Friday, March 19, 2010

First Page Friday, #4

Hi everyone! We've got another round of First Page Fridays*. Please leave our lovely participant your feedback in the comments section.

Burning. Wherever I looked, everything was burning. I peered out from underneath the wagon as armed men unfurled swords and threw spears. Their shining metal armor caught the sun’s rays and blinded me.

Blood spilt on the ground, stinking in the heat. I closed my eyes and tried to think of peace while shutting out the horrors of battle around me. I pulled my legs to my chest and made myself as small as possible, hoping to shrink into nothingness to escape this place.

Something dripped on my hand, hot and sticky. I gazed down and saw a patch of red. A gasp caught in my throat. Biting my lip, I looked up at the slats of the wagon’s bed. Between the cracks, I saw a body slumped on top of them. Blood seeped from a wound in the man’s chest and fell to the sand at my feet. I scooted away from it, faintness clouding my thoughts.

Certain names I heard repeated over and over again, unfamiliar terms. Troy, Hector, Agamemnon. Who, what, did these names mean? I knew nothing of them.

The hollow sound of something hitting the ground, followed by the sickly sweet scent of poison, assaulted me. I peeked open my eyes and saw the contorted face of the caravan leader; an arrow protruded from his back. He no longer breathed.

But I still did, though probably not for long.

Screams rang out around me, and I cowered behind the wagon’s wooden wheel. Donkeys squealed as men slaughtered them. Gold jingled in heavy purses, and wood crackled amidst flames.

Adonai, protect me.

The entire caravan was lost, and most of its passengers had been killed. Soldiers now herded up the scant number of women into a tight ring. Any remaining men had swords thrust into their bellies while I grimaced and fought the instinct to gag.

“That one down there.” A man pointed at me. “Under the wagon. Bring her.”

A bronzed and bloodied face turned towards me, and fear gripped my heart. I scrambled out from my hiding spot and sprang to my feet. Before me lay a vast wilderness and beyond, the sea. The azure waters called to me, and I ran towards them.

Footsteps pounded the earth behind me, accompanied by laughter. But soon, my own panting drowned out all other sounds from my ears.

My sandal caught on a rock, and I tumbled to the ground. I landed hard on my back, and for a moment, could not breathe. My mouth worked and my lungs gasped for air, but nothing came. Had I been speared? Was this death?


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10 comments:

Lisa said...

I've got to start by saying I love how this plunges us right into the action. This is exactly what we keep being told we need to do but struggle to actually execute. I also like all the sensory details. I would definitely keep reading. In fact, I wish I could keep reading. Although, I was a bit confused about how she landed on her back if she tripped on a rock while running. But maybe it is explained in the following paragraph.

A couple of other suggestions to strengthen this already strong beginning:

Cut "armed" in the third sentence.

"faintness clouding my thoughts" --vague phrase. I would rather get an actual thought, something that flashes through her mind that tells us something about her character or expresses her fear or shock or whatever she's feeling most.

"Troy, Hector, Agamemnon." -- These hints definitely give us a quick, clear picture of the time and setting, which is really helpful for the reader, but I'm having trouble picturing those names just being yelled out over and over in the midst of battle. Perhaps we could hear the actual dialogue or shouts that she hears? I think it would make more sense than her hearing them repeated over and over.

In the second paragraph when she closes her eyes, it might be more powerful to describe what she hears rather than say she "tried to think of peace while shutting out the horrors of battle around me." It's kind of a vague phrase. Maybe move the pp about the donkeys squealing and gold jingling up to this spot?

All in all, it's tight and action packed. A great beginning. I want to say I would like more about the MC--her character, her thoughts--but that would slow the pace, and I trust we'll get all that later anyway. Great writing!

Michelle said...

I agree with everything Lisa said. In my own notes, I had written about the "faintness" sentence being unclear as well. I understand what you're trying to say, but I think there's a better way of saying it.

I got tripped up by "Blood spilt on the ground," because of the verb tense. I think "spilled" is more immediate.

You've hit all the senses in the descriptions in this scene. The blood dripping on her from the cart above her head is gruesome and wonderful. Very visual image.

I like the action, and the urgency. The MC is in immediate danger, and the conflict is obvious. Swords and spears lets us know this is happening in the past, or in a fantasy world, although I'm not sure yet which.

Who is this person? We don't know until two thirds of the way through that she's even female, and that's about all we know. I'd like a little more information about her early on, to get me to care about her. I think the part where she closes her eyes and tries to think of peace would be a great paragraph to give us some information about her. What place did she come from that gave her peace? What kind of life did she have before all this?

I would keep reading as well.

KM said...

Thanks! I'm glad you guys liked it. There's actually a paragraph-length prologue that goes before this that, I think, sets up who she is a little better, but I didn't think I should include it.

I really like the idea of including the dialogue about Troy, Hector, and Agamemnon. And I'll work on that "faintness" sentence.

Again, thanks so much!!! :)

Andrea Franco-Cook said...

I agree with all of Lisa's comments. However, I disagree with Sarah's suggestion to tell us more about the M.C. when she is reflecting on a peaceful place. IMHO, doing so would take the reader away from the battle, which may distract us from the scene you have set. There is plenty of time to tell us more about the heroine in the following chapters.

Moving forward, I think you have a gripping first page. The opening paragraph was fantastic and you provided great imagery. I really like how you brought us straight into the action.

I only have one nit picky thing to add to Lisa and Sarah's critique. I think the part where you say "The hollow sound of something hitting the ground followed by the sickly sweet scent of poison" seems odd to me. How does the M.C. know what poison smells like? Maybe you touch on this more in the next chapter, but FWIW, I had a hard time relating to the comparison.

Other than the above comments, I enjoyed your page. I want to read more. Seriously you have peaked my interest. Great job.

Sarah said...

I'm back from work, fed, and so happy to have a chance to enjoy your submission.

I love the action in this scene- also loved the part where she hears Troy and Hector. So thrilling to find myself near Troy! And then you really got my attention with Adonai! I hadn't expected to find a Jew near Troy.

I think you could strengthen this by more specificity. For instance, your second sentence described how "everything was burning." You just brought me into this scene. I need to know what "everything" is. Houses? Huts? More wagons?

I wanted to be able to envision the armor. Are we talking medieval or Greek armor? Not that you should stop and describe it in detail- far from it. But is the sun glinting off breastplates or shields or helmets? One mention of who is doing the attacking would help so much. "Armed men" might became "Aegean warriors", for instance.

Having a group of men being stabbed makes that action generic. I think it will be far more powerful if you describe what happens to one man in that group and then let the reader know every other man meets that fate.

And this is picky, but if the MS is looking up through the slats in the wagon, she might be able to discern the outline of a body, but how would she see the wound? You got our attention with the blood, believe me. : ) (Well done!) We know where its coming from- neither your MS or the readers need to see its source.

I'm not suggesting that you break up the action with stretches of description. However, changing a few words or adding a sentence here or there might take the reader even deeper into what looks like a really interesting story.

Thank you so much for participating! I hope the feedback has been helpful.

Sarah said...

Oh good grief. I meant MC in my comment, not MS. Sorry for the confusion!

KM said...

Thanks, Andrea! I was actually worried about the first paragraph because someone had told me that it wasn't strong enough for the beginning of a book.

Sarah: I'm excited you put the Adonia-Jewish together. I say it later but was hoping readers would pick it up here. Great suggestions about being more specific. I think that's exactly what has been nagging me about this page but couldn't put my finger on it.

Thanks again, ladies! This was great! :)

Sarah said...

Yay! So glad it was helpful. : )

Michelle said...

I also got the Adonai reference. I'm Jewish, so it didn't actually occur to me to mention it!

Kristi Tuck Austin said...

I love how you started in the action. I'm intrigued. I'll only add one tiny thing. I have never heard of swords being unfurled. Swords are usually unsheathed. It is minor, but it broke the fictional dream.