Fall First Page Blog Hop: YA Fantasy

Sleeping Beauty

The forest in front of Elsea was a dense wall of impassable black trees.

It was alive.

She could hear it breathing.

Her lungs seared with each sharp breath. Her muscles shook with fatigue from running for the past ten miles. She hadn’t rested in seven hours, and she was not going to start now. Not when she was this close to avenging her parents’ death and rescuing the prince.

The forest of her bedtime stories loomed in front of her, more horrific than she imagined during the countless nights she spent in the crowded bedchamber at the Home for Abandoned Souls.Β  Elsea remembered the way Chloe’s voice would drop to a whisper when she talked of the gruesome sand traps that grabbed hold of unsuspecting traveler’s legs and sucked them into the earth without any warning. Trees that appeared dead, but breathed and could be felt on the back of her neck, waking her up where the darkness was very real and not just imagined.

It was as if the trees had been sown from rotten seeds and the decay had seeped into everything around it. They didn’t grow as normal trees. The dead, black, oozing trees twisted and spiraled into the gray above. Those closest to her, barely illuminated by the light from her torch, didn’t grow straight from the ground. The bases of the trees were flat, curved at a sharp angle before curving again then straightening. A dark gray sludge dripped from the bend, gurgling toward the black ground.

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13 thoughts on “Fall First Page Blog Hop: YA Fantasy

  1. So you’ve done something I struggle with myself, here: Your opening is just a description of the surroundings, with a few character details peppered in. All we know is that Elsea is running, and then we get a LOT of what the forest looks like. I’d maybe cut that down and try to get a little more character and action into the first page.

    Secondly, I’m going to suggest that you try to immerse the reader a bit more. For all the detail you provide, it’s mostly sort of superficial–just for instance, in the third paragraph we learn that Elsea can “hear the forest breathing.” Which is a nice detail, except that immediately afterward we learn that she is running, and has been doing so for ten miles. So she wouldn’t JUST hear the forest breathing, she would hear the breathing over her own ragged breath, and the sound of leaves and branches breaking under her weight, and maybe the wind past her ears, etcetera. The forest breathing is a spooky detail about the forest, but it doesn’t immerse us in the immediacy of Elsea’s surroundings.

    Also, a nitpick: If the forest ahead “is a dense wall of impassable black trees,” then there’s no way Elsea can be running through it–it’s impassable.

    Lastly, and this might be controversial, but I’m going to question a couple of your larger choices with this piece–a man character named “Elsea,” in the wake of Frozen-mania, strikes me as too on-the-nose marketing wise, and especially when you’ve gone with the title of another animated Disney favorite, Sleeping Beauty. I’m not saying you’re unoriginal, but those couple of details raise red flags for me and make it seem that way. I’d consider alterations.

    The above is pretty direct and doesn’t sugar-coat, and I hope you’re okay with that. I do think your writing is very strong. The tone and flow of this is nice, and your ability at description shines through, even if I think there is too much description up front. Don’t take my comments as discouraging, please, take them as constructive suggestions for improvement–I think this is well-written, and I’d definitely keep working on it.

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    • Your comments are greatly appreciated. I prefer honest, criticism, and you’ve up several things I hadn’t really thought about before. Thanks so much for taking the time to critique!

      I do have one clarification though. Elsea is a seventeen-year-old girl, and Sleeping Beauty is actually Prince Briar. Perhaps I should’ve left a note explaining it was a gender-swapped retelling. I did worry about Elsea being too close to Elsa, but I started this before I knew anything about Frozen, and was struggling with a character name. Then, a customer came in with this as a last name, and it felt perfect. The title is actually not what I want to call it for publication (I would like to distance it a bit or play on the gender-swap), but I don’t have an alternate title that I like yet.

      You and the other commenter said some similar things, and I will definitely be looking at the way I’m using the description, and showing vs. telling. Thanks again for your time!

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  2. Alexandrina Brant says:

    An interesting subversion of the tropes. Great first line, by the way!

    The ‘she could hear’ brings me away from the main character a little – just ‘she heard’ would work. Same with “Elsea remembered the way” and “could be felt” later.

    I believe “she imagined” should be pluperfect – she [ha]d imagined.

    I feel that the inclusion of Chloe is lacking ground. It kind of sticks out, seeing as she’s the only other character mentioned here. I kind of want to know more about Chloe immediately or not have her mentioned by name straight away, because I don’t think it works with the descriptive impact.

    I love your descriptive phrases in the last paragraph. There’s a lot of the mention of the word ‘trees’ in that paragraph, though, so you could cut a couple of direct mentions, I think, and still have the same eerie feel.

    It’s intriguing. I’d read on to find out whether Elsea is in her mind or in a physical place and what’s going to happen with these creepy trees. The prose is pretty good already, but I’d watch out for those occasions when you drop in filler words like ‘could’ and they take us away from the experiences of the MC. Hope these thoughts help!

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    • They definitely help, especially since you brought up some things I’ve had critiquers tell me before, but I haven’t fully devoted the time to line editing just yet. I really appreciate you pointing out the words that pull you out of the story and that you liked the first line along with the subversion of the tropes. I have been wondering how Chloe felt there, but she’s very important later in this version, but I’m also rethinking her entire role for a 4th revision draft I intend to work on after I finish the first draft of the novel I’m currently working on.

      I have a huge problem with words like “could” and “would” and passive voice and using “that” a lot, so thanks for commenting on that and reassuring me it’s not all in my head. πŸ™‚ Thanks again for you time, and I’m glad it intrigued you!

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  3. As previously mentioned, the prose is beautiful. Description is definitely your strength! I also agree that it would be nice to have more character description, and even storyline. Really all we see in the first 250 words is the forest. We don’t have any idea of what the story is, where it is headed, or what the character motivations are. I think giving some character details would help move the story forward.

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    • Thanks for the feedback! Her motivations (other than being awesome) have consistently been an issue for me, and I’ve come with a solution (I think), but I haven’t done the editing for it yet. I wanted more opinions on this version before I clarified/changed anything. You’ve given me a lot to think about. πŸ™‚

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  4. Andie says:

    I love this opening! I love the imagery and the beautiful language. It made me think you are treating “setting” as a main character in a way, which I love. Did I say “love?” πŸ™‚

    You did state the motivation was to avenge her parents and rescue the prince, but I would have liked for this to be shared later in the first chapter. It felt too quick (a bit out of place). I would have preferred “Not when she was this close.” For a little mystery.

    I realize this is a bit different feedback than the rest, so I guess it’s true that this is all subjective! πŸ™‚

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  5. I did get this was a gender-swap retelling from the title and your opening, but I have to agree with Chris in terms of this being too much about her surroundings rather than Elsea herself. For instance, you could condense your first three sentences into one. I think “Elsea heard the dense forest in front of her breathing, like it was alive” (or something) would work better instead of three one-sentence paragraphs.

    It’d cut the last two paragraphs out altogether (or, at the very least, the fifth) and leave them for a later time, as right now, I want to be more concerned about why she wants to rescue the prince and maybe a hint on what happened to her parents. The part where she recalls the forest from the tales is all well and good, but I’d rather see those details as she encounters those obstacles.

    Otherwise, nothing to say πŸ™‚

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  6. I’m always a bit nervous about gender swaps in classic stories, but yours works. I’d read it πŸ™‚

    That said, I think you’ve done something a lot of us do, which is start your story several paragraphs after the opening line. For me, I’m not interested until the ‘The forest of her bedtime stories…’ paragraph. Until then, I feel like it’s an info dump with no context. In fact, I think you could start there, incorporate the ‘impassable wall’ idea into that paragraph (If I may – ‘The forest of her bedtime stories loomed in front of her, an impassable wall of black shapes, more horrific than she imagined.’) and move the ‘running’ paragraph after it. Then you get: where she is -> why she knows it -> what she’s doing there.

    As to Chloe, I agree with a previous poster about wanting to know more. that happens when a character gets named. An easy fix is the use a title instead. If Chloe is a caretaker, call her that. It’s easier for us to move away from her, then you can name her later when it’s important.

    Hope this helps, and good luck with the other novel you’re writing πŸ˜€

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  7. I agree with Christ in that, while the description is great, I’d like less of it and more characterization. Also, I’m wary of using the word “it” because there is usually a clearer way to say what you mean to say. I know ‘it’ refers to the wall of trees, but why not say: The wall of black trees was breathing.

    I suffer from tell -then-show syndrome, and I feel like there’s a little of that in here. The first sentence states that there’s a wall of impenetrable trees in front of her, then it was alive, then she can hear it breathing, but then we don’t get to the actual description of these trees until the last paragraph.

    It feels like you’re going for a striking opening, but I think one line like maybe: “The trees were breathing.” would be punchier and grab attention. Then I would want to be placed in the moment. Does she stop and catch her breath? Then I’d want to see that. I think you can skip over this being the forest of her bedtime stories, because I’d rather get a sense of why she’s there and see some action. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the first page is too soon to jump into backstory. Overall, this is intriguing. Good luck and I hope this helps. πŸ™‚

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  8. emilygmoorewriter says:

    All the other commenters have touched on my concerns. The short first three paragraphs actually worked for me, but I don’t know how they’d look in print. I love the MC name (and even considered sticking it in my “names” folder for some story in the future. And your descriptions were so lovely that it wasn’t until the last paragraph that I was over the trees. I think a little mystery about her parents and the prince would be better, and Chloe’s mention should come later in the chapter because, as mentioned already, it pulls me away from Elsea’s current predicament.

    Hope this helps!

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  9. I got hung up on the first line: “a dense wall of impassable black trees”. Are the trees or the wall of trees impassable? Unfortunately, I can’t think of a better way to express this idea. “a dense, impassable wall of black trees” maybe, but that has its own problems with multiple adjectives.

    I really like the 2nd and 3rd lines though. Short sentences have their own power to be heard.

    The last paragraph goes into too much detail describing the trees though. The sentence that starts “The bases of the trees…” could be omitted altogether without losing any of the feel of the trees.

    Overall, the story kept me reading and I want to keep reading to find out what happens next. You can’t ask for much more in 250 words!

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