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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground
    Join Date
    Dec 2006

    Default Polishing the first chapter: The Book of Svarog

    Hello. I've been working on a book for the past two years, and by now I'm roughly 80% complete. Perhaps the most important part of a book for a new reader is the first chapter, and toward that end I want to polish it up and make it the best it can be. To do that I need some feedback, as there are a couple areas in particular that I'm not happy with. In addition to those few specifics which I'll ask after I've had a few replies, I'd also like to know some general thoughts on pacing, readability, and perhaps most importantly, if it's interesting enough to make you want to keep reading.

    Spoiler: Book of Svarog, ch 1
    Show
    Prologue
    Sergeant Othmar picked his way through the battlefield, searching for the wounded. For his own men, he knelt and gave them words of comfort, calling for the medics and healers. For the Narovian scum that had started this war, he knelt respectfully, and gave them a quick flick of his dagger.

    Othmar, on his way through a section that had already been searched, caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He continued on, thinking that he had just been imagining it, until he heard a groan. He turned back to the pile of bodies and found one of them attempting to crawl away. Othmar reached for his dagger again, but stopped when he saw the man’s helmet and the markings on his armor.

    Othmar knelt next to the man, and helped remove his helmet. “Sir! We thought you were dead. Had you marked for burial and everything.”

    The man tried to rise, but settled for sitting on his knees instead. “I was dead, for a while at least. The graveyard is no place for me right now.” He stopped, his breathing shallow and ragged.

    Othmar called for a healer. “You rest easy, Sir Viktor. We’ll have you out of that armor in a bit, and see about getting you patched up.”

    “I assume, Sergeant, that this means we were completely victorious?”

    Othmar nodded. “We think a handful might have slipped away before the fighting was over. We ran the main force down about an hour ago, just after I saw you fall.”

    Viktor eyed the position of the sun. “Our work isn’t finished. How many of our soldiers are able to fight?” he asked.

    “Considering that they outnumbered us by so many, we fared well. More than two-thirds of our men are fit and ready."

    One of the healers arrived, and Othmar helped him to remove Viktor’s armor. Viktor grimaced as they removed his breastplate.
    “You’ve got a nasty head wound, and this gash just above your knee looks pretty bad too. I’m going to bind them for now, but when we get you to camp I’ll have to clean them out.” The healer began to work.

    “Where are the men?” Viktor asked.

    Othmar pointed. “Other side of that hill, there.”

    “We don't have much time to waste. We need to get moving quickly” Viktor said, cursing under his breath as the healer tightened the bandage on his leg.

    “Sir, we left Orkheim without a supply train, only with what we could load into the war wagons. We don't have the resources to push into Narovian territory.”

    “Nonsense,” Viktor interrupted. “The Narovians couldn't have made it this far without a supply train of their own. It can't be more than a mile or two away by now. Take half the men, those best fit to still fight, and capture that supply train before they learn we're here and try to flee.”

    “How do you know that, Sir? How did you know we would find the Narovians here?" Othmar asked.

    Viktor looked blankly at him. “Where else would they be? The frontlines have been well established for months. The King must remain neutral to this conflict and none of our usual allies seem interested in helping us, so we have no alternative but to destroy them ourselves. These Narovians didn't come from nowhere. They’ve been getting into position since before the war started. Their plan was to occupy this valley, and use it to establish a second frontline. Our enemy won’t learn of their failure until we inform them. Violently."

    "If we make it into Narovia we'll be operating unsupported, with the enemy on all sides. It'd be suicide to invade with so few men," Othmar objected.

    “Don’t be ridiculous,” Viktor said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I came here with the intent to stop this army in its tracks, before they could sweep through this valley, and hit our flanks. I wasn’t expecting them to outnumber us by quite so much, but we did stop them. Coming here won't mean anything unless we follow their trail back to where they came from, and do our best to end this war at the source.

    "Their attention will be on the front lines and their major trade cities. We'll be entering their territory from the north, well away from where the fighting is heaviest. We'll be able to strike anywhere we want with impunity for quite a long time before they even realize that we've crossed the border."

    Othmar looked as if he were going to object again, but he recognized the advantage of surprise.

    "Now, Othmar, gather the men you'll need to take that supply train and get moving. I'll follow along with the rest of the men and the war wagons once we've seen to the wounded."

    “Yes, sir.” He turned to go.

    "And Othmar," Viktor began.

    He turned. "Sir?"

    "There are likely to be a lot of women among their camp followers. Either kill them or let them flee somewhere other than back to Narovia. We can't afford to have someone run and bring news of our presence, nor can we afford to take prisoners with us. Don't forget that the Narovians aren't like us. They've been so ground down by the strictures of their society that we could never mingle with them."

    "Sympathy, Sir?" Othmar was trying hard to control his voice.

    "Pragmatism, Othmar. The Narovians may have started this war because they thought we focus so much on the frontier that we would forget to protect our borders with more settled lands. We're not here to conquer them, or to reform them, that's not our responsibility. We are here to make them rue the day they even began to imagine that they could take what we've worked so hard to build and make it their own."

    "Yes, sir." Othmar turned again to carry out his orders.

    “Good,” Viktor nodded towards the healer. “I think I’m ready for you to do your worst.”


    Act One – The Svarog

    “The search for knowing first requires one thing: that you be prepared for anything you might learn.” ~ Natalija Dantalian, Grand Master

    chapter 1.
    Live your life as if you were the author of your own story. As if you were free enough to choose how it ends. ~ Svere Gremory, Grand Master.


    The streets of Caleston’s open market were busy, but not yet crowded, and Viktor and Othmar took their time browsing among the merchants’ wares.

    “Do you mind if I ask you something, sir?”

    “Not at all, Othmar. You’ve wanted to ask for several days, go ahead.” Viktor replied.

    “We left Orkheim more than four months ago. We visit the strangest places, talk to the strangest people, and what do we have to show for it?” Othmar asked.

    “Well, after the war there just wasn’t much for me to do. I wasn’t going to just sit around for the rest of my life. I wanted to be out there, experiencing what the world has to offer.” Viktor said.

    “If I knew this was your idea of experiencing the world, I’d have stayed at home.”

    Viktor laughed. “Admit it, Othmar, you wanted to leave just as much as I did. Martin left first, off on one of his moods we thought. Then Darin left too, to seek out his own adventure. For a little while I was torn. I know my parents wanted me to stay, but I knew I couldn’t find what I was looking for there.”

    “You still haven’t told me what it is you’re looking for,” Othmar said.

    Viktor snorted. “If I knew what it was, I would likely have found it by now. But, to ease your concerns, I will say I have a feeling that I’m getting close.”

    “Begging your pardon, Sir, but you can stuff your feelings. I’ve seen you fight and I’ve been there when you prove that you know things that you couldn’t have known. I say you’re just guessing half the time,” Othmar said.

    “If I were just guessing I wouldn’t be right so often. What I want to learn is how to be more mindful of what I do, how to be sure that it’s not just a gut feeling.”

    They waited to let a horse-drawn wagon pass, and then crossed to the other side of the street. “So you’re sure that you’re a mentalist? Why is it that no one ever caught on?” he asked. “You had the best teachers in the whole state.”

    Viktor replied. “It’s not like mentalists are supernatural in any way. Most mentalists merely have better powers of observation and are highly intuitive.”

    “Most, Sir?”

    “Well, there are those that claim they have some fairly extraordinary abilities. Like that stage performer I talked to last week, remember? He was very good at reading body language, and he got cue phrases from his assistant. Quite interesting, really, but not what I had in mind,” Viktor said. “Although he was more of a mentalist than that old hermit out in the woods.”

    Othmar smiled wryly. “If that’s all there is to being a mentalist, then why all the fuss? Why not try to find a teacher you could apprentice yourself to?”

    “Because I’m not so sure that’s all there really is.” Viktor stopped in front of a stall that sold items of jewelry. “Something for your lady wife, Othmar?” he asked.

    “Haven’t got a wife, Sir,”

    “You do now. Just look interested, and browse,” Viktor said tersely.

    Othmar took a closer look at some of the wares. “Those men still following us?”

    Viktor gave an almost imperceptible nod. “That’s the second time I’ve seen them today. They were also in Holstein and before that in Strauheim.”

    “They could just be traveling the same route, sir,” Othmar said, picking up a bracelet to examine.

    “I don’t think that’s very likely. We were in Holstein for three days; they would surely have passed us if they were just traveling this route.”

    Othmar put the bracelet down, and moved to another section of the stall. “Why would they be following us, anyway? We’ve got no goods with us, and I’m sure there are richer targets out there.”

    “If robbery was what they had in mind they would have taken us somewhere on the road. No, something else is going on,” Viktor said thoughtfully.

    “You’ve only seen two of them? Perhaps we should confront them. I’m sure we could take them if we had to.”

    Viktor shook his head. “The Svarog are not known for incompetence. If we’ve seen two, there are likely at least two more that we haven’t.”

    “Svarog?” Othmar asked, his eyes wide. “How can you tell? And what would they want with us?”

    “You haven’t done anything particularly treasonous lately, have you Othmar?”

    “Don’t even joke about a thing like that, Viktor. I hear some people say that they’re the King’s butchers, but I don’t think the King’s had any control over them for years,” Othmar said, his voice tense.

    Viktor turned so that he could see the Svarog out of the corner of his eye while still facing Othmar. “I’ve heard the same stories, and others too. Makes you wonder how much of it is true and how much of it is a carefully cultivated reputation.”

    “Who cares?” Othmar hissed. “Either way, if they’re Svarog then they’re more dangerous than those Narovian scum we fought in the war.”

    “Othmar? You’re actually afraid. I’ve seen you face down a half dozen armored men.” He hesitated. “I’ve never seen you afraid like this.”

    “You’d be smart to be afraid, too.”

    “If they just intended to attack us, they’d have done so by now. They want something.”

    “How can you tell?”

    “They could bring terrible violence against us in an instant if they wanted to, but that… that’s not what they’re here for.”

    “What would they want you for?” Othmar asked.

    “Me? How do I know they don’t want you?” he replied, smiling good-naturedly.

    “You know I’m loyal to you, Sir, and always will be. Your father insisted you not go traveling alone this time. I’m just your family’s retainer, I’m not important enough to draw the attention of the Svarog myself.”

    Viktor put his hand on Othmar’s shoulder. “You’ve been my friend for many years, and I have always appreciated your company. Let’s find out what they want.” He motioned that they should start walking again. “Don’t forget that Braxton is only three days west of here.”

    Othmar visibly relaxed. “What’s in Braxton?”

    “One of the few forts the Svarog will admit to having,” he said.

    Othmar snorted. “They’ve probably got a half-dozen safe houses here in Caleston.”

    “They probably do. See that butcher shop on the corner? I’m going to go and get us some dried meat for the trip. I want you to go and see to the rest of our supplies. I’ll see you back at the inn in an hour.” Viktor said.

    “You’re not having another one of your feelings, are you, sir?”

    Viktor feigned innocence. “Whatever makes you say that, Othmar?”

    “I’ve been around you too long, sir. You’re going to leave me behind again like you did in Strauheim. You know it took me two days to track you down.”

    “Chances are they won’t bother following you. I’m going to try to lose them. If I can’t, I’ll lure them to the inn. Just be there. Don’t let anyone follow you,” he said.

    Othmar merely nodded. They parted company; Viktor avoided looking at the men that had been following them as he went into the butcher shop. The front of the shop was dominated by a long counter, where two other customers were being waited on. Viktor took off his traveling cloak and hung it on a peg by the door.

    By the time Viktor had made his selection and paid for it, another two customers had entered the butcher shop. As he turned to leave, Viktor saw that one of the customers had left a brown coat and matching felt hat with a feather in it on the peg beside his cloak. Viktor took the coat and slipped it on. It didn’t fit well, but it would do. He also grabbed the hat and left the shop.

    Viktor noticed one of the Svarog at the vendor next to the butcher shop, pretending to look interested in a potted plant. The other was nowhere to be seen. Viktor turned down the side street and quickened his pace. He had gone almost two blocks before he saw the second Svarog, sitting at a sidewalk café.

    Trying to appear unhurried, Viktor crossed the street. He took his hat off as he perused the wares of several stalls that lined the road. By this time the markets had become quite crowded. Viktor noticed the change and, leaving the hat behind at one of the stalls, did his best to blend into the crowd while threading his way through it.

    In this way he moved closer and closer to the inn where he and Othmar had stayed the night before. Several times he saw the Svarog before they saw him and managed to evade them. More than once he doubled back on his path to take a different route. Other times Viktor could tell that they were on to him.

    Once, Viktor came close enough to one of the Svarog that he decided to confront him, but just as he was about to make his move, he caught sight of the second one further up the street. He was forced to duck into a shop for close to twenty minutes to avoid being seen.

    Viktor lost sight of his pursuers several blocks away from the inn. His maneuverings had taken much longer than an hour, but he approached the inn carefully, alert for any sight of the Svarog. He circled the block several times before he was certain that the Svarog were not in the immediate vicinity. Still not willing to take chances, Viktor stopped long enough to buy a soft-baked pretzel from a vendor’s cart.

    Viktor ate his snack while leaning against a tree in front of a building some fifty yards from the inn. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He centred himself, aware of the sounds of the city. Nothing seemed amiss; nothing stood out from the ordinary. Viktor opened his eyes, seeing the area as if for the first time. Again, nothing appeared to be wrong. Still alert, he went to the inn.

    They were waiting for him at the top of the stairs.


    On a semi-related note, does anyone else think that the forum handles text that was written in a word processor first really badly? Apologies if I missed reformatting something. I tried to make it as readable as possible.
    The first chapter of The Book of Svarog

    “Everything has its time and everything dies.” ~ The Doctor (Doctor Who)

    “The facts of nature are settled within the field of human argument.” ~ The Golem- What Everyone Should Know about Science by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ettin in the Playground
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    On the tip of my tongue

    Default Re: Polishing the first chapter: The Book of Svarog

    It's unsurprising that the forum handles formatted text poorly, as it's designed to handle unformatted text (plus bbcode).

    Quick nitpick before I read the whole thing: juxtaposing "Narovian scum" with "knelt respectfully" is jarring. One is not inclined to respect scum. Also, the people Othmar is mercy-killing probably aren't the people who started the war. They're just fighting in it.

    <pause pause pause> Okay, I read it.

    There is...a lot of time devoted to talking heads in these two chapters. And the talking is almost 100% talking. Very little is communicated nonverbally. Very little is described, shown, demonstrated, or evoked. On the flip side, very little is alluded to or left unsaid.

    There isn't much from the prologue that carries over into the story proper, no mystery left to be explored, no framing device. I'm not sure why this character backstory has to be provided in this place and manner.

    The dialogue voice is solid. That is to say, the dialogue sounds like dialogue. It's generally quite readable.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Barbarian in the Playground
    Join Date
    Dec 2006

    Default Re: Polishing the first chapter: The Book of Svarog

    Quote Originally Posted by Lethologica View Post
    Quick nitpick before I read the whole thing: juxtaposing "Narovian scum" with "knelt respectfully" is jarring. One is not inclined to respect scum. Also, the people Othmar is mercy-killing probably aren't the people who started the war. They're just fighting in it.
    You're not wrong. I think, though, that there is a difference between waging war and respecting the dead and dying. Still, I'll keep it in mind.


    Quote Originally Posted by Lethologica View Post
    There is...a lot of time devoted to talking heads in these two chapters. And the talking is almost 100% talking. Very little is communicated nonverbally. Very little is described, shown, demonstrated, or evoked. On the flip side, very little is alluded to or left unsaid.
    I'm not sure if this is a criticism or just an observation. In either case, if I had to point to my biggest weakness as a writer, it would be my lack of rich description.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lethologica View Post
    There isn't much from the prologue that carries over into the story proper, no mystery left to be explored, no framing device. I'm not sure why this character backstory has to be provided in this place and manner.
    Not everything has to pay off immediately. Warfare in one form or another is a common backdrop for the setting and the characters. It's also clear (or should be clear) that the war the two characters were in that opened the story is over.

    That being said, this comment and the last one are both very helpful. It wouldn't be that difficult to add in richer description and a clearer connection to things that weren't set in stone (or just plain didn't exist) way back when this part of the story was being written.


    Quote Originally Posted by Lethologica View Post
    The dialogue voice is solid. That is to say, the dialogue sounds like dialogue. It's generally quite readable.
    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate it.
    The first chapter of The Book of Svarog

    “Everything has its time and everything dies.” ~ The Doctor (Doctor Who)

    “The facts of nature are settled within the field of human argument.” ~ The Golem- What Everyone Should Know about Science by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch.

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