First Page Friday #35: Fantasy

About First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel. Read the excerpt without my notes first and leave your vote in the poll. Afterward, feel free to leave a comment for the author. Feedback is always helpful!

Fantasy – Anna Chidiac

It was my first time on the surface.

It was the first time any of my people had been on the surface in hundreds of years.

The only thing I knew about it was from stories. I knew about the sun, which provided light to us too, although we could not see it. I knew about large trees and animals. I knew about the people who lived up here. Or at least, I knew what they were like hundreds of years ago. I guessed things had changed a lot since then. I wondered if they still had farms and books.

 

I left my ship in the water, hidden in a deep cave, and climbed onto a shoreline of jagged rocks.

It was early morning and the day was already brighter than it ever was at home. The sun blazed with a white hot light that almost burned my skin.

 

I saw no sign of people on the rocks, they were desolate and bare. But there was a white beach to my left with signs of life. I ran along the uneven terrain, negotiating it with ease, and jumped down onto the sand.

Here there were people; people that looked very different from mine. Their skin was darker; it ranged from pink to dark brown. Younger ones played on the beach while older ones lied around in the sun, some of them carrying unnecessary extra weight. They seemed carefree to the point of lethargy.

As I got closer to them, they sat up, and vigilantly followed me with their eyes, or as vigilantly as they seemed capable of. I tried to look non-threatening, but I remained alert. I would not let my guard down simply because these people seemed harmless. There was a strong sense of wariness amongst them that could easily turn into hostility.

It was a small beach, but beautiful. I had not ever seen such white sand. It was a stark contrast to the water, which looked like a raging mass of liquid black. The water in my world was perfectly still, this water crashed into the shore in waves. The entire beach was surrounded by a thick green forest.

 

As I walked, more and more people stopped what they were dong to look at me. It was not long before every one of them was staring in fearful curiosity. I slipped into the woods. I knew I would have to establish trust with these people, if I was going to get what I wanted. But the gaze of the ones in front of me made me uneasy. I would find someone else to speak with. There were paths in the forest, and not far in, I came a across a hard flat surface full of shining metallic structures of all different colors. Each one had four wheels.

Intriguing” I said, walking up to study a deep blue one. “It is like a carriage with no horse”

Hey!” a man shouted.

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.

My Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics. (Author is already using italics, so my comments are going to be underlined this week)

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue is my comments.

Orange is highlighting.

Fantasy – Anna Chidiac

It was my first time on the surface. < I am immediately thinking “mermaid,” and because mermaids have been done quite a bit in fiction, I am also immediately wondering what will make this particular story stand out.

It was the first time any of my people had been on the surface in hundreds of years.

The only thing I knew about it was from stories. I knew about the sun, which provided light to us too, although we could not see it. I knew about large trees and animals. I knew about the people who lived up here. Or at least, I knew what they were like hundreds of years ago. I guessed things had changed a lot since then. < I would prefer to see her come to this conclusion based on an observation.  I wondered if they still had farms and books.

 

I left my ship in the water, hidden in a deep cave, and climbed onto a shoreline of jagged rocks.

It was early morning and the day was already brighter than it ever was at home. The sun blazed with a white hot light that almost burned my skin. < Since the sun can burn the skin of surface-dwelling humans, the sun being “almost” hot enough to burn her skin doesn’t seem very severe. I want more suspense, higher stakes.

 

I saw no sign of people on the rocks, they were desolate and bare. But there was a white beach to my left with signs of life. I ran along the uneven terrain, negotiating it with ease, and jumped down onto the sand. < If she’s never met humans before, wouldn’t she be scared? If she’s not scared, what is she feeling? I want to be emotionally close to her.

Here there were people; people that looked very different from mine. Their skin was darker; it ranged from pink to dark brown. Younger ones played on the beach while older ones lied around in the sun, some of them carrying unnecessary extra weight. They seemed carefree to the point of lethargy. < I want to be able to visualize this clearly, but I’m not sure how close she is to the people. Is she standing among them? Is she a few yards away? Can the people see her?

As I got closer to them, they sat up, and vigilantly followed me with their eyes, or as vigilantly as they seemed capable of. I tried to look non-threatening, < Could you show this? How does she change her posture or behavior to seem less threatening? but I remained alert. I would not let my guard down simply because these people seemed harmless. There was a strong sense of wariness amongst them that could easily turn into hostility. < Add some expression of her emotion. Is her heart pounding? Is she shaking? Does she hate the feeling of all those eyes on her body?

It was a small beach, but beautiful. < You’re breaking what little tension you’ve created. Now things seem pleasant and peaceful. I had not ever seen such white sand. It was a stark contrast to the water, which looked like a raging mass of liquid black. The water in my world was perfectly still, this water crashed into the shore in waves. The entire beach was surrounded by a thick green forest.

 

As I walked, more and more people stopped what they were dong to look at me. It was not long before every one of them was staring in fearful curiosity. I slipped into the woods. < This is vague. How far did she have to go to get to the woods? Did she run? Did she get scratched on tree branches? Did she stumble and fall? Is she embarrassed or scared or curious? I knew I would have to establish trust with these people, if I was going to get what I wanted. But the gaze of the ones in front of me made me uneasy. < Show that the gazes made her uneasy at the time that she was standing in front of them. Also, if they make her uneasy, why did she go near them in the first place?  I would find someone else to speak with. < If she was trying to speak with someone, then show her making an attempt at conversation or getting too scared to try. Otherwise, her motivation is not clear, which creates a barrier between her and the reader. Even a subtle indication of her motivation (For example: “I had to do this.”) would help tremendously in the early part of this opening. There were paths in the forest, and not far in, I came a across a hard flat surface full of shining metallic structures of all different colors. Each one had four wheels.

Intriguing” I said, walking up to study a deep blue one. “It is like a carriage with no horse” < How would she know what a carriage is?

Hey!” a man shouted.

 

My Overall Thoughts

The writing is too sparse to draw the reader in. Whether this is a mermaid book or she’s some sort of underground dweller, this should be – at least in part – a “fish out of water” story. I want to see her getting burned by the sun. I want her to shake with fear at approaching the humans. I want her to wobble on unsteady legs. I want to see how horribly different it is to be on the surface.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The main character feels completely blank. There is no hint of personality and only the tiniest indications of emotion. Readers want to connect to your character, but that can’t happen if you don’t give them any points of connection. Show emotions through body language, gestures, behavior, thoughts, etc.
  • Paint a more evocative picture for the reader. I want to feel the sand under my feet, smell the hotdog stand, hear the children laughing. Rather than making generalized descriptions of the people and setting, pick out individual elements that represent the whole. For example: “A child jumped in front of me, his skin shiny and pink, his blond curls waving in the light breeze.”

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

I couldn’t emotionally connect with the story nor create strong enough visuals in my mind to get sucked in.

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.

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently OPEN to submissions)

***Please read this entire section before submitting***

Due to the amount of time it takes to respond to each email and due to the volume of submissions received (I booked 4 months in about 2 weeks), I am changing the submission and selection process for First Page Friday for my own sanity as well as to increase the quality of the series.

Submissions will no longer be accepted on a first come, first serve basis, and I will no longer be scheduling posts in advance. I will review submissions once a week and choose a first page that I feel provides the best learning opportunity for readers. This means that as much as I would love to respond to every submission, you probably won’t hear from me if I don’t select your first page. It also means that I may select your first page months after you submit it (you are responsible for updating or pulling your submission as needed).

To Submit, send the following information to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com or if you have trouble with that email address (as has been the case for some of you lately), send it to editorbrock@gmail.com:

  • The name you want used on your post (real name, pseudonym, or anonymous)
  • The first 500 words (Don’t stop in the middle of a sentence, but don’t add sentences above and beyond 500 words)
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Title your submission email: SUBMISSION: First Page Friday – [Genre of your book]

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***A few people have emailed asking if they can have a private first page critique. I am more than happy to do that, but due to being completely booked (I’m working 10-11 hour days!), I have to charge $25 for private, offline first page critiques. Thanks for understanding!***

About the Editor

Ellen Brock is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

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18 thoughts on “First Page Friday #35: Fantasy

  1. Silvie Monk says:

    I feel like the story starts too late. Is there a reason this person NEEDED to be where he/she is? Why hadn’t she/he seen the sun or ocean? This person is obviously on a big adventure, but nothing seems new or different in his/her reactions; only in observation. So why not start the adventure when he/she is underground so the reader has some context between the two worlds?

    I have no idea who I’m following or why I should care.

    You mention a ship. What kind of ship? A space ship? A pirate ship? There are these huge things you drop on us that stop the flow. Sometimes dropping bits of information can create suspense. In this case it feels awkward and unfinished, not mysterious.

  2. Lorraine says:

    We don’t have an impression of what this character looks like other than they are pale and not overweight, lack of food in their underground world. From the text I expect that they would’ve struggled more in the sea because it was rough at the beach. At white sandy beaches the sea is not liquid black even on a rough day, milky maybe? If they have a ship why haven’t others made it to the surface, maybe it’s a prototype. Description of how the skin felt rather than “almost burned”, shielding her eyes might also be good to cut out the glare. Show “wariness, fearful curiosity, carefree, lethargy etc”. Also not seeing any internal emotion. Not sure why she doesn’t pick someone on the beach to talk to, maybe there’s too many and she want’s to catch someone alone. Not sure why she wants to talk to them anyway. She knows beach and horse and car, sun & trees from books maybe? She doesn’t know cars because there has been not contact with this surface world for hundreds of years. Is she fearful of the people because of predigest or just fear of the unknown. It feels like Earth but it might not be. With emotion and showing this could be a powerful opening.

  3. S. Coley says:

    My very first thought was that this was a unknown sex person how’s ancestors used to live on the surface but because of an historical event went and lived under the ground and had been cut off from the surface ever since until today, but then wen I found out that the light of the sun reaches their people but they can not see it I was confused and wen I found out they had a ship I assumed this person came from out off space maybe hidden from the sun behind a planet or dust particles. I wasn’t shore if this person was on there own or with companions as it wasn’t stated ether way. I found the flow of the characters thoughts slightly disjointed as the character seems to be running then static, walking then static then walking again without telling use why they stopped, plus the people on the beach seem to jump around as there in front of the character and then the character seems to have past them to suddenly have more people right in front not wanting to approach them, then the character does put just passes, I couldn’t situate everyone. I didn’t think the character was emotionless but rather a curios yet apprehensive type how possibly dwells on there thoughts more than acting spontaneously on there emotions, a cold type of person how finds it harder to relate to others, thought it could be better focused. I for one liked the fact that the water of the sea was black, as it shows there has probably been a lot of pollution in this world and the sea hasn’t fared well, plus it is fantasy and there for oddly coloured thinks is quite a norm, one odd thing for me was the large waves as if the sea is ruff it is unlikely for people to be sunbathing, as waves are made by wind so it would be very windy making it less hot, the bathers would end up being attacked by the large waves coming in on the shore and it would make running on rocks next to the sea almost impossible as they would be braking and splashing, it doesn’t appear to fit the sort of care free relaxed attitude the people on the beach seem to have. it was obvious to me that this character has a lot of knowledge of how things were before there ancestors left the service. as for appearance I saw the character as a pale and thin, although it doesn’t say, I saw them wearing a skin-tight sort of clothing maybe a kind of rubber as they come from a place were the heat of the sun obviously doesn’t really reach them. In a hole I liked the concept and I was intrigued but I found it hard to follow as it was a little scatty and lacking in specifying some of the details.
    I don’t see it as a problem that the appearance wasn’t obvious at the beginning as it is more important to me to know what the surface is like in this new land, as latter on I would expect a better description of the character as to explain why everyone looked at the character as they pass.

    Sorry for making it so long but I hope this help, I also apologise for my spelling as I am dyslexic, I am currently righting my first book which is also a fantasy but mine follows several characters so my narration is in third person instead of first.

    Good luck to all and don’t stop righting.

  4. trazanacho says:

    I am a big fan of the stand alone sentence [is there a term for this literary device?]. It punctuates the narrative with force and drives home points or emotions by its minimalism [minimalism is hard]. The problem with stand alone sentences is knowing how many to use close to each other. If you overdo it, you lose the impact. That’s what I felt in the beginning.

    I also felt a disconnect in the terrain described. From rocks to beach to forest made the narrator seem like each was a complete adventure rather than a flowing experience of discovery.

    I’m sensing that the Big Reveal of who/what our narrator is will be coming along soon and be revealed as a surprise, but the introduction of the concept left me more frustrated than inquisitive. Toss us a few bones here – we’re not able to connect with your main character [the one clue of skin colors told me nothing – does he/she have fins, too?].

    I apologize to the collective for getting in late – crushed my patella on May 5 and just got home. Will be more active, I promise!

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