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