Would it help to know the narrator is (1) female or (2) that this is set during the early Middle Ages when most of the world where the story takes place IS male-dominated?

@Everyone Else: Thank you for your comments!

As for voice, this is one POV voice of four. Two of the MCs are fae, two are human. Is it still off-putting for the fae to speak in this stylized manner if the humans narrate in less-stilted voices?

It's an historical fantasy/romance set in Britain.

It's Beltane night and a group of fae who are the Wild Hunt are about to sweep into a camp of men who are partying and slaughter them in retribution for burning croplands and killing livestock during several border raids. I included exposition up front to make the fae at least a little sympathetic. We don't have to love the fae at this point, just understand them.

I'm early into this WIP, so I still have the opportunity to adjust voice as necessary to make it as palatable as possible.

@SWCC: Ackk! Mel Gibson! *warding sign*

alaskaravenclaw said...


@Anon: I am usually ultra-sensitive to male domination theming, so I'm particularly keen to know how to resolve the perception here. Would it help to know the narrator is (1) female or (2) that this is set during the early Middle Ages when most of the world where the story takes place IS male-dominated?


I posted as Anon. because I couldn't get blogger to take my ID.

No, it wouldn't help: you're not writing during the early middle ages, so you have to address readers with modern vocabularies. I'm honestly confused: I don't know whether I'm supposed to assume that you mean all humans or I'm supposed to assume that you mean men. If men were sacrificing their sons and daughters, how did they explain it to women when there were several empty places at the breakfast table the next morning?

One way to resolve the perception would be to use gender-neutral terms (humans, people, folk, Picts, Britons, what-have-you) when you mean "people" and only use "men" when you mean "people with dinguses".

I was, btw, also confused because I had never heard about massive human sacrifices at Beltane. Maybe one or two now and then, and that's just a theory, I thought. But that's neither here nor there.

If this is the opening of your book, and you've got a more normal voice, by all means open with that. Just like Tolkien did.

Highly recommend reading: Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Before you write another word!

Anonymous said...

I personally liked this style of writing. However, I'd probably struggle getting through an entire novel with this style and voice. It would be better fitted to a short work.

Adah Lael said...

I loved it, and I'd read a whole book like this. I hate the modern way of writing, short and choppy, strangling words down to a verbal mimicry of a hollowood action flick. Give me creepy! Give me archaic! Give me bloodthirsty fairies! There is a reason Tolkien sold like crazy when he finally became well known. Some of us like to feel as if we've finally left America and have gone back in time to some eerie place. Frankly, I read to get out of here, I don't know about all of you. I don't WANT my story books to use the same language as my newspaper! I followed this link hoping to find out who wrote this and whether it would be published so I could finally read something interesting.

Phoenix said...

Thanks again, everyone. This one's mine ;o) and I see I still have some serious thinking to do based on the wide swing of the comment pendulum.

As noted, I'm early into this WIP, so I'm wide open to entertain any suggestions for smoothing this out so it appeals to the widest range of readers in my target audience.

Chelsea P. said...

Phoenix! It's you!

I recognized that the dichotomy here was human/fairy rather than male/female, but I'm also pretty much a fairy-dork, and my fairies talk about the world of man this way, so . . . I suppose it just depends on who's reading. If this is for the fantasy crowd I don't think the "men" thing will be an issue.

As for the style, like I said, I enjoyed it, and would read on. But if you're concerned, you could always post the opening to the first human POV section and have people compare them (I heard somewhere that EE's hurting for openings . . .)

:)

alaskaravenclaw said...

Chelsea P's comment brings up a point I've noticed with other queries: some people are writing for a certain in-crowd that speaks their language.

The question a writer needs to ask herself (and I use the feminine pronoun generically, of course) is: Do I want to write only for the in-crowd?

It may be (in all seriousness and without sarcasm) that the answer is yes, in which case, carry on.

If the answer is no, then I have two suggestions to offer:

1. Mainstream writing is a clear pane of glass through which the reader can see the story. That means the medium doesn't call attention to itself, by backward sentence construction or outre word choice or whatever.

2. In mainstream 21st century written English it's no longer the custom to refer to humanity as "men" or "mankind". You'll find this mentioned quite often in style guides.

As I said, totally your choice to make.

(In re: Tolkien, the backward sentence structure for which LOTR is infamous doesn't start appearing until Weathertop. By that time we're nearly halfway through the first book and thoroughly invested in the story. I know I read on despite the sentence structure, rolling my eyes, and loved the books anyway. Until the invention of the internet I had no idea that there were people who actually liked that style. Okay, so there are. But I think they may not be in the majority.)

Whirlochre said...

Echoing some previous commenters, I can imagine this read aloud in an Ian McKellen voice as a camera pans across a faerie landscape — and this is part of the problem.

The writing is evocative for all the reasons given but I'm not so sure it's the starting point for me — it has all the feel of a prologue, a scene-setter.

That said, depending on where the rest of the project is at and who the target audience is, this kind of opener might be just the thing.

Sylvia said...

I found the human/faerie interaction to be completely clear. However, by the fourth paragraph the language was starting to feel heavy handed. Even knowing that this is one point of view of four, I think it's a bit ponderous. However, having concrete characters to focus on would probably do a lot to alleviate this.

Robin B. said...

Hi Phoenix!

I love the voice of this piece. I've reread it a couple of times and the only thing I see that might make it stronger as an opening (and by that I mean simply, that it would keep the reader reading when he or she opened up and perused, deciding whether to buy, ia a slight rearrangement of your words.

Here's the original:

It wasn’t so very long ago, even by mortal years, when men offered up their sons and daughters for sacrifice on Beltane night. The world, as a consequence, grew strong, for blood holds powerful magic, especially when freely spilled and freely given.

My people grew strong as well.

The Tylwyth Teg our Welsh cousins called us -- the Fair Folk. Not that they believed us fair. Cold and cruel we were to them. They only named us so from fear, exchanging flattery for our goodwill. In the Old Days, when magic ran like wild heather across the land, it was easy to forget men held the power and that our fate was bound in theirs.

But cliff by cliff and moor by moor, our land was lost to men who knew us not. Who feared us not. Who eschewed the Old Laws that ensured the balance between fae and mortal worlds alike. The new kings whose fathers’ fathers had been born far to our east insisted their law take rule. Civilized Law, they named it, as if naming a thing made it so. As if naming a thing made it right.


Here's a bit of a tweak, rearranging phrases, making a very few word changes (humans for menin some instances, to make it clear that it's humans and not me per se), and arranging the paragraphs in a different way, for effect:

Even by mortal years it wasn’t so very long ago that humans offered up their sons and daughters for sacrifice on Beltane night.

As a consequence, the world grew strong, for blood holds powerful magic, especially when freely spilled and freely given.

My people grew strong as well.Our Welsh cousins called us the Tylwyth Teg -- the Fair Folk.

Not that they believed us fair. To them, we were cold and cruel. They only named us fair from fear, exchanging flattery for our goodwill.

In those Old Days, magic ran like wild heather across the land, and it was easy to forget humans held the power, and that our fate was bound in theirs.

But cliff by cliff and moor by moor, our land was lost to humans who knew us not, and so did not fear us. Men who eschewed the Old Laws that ensured the balance between fae and mortal worlds alike.

The new human kings whose fathers’ fathers had been born far to our east insisted their law take rule. Civilized Law, they named it, as if naming a thing made it so. As if naming a thing made it right.



Again, I love your words - just took the liberty of rearranging a bit for what felt like positive effect as I read.

Phoenix said...

Oh good! More comments! Thanks for all the great suggestions. Time to get working on the reworking now!