3rd SR Crapometer #97

O Great Mistress of Snarktitude, (ok, cute but no dice)

Arhian could have run away from danger, but instead, she chose to risk her life to deliver a message. A thirty-something widow most comfortable at her loom, Arhian Weaver doesn't look like a hero. But (here's your lead) when the death of her brother-in-law leaves her in possession of vital information, she risks a perilous journey to the headquarters of the Rangers, far in the North.

The Coming Storm is a 90,000 word Fantasy novel. Though the story stands on its own, there is room for a sequel starring some of the supporting characters. (deft way to handle this info)

Thank you in advance for your consideration.



No plot.
Not even a mention of an antagonist or a conflict. This is a bad bad sign.

Chapter One

Arhian Weaver sat at her large upright loom, intent on her work. Her commission for Ysingerd, Baron of Darhurst and Tetrarch of Ve Alia, was due to be finished in three days, and the fever that had laid her low for a week had put her behind schedule. Her strength had finally returned, but there was still so much work to do. She had already burned three candles catching up. (she should try burning them at both ends if she really wants to get stuff done)

She'd spent the day warping her loom for the final bolt, a plain-weave linen she could have done it without a problem when she was ten years old. (huh?) After dinner, she had come straight up to her workroom to begin the weaving. Now, her shuttle flew back and forth, and all her concentration went to keeping her rhythm, keeping her speed.

The heavy thud against the side of her house startled her so much that the shuttle escaped her fingers and clattered to the floor.

She held her breath, listening, but she could hear nothing but the rattle of raindrops on the roof, and the rumbling of far-off thunder.

She shook her head, and bent to pick up the shuttle. "It's nothing," she told herself. Her voice sounded too loud, and strange in her own ears. "Probably just a bear." That thought didn't frighten her -- her house was strong. It had been standing for fifty years before she purchased it from her predecessor, Master Miarra, and would probably be standing a hundred years after she was dead and gone.

She stretched, pressing her hands against the small of her back, and then re-tied the widow's cap she wore. Then she ran her fingers over her work, inspecting it for snags or loops and finding none. Just the feel of the fabric beneath her fingers calmed her, reassured her that order was restored, and whatever had crashed against the side of her house had gone away and left her in peace.

She'd done a lot of work tonight; her commission was almost complete. She was only mildly surprised by how much she'd accomplished; she often lost track of time when she sat before her loom.

Now, she was aware of the burning in her eyes and the ache in her back and arms. She shrugged to loosen the tension in her shoulders, and bent to pick up a tankard.

Something slammed against the side of her house, then she heard a long scrape, metal against wood.

"Great Weaver, protect me!" she whispered. "Something's out there!"

* * *

Jona Aberides drove the four-wheeled wagon, appropriate to his disguise as a traveling merchant, slowly along the backcountry road. The thunderstorm, unseasonably early in the summer, matched his mood. The rain that soaked through his cloak and formed rivulets on the canvas protecting his wares, had also turned the road into something akin to stew. Not that he minded; he had been cold and wet before, and he was in no particular hurry to reach Arhian's house.

Ever since he'd been ordered back to Darhurst, he'd been dreading seeing her again. What could he say to her?

He should have stayed with her longer, four years ago. Instead, he'd given her the news of Daz's death, and run like a coward. Though he'd been in the area twice since then, he'd always had the excuse of urgent business to keep him away.

He should have gone back, years ago.

He wished he had some sort of excuse, anything to delay him, even just a few minutes more.

And then the voice pierced the stillness. "You! Traveler! Stop in the name of Baron Ysingerd!"

oh yawnyawnyawn.
Static backstory.

You don't have to actually light someone on fire, but could we start with the noise outside or the voice in the wilderness or something dynamic? You just don't have a lot of time in a slush pile. Clue of the decade: even if you end up changing the novel later, give us some action up front. Your goal right now isn't publication. Your goal right this very second is to get and hold my attention past page one.

A Snarkling sent me the youtube video of Torvil and Dean in the 1984 Olympics recently. If you watch this, you see that T&D don't begin with a huge splashy throw-themselves-all-over-the-ice kind of thing. In fact, they are ON the ice, kneeling and they do the same move three times at a very slow tempo. Yet, you cannot look away. You don't have to know much about ice dancing to know this is special. If you DO know something about ice dancing you know this understated elegance is technically close to perfection, unusual, fresh and original.

So, when I say 'set someone on fire' it can be literal fire (always a good choice) or the fire of a diamond's brillance, or the fire of technical perfection, original style and a purple feather costume set to the sexiest music ever written.

I love that film clip because it reminds me that elegent execution makes ice dancing look easy. Only if you strapped on a pair of skates, grabbed the sweaty palm of Muncy Williams and tried to skate as a pair do you begin to understand just how not-easy that is.

Great writers make it look like the words are just there. You and I both know that is never the case. Your job is to make it look easy.

This one is a form rejection.


Anonymous said...

"Jona Aberides drove the four-wheeled wagon, appropriate to his disguise as a traveling merchant, slowly along the backcountry road."

You've missed a trick here.

Jona is in disguise? Well, that's potentially quite interesting. He's presumably in disguise for a reason. His disguise may be a good one that fools everybody, or a bad one that fools nobody. Or one that has fooled a few people, but might not be fooling this guard at the city gates who keeps asking awkward questions...

What I'm trying to say is, there's a dozen different ways you could introduce the information that Jona's in disguise, and instead you kind of...just...throw it away.

There's tension and conflict to play with here.

Might as well use it.

LJCohen said...

"Great writers make it look like the words are just there. You and I both know that is never the case. Your job is to make it look easy.

Miss Snark--your advice here a perfect 10. (Even from the Russian judge)

Of all the comments you have made in the crapometer, this is probably the most helpful.

*goes to look at own WIP while watching Torvil and Dean*

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

Your analogy of story beginnings through Torvald and Dean really hit the mark. Even though I hate hate hate ice dancing, I found myself mesmerized. I'm still going to have my story start out with an actual fire, though. :)

Catja (green_knight) said...

So many fantasy writers fall into this trap - trying to tell us everything about the backstory in the first five pages.

I'm an experienced reader. I'm willing to take a lot of strangeness, to be just swept along by it - I expect it to make sense later, but right now, I'm willing to accept that it will.

The loud knocking and the safe house are good - but where's the plot in it? The traveller in disguise held up by the guard is good, too, but

'Stop, traveller!' Jonah forced his hands to stay on the reins of the borrowed merchant's cart and his mind to stop obsessing about weapons he was not supposed to carry and asked with artificial puzzlement 'What is the matter, neighbour?'

would give us everything we need and leave you room for more story.

I find that I'm a lot more ambivalent about fantasy premises than I am about ordinary ones - if the story is well-told and the character faces interesting obstacles, I'm willing to run with the 'heroine must get a message through to her brother.'

Verification: ejcnt, which is spookily close to Miss Snark's verdict.

Bernita said...

Nice if it began with "Something's out there..."

Anonymous said...

Thanks to you and the Snarkling for the Torvill-Dean video - magnificent! If I could write the way they dance I'd die and go to heaven.

overdog said...

Thank you, Miss Snark, for the video link. I remember the thrill of T&D at the '84 Olympics. Watching them again made my eyes water. Their work is perfection. (Isn't the internet grand?)

Oh, to write with that subtlety and grace.

Author, I recommend you read your prose out loud. In your first section (about Arhian) you over-use the word "she." I think reading out loud will help you discover more innovative phraseology.

Writerious said...

She hears a noise. Oh, it's probably just a bear.

JUST a bear?!?!

There's nothing "just" about a bear that's trying to barge into human habitation. Even "back then," bears had to be very hungry, very sick, very old, or very aggressive to mess around with people and their stuff. A hungry, aggressive bear might make off with pigs or calves, and that would be a calamity to a peasant family that depended on the animals surviving the winter and breeding the next spring.

Granted, my grandmother did once chase a cougar off the back porch by shaking her apron at it, but it was dark and she didn't know it was a cougar until Grandpa saw the tracks the next morning.

And as for the light source -- if you say that the weaver burned three candles, you're saying she's quite wealthy. Even if those were tallow candles instead of prohibitively expensive beeswax, candles required a good deal of labor to make and were quite expensive. Most people in medieval times would rather have eaten the fat for much-needed calories instead of burning it. At most, she'd use a rushlight or a small bowl of fat with a wick in it.

Even when you're writing fantasy, you have to do your research.

Linda Adams said...

The story described in the query reminded me a lot of the book The Green Rider.

Nikki said...

Rangers, and the naming system, make me think 'generic fantasy novel'.

If the main character was older, just on the verge of being an old woman, I'd be more interested, there'd be more scope for originality.

author said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this; I now have a much better idea of what I need to work on.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for that youtube link! Such a wonderful analogy that "gripping" doesn't have to be "flashy".