Tuesday, July 3, 2012

#2 Baby Slushpile: SOL OF A GLADIATOR

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 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.  The captives had died regardless and he had yet again angered his captain; the man that controlled his fate.  As punishment he had been transferred to the coliseum, a post feared by guard and soldier alike.  Far more than the danger and brutality, what inspired dread for the post was that, for all intents and purposes, the coliseum was a closed system.  Be you slave or guard, once you entered it, you probably didn’t leave.  He had begged his captain, promising him utter obedience.  But for the captain it had become personal.  Grall had made it personal.  It mattered not at all that Grall’s young wife had just given birth to their first son.  Neither did it matter that he would probably never see either of them again.  Even if he managed to be one of the few to live long enough to see retirement, his son would be grown with children of his own. 
            He had been all for packing their meager belongings and making a run for it but his wife’s 
cooler head had prevailed, as always. They lived in the middle of the empire, two week’s hard ride in any direction from free lands if they had a mount, which they didn’t. She wasn’t yet recovered from a difficult childbirth, still weak and sore. Most importantly they had a brand new baby. In the best of times the road was no place to raise a child, and they would be in hiding. “No,” she had answered stoically through her tears, “you will go to the coliseum. You will send us your pay. I will raise our son.”


  1. I love the first sentence and the opening paragraph because it both gave a good a sense of the setting and appealed to the reader's emotions. This is important because by the time I get to the paragraph where you introduce Grall, I feel some investment in him already and read his backstory/bio with interest (as opposed to feeling that it is an info dump.) Great job! Needless to say, I would continue to read.

  2. I like this. I feel as if you’ve showed us a lot about Grall and his world, but at the same time I didn’t feel overwhelmed with information. Grall seems like the type of guy I would want to root for. I also feel a clear sense of what is at stake for him. I’m intrigued. I would definitely keep reading.

  3. I agree with the first commenter that the first couple paragraphs are pretty engaging. However, after that, this definitely feels like an info dump to me. I'm guessing from your synopsis, that this is a prologue and Grall is not one of your primary characters, in which case, we don't need all the details of his back story. Believe in the intelligence of your readers; hinting at his back story can be just as if not more effective. If, on the other hand, Grall *is* a primary character, I expect that we have plenty of time to get the details of his wife's last words to him later. You started this with action. You should keep the focus on the action, or at the very least, break up the infodump with bits of action intersperced.

  4. Nicely set up. We have conflict, inciting incident, and we connect with the MC. Great beginning.

  5. I love everything up to "briefly forgetting his loss". After that, the focus strays into backstory, which is too much for a first couple of pages.

    So I agree with Hepseba about the amount of detail given too soon into the story. Grall is not the story's protagonist, and by giving this much background, you make the reader believe he is. Which will later end in the reader feeling betrayed, since Grall really isn't the protagonist. Or is he?

    Also, you start the story with mystery and tension -- BAM! A cry! What is a baby doing in a colliseum? And what will Grall do with it? Will I witness an atrocity? Good Lord, I need to know what happens! Tell me!!

    But then you change from mystery to exposition, and it's a let-down, tension wise. Grall's past is not relevant right now, and you can hint at the fact that Grall is missing his own child without telling us his history. I'm much more interested in this baby, because it's in immediate danger, not his wife or how his boss feels about him.

    Other than that, the execution, the actual prose, is quite good indeed. Revise, rewrite, and keep up the good work!

  6. Just as with your query I love your world building. However the last two paragraphs took me out of the story. I really wanted to know what's expected of him once he finds the child. I see I'm in the minority here but I found myself skimming to see if we'd get back to the hear and now. Of course, that wouldn't stop me from reading.

  7. This is great writing. The angle you've chosen to come at your scene is fresh and shows definite skill. I wish I could take this with me on vacation!!

    That said - I agree with others that you can push your backstory further ahead. Either that or break it down into smaller pieces. But I'd definitely keep going. PLEASE, heed the advice on your query!

  8. I just went an re-read the query. So Grall isn't a main character? Regardless, I don't need to know this much about him. Not in the first page.

    I want to know about the baby!

    Your first paragraph is amazing. The noise and the contrast all give us an immediate sense of tension, and subtle word building.

    But then it's gone with an info-dump on a possibly minor character. If these details are really that essential to the plot, then let them come later. Take us back to the immediate conflict that we are invested in.

  9. I was completely drawn in by the first four paragraphs. The first line and following paragraph are wonderfully executed. I don't normally read historical novels, but I couldn't stop reading after those first few sentences. Unfortunately, the massive info dump that follows those beautiful paragraphs turned me off. I'd much rather you reveal only a portion of this right now and draw out the rest of his backstory as the novel progresses.

  10. I love the beginning of this excerpt (you've changed it since last I saw!). It's dark, gritty, and sets up the scene well. I can already picture where Grall is, and it scares me.

    I personally would reserve the how-he-got-there for later, since it distracted me from the here and now, which is so intense. Especially given that Grall isn't the protagonist. I want to read what's happening now, I want to see the horrible dungeons and where this crying baby is, and learn more about Grall later.

    Overall, I liked this :)

  11. Thanks for all the great feedback. I'm looking forward to using your comments to improve my story!

  12. I like how this opens because it gives a good feel for the coliseum, the atmosphere, and the fear that a baby's cry could bring to a place like this.

    I don't quite like where it goes. For one, is it historically correct that coliseum guards weren't allowed to leave? Something about that strikes me as contrived, so true or made up, I'd save it for later when the reader is more invested in the main character.

    Also, delving into Grall's backstory takes us out of the conflict, which has me stalled. It takes away the momentum you so wonderfully built with the baby's cry.

    Finally, the thinking aloud feels a bit like a crutch - instead of showing us Grall's emotional state and keeping us in the scene, we're told his thoughts and taken elsewhere.

    I might give this another page, but something would need to happen soon to keep my interest. (That would be different if we cut out the backstory.)

  13. To add to my previous comment, when I read others' comments and realized Grall might not be the main character - I couldn't remember the MC's name from the query - I felt a bit cheated. If the baby who cries turns out to be our MC, saved from a horrible death by Grall's mercy, then it feels a cliche. Epic fantasy isn't required to start at the birth of the MC, or with a prologue that highlights his past. I'd rather start in the here and now of the story, which is by necessity more exciting, and be given backstory as necessary, sprinkled throughout, rather than all up front... and if this is a prologue, then yes this is a big chunk of backstory.

    Also, I wouldn't submit a prologue with a query. Reading this right after the query would have made it obvious Grall isn't the MC, and in that case I'd be wondering why we're reading about Grall at all.

  14. I was really drawn in by this. Then I read the comments and thought, "what?! He's not the MC? But I like him!" So I went back and read your query. Now I'm assuming the baby is Sol and this guy is one of the people who raises him. So not the MC, but an important character. If that's the case, then I'm okay again. :) I really liked this. I wanted to read more.

  15. I don't think I have anything new to add. I, too, was drawn in and really liked the way it opened, then was turned off by all the backstory/exposition that, if important, should be woven into the story.

    Re: whether we even need this, I'm all for a good prologue if it adds to the story and introduces a mystery to be dealt with later. I agree with K.E. Cooper, though, and if it's a prologue for the sake of an epic fantasy prologue and isn't important, start with the MC here and now and weave any necessary exposition into the story.

  16. Basically what everyone else has said so far: this is way too early to be jumping into a flashback. Unlike most of the commenters, I wasn't particularly drawn in by the opening -- however, it is a well-written opening and I was definitely willing to read on. But the moment you start dumping backstory, you lose me completely. Subtle goes a long way.

    (The thinking out loud is also a turn off for me, but may be chalked down to personal taste.)

  17. An interesting start, one that grabs hold and has me reading to find out more.

    However, grammar and spelling mistakes are distracting. Assuming the first pages would be included in a query, an agent or editor might stop at the first page because the simple grammar/spelling issues are indicative of a manuscript full of them.

    As engaging as the first substantive paragraph is, the sentence structure is repetitive, drawing the reader into a lull:
    Prisoners, ...
    Spoils, ...
    The beasts, ...
    Even Grall, ...
    Over time, ...

    Also, careful with the use of -ly adverbs. Using them on occassion is great, but if you highlight the use of them in this selection, you'll see there's a lot and often times they could have been replaced with a stronger, more descriptive verb. This would tighten up the writing.

    Still, I was interested in the MC and wanted to read more. But the scene progressed into lot of telling, diffusing the tension and taking the reader out of the immediate action. Much of this could be interspersed with action as opposed to gathered together in the info dump paragraph. We want to progress toward finding this baby.

    It's a good start, and interesting world building so far. I'd love to see where you take this once the writing has been tightened up.