Friday, June 26, 2015

New Beginning 1046

My last day among the Sangi stank of trouble, even before the Acursa came. Ossilan and I downed a small dragon on the coast during our shift. Mer captains took a second one, close to Beach City. We held a joint bonfire celebration that night, attended by the gray-skinned Sangi of the wood—my adopted people—and by landwalking merfolk, who could turn tail to legs.

One of Jaire's friends added a log to our fire, raising sparks. Lord Grat Theldier cursed, brushed sparks from his tunic. Raising his head, he sniffed the wind. I sensed it too. Something in the air felt off, thicker. Like gathering magic. The celebrating throng trailed off their noise and looked north. Something was coming. I glanced at the sky and saw what looked like a hurtling, spiraling star coming our direction.

Lord Grat Theldier stood. "Move away from the fires."

The crowd broke apart; merfolk dashing for water and Sangi moving up the hill toward the trees. I joined the back of the Sangi throng. The great light swooped over our heads, making our shadows grow long, and slammed into the ground with a boom that shook the earth and echoed off the cliffs. A mer baby gave a shriek of terror that cut off with a splash.

I took a calming breath, drew Denara, and turned to face the light. There at the fire where I'd sat with Jaire stood the Acursa.

I circled warily, Denara before me in a two-handed grip. I could hear the crunch of twigs as the Sangi behind me found positions in the shadow-shrouded trees. They would not help with this, nor would the merfolk who watched from the shallows near the shore. This enemy had come for me, and me alone.

Behind the light, a portal opened and a dragon emerged, taller and uglier than those seen earlier in the day. It took two tentative steps toward me and stopped, sniffing the air and wrinkling its snout in disgust. “What the hell are you burning?” it said. “And put down that stick.”

“This is Denara!” I shouted, brandishing it menacingly. “It is a mighty weapon!”

“It’s a stick,” the dragon said. “Put it down and get over here.”

“I will draw no closer to the Acursa!” I cried.

“Acura,” the dragon said. “It’s an Acura. And seriously, did you kids build a marijuana bonfire? Where's your camp counselor?"

I looked around me. Lord Grat Theldier and the others had vanished, perhaps for good. The dragon rose taller, and its voice deepened dangerously. “Get in the car!” it roared.

Terrified in the face of its fury, I had no choice but to lower Denara and comply with the dragon’s command. “Fine,” I muttered. “But on the way home, can we stop for snacks?”

Opening: Rebecca Kellogg.....Continuation: Joe Mosher


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

I glanced at the Professor and Mary Ann and shrugged. "Go get Gilligan. I've had it with these natives. Let's go back to our island."


"Who's in charge here?" the Acursa leader snarled. Lord Grat Theldier approached her, feigning calm.

"I am Lord Grat Theldier of the...."

"You got a permit for these bonfires?"

Lord Grat Theldier's face turned nearly white. He made a great show of feeling around in his pockets for a document it was clear he didn't have.

"I...must have left it at home," he answered, trying to sound casual.

The Acursa leader sighed and pulled out a small notebook and pen.

"Bonfires without proper permit, disturbing the peace, reports of partially nude merfolk..."

Her eyes fell on me, then narrowed as she took note of Denara.

"...possibly unlicensed weaponry..."

"Please," Lord Grat Theldier interjected. "I'm sure we can come to some sort of understanding."

The Acursa leader glanced at one of her lieutenants. He shrugged.

"Well," the Acursa leader said. "We might be persuaded to let you off with a warning in exchange for a little information. We've had two endangered coastal dragons killed earlier today. If you know anything about it...."

And that was my last day among the Sangi. Lousy squealers.


Evil Editor said...

When I see people celebrating, I assume they've had a good day, not that the day stank of trouble. If the dragons are what make the narrator say the day stank of trouble, I would expect them to be fortifying their defenses against future attacks, not sitting on the beach celebrating around a beacon of light that can be seen for miles.

When you say "we held a joint bonfire celebration," I assume "we" means your people and the mer people. So when you say the celebration was attended by the Sangi and the Merfolk, it seems either repetitive or that you meant you and Ossilian when you said "we.". If it said: We held a joint bonfire celebration that night, the Sangi of the wood—my adopted people—and landwalking merfolk, who could turn tail to legs. it's more clear.

You're hitting us with a lot of names in a short space. If you said "I downed a dragon" and "Someone threw a log on the fire, you'd get Ossilian and Jaire out of the opening, leaving only Sangi, Denara, Accursa and Lord Grat Theldier for us to deal with. I'm sure Ossie andJaire won't mind waiting a few paragraphs to be introduced.

InkAndPixelClub said...

This feels overloaded. Three different races, three named characters plus the narrator, a named weapon, and a place name, all in the space of five paragraphs. I'm getting lost and the story has barely started.

Usually you do want get the narrative moving before readers have a chance to get bored and bail, but this could use some breathing room. Take a little time with the big bonfire celebration. Then maybe you can introduce characters and concepts more gradually rough conversations and actions rather than throwing a ton of information at us at once. For example, if the two dragons being killed earlier is only important because it's the reason for the bonfire, start with the bonfire and have the characters talking about killing the dragons earlier.

Ossilan is mentioned in paragraph one, then disappears. Jaime is mentioned only in relation to other people or things; I have no clue who he or she is. I realize that this is just the first page or so of a much larger story, but introducing a large number of characters before you have the time to even hint at who they are or why they're important can get confusing.

PLaF said...

I was confused by the lack of relationships to the narrator

There were a lot of names presented, but I was also thrown off by the lack of their relationships to the narrator.
I assumed Ossilan was Sangi and the partner of the narrator based on the text.
Then Mer people were introduced, quickly followed by Jaire, Jaire’s friend, and Lord Grat.
These could belong to either race but it troubled me not knowing who they were in relation to the narrator and why we should care, like them, or hate them.
If this is the first time Denara is introduced, I suggest adding “from the scabbard at my side” to avoid confusing the sword with a girlfriend. (I expected him to draw Denara to his side i.e. for protection.)
Lastly, “at the fire where I’d sat with Jaire” is the first time we learned that Jaire was there. (His friends were there, but no mention of him till he’s not sitting there anymore.)
Several elements I did like:
I assumed they were roasting the dragons
Something in the air felt off, thicker. Like gathering magic. (Loved this. I could see it happening.)
The great light swooped over our heads, making our shadows grow long. (Vivid.)

And Joe, that ending was classic. Great job!

Anonymous said...

Phew, I completely agree with I&PC. I understand wanting to get a running start on your story, but I needed to shake hands with a few of these folks and get a look around at the scenery, maybe listen in on a few conversations about the dragons they'd caught and watch a few merfolk turn their tails into legs. THEN I'd be ready for an unexpected interruption from an enemy.

davefragments said...

I agree with the other comments -- this opening is too much, too fast.
Try picking out a scene with the Hero and one of this friends or sidekicks or even enemy and take a few hundred words to introduce them to the reader. Then go to the celebration on the beach.
Remember, if you say in the opening "my last day with the Sangi" that the reader wants to know why that is so and this chapter of the book should explain that. This seems to wander forwards and backwards in time before something appears or just walks up?
At first I thought that the white light was a meteor but I don't think that is true after really close reading.

Rebecca said...

Thank you for the helpful and delightful feedback, all. I really enjoyed the continuations.

I've rewritten the opening to this story multiple times. The drafts previous to this opened with the same line but then went into a four-page description of the bonfires, complete with descriptions of the dragons heads, etc. and an honoring of the heroes that took the dragons down.

The trouble for me was that it really starts to sizzle when the Acursa shows up.

This was my attempt to get to what I think is the true beginning a little quicker. But apparently you don't mind waiting a little for the villainess to show up.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Hello, author!

Getting your story started quickly is certainly a good goal. Fantasy in particular seems prone to the exact opposite problem of the one you have here: manuscripts that feel the need to set up the world and its history for pages upon pages before the actual story gets going. But there's a clear consensus that you would have a better opening if you took more time to introduce your world and its people with more show and less tell. Plus, a more gradual opening might give me more time to get to know your main character, who I have almost no sense of here.

I still wouldn't drag it out too long, definitely not more than a first chapter. But those four pages you mentioned could give me enough time to get a sense of what's going on before it goes all to hell.

One thing I forgot to mention: how attached are you to the name "Acursa"? It's far from a deal breaker, so if even the thought of removing it is making you miserable, then keep it. But I'm not a big fan of fantasy terms that sound like they're heavily based on English words ("accursed") and I don't think I'm alone in that. So if you aren't in love with it, it might be worth changing.