Sunday, March 2, 2008

Another opening--

All the Underwoods have guardian angels.

Furthermore, most of them claim to have seen their angels at least once during this life. A few are sure they've barely missed out--having heard a rustled drapery or caught a flash of light just as the save took place, but being otherwise too occupied with the crisis as it happened to watch closely until it was too late and the angel had flown.
Shalanna

I'm only going to do the first few lines, the very opening.


All the Underwoods have guardian angels.

Okay, intriguing. It's in present tense, for one thing, which is something I sometimes like, as it can push pacing and add to immediacy (but only when it works).

Also sometimes there's a bit of serendipity in names-- "the UNDERwoods" is kind of in conflict with angels, and that's fun.

However, irrational prejudice here-- I went to parochial school, and the nuns taught us a very different version of guardian angels than I tend to see now in pop culture. Guardian angels weren't there to protect you from danger or rescue you, but rather as a sort of surrogate Sister Evarista-- to act as a conscience of sorts and keep you on the straight and narrow. Guardian angels were sort of punitive and admonitory, not friendly. So I'm on alert here-- is this going to be another wimped-out version of angels? As I said, irrational prejudice, like "that hero has my ex-boyfriend's name.... reject!" (I'm not that bad-- I'll keep reading, remembering the editor named Claire who bought my second book even though the villainess was named Claire....)

Oh, also, when I was writing the POV book (due out from Writer's Digest in two weeks!), I came across a distinction, I think-- novels tend to be either social (about a group or place) or personal (about one central character -- or a couple in romance). Social novels are often named "socially," like A Tale of Two Cities, or Barchester Towers, and personal novels are frequently "name" named-- David Copperfield and Jane Eyre.

Anyway, I think it's a good idea to make it clear early on which sort of novel this in. "All the Underwoods" indicates to me that this is a more social novel, about a family, not just a single protagonist. Also, social novels tend to be omniscient or multiple POV, to reflect the greater scope of the narrative, and personal novels tend to be single third person or first person (consider, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times," vs. "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show," to use just the two Dickens examples).

So this is an omniscient opening line, and the "All the Underwoods" indicates it's a social novel. It might not be, but that's what the opening line promises.

Furthermore, most of them claim to have seen their angels at least once during this life. A few are sure they've barely missed out--having heard a rustled drapery or caught a flash of light just as the save took place, but being otherwise too occupied with the crisis as it happened to watch closely until it was too late and the angel had flown.

Well, okay, guardian angel as rescuer. I would read on, and am only mentioning this because I do think a kind and not punitive guardian angel is a wimp. :) I hope there's conflict -- and that the angels aren't just deus ex machina types, saving the Underwoods ... but maybe at some point the Underwoods save themselves, and the angels feel sort of useless, and there's some conflict. :)

I told you... irrational. So putting that aside, let's go on.

Furthermore, most of them claim to have seen their angels at least once during this life.

Not sure about that "furthermore"-- what's it "more" too? They have angels, and most have seen them... I'm not sure you need "furthermore," which tends to deepen a connection, and would usually be used deeper into a passage.

I'd trim as much as possible from this paragraph. Nothing wrong with it, but there are a few unnecessary words, and you should not have any unnecessary words in the opening. So instead of "most of them" (the "them" could refer to angels, after all), how about "most" or "most of the Underwoods"? Notice that the "claim" indicates that we're in omniscient or outside; otherwise it would be Most of them have seen.... There's some doubt in that "claim", which is interesting.

"This life" is also interesting, as it supposes there's more than one life.

A few are sure they've barely missed out--having heard a rustled drapery or caught a flash of light just as the save took place, but being otherwise too occupied with the crisis as it happened to watch closely until it was too late and the angel had flown.

Now notice that this is more interior -- not claim (outside, something heard) but are sure (inside, something thought). I am going to state here a not-so-irrational prejudice against participles (-ing words) as they so often lead into trouble, as here. Having heard and being occupied (present participle) and caught (past participle, presumably with "having" there too, however)... I don't know. Participles are meant to show an action simultaneous to the main action of the sentence, conveyed in the predicate (main verb). But there's no main action. So the participial phrases have the odd effect of rendering their action sort of irrelevant. This is exacerbated by the profusion of verb forms, often used as other parts of speech (like adjectives-- rustled)-- I bolded them:

A few are sure they've barely missed out--having heard a rustled drapery or caught a flash of light just as the save took place, but being otherwise too occupied with the crisis as it happened to watch closely until it was too late and the angel had flown.

Verbals are not verbs-- that is, they are not the action of the sentence. The problem is, they still FEEL like verbs, and too many of them tend to make a sentence unnecessarily frenetic and complex. So what can be turned into a noun? A rustled drapery can become a rustle of drapery, for example. (Yes, rustle is a verb too, but not here.) You could go with "catching a rustle of drapery or a flash of light" to get rid of one participle. What other verbs could be cut? I don't much like the "took place" because it's passive and uninformative-- who saved? who was saved? And "as it happened" is unnecessary and confusing, because ... is this present tense or past tense? The tense gets pretty muddled there-- present, past, perfect, and even past perfect (had flown).

Why perfect tense here? Having heard? Perfect tense, within a present-tense narrative, indicates a continuous action: "I have walked two miles a day for years now." But probably this "bare miss" is more of a one-time event. So if you want to go with a participle, maybe do without the perfect-- hearing a rustle....

So I'd suggest simplifying the tense there. If you're going to do the narrative in present tense, explore that, exploit it. Don't muddy up that directness with a lot of indirect and conflicting tense changes.

All the verbals together somehow do add to the drollery of the opening, so I see the reason you'd go with that. But if so, you can still trim (as it happened), because the fewer words you have in there, the more what's there will stand out. :)

So I'd keep reading, because this does indicate someone who takes pleasure in words, and that means I'm in for a fun ride... and because I like social novels (I like personal ones two, btw).

But if I acquired the book, I'd simplify that final sentence.

Alicia

19 comments:

Shalanna said...

Thank you, Alicia!! I didn't mean to cut in line in front of anybody. Just figured I'd try to get my opening in there before Ian's second opening. **GRIN**

Very insightful comments. I've tweaked that problem sentence several times. It's sort of an observation about how no one has actually SEEN the angel that they conclude must be there. I'm trying to convey the sense that many of my main character's forebears and eccentric aunts (and even her mother and sister) have just BARELY missed seeing those guardian angels of theirs after a save, but that during the time they were falling or the roof was collapsing, they suffered a sensory overload and were a bit too occupied with screaming to really watch for the guardian angel. It's a tough thing to convey.

In this book, as in "Harvey" by Mary Chase and several other famous old classics, we never really know whether the guardian angels are real or if they're just a family story that Kay's people use to explain various grand rescues they've had and narrow scrapes they've escaped. (Well, in "Harvey" she examines the truth of dreams/fantasies and examines the line between eccentricity and lunacy as well as asking, "What IS real?" Mine isn't quite that classic. But I digress.) I walk the line between saying she's actually having glimpses of a helper and saying she's just romanticizing that random chance that sometimes comes into play. The reader can come to his/her own conclusion about that. Don't know whether that will fly outside of a literary novel these days.

BTW, I added in the "as it happened" bit because of several beta readers who were confused. That seemed to clear things up for them--that the crisis as it was happening occupied the victims' thoughts and senses so fully that they didn't think to look for that guardian angel until it was too late. It's tough to signal ENOUGH for some readers while not putting in TOO MUCH for those more savvy readers with better reading comprehension ((*GRIN*)).

This is one of those "start with a wide shot of Manhattan and have the narrator muse a moment, then focus down on our main character" openings. Perhaps there aren't too many of those any more. It's kind of a philosophical observation deal ("All happy families are alike" or "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.") Then I lead into the story with Kay's falling into the puddle and bring on the hero to rescue her. Readers get to wonder when or if Kay will see her angel again, and especially when the danger will happen again so that she NEEDS the rescue (or can she rescue herself and she's just attributing it to supernatural help?) Or that's what I was thinking. Again, I don't know whether that type of opening is going to fly, but I love those old-fashioned types of openings.

What thrills me is to know that there are still editors (or anyone) who can do this kind of in-depth analysis of what's going on in a text. On other pro-blogs I generally see reactions that are not nearly as informative. You're cool!

green_knight said...

'm trying to convey the sense that many of my main character's forebears and eccentric aunts (and even her mother and sister) have just BARELY missed seeing those guardian angels of theirs after a save, but that during the time they were falling or the roof was collapsing, they suffered a sensory overload and were a bit too occupied with screaming to really watch for the guardian angel. It's a tough thing to convey.

'For some of the Underwoods, trivial matters like escaping half a ton of snow sliding from a roof had taken precedence over keeping a lookout for their guardian angels; they were, as Aunt Alicia liked to remind, a practical family as well as a long-lived one.'

Shalanna said...

*grin* (waving at green_knight)

That's a cool way of doing it. But I don't think it is the way I want to do it here. I'm trying to make a kind of quotable-fragment out of the very beginning, something that'll draw in people who enjoy BOOK books, not just screenplays that got written down with a few stage directions. (So many books I pick up seem to be the latter.) It needs to encapsulate one of the themes of the book--appearance VS reality, the truth lurking inside dreams/myths.

Musing on the grammatical thread . . . I know I've seen this kind of construction work well in the past. "She wasn't sure if he meant it, having heard him say things like that before to various women who were later disappointed to learn what a liar he could be." O'course that's not quite as convoluted. "Ginger was certain she'd missed the target--having heard the crashBOOM and seen the flash of the explosion through the heavy drapes, but having been too busy holding on to her hat during the ruckus to verify that the cocktail had hit the embassy and not the 7-11 next door." See, in that one I made the "having been" parallel with the "having heard," which makes it more technically correct (grammatically) in that those constructions agree, but it gets wails from readers who don't want to read "having been . . . having heard . . . having seen" so many times in one sentence. (grin)

It's also part of the droll tone that I'm trying to take, making a covenant with the reader that what comes after will be kind of like a fractured fairy tale; can you hear Edward Everett Horton reading that aloud? That way, maybe they won't take everything that happens next too seriously.

And I agree that guardian angels in real life are fearsome: the descriptions in Scripture and in the classics (Milton's "Paradise Lost," Dante, and so forth) portray them as scary and formidable. (The only Biblical personage who ever laughed at an announcing angel was Sarah, remember, when she was told she was to become pregnant at *her* age, and that tells me *she* really had chutzpah!!) However, this is a screwball comedy and fiction, so Kay's guardian angel here is more like Cary Grant in "The Bishop's Wife." I hope my tone conveys this as the book goes on . . . that we're playing in the screwball-verse and that this is supposed to be somewhat of a romp. Again, like "Harvey" in a fashion.

It's tough to do it right. That's why we get paid the big bucks (HA!)

Susan said...

Well, for me, Shalanna, and please remember this is personal taste, no matter what you were going for I found the writing too cluttered. That 'having heard' etc kind of made me stop in my tracks, which isn't what you want anyone to do.

I can definitely feel your passion for writing coming through the words. But, for me, the fact you have to 'explain' what you are doing tells me it isn't 'quite' working yet.

I can't analyse nearly as well as Alicia and Theresa, which is why I find their processes so fascinating, but, even so...

Furthermore, most of them claim to have seen their angels at least once during this life. A few are sure they've barely missed out--having heard a rustled drapery or caught a flash of light just as the save took place, but being otherwise too occupied with the crisis as it happened to watch closely until it was too late and the angel had flown.

You said in one of your replies, (I think) that imagine reading this out loud. I tried it and that last clause didn't flow for me. Instead I wanted to cut several words out just for clarity.

I always try to look at something objectively, especially when an author has a particular style of writing, but I think you could easily trim this opener and make it a little more specific? The reason i say that is I also found the sentences too vague - them, their, few, they've. Yes, that all refers back to the 'Underwoods' but at the same time the switching tenses leave me wondering who, especially after 'a few'. If you were in story teller mode and reading out loud I wonder if something like - A rustle of drapery, a flash of light were the only hints before a save took place... etc Then specify a particular crisis, because I am not sure if the crisis is the 'save' or something else that keeps 'them' from seeing.

That is how it comes across to me.

Good luck with this and keep trying!

Sue (http://makoiyi.livejournal.com/)

Anonymous said...

This is a bit of a nit to pick, but...to barely miss seeing something. Doesn't "barely" modify "miss" and not "see" here? I know you're saying that these things were NOT seen. Or almost seen. Or just missed being seen. Or barely seen. But barely missed being seen doesn't strike the right cord.

Or I'm just perseverating over something less than helpful. Always possible.

Dave Shaw said...

Shalanna, I have to agree with Susan's comment about the writing in that long sentence feeling cluttered. I think you can achieve the same tone and meaning without making it quite so busy. Of course, maybe that just means I've been conditioned to expect screenplays with a few stage directions... ;-)

I don't think I can make any specific suggestions that would be consistent with your tone and style, so I'm not going to try; instead, I'll just encourage you to play with it, and show us what you come up with. Have fun with it!

Susan said...

When I got to think about this a bit more, because I can be as wordy as the next person... What really struck me is that, even though we are all focused on the opening lines and nothing else, the 'words' themselves are the problem for me.

To explain, the words detract from the story because I am having to concentrate on them, so real meaning is lost.

We all write differently - thank goodness! Some folk write in an almost staccato fashion, some write almost invisibly so that the 'story' stands out and the reader doesn't even notice the words as such, just that they are drawing them along. Then there is sheer beautiful prose, which some folk also love. But the words shouldn't (imho) get in the way.

While we probably are over-analyzing a tad, at the same time, it is interesting because these are the lines any reader, not just an agent/editor, sees. If we trip on the first couple of sentences, will we give the rest a chance?

Edittorrent said...

No, anon, that's exactly what writers need, especially those who have to trim words out-- which words are distracting and unnecessary.

Sue, I'm like you with pronouns, but it could be because I'm in the middle of grading freshman papers-- any pronoun which doesn't refer clearly back to the nearest noun should be rethought. Maybe it works ("she" can't refer to "the rock," for example), but take a moment to think about it so the reader doesn't have to think, "Angels? No, probably not. Probably Underwoods. But let me try it with angels... hmm."

Shalanna, I'm sure you can justify every word, but we can only give you our responses as close readers, which I presumed was what you wanted. If you don't want to change anything, that's great, but why post it for critique then?

Ian, that's a fun opening too, because it leaves the "surprise" (they have angels?) for the end of the paragraph.

Shalanna said...

OH--I hope I didn't come across as trying to justify every word. I guess I just went into the typical kind of discussion about why I did it the way I did, and that's in order to figure out what I want to tweak and how. I usually muse about something like this for a while before I come up with a solution. But all the suggestions are good!

It's not that I don't want to change anything--I'm still letting it percolate to see what I might want to change. Another reason to post it for critique (at least for me) is that others catch things or interpret things differently, and this is the only way to find out about that.

Anonymous 10:29: Not a problem at all--in fact, on the contrary, your comment about "barely" is in fact the kind of tweak that I expected to get and is a good point! I never have thought "barely" was that great a word choice here, but no one could ever come up with a better one. I didn't want to say "JUST missed it," as "just" is one of my clutterwords (I have to go through final drafts to zap "little" and "just," "only" and "very.") Maybe that's a Texanism or a Southern idiom: "She barely made it home," "he barely missed it." A thesaurus hasn't been any help. (Didn't like the usual suspects, and Zeus knows I don't need help to find obscure words!) Does anyone have a suggestion? "JUST" might have to pull the weight, but on the other hand no one ever mentioned it specifically before, so I was torn as to whether I should keep "barely" or substitute "just." Which would be more just? *GRIN*

Susan: you're exactly right about drawing readers in with an opening. That's another reason I thought it'd be good to hear what people thought. A good number of my beta readers understood what I was saying and even liked the opening, *but* the book needs to be what agents and editors are expecting, or it won't reach a wide readership through being published.

So you're saying that the pronouns caused your major problem? (I was just trying to pinpoint WHICH words, as we keep saying that particular words stop a reader.) Or was it just encountering the "having heard" clause in general?

I'm preparing to tweak . . . just indulging my usual habit of explicating where I wanted to go with it before letting it percolate. (I think that's part of being an INTP personality type.) Didn't mean for it to come across wrong . . . but it solicited further thoughts from people, so it worked. *GRIN*

Probably won't end up doing it the EXACT way that people have suggested, but it's definitely going to be INFLUENCED by all the options. In fact, I am stealing the other line (about being a long-lived family) for later in the book, because I had a dotty aunt saying something very similar, and this is better. *steal* By that point in the plot, everyone knows just how dotty some of Kay's family is. . . .

Y'all feel free to come visit me at shalanna.livejournal.com (especially if you like to argue fine points of grammar--we specialize in the protection of the semicolon!)

Susan said...

Okay, this is straight off the top of my head without editting or anything, but - your version:

All the Underwoods have guardian angels.



Furthermore, most of them claim to have seen their angels at least once during this life. A few are sure they've barely missed out--having heard a rustled drapery or caught a flash of light just as the save took place, but being otherwise too occupied with the crisis as it happened to watch closely until it was too late and the angel had flown.




My version:


All the Underwoods have guardian angels.

Or so they claim. Seeing angels is a different matter than actually benefiting from their presence. Maybe there were a few Underwoods who heard a rustle of drapes or caught a flash of light. But then, you see, angels only appear during a crisis and one is far too busy to go looking before the angel has flown.

This is a bit 'chatty' but you said you wanted it slightly tongue in cheek and storytellerish. All I've basically done is named some of the pronouns because I don't know if you are going for omni or third in the actual story.


Sue (http://makoiyi.livejournal.com/)

Dave Shaw said...

Susan/Shalanna,

May I suggest a small alteration to Susan's suggestion?

But then, you see, angels only appear during a crisis when one is far too busy to catch them before they fly.

Too simple? ;-)

benwah said...

I may be the only person who read the first line and thought of little winged creatures living inside a typewriter.

green_knight said...

<waves back at Shalanna>

I wasn't suggesting that this was *the* way - but notice that I've put in two concrete details to anchor the story at least a fraction: snow and a named character.

Your opening is extremely vague. The only thing that gives me any indication what's going on is your 'still in Kansas' marker of using 'the save' (a term not part of the British idiom which I associate strongly with baseball).

Otherwise, it floats. I don't have a time, a place, a character, a mood, anything. I like story openings to have a character in a Situation (that's capital-S 'Situation' as in 'Situation on board' - something that needs to be addressed *right now*) and I like the opening to give me an idea of the story questions, the direction a book is going to take. In the opening with the girl tied to a chair we immediately have the 'why is she here, how will she get out of it, how will she make sure it won't happen again'; the upset character with her fairy-tale horse made me wonder 'why is she so agitated, what is in that pill bottle, and what role will those pills play in her life' (addiction to get over, last supply of something that keeps her alive or functional).

Your opening gives me nothing. A family called Underwood have guardian angels of the 'save your life' variety. (If the narrator tells me so, I shall accept it. Big difference between speculative fiction and mainstream/literary: You've said they exist, so I presume they do; and I shall be disappointed if you later tell me that the character only imagined them.) Nobody to root for, no questions, no conflict I want to see resolved, and the idea itself is mainstream enough that I'm not intrigued. ('All of the Underwoods are accompanied by the ghosts of their dead relatives' would hint at a web of stories that might develop, so it's not the presentation or the wording, it's the idea itself.)

For me, it's not the style that makes it feel wordy, it's the fact that the words aren't working hard enough. The whole second paragraph says ' but not all of them manage to see them.' only it takes a lot longer to get there. To justify sixty-five words where ten would do, they have to keep my attention somehow - and yours are too common for that. The only interesting words in there are 'rustled drapery' but they won't carry the paragraph on their own.

Shalanna said...

Susan and Dave: ((((hugs)))) THIS is why I come to these kinds of parties. Here's something that's similar enough in flavor, but which takes out the parts that bug readers. I think that with a bit of re-tweaking, Dave's version of Sue's version is a great candidate! It doesn't lose the feel of the original.

And that's how this stuff works.

Green_knight: Right, I realize that this style of opening is not for everybody. As I said, it's a focus-in-from-overhead, musing-narrator deal. After a couple of paragraphs, we focus in on Kay. It's almost a "Princess Bride" sort of thing. Books that open with characters doing things are good, too. I've written several that way. I think there's a taste for both out there. This one just seemed to demand the more whimsical, thoughtful opening. Could be just me.

So! Who'd'a thought that a few pronouns and a bit of "having heard" could make for such a thread? But anyhow, I hope this discussion is helping out some of the silent lurkers who are considering a similar kind of opening. Take into account the kinds of reactions you'll get versus what you were intending. Talking about it helps to highlight the difference between readers of the past (who seemingly liked the more difficult or convoluted ways of phrasing things--or maybe they just didn't have a forum to discuss it!) and readers of today. We write for today's readers! So we have to take into account what they feel is a smoother read. That's what this is all about.

Thank you all once again. I'll be updating my journal (yeah, plug it again, Samantha) with whatever I decide on. Don't be surprised to see me showing up on your blogs, as well. (Consider that fair warning. GRIN!)

Benwah: we're showing our ages by knowing what an old Underwood is. The youngsters are cackling. "Typewriters?!" But I intended the resonance to be there for those who pick up on it. The allusion is also to "underworld," which would be where those other lives might take place. I like to have meaningful names where I can.

(Oddly enough, your screen name brings something to mind that made me chuckle, as well. But let's leave that as a private joke for those who get the allusion *GRIN*, as this is a G-rated forum. Just thought I'd note that it was appreciated in this corner. Very subtly, but appreciated.)

Edittorrent said...

Benwah, I have powerful nostalgia for my old underwood manual, so I was right there with you.

Theresa

Edittorrent said...

Oh, I have taken (and taught) courses in 19th C British lit, and enjoy it very much, so I think I'm fully conversant with the more complicated style of previous eras. (In fact, as that sentence shows, I can get ornate too!)
And when that's done well, it works today too, and with today's readers-- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, for example, was a huge bestseller partly because of its ornate style. But the sentences still made sense. Ornateness doesn't mean confusion, and being confused doesn't mean the reader isn't capable of reading well... it could mean the author has overcomplicated the sentence construction beyond what is needed by the style.

A good example of an ornate but clear opening is one mentioned previously, from Pride and Prejudice:

IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

>>

What helps a lot in this opening, actually, is the paragraph break after the first line-- that is, the author allows for that one statement to be apprehended before the narrative moves on.

And that first line is clearly omniscient (as is the book itself)-- "It is a truth" comes definitely from above.

And the rest of the sentence is ornate and a bit elaborate, but the actual construction is simple-- a simple declarative clause:
a single man in possession of a good fortune
(subject phrase)

must be
(predicate)

in want of a wife.
(Hmm... predicate adjective? Theresa? An adjectival phrase that tells what the subject is?)

The basic structure of that clause is as simple as "Sam was happy."

Of course, the next sentence is a lot more complex! But we're already into it, and two of the major nouns have already been established (man and truth), and notice that both are repeated and not immediately replaced with pronouns. That little change really clarifies things, as we're not wondering what "it" is. And I like the use of "that", which is often discarded when we trim (and often should be, but not here) because "that" shows that the last bit is a conclusion of the main clause (this truth is so well-fixed).
So ornate style (though perhaps not so opaque to Austen's contemporaries) but rendered more comprehensible by concessions to clarity-- a simplified sentence construction, and the use of nouns and not just pronouns.

Who else learned to diagram sentences in grade school?? That's a great help to me (boy, am I a nerd!) because if I can't diagram a sentence, it's probably too comples for me to keep. Do they teach that anymore? I don't get my students till they're in college, and sentence diagramming looks like geometry to them by that time. :)


Alicia

Edittorrent said...

It was green knight, not Ian, who had that alternative snow-on-roof opening! So much for being a close reader, huh? Sorry, Gk!
Alicia

green_knight said...

No problem, Alicia.

The thing about the Jane Austen opening is that she goes from the commonplace 'must be in want' to an abstract 'the surrounding families' to zoom in on one particular such family with 'My dear Mr. Bennet'. And if you read on, a page and a half later, you have that conversation pull back out into a paragraph of observations on the respective charactes of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.

Instead of a slightly distant, continuous narrative, she condenses a bit, gives us the conversation in all its detailed glory, and pulls out again with narrative when we have seen enough and any further real-time observations would be repetitive. I tend to think of this as "crowding and leaping' even though that is not how LeGuin uses the term.


I picked up two random books with the kind of scene-setting, unpersonal opening Shalanna is after.

There's a town where dreams go to die. A place where nightmares end, and hope itself can rest. Where all stories find their ending, all quests are concluded, and every lost soul finds its way home at last. (Simon R. Green, Shadows Fall)

It had been the hottest summer in living memory. The letters that came to the Summer Palace from those left behind to swelter in the Imperial Court in Linh-an were full of complaints about the heavy, sultry heat that wrapped and stifled them until they gasped for breath, the clouds that built up huge and purple every day against the bleached white sky but never brought anything except dry lighting and a distant thretening rumble of thunder. (Alma Alexander: The Secrets of Jin-Shei [highly recommended])

This comes back to what I said earlier - that I want something to anchor the story for me. Both of these give me a general mood and feel for the kind of story to expect; and I'm intrigued enough by both to read on and find out whose stories they are and what will happen.

Patricia W. said...

I've learned as much from the comments as from Alicia's analysis.

I liked the original, not for the prose itself but I think I got what you were trying to do. Found it intriguing although in need of some additional editing.

I like the edited versions better.

I would definitely read on even though this is the type of book I tend to put down. Little patience for otherworldly beings in "BOOK books". Unless it turned out to be as likeable and intriguing as the Harry Potter series (dare I say that?) I'd read on to find out.