[PLEASE READ FIRST POST] Post the First Three Sentences of your Novel

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neandermagnon

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Time to throw myself to the wolves. Here's the first three of a gothic fantasy novel I've been working on:

Charlie stood stiffly on the front stoop of her cottage, eyes trained down the strip of weed-riddled dirt that counted for a road that deep in the mountains. Paper birch trees obscured her view, clusters of peeling, bone-white trunks surrounding her on all sides. The bars of her prison.

The 3rd line intrigues me and would make me read on.

Probably this is a British English v American English thing (something to consider if marketing on this side of the pond) - I forgot what a stoop is and are paper birch trees what we call silver birch?

There's something slightly confusing about the way it's written that makes it a little awkward to read the first two lines. It feels like there's too many words (which tends to be indicative of them not being phrased in the best way, because there aren't actually that many words). I think maybe you're trying to cram too much information into that first sentence. Maybe just saying "dirt track" or "dirt road" rather than "strip of weed-riddled dirt that counted for a road"* could fix it - BUT you have four bits of important information in that one sentence: 1. how Charlie's standing, 2. that she's looking for something down the dirt track, 3. that the only road is an unkempt dirt track and 4. they're in the mountains. So I'm inclined to say keep all that - even keep the convoluted description of the dirt track if you like it enough - but not all smooshed into one sentence. It paints a picture of remoteness and isolation so I think the pacing of the sentences should reflect that.

*I live in Dorset - weed ridden dirt tracks masquerading as roads are a Thing here. We don't have mountains, although we do have hills. And crazy zig-zag dirt tracks up hills. And various little hamlets with strange names.

The next sentence just has paper/silver birches, which kind of confuses the images from the first sentence a little, but after 4 important things in sentence 1, you have only 1 important thing in sentence 2. Maybe have Charlie standing stiffly by a cottage in the mountains in the first sentence, then the second sentence have the dirt track and the silver/paper birches and Charlie looking down the track. I think you need to clarify how the birches are obscuring her view when she's looking down the road. I'm fine that I don't yet know what she's looking for - I'll read on to find out. I love the 3rd line about them being the bars of her prison. This creates a great hook - I want to know who or what is keeping her prisoner, I'm thinking she's anxious, waiting for something or someone to arrive - could be someone to help, could be whoever's keeping her prisoner returning. Either way, you've created a sense of suspense.

With rephrasing, I think you have a really good opening. I'd read on.
 
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Thecla

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Time to throw myself to the wolves. Here's the first three of a gothic fantasy novel I've been working on:

Charlie stood stiffly on the front stoop of her cottage, eyes trained down the strip of weed-riddled dirt that counted for a road that deep in the mountains. Paper birch trees obscured her view, clusters of peeling, bone-white trunks surrounding her on all sides. The bars of her prison.
Sentences 1 and 2 feel like wading through treacle (too many adjectives make it harder for me to 'see' the scene rather than easier. Work on finding the right nouns.). Sentence 3 does catch my interest, so I would go on for a bit, but, if sentences 1 and 2 are typical of the style, I'd be out soon.

Re. Trees: silver birch is Betula pendula (Eurasia); paper birch is B. papyrifera (N. America)
 

K Dough

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Jimmy didn’t know why he had stowed away on an airship. Didn’t know why he ignored the itch in the back of his head that always told him when something was a bad idea or when he should abort a plan due to screwed it had become, but he did it anyway. The idea just came to him in a split second—a flash of inspiration that came to his mind like a bolt of lightning and, like a bolt of lightning, traces of it lingered in the dark cloudy sky that was his mindscape long enough for him to act on it before he even realized what was going on.

Sentence Critique
I went back to this one because the most recent submission had a lot of feedback. This one does, too, but I didn't want to go too far back. Anyways...

I agree with the feedback you received on these sentences.

First sentence, excellent.

Second sentence: This can be condensed quite a bit. While also condensing, you could add a little bit more character to the writing. Maybe something like "Always ignoring that itch in the back of his head, telling him when something was a bad idea. At least, that's what Ma always said." (or whatever)
From my perspective, the superfluous parts of the sentence would be "or when he should abort a plan", because it's detail we don't need right now and can be rolled into the general category of going through with a bad plan. Likewise, "but he did it anyway" is redundant. We already can see that from the first sentence.

Third sentence: I think you could also separate your original third sentence into two sentences. Don't be afraid to break your sentences up. "The idea just came to him in a split second—a flash of inspiration that came to his mind like a bolt of lightning." Bam, done.
The bare minimum of superfluous parts of this sentence as its written would be "like a bolt of lightning" (the second iteration). It is phrased exactly the same as the first iteration of it, and eats up words, bloating the word count. Bolt of lightning is a common enough idiom that you won't need to walk your readers through step by step. ;)
"The idea just came to him in a split second—a flash of inspiration that came to his mind like a bolt of lightning. Traces of it (had) lingered in the dark cloudy sky that was his mindscape, long enough for him to act on it before he even realized what was going on."

So, I thought the information conveyed was compelling. I truly did. The writing was there, just needed to be split up a bit, that's all. (But this is coming from my perspective, which is liking shorter sentences)


My Own Submission
From the rewrite of my fantasy story. Also, might I add it is REALLY unfortunate it's only 3 sentences and not 4. My 4th sentence helps a teeny bit with clarity, but oh well. Here it is.
Three sentences:

The demonic should have killed him.
Nathaniel Crowe twisted an ebony peg, forcing pressure on the violin’s bridge.
No, he thought.
 
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Nether

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The demonic should have killed him.
Nathaniel Crowe twisted an ebony peg, forcing pressure on the violin’s bridge.
No, he thought.

It doesn't really grab me. Style-wise, it's a little odd that you're leading with an unattributed italicized thought and then attributing an italicized thought just two two sentences later.

I'm not sure how a peg correlates with a violin, but my violin knowledge is weak. iirc, there's a bow (which you use with one hand), I think the bridge is the part where you use your fingers, and... well, again, I'm not an instrument guy. So I'm not really sure how to evaluate that, other than to express my confusion as a layperson.

Granted, it's a fantasy story so the first three sentences don't *always* have to grab a person. If I'm looking at a fantasy novel, I tend to read the first few pages if not the first chapter to figure out whether I like it.
 
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K Dough

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@Nether:

That's a fair point. I used to play violin in school, so it makes sense to me, but I didn't think about it from a layperson's perspective. Food for thought, I suppose.

I will say, I've wrestled with the order of these sentences a bit, so it's good to hear some feedback on them. Not sure which way I'll go, though, but we'll see.

Thank you for your time. :)
 

Thecla

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The demonic should have killed him.
Nathaniel Crowe twisted an ebony peg, forcing pressure on the violin’s bridge.
No, he thought.
Is 'demonic' your world's version of harmonic? If so, I like the idea of a killer fiddle. I'm not sure about the third sentence, out of context, but I'd read on to find out what happens.

edit: would 'putting pressure' or 'placing pressure' on the bridge work better? Any fiddle/violin players out there?
 
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K Dough

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@Thecla:

Haha... no. Demonics are monsters in my world (and I have received feedback that people are a bit put off with adjectives as nouns. It's just... one thing I don't change, lol). For Nate, playing music is his gateway to understanding... things. The fourth sentence is: I could have killed him.

I liked your thoughts regarding the word and matching it to harmonic - never thought of that before. More food for thought, haha!

Thanks for the response.
 

neandermagnon

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The demonic should have killed him.
Nathaniel Crowe twisted an ebony peg, forcing pressure on the violin’s bridge.
No, he thought.

Resisting the temptation to read your later posts clarifying stuff (you won't be able to do that if someone's picked up your book in a bookshop)

This is potentially interesting - I'm intrigued by "demonic" - but it needs more info/context to make it work as an opening.

I'm not familiar with violins but I am familiar with guitars and can't make sense of what you're describing here. From a physics point of view "forcing pressure" probably isn't what he's doing... in fact you can't really "force pressure" - you can increase pressure or you can apply a force. If he's tuning his violin or making some other adjustment it's better if you just say that because the way it's written is distracting and confusing. I'm trying to work out what he's doing instead of focusing on the story.

The other lines - without the context of knowing who "him" is (does this "him" refer to Nathaniel or to someone who's not been mentioned yet?) or what a "demonic" is, or whether the first line was thought/spoken by Nathaniel or someone else or if it's the narrator telling me that Nathaniel should've been killed by a demon, I don't have enough here to get me to read on. Without more context I don't know if Nathaniel is an evil bad guy messing around with violins while Rome burns or similar, or if he's a good guy who nearly got killed by a demonic and is just playing the violin to relax. Or maybe he's systematically destroying a violin for fun while other people are being attacked by demonics. I need more context to understand what's going on - once I have that, then there's a good chance I'd be interested in whatever's going on and want to read on.

I suspect that you're not starting in the right place. Remember that the reader at this point knows absolutely nothing about your character, world, etc, and we only have the words on the page.
 

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The demonic should have killed him.
Nathaniel Crowe twisted an ebony peg, forcing pressure on the violin’s bridge.
No, he thought.
I probably wouldn't read on. There are too many things thrown at me here: the thought with no attribution, demonic used as a noun, details about the violin I don't understand, I don't know if "him" is Nathaniel or someone else and who it could be, and I don't know why Nathaniel is playing the violin.

I think backing up a little and introducing concepts one by one would work better.
 

mccardey

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The demonic should have killed him.
Nathaniel Crowe twisted an ebony peg, forcing pressure on the violin’s bridge.
No, he thought.
I would read on. The voice in these sentences catches my attention - I'd want to know what was meant by the noun demonic, and I like the violin. And I know there is more to come after the last sentence.

Would read on.
 
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dickson

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“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.

The DI and a sergeant stood on a mudflat by the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the murder squad to turn up.

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

—This is a revision of an opening I posted some time ago.
 
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K Dough

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Thanks all for your feedback. I'm going to mess around with the following things:

Perhaps Make sentence one convey scene and setting. (Moving one of the later lines I had already written to this spot)

I'm going to keep the violin line, though I am going to rewrite due to some mild confusion. I'll clarify that he is tuning his instrument and state that directly.

From there I'll see how the flow is regarding any other changes. I'm not discarding the other feedback, just that I can't envision improvements at this time.

Thanks again.
 

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“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.

The DI and a sergeant stood on a mudflat by the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the murder squad to turn up.

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

—This is a revision of an opening I posted some time ago.
Don't want your submission to get overshadowed by my response.

I think your opening is good, well written, and conveys a lot. If I had only one nitpick, the second half of the last sentence reads a tiny bit stilted.

Other than that, definitely intriguing. I wonder how his eyes are positioned on his face since he has eight. Nothing that needs to be answered now in the first three sentences, but it raised that question, so good job.
 
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CWNitz

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“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.

The DI and a sergeant stood on a mudflat by the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the murder squad to turn up.

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

—This is a revision of an opening I posted some time ago.
I like that! A murder mystery in a cool setting. I would read it.
 

dickson

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Don't want your submission to get overshadowed by my response.

I think your opening is good, well written, and conveys a lot. If I had only one nitpick, the second half of the last sentence reads a tiny bit stilted.

Other than that, definitely intriguing. I wonder how his eyes are positioned on his face since he has eight. Nothing that needs to be answered now in the first three sentences, but it raised that question, so good job.
Don't want your submission to get overshadowed by my response.

I think your opening is good, well written, and conveys a lot. If I had only one nitpick, the second half of the last sentence reads a tiny bit stilted.

Other than that, definitely intriguing. I wonder how his eyes are positioned on his face since he has eight. Nothing that needs to be answered now in the first three sentences, but it raised that question, so good job.
At this stage the reader has yet to learn that the vic is an it, not a he.
 

neandermagnon

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“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.

The DI and a sergeant stood on a mudflat by the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the murder squad to turn up.

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

—This is a revision of an opening I posted some time ago.

I'm hooked at this going from halfway across the galaxy to a mudflat on the north bank of the Thames. Dead alien plus ordinary London coppers. What's not to like?

nitpick: not keen on incuriously as a word choice. I think the sentence would flow better without it or with a shorter word. But that's just me and it wouldn't stop me reading on.
 

Thecla

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“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.

The DI and a sergeant stood on a mudflat by the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the murder squad to turn up.

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

—This is a revision of an opening I posted some time ago.
Oh, yes, I'd read on. Same reason as Neandermagnon. Are you going to post something in SYW? Not sure you need the adverb in sentence 3, unless something eldritch is going on. I'll hope to see more of this.
 

Nether

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“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.

The DI and a sergeant stood on a mudflat by the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the murder squad to turn up.

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

—This is a revision of an opening I posted some time ago.

It's definitely intriguing. I also had an issue with the word "incuriously" since it just felt so out of place in context and dead eyes don't do much of anything -- although, when they are doing something, it's an attention-grabber (and definitely something you could do with an alien).

Of course, "slaughtered like a pig" conveys a certain visual that I'm not sure you were actually going for, but it's not something I can be sure about from context.
 
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Holly Green

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“Poor bastard travels halfway across the galaxy only to end up slaughtered like a pig,” said the detective inspector.

The DI and a sergeant stood on a mudflat by the north bank of the Thames, waiting for the murder squad to turn up.

The corpse lay on its back, eight eyes gazing incuriously out of a chalky face upon a grey morning sky.

—This is a revision of an opening I posted some time ago.
Ooh yes! I like this too and would read on. Agree with the inclusion of incuriously being incongruous though.
 

T. D. Hunter

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Okay. Let's try this. First two lines from the novel I'm working on Tell me if I've got a good hook.

"It was the hour of the wolf, when spirits stole down silent halls. Too early to rise, and too late to rest, this was the time when lost souls wandered."
 

Tocotin

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Okay. Let's try this. First two lines from the novel I'm working on Tell me if I've got a good hook.

"It was the hour of the wolf, when spirits stole down silent halls. Too early to rise, and too late to rest, this was the time when lost souls wandered."
This is nicely atmospheric, but also a bit confusing. I had to reread it, because I wasn't sure for whom it was too early to rise and too late to rest. Then it turned out that the second sentence basically repeats the information – that it's late at night or very early in the morning, probably between 1:00 and 3:00 AM or something like that, and it's the time when some halls are being haunted.

I'd read a few more sentences to find out more about the location and who those souls are, and why they are lost. I'm also curious as to why the hour of the wolf is not capitalized – does it mean that there is an actual wolf there, keeping company with the lost souls? That would be quite intriguing.

:troll
 

Thecla

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Okay. Let's try this. First two lines from the novel I'm working on Tell me if I've got a good hook.

"It was the hour of the wolf, when spirits stole down silent halls. Too early to rise, and too late to rest, this was the time when lost souls wandered."
I like the first sentence, although the second sentence says pretty much the same, just in slightly more mundane language. Watch out for that in the ms.

I might read on. Depends on what else was on the shelf. What's sentence 3?
 

Nether

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Okay. Let's try this. First two lines from the novel I'm working on Tell me if I've got a good hook.

"It was the hour of the wolf, when spirits stole down silent halls. Too early to rise, and too late to rest, this was the time when lost souls wandered."

Why not include the third sentence?

My issue is that it doesn't really tell the reader anything. It might help to establish the mood, but it doesn't do much else.

The first sentence has a little bit of intrigue, but the second lacks the same energy and -- as others have mentioned -- feels a little repetitive because you're talking about spirits and then souls.
 

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Okay. Let's try this. First two lines from the novel I'm working on Tell me if I've got a good hook.

"It was the hour of the wolf, when spirits stole down silent halls. Too early to rise, and too late to rest, this was the time when lost souls wandered."
I do like it, although it's a bit overwritten. I would read on.
 

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