First Page Critique: Legend of the Wild Ones

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Greetings and salutations, TKZers! Today a brave, anonymous writer has sent us the opening to a deliciously dark, supernatural tale. My comments are below. Hope you’ll weigh in, too.

Legend of the Wild Ones

Red covered the holly flour. A shadow was standing in the middle of the room red covering its hands, a corpse at its feet, a knife in its hand. The shadow leaned over the corpse and with its free hand checked the pulse of the body. Dead. Pleased the shadow walked over to the rope that hung next to the bed and pulled. It then sauntered back to the corpse, sat down next to it and waited.

At the other side of Woodrest Manor Ryker flew through the halls with a speed most humans would marvel at. His long blonde hair swishing behind him. His destination: the room of the master of the forest. He opened the holly door and for a while just stood their gawking at the sight before him. He shook himself out of his trance. No matter how many times it had happened he would never get used to this sight.

The room was basked in moonlight. In the middle of the room there was a big puddle of blood. In the midst of it lay a corpse with a shadow sitting next to it. Slowly the shadow turned around to face Ryker. Though its face didn’t show any emotion it’s ember eyes showed enough. They twinkled with a sadistic kind of joy, that send a shiver down Rykers spine. Slowly he began to make his way over to the dead body. As if approaching a wild animal, not breaking eye contact with the shadow for a second. He crouched down to check for a pulse, there was none. Sighing Ryker relaxed and looked at the shadow with questioning eyes. “So Kaenia how did he get in this time?” Anyone knew that whoever even dared to think about breaking into Woodrest would be killed. And trying to get into Kaenias room was only for the suicidal.

Dear Brave Writer:

There’s a handy quote from an unlikely quarter—President William Howard Taft—that all writers should keep in mind: “Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.”

After reading this opening scene a couple of times, I think I understand what’s going on. But it would be much clearer on a single reading with clarification and correct punctuation. Readers—this one included—will sadly stop reading very quickly if they have to work too hard to understand what’s on the page.

My interpretation: Ryker, of the long blonde hair, is a kind of factotum for Kaenia, the shadowy master of the forest (and perhaps for others, as well), at Woodrest Manor. Someone—a “he”— broke into Kaenia’s room, and was subsequently killed (possibly by Kaenia, but we’re not certain). Kaenia rings for Ryker, who attends right away. Ryker is sickened, but Kaenia is pleased with itself (if it is a supernatural creature—here no gender is implied). Ryker bravely questions Kaenia, and the reader is left wanting to know if it will answer. (Cliffhangers are always good!)

First paragraph:

Let’s talk about the first line: “Red covered the holly flour.” I’m not trying to be silly, but I was immediately brought up short. At first I wondered if Red was a person who was covering up holly flour. As in flour made from holly. But further reading told me that definitely wasn’t the case. I’m guessing “flour” is meant to be “floor?” (Typos happen to us ALL, and breed like rabbits. We just move on.) But then I’m left to wonder at the image of a “holly floor.” A holly floor sounds really, really painful. If this detail is terribly important, give it more weight. It might be woven from the finest, oldest holly trees in the entire forest. Then we’ll know it’s botanical holly, and that the room is very special in a way we might be curious about.

We don’t want to the reader to be at an immediate disadvantage. As writers, we have very strong images in our heads, but we need to interpret those images clearly for readers so that they understand very quickly what we want them to see. We are their eyes, but also their guides.

About the corpse: If we’re talking about a victim, it seems okay to me to refer to it as a body, but best to be more specific, identifying it as a “person” or “man” or “woman” or “creature,” as appropriate. It’s not a corpse until we know for a fact the creature is dead. So the shadow can lean over the creature, check the creature’s pulse, and then when the shadow discovers the creature has no pulse, the creature can appropriately be called a corpse.

Second paragraph:

“At the other side of Woodrest Manor Ryker flew through the halls with a speed most humans would marvel at. His long blonde hair swishing behind him. His destination: the room of the master of the forest.”

Perhaps:

“At the sound of the bell from the Master’s room, Ryker flew through the halls of Woodcrest Manor with inhuman speed, his blonde hair streaming behind him.”

Rather than the floating third person narrative voice the piece now has, you might consider keeping a tight focus on Ryker, who is the most natural character to act as observer for the reader. Beginning the story with his responding to the bell, or even opening the holly door to see the shadow standing over the body, will invest the reader in the story right off the bat.

Third paragraph:

The third paragraph has great interaction between Ryker and the shadow. I love the detail of him approaching the shadow as one might a wild animal.

“The room was basked in moonlight.” “Bathed” would be a more natural choice than “basked.”

“So Kaenia how did he get in this time?” This is confusing. The use of “he” implies that whoever is dead on the floor has broken in and been killed before. While this could be possible in a supernatural story, it needs to be clear if this is the case. If the victim is simply one in a long line of intruders, it should be stated differently. Possibly: “We need to know how they’re getting in here, Kaenia. Did you see where this one came from?”

Finally, Brave Writer, be sure to check your punctuation, including comma and apostrophe usage. There are many, many books out there, and lots of online resources. This website has free online rules.

Thanks for sharing your opening chapter with us!

Dear TKZers, what are your ideas for this piece?

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This entry was posted in First page critiques, Writing and tagged , by Laura Benedict. Bookmark the permalink.

About Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the Edgar-nominated author of six novels, including the gothic suspense Bliss House trilogy: Bliss House, Charlotte's Story (Booklist starred review), and The Abandoned Heart. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, PANK, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, she grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and claims both as hometowns. Get to know her better and read her blog at www.laurabenedict.com.

18 thoughts on “First Page Critique: Legend of the Wild Ones

  1. Like Laura, I found this intriguing, but mostly confusing due to the many spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. The first sentence totally threw me. I wondered if “flour” should actually be “flower,” since holly does have flowers, and “flour” isn’t made from the holly plant.

    “Blonde” with the “e” is feminine, “blond” is masculine or gender neutral. Also, he “stood there” not “stood their.” “It’s [it is] ember eyes” is confusing, while “its ember eyes” is a great visual.

    For questions about grammar, punctuation, and spelling, 90% of the time I find answers in the slim book, Strunk and White “Elements of Style.”

    The importance of a comma shouldn’t be underestimated. Consider the following:

    “It’s time to eat Mother.” vs. “It’s time to eat, Mother.”

    • Great input, Debbie. I missed the blond/blonde issue. Flower vs. flour–I hadn’t thought of that. But I figured one might at least *try* to make flour out of holly. They make flour out of so many unusual things these days.

      Strunk and White is always within reach. Such a delightful little book.

  2. This opening page is intriguing. I agree with the grammatical and spelling comments above, so I won’t repeat. My comment is about the shadow. Years ago I wrote a story about a shadow running and gave it other attributes. My mentor said, a shadow has no characteristics of its own. A shadow is tied to a physical body. So, I had trouble with the shadow of this story having red hands and ember eyes and being able to pull the bell rope and sit down. It is an easy fix if we are given a supernatural hint for why this shadow has physical characteristics and abilities.

    • An easy fix, indeed, Julie. I was put in mind of Peter Pan’s lost shadow, and how Wendy tried to keep it out of trouble. Now I’m intrigued at the idea that the Master of the Forest is split into two beings–one of them the dangerous shadow!

    • Fascinating site, Brian. Now I want to go through my scenes and sequels for MRUs. Thanks!

      I agree with the excitement factor. There’s good material there.

  3. If I have to re-read a paragraph to understand it, I simply close the book and move on. That was my take on this first page.

    That being said, there is a story here and an opportunity to fine tune the writing. I hope the writer is part of a good writing group that will offer constructive criticism and encouragement.

    • You’re great to have stuck with it, Jan. I suspect the writer really appreciates your feedback. Writing groups are wonderful things–most successful writers I know started out in at least one. It’s tough to grow in a vacuum.

  4. I’m still confused by the first line. Holly flour? floor? flower? I’m still not sure. I might consider that whatever it is is covered with blood, not the color. The punctuation really needs fixing. I had to go back over it slowly, inserting the correct punctuation, so that I could puzzle out the sentences. Every writer, whether fiction, fictional*, scholarly, technical, or whatever, should invest in the Chicago Manual of Style. That includes this writer. All the punctuation problems above can be fixed by keeping CMOS handy.

    I agree that there is something here, and it’s potentially intriguing, but the grammar has to be cleaned up before I can make any more substantive comments.

    *Yes, even fictional writers. I’m sure Richard Castle had a copy somewhere on his shelves. 😉

  5. The grammar and punctuation issues have already been covered. I would just add to that part of the discussion that the writer might look into either community college courses or adult education classes on grammar and punctuation. As good as “Chicago Manual of Style,” and Strunk and White “Elements of Style” are, they are reference books, not really tutorials. A good class can often give a solid foundation faster than looking things up (assuming you know what to look up).

    Looking at the content, I found the first paragraphs devoid of emotion, so they read like stage directions in a script. The emotion came in with Ryker. Readers need to be emotionally invested at the beginning to entice them to continue reading. If you, dear anonymous writer, are trying to convey the Shadow as devoid of emotions I would switch things around a bit. I would start with Ryker using a deep 3rd person PoV so we can really see and share his emotions. Then, in other scenes to avoid head hopping, give us the Shadow’s PoV as distant 3rd person. I think this will emphasize the difference between Ryker and the Shadow. It will also give us a character from the start that we can identify with.

    I think you have a great start here, I am intrigued. Keep writing.

  6. Dear Brave Writer, do not give up, but do learn the tools of your trade. If you have problems with punctuation and spelling, then you cannot practice your trade. It’s like a carpenter who can’t handle a nail gun.

  7. Hello,
    Firstly thank you for all your advice. I am only fourteen years old and still have a lot to learn. Since I was a child (you know what I mean a younger child) I wanted to be a writer but lately, I have been hit with some negative thoughts. So I mostly wanted to know if I am total crap at writing or not. English is also not my first language and even in my mother tongue I am the headache of many of my teachers and I am still looking for someone who can help me with that. This opening was also kind of sent in the spur of the moment (even sent the wrong one at first) without popping it into Grammarly first. Anyways thank you for all your advice I will take them to heart.

    Greetings,
    An eager writer

  8. Also I forgot to mention as sort of an answer for Cyndie I did struggle with trying to find the right point of view so your comment really helped me. Also Laura you are absolutly right about me appreciating The advise of Jan I will definitely try to get out of my comfort zone and join a writing group

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