As always, my comments are in red. Barbara's are purple. Please add yours in the comment section!
Love this unusual setting. I forgot to ask. Is this a historical romance or straight historical? Since medievals are experiencing a bit of a resurgence, this setting is still commercially viable.
It’s a romance. Sigh. ;-) The action will switch to England very soon, though.
Even better. England is still the--pardon the pun--"Queen Mother" of settings for historical romance.
Damn, he hated the silence.
Starting with a twist is a good way to pique our interest. Normally people find silence restful, relaxing. The fact that your hero doesn't speaks volumes about him and his situation.
Sir Steven of Riverton held his breath. Drops of perspiration swept down his neck despite the cool night. He listened for the rustle of leaves, the yip of fox kit, the whirsh of owl wings. Nothing. Even the breeze scarcely stroked his beard-stubbed cheek as he led his bay gelding, Jasper. Step by step they eased through the tiny clearing. Sluggish light from the quarter moon cast a watery path ahead.
Brilliant beginning. You've used tactile and auditory clues to set your scene instead of just visual. Is whirsh a real word or did you invent it? Either way, I know exactly what you mean. Even the last sentence which uses visual description does so in an original way. I've never seen 'sluggish light' or a 'watery path' anywhere else. This is fresh writing and I wish I'd done it!
I did make up ‘whirsh.’ (Thank you!)
One query about your hero's name. Steven spelled that way seems more modern to me than Stephen. Did you research the name to make sure that spelling was common in the 12th century?
Absolutely right. It’s now Stephen. ;-)Also, I'm not sure I need the name of the horse yet. I'd really like to zero in on just your hero. The horse is a prop at this point.
Humm. I never thought about the horse’s name. It is kind of wonky for the 1100s--and I did think I needed to name it right away. But I’ll go back and work w/ the wording to take it out. Your comment here ties in with one you made on an earlier RP entry about focusing on the hero’s name in the opening, and how we’re just getting to know him (or whomever we’re opening with). Best not to bring in too many other names all at once.
When he left the village earlier, his decision to avoid travelers and return through the woods seemed unnecessary. Few knew of this meeting. What need for subterfuge? Still, routine propelled him off the familiar road between village and monastery. Now, as he pushed on, the very silence shouted.
Thank you for not succumbing to the temptation to use an ! here. According to Heather Osborn (editor for Tor/Forge) "Every time you use an !, you kill a kitten." Barbara has used an embedded hook here (if you followed my online MY HUSBAND MARRIED A HOOKER workshop, you already know a hook is a tantalyzing bit of information that draws the reader in and propels them forward.) She's let us know Sir Steven is up to something secretive and dangerous without giving away too much.
He inhaled, soft, easy. A trace of rancid sweat hit his nostrils. Jesu! On the right. He ducked the instant a knife blade nicked his ear. Instinct drove his own double-edged dagger down then up through cloth and flesh. He wrenched the blade free. Warm, copper-scented wetness pulsed across his arm.
It seems I'm only cataloguing all the things you're doing right. Using scents and tactile impressions along with short "stream of consciousness" phrases pulls us into tight POV. We're experiencing everything at the same time Steven experiences it. This is how it's done, kids.
A word about curses. It's so important that they be appropriate to the character and the time period in order to lend a ring of authenticity. Sir Steven would be a Christian and during this century, he'd think of his Savior by his Latin name. Well done.
Not his blood, thank God. And he damn well better move if he wanted to keep it that way. Reins fisted, Steven leaped into the saddle just as keening whoops slashed the air. The rest of the pack. His mind marked the voices—too many. He couldn’t fight them all. Four, six, more shadows burst into the clearing—front, sides, back. He knew the drill. Draw the circle tighter. Trap the target.
I love the way you use language in original ways. The idea of a sound slashing the air is vibrantly new to me. Notice how as the action speeds up, Barbara's sentences get shorter. This gives the passage a sense of urgency.
He made those rules. He could damn well break them. The circle rotated. Strongest always in front to block escape. Bent low over his mount’s neck, he yanked sharply left, always the weak side of the pattern.
By letting us in on his analysis of the situation, you've deftly shown us he's a military man without telling us so.
He kicked out as he galloped past a shadow. It went down. The well-trained Jasper leaped through the opening. Then a sting on his left sent fire up Steven’s leg. He reached down, jerked free the knife, jammed a fist against his thigh. This time the thick wetness oozing through his fingers was his own.
It's been a while since you used his horse's name. I was a little distracted by it. I wonder if you might wait until they are out of danger to even introduce the animal's name. Steven's the important one here. Let us focus on him.
The suck of breath rang in his ears, drowned his pounding heart. No sound of pursuit yet, but that would change. There…the thud of hooves echoed, far enough behind to give him time. Into the forest he headed. The thunder grew closer, loud enough to drown his brief stop to bound from the saddle.
Into the forest he headed is passive sentence structure. Your hero's not the least bit passive. I'd rather see He headed into the forest.
You’re absolutely right. The reason I wrote it that way was…I was afraid of having too many subject/verb constructions that people would think was too choppy. So I tossed that wording into the stream. Guess I’d better fish it out.
“Satan’s backside.” His bloodied leg buckled as he hit the ground rolling. Jasper picked up the gait and crashed through the underbrush onto a narrow path.
Another historically accurate curse, but I wonder if he'd use a two worded one here. Seems a tad long for the action. Perhaps a scatological remark would be more appropriate in these circumstances.
Point taken. I really need to find some different curses that would be “medieval appropriate.” I find myself using the same ones a lot. Or making them up--which doesn’t always work. OH!! I just thought of one. Merde! That would work here.
Perfect! You can't get much more scatological than "Merde!" As far as other curses go, God's Wounds, God's Feet, pretty much God's anything was used as an oath.
Steven hurtled into a large bush, ducked beneath the thick branches. And gritted his teeth when brambles clawed his cheeks.
Christ in chains. Can this night get any better?
Every publishing house has their own style rules but since this is Steven's direct thought, I'd want it italicized. To indicate that for both Dorchester and Kensington, underline the text to be italicized.
THANK YOU. Some of us have had this conversation so often. We didn’t know whether to italicize it in the text as we write or to underline it. Now we know.
The reason they use underlines is because it's hard to see italics in Courier New.
Earth vibrated as the others pounded past. Who were these assailants? Not Assassins. Too much noise. Subtle conniving marked Assassins. He could think of only one explanation. The murdering knights he hunted. Did they know his identity, or had they tracked The Black Dagger only?
Excellent hooks to set up the conflict for your hero. Now we know there are a couple dangerous groups who might want him dead.Your crisp, elegant prose speaks to me. I really didn't want this excerpt to end. When this one sells, I'll be at the bookstore on its release day with my wallet open!
Thank you for the things you pointed out, Emily. I appreciate your help so much. One thing I was worried about in this beginning--it continues along this line for another couple of pages--is that it has no dialogue. I feared having a narrative opening would be highly frowned on? And thank you for your very kind words. As the saying goes, “From your mouth to God’s ear”…and an agent’s…and an editor’s…. ;-)
I wasn't troubled by the lack of dialogue because there's so much action. Now, if it goes on too much longer, I might be bothered by it, but your POV is so good and tight, we know exactly what Stephen's thinking. I have more problems with openings that are merely the character engaging in internal dialogue, mulling over past events. We hear snippets of Stephen's thoughts, but mostly we're right there with him in the thick of things. Well done!
A former journalist and journalism professor, Barb now teaches English at a local college and devotes every spare moment to spinning stories about ladies and their knights in shining armor--because she firmly believes everyone needs a hero. She lives in Missouri.
Ok, now it's your turn to comment. Any suggestions for how Barb can make her story better?
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