Niko saw his first Shadow the moment he set foot in Aldemyr.
He followed the other passengers off the steamship gangplank onto the harbor landing and there it was, a grey filmy thing scuttling beneath a heavy cart.
"Out of the way." His little sister, Sandy, shoved him from behind.
"All right, all right." Niko gripped his bags and walked up the crowded sidewalk, keeping pace with the cart, his eyes riveted on the thing as it rippled along the street.
At first, he'd thought it was part of the cart's own shadow; he could see the cobblestones through it. But then it jumped forward and danced beneath the horse's clopping feet, darting between each hoof that hit the ground. Niko shivered in the summer air.
Sandy dragged her bags over beside him, her short plump legs kicking at her long skirts, while Mama scanned the area for their escort.
"What is it?" Sandy followed his gaze. "I don't see anything."
Niko shook his head. "I don't know."
As the cart drew near, the thing leapt into the shade of the gutter, just inches away. Niko jumped back, his heart pounding, but the creature only hovered a moment, a puff of dark smoke. Niko had the feeling it was staring at him, though he could make out no face, or even a discernable head. Then it skittered up the street and vanished around a corner. No one else on the crowded sidewalk gave it any notice.
"Look, there's another one!" Niko leant down to his sister's level and pointed toward a nebulous blob behind the horse. "Under the cart! It's some kind of Shadow Creature!"
Sandy frowned and scrunched up her eyes, trying to focus on what her brother was pointing at. "There's no such thing as Shadow Creatures; that's a lot of horseshit."
Turned out she was right. It was.
Opening: Laurie A. May.....Continuation: Anon.
"Geeze Niko," Sally ribbed. "You're so paranoid, you'd be scared by your own shadow."
Niko smiled weakly at the joke, but he was rattled. All the other puffs of smoke he'd seen back home had faces and discernible heads. But this one...it was darker and puffier than the others. A veritable wisp of evil.
Niko hoisted his bag onto his shoulder and patted the knife in his belt for reassurance. First floaty dandelion florets, and now gray filmy things...Who knew what other horrors were lurking in this strange new land?
P4: I would think his bags would have been in his grip the whole time.
It reads as if the "thing" his eyes are riveted on is the cart. You've already introduced the term "Shadow," so call it that.
P5: It can't dart "between" an individual hoof. It can dart between the hooves or it can dart past or around each hoof. Actually, that would be some impressive darting if it could dart past each hoof as it hit the ground, as I assume two hooves would hit the ground at about the same time at least occasionally.
First you tell us this:
Niko saw his first Shadow the moment he set foot in Aldemyr.
Then you tell us the same thing in a much more interesting and dramatic way.
Basically, you're summarizing the scene with an author's point of view note to self re: what must happen next. Then you write the scene more from the character's point of view. This is a common habit and the summary line can be very helpful, but when the scene has been written you should edit that initial summary line out. Otherwise, readers go through the scene knowing the conclusion, which sort of kills the suspense.
Spell check is your freind. (Discernible.)
This is a pretty good opening. You hold off on the info-dumps pretty well, though there could be a tad less.
The last paragraph seems too much. Niko's not sure he saw the thing, and more interesting stuff is probably going on-- he's in a new place, there's some concern about the Escort, whatever. I think it would serve you better to lightly touch on the Shadow and then move the story forward, instead of dwelling on it for quite so long.
In addition to what the anon said at 11:04, I also think your first sentence could be stronger because there's no real context for what a "Shadow" is, nor what an "Aldemyr" is.
So, to me, your first sentence reads, "Niko saw his first *blank* the moment he set foot in *blank*."
I think this is a matter of fine tuning. I would make these changes:
Niko first saw a Shadow when he set foot in Aldemyr.
As he followed the other passengers off the steamship gangplank onto the harbor landing, there it was, a grey filmy shadow scuttling beneath his cart.
I think those changes narrow the focus and the action onto Niko seeing and wondering what the "shadow" is.
Also, and I think this is what EE was pointing out, you say something twice here and it slows the narrative.
But then it jumped forward and danced beneath the horse's clopping feet, darting between each hoof that hit the ground.
I would make it something like this:
But then the shadow jumped beneath the horse's hooves, darting between them as they landed on the cobblestone road.
A little thing:
He walks up a crowded sidewalk in the area near a steamship recently unloaded of passengers not watching where he's going at all (since his eyes are riveted on the shadow). Why isn't he bumping into anyone or having anyone bump into him? I think at least a few other people would be too busy gawking or working to get out of his way.
Spell check is your freind. (Discernible.)
Actually, that would be some impressive darting if it could dart past each hoof as it hit the ground, as I assume two hooves would hit the ground at about the same time at least occasionally.
If the horse is trotting two hooves might hit at the same time since it's a two beat. Walking, probably not.
Anonymous at 7:03, sweet pea, I'm afraid you wouldn't recognize a joke if it danced naked in front of you wearing Dobby's tea cozy.
I'm going to risk excommunication and disagree with the Beer Pope up there; I think most readers of speculative fiction are entirely copacetic with first lines (most lines, in fact) full of *blank*s that we have faith will either be defined in good time, or are color text we don't need to care about.
He probably has a point about it not being the strongest possible opening, though.
Laurie: I like this opening. I love the story idea. The reader is in Niko’s mind and the tension is palatable. You may intensify tension by removing unnecessary words and non contributing phrases. You are at 246 words and may remove about 60 without loss to the story. By tightening it, you free the reader’s imagination, increase the tension, and you cam put more story into the first five pages.
Anon 11:04 is right. The first sentence adds no value and shuts down the reader’s imagination.
Drop unnecessary articles, nouns and adjectives. “followed the other passengers” may be “followed other passengers”. You don’t need to mention a gangplank or a harbor – readers do not expect passengers to jump over the side onto a beach.
Eliminate noncontributing prepositional phrases. These phrases contribute nothing to the tension: ‘from behind’, ‘At first’, ‘in the summer air’.
Eliminate filler words. Evil gave a list of words used to fill space. It’s in the archives. You don’t need these: ‘over’, ‘just’, ‘but’. And but seems to be one of Evil’s peeves. 'But' is a negative word. Use it to reverse polarity not to substitute for other conjunctions. As in: “Sandy liked ice cream but not garlic ice cream.” Not as in: “Sandy liked ice cream but raspberry was her favorite.”
Eliminate helper verbs and ‘to be’ verbs when possible. You don’t even need a verb in some sentences if it would be a ‘to be’ verb. Evil posted the first paragraph of Bleak House in the archives. It has sentences like “Dogs, indistinguishable in mire.” No ‘were’. No 'the' either. You may change ‘he'd thought’ to ‘He thought’, ‘he could see’ to ‘he saw’, and ‘had the feeling’ to ‘felt’.
Avoid distractions from the POV. Likely, Niko isn’t thinking about his sister having short plump legs at this time. It is okay to have her kicking her skirt. But if Niko notices her short plump legs, how concerned can he be about the shadows?
To increase tension, use simpler words. Mama can look for the escorts. She doesn’t need to scan for them. And ‘though he could make out no face, or even a discernable head’ may be simply ‘he couldn’t see a face’.
Avoid redundant ways of informing the reader. The reader will assume that if he can’t see a face, that he also sees no head. We will guess their is a crowd because passengers left the seamship.
You may also move the last two lines of dialogue after the last paragraph. This way Sandy’s question is a reaction to Niko jumping. The last sentence of the last paragraph can be shortened. ‘Giving notice’ means you quit your day job. I’d go with something really simple like ‘Nobody noticed it.’ Or maybe ‘Nobody else noticed it.’
Concentrate the tension, inspire the reader’s imagination, and keep the POV. Everybody will keep reading.
Let us know when it’s published.
Thanks muchly, EE and everyone. Great continuations and entertaining comments - it's really interesting to see the different reactions. I shall definitely fix the hoofs bit and do some pruning. ^_^
AlaskaRavenclaw – I thought I'd need to have a stern talk with my spellchecker, since it let that spelling through, but dictionary.com lists "-able" as an alternate spelling. Still, it’s probably best to stick with the standard one (I read a lot of weird old books, and my brain seems to glom onto the odder spellings and phrases).
@150 You will not be excommunicated. For the time being.
Yes, you can change 'followed the other passengers' to 'followed other passengers', but not without changing the meaning of the sentence. In this case, the shade of meaning may not matter, but it still exists.
But is not a negative word, for crying out loud. It's not a positive one, either. It is, if we are going to attempt to ascribe any quality to it at all, neutral.
If you are writing a sentence, of course you need a verb. If your collection of words doesn't include a verb, then what you have isn't a sentence; it's a sentence fragment.
There is nothing wrong with using so-say helper verbs or 'to be' in the appropriate context. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, etc.
The reader will assume that if he can’t see a face, that he also sees no head.
Only if the reader is an ass.
"Followed other passengers" doesn't read right. You don't have to over-edit. It's okay for books to have words, you know. They're books.
"In the summer air" was probably put in to indicate that it is, in fact, summer, so the chill was not from cold.
"At first" sets up "But then." That's why it's here. "But then" is used correctly as the negative of "at first."
Mama is correctly "scanning" the crowd for the escorts in order to pick them out from all of the other people who may look similar to the escorts, but will be different.
"...though he could make out no face, or even a discernable head." Besides the spelling, I see no reason to change this. I wouldn't assume no head= no face. Many fiction characters are faceless but have heads.
If the author removes all of the non-action words, the readers are left with no way of visualizing the setting, characters, or even the time of year.
B.S.: “But is not a negative word, for crying out loud. It's not a positive one, either.”
You might have asked: how is ‘but’ a negative word?
Some years ago psychologists studied reader’s subliminal reaction to common English words. Their findings reported the twenty words which evoked the most positive feelings and the twenty which evoked the most negative feelings.
‘But’ was one of these negative words. The positive words included: ‘like’, ‘free’, and ‘money’. We would all like free money BUT you can’t have it.
Why would I ask that question? It'd be like asking why is but caramel?
It'd be like asking why is but caramel?
I have it on good authority that a surfeit of caramel will make the but bigger, therefore...
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