There stands a bridge in the northern country, a bridge nigh as ancient as the mountains in which it stands, a bridge so high in the mists that it is scarcely real, and it is with this arch from solidity to solidity that our story begins.
It is the dead of an autumn night, the sort of night where the cold seeps into your bones—the cold of dead adventurers' stony graves, hidden deep from the sun's light in the folds of the mountain. Farther down the mountain, below the tree line, the pines rustle softly and nervously where they stand, and even their cousins, the maples and oaks much farther below, hesitate to display their brilliant autumn foliage to decorate the harvest-feasts of the valleys.
But here there are no harvest-feasts, and no lanterns but one, which is held very tightly in the sweaty palm of a young man's hand. He's looking up at the twin pillars of the bridge, shifting from foot to foot, glancing over his shoulders, and biting his lip.
He knows it is the date. He knows it is the hour. He scaled a mountain, and crossed that treacherous bridge, and descended back through the treeline to this silence, this absence of feasting. Something has gone terribly wrong. Or . . . his Facebook friends have punk'd him again.
Opening: Rachel.....Continuation: Anon.
Was that a lone figure up on the bridge's ramparts, looking down on him and his lantern, the only speck of light visible in the entire valley, with silent, absorbed attention? Damn his nanny anyway for drumming into him that no one must ever see him actually approaching the outhouse door.
As he considered the possibilities: run away for surge forward, a shadowy figure emerged from the dank underside of the archaic bridge.
“Who are you to think you can simply pass by me so easily?”
The young man jumped backwards. The hideous creature stood before him with pea green mucus dripping from his warty nose. He snarled once to show his crooked brown teeth and then spread his massive arms to block the bridge from the man.
“A troll!” he said.
“That’s right. I’m a troll.” He snorted. “And I’m in the mood for a tasty treat. You look a little lean, but food is food.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Billygoat Gruff dropped his lantern and fled from the beast.
“My brother will be here sooner. He’s much meatier than me!”
For it is a quandary he is in, on the very horns of the demon Dilemma. His other hand, as sweaty as the first-mentioned, holds two pence, two only and no more. The toll to cross the ancient bridge was set aeons ago as two pence, and thus he might pass over, adventuring penniless. But before that long and lonely walk, he most desperately needs to pee, and before him stand the pay toilets, also priced at two pence.
The youth squints at a crumpled piece of paper in the flickering torch light. "The rabbit comes out of the hole, runs around the tree, then back down the hole," he says. "Shit."
He looks nervously around then shoves the paper into his pocket, gathers up a couple of coins, and scurries away, leaving behind his hastily scrawled sign: Moonlit Bungee Jumps -- Only 2 Groats.
He says to the the pair behind him (one girl, one marshwiggle), "So this is it, huh? The giants' bridge we have to cross to find Prince Rillian?"
"No, you dolt," says the girl. "You're forgetting the rhyme again. 'Cross the giants' bridge with a hop, skip, jump/From the apex you must dump/One of a marshwiggle's flat lank locks/Then when you come to the trolls' river docks/do-si-do around the tile/then downstream for another mile/up to the rooftops quick quick quick..."
"Geesh, Jill, are you making this up? Are you sure those old ancients didn't simply say, 'turn left off the bridge and take the zip line from the town hall across the next valley?
He wonders what hidden eyes watch him amid the deceptive silence. But there is no choice; if he is to join the ancient order, he must dare this task.
He pulls the tool from beneath his cloak. It rattles in his shaking hand, and he is sure the sound must carry beyond the mountain. But he steps up to the base of the bridge, presses down with one finger, and sprays.
The tag, "Fan-ta-see Boyz," complete in snazzy slashing letters, he tosses the empty can and runs like hell.
And then he sees it: A light where the bridge meets the west mountain. He waves his torch in return. It is Saskia, daughter of the Fomins King sworn enemy of the Rapris people. Saskia, light of his heart.
He looks to the narrow path through the undergrowth. The path that crosses the cursing river before ascending the slick mountainside, through the sombre oaks and maples, past the haunted pines. And then, hours later and breathless, to cross the bridge, ancient and unstable, guarded by trolls.
He must risk his life for this destiny. Face almost certain death to be with his love.
He shifts on his feet again. Stares into the distant mists, then glances back toward his village.
"Fuck it," he thinks and goes home for a wank.
P.1: I'd cut this after "real." It's the first sentence, no need to tell us it's where the story begins. Plus "from solidity to solidity" is weird. We know what a bridge is.
P.2: I'd get rid of everything after the dash in the first sentence. Change "Farther" to "Far." Also, "even their cousins" is odd and unnecessary.
P.3: Delete "very" and change "He's looking" to "He looks."
I'm not crazy about the repetitions. Stands, bridges, solidity. It all seems over the top. Does the bridge really play such a huge roll in the story?
I'm also not a huge fan of the second paragraph setting up something that you completely negate in the third. It really threw me off to say "decorate the harvest- feasts" and then say there are no harvest-feasts.
I'm sure you are doing it for effect, but for me, it doesn't work.
I like it but think you need to cut back a bit. As EE said, drop the solidity bit. Also, the cold of the graves seems clear and evocative to me, but the cold seeping into the bones is kind of cliche. Skip to the better grave bit.
I think you could set up the transition to the third paragraph better by adding something about lanterns and harvest feasts at the end of the second. Then in the third, skip right to a focus on the lantern in the character's hand.
I would keep reading!
Moody, descriptive openings are all well and good, but you have to be careful to keep the story moving forward and not to get repetitive.
Your first sentence is four clauses, each about the bridge. Nothing wrong with each of them, but - repetitive.
Your second sentence is four clauses, each about how cold the night is. Again, nothing wrong grammatically but - repetitive. (And as a reader I'm starting to get a bit annoyed.)
Your third sentence is five clauses (or four, depending on your feelings about that first comma) about the trees being nervous. Sentence four... is fine. But then the final sentence gives us four clauses demonstrating that the young man is nervous.
One repetitive sentence for emphasis is all right every now and then. But four out of five is a little over the top. Either it needs to be trimmed, or more needs to be happening in each of those long sentences.
I love all this continuations! And Jeb, I'll forgive you for mocking one of my favorite books because you did it so well.
This is another of my older pieces, which may explain why I (gasp) used three adverbs in this section.
Thanks for the suggested changes! I like them.
I kind of liked this but its a bit awkward and goes on and on and on and now I am putting your book down and picking the next fantasy novel that gets to the point quicker. . .
You have set the mood .. . time to move into the meat of the story.
I was not thrilled with "a bridge nigh as ancient as the mountains. . .
I would recommend - "a bridge as ancient as the mountain itself."
"a bridge so high in the mists that it is scarely real . . ."
could be: "a bridge so high that it is barely visible behind its veil of mist"
"hidden deep from the sun's light in the folds o fthe mountain" drop that
Below the tree line, the pines rustle softly and perhaps even nervously for the ?????(young man, the fates chosen, a virgin. . ) I don't like the part about the oaks and maples. I think poetic license with foilage only goes so far. the pines can be nervous but I don't like hesitant trees.
Far from the harvest-feasts, there is only one lantern held tightly and high in the young man's hand. His hand sweats, he shifts his weight from one foot to the next, contemplating the road ahead. Blood trickles from his lip where he bit it anticipating what will happen next which is . . . . not here.
Anyway I didn't hate it, didn't love it. great descriptions. Setting a mood for a novel should be easy, effortless, like dimming the lights and lighting candles. . . don't need to build an entire house to do it right.
just my coppers and it should not be interpreted as professional or even useful advice.
It's one of my favourite books too, rachel. That's why I remembered it so well.
Hi Rachel: I have many early pieces like this, too. They're great for demonstrating two things: you know how to write and you know how to hear the rhythm of the words that you write. In moderation, this type of writing can be effective. In excess, well, I know you've seen this on Nate's blog.
You can write, girl, that much is clear. But if you insist on revisiting these older pieces, then ratchet them up one notch to make them accessible to a contemporary reader. One ruthless edit to slash the fat, then one gentle edit to restore the voice.
I predict big things for you, Rachel. I really do! I am a Rachel fangirl, big time, and I'm not one to throw compliments lightly about. But I'm wondering if you shouldn't let go of these older pieces and see if you can find your marketable voice in new pieces told from your more mature perspective. At your age, a handful of years makes a huge difference. Put nostalgia away for now -- you're too young to be looking back already. Look to your future instead. I think your voice and your writing will be stronger for it.
--Motheringly yours, Phoenix
This is one of those openings that attempts to hook with a sense of atmosphere and with the quality of the writing, but it isn't working for me. While the writing has a nice rhythm to it, it feels overdone. I'd rather see an opening that gets straight into the story.
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