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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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]

If you don’t tell me your genre, I cannot choose you for First Page Friday so please include it!

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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. Sue says:

    I didn’t think “mermaid” until the phrase “up here”. But then I was confused because if it’s an Earth mermaid, there are underwater currents, the water isn’t always perfectly still. And you would think that an underwater-dwelling creature would have problems acclimatising to movement OUT of the water, yet s/he doesn’t. (Or are there dry underwater caves in the home environment?).

    There is possibly a story here that I would want to read, but it needs a fair bit of tightening up/more attention to detail – s/he slipped into the woods, but the gaze of the people in FRONT of her was frightening – I thought they were on the beach? people lied on the beach – not lay? dong – should be doing, breaking water on a beach is not black in colour, especially when the sun is shining.

    I’m still intrigued, though.

  2. Kristin Russ says:

    I thought she was coming from space. Since she has a ship she is hiding. I also assumed that the protagonist is female, but I don’t think there is any indication one way or another. I pictured her emotionally and socially vague, like aliens are portrayed on TV–wide-eyed and fearless. It was an intriguing opening to me.

  3. Leeswammes says:

    I’ve been reading some dystopia and I immediately got the idea that she had come to the earth’s surface from below. I didn’t expect there to be people, though. 🙂

  4. Jutta says:

    Mermaid didn’t occur to me before Ellen mentioned it, because the character is described as running along uneven terrain – even negotiating it with ease – before jumping down onto the sand. She(?) doesn’t have trouble breathing air, either. There is no adaptation process, so I expect the character’s natural environment to be much like the surface of the earth.

    However, if there was an adaptation process that we have missed, because it took place before the beginning of the story, I would change the beginning and start with that. Otherwise, it will be the reader who has to adapt – twice. 😉

  5. Kate Sparkes says:

    I thought she was coming from an underground cave, like in “City of Ember”– didn’t get mermaid at all until you said it. Maybe travelling up from a cave system on a river that flows into still, dark lakes (hence the ship).

    So that might need clarification. 🙂

    Agreed on the notes. It’s interesting, it just doesn’t draw me in.

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      Maybe mermaid occurred to me because of the amount of mermaid fiction I have happened to encounter recently. Interesting to read other perspectives!

      The cave idea occurred to me as well, but the mention of the black water made me think she was in/under the water.

      Caves do make more sense though.

      Perhaps the bottom line is that the story is starting too late and/or is too vague for readers to get their bearings.

      • Kate Sparkes says:

        I think that’s true. I’m interested to find out what the intention is! I’d also like to know what this character looks like. I was imagining something that’s very much an underground creature, enormous eyes and white skin, hunched and kind of skulking… if she’s a mermaid, that would come as a bit of a shock to me.

        I have trouble describing first-person narrators right away, so I know how hard that is.

  6. Roman says:

    If I didn’t know that I was reading a fantasy, the first line would have made me think that the story was a sci-fi. I think indicating that the main character was in the ocean would help. saying, “It was my first time above the waves” or something to that affect. One thing that might also help clarify the fact that your character is a mermaid, would be to describe the world in a less general way and more as though we were looking though the main POV’s eyes. the mermaid is comming from the ocean, a completly diferent world. how would a mermaid describe humans for the first time? Try to describe humans without using general terms like eyes, noses, skin color, etc.

  7. Cheryl says:

    I liked the intrigue, but I was so hung up on the details of punctuation and sentence construction that I missed your excellent points, Ellen. My first thought was “mermaid” too, until I read the other details and concluded it must be somebody from Inner Earth or an ET who has an underground base. I’m curious what happens next, that’s for sure.

  8. Lisa says:

    I love characters. I want to know who they are, inside and out, and I felt this was missing from this excerpt.

    The character has no fear even though she is out of her depth – literally. She’s in a strange world, walking on solid ground, and she’s the first person to do this in a long time in her people’s history. This is momentous but the character’s thoughts and reactions don’t reflect this. So, it is difficult for me as a reader to relate to this character.

    On the other hand, what an incredible story concept! It makes me want to know more about what happened to split the human race like that, why the character is on the surface, what her people are like and how they differ from the humans on the surface, what the culture is like, what abilities she might have as a result of the environment she grew up in, and so on.

    All that’s really required on the first page is to create a character that has enough qualities a reader can identify with, as well as enough different-ness to make her a compelling person.

    Thank you for sharing this, and I wish you all the very best with your writing.

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