Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Page 1 critique - Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind


This continues the reprisal of my series of page 1 critiques - you can read about the project HERE, and there's a list of all the critiques so far too.

I'm also posting some of these on my Youtube channel (like, subscribe yadda yadda).

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So, I've critiqued page 1s that were sent to me, my own page 1, and three page 1s from fantasy books I loved.

This one's a bit different. More than 10 years ago but fewer than 20, I picked up Wizard's First Rule from our bookshelves. My best friend had recommended the series and either loaned us the books or my wife had bought some. Either way, we have three of them on the shelves, big fat 80s-looking fantasies, published to great acclaim in the mid 90s.

I read the first page, rolled my eyes at it, and said, 'no thanks'.

In the intervening years I discovered that Terry Goodkind was an unpopular figure in the fantasy forums I started to haunt post my own publication. He was massively successful in the early part of the century. He was the first or one of the first authors ever to become #1 New York Times bestseller with a fantasy book.

He has, however, said some things that are neither good nor kind about the genre, and by extension, his fellow writers:

"I don't write fantasy. I write stories that have important human themes. They have elements of romance, history, adventure, mystery and philosophy. Most fantasy is one-dimensional. It's either about magic or a world-building. I don't do either."

OK, Terry...

But, I knew nothing of this or of his Ayn Rand worship when I made my eye-roll and abandoned his book, never to return. So that was unbiased.

Mr Goodkind passed away a couple of years ago, so there are no egos to bruise here, and I feel safe addressing the work.

Note - echoing and emphasising the disclaimer (below) that I always include on these things. Goodkind was WILDLY successful. He sold way more books than I have or am ever going to, and to great acclaim, including from my best friend.

What this underscores, is that my judgements are purely subjective, I'm telling you what I like. There may be some correlation to "what sells" but it's not a strong correlation. And of course, we all tend to call "what I like" good. But 'good' is in the eye of the reader.

Enough - let's go for it. I've not read this page in 10+ years. Perhaps my opinions will have changed!


(My standard disclaimer which, by chance, mentions Terry Goodkind)

It's very hard to separate one's tastes from a technical critique. There are page 1s from popular books with which I would find multiple faults. I didn't, for example, like page 1 of Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule (I didn't pursue the rest of the book). But that book has 150,000+ ratings on Goodreads, a great average score of 4.12 and Goodkind is a #1 NYT bestseller. His first page clearly did a great job for many people.


I'm not always right *hushed gasp*. You will likely be able to find a successful and highly respected author who will tell you the opposite to practically every bit of advice I give. Possibly not the same author in each case though.

The art of receiving criticism is to take what's useful to you and discard the rest. You need sufficient confidence in your own vision/voice such that whilst criticism may cause you to adjust course you're not about to do a U-turn for anyone. If you act on every bit of advice you'll get crit-burn, your story will be pulled in different directions by different people. It will stop being yours and turn into some Frankenstein's monster that nobody will ever want to read.

Additionally - don't get hurt or look for revenge. The person critiquing you is almost always trying to help you (it's true in some groups there will be the occasional person who is jealous/mean/misguided but that's the exception, not the rule). That person has put in effort on your behalf. If they don't like your prose it's not personal - they didn't just slap your baby.


I've flicked through some of the pages looking for one where I have something to say - something that hopefully is useful to the author and to anyone else reading the post.


I've posted the unadulterated page first then again with comments inset and at the end.

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It was an odd-looking vine. Dusky variegated leaves hunkered against a stem that wound in a stranglehold around the smooth trunk of a balsam fir. Sap drooled down the wounded bark, and dry limbs slumped, making it look as if the tree were trying to voice a moan into the cool, damp morning air. Pods stuck out from the vine here and there along its length, almost seeming to look warily about for witnesses.

It was the smell that had first caught his attention, a smell like the decomposition of something that had been wholly unsavory even in life. Richard combed his fingers through his thick hair as his mind lifted out of the fog of despair, coming into focus upon seeing the vine. He scanned for others, but saw none. Everything else looked normal. The maples of the upper Ven Forest were already tinged with crimson, proudly showing off their new mantle in the light breeze. With nights getting colder, it wouldn’t be long before their cousins down in the Hartland Woods joined them. The oaks, being the last to surrender to the season, still stoically wore their dark green coats.

Having spent most his life in the woods, Richard knew all the plants—if not by name, by sight. From when Richard was very small, his friend Zedd had taken him along, hunting for special herbs. He had shown Richard which ones to look for, where they grew and why, and put names to everything they saw. Many times they just talked, the old man always treating him as an equal, asking as much as he answered. Zedd had sparked Richard’s hunger to learn, to know.This vine, though, he had seen only once before, and it wasn’t in the woods. He had found a sprig of it at his father’s house, in the blue clay jar Richard had made when he was a boy. His father had been a trader and had traveled often, looking for the chance exotic or rare item. People of means had often sought him out, interested in what he might have turned up. It seemed to be the looking, more than the finding, that he had liked, as he had always been happy to part with his latest discovery so he could be off after the next.

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OK - so I still think this is terrible. It has the 80s stamped all over it. It's the sort of slow, wandering, distant start that lots of 80s fantasy favoured. The 'I'm going to occupy 1200 pages so I might as well start wasting space immediately' approach. Many 80s fantasy authors assumed (perhaps correctly at the time) that the reader had nothing better to do and, having already purchased the book, they would eat up what was served to them.

Clearly they/we did. Would we do so now? I don't think so - but I've been wrong before.



It was an odd-looking vine.

Not a great opening prose-wise. It does pose a question at least. What was odd about it? Did it have eyes? Was blood oozing from its thorns?

 Dusky variegated leaves hunkered against a stem that wound in a stranglehold around the smooth trunk of a balsam fir. Sap drooled down the wounded bark, and dry limbs slumped,

Wow ... he just spent 10% of page 1 telling us about a vine. A pretty ordinary-looking vine if I'm honest.

Many 80s fantasy writers were trying to clone Tolkien and the main thing they picked up on was lots of description. But they tended to try to outdo JRRT on quantity rather than quality.

 making it look as if the tree were trying to voice a moan into the cool, damp morning air. Pods stuck out from the vine here and there along its length, almost seeming to look warily about for witnesses.

This really is wordy - trying to voice a moan into the cool damp morning air...

And he slaps "making it look as if" and "almost seeming to" - this is verbiage that adds nothing and in fact subtracts.

It was the smell that had first caught his attention, a smell like the decomposition of something that had been wholly unsavory even in life.

I mean, points for using another sense, but ... do I care, and then so many words to describe the smell. Did it matter? Do we return to it? I'm not saying never add colour - but here, now, on page 1? HOOK ME!

Remember - I literally did walk away from this book, and not to make a point, just because the 1st page let me.

 Richard combed his fingers through his thick hair

A deep (read good) PoV thinks like a person. They don't consider themselves tall or long-fingered etc. Similarly, he's unlikely to consider his own hair thick, or at least to remark on it to himself. This is distancing - it puts us outside Richard, not in him.

as his mind lifted out of the fog of despair, coming into focus upon seeing the vine. He scanned for others, but saw none. Everything else looked normal. 

Well, he's in despair, I guess that's a possible interesting thing among all these vines and trees and leaves... 

"scanned" is weird way to put it. Is he a T1000?

Everything else looked normal ... a bit of a nothing line.

The maples of the upper Ven Forest were already tinged with crimson, proudly showing off their new mantle in the light breeze. With nights getting colder, it wouldn’t be long before their cousins down in the Hartland Woods joined them. The oaks, being the last to surrender to the season, still stoically wore their dark green coats.

Dear god... We've moved on from describing an allegedly unusual vine to describing normal trees.

If this was excellent prose then I'd give it a pass as I have with other page 1s as the author displaying their writing chops. Read on, you'll get more of these word-wonders. But this isn't great prose. It's ok. It passes the bar, but past that, it's standard, generic. If it were a new writer just starting out, I'd say "well done", but here it's just sufficient.

Having spent most his life in the woods, Richard knew all the plants—if not by name, by sight. 

Uh huh... Is there a story? Is there a problem? Some action? A unique selling point?

From when Richard was very small, his friend Zedd had taken him along, hunting for special herbs. He had shown Richard which ones to look for, where they grew and why, and put names to everything they saw. Many times they just talked, the old man always treating him as an equal, asking as much as he answered. Zedd had sparked Richard’s hunger to learn, to know.

So ... this is on page 1 ... telling us about something pretty boring in the character's past. It's not doing it for me. At all.

This vine,

Hooray ... we're back to the vine...

 though, he had seen only once before, and it wasn’t in the woods. He had found a sprig of it at his father’s house, in the blue clay jar Richard had made when he was a boy. His father had been a trader and had traveled often, looking for the chance exotic or rare item.

And now we're being told more stuff about the past. Rather generic, boring stuff to boot. 

I'm not one for scattering adjectives - remember the "cool damp morning air"? but I'll give a point for the "blue". It is, as I've said, good to add *some* (not lots) pinpoint detail. And here, the unnecessary qualification that it was a blue jar actually makes the memory seem a bit more real.

However, a 2nd memory on page 1? Nah. Come on, let's have some immediacy. Put us there. Have something happen.

 People of means had often sought him out, interested in what he might have turned up. It seemed to be the looking, more than the finding, that he had liked, as he had always been happy to part with his latest discovery so he could be off after the next.

And I'm done! Distant and wordy to the last. An unexciting memory filled with stray words. I had no incentive to continue, so I didn't. I plucked a different book from the shelf and left the 773 following pages unread.

I do not think this book would get published today. If it did ... I do not think it would sell. But I have been wrong before! 


The book failed to do on page 1 any of the things I would advise a new writer to do. But unlike some of the other page 1s I've critiqued, it didn't do anything clever/unique instead.

It presented a character without an interesting voice. It gave us a dull situation without threat or tension.
It jumped into some dull memories. Everything felt generic and distant. I was left with only two minor questions: why is he in despair? & what's up with this vine? Neither of which felt compelling and neither of which I ever want answered.

Was Goodkind's self aggrandisement whilst shitting on fantasy writers in general a justified flex? Well, I know half of it was bollocks because fantasy does all the things he claimed to do. Did he do them too? Don't know, and based on this page 1, don't care.

But I return to the start. He sold millions, made millions. What you gonna do, eh? 

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

Critiquing my own first pages! --- Solomon.

Since I've now put 10 page ones through the mill, variously ones sent to me for exactly this kind of critique, and the first pages of books I've loved, I felt it time to put up or shut up!

Obviously, it's not possible for me to subject my own work to an unbiased dissection, but I can at least discuss it within the same framework as previous page ones and see to what extend I follow my own advice.

I thought I'd start with page one of a short story I have in the upcoming anthology Unbroken II. It's a Jorg story and its target audience is people who've enjoyed the Broken Empire, but it still has to work for newbies who are arriving at line one with no understanding of what's come before.


This continues the reprisal my series of page 1 critiques - you can read about the project HERE, and there's a list of all the critiques so far too.

I'm also posting some of these on my Youtube channel (like, subscribe yadda yadda).



Solomon

Details matter. Most people would say that there’s never a good reason to cut a baby in half. I maintain that you should never cut a baby in half without a good reason. See the difference?

They say that the devil conceals himself in the details, and some think that’s quite a trick, but in my experience the whole of hell can hide behind a single comma with room to spare.

In ancient literature heroes from Gilgamesh to Superman are halted in their tracks not by giants or dragons but by moral dilemmas. For my part, laying no claim to heroism, I’ve tended to overcome the moral dilemmas in my path by ignoring them, by cutting through them like the Gordian Knot or Solomon’s famous baby problem, or – in most cases – simply failing to notice their existence.

Life with my road brothers tended to flatten the moral landscape into something more easily traversed and with few tripping hazards. But in my fourteenth year I’d come to the throne of a postage-stamp-sized kingdom comprising mountain peaks, deep gorges, and everything in between – which turned out to be almost entirely steep, rocky slopes.

The books I inherited in my uncle’s library, a small forgotten room that came with the castle, tell me that the topography of my domain is the result of an ancient and ongoing act of violence wherein titanic fire demons, trapped deep below the ground, battle to visit us. We live such mayfly lives compared to these beasts beneath us that the chaos and upheaval they’ve wrought appears to us as frozen in, incomprehensible, the very definition of stability though it is all in churning motion.

Language is much the same, everchanging, bearing the scars and tombstones of the past in its flow. Postage-stamp-sized kingdom. I know it means small. So, a postage stamp must have been a very small thing. To know more than that I would have to spend more time at my late uncle’s books. Something I would have no objection to, save that a more urgent matter came to my attention.

“They’re saying it’s yours and they’re going to disembowel it before the gates,” Lord Makin said.


+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Let's switch to red! 

Details matter. Most people would say that there’s never a good reason to cut a baby in half.

Taking these two together I think this is a decent opening. The immediate implication is that there's a "but" coming. And when it's a "but" in the context of cutting up babies, that puts us out of the usual playground and into the long grass. It raises questions and starts telling us things about the narrator from the get go.

I maintain that you should never cut a baby in half without a good reason. See the difference?

We now know the PoV is in first person, and they're narrating about this rather awful subject in a comfortable, conversational style, as if to them it's not beyond the pale. This person is not like us. Which makes them a question too.

They say that the devil conceals himself in the details, and some think that’s quite a trick, but in my experience the whole of hell can hide behind a single comma with room to spare.

This would be one of those openings where to some degree I'm laying my prose-wares before the reader. I'm hoping not just to write about interesting things, but to do so in an interesting way, and attempting to catch the reader's attention on as many levels as possible in this entertainment saturated environment in which we live.

In ancient literature heroes from Gilgamesh to Superman are halted in their tracks not by giants or dragons but by moral dilemmas. For my part, laying no claim to heroism, I’ve tended to overcome the moral dilemmas in my path by ignoring them, by cutting through them like the Gordian Knot or Solomon’s famous baby problem, or – in most cases – simply failing to notice their existence.

So, I'm ignoring my advice about action and dialogue, and simply seeking to engage with character and questions. Here I tease the post apocalyptic setting by describing Superman as ancient literature. It is - I hope - an efficient, tangential way to broach the subject without being wordy or heavy handed.

Life with my road brothers tended to flatten the moral landscape into something more easily traversed and with few tripping hazards. But in my fourteenth year I’d come to the throne of a postage-stamp-sized kingdom comprising mountain peaks, deep gorges, and everything in between – which turned out to be almost entirely steep, rocky slopes.

More setting and background with a touch of humour. This is really all about Jorg's amoral, dryly witty character, throwing in some world building too. Our narrator is a king (let's assume he's a he). A minor king.

The books I inherited in my uncle’s library, a small forgotten room that came with the castle, tell me that the topography of my domain is the result of an ancient and ongoing act of violence wherein titanic fire demons, trapped deep below the ground, battle to visit us. We live such mayfly lives compared to these beasts beneath us that the chaos and upheaval they’ve wrought appears to us as frozen in, incomprehensible, the very definition of stability though it is all in churning motion.

More world and character building. I think if I weren't aiming this squarely at the faithful then I would by this point have moved into the now and the problem and things happening. As it is, that's a little delayed.

Language is much the same, everchanging, bearing the scars and tombstones of the past in its flow. Postage-stamp-sized kingdom. I know it means small. So, a postage stamp must have been a very small thing. To know more than that I would have to spend more time at my late uncle’s books. Something I would have no objection to, save that a more urgent matter came to my attention.

More world building with the 'lost past' post apocalyptic squarely in the reader's face now. 

“They’re saying it’s yours and they’re going to disembowel it before the gates,” Lord Makin said.

And finally, the problem foreshadowed by the graphic, the title, and the first lines, is given to us with some long awaited dialogue and a second character.

And hopefully (had the story started at the top of the page and this was the bottom) sufficient interest and motivation to turn over.

Let me know which first page of mine you'd like me to talk about next.




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Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

The Book That Wouldn't Burn

In May 2023 I have a new book coming out!

It's called The Book That Wouldn't Burn, and it's book 1 in a trilogy (provisionally called The Library Trilogy). 

You can help me (& you) out by marking it "to read" on Goodreads.

& you can pre-order it in many places, including Barnes & Noble, US Amazon, and UK Amazon.

Pre-ordering is a great help to any author!

Books 2 & 3 are finished (bar editing) and due for release in May 2024 and May 2025.


There are no covers yet - just placeholders.


I don't like discussing what my books are about, never have done. It feels as if it lessens them. But I know many readers like to know. Hell, some readers turn to the back page and read that before starting on page 1. I mean ... those people are evil, and there should be laws against such behaviour. But yes, it takes all sorts.

If you read on you'll get a series of progressively more expansive (though still vague) descriptions of the content / themes / motivations.


The books concern a vast, ancient library. I mean big. Like REALLY big. (see how good I am with the words!)


The blurb on Goodreads says:

"A boy has lived his whole life trapped within a vast library, older than empires and larger than cities. A girl has spent hers in a tiny settlement out on the Dust where nightmares stalk and no one goes. The world has never even noticed them. That's about to change. 

Their stories spiral around each other, across worlds and time. This is a tale of truth and lies and hearts, and the blurring of one into another. A journey on which knowledge erodes certainty, and on which, though the pen may be mightier than the sword, blood will be spilled and cities burned."

It's a story that plays out across worlds and times, and involves doorways to new places. It features, unsurprisingly, a lot of books, and librarians, and some bookshops too!


A real bookshop in Porto, Portugal - they have my books in Portuguese!



It surprises me, but I’m actually more excited for the release of my 16th book than perhaps for any of its predecessors. Prediction is notoriously difficult in this business – which is why publishers need to be brave souls, prepared to gamble on their instincts and experience – but I feel THE BOOK THAT WOULDN’T BURN has the potential to reach my widest audience yet. The reaction from my editors and test readers has shown it to be a book that generates enthusiasm. And it’s that kind of excitement that can catch fire and make great things happen.

            It’s a book that’s been bubbling around inside me for a long time. My oldest memories are of libraries. When my (English) parents brought me to the UK from the US for the first time at age 1 my mother’s first job was as a librarian, and I still carry those toddlerhood impressions of wandering what seemed huge halls filled with impossibly tall book-laden shelves. I wanted to wrap up every book-thing I had in me, from library to bookshop to home-shelf and make it into a story. In the end it was clear to me that the story had to be inside a library, lost in it, trapped in it, sustained by it.

            THE BOOK THAT WOULDN’T BURN is about many things, adventure, discovery, and romance for starters, but across the trilogy it becomes obvious that it’s also a love letter to books and the places that they live. The focus is on one vast and timeless library, but the love expands to encompass smaller more personal collections, and bookshops of all shades too.

            It’s a novel wrapped around theme of books, and society, and how they interact. About access to information, the difference between information and truth, the seduction of convenient lies, and the danger of knowledge not tempered by wisdom. It’s also about the almost sacred awe a big library, church-quiet, can inspire. And about the comfortable heaping of paperbacks in a second-hand shop. Also, there’s kissing. 

An imagined bookshop, drawn for you by the AI Midjourney.





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Monday, 26 September 2022

A Gamble of Gods

Debut author Mitriel Faywood is releasing her first book in November.


Why should you care, you ask? Well, it's a great read that I've reviewed on Goodreads.

But above and beyond that, Mitriel has beta read the significant majority of my books. She's read through them chapter by chapter as I wrote them, offering immediate feedback, catching mistakes, and being enormously helpful.

In turn, I beta read this book. 

So, if you've enjoyed my work, you owe Mitriel some thanks, and what better way to repay her than by checking out her book? You can pre-order it on Amazon right now!





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Sunday, 25 September 2022

Page 1 critique - "The Girl With All The Gifts" by M.R Carey

This continues the reprisal my series of page 1 critiques - you can read about the project HERE, and there's a list of all the critiques so far too.

I'm also posting some of these on my Youtube channel (like, subscribe yadda yadda).

I turn to another of my favorite books from the past 10 years: The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R Carey.

I have reviewed the book.

First of all I'm going to cut and paste the disclaimers, and anyone prone to outrage really should read them:

It's very hard to separate one's tastes from a technical critique. There are page 1s from popular books with which I would find multiple faults. I didn't, for example, like page 1 of Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule (I didn't pursue the rest of the book). But that book has 150,000+ ratings on Goodreads, a great average score of 4.12 and Goodkind is a #1 NYT bestseller. His first page clearly did a great job for many people.

I'm not always right *hushed gasp*. You will likely be able to find a successful and highly respected author who will tell you the opposite to practically every bit of advice I give. Possibly not the same author in each case though.

The art of receiving criticism is to take what's useful to you and discard the rest. You need sufficient confidence in your own vision/voice such that whilst criticism may cause you to adjust course you're not about to do a U-turn for anyone. If you act on every bit of advice you'll get crit-burn, your story will be pulled in different directions by different people. It will stop being yours and turn into some Frankenstein's monster that nobody will ever want to read.

Additionally - don't get hurt or look for revenge. The person critiquing you is almost always trying to help you (it's true in some groups there will be the occasional person who is jealous/mean/misguided but that's the exception, not the rule). That person has put in effort on your behalf. If they don't like your prose it's not personal - they didn't just slap your baby.


I've flicked through some of the pages looking for one where I have something to say - something that hopefully is useful to the author and to anyone else reading the post.


I've posted the unadulterated page first then again with comments inset and at the end.

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Her name is Melanie. It means “the black girl”, from an ancient Greek word, but her skin is actually very fair so she thinks maybe it’s not such a good name for her. She likes the name Pandora a whole lot, but you don’t get to choose. Miss Justineau assigns names from a big list; new children get the top name on the boys’ list or the top name on the girls’ list, and that, Miss Justineau says, is that.

There haven’t been any new children for a long time now. Melanie doesn’t know why that is. There used to be lots; every week, or every couple of weeks, voices in the night. Muttered orders, complaints, the occasional curse. A cell door slamming. Then, after a while, usually a month or two, a new face in the classroom – a new boy or girl who hadn’t even learned to talk yet. But they got it fast.

Melanie was new herself, once, but that’s hard to remember because it was a long time ago. It was before there were any words; there were just things without names, and things without names don’t stay in your mind. They fall out, and then they’re gone.

Now she’s ten years old, and she has skin like a princess in a fairy tale; skin as white as snow. So she knows that when she grows up she’ll be beautiful, with princes falling over themselves to climb her tower and rescue her.

Assuming, of course, that she has a tower.

In the meantime, she has the cell, the corridor, the classroom and the shower room.

The cell is small and square. It has a bed, a chair and a table. On the walls, which are painted grey, there are pictures; a big one of the Amazon rainforest and a smaller one of a pussycat drinking from a saucer of milk. Sometimes Sergeant and his people move the children around, so Melanie knows that some of the cells have different pictures in them. She used to have a horse in a meadow and a mountain with snow on the top, which she liked better.


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Her name is Melanie. It means “the black girl”, from an ancient Greek word, but her skin is actually very fair so she thinks maybe it’s not such a good name for her. 

Interestingly, in the movie Melanie is actually black. 


This was back in 2016 before half the population seemed to have an aneurism if a black actor played a character described as white. Or perhaps it just wasn't a popular enough book/film to rile the base. It should be a more popular book/film since both were excellent, and the actor for Melanie did a great job.

Back to the thing in hand - shockingly, for me this isn't a great opening. As I've said before "great book" doesn't guarantee "great page one" or vice versa. 

It's good we've opened with a character and that we've got some of her thoughts. It just seems a little dull - wondering about her rather ordinary name.


She likes the name Pandora a whole lot, but you don’t get to choose. Miss Justineau assigns names from a big list; new children get the top name on the boys’ list or the top name on the girls’ list, and that, Miss Justineau says, is that.

This is much more interesting. We should have opened with this, but delaying it by ~30 words is hardly disasterous. To complain about it would be churlish - so I retract the churl.

This is interesting. So many questions. Children given their names on arrival, mechanically, from a list.


There haven’t been any new children for a long time now. Melanie doesn’t know why that is. There used to be lots; every week, or every couple of weeks, voices in the night. Muttered orders, complaints, the occasional curse. A cell door slamming. 

More interest. Faintly ominous - why no new children? Cell doors? It's a prison. The text is making me speculate. That's good.


Then, after a while, usually a month or two, a new face in the classroom – a new boy or girl who hadn’t even learned to talk yet. But they got it fast.

Children who haven't learned to talk yet. But who learn fast? This is good. I have questions. I can imagine answers - feral children snared in a jungle - but am I right?


I asked some of my Discordians from my Patreon to read a possible page one of mine recently. The exercise highlighted the fact that many people don't distinguish between "being confused" and "having questions".

In a page 1, "being confused" is bad. "Having questions" is good.

Something that creates confusion is contradictory in a bad way. It can be read as bad writing. As a mistake.

-- John and Mary kept running down the twisting subterranean tunnel. "Slow down," Mary called. The blazing sunshine was rapidly overheating her and the distant mountains seemed no closer.


That's confusion. They're in a tunnel, so how can they be in the sunshine and see the mountains. It doesn't make sense.


-- John and Mary kept running down the twisting subterranean tunnel. "Faster!" Mary called. The grobbla was catching up.


That's a question. What's a grobbla? Why are they running from it?


Sure, this is just semantics. You can say, "I'm confused, what's a grobbla?"

You can say, "I have questions: how is the sun shining underground?"


But I hope you'll agree that the first one is confusion - direct contradiction in text. Whereas the second is questions, "what's chasing them?" And that one is bad and the other good.


Melanie was new herself, once, but that’s hard to remember because it was a long time ago. It was before there were any words; there were just things without names, and things without names don’t stay in your mind. They fall out, and then they’re gone.

So, we're getting more about the character - always good. She was one of these non-speaking children. She's been here a long time. Interesting. What's going on? [questions - not confusion]


Now she’s ten years old, and she has skin like a princess in a fairy tale; skin as white as snow. So she knows that when she grows up she’ll be beautiful, with princes falling over themselves to climb her tower and rescue her.

So, we're back to her skin colour, but here it's more interesting - it echoes the language in Snow White and with the other fairytale imagery is telling us that despite arriving as non-verbal and being doled out a name, and there being cell doors, she has been educated and told stories.

We see her ambitions and they are touching / innocent / childish. 


Assuming, of course, that she has a tower.

Another note of caution. She's not wholly naive. 


In the meantime, she has the cell, the corridor, the classroom and the shower room.

Great, efficient, effective world building. We see how small her world is. We know for sure that it's a prison of sorts. And we see how she doesn't really see it as such.


The cell is small and square. It has a bed, a chair and a table. On the walls, which are painted grey, there are pictures; a big one of the Amazon rainforest and a smaller one of a pussycat drinking from a saucer of milk. Sometimes Sergeant and his people move the children around, so Melanie knows that some of the cells have different pictures in them. She used to have a horse in a meadow and a mountain with snow on the top, which she liked better.

More world building. We're touched by her interest in the minimal distractions/art that her captors afford her. We understand that this is a military operation, not some weird paedophile sect. We are intrigued.


To conclude - despite a very brief wobble in the first two lines, my opinion of the first page is that it's very good. Perhaps not quite up to the promise of the excellent story that follows, but it does a great job and I don't think anyone's putting the book down and walking away at this point.




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Tuesday, 20 September 2022

AI Art contest - the vote!

The images below have been selected from the contest entries (see main page for attributions) by a broad canvassing of my social media.

The entries are now listed in the order determined by the public vote.


1st - Gog - The Broken Empire (#1) -- 28%

2nd - Emperor of Thorns - The Broken Empire (#3) - 17%

3rd - Katherine - The Broken Empire (#2) - 13%

Joint 4th - Killing A Nun - Book of the Ancestor (#8) - 9%

Joint 4th - Aslaug - The Red Queen's War (#9) - 9%

6th - Jalan runs away - The Red Queen's War (#10)

7th - Jorg - The Broken Empire (#5)

       8th - Mia - Impossible Times (#7)

9th - Holy Sister - Book of the Ancestor (#6)

10th - Yaz, Book of the Ice (#4)