First Page Critique: REBORN

By Joe Moore
@JoeMoore_writer

Today’s First Page Critique is called REBORN. My comments follow. Enjoy.

Back arched, pointed ears swept backwards, Archenon knelt before the High Queen in the Great Hall of Êvina. 

“Please—I beg you. Let me go.” An intricate braid of ebony hair lay heavy along his spine. The piece of parchment crunched between his hands, folded and read so many times that it had begun to crumble.

The High Queen of Aradria, his mentor Rhonja, looked down on him. “You know I can not.” She smoothed out a fold on her silky dress, which was fitted to perfection. It hugged her slender form, mirroring the blinding hall in its purity. Her hair, shining like starlight, wafted about her shoulders.

His imploring emerald eyes met hers from the bottom of the crescent staircase leading up to the white throne. A vast mosaic of Her Majesty’s Royal Crest lay fixed in the wall behind her—four petals aligned to the cardinal points held each other under the protection of a circle representing Spirit, the High Queen’s element. 

Archenon swallowed hard. “I have given you my life, and now the last tie to my heritage is to be torn away. Is there nothing I can say to make you change your mind? I want to see my mother one final time.”

Rhonja had never reciprocated Archenon’s feelings, but he thought she cared for him enough to allow this one request. She was the epitome of hope for her subjects, yet she would crush his. 

“You do care for me, don’t you?” he asked.

“Of course. I treasure you,” she replied, her brilliant gaze a calm ocean at twilight. But her words were scant comfort. 

Shafts of light pierced between the half-drawn purple drapes hanging over the arched windows. Elegant pillars of creatures, cunningly carved, held up the vaulted ceiling. Gryphons, mermians, dragons, elves and other beings stared at him with marble eyes. It was as if they fought to keep the very building from crashing down on him. More than ever, the immensity of the white hall felt intrusive and distinctly foreign. 

Archenon was afraid he would never belong anywhere. Not here, in this land where the trees were few and the ocean lapped around every edge of the border. Not even in his first home, deep in the woods of Elfen Harrows, in the realm of fire. Not an easy thing for an elf to admit, and he shivered with a sudden fear.

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I have great admiration for anyone who writes science fiction and fantasy. The author of these genres takes on an additional burden that the rest of us rarely do—world building. While the rest of us write about a world that we all know, sci-fi and fantasy worlds usually have a whole new set of rules.

Not only does the author have to lay out the rules and landscape, but it must be done right up front—at least within the first chapter or so. AND the author must identify the protagonist, possible antagonist, conflict, fear, story question, and the hero’s “need” at the same time.

Overall, this first-page submission accomplishes those tasks. I’m not saying it’s ready for prime time, only that all the ingredients are there. Even though it reads like a first draft, it kept my interest, and I would certainly read on.

There is a fine line between underwriting and overwriting. Underwriting drops the reader into a scene and advances forward with little or no delay (Jim Bell’s “Act first, explain later”). Overwriting drops readers into a scene and bounces them around like a pinball. In the case of this submission, I feel the scene was overwritten. The writer is trying to cover as much world building as possible in a page or two. But this is the burden I mentioned before. And the skill to do so must be acquired. Bottom line: it’s hard. What this sample needs is just a good, clean rewrite to smooth things out. That should not be a problem. Here are the ingredients that I found in the first page, and why I think this is a good effort.

Protagonist: Archenon
Possible antagonist: Rhonja
Conflict: Rhonja will not let Archenon “go”.
Fear: Archenon is afraid he would never belong anywhere.
Story question: Will he be able to see his mother again.
Need: Escape.

That’s my take on REBORN having only read one page. Tell us what you think. Would you read on? Thanks to this brave writer for submitting to our Thursday First Page Critique.

2+

9 thoughts on “First Page Critique: REBORN

  1. I agree with you, Joe. This opening accomplishes many necessary aspects of the genre. I read on because of the line “Please, I beg you. Let me go.” Early on, the writer makes me ask: what’s happening?

    I also liked the Queen’s aura, a shimmering dress reflecting the light and the shine of her hair.

    I stumbled over the first phrase, “back arched,” because too soon there came the word “backwards.” It sounded first-drafty. “Pointed ears swept backwards is enough.”

    I once attempted a story with world-building. It’s too hard. At least this writer has a lot of ideas, which can easily be pared down, simplified. Better than having too few. So I want to say to this writer, good start and good luck on the journey.

    • Nancy, I had the same problem with the first phrase, too, but as I mentioned, this is the stuff of rewriting. Thanks for dropping by.

  2. The POV is omniscient and thus a bit cold, for me at least. The author can certainly write for this genre. But I didn’t care enough about Archenon. Being in his POV would help. The last paragraph gets there. I’d like to see that throughout.

    I’d counsel the writer to cut all the non-3d POV things, e.g. ebony hair on s spine, imploring emerald eyes. Give all the description through Archenon’s perception.

  3. I liked it, and I’m not the biggest fantasy fan. I agree with JM. The first sentence sets up the story. Writing from Archenon’s POV is also good suggestion. Nitpicking: how do you sweep ears? Are they loose? I would find a different word here. I want to know more about this piece of parchment. It’s obviously important. Is it a death sentence? A slave document? A winning lotto ticket? I thought the paragraph with “elegant creatures…” was a bit wordy and awkward. I liked the idea of it, but two sentences describing the “creatures” was a sentence too many. I believe this paragraph can be more successful if reworked. “Her words were scant comfort” isn’t enough emotion here. This would be a great place to indicate the emotional relationship between these characters. Is he realizing she never loved him? Has she been toying with him? Is she forced into doing this because of her position, and it’s killing her, too? Are they both pawns of the system? Emotions here can tell us. I definitely like this, and I would turn the page. While it could use a little reworking this story is going somewhere.

  4. I thought the crumbled paper he held was a message concerning his mother.
    I am embarrassed to admit this but I thought the protag was a cat-person. (I guess I live with too many cats.) His has pointed ears, his spine was arched. It wasn’t until the end that I found out that he was an elf.
    The great hall had a name and the queen had a title and a name. I went back and read through them so I could see that they were different names and try to remember them. I would wait to tell us the Queen’s first name and the fact that she was his mentor.
    This place looks gorgeous. Were they alone in the hall? Probably not. It is a massive, arched hall, what did it sound like in there? Were there echoes? Were there murmurs from the Queen’s court or the audience? The ocean had a smell, the forest of fire must have had it’s particular smells too. Try to use more senses so the reader can feel the world you’ve built.
    I felt sympathy for the protagonist. That is important.

  5. This story has great potential, but it needs editing. Here are a few comments:

    1. Consider eliminating unnecessary adverbs (i.e. “cunningly carved”).
    2. Get rid of repetitive words and phrases (i.e. “arched”, “down on him”, “held”, “ocean”, “between”). There are others, but you get the idea.
    3. Check to make sure that you don’t begin too many sentences the same way (i.e. “Not here, in this land”, “Not even in his first home”, “Not an easy thing for an elf to admit”). The third one was too many. The first two were ok.
    4. I’d try reworking the opening line. It could be better.
    5. The phrase “wafted about her shoulders” is awkward.

    Beyond that, the writing style is distinctive. I feel like I’m in the hands of a true storyteller. I’m reminded of Barbara Kyle (and the writer may want to have her take a look at this – she’d probably have great suggestions). Maybe get into Archenon’s head a little sooner.

    Overall, I liked it. This is good stuff!

    • Two more quick thoughts:

      It’s not necessary to use both “hugged her slender form” and “fitted to perfection” when describing the queen’s dress. I’d avoid wasted words.

      You use the word “ocean” twice when you don’t have to:

      “…her brilliant gaze a calm ocean at twilight.”
      “…the ocean lapped around every edge of the border. ”

      Watch out for repetition.
      Hope this helps. I tend to be pickier with good writing. 🙂

  6. Another thing to consider is getting rid of unneeded similes/metaphors. You have several on the first page. For example:

    “Her hair, shining like starlight…”
    and
    “… her brilliant gaze a calm ocean at twilight.”

    When Joe mentioned overwriting, this is an example, imho.

    If you’re going to use the POV of a particular character, you should ask yourself if your character would talk/think in those terms.

    Anyway, this is just my opinion, which together with seventy-five cents might buy you a cup of coffee.

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