Opinions about the beginning of a fantasy story?

What do you folks think of the following beginning for a story? Does it hold your interest? If you get to the end of it, do you want to know what happens next?

Please note that I speak British English, not American. That should account for any misspellings or phrases that sound odd. There are a lot of italics in this piece, but since Y!A doesn't allow them, I've indicated them /like this./

Observant readers might notice that neither character has a name. That isn't deliberate; I just haven't got around to choosing any yet.

A great rush of air came upon him from above, knocking him to the ground. A shadow blotted out the sun. As the wind subsided, he became aware of a large, hulking presence in front of him, heavy beyond mere physical mass. Expecting it to be the last thing he ever did, he looked up.

The tip of the dragon's nose was about three feet in front of him. It was hard to be sure from this angle, but he estimated that its head alone was longer than he was tall. It was covered in jet black scales, ranging in size from smaller than his fingernail to bigger than his fist. According to legend, dragons slowly changed colour over their lives. The black ones were the oldest - and the most deadly.

It looked at him dispassionately. Its eyes were the palest gold, with a narrow vertical slit in the middle, black as the bottom of the ocean. He felt as though that was what he was looking at; the pupils seemed deep enough to contain worlds. He recalled that legend also said you should never look into a dragon's eyes...

The dragon shifted its weight slightly, and its nostrils dilated. He felt air moving past him as it breathed in. This was it, then. He wondered how long it would be before the others noticed he was missing and whether, if they came up here to look for him, they would work out the meaning of the blackened patch of grass where he was now lying.

/Man-thing./ The voice reverberated inside his skull. The legends were right about that, too: dragons had no voices like humans, but spoke directly with their minds. What the legends hadn't mentioned was that the dragon's mind-speech was incredibly loud. Perhaps he should move further away? Given his present circumstances, that might not be a wise move.

/Crawling,/ said the dragon. /Grovelling, as befits your kind. If you were another dragon, I should kill you for this insult. Yet one such as you is scarcely worth that trouble./

The dragon paused and breathed out. His head felt as though he was reeling from blows. The ground seemed to be spinning underneath him. Still, he had survived a lot longer than he had expected to after the dragon's arrival. At the moment, he wasn't sure whether that was a good thing. Carefully and distinctly, he began to frame words in his mind.

/O great dragon,/ he said, /I offer my most humble apologies for disturbing you./

/It speaks!/ The dragon seemed quite startled. Its pupils widened fractionally.

/Indeed, o great dragon,/ he replied. /I have made some study of the ways of your kind, but there is, of course, much of which I am still ignorant. I assure you that I mean no offence by it. For instance, I would be most grateful to learn the correct manner of addressing you./

/Polite, too./ There was an uncomfortable pause. He imagined that the dragons had never had to consider such a question, at least not when it was being asked by a human. /"O great dragon" will suffice,/ it said eventually.

/Perhaps, o great dragon, you wish to know why I summoned you here./

/You did not summon me,/ said the dragon, and he sensed restrained anger behind the words. /I chose to come./

/As you wish, o great dragon./ He bowed his head.

/Look at me,/ said the dragon, and he complied. He knew that he couldn't have disobeyed. /I am nevertheless curious to know why a man-thing happens to be on this hilltop, far from its own kind, at the very same moment that I choose to visit it./

/That is quite simple to explain, o great dragon. I wish to propose an alliance./

Update:

Thanks everybody for your praise and kind words. Good to know I'm doing something right.

Those who said you'd read more are going to hate me: this is all there is of this story. I started it on Christmas Eve, 2000, when I was very bored. Then Christmas Day came, and I wasn't bored any more :-) I had a few ideas for what would happen next. The man lives on an island that's being raided by pirates, and he wants the dragon to fight them or scare them away. The pirates have gold, which he thinks the dragon will take in payment. The dragon refuses - possibly because dragons can smell gold, and the pirates' hoard isn't worth the bother, or because dragons use a hoard to attract a mate, and this one is past mating years. I hadn't decided what would happen next. Maybe I'll have to finish it now...

Update 2:

I would hope my writing has got better in the last nine years, but I don't see much that I'd want to change. It would definitely be shorter were I to write it now.

akaMaryn: if you want to make some suggestions, that would be great, but don't feel you have to spend a huge amount of time on it.

Mia: good point about establishing the man's character better. However, I'm of the "start with a bang" school of storytelling - start in the middle of the action or as near to it as possible. My characterisation is probably not that great, which is why I try to maintain the reader's interest with a twisty, turny plot.

Sierra: I think you'll find this is actually the *second* question I've asked :-p But good suggestions for tightening. As for sticking to the legends, I suppose I am, but dragons are meant to be evil - or view humans as a crunchy snack, anyway. So why is this guy trying to talk to one as an equal?

16 Answers

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  • nini
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago
    Favourite answer

    "..."O great dragon" will suffice."

    That cracked me up :D You have some great reviews already, so I'm not going to add much, but remember, even if you're doing a quick start (And I love those, so long as you'll have a "breathe out" moment soon(like, the second chapter.)) I was saying, remember you're establishing your character, I see the dragon perfectly, but the human is sketchy. That last line sort of brings me out of it. At the beginning he's not expecting to survive when he sees the dragon, at the end he comes up with "summoned you" and the "alliance" thing without seemingly being afraid?

  • 1 decade ago

    Hi Steve. I liked this, and I am not a reader of the fantasy genre, although I do read some sci-fi. That said, I try to not base my interests on genre; a good story is a good story.

    I think you've got a great start here. As it stands now, I would read on. I am interested to find more about what is going on.

    I think its a solid intro, in that it offers enough tension and interest to pull me in. That said, what would a review really be if I didn't offfer a constructive opinion?

    I was hoping that the dragon might rip this guy's head off or something, and start a war between dragons and humans, lol. But that is obviously not the direction of your story and my grotesque interests may not be in line with the majority of readers. You're climax and hook seems to finalize in the part where the man says he has come to propose an alliance. I think this is the key point that your intro builds towards, and any strengthening of the effectiveness of the intro should focus in building to this point, a.k.a. to make the idea of proposing an alliance seem as powerful and dramatic as it possibly can.

    So, my suggestions for strengthening the intro are to heighten and elaborate, likely through the dialogue, the importance, significance, outragesousness or shock value of the proposed alliance. Perhaps they could discuss a bit about the history of hatred, struggles or tension between man and the dragons for some time, ultimately leading to the alliance proposition being that much more preposterous and bold.

    For example, if I knew some additional info like man and dragons have killed each other on site for hundreds of years, or man just slayed a fellow dragon, or dragons just attacked and pillaged a village, killed an important leader or something, or dragons are born with an instinct to despise humans, or man has invented something new that could actually destroy a dragon, etc...you know, someting revealed through discussion that further heightens the shock value of the man proposing an alliance.

    Overall I think the structure is great here though, and I would be interested to read more, even as it stands now.

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    It's a decent start, but you have some tense changes, which annoy me. (Don't take it personal, I'm a Grammar Nazi. =D) "Ever since her seventeenth birthday, dark dreams have been haunting her nights." It should be something like: "She'd been having dark dreams since her seventeenth birthday." It's needs to be in the past, otherwise you're pulling the reader around from the past to present and that is a big no-no. Sometimes just saying what you mean is the best way to go, instead of decorating it up with adjectives and adverbs. Another thing that bothers me is that you used two different forms of startle-and-waking in one paragraph. Maybe you could try changing it up. For example: "The rooster crowed at the sixth hour, startling Melora awake from her nightmare." And later: "Dreams of death and fires...pulling her out of a troubled sleep day after day." With stories, it's all about variety. Be sure not to use the same words too much, unless there's absolutely nothing you can do. (You wouldn't describe an "egg" as the "small, white, elongated sphere," right?) And the end of your paragraph seems a bit cliche, especially with the whole "new wind" blowing thing. But if you just say she felt uneasy, that should be enough. She doesn't know why, but she's worried about something, uncharacteristically anxious. Anyways, I hope I helped. In the end, remember it is YOUR story and YOUR opinion that counts, but I hope I helped! =D

  • Mia
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    I usually don't comment on these kinds of things, because the writing is usually pretty bad, honestly. But I peeked at this and wanted to say that I think this is a good start, cleanly written, and has some clever moments. :) I would probably read on to see where it was going.

    The main thing I would suggest is starting a bit earlier so we have a sense of the character. It's hard to sympathize with or root for a character when you're dropped into the middle of them being attacked by a dragon. (A name would help, too, but I know you said you're working on that.) Overall, I think the first paragraph may be the weakest part-- expand on things a bit more, give a sense of how this character got into this position or what his goal is.

    Hope that helps, and good luck!

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  • 1 decade ago

    Steve, of course I will answer, you comment and help so much with mine :)

    Ok, so to start I want to say I agree with you about 'the old school story telling' start with the bang. Nothing better than reading a piece that starts like yours and grips the reader from the start.

    I love the story and think your writing is amazing. I never seen anything wrong with it, but I am not as advanced as the others at picking out the mistakes. I would also like to say that I could easily picture it all very clear in my head.

    It is by far the most professional and best writing/story I have read on here and would love to read more. I think you should continue it and I love the way you stick to the original legends.

    Brillant!

    Good Luck

  • S.
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    Oh, my! Steve asked a question. I never thought I'd see the day!

    Mayrn is absolutely right. If we're judging by Y!A standards, it should be published at this very moment. But for publishers standards, it could use a tweak here or there.

    For instance, I noticed in the third paragraph, you start two sentences in a row with the word 'it', and another two with 'he'. Not as bad, but I think you could tweak it to change one around. Maybe it's just that I'm looking for something to critique, for the fear that I'll have no legitimate reason for answering your question.

    Another thing is when you're referring to the dragon. I'm not completey sure, but I think that when you say, "o great dragon", the 'o' has a (') behind it. Not completely sure.

    I love the way that you portray the dragon viewing itself as superior and proud. I haven't read many fantasies, but that's the way they all seem, and it's good that you're sticking to the legends. Cough...Meyer...Cough.

    :)

    EDIT: Hmm...Interesting. I didn't think of it that way, until you pointed it out. Ledgends with a twist.

  • 1 decade ago

    I'm sure you knew when you posted it that it stands head-and-shoulders above most of what's posted here, Steve.

    How much of a critique do you want? I see things I'd consider flaws--not mistakes so much as things which could be improved, made tighter, and such.

    If you want a line-edit critique, please let me know. As much information as you've shared with writers here, it's about time somebody did something for you.

    EDIT: I've just done a little bit, without taking time to reflect. If it helps in any way, great. If it doesn't, throw it out and don't give it another thought.

    A great rush of air came upon [<--weak verb. How about cutting it and some wordiness with ‘A great rush of air from above knocked him to the ground.’?] him from above, knocking him to the ground. A shadow blotted out [<--strong verb, so I know you know the difference] the sun. As the wind subsided, he became aware of a large, [<--All who hulk are large, so this word could be deleted] hulking presence in front of him, heavy beyond mere physical mass. Expecting it to be the last thing he ever did, he looked up.

    The tip of the dragon's nose was [<--weak verb] about three feet in front of him. It was hard to be sure from this angle, but he estimated that its head alone was longer than he was tall. [<--The sentence seems far too passive for a character who believes he is about to die. While describing the dragon’s size is important, detached observation doesn’t work here.] It was covered in jet black scales,[<--Two sentences in a row starting with ‘It,” plus passive verb.] ranging in size from smaller than his fingernail to bigger than his fist. According to legend, dragons slowly changed colour over their lives. The black ones were the oldest - and the most deadly.

    It [<--And another, too close.] looked [<--weak verb] at him dispassionately. Its eyes were [<--weak verb] the palest gold, with a narrow vertical slit in the middle, black as the bottom of the ocean. He felt [<--Filtering, placing distance between the story teller and the reader. You can save a few words and add immediacy by eliminating knew, thought, considered, regarded, remembered, recalled, wondered, noticed, sensed, felt, saw, hoped, realized, smelled, heard, seemed, appeared, was obvious, which put the reader at a greater distance. Better is cutting right to what was known or sensed by the POV character, to give the reader a great deal more closeness to the character’s experience.] as though that was what he was looking at [<--Awkward phrasing. I had to read it twice to make sense of it]; the pupils seemed [<--weak verb] deep enough to contain worlds. [<--Nice phrase. Also, good description of the whole. I can see the dragon.] He recalled [<--filtering verb] that legend also said you should never look into a dragon's eyes...

    The dragon shifted its weight slightly, and its nostrils dilated. He felt [<--filtering verb] air moving past him as it breathed in. This was it, then. He wondered [<--filtering verb] how long it would be before the others noticed he was missing and whether, if they came up here to look for him, they would work out the meaning of the blackened patch of grass where he was now lying[A one-pass removal of the filtering, which also tightens a bit: ...dilated. Air rushed past him as it breathed in. This was it, then. How long until the others noticed he was missing? If they looked for him here, would they work out the meaning of the blackened patch of grass where he now lay?].

    /Man-thing./ The voice reverberated [<--Excellent verb!] inside his skull.

    Source(s): Grizzled critique veteran
  • 1 decade ago

    I do find it pretty interesting. At first I rolled my eyes about the dragon, but it is good. I would recommend drawing it out a bit more in the beginning, as in not telling the reader it is a dragon yet. I also didn't care for the "o' great dragon," but as I said, pretty good.

  • 4 years ago

    I know this sounds harsh, but I also know I am one of many fantasy readers who are absolutely sick of the dragon cliché. Unless it is done extremely well and in a new interesting way (which I would have to be utterly convinced of before reading) for me it is simply a cop out. I will stop reading the moment the word is used and never look at the book again.

    IF you must use a dragon, make sure it is;

    1. Not the hook of the story.

    If the best thing about your book and the thing you want to grip your readers with, there are a hundred books out there that have done the same thing better than you which have already been reviewed and are part of pop culture.

    2. Built up to.

    Think Smaug, a dragon spoken of for the entirety of the book. He is terrible and evil, terrifying and inescapable, BUT he is not present. The suspense makes his demise great.

    3. Not what the readers are expecting.

    I could find your dragon in any dnd game, any pc game, any fantasy b movie.

    Great start, keep writing.

  • 1 decade ago

    Awesome :D I agree with Intelek, I love your writing style: it sucked me in. It's the way I aspire to write, though I find it hard to keep my descriptions consistent (I have an excuse though, I am but an 18 year old).

    XD

    --john (err i was ragrok, then became valiant, and now im kindess. i just keep becoming more incredible!)

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