First Page Friday #8: Fantasy/Alternate History

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 Every Friday I will provide an in-depth edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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/Alternate History First 500 – By Yvone Williams

The Captain
    As Constance emerged from the ship’s hold, a gale swept her brown hair over her eyes.
    “Left,” a man called from the bow. “Pull left, you blind codger.”
    She pushed her hair back and scanned the ship: Creedy stood on the quarterdeck, yanking the wheel in silence. Normally, he would have severed the other man’s tongue with a sharp reply. Constance rushed to meet him.
    “Creedy, what’s happening?” she asked, lowering her head against the wind. The skirt of her frock coat whipped her legs.
    “Lost your eyes to the wind, have you?” he asked. The irises of his eyes were clouded and shifted toward her voice. “Make sure that piece of filth Pisador is still in the hold.”
    “He’s there,” she said. But I had to untie him. Her gaze shied away from him, toward the wind, and over the main deck. Half of her crew was bunched around the mainmast. Overhead, men climbed the ratlines. Above them, others recklessly hung from the crosstrees. Both groups fought to keep the wind-gashed topsail attached to its yard.
    Constance left Creedy at his position and climbed down to the main deck. A delicate-framed man struggled to pry the main topmast’s halyard from around the mainstay. Another man, hunched and grey, stood beside him.
    “Why did no one reef the sails?” she asked.
    “Because I’m not a sailor,” the slight one said, fighting the twisted ropes. “I’m a naturalist.”
    Constance knew Sanctuary did not care who did her trimming– Creedy had said as much, and his words had yet to fail her.
    “Angel Shades, Rosy Underwings… my interest is in moths. Not rope, not sails, not ships,” he said, shaking the rope.
    “Stop!” Constance frowned; the tangled lines were beginning to fray.
    “Just a doctor, myself,” the old man said with a shrug.
    “Well.” Constance slid her trembling hands into pockets. “I advise you get your doctoring tools ready. You might have a chance to prove it.”
    “Chance?”
    She walked away, but the doctor trailed her.
    “You’re the captain. Why can’t you fix this? It’s your responsibility; none of us asked to be here.”
    She tried to ignore him while she walked. All she wanted was a moment alone. A single moment to think.
    Save the stays and you’ll save the ship. But how?
    “It won’t unravel itself, you know,” the naturalist called after her.
    “Christ’s sake,” Creedy said. “Just cut the damn thing. We can afford to lose one sail if we’re as close as it sounds.”
    Constance moved starboard to look beyond the sails. He was right; the snow-covered ground seemed to wink and coax the sun from behind the clouds. They were less than 20 minutes away.
    Her eyes roamed past the clipped, icy shore of Greenland. It was all a blur of white, and mountain ridges were only visible due to the shadows they cast. Constance took her pendant in hand, fingers running along the gilt. Soon, its small, arcane marks would lead her to la vara de centuries– the Rod of Centuries– and then… then, she would restore everything.

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/Alternate History First 500 – By Yvone Williams

The Captain
    As Constance emerged from the ship’s hold, a gale swept her brown hair over her eyes.
    “Left,” a man called from the bow. “Pull left, you blind codger.”
    She pushed her hair back and scanned the ship: Creedy stood on the quarterdeck, yanking the wheel in silence. Normally, he would have severed the other man’s tongue with a sharp reply. < This sentence and the next one feel a bit disjointed to me. I think a transition would help tremendously. Constance rushed to meet him.
    “Creedy, what’s happening?” she asked, lowering her head against the wind. The skirt of her frock coat whipped her legs.
    “Lost your eyes to the wind, have you?” <This line confused me on the first read-through. After reading it a second time, I think I understand that he is being sarcastic. Some sort of response from Constance or a more specific dialogue tag would help nail down that explanation. he asked. The irises of his eyes were clouded < Having him say that she lost her eyes to the wind, then having his eyes be clouded made me wonder if the wind really was doing something to their eyes. and shifted toward her voice. “Make sure that piece of filth Pisador is still in the hold.”
    “He’s there,” she said. But I had to untie him. Her gaze shied away from him, toward the wind, and over the main deck. Half of her crew was bunched around the mainmast. Overhead, men climbed the ratlines. Above them, others recklessly hung from the crosstrees. <Instead of relying on an adverb, a stronger description would be better if possible. Both groups fought to keep the wind-gashed topsail attached to its yard.
    Constance left Creedy at his position and climbed down to the main deck. A delicate-framed man struggled to pry the main topmast’s halyard from around the mainstay. Another man, hunched and grey, stood beside him.
    “Why did no one reef the sails?” she asked.
    “Because I’m not a sailor,” the slight one said, fighting the twisted ropes. “I’m a naturalist.”
    Constance knew Sanctuary did not care who did her trimming– < I don’t know anything about ships. I don’t know what you mean by “her trimming.” Creedy had said as much, and his words had yet to fail her.
    “Angel Shades, Rosy Underwings… my interest is in moths. Not rope, not sails, not ships,” he said, shaking the rope.
    “Stop!” Constance frowned; the tangled lines were beginning to fray. <I always prefer linear order: The tangled lines fray, and then she says stop.
    “Just a doctor, myself,” the old man said with a shrug.
    “Well.” Constance slid her trembling hands into pockets. “I advise you get your doctoring tools ready. You might have a chance to prove it.”
    “Chance?”
    She walked away, but the doctor trailed her.
    “You’re the captain. Why can’t you fix this? It’s your responsibility; none of us asked to be here.”
    She tried to ignored him while she walked. < This sentence stood out to me as much weaker than the others. Firstly, avoid having characters “try” to do things. Secondly, we already know that she is walking so perhaps a description of where she is or what she’s passing would work better (For example: She ignored him as she pushed between two sailors repairing the sail). All she wanted was a moment alone. A single moment to think.
    Save the stays and you’ll save the ship. But how?
    “It won’t unravel itself, you know,” the naturalist called after her.
    “Christ’s sake,” Creedy said. < Isn’t Creedy on a different level of the ship? I think it would be helpful to mention that (For example: Creedy said, leaning over the railing of the quarterdeck.) Something like that helps to orient things in the reader’s mind. “Just cut the damn thing. We can afford to lose one sail if we’re as close as it sounds.”
    Constance moved starboard to look beyond the sails. He was right; the snow-covered ground seemed to wink and coax the sun from behind the clouds. They were less than 20 twenty minutes away.
    Her eyes roamed past the clipped, icy shore of Greenland. It was all a blur of white, and mountain ridges were only visible due to the shadows they cast. Constance took her pendant in hand, fingers running along the gilt. Soon, its small, arcane marks would lead her to la vara de centuries– the Rod of Centuries– and then… then, she would restore everything.

My Overall Thoughts

You have a very nice, easy to read writing style that drew me in right away. You started with a great conflict that has action that is interesting but not overwhelming to the reader. Well done.

Key Places to Improve:

  • There were a few places where I felt slightly confused about what you were trying to say. This may have something to do with the fact that I don’t know anything about ships, but you do need to assume that readers know nothing about ships to ensure clarity.
  • You do a great job with keeping the descriptions brief, but there were a few places where I felt it would be better to give the characters more concrete positioning on the ship (where Creedy is when he talks to Constance and the doctor; where Constance is when she is ignoring the doctor).
  • You could turn the emotional dial up just a tad. It wasn’t clear what was at stake for Constance – Was she in fear for her life? Was she just worried about damaging the ship? What exactly was the consequence if things didn’t turn out right?

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 4

I really enjoyed this first chapter. Aside from some minor tweaking and clarity issues, this seems more or less good to go. I have no real complaints other than a few line edits. This read like a publishable book. Well done!

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 Yvone

You can connect with Yvone on her blog and Twitter.

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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4 thoughts on “First Page Friday #8: Fantasy/Alternate History

  1. Arphaxad says:

    I enjoyed that opening, it made me want to continue reading. I hope the author makes the full story available soon.

    As for the edits. I learned some good things and thought they were all relevant.

    The comment (I don’t know anything about ships. I don’t know what you mean by “her trimming.”) intrigued me. I know very little about ships and I felt I understood what a trimming was based on context, I would guess it has something to do with sails and securing them, and I did not feel not knowing what a trimming was distracted from the flow. What could the writer do to include terminology to set the scene and not confuse those that do not know the words?

    As always, thank you for the first page Friday feature.

    • Yvone Williams says:

      Thank you for the kind words! This story, “The Hunt for Napoleon’s Justice” will be posted on my blog, in increments, as I finish editing (which turns out to be the worst idea I’ve ever had because I am a slow self-editor.)

      However, the rest of this scene can be read on my blog in the Serial Fiction area– I’d post a link to make it easier for you, but I don’t want to spam Ellen after she was kind enough to do this edit for free.

      With NaNoWriMo tying me down for November, the next segment won’t arrive until early December. *ducks to avoid any projectiles* Sorry!

      And great question regarding terminology. I’m excited for Ellen’s answer =)

  2. Yvone Williams says:

    “Having him say that she lost her eyes to the wind, then having his eyes be clouded made me wonder if the wind really was doing something to their eyes.” This made me laugh… Clarity is so important when it comes to fantasy because the genre makes anything possible. I have personally encountered this issue while beta reading, so I completely understand where you’re coming from here.

    I had to do a lot of research for the scene, so I can only imagine that your face while reading it was similar to mine when I did my research: “@_@ So… much… jargon.” I will definitely try to make it a smoother ride for the uninitiated.

    Thanks for everything you pointed out, Ellen, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Though I have to admit, after reading “You started with a great conflict that has action that is… not overwhelming to the reader,” I’m worried xD The action ramps up shortly after this first ~500 words.

    I am participating in NaNoWriMo (my username is evee123zy if anyone would like to add me,) so I won’t have time to edit this until December, but you can believe I’ll be taking your advice and anyone else’s who wants to leave a comment about things that didn’t sit right with them. Thanks again, Ellen!

  3. Raúl says:

    I am nobody to give advice in your writing, but being honest I found this hard to like, considering that airplanes appeal a lot to me. At the final lines I see you are naming an object using spanish, for more accuracy it would be “la vara de los siglos”. Maybe you’ve been adviced about it by now. Native speakers appreciate a lot when you use spanish (or any other language) out of a cultural context (life in the south border, chicanos in L.A…etc). Cheers!

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