Author Topic: Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue  (Read 2812 times)

akoebel

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Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue
« on: February 28, 2011, 10:23:50 AM »
Hi all,

This is the prologue from my first novel : The Fifth Compendium

Summary :
Prologue, 3700 words

Destra, Mother of the fifth heart is being chased by a group of men who want to steal the item she was asked to carry with her that night.


Thanks for any comments!

LongTimeUnderdog

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Re: Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2011, 03:47:29 PM »
Right off in sentence #2, I don't like the voice of the piece.  Or perhaps its the use of the sentence"stepping up her pace," that bothers me.  Or perhaps I just a snob about such things.  Also try to cut as many past perfects out as possible.  As in the sentence
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As she had feared,
.  This could be reduced to "As she feared," and it would feel smoother, read better, and  . . . I can't think of anything witty or interesting for a third part.  Drat.

Maybe I'm just a snob (very possible) but I have trouble reading the piece.  Not because of any lack of mystery, or excitement, or intensity, or whatever.  The Prose are . . . annoying.  Before you get too caught up in how ridiculously vague that is, allow me to clarify.  The word choice is lacking creativity.  It reads a lot like someone trying hard to keep things just passed the line of witty and clever, but never actually steps over that line.  Everything sounds over used and like a mix of "I'm an older world," and "Welcome to high school."  Those two all mixed up lend themselves to be uninteresting.  I get the impression that the world is older (not what we would look at as modern) because there are "animals" on the street following her and they use torches.  Not because we have any real setting information.

Also some use of passive voice could be andjusted just slightly.
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Destra was feeling anxiety rise in her
could be changed to
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Destra's anxiety rose in her.
or something like that (you're the writter after all) and it would be much better.

As the piece finished off, it got better. The prose still needs some work, but it got better.  As well, the story became engaging.  I still had a lot of trouble sympathizing with Destra.  I get she doesn't like dudes, but it felt more like contempt and loathing, without any real founding.  She wasn't afraid of them because of things they did, nor did she loath them for things they did.  All I really got as the reader as that she didn't like them, and thought them stupid.  The motivations for her pursuers was questionable as well.  that is to say, none existent.  Was there money involved?  Were these revolutionaries?  Mystery breeds intensity, no denying that, but all I really got was the author trying to tell me about a skism between men and women in this world.

Dark_Prophecy

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Re: Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue
« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2011, 08:10:08 AM »
I have to agree with LTU on some of his points. For me, the wording didn't seem annoying, but it was strange. It almost felt like English might not be your first language.

If it is, and I have horribly offended you, just remember that I'm just some lame dude on the internet that lives in his parents' basement and is scared to talk to women, and you can always toss my opinion right out the window.

I read the piece on my Kindle, since I like to get a feel for what it would look like in "book form." I think it helps me treat it more like a novel, and less like a Word document. That said, I liked where things were going in the story. It's using the classic "protect the magic/great knowledge thingamajig with your life" plot, which feels a little old to me, but it's just different enough for me to run with it.

One thing that I definitely did not like was the excess information in the middle of the action. I was getting all excited about Destra making her escape from these men. We have:

Quote
When she got out of the maze, they were almost on top of her.

If they're almost on top of her, we don't need thoughts about killing herself, thoughts about the pavement, thoughts about life imprisonment for the men chasing her, etc. Right there, I felt like action needed to happen, someone needed to make a grab for her, or she needed to do something brilliant or special. Instead, I had to wade through some worldbuilding to get there. I actually laughed out loud when I read

Quote
She was still astonished they hadn't caught up with her already.

Yeah, me too I thought. If she's so busy looking at the stones below her, and thinking about how dumb these men are and how they're going to be in big trouble, she should probably get jumped from up ahead, or fall down or something.

Now, please please please don't think that I hated this piece. I felt like Destra definitely had a good character going for her. She's got opinions, and the narration shows them. She's got purpose, and the story shows that too. I'm interested to see where this is going, and look forward to more chapters.

Oh, one more thing. I'd shorten the dialogue of the main bad guy. It's pretty much a given that they're going to smoke her out of the building. He doesn't need to tell her what her options are, she already knows that.

I've definitely read much worse in a first novel, so keep up the good work, and feel free to PM me if you've got any questions. I didn't go into the grammar, since it's not really my area of expertise, and if this is a first draft, of course it's going to have some things wrong with it. Overall, nice work.
I like basketball, hanging out with my friends, reading, slamming a garbage can into a pimp or two with magical heavenly powers. You know, teenager stuff.

Juan Dolor

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Re: Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue
« Reply #3 on: March 01, 2011, 04:46:22 PM »
Quote
As she had feared, the animals who were behind her on the other street had turned to follow her.
  I would be a little careful of using metaphors like this so early.  This is fantasy.  It could be real animals following her.  My first thought was of a gang of camels, for some reason.

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That small pack of streets was a maze of tiny streets, most of them going nowhere.
Redundant streets.  Also, I am not sure I am getting a picture of what this is.  Is it a real maze?  Why do the streets go nowhere? 

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...she could probably escape them and deliver the compendium for the women waiting for it on the other side of the river.
  Okay, I am assuming that this is the thing she is carrying in her burlap sack.  Why not tell us what it is in the first paragraph?  Hiding it from the reader can make us want to know what it is, which is why lots of TV shows and movies would rely on this trick in this circumstance.  But we're not using a camera here.  We're inside her head, and she knows what's in her own sack.  In that sense it's a viewpoint violation to just say "the Heart's treasure" in the first paragraph because she knows exactly what that treasure is and she would be thinking about it.   And fortunately, having her think about what the treasure is and what it is worth, or what would happen if it fell into the wrong hands, is much more interesting than just letting us wonder what the macguffin is. 

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She had often come here before she joined the Hearth, so she was confident that she could loose those men in those streets.
  So is there a Hearth and a Heart?  Or are they separate?  Does the Heart's treasure belong to the Hearth?  Also, lose-- not loose.  Also, why is there a maze in this town?  I thought at first that it was just a neighborhood with super confusing streets (I've spent a decade in Boston), but she keeps thinking of it as a real maze. 

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When she got out of the maze, they were almost on top of her.
  So she didn't lose them in the maze?  Spend a little more time here and show her looking back, knowing that she has failed, knowing that they will soon have the compendium.  Ratchet up the tension.

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If she wasn't careful, she would trip and fall and then, they would catch her.
  Um, why haven't they caught her already?  They were almost on top of her when she left the maze, and she's an old lady.   In this paragraph, she sounds less concerned about them than in the previous paragraphs.

Quote
How did those animals dare chasing a women on the streets?
  If this is such an unthinkable act for them, something that carries a life sentence, shouldn't someone be stopping them?  Okay, she says she has not seen an arbiter.  But it doesn't sound from your story as if the streets are empty of other people.  (The men later shout for people to stop her, for example.)  Why doesn't she stop and ask someone for help?  Why doesn't she turn around and confront these men? 

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As she raised her head to look farther into the street, some measure of hope appeared in the form of the indistinct bell shape of one of the lower district libraries which stood a few hundred lengths before her, next to the river and its churning fall waters. No man could follow her there!
  She knows this town well.  This library should not be a surprise.  She should be thinking as she exits the maze that she has to run for the library, where she will be safe.

Quote
"Where is she?" she heard a voice outside say. A man voice, soft, yet commanding.
  First, how is she hearing them?  Is the library door not shut?  Second, they chased her in-- so wouldn't all of them know where she is?  So this must be a new guy.  So have her realize that this is a new guy.

Quote
Fear started again to grip Destra's chest after hearing that conversation; not only didn't they intend to abandon their chase, but they wanted to come get her inside.
  Again, why is no one helping her?  Are there no staff in the library?  Is no one going to notice a bunch of men with ladders assaulting a library they are forbidden to enter?  If this were happening in my town, I would expect someone would confront these dudes.  Why is no one doing that here?  I am guessing from the fact that the gas lights are on that it is sometime after sunset, but people are going to hear this commotion.  Especially since their leader is shouting about how he's going to set the library on fire.  (PS- What time is it?)

Quote
Destra surveyed the room once more : maybe she had missed some secret entrance. All the river's noise outside was beginning to set her on edge Ė who had built a library on top of the water anyway?
  You're telling me that there is a secret exit that will let her escape to the underground river.  She should be a little smarter and figure this out herself.  Then have her search for the secret exit and not find it.  Or maybe she finds it but it's covered by a locked grate.  And all the while the dude is shouting threats outside, and lighting torches, etc. This is much more exciting than just having her not think of anything. 

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A Mother should look like she is in charge at all times, especially when men are around. Some stories said men could smell fear in a woman, so let them know she wasn't afraid of them.
  They've watched her run like a frightened rabbit, so they know she is afraid.  If she is not stupid, she knows this.  And I don't think you want her to be stupid.

Quote
Destra's time was near; she would only get one chance to get away, she couldn't loose it by miscalculating.
Again you are trying to introduce artificial tension by withhold information.  In this case, you're not telling us what her plan is.  It's much more effective for us to be inside her head, thinking of how the plan could go wrong.  Also, lose not loose.

Quote
Mother Destra felt comforted in the knowledge that she had thwarted their plans.
  So the book, I presume, is destroyed?  She should be thinking of that, if so.  But, honestly, why not leave the book in the library where it will be safe?  They can't get it there.  They could have burned it, if they had been able to burn the library down, but she destroyed it when she committed suicide.  Why wouldn't she just leave it?  What would happen if another woman, a librarian, discovered it there?  Would it also have disastrous consequences?  If so, she should think about them.

Overall, I think this is a good first stab at this.  In your next revision, do two things.  First, make Mother Destra smarter.  That will make her much more sympathetic.  Second, you need to populate this town.  The only people in this are the protagonist and the antagonists.  Put in some extras.  Fill in the detail.  Make this place seem real, instead of like an empty set with blank cardboard walls.  The more real it seems, the more we can identify with your protagonist and her plight.

Dark_Prophecy

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Re: Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue
« Reply #4 on: March 01, 2011, 11:15:42 PM »
Quote
But, honestly, why not leave the book in the library where it will be safe?  They can't get it there.

I thought this while I was reading, but completely forgot to mention it in the critique. I felt like she should have either left the book in the library, or kept searching for the passage, since she was going to die in the river either way. Her death seemed...well, sort of wasted, otherwise.
I like basketball, hanging out with my friends, reading, slamming a garbage can into a pimp or two with magical heavenly powers. You know, teenager stuff.

akoebel

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Re: Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2011, 05:15:07 PM »
I'd like to thank everyone here, your comments were very helpful. I have definitely quite a lot to think about with what you've given me.

I'll try to keep my reply short and not address all issues raised here. Just a few comments so that you understand better this piece.

First, this section was the first piece of fiction I ever wrote (that was about a year and a half ago). I had revised it once (mostly line editing), and last week, prior to submitting, I noticed something that needed fixing. In the first draft, Destra appeared right before she saw the library (I love 'in late, out early'. This one was really late). In the next paragraphs, she remembered how she got here, in a sort of flashback. While I re-read this, I realized that this was really the wrong way to tell that chapter, so I rewrote the first part, so that everything happens in sequence. As a result, you got an ending that has been vetted by a lot of people, a beginning that I just wrote, and the two meshing in the middle part with new and old words put together.
Now that I see your comments, I realize that the seams are really visible and need work so that I have a piece that feels much more like a whole.

As some of you detected (damn!), English is not my first language (I wish!). When I read the piece for myself, I could see some "stiltedness" in there. I knew something was wrong, but couldn't tell how to fix it. LTU mentioned something like "lazy wording". I think this is definitely part of it, and I'll try to correct that. If any of you have ideas on the subject, I'd be really grateful for any more comments.

For more specific points:

@LTU.
Almost every reader mentioned that "animals" part. Though it is really how Destra and her sisters see men, I agree that this comes in too early, making people thinking that regular animals are chasing her.

You mentioned a shift between part I with poor wording and part II with better wording. Could you tell me when that occured, so I can maybe look at the differences between the two parts?

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All I really got as the reader as that she didn't like them, and thought them stupid
: That's exactly right. She's a much prejudiced person coming from a much prejudiced part of a prejudiced society.
Quote
I still had a lot of trouble sympathizing with Destra
: At that point, I'm not sure I want the reader to really sympathize with her, because she's not such a nice person, and she's not a main character. Besides, strong sympathy for her would negate much of the sympathy you would have for another character, and believe me, he needs every bit of sympathy he can get!
Quote
Mystery breeds intensity, no denying that, but all I really got was the author trying to tell me about a skism between men and women in this world
: It's a big part of that world. I tried not to do too much exposition here, to a point where I say really little. Maybe I need to add more. As someone else said, the scene is quite empty (no people at this hour), so the setting does appear "cardboard-like".

@Dark_Prophecy
Much of the points you mentioned appear to be a result of the late rewrite. I also agree with the parts about the need to insert some action in the middle and the bad guy telling too much (now that you mention it, I can almost see the villain with a curly mustache here).

Quote
Her death seemed...well, sort of wasted, otherwise.
That was partly the effect I wanted to achieve here. She felt cornered and the only thing she could think about was suicide, and all that was for nothing as she sees in the end.

@Juan Dolor
You seem to have been really bothered by the "maze". It's only a bunch of small short streets with lots of dead ends. She saw those with her children's eyes as a maze, but it's really not one.

Quote
Why not tell us what it is in the first paragraph?
I was really interested by that comment. I seem to have developed an habit to withhold information and present those as twists after. At some points, I want to do just that, but like in this instance, I didn't even realize I was doing it. Nice catch!

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This library should not be a surprise.
Well, she's not used to be chased around. She knows the library is here, but she didn't realize that she could use any library to hide until she saw one.

You also raised some points about the absence of people in the streets. They're passing through what is really a "business district" and it's very late in the night (between 1 and 2 in the morning). Nobody comes here at this hour, nobody lives here, so you can shout all you want, people aren't going to hear.

Quote
First, how is she hearing them?† Is the library door not shut?
: Well, this is not a door. Pretty much everything passes through (light, sound, women), but some things are barred from coming through (men and rats mainly). This will be apparent in later chapters.

Quote
So the book, I presume, is destroyed?
: That would be telling :-)

Again, thank you all for your critiques, they've been really appreciated.

LongTimeUnderdog

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Re: Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue
« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2011, 05:37:31 PM »
The wording gets better when you stop introducing things and start getting to the story.  Or to combine it with other things I said, the prose before all seemed taken from other sources.  And, as you mentioned, English is not your first language and having met many non-native English speakers in my day, I can tell you that it makes perfect sense.  You get the words, the phrases, the thoughts from movies, books, television.  Not intentionally mind you, but to you it might (and I'm really just guessing here) seem appropriate or clever.  You have to remember that if you write the book in English it will likely find its way to  . . .English . . . readers.  And we've heard all that a million times.  My suggestion is, when rewriting, that you take some time and try to come up with two or three different ways to say what it is you're trying to say.  It's a good way to practice.  I found it helpful at least.  Because you see, when you actually have to communicate action and acts, things get better.  Much much better.

As to the Animal thing, I would suggest mentioning them as Men right away.  But something clever like:  "The animals were chasing her.  They walked up-right like real people.  They combed their hair and even wore clothes.  But they were animals.  A dog will always be a dog, no matter what it's wearing."

I'm sure you can come up with better.  But you get the idea.

fireflyz

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Re: Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue
« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2011, 11:45:11 PM »
Sorry for the late reply, busy week. 

I think that right now your biggest enemy is passive voice.  There is a ton of "was running" , "had feared", etc.  It won't take much effort to turn that into ran, feared, etc.  I believe you said this was your first novel.  It's common for the first novel to be filled with passive voice.  I think it's a subconcious way for the writer to distance themselves from the work. 

I can't imagine writing in a second language.  So congrats on that!  This is better than some novels I've seen from English writers.  I think your second biggest enemy is telling the reader instead of showing.  There is a lot of exposition in this prologue.  As the vast majority of the prologue is a chase scene, I think you should trim this down.  Shorten the sentences, especially when the action is taking place.  This will help speed up the read and aid the reader in feeling the frantic panic of the protagonist. 

I think that those two changes alone will vastly improve the prologue.  As first works go, it wasn't bad at all.  Oh, and I'm pretty sure by how worried she was about the book falling into their hands, that she definitely didn't leave the library with the tome in question.  Well done, if you've made some first time readers wonder, that's always a good sign!
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Asmodemon

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Re: Feb 28th - akoebel - The Fifth Compendium Prologue
« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2011, 01:55:17 PM »
I donít really have any more to add to whatís been mentioned already. There are some good things here you can work with when you rewrite the prologue.

For a prologue itís a bit on the long side. Normally this isnít a problem for me as long as sufficient things happen to justify the length. What youíve got is basically pursuit, hide, escape. For the first four pages Destra is almost caught, but with the way youíre describing and having Destra think about everything she sees, hears, remembers, etc. nothing actually happens in those first pages.

What I suggest is that you cut out a lot of extraneous information, some of it is explaining things that donít need explaining. Thereís a time and place for everything, but all this information has no place in a chase sequence. It saps all the tension and immediacy from the piece. Your sentences, like Destra, have the tendency to keep on running. Youíve also got a lot of passive voice slowing the piece down. The passive voice is insidious, so itís a good thing to be aware of it early and keep a look out for it.