Our second submission for First Impressions comes from Shannon Cortazar. It’s a YA Fantasy titled SILHOUETTE.
We were invaded the day we buried my brother. It was autumn, crisp and bright. “A good day for a burial” I heard someone say behind me. A tragic death, such a shame, the voices went on and on. Clucking their tongues as if rationalizing his death would make it okay. The coffin bore the mark of the Throne, a twisting tree within a circle and a three pointed crown above. That same mark was branded on his wrist when I took a peek at him lying still on white satin.
They’d sent a note thanking us for our cooperation in these “changing times”. It was signed by Elin Grayl, the new leader of our Nation.
The coffin was a token of their gratitude, to ease our financial burden, they said. I thought it was ironic, since they’re the ones who killed him.
A few hours later chaos broke out. From my bedroom I saw a quick purposeful momentum come from each of the hundred or so legion. They were herding everyone they could find. Before I knew it I was sitting between my parents tearing through town in my dad’s pickup truck, heading for the mountains flanking our crumbling community. And it’s here I sit, waiting for the next onslaught.
I’ve learned that counting calms me before a kill. One, focus on my target. Two, steady my breath. Three, account for the wind.
Four, don’t hesitate. Aim between the eyes.
I don’t worry about the snap of the bow, just the direction which the arrow will soar. If it were an animal, I’d quiet my release. But the human boy daring to enter our village is too dumb or too careless for me to bother. He’s just another threat, I tell myself. One I won’t think twice about killing.
I wait, watch him. He isn’t moving like someone who’s controlled. From this distance, at least a hundred yards, I can’t see the Thrones mark on his wrist.
But they’re clever, so I wait.
To my left I can see a lone magpie land on the thin branch of a birch tree. One for sorrow, I think it goes, the rhyme I learned years ago. It’s appropriate; since we live in a suffocating state of sadness. Tufts of snow fall to the frozen ground below him as he sits perched with his eyes darting around. Until they land on me. I refocus and clear my mind, ease the tremors in my arm.
“You have to kill him Noelle.” A voice behind me whispers.
There’s an intriguing mix of modern society and traditional fantasy here – with the pickup truck standing out as a surprise among elements that would otherwise have identified this story as a medieval fantasy.
Something that gets in the way of my comprehending this world is the use of pronouns without specific referents. I do like the way the narrator divides her world by the simple terms “we” and “they” because it adds a tension to the voice and mood of the piece right away. But there are too many groups mentioned in the narrative for me to divide the world as Noelle does and root for her side.
For example, the day we buried my brother is a strong phrase that immediately captured my attention in the first line – but I was distracted by the first half of the sentence We were invaded. I didn’t know who we were, and the verb invaded begs the question by whom? If those questions were answered quickly, I’d get over my initial confusion and be right on board. But by the end of the page, I’m still not sure who the sides are. Is we her family or her entire community? Is they the Throne, the Nation, the legion, the human boy? (And what is Noelle, then? Not human?)
In addition to clarifying the pronouns, the narration is in past tense until And it’s here I sit … when it switches to present tense. If the rest of the manuscript is in present tense, I think it would read smoother if the beginning started out in present tense too.
To summarize, there are many intriguing elements in this first page, but I feel like there should either be more specific detail on the groups to pin down who the antagonists are … Or less groups introduced on the first page so that Noelle’s world really does come down to us and them, as simple at that. Readers, what do you think?
Shannon, thank you for sharing your page with us! Shannon can be found at her blog, and there are two more critiques of her first page at Mainewords and See the Stars. Please stop by to see what Marcy and Krystalyn have to say!
Yes, this is very intriguing and I’d read more. The only thing I would add, it that is moves really fast. I felt rushed through the beginning.
I agree with the previous comments and Dianne’s comments. For me, I kind of feel like maybe you should focus on one “opening” (the one where she’s at now) before diving into what happened to her brother. As it stands, I felt like it was a lot of information to take in very quickly. If it started with her nocking an arrow to kill a boy, but she is holding back because she’s waiting to see his tattoo, then I’d be more intrigued and feel less lost. The information about her brother could come after. Maybe that’s just me though.
Left my thoughts on Marcy’s site. I’m definitely intrigued, too, and would read more.
My first thought was, by aliens? My second, I would never start a book/story etc with a passive passage. I want you to start right in the heart of the action–the invasion or the burial–and since it seems the invasion is more engaging, I’d go that route. The burial definitely grabs our sympathy,but I’d weave the details in after the action starts.
Thank you everyone for the comments so far, this is exactly what i was looking for as far as feedback. The original draft started off with, Counting calms me before a kill, as the first line. Being the over thinker I am, I moved it. And struggled with that first paragraph since then. It does read fast, so my goal is to return to my original and slow it down, just a tad ;). I see there is some curiosity if the Throne are aliens, they aren’t, they are however from another world, ancient and sacred. I am very grateful for the time you gave to read my lines and to Dianne, Marcy and Krystalyn for the opportunity.
At first I thought invaded by aliens, then a few lines in, I thought it was fantasy. Now that you mention it, the pickup truck threw me as well.
Dianne has written an excellent critique.
For my two cents, I feel there’s no tension in the page because it’s written as if it’s backstory. None of it is happening in the character’s “here and now.” I can’t be too worried about her since she obviously survived the invasion and is recounting it like it’s a distant memory. I’d start the story in the character’s “present.” If you really need the info here, you could put it in a prologue, but write it as if it’s an action scene, not as if it’s the memory of something that already happened. Good luck!
(I don’t like reading comments above me) so all I would say is I would like to have known the brother’s name.
His sister is burying him, but his name is never on his mind?
PS… loved the pickup truck line… I was like wow, cool:)
Immediately my first question was, “What happened to the brother?” It intrigued me right away why there wasn’t an instant explanation. I think if you don’t want to explain up front, you could just say the MC is at a funeral and later the fact that it’s the brother could be a shocking revelation. But only a suggestion!
I think you got some great comments here. I was intrigued but felt rushed with a lot of info to take in. =) Thanks for sharing this.