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Xan
November 5th, 2014, 10:16 PM
Looking for initial thoughts and constructive criticism for the first scene of the first chapter of my current WIP. I appreciate all the thoughts on my prologue (http://www.writingforums.com/threads/151794-The-Dream-Fantasy-%28654-word-prologue%29), and thank you in advance for any and all responses to this one. :-D In particular, I tried something a little unconventional and am curious about whether it works or not (you'll know it when you see it).
***

“You don’t have to go.” Kelay Jira spoke softly, one hand gently pushing Sarek Jaxon back while the other traced his face.

Her attention thrilled and unnerved him at the same time. They had slept together only once, a wonderful experience that shamed him deeply. That shame kept him from going along with what she wanted.

“He summoned me. I won’t ignore my father.” Jaxon began to push her away, but she resisted. Jira was as much a soldier as he was; if she wanted to stay, it would be hard to remove her by force.

“If it was important, he would have sent a more urgent note, or come himself. Your father can wait.” She tried to pull him into a kiss.

Almost, Jaxon let himself be pulled in. She was beautiful, and he wanted to again feel the closeness they had shared on that night weeks ago. But he had never ignored his father and wouldn’t start today, even if the note did lack urgency. Pulling back, Jaxon slid out of her grip. “If it isn’t important, then I won’t be long. But I will go.” He saw her disappointment as she recognized his firm tone.

Her eyes lowered for just a moment before she looked back up, her back straightening almost imperceptibly. “Then we will see each other this evening.” It wasn’t a question.

Jaxon loved that about her. She may disagree, but she got over things quickly and moved on. He knew other men who liked soft girls, but not Jaxon. He was always attracted to equals.

Having won his goal, Jaxon said goodbye and grabbed his black battle staff. The smooth wood, hard as rock, comforted him. The vast magic within, his magic, resonated at his touch, sending shivers of power through the connection it shared with his mind.

His family lived in a small but well-kept home in Kazon, the capital of Sentoth. As he left his home, Jaxon felt himself release a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He loved Jira, or at least believed he did, but to sleep with her again…

Banishing such thoughts from his mind, Jaxon used a pre-battle meditation technique his trainers had taught him years ago. Slipping into the comfortable quiet of meditation, his body released the rest of its pent-up tension and his shoulders relaxed as he continued walking away from his home. Jira would leave from another direction.

Within the meditation, Jaxon chose to walk rather than ride a horse. He silently and calmly passed others on the streets as they went about their daily activities, including a squad of soldiers on patrol. Though on his day off and out of uniform, Jaxon still stopped to salute them as they marched past.

After walking for another fifteen minutes, Jaxon arrived at the practice field indicated in his father’s note. He let his meditative thoughts slip from him as he saw his father working through practice forms with his own black wooden battle staff.

“Hail, son,” Korath said, never turning around. “It’s good you did not delay. I have a task for you.” As he finished the words, Korath whipped his staff around in Swift Sweep, turning to face his son as he did so.

Without hesitation, Jaxon leaped forward, intending to take advantage of a brief opening in his father’s guard. Jaxon’s staff jabbed in, but Korath turned his body aside and brought his staff down toward his son’s head.

Jaxon flipped his staff over and dropped to one knee, blocking the strike in a two-handed form which he quickly turned into an attack, rising and swinging his staff toward his father’s shoulder.

His father, a small grin on his face, leaped backwards out of his son’s immediate reach. Jaxon responded by whipping his staff back and throwing it.

Taken by surprise just as he regained his balance, Korath blocked the flying staff with his own in a two handed defensive move. No sooner had Jaxon’s staff fallen to the ground than Jaxon himself was inside his father's reach.

Palm strike to the solar plexus.

Korath blocked with an elbow.

Jab to the temple.

Korath dodged left.

Jab to the thigh.

Korath stepped back.

Spinning crescent kick.

Korath ducked.

Maintain rotation and drop. Spinning sweep.

Korath jumped, but too slow. Jaxon’s foot clipped his father’s, throwing the leg wide.

Take a deep breath.

Korath came down on his right leg, his left far to the side. Jaxon stood.

Hold it.

Jaxon pushed forward, right hand catching Korath’s staff as he tried kept his father from counter attacking. Korath’s left foot planted behind himself as he sought to regain his balance, his right coming up to move away.

Release it. Not too fast.

Jaxon’s staff spun into the air, called by its owner’s magic. Korath saw it in the corner of his eye and tried to block, but Jaxon still held his father’s staff.

Strike.

Korath, off balance and out of options, relaxed his grip on his staff and collapsed to the ground. Jaxon's spinning staff flew over Korath’s head and past Jaxon, who now stood holding Korath’s own staff.

Jaxon brought the end whipping down, stopping it just before connecting with his father’s solar plexus. The two froze, father lying on his back, son holding the smooth piece of hardened wood over him. Jaxon’s own staff tumbled to the ground several feet away.

Korath broke the silence. “I still cannot believe how quickly you learned to best me with my own moves.”

“It’s because no one else has ever fought you with them. I grew up defending myself from you.”

Korath smiled. “I am proud of you. In seventeen winters you have become a better hand-fighter than I have in forty.”

Lowering his father’s staff, Jaxon allowed Korath to grab it before pulling his father to his feet. Jaxon called his own staff back to him as he returned his father’s. “I have the best teacher.”

Korath laughed. “Were I such a teacher, you would not spend so much time with Jira.”

Jaxon nearly dropped his staff, trying and failing to keep himself from blushing at the unexpected comment. Afraid of what might come out, he did not speak.

“Ah, I see I am still your master with words, at least,” his father said, his grin growing. “I believe you could do much worse than Jira.”

Jaxon changed topics. “What task did you call me here to do?”

Grinning broadly, Korath turned to lead the way off the field, but stopped abruptly. Jaxon moved alongside him. Korath’s grin was gone, his eyes intent on something in the distance.

Following his father’s gaze, Jaxon saw another man practicing at the edge of the field. It was Torin, an older man who worked with Korath in his government position. Torin was swinging a bright-red battle staff through practice forms.

As abrupt as had been his father’s pause, Korath now abruptly began walking again. “Son, I believe I’ve forgotten a report for General Sarnos. We will have to continue our conversation later.”

Adrenaline that had stopped after their training battle pumped back into Jaxon. Report. Sarnos. Continue later. These were keywords, a code between the two of them.

“I am still curious about this mysterious task you have for me. Must you submit the report now?”

“It is not a very important report, but you know how Sarnos is. I must file it immediately.” Immediately. That confirmed the code. Korath turned his head just slightly, looking more serious than any time since Jaxon’s mother died.

Jaxon bowed his head slightly. “As you wish, Father. I will speak with you when you return home this evening.” With those words, Jaxon confirmed to his father that he understood the coded message.

With a nod of his head, Korath moved away in another direction. He did not move towards Torin, who continued practicing his forms.

Mind racing and heart pounding, Jaxon returned home as quickly as he thought he could without attracting attention. He wasn’t sure what message Torin’s movements had communicated to his father, but Jaxon knew the code his father had passed on to him.

They would leave Kazon tonight, disappearing like a wisp of breath on a cool spring morning, never to see their home again.

John Galt
November 6th, 2014, 06:24 PM
I would probably read on after reading this. Your title says "scene"; am I right in assuming this is only a part of chapter one?
I quite like it (though I read it with the information gleaned from your prologue). Regardless of the prologue, it's quite enjoyable and doesn't lag like fantasy often does.
Initially, I thought the 'fight' scene was checklist-y in that you did a sort of play-by-play thing (He did X. He did Y), but when I got to the part where he declares his actions in his head, I see why you did it; it reflects how he sees fighting. Very good job on that. If this was the unconventional thing, it works for me, though I'd be careful of doing it too often; similarly, you could use this by not using it (showing how unprepared Jaxon is for a given situation, for example).
Another unconventional thing I spotted was that you started in a "white room" in that you started with dialogue without any information about the scene; this isn't necessarily wrong, but it's definitely something to note and use with purpose. I suspect you may have a purpose in doing this; using "white room" makes the scene seem secretive or hidden, which is somewhat the case with their 'involvement'. If you did indeed do it on purpose, I commend you; even if you didn't, it's not glaring at all, which is great. Orson Scott Card did it in Ender's Game. (Despite he himself telling people not to).

You could pepper some description here and there, just to add some visual appeal, perhaps reveal a little character (by the way Jaxon describes things). There were some instances of "show don't tell"; when his shame is noted and when his attraction is noted, were the two I saw. If this is a novel, you can spend some words on showing a little more (showing his shame and his attraction).
I think, in the last line, "that night" would be correct (as opposed to "tonight"), being past tense.

Overall, a very nice piece. (tell me if I'm wrong about the unconventional thing you did).

Xan
November 6th, 2014, 07:56 PM
Thanks for the review! I'm glad you liked it :)

This is indeed only one of six scenes in the first chapter. 6.5k words seemed like a lot to ask people to read all at once, so I figured a scene would do. Eventually I may put up the rest of the chapter (also in chunks), but no more than that.

The fight scene was indeed my intentionally unconventional thing. I'm glad it worked for you! This is the only time it is done in the novel so far, as I'm on the fence about it.

If I'm being honest, the "white room" stems from my natural attitude as a reader: "description is boring, where's the action?" When I read an opening paragraph with nothing but description, I'm tempted to skim it. Especially if it happens at the start of every scene, or if there are multiple paragraphs of description. (I skimmed a lot of Tolkien ;) ). I tend to be very light on description in my writing in general, giving only what I think is necessary. Adding it in actually takes me far longer than any other editing task I perform...

I'm going to infer from your comments that the white room can work here, but not as often as I'm employing it in the rest of the novel. I kind of knew that, but adding in the level of description I should is so hard for me that I haven't gotten around to fixing it yet. Likewise with the couple of instances of telling (which I appreciated you pointing out).

I know it needs more description; are there any specific details/descriptions you wanted?

John Galt
November 6th, 2014, 08:33 PM
I know exactly what you mean; I hate description in reading too (I skimmed a lot when reading George Martin, a bit with Tolkien), and when I write I prefer to rely on my readers. The white room: It does work here, at least for me, but it can turn publishers/editors off so you should consider using it carefully and justifying it soundly, especially if you haven't been published yet.
Maybe a little for concise description for the staff; it can read as sci-fi with the military theme, so I don't know if I should picture a modern, factory-made staff, or a Gandalf staff. Perhaps some descriptions of the other characters because, at the moment, Jaxon looks like Loki in my mind and his father like Bernard Shaw (the philosopher). I find, though, I tend to ignore most descriptions of people when I read and form an image by their dialogue, but perhaps a guiding line to direct the reader to the basic appearance. I recently read The Crucible and (if you're familiar with the play) I imagined Proctor looking like a Herbert Hoover/Churchill mix, which is almost entirely wrong.
I too struggle with writing description, and most of my revisions are for description. Do whatever feels right for the story; don't add description just on my word/opinion.

This may be part one, but that "and they never returned" thing after "the signal" is intriguing enough to warrant this being a chapter in itself as it sparks my curiosity. Again, do as you see fit.