Wednesday, January 22, 2014

First Two (Adult Fiction) #9

GENRE: Literary Fantasy

“Hey, Rat Girl,” Minos sneered, pointing his chin in Crea’s direction. “Think you can scamper up there?”

Crea shook her head in annoyance. No one else spoke. As the foursome stared across the expanse below them to the stony eminence, Crea was sure they looked like dazed fools, gaping with open mouths. But tearing her eyes from the grim structure would have been as easy as keeping moths from being drawn to a lamp. Though she hadn’t intended her gesture to be an answer, there was only one coherent thought in her mind: surely their task was impossible.

The fortress was more mountain or mesa than man-made edifice. Only a few shades grayer and darker than the landscape around it, it could have passed for a rocky plateau. Yet the lofty summit had a nearly flawless rectangular geometry, etched against the cerulean blue of the midsummer sky. Numerous small but clearly visible features confirmed it was built by human hands: windows and ledges, grids of perfectly aligned brick work, and squat square towers jutting cautiously out into space as if clinging to the vertical wall in fear of the great height.

The man-made part was built on top of an escarpment formed by no lesser beings than the gods. Even after taking that into consideration, it was staggering to imagine humans constructing such a towering, unwholesome place; Crea wondered what sort of people would be compelled to do such a thing. From where she and the three men had paused, hunkering down amid a cluster of boulders on the steep hillside, the top appeared well above their current altitude, and they still had some distance to descend before reaching the level ground that stretched between them and the base of the fortress.

“Oh, ye gods!” Crea muttered. “There’s no way we’ll ever get in there. They were crazy to send us.” She glanced at her companions to see them all shaking their heads.

“First off,” Lamad said, “How do we even get near the place? They must have lookouts or guards in all those little windows up there, those turrets. They’ve probably seen us already.” He gestured down at the open expanse sparsely carpeted with scrawny tufts of yellow grass and dotted with occasional gray-green shrubs no more than a foot high. “There’s no way to get within a mile of that hill without being seen . . . No doubt that was the point.”

“Of course,” Jafsa growled.

The four of them fell back into silence. In spite of the bright sky above it, the vision looming in front of them made Crea think of a wall in a nightmare that extends infinitely up into dark space, blocking the only escape. The prospect of approaching it and trying to get inside—if it were even physically possible—filled her with a dreamlike chill of horror.

After a moment Minos said, “Perhaps they just wanted to be rid of us and knew we had no chance of getting in there alive.”


  1. I really enjoy the opening line of "Hey rat girl." I think it successfully sets the tone for the characters' interactions and the story as a whole.
    I might want to vary the sentence length a bit. Most of the sentences are quite long, with at least one comma in there. Maybe experiment with some short ones in there and the reader would be drawn in a little more.

  2. I think you have a good start, but I would break up the 3 dense paragraphs of narrative and mix it with the dialogue. You have a great description of the fortress, but all at once it feels too much.

    Good luck!

  3. I agree with the other comments that breaking up the descriptions would make this opening more interesting. You might also want to consider leaving out dialogue tags like "growled" and "sneered." I'm interested in seeing how your characters can accomplish this seemingly insurmountable task, but I would also like to know why they're trying to. Even hinting at it would draw me into the story more.

  4. I think putting the description of the fortress into a problem-solving context might help break up the big chunks. (FREX: The characters are looking at the bare ground between them and the fortress, toss around the idea of crossing at night, etc.)

    I also think that some reason of why they want/need to get inside would be helpful. Is it some sort of weird school test? A mission to steal an artifact? Otherwise it's hard to understand why they aren't just turning for home.

    It's smoothly written though.

  5. I agree with the previous comments about wanting to know the reason they need to get inside this fortress. And I wonder about why you are calling this Literary Fantasy. I think of literary fantasy as like Cloud Atlas or 1Q84. This seems straight-ahead fantasy. I also like the Rat Girl, and I like their coming to the conclusion that they were sent deliberately on a hopeless quest because they are somehow undesirables, expendable. But a hint more of what it is about them and maybe a hint more about who Crea is would help anchor us more firmly to the story. And the descriptions of the fortress, while evocative, actually didn't really totally make me see it.

  6. Thank you for sharing your work!

    The opening line does set the tone and relationship between characters, but it's risky opening with dialogue.

    I don't really have any context for what's going on with a dialogue opening.

    You describe the fortress well. However, I'm missing any sense of urgency, or why this place is important. In other words, I don't have a reason to care about these characters and this building yet. It makes it difficult to continue on, or to drop in to the story.

    Plus, I don't have a feel for the time period. So, I don't know if I should be envisioning a futuristic tower, or a current skyscraper.

    Also, if they're Gods, and humans built the place, why can't they get it? Even if you don't give it away in the beginning, and I'm not suggesting you do, there should be some kind of hint as to why they think they can't get in, so that it's believable for me as a reader.

    Good luck with this work!

  7. I think the writing is stellar. I could envision this mountain-like fortress.

    The problem I had was that I didn't know enough to connect with the character. Because this is fantasy, I kept wondering, is she really a rat? Is that her species? Then I had to wonder if whoever was in the fortress looking out those little windows would know that the rat and her companions were trying to break in or if they'd think they were just average rodents. Which then made me wonder about the companions. Were they all the same? If so, why had Minos identified Crea as he did?

    As the scene continued, I questioned my first assumption. Perhaps the characters are human.

    Either way, I think readers need to know more about the main characters even before learning about the fortress. If we care for them, we'll wait to learn why they want in, and it will matter whether they succeed or fail.

  8. I agree with everyone else as to the why of it all. Without knowing why they are attempting this, I have no reason to care.
    Let us know why it matters to them and why they are risking their lives.

    The description of the fortress didn't work for me. Neither 'stony eminence' or 'grim structure' allow me to picture what this building is. In the next parg, we learn it's a fortress that's gray and tall with a lot of windows and ledges and towers, but what is it that makes it so formidable? Perhaps describe that aspect of it as well since that is the most important aspect right now. Make it appear imposing.

    Also, if they can't get within a mile of it, I'm assuming they're more than a mile away, and if they're that far away, could they really see bushes and shrubs no more than a foot high and other small details?

    Overall, a good start.