First Page Friday #7: Fantasy

First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a new section on The Writeditor’s blog. Every Friday I will provide an in-depth edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.

Please read the chapter without my notes and record your feedback in the poll before moving on to my critique. This really helps the author. Thanks!

First Page Friday Edit & Critique

Fantasy First 500 – By Randall Whan

Phineas surveyed the approaching army descending upon the city. While small, less than a hundred men, he knew that nothing would stop their advancement till they reached the library. Reports had come in from the west, of their approach, where several villages were burned to ash. Hundreds of men, women, and children had found their head on the end of a pike if they failed to escape. Darkness followed them like a fog enveloping all that it touched. Even the moon’s brilliant light seemed to fade as they drew nearer.Time, so little time left, but how much time did he have left? Surely his barricade on the lower level of library wouldn’t hold them off for long. The city was all but deserted; they had fled when the scouts brought word of the army’s approach. Most of them fled north to the mountains where they believed they would be safe. Phineas had stayed behind and sealed himself in the library, desperate to finish his task. An eerie silence unnerved him, not a sound came from the valley surrounding the city. It seemed that even the wolves and night larks sensed the evil approaching beneath the boots of the invaders.  Lowering the hood of his robe he turned back into the room. His head was shaven except for the braid of hair bound by a crimson and leather band hung to the right side of his forehead. A gold medallion bearing the crest of Deval, a large oak tree barren of leaves, was tied to end of the braid.The only light in the small study came from a burning candle on a desk in the center of the room. The candle was quickly reaching the end of its burn, and like his time, would soon be out. Three of the stone walls were lined with charts and maps; one held a door that lead to the landing of the second level of the library. The fourth was covered by a large bookcase filled with books of various topics. He hurried over to the desk. A group of four rolled scrolls, sealed with read wax bearing the same seal of Deval. He tore the wax from of the scrolls and glanced at its script. Not finished, he thought, but it would have to do. He grabbed a quill and dipped into ink and quickly began to write. His hands ached as he wrote on the tattered parchment. Blacked ink stained his fingers, his hands wrinkled and calloused. He had held his post as chief elder of Deval for the past 35 years, now he knew the moment he and the rest of the elders had been preparing for was upon them. He hoped that he wasn’t too late, that his work would not be in vain.He was pulled away from his writing as the sound of a battering

ram pounding against the libraries outer doors vibrated

throughout the study.

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they can improve.

The Writeditor’s Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Fantasy First 500 – By Randall Whan

Phineas surveyed the approaching army descending upon the city. < This is not the most exciting opening line. It feels overly familiar since a lot of fantasy novels open with an approaching army or battle. While small, less than a hundred men, he knew < “knew” is a filtering word. Read more about filtering here. that nothing would stop their advancement till they reached the library. Reports of their approach had come in from the west, of their approach, < Avoid unusual sentence structures as they tend to sacrifice clarity. where several villages were burned to ash. Hundreds of men, women, and children had found their head on the end of a pike if they failed to escape. <I’m not a fan of sentences that imply dead people realize things. On top of that, this is more passive than saying that the army put their heads on the end of pikes. Darkness followed them like a fog enveloping all that it touched. Even the moon’s brilliant light seemed to fade as they drew nearer. < I mentioned this in another First Page Friday, but I recommend not mentioning the moon in the first chapter, especially in the first few paragraphs, because it’s considered cliche.
Time, so little time left, but how much time did he have left? < The wording of this sentence is strange. He sort of answers his own question before he even asks it. Surely his barricade on the lower level of the library wouldn’t hold them off for long. < Oh, so he’s inside the library? This wasn’t clear. The city was all but deserted; they < “They” seems vague. Perhaps “villagers”? had fled when the scouts brought word of the army’s approach. Most of them fled north to the mountains where they believed they would be safe. Phineas had stayed behind and sealed himself in the library, desperate to finish his task. An eerie silence unnerved him, not a sound came from the valley surrounding the city. It seemed that even the wolves and night larks sensed the evil approaching beneath the boots of the invaders. < Again, this line feels like something I’ve read a dozen times before. Lowering the hood of his robe he turned back into the room. His head was shaven except for the braid of hair bound by a crimson and leather band that hung to the right side of his forehead. A gold medallion bearing the crest of Deval, a large oak tree barren of leaves, was tied to the end of the braid.The only light in the small study came from a burning candle on a desk in the center of the room. < This is another line that just feels too familiar. The candle was quickly reaching the end of its burn, and like his time, would soon be out. Three of the stone walls were lined with charts and maps; one held a door that lead to the landing of the second level of the library. The fourth was covered by a large bookcase filled with books of various topics.<This is too vague to be worth including. He hurried over to the desk. A group of four rolled scrolls, sealed with read wax bearing the same seal of Deval. <This is a sentence fragment. He tore the wax from of the scrolls and glanced at its script. Not finished, he thought, but it would have to do. < This either needs to be an italicized thought in present tense or not a thought at all. Right now the first part is in present tense and the second part is in past, which reads awkwardly. He grabbed a quill and dipped into ink and quickly began to write. < The next sentence says he’s writing, so this seems redundant. His hands ached as he wrote on the tattered parchment. Blacked ink stained his fingers, his hands wrinkled and calloused. < Connecting the two parts of this sentence with a comma doesn’t make sense because they have nothing to do with each other. He had held his post as chief elder of Deval for the past 35 years, now he knew the moment he and the rest of the elders had been preparing for was upon them. He hoped that he wasn’t too late, that his work would not be in vain.He was pulled away from his writing as the sound of a battering

ram pounding against the libraries outer doors vibrated

throughout the study. <I’m not sure if this formatting is intentional or unintentional, but this is the way it was sent to me. If it’s intentional, I have to wonder why? 

My Overall Thoughts

This opening lacks a strong hook. A hook can be anything from a question that begs for an answer to a unique plot element or character trait. This opening feels a bit too expected, a bit too much like dozens of other fantasy novels that have already been published. What’s unique about your book? Why is it better than all the other fantasy novels? That is the element you need to push to hook in readers.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Why should I care about Phineas? I don’t know who he is, whether he’s good or bad, or what he’s trying to accomplish. This makes it difficult to root for him.
  • Work on finding your own unique voice. The writing isn’t bad, but it sounds like you’re trying to write the way you think a fantasy novel is supposed to be written.
  • Emphasize what is unique about your fantasy world. The approaching army, candlelit room, eery silence, scrolls, medallion, and guy with a braid all feel too familiar and too standard for the genre. That’s fine when coupled with some really unique elements, but the uniqueness isn’t coming across here.
  • Be careful with your proofreading: added or missing words, grammatical errors, sentences that don’t make sense. Agents/editors don’t have a lot of tolerance for these types of mistakes as it can give the impression you didn’t put your best effort into the work before submission.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1

Your writing isn’t bad, it’s just a little bland. I don’t feel like this is something that could have only come from Randall Whan, but that’s the impression you want to give agents and editors – that this is a unique masterpiece that could only have come from your imagination. The only way to give that impression is to have a strong voice and unique world/character/plot elements. And maybe this is true of the rest of the book. I don’t know.

I think, more likely than not, you are not starting this in the right place. Don’t fall into the trap of starting with action. That is absolutely not a requirement of the first chapter. In fact, it often leads to weaker first chapters. Action is meaningless before the reader has bonded to the characters. The key to a great first chapter is to start with proaction (your character doing something). That doesn’t mean that what they’re doing has to be inherently exciting. It just has to be interesting.

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall ability.

Connect with Randall

You can connect with Randall on Twitter: @R_A_Whan

Submit to First Page Friday

If you’d like to submit your novel for First Page Friday, please send the following to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com:

  • The name you want me to use in the blog post (real name, alias, or anonymous).
  • The genre of your novel.
  • The first 500 words (give or take, don’t stop in the middle of a sentence) pasted into the body of the email.
  • Any links (Twitter, Blog, Goodreads, etc.) that you’d like included in the post (not required).

Please do not submit if you are not okay with your first page being posted, critiqued, and edited on my website.

About the Editor

Ellen Brock (AKA The Writeditor) is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. She owns the editing company Keytop Services and the writing and editing blog The Writeditor. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services.

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3 thoughts on “First Page Friday #7: Fantasy

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