Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On The Block Concession Crit #11

TITLE: Tides of Magic
GENRE: Adult Epic Fantasy

The advent of magic allows former tyrants to lay siege to Fabius’ kingdom. The nobility-hating prince must choose whether to submit to their savage rule or destroy magic along with innocent lives and his empire.

Her auburn hair came undone as Elena pressed her face to the gem shop’s window. The raucous thirty-odd people outside had congregated in a matter of minutes. Her eyes widened as a flaming torch arched towards the roof.

Her mentor’s three year old squirmed in her grip as she held him down from scampering up to the window sill. “Dormu!” Elena admonished him as another flash of yellow streaked past the window, a black jet of smoke trailing behind.

The door to the shop burst open and a burly man armed with a staff barged in. “Get out, Elena. Dirma must pay for what he’s done.” Hogarth raised his left hand and waved her to move.

She was not surprised to see the spiteful farmer leading the mob. But any thoughts of standing her ground vanished as smoldering embers of straw floated in through the door. Elena picked up Dormu and burst out.

“You can’t burn down the shop!” Elena shouted to the riotous crowd. “Have you people lost your mind?”

Where is the town guard? She looked around for a sympathetic face in the throng but icy eyes stared back at her. “He didn’t do anything. None of us know how all of this is happening, least of all Dirma,” she pleaded.

“Tell that to Samuise Lothar.” Hogarth grabbed her free hand and pulled her away. “You didn’t have to look at the horror of his body turned to ice. You didn’t have to sit by and watch him melt away into a puddle.”


  1. The pitch left me a little unsure. I wondered if he hated himself. Why doesn't the king do something?

    The first sentence reads awkward. I’m not sure if the her is Elena or someone else and their hair happened to come undone when Elena pressed her face into the window.

    The first paragraph is jump. Elena—outside—Elena maybe go from outside in for better flow.

    Is Elena the her holding the toddler? If so, then they are already at the window. I'm not sure who is who now.

    The rest reads much smoother, but I suggest " Hogarth raised his left hand and waved her to move." be simplified, unless it matters which hand he used.

  2. I think I'm having some trouble with the staging in this excerpt. I think starting with a riot could be a great opening, but I think you're missing some of the grounding. Even if you started a few sentences earlier, so we could get an understanding of Elena, it could help. Because my first thought was that she was outside the shop, peering in. And then I was confused about how, if she has her face pressed to the glass, she's also carrying a child.

    I also didn't know the farmer came outside with her, so when he speaks again I was pulled out.

    Just slowing down a touch and really grounding the reader in the setting and the staging could really help this entry pop.

  3. Great descriptions, and there's a definite sense of alarm and urgency that comes from this short excerpt. I was confused through most of the first half about where Elena was. Since she had her face pressed against the window, I assumed she was outside looking in (seems more typical), but it becomes clear she's actually inside the shop looking out. Smoothing that out would help the reader get situated in this world more quickly. Also, from the pitch, it seems the main character is actually the prince, and not Elena. If that's true, then maybe the first page should start with the prince. If Elena is also a major character, then consider adding her to the pitch.

  4. One thing that got me was that the logline is all about this prince but the book starts with a character called Elena who I know nothing about besides she's in a shop and has some kind of mentor and auburn hair. I also first assumed she was outside the window. So yeah, I would also suggest slowing down and grounding the reader more. If Elena is an important main character she should be mentioned in the pitch since the story starts with her.

  5. I agree with the rest of the comments. The first line is very confusing, mainly because it's so passive. Try turning the sentence around like this: As Elena pressed her face to the gem shop’s window, her auburn hair came undone. Even then, I think it's too weak a sentence to start a book. I have no sense of the danger that she's in. There's a mob outside – we should viscerally feel what Elena feels - fear, panic, frustration....

    One way to do that might be to simplify the language. There are a lot of big words in this sample, which make it harder to read the pages. Not saying teens can't read big words, but they put the reader at a distance. Focus more on the visceral than the cerebral.

    Also, very confused as to why I'm reading about Elena if this is Fabius' story. Try to start the novel with the protagonist, if possible.

    My last note is that the logline is meandering. I think it might be much more easily stated: A naive prince must choose between allowing the birth of magic, or destroying it, and innocent citizens in the process. Or something to that effect.

    This was an interesting read, but I feel it needs more work.

  6. I quite like the opening narrative--there's a fair amount of tension, and the action is fairly easy to understand. There's room to streamline your opening paragraph to help orient your reader a bit more. My main issue is that the pitch seems to be completely divorced from your opening narrative. I'm just not seeing a direct connection.

  7. Feels as if you have a bit too much going on here for a book opener - lots of characters, lots of details ... but not enough to let me know any character or pull me in.

    The money passage is of course “You didn’t have to look at the horror of his body turned to ice. You didn’t have to sit by and watch him melt away into a puddle.” But it seems like too much, too soon.

    I'd like to see more internal dialogue from Elena, to get more of a sense of who she is, and far fewer details and names and less specific action. She's watching a mob and holding a squirmy toddler, whose father's shop is being torched - that alone is a powerful scene, but you don't let us truly feel it because you've crammed this passage with details. Show us her horror, her fear, her desperation, and end with one strong moment, perhaps the accusation about Dima. As is, this is just a bit too busy to work well.

  8. The pitch is vague, and I couldn't connect it with the story. But I like the story. I'd ramp the terror of Elena's situation in the first sentence ... let me feel her fear grow until she has to run.

  9. Lots of excitement in this opening! It starts (first page)with a bang. But the first line is too tame. The angry villages are coming for her (or Dirma) but the first line led me to believe she was window shopping. Perhaps start with something more consistent with the rest of the piece. A torch setting the roof aflame. A rock through the window. Something that sets the tone of what's to come.

    Then perhaps look at the writing. Rewrite any sentences that tell us what HAD happened, and replace it with one that IS happening now. Rewrite every sentence with the word WAS in it, so that you eliminate the WAS. Make sure all your verbs are the best ones you can think of. (Most work well. Get rid of the few that don't.) The idea on the page works. Try a rewrite or two with an eye to making it stronger.

  10. Sounds like a great story and fun, but lean more toward action and stakes right upfront.

    Here are a few ideas I'll share for what they're worth:

    The hook is not hooky. 'advent of magic allows' is passive construction. hooks should be totally active as in 'Tyrants lay siege' In the second sentence, the 'must choose' is weak. Choice as a word is weak. Acitve: The prince must destroy magic and lives or give up his empire. In that example, choice is implied. Do this or the consequences are bad. But it is not implicitly stated.

    The opening sentence is important and auburn hair is not that important. Here's where my ears perked to the writing, fyi, 'The door to the shop burst open.' I also like "You can't burn down the shop," Elena shouted.
    I like those because they are active. They get me into the story. Then auburn hair and toddlers can be introduced.


  11. Wow! All of these are such exceptional insights! Thank you all for taking the time to read my piece. I will make this stronger and keep trying to tell the best story I can.