Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Sol of a Gladiator
GENRE: Epic Fantasy

A baby’s cry.

Grall was sure that’s what he’d heard. In the depths of the coliseum a person became accustomed to various cries of pain or despair. Prisoners, men broken physically or mentally, called out in the night. Spoils, the women given to victorious fighters to do with whatever they saw fit, cried out often. The beasts, crazed by captivity and seclusion, howled and cackled. Even Grall, though the proud young guard would never admit it, sometimes fought back the tears that came in the dark. Over time, one could learn to block out the sound completely.

But the cry of a child, an infant, a sound that had no place in this world, could not be ignored.

Grall made his way slowly down the roughly carved stone hall, unenthusiastic in his search for the sounds origin. He knew what was expected of him when he found the child. His stomach clenched at the thought.

“I don’t need this.” he thought aloud, his voice barely a whisper. “I should be in bed.” In truth, only minutes before he had lain wide awake, willing dawn to come and give him a reason to abandon his tossing and turning. With the day came his duties; blessed menial tasks he could lose himself in, briefly forgetting his loss.

Grall had come to the coliseum only a few months before. He had been a guard in the city until he refused to participate in a drill using live captives. His protests changed nothing.


  1. I found the first sentence captivating. I liked that you left it at that resisting the urge to add to it....i.e. a baby's cry cut through the night.. etc...It's much more effective as is. I also like the lingering focus on the sounds and how they bring to life the world we are being introduced to. From that larger canvas, you then focus on the guard (great name btw - 'Grail') and bring out a lot of his personality just in his reaction to this one small thing. A really excellent beginning in my not so humble opinion. ;)

  2. I really like how you dive in to the main character's head, and never let us forget that we are hearing his story. So many third-person books don't provide enough voice in the beginning, but yours does.

    You've also made your MC instantly sympathetic, both because of his own problems and the cruelty of the place in which he lives (and his refusal to be a part of it). This makes me want to read more.

    I only had two niggling problems:

    I'm not sure if 'no place in this world' is the right phrase, unless the baby literally has no place in the entire WORLD. I'm assuming it instead has no place in the coliseum.

    In "...his search for the sounds origin.", sounds should have an apostrophe.

  3. I love the setting of the coliseum and the break down of the various background noises give us great atmosphere but -- I felt like "though the proud young guard would never admit it" was a little bit awkward, and pulled me out of the PoV a bit. It seemed like the author forcing a description of the PoV character into the opening paragraph. Because by thinking about fighting back the tears, he IS admitting it anyway, and I think there are better ways to illustrate the prideful youth of his character without squishing it into that opening.

    Otherwise! Great atmosphere, great setting of the scene without overwhelming me with unnecessary description and WHILE giving me a solid foundation for Grall's character!

  4. You hooked me at the line "But the cry of a child, an infant, a sound that had no place in this world, could not be ignored."

    When Grail thinks "I don't need this", the line didn't feel (to me) like it fit with the epic fantasy feel you've nicely built up in the beginning.

    Otherwise, I like the questions you've already raised.

  5. Strong beginning, and great choice to start with intimate third person, as it makes the experience much more immediate.

    I do think, however, that you could've made the very first sentence even more powerful. I miss the verb in it. How about... "A baby screamed" or "A baby's cry split the night." :P

  6. Very interesting set-up! I really want to know why babies don't belong in this world, and what kind of drills are using live captives. I agree with above poster about starting with "A baby's cry." I think you could make it more impactful by bringing it to life with why it's an odd sound right up front.

  7. There are some great turns of phrases here. And I think the first paragraph really is well written.

    And I would read on.

  8. I like the beginning and the hint of conflict when you describe that he knows what he has to do when he finds the child.

    I'd cut out as much of the back story and description as I could and keep the focus on this man's conflict. It also seems like the end of this opening is moving toward back story. As a reader, I get impatient with that when the opening is as strong as yours. I want to know what happens with the baby. Explain stuff about the world and the characters to me later, when there's a lull.

  9. I was hooked at "He knew what was expected of him when he found the child." Very ominous.

    This is nicely written, but there are some bits that could be tightened. The line "the women given to victorious fighters to do with whatever they saw fit" was a little awkward. I don't think you need "to do with whatever they saw fit" because the fact that they cry out often clues me in pretty well to what they're doing with them.

    You could cut "at the thought" in "His stomach clenched..." and you can also cut "he thought aloud and just say, "he whispered" in the following paragraph.

    There's an odd echo with "he could LOSE himself in, briefly forgetting his LOSS." I'm not sure whether that's intentional. What is his loss--his previous city guard job or something else? The shift makes it seem like he's mourning his job. Maybe that's cleared up in the next few lines.

    But... by this time, I've all but forgotten that we're looking for a baby, so make sure you're not straying too far from that with backstory.

    Good job! I'd read more.

  10. I love the set-up and how this MC is a part of and yet apart from the world he is forced to inhabit. I think his name is Grall yet I noticed earlier that a couple commenters thought his name was Grail and loved it. I also love Grail. I would take that as a sign you should consider changing your MC's name. Grail is replete with significance. IN any case, I loved your 250 and would absolutely, definitely, positively read on.

  11. I thought this was very nicely written and the tone fits in with Epic Fantasy. Nice work.

  12. Thanks for all the great feedback everyone!

  13. I like the idea of your opening, with the mc finding a baby in this hideous world. Your last paragraph dissolves into backstory though, which would worry me as I continue to read. I'd rather be in Grall's head, rather than the narrator telling me he's a "proud young guard". Let his actions speak for him, and give us his life story later. Also, you'd have to sell me on the setting with spectacular world building--you have it listed as Epic Fantasy but right now it feels more like historical (Gladiator Roman times).

  14. You had me with the baby’s cry. I wondered what an infant would be doing in the depths of the coliseum, and would he have to kill it if he found it? But then you wandered off into back story and forgot all about the baby. Perhaps forget the backstory. You can always get it in later. Right now, stick with the baby and whatever problems it will bring. That’s your hook.

  15. I loved everything about this. I found the focus on sounds to be really unique as a way to inroduce a place and time. I would definitely keep reading. I would hope to get more in the next bit about how this guard is going to react to a reality he is obvioulsy not suited for. I also agree that Grail is a much better name than Grall.