Thursday, April 17, 2014

First Line Grabber Winners #4

TITLE: The Heartsmith
GENRE: YA Steampunk Fantasy

I carry my heavy basket of hearts down the crowded cobblestone road. Business men in top hats look down their noses at me while women in long, muslin dresses pick up their skirts as they pass me by. The warm sunshine shimmers off the brick buildings lining the street like stalwart soldiers and illuminates their colorful doors. I’m looking for the red one.

Red, and all its color variants from crimson to pink, is considered garish, almost rude. It’s their color and the people of Ager City don’t like their type. My pink pinafore is probably what made the women skirt past me. I mean, who do I think I am, wearing pink? It pays to stand out in the business, though. Everyone in Talier Marketplace knows where to get the best hearts- the girl in pink.

I’m not going to the square to hawk my wares quite yet. I need to see the man at the red door, The Heartsmith. Hearts aren’t much good if they are broken and even less good if they aren’t imbued. A regular, old heart is worth only a single gold piece, while one imbued with purity is worth one hundred. The Snatchers always go for the purest heart in the room. It’s helpful to have one on hand at night. Children squeal with laughter as they run by me playing Snatcher and Knight. Until five years ago, Snatchers were thought to be the heart-stealing, soul-sucking monsters of the past. Now, they are all too real.

The red door materializes out of the wave of people rushing home for lunch, perched between a cobalt door and a canary yellow one. It always makes me smile, especially when the nobles wrinkle their noses or turn their heads. They’d most likely form a committee to remove or repaint the door, but heart vendors are untouchable. We’re needed too badly. I make sure to smile at a woman barely containing her disgust at my dress before bouncing up the stairs and knocking on the red door. A few moments later a clatter comes from inside, followed by a loud oomph. The door bangs open.

“Alessa, you’re early.” Bernard’s wiry, gray mustache sparkles like an opal as sun glints off the heart soot gathered in his hair.

“No, I’m on time. You’ve just forgotten to check the clock.”

I barge past him, brushing the shimmering dust off my shoulders. The house is surprisingly sparse for a man of Bernard’s station and age. The parlor is empty with white walls and a set of dark wooden stairs leading up. Heart soot sparkles across the wooden floor, clinging in knots and crevices. Bernard trails behind me muttering under his breath about time as I traipse to the back of the house. At the end of the parlor hall is another red door, this one heavy and made out of metal. I grip the door and give it a big heave. It groans as the hinges give way and the door slowly swings open.


  1. Uh, I'll have to get back with actual feedback, right now, I'm just wallowing in sorrow that I can't read the ENTIRE BOOK THIS INSTANT.

  2. I was really excited to read this one, but unfortunately these pages don't quite live up to the opening sentences for me.

    There's too much worldbuilding and backstory just laid out with nothing else happening. Paragraphs 2-4 are all focused on explaining the world and the history. I think it's too soon for any of that. I want to connect with the character and story before i care about the world. I think a lot of this information could be weaved in more sporadically, subtly, and not so immediately when starting the novel.

    Still, though, the idea of a heartsmith is awesome. That alone would make me pick it up

  3. Ammi-Joan PaquetteApril 17, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    Similar to some of the above: These paragraphs moved too slowly for me. The backstory should come later--I want to be grounded in the character and the story first, and learn more about the details of the world as I go along.

    Also, while I liked the teaser about the hearts at the very start, hearing them talked about in such great length without actually telling me what they were (flesh-and-blood? mechanical? something else?) ended up feeling frustrating. Being a little coy is good, but after a while just turns to being confusing.

    Very intriguing setting and topic, though! Fascinating idea.

  4. This concept is really interesting. I'm fascinated by the need for hearts to protect from the Snatchers and how broken hearts aren't good for much but pure hearts are worth 100 gold pieces. It promises a unique story. But what I really wish is that you'd saved some of these details and added them only as needed. Right now, I'm picturing the MC standing still in front of the red door and holding her heavy basket of hearts while she tells me all this.

    But with a little rearranging, this would be great.

  5. I've never read any steampunk, but I would definitely continue reading this. It drew me into a strange world slowly, without confusing me, and made me wonder what else there was for me to learn here. Great job!

  6. I was eagerly awaiting this one. I love the opening paragraph. But then we diverge into two paragraphs that seem out of place to me. I understand we need to know this information. But not yet. Consider delaying them and moving right to the paragraph about arriving at the red door. It supports the opening and adds more layers of mystery. Mysteries I want to read about to see where they lead.

    One little nit-pick. In the last paragraph, did she grip the door, or the door handle?

    I'm very intrigued by this set-up.

  7. I agree with the above posters - lots of world-building details too soon and too much. It makes an otherwise intriguing premise drag on.

    Also, I'm not getting much steampunk in these pages even though you've built up the world a bunch.

    I'd love to see some danger, some interaction, some circumstances that make me root for, hate, love or otherwise care about the MC.

    Great idea that needs some polish.

  8. I feel like I'm going to be utterly useless here because I actually really loved this and want to keep reading. I can see what others are saying about too much world building and maybe not enough plot, but I do think you did enough to balance that out with little things like the woman looking at her dress in disgust.

    Personally, the only thing that bothered me was that I think it's vital to give us a real sense of the threat that these people face. I don't know what a Snatcher is so I don't feel the proper tension when you use that word, but if you were to say that everyone lives in fear of having their hearts literally stolen/snatched/what have you (I still don't quite know), I'll feel worried for the characters. You can introduce the word Snatchers a bit later when we have the context to know what it is they do. But that's really nitpicky!

  9. You lost me at the second paragraph. Too much telling me about red and pink.

  10. Well, unfortunately, my thoughts fall along the same line as others. This is the one I wanted to see most, and I do think it's a great idea, but the back story kills it.

    Forget that there's a reader. Your characters live in their world, not this one. Cut pargs 2 and 3. Ask yourself, who is your MC explaining all this to? SHe already knows it, and she isn't talking to anyone, so it has to be there for the reader, who doesn't exist in her world. And while she is explaining all this to a person who doesn't exist, nothing is happening. Your story has stopped.

    Just tell the story. A good rule is to NOT tell us about anyone or anything until they appear on scene. When we need to know the worth of hearts and the dangers of Snatchers, it'll come out automatically right where it's supposed to.

  11. I love this page, and would really like to see the full manuscript! I’m entirely intrigued by this world, and this brash character, who I have a very strong sense of – her voice, the way she sets herself apart from others (and enjoys that), the way she wants to take control of every situation she’s in, even her sly sense of humor. Because I feel connected to her, I’m invested in this story and what comes next (what’s behind that door!) right away.

    My comments are small, line-edits really: I got a little lost in the brick buildings, and red doors – which are essentially the same color, so it doesn’t seem like a red door would stand out as completely as a red door against a limestone building, for instance. In some places, the language seems too much the vernacular of this world (“I mean, who do I think I am…”). But these are small things, and as I say, I’d love to see more!

  12. I'm late to the party but I loved the first line when I voted yes on it. I love this page and I would read more. I enjoy steampunk and don't feel it's too much backstory. I agree with Danielle though, what are Snatchers? Do they "snatch" your hearts from your body? I loved the part when he has "heartsoot" in his hair. What the heck is that? I want to know more!!!

  13. My thoughts are in line with everyone else here. Just too much telling. Instead of telling us that everyone hates red and pink, show us. Show us the men walking by the red door and spitting on it or making a warding sign against evil. Show the crowd parting around her to avoid touching her pink dress.

    The information itself isn't bad, but its delivered in a way that stops the action of the story instead of being a part of the story.

  14. My apologies! Apparently my earlier post didn't 'take'. I still love the opening line and the world-building. I, too, would like to have a clearer picture of the hearts -- whether they're human, animal, mechanical or? I love so much of the language -- particularly the term 'heart soot.' I'd definitely keep on reading.

  15. This bears a strong resemblance to miyuli's webcomic of the same title( Is this fanfic based on the comic or are you the original artist?

  16. Congrats on your agent request!
    Thanks for sharing this dramatic story opening. I agree w/above readers - paragraphs 2-4 not needed quite yet. Rather than have heroine describe what she's just about to do, what she's not doing, what she needs to do - just keep us in the lovely, intriguing story moment, and let the man greet her at the door (or bare minimum of description between the red door she's seeking and his welcoming her there. His voice and hers are great. I like the description of his house. (It makes it seem like its one of the first times she's been there. If she's been there before, she might have a quicker view of everything. But it orients the reader nicely!) And such a great ending hook to this opening.

    Yes I'd love to read more! Great work & best wishes on your writing.

  17. Tricia Lawrence, EMLAApril 21, 2014 at 10:30 PM

    Nicely done. I also got lost in all the red and pink. I skipped over it. But I thought this was nice to set us in a world, but consider what details are a MUST and what can be left out. Congrats on being in the top five! I so loved reading this.