Thursday, January 03, 2013

New Beginning 985

Angba Skullcrusher quietly made her way across the Basilica to the sturdy wood door with 'Father Balbain ' printed in neat gold letters. Patting the stray hairs back in place, she gave her forest green day dress a last dusting so she would at least be somewhat presentable after the long ride. Cautiously she rapped the brass knocker.

From inside the room a man called, “Come in.”

Steeling herself for the look of disappointment, she pushed the door open. “Father Balbian?”

“Yes?” Father Balbian sat behind his desk, thick with layers of papers and books. His spectacles gave him the look of a friendly owl. “What can I do for you, miss? Come and sit with me.”

Encouraged, Angba settled onto the padded chair. Opening her bag, she withdrew her letter. “Father,” she began, “my name is Angba Skullcrusher. Tallis sent for me.”

She did not expect his reaction.

“Angba? You’re the Angba?” He stood, a joyful smile spreading from his face to his body, until it seemed as though he smiled with every part of his being. “Angba? Praise the gods! I thought I’d never get to see you. Tallis talked about you constantly. You were his pride and joy.”

“I was? I mean--I have a letter from him,” she said, handing the paper to the priest. “He wanted me to come and stay here and learn with him. I did send him a letter telling him when I was coming.” She managed to smile. “I—I’ve wanted to meet him for a long time. You have no idea how grateful to him I am for everything.”

“Oh, I have an idea,” said Father Balbain. His smile slowly drained from him.

“What’s wrong? Wasn’t I supposed to come here?”

“No, it’s not that.”

“What, then? Is it because I’m an—“

“No. no. That has nothing to do with it. Angba,” he sighed, “I buried Tallis two days ago.”

"You . . . Oh no. If only I hadn't delayed my departure . . . How . . . did he die?"

"Lack of oxygen, I'm afraid. At least I assume so, as he was still alive when I buried the coffin. The screaming stopped after a couple hours."

Opening: Khazar-khum.....Continuation: Evil Editor


Evil Editor said...

I note that the gold letters on the door say "Balbain," but the first two times he's mentioned after that it's spelled Balbian.

One could get the impression Angba is carrying the gold letters. "upon which was printed" would make it clear.

"So she would at least be somewhat presentable" isn't needed. We can figure it out, once you add It had been a long ride.

Considering that the guy just said "Praise the Gods!" when he found out who she was, her question: "Wasn’t I supposed to come here?" is nonsensical. A simple "What's wrong?" is plenty, without the two guesses.

On the other hand, he must know or suspect that she's here to meet Tallis, so perhaps he shouldn't be smiling with every part of his being. A hint of sadness might sneak through.

IMHO said...

I like this and would read on. My comments are mere nit-pickery.

In the first paragraph, I was a tad distracted by all the adjectives: "sturdy wood door", "neat gold letters", "forest green day dress". Perhaps less is more here.

And I know she's an orc from the previous post. Perhaps a bit more foreshadowing -- like having her duck under the door lintel, or note that the chair is too small for her? (assuming your orcs are larger than other beasts).

I respectfully disagree with EE, though. Balbian's inital excitement, quickly followed by sadness, didn't bother me.

Dave Fragments said...

One: Cut. Lots. Cut in half.

Two: If you’re going to introduce her in the first paragraph, she doesn’t need to say her name in the fourth.

Three: How many ways have you made the narrative hesitate?
With words like “quietly, last dusting, somewhat, cautiously.
She walks across a lobby. She reads the sign on the door. She fixes her clothing. She knocks. A man says come in. She pushes the door open and looks in. He says come in again.
Do you see my point? Everything up to paragraph five is a hesitation to prolong the narrative. I don’t care if you set the scene of the basilica and his office but please get to the introduction “My name is Angba Skullcrusher and Father Tallis invited me” faster.
And I might add, for a woman with the last name of Skullcrusher, she is awfully meek. It’s like giving the Lion Tamer in the circus a name like “Titmouse.” What I’m trying to say is “The Manassas Mauler” got that nickname because he did maul his opponents.

Four: I wouldn’t want to put into print the outrageous mental frolics and raging giggles that the name “Balbain” invokes in my mind. {Blush, blush, blush}. How about Balaban instead?

Five and most important: The death of Tallis is the emotional high point of the opening. I’ve delivered that message in real life. I’ve also received that message. It’s blurted out. There’s never hesitation. That’s a Hollywood conceit that people hesitate, stammer, or babble.

Think about opening with her introducing herself.
“Father,” she began, “my name is Angba Skullcrusher. Tallis sent for me.”
Then have him sit back behind his papers, in his quiet office in the basilica, and answer her, not with her doubts or insecurities but the bad news. He’s going to “gush a hello” in maybe too many nervous and edgy words which should alert her to trouble. Then he immediately tells her that Tallis is dead.
Now she can absorb the bad news by thinking about the trip, or fixing her clothing, her hair, thinking about the quiet of the basilica, the disarray of Balbain's office, all that to calm her nerves.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I also felt that there there were too many words getting in the way of the story.

For example, "Steeling herself for the look of disappointment" got my attention. Somehow the girl's not as expected. Perhaps it has something to do with the way her her self-conscious manner is at odds with her name?

But we don't find out, at least not in the selection. Instead we get descriptive details we could do without.

Cut, cut, cut.

St0n3henge said...

I agree with Dave that you need to cut. I noticed different things, though. For instance, "Opening her bag, she withdrew her letter." Well, I didn't think she got the letter out without opening the bag! Don't hold your reader's hand. "She withdrew her letter from her bag," should suffice.

Another problem with the same sentence: it's too involved to describe an action so minor to the story. If you don't want anyone to focus on the specific way Angba opens a bag, don't mention it if you don't have to.

You've got a similar problem here: "Encouraged, Angba settled onto the padded chair." Settling into a padded chair, to me, is getting comfortable (to read a book, usually). Is there a reason you want to mention this? Does Angba have difficulty finding comfortable chairs? Is this a running gag? Does the chair turn out to be significant?

If it's just a chair that doesn't play a bigger part in the story, just put "the chair."

Once you weed out the prose, use the extra words you've saved to describe the room a little better. All I can "see" is a very generic professor-type behind a very generic desk in an otherwise completely blank room. Remember, you know what your characters and settings "look" like, but your readers don't.

Bottom line: You're giving too much significance (by which I mean too many words) to minor, even miniscule things but leaving out important description needed for the reader to understand big things, like characters and settings.

Mister Furkles said...

I think it is rather good. One problem with submitting to us minions is that we seek out flaws. If it were the first page of a successful novel, I bet we would find myriad faults. It is difficult to offer balanced criticism without knowing more of the story than the first page.

So, here are my three nits:
You may remove Skullcrusher from the first line because she gives her full name later.
“… after the long ride.” could be “… after her long ride.”
”I buried Tallis …” could be “We buried Tallis …”

I feel that Angba is from a very rustic local and that she is intimidated by the grandeur of the Basilica. If that is true, then her timid uncertain entrance gives her a more ‘human’ flaw and makes it easier to identify with her. I guess she is large and powerfully built. It is hard to identify with a hero who lacks flaws.

I would conditionally disagree with two of EE’s items:
I don’t have a problem with “So she would at least be somewhat presentable.” If she is the main character and you are in her mind a lot. It shows her discomfort at being in the Basilica.
I would keep “ Wasn't I supposed to come here?” if Angba has doubts about her being permitted to enter the front of the Basilica and then remove some of Balbain’s joy at seeing her.

For unusual character names, I add them to the local dictionary. Then when I misspell them, the spell checker complains.

Evil Editor said...

Brushing off her dress is showing us that she wants to look presentable. Telling us she wants to look presentable is telling us we're too stupid to understand why a character would brush off her dress before whatever.

Evil Editor said...

Also, I din't say that Balbain's initial excitement followed by sadness bothered me. I said the excitement would have been tempered by sadness from the beginning, knowing that Angba wouldn't get to see Tallis.

Dave Fragments said...

Let me say a few things about the number of words...

I write short stories and not novels.
That means when I go to a website and read the submission instructions, I get a word limit.
Flash is one scene, one character, highly charged emotional climax.
1500 to 3000 words means two characters defined and in a climactic scene or situation.
5000 words to 7000 words I can do three or four characters and two scenes.
I sent an editor I know very well a story of 13K words. He cut nearly 3000 out and sent it back. He took out one of my favorite scenes in a way I could live with. So I said OK. But that story had three main characters, two minor characters and a host of bit players. It was complicated and twisty and hopefully challenging the readers.

When I say "cut" or "cut in half" then I what I am saying is take out the excess and use it later near the climax for character development or in the climax where it will increase the effect of what is happening. I found no hint in this opening of the protagonists struggle or the solution. It has lots of description but seemingly no foreshadowing imagery for what is to come.

I never consider an opening is finished unless I have the entire story written. Then I know the complete journey of the protagonist and the antagonist. That's when I add the descriptive fireworks and look for themes in literature to build into the story. Until that point, I keep the story sparse and below a word limit. It Nietzsche embodies my protagonist or if Milton or Wordsworth or Tennyson fits the theme (even Biblical themes) then I have room to add words that count. That's the way it works for me.

Someday I will write a novel but not yet.

One last rather unrelated thing on book length...
In the anthologies I see on my shelves, 80K is a good thickness, feel in the hand, and easy on the eyes.
I think that should be the limit for a novel. I don't agree with 100K ...

Anonymous said...

All the b's in the first sentence put me off balance.

Tightening time.

I'd cut “Oh, I have an idea,” said Father Balbain. Doesn't seem to fit.

Good lead in to the story even with extra details. You engaged me, gave me enough to want to read on.

khazar-khum said...

AUthor here.

LOVED the continuation!

A lot of tightening still needs to happen, yes, and I certainly appreciate ideas. The Minions have been the most reliable of beta readers.

Evan said...

Just wanted to expand on something AA said:

"Once you weed out the prose, use the extra words you've saved to describe the room a little better. All I can "see" is a very generic professor-type behind a very generic desk in an otherwise completely blank room. Remember, you know what your characters and settings "look" like, but your readers don't."

But don't go to the other extreme by telling us everything about the room. We know this is in a basilica, and this is an office, so we can think up a generic version of that. Focus on things that are unique about your setting; things that show us about your world or your characters.

We would expect bookshelves and other scholarly items in his office. However, a collection of miniature ceramic ponies on one of his shelves would be unusual and hint at what kind of person Father Balbain is. Even something as basic as the tidiness of the office would say something.

Unless this character exists only to deliver information to Angba and we never see him again. In that case, we could use some hints here that we're in another world.

Oh, and like IMHO said, a hint that Angba is an orc would be nice. Okay, yes, the book cover and blurb on the back would probably mention that, but it seems odd to expect the reader to already have an impression of the character before they read page 1.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Oh, I had forgotten Angba was an orc. All the more important to play up her diffident-young-lady manner, then, and I think you can achieve that here by not letting anything get in the way of the effect. Set yourself a word-cutting quota. That can work wonders.