View Full Version : Looking for input on start to a book

January 18th, 2014, 08:22 PM
So I'm working on writing a book, tentatively titled Life Versus Death. I emailed some friends the first nine chapters for feedback, and now I'm having doubts concerning how I'm starting it off. Here's the prologue and beginning of chapter one:


Feb 27, 2012

Local Youth Displays Psychic Talent

Kevin saw the newspaper as he was gathering trash in his house, and he cringed when he read the headline. He didn’t know what bothered him more; the word “psychic” (which he specifically asked the reporter not to use), or the word “youth” (he hardly thought of himself as a youth at nineteen). Oh well, screw them and their sensationalism. He tore off the page out of spite and tossed the crumpled ball into the trash bag. He swept the long brown bangs out from his eyes, tied the bag closed, and continued with it onward to the garage. A strange sound came from the backyard, as if someone was digging a hole. Kevin ignored it; he assumed his neighbors were doing yard work.

Even since his earliest memory, Kevin has always known he’s been different. He simply knew things that other people didn’t know – what they couldn’t know. When he was six years old, he approached his parents in the kitchen and asked them why they were getting divorced. Kevin’s father didn’t even tell his wife that he wanted a divorce yet. Nick stared at his son, open-mouthed, as Bridget slapped him across the face. The family initially decided to keep this strange gift to themselves, but Kevin reached a point at which he grew tired of secrecy. He wanted more; he wanted publicity. He called a reporter from the Journal.

Kevin made it to the garage and flicked the light switch, but the lights failed. Just as well, the light from the kitchen was enough to guide him. He lifted the lid, tossed the bag in, and turned around to go back inside. What he saw when he turned around made him freeze in his tracks. His eyes struggled to adjust in the darkness; what they were seeing could not be right. Well, it could be, but it shouldn’t. Kevin was fairly certain that a stranger in a black robe shouldn’t be standing in the doorway.

The figure stood about six feet tall, square center in the open doorway, with his arms at his sides. His sleeves extended down to cover his hands, his feet were hidden under the ruffles of the robe, and the combination of low lighting and the robe’s hood made his face impossible to see. Essentially the figure looked like a robe standing on its own, but logic told Kevin there had to be a man underneath. Logic also told him to run, but he had nowhere to go. He only stared.

When the figure spoke, Kevin was surprised by the lack of threat in his tone. Instead, he sounded solemn and somber, like a man full of regret.
“Kevin Beneke…”

Nervous, Kevin broke his gaze away from the figure and looked all around himself. He desperately looked for something, anything else to focus his attention on, but found nothing of interest. At least, nothing more interesting than the mysterious stranger currently speaking to him. He reluctantly looked back at the figure and finally replied.
“…I’m sorry.”

Before Kevin could ask what he was sorry for, the figure stepped out of the doorway and sprinted at him. His actions caught Kevin off guard, and soon the figure’s arms were around him. But he did not struggle; he immediately came to understand that everything would be okay. He felt at peace and let himself relax. And then he collapsed to the floor. The figure let go of Kevin and stood over his corpse.

“Just following orders…” He sounded unsure of himself. And then he was gone.

[Kevin will not be seen again in the story, but will be referred to, and his death does play a part in the plot later on. I like this as a prologue because while it's not a major part of the main story, it is significant and it sets the tone. But some people said that it wasn't grabbing enough. Then, here's my beginning of chapter one.]

Chapter One – The End, Part II

Like every other morning in downtown Chicago, traffic crowded the streets and people crowded the sidewalks. The city was alive with the hustle and bustle of people trying to get from one place to another, preferable someplace warm, as they trudged through the snow. Unlike every other morning in downtown Chicago, the place most people were trying to get was to safety, as an enormous winged serpent rose frantically into the sky, shaking dirt and pebbles off its back. Its green scales shimmered in the sun as it turned back around to roar a breath of fire into the panicked crowd fleeing down Michigan Avenue. Some victims dropped dead, and those lucky enough to survive began stopping, dropping, and rolling, simultaneously thinking “thank you kindergarten for this once-thought-useless skill,” and “holy shit dragons are real?!”

A particularly lanky man made it safely around the corner and hid behind a tall office building. He breathed a sigh of relief moments before a gigantic pale white snake erupted forth from the pavement beneath his feet, swallowing him whole before landing on the ground. It slithered, satisfied, down the alley and past a pack of two-headed dogs chasing a few businessmen.

Three friends stood atop a lonely hill in Douglas Park, a few miles west of the carnage.
“Jesus…” said Paul, the man standing in the middle of the three. He frowned at the scene on the horizon. The details were not clear to him from his distance, but the screaming and blazes of flame told him enough of what was happening. As his gaze drifted to his closer surroundings, he saw another one of the all-too-familiar white snakes making its way down 13th Street. He ran his hands through his coarse red hair and dirt fell from his head.

The sickly-looking blonde man next to Paul brushed the snow and dead leaves off his hoodie. Feelings of confusion, fear, anger, sadness, and hunger all clashed inside him when he heard the screams and saw the monsters loose in the city. He suppressed the feelings expertly. “Man, we sure screwed up this time, huh guys?” said Brendon.
Paul’s eyes, previously heavy with melancholy, narrowed as his eyebrows furrowed. “’We sure screwed up’?! How can you say that, like we’re in some shitty sitcom? God damn, dude, thousands of people are dying! Earth is swarming with monsters, someone is actively trying to end the world, we’re hanging out with someone from the goddamn future, and all you got is ‘we sure screwed up’?!”

“Just trying to lighten the mood Paul.”
“This mood can’t be lightened. We’re responsible for this.”
Their third ally regained her composure. “If I may,” said Jenna, the aforementioned someone from the goddamn future, “I believe I have a plan.”
“Let’s get the hell out of here.” Jenna turned and began carefully walking down the hill, but Paul did not follow. He stood, rooted in horror.
“Just…how did…how did all this happen?” Paul asked, mostly to himself.
“You should know, you were there,” said Jenna matter-of-factly. Brendon nodded in agreement.
“I know that, but I mean…just a couple days ago, I did not see my life going this way.”
“Well a couple days ago, you weren’t even-“
Paul cut Jenna off. “You know what I meant.”
Brendon said, “but now you’re back. Lucky you!” He turned away from Paul and followed Jenna down the hill.
“Yeah. Lucky me…”


After that I jump back to present day and the story continues linearly, for the most part. Someone suggested that I make this flash-forward the prologue, and move my current prologue to a later chapter. I've considered this, but for some reason I don't like the idea of a flash-forward being the prologue. Then I thought, maybe since Kevin has psychic abilities, he has a vision of this scene in Chicago. I could combine the prologue and flash-forward. I feel silly for having such a difficult time deciding on this, but the start of a book is pretty critical, right?

I know it may be hard to give advice without much context for these two scenes, but...any thoughts?

January 18th, 2014, 08:26 PM
Also, why don't indents show? When I typed up this post I had indents for new paragraphs, but now it looks like a giant block and attempts to fix it are not working.

January 18th, 2014, 08:32 PM

Have you tried using the "Go Advanced" option rather than "Post Quick Reply" when posting your work to the forum? Can't promise but it may be worth a try...

Edit: Use the "Preview" button before publishing :)

January 20th, 2014, 02:48 AM
I enjoy Hell on Earth. It's always so very exciting. A dozen demons and shady characters doing misdeeds and things of questionable motivation, and it can lead to quite a few interesting things to say about people and the way they live their lives. I myself am writing something about the apocalypse, so I can tell you that while it can be downright scary, it CAN be funny. I have the feeling you're after the latter, in which case, I encourage you to read Good Omens, a story by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett (second time I've plugged that book on this site, by the way, if you're reading Neil or Terry).

As to your request on the creating intrigue, I think you've gone a little overboard. I'm not so curious as I am confused. Don't worry, we've all done it. We get to the point of writing as if everyone else is in our heads. This can lead to inconsistent emotions or actions that really muddle the plot or the characters. An example of this can be found toward the end of your Prologue. First, why does he STEP out of the doorway and then SPRINT to Kevin? These are contradictory. Maybe he leaps, maybe he jumps, maybe he lurches, but he certainly doesn't step if he's sprinting. Second, why does Kevin think everything is going to be okay? A man is killing him. If a man were killing me, I'm not sure I'd be okay with it, unless I saw something or knew something or felt something psychically that told me that things would be okay. When it comes to emotions, cause and effect are both necessary. Having just effect leaves the reader hanging.

Moreover, I'm not sure I would have the intestinal fortitude to put these pieces adjacent to one another in the story. You've now got two pieces to your story that have seemingly no explanation, and we haven't really gotten to any of the meat of your story. We're not really sure where your going with this. Now, non-linear stories have had success a la Pulp Fiction, but if you remember that first scene, it's short, sweet, and action-packed. Yours is heavy on the exposition and has us headed in very much the wrong direction come the first chapter, which in and of itself is really just a second prologue. Either combined them or choose one over the other. I think having both is really hurting you.

Good start, just relax a bit on the eccentricity, and I'm sure this will be a good one. When you revise it a bit, let me know. I'm keen to read it.

January 20th, 2014, 03:39 AM
Second, why does Kevin think everything is going to be okay? A man is killing him.

Well, that'll be part of the story later. It's not a man, it's a reaper. The reaper's job is to ferry souls to the afterlife, and Kevin thinks everything will be okay because that's a part of the reaper's killing process. I know it's not clear in the prologue, but it would be made clear later.

I did decide on putting Kevin's segment later in the story. The flash-forward will be the beginning of the story, then it will jump back to present day to show how we get to that point. I've got the first ten chapters done.

January 20th, 2014, 03:50 AM
Post some!

Also, with the Kevin scene, I was thinking more along the lines of a Sherlock Holmesian detail discovery, akin to seeing his bony face or feeling his bony hands, or something less blatant and obvious than what I can come up with. Nothing too big, more in the order of subtle.

Post those chapters though. I'd love to read them.

January 20th, 2014, 03:51 AM
I'm a tad confused as well. It's odd that Kevin, who was seeking publicity, would spill the beans to a reporter and then read the headline, tear out the article, and toss it. I wonder if he could read the headline, frown, then quickly look up because he senses someone looking at him. He thinks he sees a shadowy figure (maybe he only "psychically" see him), and after the initial shock, goes back to reading the article. Then he crumples up the article and heads toward the garage. When he turns around he sees the figure that he imagined seeing before, in the doorway.

Re: Chapter One. I'd like to see you take advantage of the fact that you're setting the story in Chicago. Instead of the man merely turning the corner and hiding behind "a tall office building," why not have him rounding the corner on Wacker Dr (a ridiculously windy corner), where the wind whisks the hat right off his head, and then having him turn around and face the snake rising from the walkway along the Chicago River below or Lower Michigan Ave. Chicago is SO architecturally interesting—use it! :)

Just my 2¢. :)

January 25th, 2014, 09:06 PM
Post some!

Also, with the Kevin scene, I was thinking more along the lines of a Sherlock Holmesian detail discovery, akin to seeing his bony face or feeling his bony hands, or something less blatant and obvious than what I can come up with. Nothing too big, more in the order of subtle.

Post those chapters though. I'd love to read them.

I want to, and I've considered it, but I've been recommended not to. I hope to publish this some day, and posting things online is technically publishing. I've been told that publishing houses don't like to publish things that are already published. I have 67 pages so far, and I've emailed copies to friends and family for feedback, but I'm wary to post it publicly. I think I'll save this forum for only posting specific sections I'd like help with.

January 26th, 2014, 05:25 AM
I used a "flash forward" as the prologue to my novel and have never been told or heard that it was a bad idea.

I do agree with the comment that it was a bit confusing. The way it jumps around in time and/or perspective could lead one to just shake one's head and put down the book. Starting with a flash forward with a character that isn't integral to the story is, in my opinion, pretty risky. It may be different if there was more than one character the "Reaper" is taking in the prologue. Just so that the reader knows or can at least gather that it is, indeed, a reaper. I also don't understand what Kevin's psychic ability has to do with anything. If it was explained, I missed it. But I am not feeling 100% at this point so maybe I just missed it.

Overall, I think the idea is good.

January 26th, 2014, 05:35 AM

Have you tried using the "Go Advanced" option rather than "Post Quick Reply" when posting your work to the forum? Can't promise but it may be worth a try...

Edit: Use the "Preview" button before publishing :)

Piglet...doing that didn't work the last time I posted something. For some reason it seems that the indents just don't stick.