Chapter One: Strangers
Ok here is the first installment its a little longer than the next few posts will be as they are long chapters that I will be breaking apart.  I have combed through this many times correcting for grammatical errors but if you find one let me know.  But, what I really want to hear from you is what you think will happen next?  Is this 
good how can I improve?  Do you like the characters?  How do you think the story should progress?

The Gatekeeper, who was a short, broad man, with a long, grey beard and rosy-red cheeks, was not watching the gate as he should.  Instead, he was chatting with his visiting friend, Bill.  It was Bill’s birthday, and the two were toasting his health.  In their hands, they held large mugs filled with ale.
The gate, of which the Gatekeeper was supposed to be watching, rose to the height of seven feet tall, eight at the most, and was used by people going into the town from the south or north.  The outer wall, made of damp wooden posts, stretched along the outside border of the Town, which is saying very little because the Town was so undersized.  On the opposite end of the Town from the main gate, was another gate used generally for people going north.
The Town had a name used on maps and such, but most of the time it was looked over having no specific purpose for the higher officials.  Most people just plain called it the Town.  It was pretty much the only town for many fathoms.  The Town never had many visitors, because it lay on the verge of a wild land that few traveled into or from.  These lands were called the Unknown Lands, for most thought no reason to leave their comfortable homes to go explore them.
The Town where the Gatekeeper lived was small, with few houses.  However, it did have a few small shops and an inn located in the center.  There was also a market, which consisted of a stand at which vegetables were sold, and a blacksmith for making horseshoes and other things of the sort.  The people had no use for weapons in this town.  The fence surrounding kept out the wolves and bears.  Through the middle of the Town, in between the two gates, ran a small muddy pathway which stretched a few paces from the gates on each end.
It was dark, although only six o clock, and the stars and moon hid beneath the clouds.  The night was damp with new falling rain.  An occasional crash of thunder, or flash of lightning could be heard in the darkness, but for the most part the only sound was the drip, plunk, splash, of the falling rain.
The Gatekeeper and his friend, Bill, were very merry considering, by now, they had toasted the birthday man at least seven times.  They were laughing and singing cheerfully, Bill glanced at the gate, “Eh I think you have company,” he loudly whispered.
There was a stern knock on the wooden gate.  The Gatekeeper stumbled out the door although, very unhappy to leave the little party.  After missing the handle four times he managed to open the gate until it was just a little crack, and peak out.
The Gate Keeper examined those standing in front of the opening they were tall, all around the height of six feet, some a little more and some a little less.  There were five total, all heavily cloaked.  Hoods shadowed their faces. The Gatekeeper who was dizzy to begin with could barely keep track of them.   He opened the door further, but the cloaked figures said nothing.  Finally, annoyed by the utter silence, the Gatekeeper spoke, “Who er ye and why der ye wanna come in?”
One stepped forward.  He wore a black cloak lined with gold.  His plain black shirt slick underneath his black armor which bore the image of a dragon imprinted on the chest plate with gold.  He wore a sword inside a sheath on his side attached to a beautifully carved belt.  Upon his back he wore a quiver and over the quiver he stored a longbow.  His dark blue eyes glowed in the gloom of the night.  The stranger looked as if he could have been a high noble or a great military leader.
“We only wish to stay here a few nights and then we shall move on. “  He said nothing else speaking with an accent, of what king the Gatekeeper could not tell.
“Er you wanna stay ‘ear?” the Gatekeeper looked at them closely and uneasily.  He could barely understand the man in his drunken stupor.  Thinking the leader of the strangers a noble of some kind, he told them of an inn they could stay at towards the center of town.  The leader nodded his head without speaking.  The other travelers followed his example and the five walked swiftly and noiselessly passed, through the gate, and onto the path.
The Gatekeeper watched them stride towards the inn, and then headed back to his table to return to the drink and cake.   As he did this, he spoke to himself, “Strangers comin owtta nowhere, at this time a night.  Not even a sound a feet in the mud.”
4 Responses
  1. Guest Says:

    It is very well written but there are a lot of info-dumps that detract from the telling of the tale, are you setting the scene or trying to sell me the village? :o) I was also wondering what age-group you were aiming for with this? I can't comment on what I think of the characters yet, but will as you introduce them.

    And you're aware that even posting your novel is snippets is still considered as being published and you may have trouble selling it in the future if it is readily available to be read for free on the internet or having been read for free on the internet. Just a warning.

    Look forward to the next part!

  2. Cecrow Says:

    Some of the caution mentioned above is warranted re posting it to your blog, although this looks like a first draft only. I've noted some magazine submission guidelines for short stories, however, specifically forbid entries that are already found elsewhere on the Internet. I'm not sure what the climate is about novels (although Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson don't seem to have any problems).

    I likely won't be back here (see my comment to your more recent posting), but I'll leave some comments for you about this chapter. Seven years ago I attended a critiquing class, to learn how to evalute other people's work, and I've been a member of a small circle who meets monthly ever since to do this sort of thing.

    The first rule of accepting critique is, don't take it personally! Accept it as the help it's intended to be. The second rule is, don't be hard on yourself! No matter how bad critique might sometimes sound, every story's merit can be unearthed and often that doesn't take nearly as much work as it may appear, no matter what's said about your presented draft. That said, good for you to openly welcome it. A lot of writers hoard their work and never improve, because they're too protective to share.

    I'll need to do this over a couple of comments, given character restrictions.

  3. Cecrow Says:

    Detail comments:
    - Your first sentence is a negative. It's better to start with what the Gatekeeper is doing, rather than not doing. I fall into this "negative information" trap myself often, describing what characters are not doing, or what things do not look like, rather than what they are or what they do.
    - I'd recommend switching up Bill's name. The only previous Bill I know of in fantasy was Sam Gamgee's donkey ;) It's also odd to me that Bill has a name but the Gatekeeper does not.
    - always be specific in your descriptions. Rather than the gate was seven or eight feet tall, say exactly how tall (eg. the gate was eight feet tall).
    - beware self-analysis with the narrative voice ("which is saying very little"), and delete it whenever you catch yourself doing it
    - you needn't describe what's at the opposite end of town unless it happens to come up in dialogue; just describe the scene we're in here.
    - another instance of non-specific is "pretty much". Nothing should ever be "pretty much", "for the most part", "some a little more and some a little less" etc.
    - when editing, try to catch repeated words/phrases and replace them with variety. For example, you've two instances of "falling rain" in the same paragraph. See how else you can describe this, or eliminate one instance if you can.
    - "loudly whispered" strikes me as a contradiction. If it's loud, it isn't whispering. Perhaps he speaks under his breath, or mutters? There's also a question here around how Bill is aware someone's outside the gate before the knock is heard. Since this is fantasy, your reader might leap to the assumption that Bill has a magical power!
    - The Gatekeeper "stumbles out the door", but what is this the door of? If they were drinking ale in a guardhouse to shelter from the rain, that should be described.
    - "peek out", rather than "peak out", when he opens the gate.
    - the figures outside the gate appear to be "heavily cloaked" and indistinguishable, yet when one steps forward there comes a full description of his resplendent armour, etc. Better here if you distinguish him descriptively straight away.
    - an accent "of what kind" rather than "of what king" (unless this was on purpose). Better, an accent "from where".
    - the visitors are able to walk past (not "passed") the Gatekeeper, but you've not told us he's opened the gate any more than a crack yet.
    - glad you pointed out the mud makes no sound beneath their feet; interesting fact!

  4. Cecrow Says:

    General comments:
    - you've the same tendency to watch out for that I often run into: lots of focus on what things look like, but not much about smells, sounds, tastes, touches. Do a "fives senses test" on everything you write when you're editing. You don't need to hit all five all the time, but a more rounded approach creates a more rounded setting.
    - description can make a scene come alive, but only if it's about the scene we're in - not when it becomes an wiki entry about the entire town, none of which is relevant to what we're seeing. Save the information you've written for possible use later, but cut everything from ", which is saying very little because ..." all the way to "... a few paces from the gates on each end." Now it reads: "...along the outside border of the Town. It was dark, although only six o'clock ...". See how this keeps you centered on the current scene and preserves your pacing.
    - I don't feel like this is a complete chapter given its short length. Technically you can make chapters any length you want (there's no best practice rules around this), but your first chapter should establish characters we care about, and questions that will draw us into reading the next. At the end of this chapter I'm curiuos about the silent feet, but the Gatekeeper and Bill seem like minor characters and I don't know enough about the visitors to care about their welfare either. At the very least I'd recommend telling us something about the Gatekeeper's life - does he like this job, does he have a family to care for, etc? Better would be to extend this chapter, perhaps merging it with the next.
    - A good practice is to try summarizing your chapter in a sentence. Does it sound compelling? I would summarize this one as "A group of mysterious strangers arrives at night at a small town." It's difficult for me to say whether you're off to a good start or not, because too little has happened yet.


    Take all of the critique as an example of what you ought to be able to find elsewhere on the Internet at web sites devoted to this sort of thing, or better yet in your own community among fellow aspiring writers.

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    Kelly's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writings by Kelly Green is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.