Item Reviewed: "The First Chapter of the End" by Barex Aster
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.
What I liked best
There are several things I liked about this story. First, there's the complex fictional world that underpins it. It's clear that you have myriad details worked out, but you gave us just those that we needed to understand the action in the here-and-now action, as it happens. Further, you revealed those details in a natural way, without author intrusions to "explain" what what was happening. That's evidence of good craft, so kudos for that. I also enjoyed the use of language, which is frequently evocative and always active. Finally, this chapter casts the underlying theme as "free will" versus "predestination," with Kara and Omega as representing the two sides.
Style and Voice
Ordinarily, I'd start with your opening paragraphs, but most of my comments relate to point of view, so I'm going to begin with that. Please bear with me.
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.
I knew from the very first sentence that this chapter used an omniscient narrator:
A silent, fiery explosion reflected from the glistening coat of her golden, horror-struck eyes. Her jaw dropped slightly, a short shudder escaping her lips.
This is an awesome image, but Kara can't see her eyes! This is the omniscient narrator, standing outside the story, telling the reader things. This pattern repeats several places in the chapter. Instead of being outside the story, you want the reader inside your fictional world, actively engaged in imagining the events and filling in all the myriad details that help bring a scene to life.
This brings me to my primary suggestion for this chapter: pick a point-of-view character and show the events from that perspective. For the first part of the chapter, it could be Omega or Kara. For the latter part, Kara is the natural choice, although Ganyu might be an interesting choice, assuming he has a significant enough role to play later.
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.
There are some great descriptions in your opening paragraphs and I knew from the first sentences I was reading the product of a skilled author. The writing is skilled and varied, but I still have some tweaks to suggest.
Your opening orients the reader as to time and location. This is a vital part of an opening. However, I confess I couldn't quite picture where Kara was at. I know there are cogs and gears, and something about an empty white void, but it's all kind of vague. Surely, however, the "massive" dragon would have dominated her perceptions, but we don't know where he's at with respect to her. We also don't get much in the way of her interacting with the setting--is it warm or cold, still or windy? The motion of the gears is "muted," but what does that mean? Do they "thump" or maybe "whir?"
If you start with Kara interacting with her environment, either through deeds, or sensations, or a combination of the two, you can put readers inside her head. Once there, in a third-person limited point of view, the connection with the fictional world becomes more immediate and intimate. By being inside Kara's head, the staging is also easier to clarify.
Finally, a minor grammatical point, the pronoun "her" in your first sentence has no antecedent. It's stronger to name your point-of-view character as soon as possible, so I'd consider using her name in this sentence rather than a pronoun.
This chapter gives Kara a goal--to save the world. Survival--hers and others'--relies on her success, so the stakes are high. Further, she has only a year before the vision she sees becomes reality--a "ticking clock" that adds to the stakes and the tension. The opposition to her goal is the inevitability of the basic event--the destruction of her planet--that the dragon Omega asserts. So, we've got goals, stakes, and oppostion, the basic building blocks of tension and plot. That's all to the good.
Kara also reveals a gritty determination, which reveals a bit about her character. However, we don't get much deeper sense of who she is. She seems almost dismissive of Ganvu, for example. We learn that she's young--much younger than her advisors. So, it's possible that her gritty determination is just the hubris of a privileged youth, as Omega seems to suspect. That's fine if it's your intent--it gives her room to grow as a character. But it it IS your intent, it could be more pronounced. Further, it has the disadvantage of making it harder for readers to cheer for her since no one likes a privileged snob. The point here is that we don't really get inside Kara's head at an emotional level. Is there someone or something she cares about? It's almost like it's just the intellectual problem that matters to her. In short, we need an incident of some kind in this chapter that humanizes her.
The plot seems to be "save the world." It's easy to infer why that would be important to Kara, although right now it feels like an intellectual exercise to her.
Hitchcock once said that the audience--or the reader, in our case--cares about the characters. The plot, he continued, is there to give the readers something to care about. The readers need to be invested in Kara in order to care about what she cares about, which circles back to the comments above. We need to see her human side. A "save the cat" moment might be helpful--seeing her do a gratuitous good deed, like saving a stray cat, that reveals she has empathy and human emotions.
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.
This whole chapter is the hook, of course. The ending is the dilemma of what to do. However, there's a problem here, too, since the dilemma is very well framed. There appear to be magical elements to your fictional world--talking dragons and a divination that everyone believes in that's been going on for centuries. But there's also evidence of technology in the form of holograms and the references to space-time. So, at this point we don't know exactly what kind of story we're reading. My guess is that it's a cross-over fantasy/SciFi story, which would be awesome, but it also means the dilemma isn't quite framed yet. Is she seeking for a spell, like the one that gives rise to the divination, or will it be a technical solution? Or a combination of these? In some ways, ending the chapter at the break, before Kara's return to the palace, would be a better break, providing stronger unity to the chapter and a stronger hook.
You do a good job with the throne room, but as noted above I couldn't quite visualize the setting in the opening sequence. Even in the throne room, the omniscient narrator tracks the journey through the palace and into the room. It would be stronger if Kara were making this journey while the readers were in her point-of-view.
Adverbs. You don't overuse adverbs (well, there are over 40 in this short chapter), but they show up enough to be worth a comment. You know what Stephen King says about adverbs . I think he is correct. Adverbs are often a shorthand in which the author falls into "telling" rather than "showing." I try to use zero adverbs, since otherwise I'd sprinkle them all over the place like fairy dust. I've marked one or more places in the line-by-line comments below where I think you might consider a more precise verb or a touch more description rather than an adverb.
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.
I enjoyed this chapter for all the reasons I noted at the outset. It sets the stage for what promises to be an awesome cross-over SciFi/Fantasy novel, and it features a universal theme. The writing and use of language isn't just superior, it's excellent and shows real talent. As you will see below, I have few line-by-line comments for this reasln.
I suppose it seems I've made many suggestions, and indeed I have, but that's because the piece has such great promise. I see you've only posted one chapter publicly on WDC, but I hope you write more. Indeed, while I've made suggestions to this opening chapter, I'd urge you to keep writing more chapters rather than pouncing on these suggestions and re-writing your opening. The most important thing is to keep the momentum you've started and get the story down. There's plenty of time to come back later and tweak this chapter, once you know your world and your characters better. It's not uncommon for first chapters to undergo many revisions, often late in the writing process, so I'd urge you to keep writing on this project and revise later.
Thanks for sharing!!
Your text is in BLUE.
My comments are in GREEN.
If I suggest a re-wording, it's in GRAPE.
Kara remained how she stood, My Comment: The dragon just called her the “King,” but here she’s female?
A shadow casted over her faceMy Comment: “Cast” is an irregular verb; the past tense is “cast,” not “casted.”
“Hmph,” the dragon lightly laughed. My Comment: This is one of those adverbs mentioned above. Did he “chuckle,” or maybe “snicker?” A more precise verb gives a clearer emotional context to his response.
Light bloomed from the large, arched windowsMy Comment: “Large” is one of those non-specific adjectives that don’t add anything useful since they don’t provide scale. "Giant," used later in this paragraph, is only slightly better for being subjective.
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!
Thanks again for sharing this item. Keep on writing!
Max Griffin 🏳️🌈