Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Public Slushpile Winner #1

TITLE: Lifeweaver
GENRE: Fantasy

King Arlan had shown impeccable timing in getting himself murdered tonight. Talyn could think of no better excuse to leave one of his mother's insufferable dinner parties than, 'My apologies, someone assassinated the king, and I must go bring His Majesty back to life.'

But now, as Talyn and his bodyguard strode through the palace halls, anxiety prickled the air. Guards watched him with uneasy stares. Servants lingered in doorways, only to scatter like roaches when he glanced their way. He didn’t blame them for their uncertainty. He had become lifeweaver only a year ago, and self-doubt still churned in his gut. Especially now, before what would likely be the most important weave of his life. To fail would be akin to treason.

The tense atmosphere also spawned an unnerving thought: if someone truly wanted the king dead – permanently – then within the next few minutes, they would have to kill Talyn too.

And unlike every other person in Aronia, Talyn had no one to save him from death.

He shivered as he stepped through the dining hall's entry doors, enduring a sudden draft that carried the odors of citrus and blood. In every corner, shadows lingered. But so did royal guards – at least twenty, spaced evenly, like armored pillars wielding sword and spear.

Talyn murmured to his bodyguard, "How could an assassin slip past this many guards?"

Gariss, ever-vigilant, did not even spare him a glance. "Maybe some turned traitor."

The floor shook as the doors slammed shut behind them. Talyn jumped, and eyed the nearest guards. Their stern gazes judged him in return.

Shrinking closer to Gariss, Talyn fumbled with the pockets of his robe for the silver coin he always carried. When he withdrew it, the blessed trinket showed a pair of waning crescent moons. Again. The past few days, every time he checked his lucksign, the unlucky side came up. In the night sky, both moons waned as well. Ill omen atop ill omen.

"Siela protect me," he murmured, tucking the lucksign away. Continuing down the marble walkway, he faked a confident stride, but ended up feeling – and probably looking – as rigid as a boy on stilts. His lanky limbs and babyish face likely didn't invoke authority, either.

No traitorous guards or shadowy killers came for him. Yet.

He and Gariss marched between long, empty tables. The hall’s grandiosity would’ve appalled any commoners; they could have built themselves an oaken palace out of the hundreds of high-backed chairs. Talyn had dined here only once, during his official appointment as lifeweaver. The din of drunken nobles celebrating had made his ears ring. But tonight, the grand hall was a mausoleum. Only two sounds broke the silence: the subtle creaking of dozens of chandeliers, and Talyn's footsteps, thudding a chilling heartbeat.

On the far end, a wide dais lifted the royal table to prominence. This table, in turn, held up the remains of a small feast, a decanter of spilled wine, and a still, lifeless body: King Arlan.

Talyn made it halfway there before something invisible jabbed into his mind like steel raindrops.


  1. Aw, man, you had to end it there? :-)

    For the most part, I like this. It could use some tightening here and there, but I have a good visual of the scene and the tension was strong enough to carry me through it and leave me wanting more.

    The only thing I didn't really like was the opening paragraph. It felt a little too relaxed and domestic, considering the king had been killed. And the dinner party is dropped for the remainder of the passage.

    I think it would be better to scratch the entire first paragraph and weave (see what I did there?) the lifeweaver's ability into the second paragraph somehow.

    The third paragraph is great. That's where I got completely hooked :-)

  2. Ooh, I love this!

    To me, it felt great, like I was reading a published book, and I'm a bit frustrated that I can't read on!

    I really like the first paragraph - it made me laugh, and hooked me. There's a voice in that paragraph that I'd like to read more of.
    I like it as an introduction, and then your 'but now' at the start of the 2nd paragraph shows us the contrast, and how serious Talyn is taking this.
    I think you do very well setting the scene here, giving information about the particular setting and the world in general without making me feel like it was an info-dump.

    If I would pick up anything from this to change, I think it reads ever so slightly awkwardly when he takes out his coin. "Shrinking closer", "fumbled", "blessed" all seem like a lot of describing words. I'd consider taking out 'always carried' or 'blessed'.

    Absolutely loved this though, I wish I could read more!

  3. Strong opening paragraph, although it really doesn't match the tone of the remainder. The second paragraph suffers from a few confusing pronouns.

    Good world building, great tension, but a little too simile/metaphor heavy. There are a few places throughout to condense and tighten the prose as well as a few punctuation issues.

    I'm generally not a big fan of the fantasy genre, but I'd probably continue reading.

  4. I love this! And I did snicker at the first paragraph, but since the rest of the passage is very chilly and tense, it doesn't seem to fit well. It feels like you're trying to grab the reader, and you don't have to - your writing is strong enough that it would have grabbed me on its own. :) I wouldn't mind a little more suspense in those opening paragraphs as Talyn makes his way through the palace, with a more gradual reveal of the dead king and Talyn's abilities.

    Great work!

  5. I think you do a great job showing us what type of world Talyn lives in! Everything screams fantasy and the imagery you create is very clear. However, although I got a strong sense of Talyn's world, I didn't get a very strong sense of who Talyn is. You tell us what he can do, but I didn't feel as if I was able to see any of his personality, his wants, and any real reason as to why I should care about him (or even the king).

    I also think I was a little turned off by him in the first paragraph, where he uses the word insufferable to describe his mother's dinner party. I imagine he has good reasons to dislike her parties, but since I don't know what any of those are, it made me think poorly of him, that he's sort of a negative/complainer type.

  6. "scatter like roaches"- cliche phrase.

    "Talyn jumped, and eyed the nearest guards."- You don't need the comma there.

    Nit-picky things aside, this is good. I voted "no" when I saw the query, but IMO this is one of the two best submissions of the five. You set a great tone, and you showed us the terrible stakes right on the first page.

  7. I really liked this and would read on. I didn't really have any problem moving from the tone of the first paragraph to the rest of the excerpt. However, perhaps if you didn't mention his self-doubt regarding all lifeweaving and just focused on his anxiety over the importance of this particular weave, the transition would be smoother.

    The first paragraph makes it seem like getting a call like this is just a normal day of work for Talyn, which I could believe as he's being doing this for a year. I can also believe that after getting out of his mother's party that he would start getting nervous because it was the king and not just an ordinary person. But the focus on self-doubt makes it seem like this isn't the norm for him, so his initial response seems a little too glib. Maybe just take out the bit on self-doubt for now and weave it into the story later.

    Overall, though, this is great. And I absolutely want to know what comes next.

  8. Thanks to everyone for your comments! It's encouraging to know that people are enjoying it, and I've taken all your critiques into consideration.

    It seems the primary hangup for people is the change in tone from the first paragraph to the rest of it, which I can see based on the lifecycle of this opening. The transition from glibness to worry used to be a lot more gradual before I cut some stuff out.

    Based on your suggestions, I made a few adjustments to come up with this preliminary new version:

    At first, Talyn praised King Arlan's impeccable timing in getting himself murdered tonight. Talyn could think of no better excuse to leave one of his mother's dinner parties than, 'My apologies, someone assassinated the king, and I must go bring His Majesty back to life.'

    But now, as Talyn and his bodyguard strode through the palace halls, anxiety prickled the air. Guards watched them pass with uneasy stares. Servants lingered in doorways, only to scatter when Talyn glanced their way. Their uncertainly fed his. This would likely be the most important weave of his life. To fail would be akin to treason.

    Perhaps his mother introducing him to vapid young noblewomen wasn't the worst responsibility he could suffer through tonight.

    The tense atmosphere also spawned an unnerving thought. If someone truly wanted the king dead – permanently – then within the next few minutes, they would have to kill Talyn too.

    And unlike every other person in Aronia, Talyn had no one to save him from death.

  9. I love this for a few reasons.

    One-- it's high fantasy and you get the tone right. It's tricky to accomplish.

    Two-- you manage to not bog us down with a hundred proper nouns. Nearly impossible in fantasy! Haha.

    Cheers. :)

  10. Chro, I like your revised opening much better.

  11. I don't usually read in this genre, but this really opened my eyes. I'm interested to find out more! Like how did he get this... Skill of his?

  12. Ha! Love the first sentence. This is great, really.

    One thing you could watch for are throwaway sentences like "The tense atmosphere also spawned an unnerving thought:" It's just telling and it's telling us something we already know. We know it's tense because of what you just showed us, and since the thought follows, we figure out he had it.

    Or things we don't need to know "enduring a sudden draft." For one thing, that's passive, and it adds nothing. If you want to build atmosphere by making the room cold, make the room cold. The way it's phrased now, it puts all the emphasis on this unremarkable thing, a "draft", that the character has to "endure" so that the fact that it's cold and drafty is kinda lost.

    "stern gazes judged him in return."
    Had he judged them? With just a glance? If not, they can't judge him "in return." Also, is the king's body on the table with all the food and spilled wine? Just be careful about how you word things.

    The long description of the hall and the flashback slow things down and don't add anything. You could cut all but the first and last sentences of that paragraph and accomplish more.

    Honestly, with a bit of tightening, this looks like it would be a fantastic story. Great job!

  13. I admit, I almost skipped this one due to the genre, but you surprised me. I liked the voice and the writing is strong. There's always room to improve, as others suggested maybe reduce a few of the descriptive words.

    This is excellent and says just enough: On the far end, a wide dais lifted the royal table to prominence. This table, in turn, held up the remains of a small feast, a decanter of spilled wine, and a still, lifeless body: King Arlan.

    I had to reread the first paragraph but I actually like the casual attitude about the timing of the king's death to get out of a dinner party. I think it works.

  14. I don't really think your revised opening is an improvement. "praised" implies speaking to someone and commending them. So that threw me, making me think he's talking to the king right then and there. And I thought the bit about his mother introducing... was even more out of place stuck in the middle of the scene where you're trying to build tension.

  15. Tack on: I had no problem with the opening of the scene and the transition in the original version.

    Be careful about too quickly changing your writing based on just a few (only four of seven) amateur opinions.

  16. I really like this premise. I also liked the original opening better--I think it's fine if he's got a sense of humor during a tense situation.

    I agree that so far, there's not a deep sense of who the mc is. I think it might have to do with the fact that he's only just now thinking of things that surely would come into consideration early. For example, would he only just now realize that his life is in danger? If his job is to revive the king (and probably other important people too, right?) then he probably realized a very long time ago that he is constantly in danger--of being murdered OR kidnapped (so someone can make use of his healing powers). Another example is when he asks how an assassin could slip past so many guards. I'm sure he already has some guesses; the first thing anyone would think of is that the guards might be in someone's pay. He must have some other theories too. Considering that Talyn has held this job for some time already, he should come across as being far smarter and more capable than he does here, which is why I think the characterization isn't as strong as it could be.

  17. More, please!

    I know that's not a helpful review, but I was disappointed when I got to the last line and couldn't read on!

  18. Even though I thought the walk to get to the king started to get a bit long, I'm glad I pushed through because I would definitely read more. I would just like to get to the Ming a little sooner.

  19. I liked it, and I didn't even like your query blurb!

    The only thing was I felt there was not a lot going on, just lots of walking and thinking, walking and thinking...I think you could condense some of it.

    Other than that I really liked it! I hope to read more about Talyn one day.

  20. You had me hooked from the first sentence. You did a good job of giving just enough information so that we understood the scene, without overdoing the backstory. I am curious about this person who can bring back the dead and about the dead king and the possible traitor soldiers.

    I felt like I was reading a preview of a published book and was disappointed when it was over. I would buy this book based on these 500 words.

    Nice work!

  21. It's funny to see the varied reactions here -- I loved the first paragraph, laughed out loud at it. The switch from humor to anxiety didn't throw me, since it's not unusual to have an initial "woohoo!" reaction to something that we realize a bit later is more, ah, "doh."

    I want to read the entire book. Here's hoping you make it!

  22. In general I like this and am pretty well pulled into the scene. However, I have two criticisms:

    First, as a scientist, I love qualifiers, but as a reader they really trip up the flow of the narrative. Do you really lose anything by saying that 'failure would be treason', rather than 'akin to treason?' Also, you say his features 'likely didn't invoke authority' where 'wouldn't invoke authority' maintains the fact that the MC can't see himself, but makes a stronger statement. There are one or two other similar instances you might consider smoothing out.

    Second, I've already got a couple doubting questions about the world building. 1) The query made it sound as though lifeweaving is well-ingrained in the society, but now you say the MC is the only one who can do it. 2) And would commoners really be appalled at the sight of the dining hall rather than awed? Would they not expect the King's hall to be grand, or are you trying to hint at a level of class difference that means the common folk are in serious need of the money spent on the King's excesses, in which case it sounds like the MC is also complicit in the problem, having come from a dinner party himself.

    Again, I say, the writing is generally smooth and the scene well-drawn, but the qualifiers trip up the flow of words a bit, and these questions throw me out of the story.

  23. Having read the comments ahead of mine, I'm torn. I love the opening paragraph, but I see the point about the tone of the rest of the piece being much more sinister. OTOH, perhaps this is exactly the tone of your book: Sinister, with snickers?

  24. I quite liked the blurb for this one, and this excerpt doesn't disappoint. You've set up an intriguing premise, and I would read on.

    I agree with whoever said that Talyn should already have thought of his life being in danger. In addition, I would expect him to be moving on to further speculation: since everyone knows the king has a lifeweaver, why would anyone kill the king without making sure Talyn was out of the way first? (I'm reminded of the beginning of Altered Carbon, where a man is murdered even though he'll be able to download into a new body shortly afterward - missing only a few critical memories - and the protagonist has to figure out why this has happened.) Along those lines, why does Talyn have only a single bodyguard, and why is he arriving so publicly? I'd expect the king's body to be in a hidden room and for Talyn to be brought in via a secret passage or some such, so that the assassin can't get at him.

    The lax security kind of makes sense in light of the upcoming twist, but since Talyn doesn't know yet that the whole thing is a setup, he should be extremely suspicious right now.

    My point is, this entire situation strikes me as somewhat like a chess game, and I think it could be even more compelling if you showed Talyn thinking a few moves ahead.

    I'm not sure you need the part with the lucksign right now. Since I have no idea whether it actually means something or Talyn is just being superstitious, it didn't heighten the tension of the scene for me.

    Finally, "jabbed... like steel raindrops" didn't quite work for me either, just because I don't think of raindrops as "jabbing."

    I think that's about all I've got. Best of luck!

  25. Once again, I want to thank everyone for their insight and their comments. I have to agree with Jamie -- it's interesting to see the varied reactions of everyone, sometimes on completely opposite sides of an issue. I will have to sort out which comments I agree with, and which version of my opening best leads readers into the story.

    Hopefully these comments, along with those I received on my query, will help me to draw the attention of agents and publishers. Thank you all, and I wish all my fellow writers the best of luck on their own publishing journeys.

  26. Loved it. I read a ton of fantasy and this is wonderful. I'm actually taking exception with some of the crits you got here. I feel like I have a great sense of Talyn's personality: he's a bit irreverent, but has a good sense of the importance of his job. He's confident ("I'm off to save the king!") but also realizes he's inexperienced and might mess up (hence the thoughts on treason).

    I thought the tension built very well through the except, from the frivolity of the party to the nervous energy in the corridor to the eerie atmosphere of the banquet hall. I thought the coin was a nice touch and helped me feel that things were not going to turn out well.

    As for the beginning, I'm sure you'll hit on the perfect solution, but I liked the original beginning better than the one you rewrote in the comments. The original seems to be showing while the rewrite seems to be telling more. I don't need you to say "Talyn praised" when the sentence so obviously is doing just that.

    Trust yourself. You're good at this.

  27. I loved this- I like the original better than the re-write though. I thought it was a wonderful start to show that there is humor here- both with the character and with the author. And that last line....EXCELLENT hook!

    Nicely done- I read fantasy and I would read more.

    Marie Andreas

  28. You're spot on with tension, conflict and voice. Be careful not to betray your story with cliches. I'm not quite sure you need quite so many paragraph breaks- I found them a little distracting when they didn't change viewpoint.

    Excellent job- I read and write fantasy and would definitely like to read more.

  29. I really enjoyed this. I can't find anything serious to pick over except that while I personally very much like the original opening, I can see the point others are trying to make in about the abrupt shift in mood. I think it's a matter of voice. Either the voice in the beginning isn't true to Talyn, or the voice fails to trickle down through the rest of the scene. I like the idea that he has an irreverant, sarcastic sense of humor over dire things, but I might like some of that to show in the rest of the scene, while still manintaining the tension. His observations in the narrative just seem very straight-man.

    And I agree that you should trust yourself and not be so quick to accept suggestions as gospel.

  30. This grabbed me from the start. I do like your original paragraph better than your one in the comments. It feels more urgent. I didn't have a problem with it at all, but if you feel the others are right about the the tone, I'm sure you can come up with something that will work.

    The whole thing intrigued me. I loved the little clues about who Talyn is, his disdain for his mother's parties, the checking of his coin. They built his character without detracting from the story.

    My only complaint is, where's the rest of the book?