Today's post features a first-page YA fantasy excerpt sent to me for critique.
Traitor of Somaleris
“Listen.” Tarreck grasped his friend’s arm, staring ahead into the shadowed edge of the clearing. “You can’t possibly have missed that.”
“Hear what,” Dallmerin replied in a loud voice that accurately displayed her disinterest for whatever she wasn’t hearing. “I don’t hear any—“
Tarreck swung around and clamped his hand over her mouth. “For the love of Krehl, Merin, be silent! If you would just listen, rather than talking so much…”
“Well I don’t think there is anything to hear,” Dallmerin hissed at him after wrestling his hand from her mouth.
Tarreck sighed, rolling his eyes in exasperation. They sat in silence, Tarreck glaring out into the night, Dallmerin glaring at the back of Tarreck’s turned head. What did he expect her to hear anyway? After all this was the king’s wood, not the Traitors’, and they were not out doing illegal hunting. They did not have to watch for anything. So why would anyone be watching for them?
Dallmerin grabbed Tarreck’s shirt and he looked back, his fear reflected in her eyes. “You heard that,” he said.
“Yes, but what is it?” she mouthed at him, unwilling to make any further sound.
“Nothing more than you are to me,” a new, taunting voice replied from the covering darkness of the trees that surrounded them. “You are unwelcome to me and therefore I am unwelcome to you. Yet you won’t be anything after I kill you.”
Dallmerin and Tarreck jumped to their feet, drawing their swords.
Character Names and Gender
I couldn't tell whether the names Tarreck and Dallmerin were male or female at first. So it's good the writer specified "her" and "his friend" with the actions and dialogue lines.
Starting With Dialogue
As mentioned before, it's generally advised not to start with dialogue--BUT I have to say this excerpt doesn't blindly jump into an incomprehensible scene so it's more readable than other stories that begin with dialogue.
Point of View
It was difficult to tell whether this excerpt is from Tarreck's point of view or Dallmerin's. It's usually a reader's assumption that the first character who appears is the main character--which is Tarreck--and yet the reader is in Dallmerin's head when she thinks: What did he expect her to hear anyway? and the rest of that paragraph, even though it starts off with Tarreck's action. So I'm thinking it's Dallmerin's story, but introducing Tarreck at first threw me off a little.
Either that or it's an omniscient narrator who accesses all thoughts and points of view.
1. To me, the swords "appeared" at the end. I didn't know what the characters were wearing or carrying, so I was surprised when they drew swords. An earlier indication might be nice.
2. Need new paragraph after Dallmerin grabs Tarreck's shirt, for dialogue line. It's confusing otherwise; the paragraph starts with Dallmerin's action but the dialogue line is Tarreck's.
3. Dallmerin hisses/talks before the reader knows her mouth is uncovered: Dallmerin hissed at him after wrestling his hand from her mouth. The action of the wrestling would come first sequentially, so the reader should experience it that way.
4. Don't need the phrase "in exasperation," which tells rather than shows Tarreck's emotions. If he's already sighing and rolling his eyes, his emotion is obvious--and shown.
Wording and Little Things
1. Question mark needed after "Hear what" in the 2nd paragraph since it's a question.
2. "Hear/hearing" is repeated 3 times in the second paragraph and once again later.
3. Commas could be added on 2 sentences: What did he expect her to hear anyway? (after hear) and “Well I don’t think there is anything to hear" (after Well).
4. Contractions might help the flow, like weren't out doing illegal hunting instead of were not and don't think there's anything to hear instead of there is. Especially the latter, since it's dialogue; not using contractions sounds formal, and most people don't talk that formally.
5. "Unwilling to make any further sound" is not needed. It's obvious she's unwilling by the fact that she's mouthing the words and trying to be quiet.
6. "Turned" is an unnecessary word; could omit: glaring at the back of Tarreck’s turned head.
This excerpt flowed well and the conflict is apparent right off; the first lines indicate something is going on without making the reader feel like he/she is dropped into the middle of a confusing action scene. The names are great, Tarreck and Merin. "For the love of Krehl" is a neat, unique invented exclamation or oath. There is good sound effect and tension using Snap in italics.
Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Do you think the beginning of this excerpt works, even though it begins with dialogue?
Do you like to read/write in the fantasy genre?