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Item Reviewed: "Dragon Heritage" by Elfin Dragon - contest hunting
Chapter: Chapter One - The Beginning from Dragon Heritage
Reviewer: Max Griffin 🏳️🌈
As always, these are just one person's opinions. Always remember Only you know what is best for your story. I've read and commented on your work as I would try to read my own. I hope you find something here useful , and that you will discard the rest with good cheer.
I read both the prelude and the first chapter, but I'm putting my review here.
What I liked best
You clearly have a well-developed and detailed fictional world for your dragons. I enjoyed visiting this imaginative place that you created!
Openings are critical in any work of fiction. Some editors and agents will decide whether or not to read your submission based only on your first sentence.
Your opening is your best opportunity to draw readers into your fictional world, to induce a dream-like state in which your words guide their imaginations. The readers become the author's active partners in imagining the fictional world, in a state of suspended disbelief. In crafting the opening of any story, it's the author's primary task to launch this fictional dream.
Your opening does orient the reader to the the place and to the fact that this will be about flying dragons. It feels like the establishing shot at the start of a movie. If this were a movie, I could see this being effective....but this is a novel, not a movie.
Hitchcock famously said that the audience cares about the characters, while the plot is there to give the characters something to care about. He was talking about movies, of course, but this is true of novels as well. I think this would be a stronger opening if you started by putting the readers inside Imeera's head, sitting there in her caldera waiting for news. In fact, I'd like to know what it feels like to be a dragon. What do scales feel like? She seems to perceive the world the way humans do, but I wonder about this. She'd have to have better balance, for example, just to fly. Does she maybe use echo location, like bats?
In Dragon Tears, Dean Koontz has an entire chapter written from the point of view of a dog. Dogs live in a world of smells, with their ability to discern scents about a thousand times better than human. He built that into the point of view of the dog. Readers will wonder how Dragons see the world. They apparently see in color (unlike dogs), but maybe they see more colors than we do. Put us inside Imeera and make us feel what's it like to be a dragon. If you do that, you'll put us firmly inside your fictional world.
We start out with Imeera, but she kind of disappears halfway through the chapter and the focus changes to the new parents, Sashal and Braydorn. It's easy to see that they have a goal: caring for the newly laid eggs. The stakes are high, since they clearly care for their offspring. (This is interesting all by itself. Not all egg-laying creatures care about the eggs after they lay them...in fact, most do not.)
What's missing, though, is that there are no obvious obstacles to achieving their goal. In particular, there's no conflict or suggestion of conflict. Ordinarily in a first chapter, the protagonists have goals with high stakes, but something bad happens if they don't achieve their goal: there are obstacles. The conflict between the goals and the obstacles, coupled with the stakes, creates tension. Tension is the engine that drives plot.
While we've got goals and stakes, we don't really have obstacles in this chapter, and hence there is no conflict and no tension. In order for people to keep reading, there needs to be some tension.
See above. I only have vague notions of what the plot will be.
The most compelling hooks are disaster, dilemma, and decision. Ending with a goal, conflict, or reaction is weaker but can be effective, depending on the situation.
Along with tension, you need a hook.
Style and Voice
This chapter uses an omniscient narrator, in which the author stands outside the fictional events, looking in. The author knows the internal thoughts of all the characters; in fact, the author knows everything.
This narrative style dominated 19th century literature and continued well into the 20th. However, it has all but disappeared from commercial fiction today. About 30% of all contemporary fiction uses a first person narrator, while the overwhelming majority of the remainder uses third person limited.
Omniscient narration has many advantages, since it lets the author convey lots of information with minimal words. However, no one reads fiction to learn background information. People read fiction for the human connection with the characters: their sorrows and joys, triumphs and tragedies, loves and losses. Narration chills that connection, which is why it's so much stronger to reveal things through the words and deeds of your characters rather than by telling the readers stuff.
In third person limited, for each scene the author chooses one character to provide the point of view. The reader can know what that character sees, hears, smells, and otherwise senses. The reader can know what that character thinks, as well. But the reader has to infer these things about all the other characters through their words and deeds. The idea is that the author places the readers deep inside the head of one character, and then the readers encounter the fictional world through that character in a holistic manner, the same way we encounter the real world. That human connection, done well, will draw the reader into the story and thus into the fictional world.
A novel can--and usually does--have many point-of-view characters, but there should be only one for each scene. My main advice is to select one character to provide the point of view and relate the events from that character's perspective. I would guess that would be one of the two parents, so the story would then actually start when Imeera arrives at their home.
Just my personal opinion
One way to think of telling a story is that it is a guided dream in which the author leads the readers through the events. In doing this, the author needs to engage the readers as active participants in the story, so that they become the author's partner in imagining the story. Elements of craft that engage the readers and immerse them in the story enhance this fictive dream. On the other hand, authors should avoid things that interrupt the dream and pull readers out of the story. Most of my comments pertain to constructing this dream.
Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed the creativity and originality that's evident in the details of your fictional world. The World Tree was an especially nice touch, and the ceremony was wonderful. I hope you continue with this novel, as it has many interesting and creative features!
Your text is in BLUE.
My comments are in GREEN.
If I suggest a re-wording, it's in GRAPE.
Imeera was eager My Comment: Tells us that we’re inside Imeera’s head.
Once she had done that,My Comment: Tells us what she did as opposed to showing her actually doing it.
The den was close and warm, My Comment: Generally, it’s a good idea to beware of any sentence where the primary verb is a form of “to be.” Here, you’re stating a fact: the den was close and warm. Instead, you might consider showing the warmth and the smallness by having the heat press against Imelda from the “cramped” walls. This way, the heat becomes an active part of the scene. “Cramped” is a more subjective adjective than “close,” and does a better job of putting the reader inside Imeera’s head.
Imeera looked at Sashal, a young gold dragon, tired and spent from giving birth over the last couple of days. My Comment: How does Imeera infer that that the young dragon is “tired and spent?” What physical attributes lead to this conclusion. If you describe those directly and let the reader infer that she’s tired and spent, then it would;be more intimate and immediate for readers.
Imeera looked at the clutch of eggs, then to Sashal, with a brave face.My Comment: Imeera can’t see her face, so we’re now with an omniscient narrator, standing outside events, describing things.
Braydorn looked at Sashal with worry. Laying the three eggs had been difficult for Sashal and she was extremely tired.My Comment: Narrator tells us Braydon is worried instead of showing it through his words, deeds, posture, etc.
But the ceremony was important. It was rare a clutch was laid in coincidence with the World Tree's fruits. And they could not put the ceremony off for too long lest there be no berries and they would have to wait another year. Another year and they would, very likely, not be anointing eggs but newly hatched dragons. Not an ideal situation as the eggs needed to be anointed sometime before hatching.My Comment: Narrator intrudes with statements of fact...this tends to pull readers away from the here-and-now and stop the story.
"Just as The World Tree bears fruit," My Comment: The ceremony here is lovely..
Sashal curled around the eggs and gave them a bit of fire for added heatMy Comment: Nice touch. ,
I only review things I like, and I really liked this story. I'm a professor by day, and find awarding grades the least satisfying part of my job. Since I'm reviewing in part for my own edification, I decided long ago to give a rating of "4" to everything I review, thus avoiding the necessity of "grading" things on WDC. So please don't assign any weight to my "grade" -- but know that I selected this story for review because I liked it and thought I could learn from studying it.
Again, these are just one person's opinions. Only you know what is best for your story! The surest path to success is to keep writing and to be true to your muse!