Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Potential New Prologue to The Shard

I like the way my book opens now, but I do think I could make it even better. I want something to make my main character, the minor noble Midas, have a more intense personal issue to tackle right off the bat. In the story as it goes now, I have him agonizing between wanting to raise his two teenage sons properly and train them to be great warriors and leaders versus his desire to keep them safe. I have been toying with the idea of him having had an older son who was killed, thus increasing the potency of this conflict.

There are a few reasons this needs to be a prologue. One is that the POV character is not one of the POV characters from the main story. The main reason, though, is that this event takes place about three years prior to the start of my main story.

I am concerned about the use of flashbacks, since I have not really used them before and I don't know if I pull it off successfully here. Any feedback is appreciated. It should go without saying that I retain all rights to my work, but just in case, I am stating it here!

Potential New Prologue

     Two white moons, the larger half full and the smaller just a sliver, shone through the bare branches of the willows, though the sun had not yet set. Miros sniffed and caught a hint of smoke in the crisp autumn air. He tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword and felt the first tingles of apprehension as he watched Dalthis slither forward another pace and gaze down into the rocky dell.

     Five men-at-arms crouched nearby, along with old Sir Meldon, who had trained Miros and his younger brothers in the knightly arts for as long as Miros could remember. All wore the red and black checker pattern of Welby on their surcoats. Off to the right, Miros saw his father Midas glance over at him and wink. Miros smiled in return. The apprehension remained but was nearly overpowered by the pride that welled up in his breast. His father had never before included him in a dangerous undertaking. I’m fifteen now; it’s past time, he thought.

     That morning three villagers had arrived at the small keep in Welby, begging to see Midas, their liege lord. Steward Larken led them to the great hall where Midas’s family and retainers were breaking their fast. After Larken whispered in his ear, Midas beckoned to the villagers to join them at the table. The two men looked relieved and found open spaces on the nearest bench, but the woman, her graying black hair in tangles around eyes red from weeping, ran forward and dropped to her knees near Midas, her hands clutching at his breeches.

     “Please, milord,” she said. “My son. Please help us.”

     Midas took her hands and raised her to her feet. “None of that,” he said. “I’m not the king. Here…sit down.” Midas sat next to her on the bench and placed an arm about her shoulders. “Your son? Go on.”

     The woman wiped her eyes with the hem of her cloak and met Midas’s gaze. “He’s gone, milord. Taken. Just like the sheep.”

     Midas glanced at the two men who had arrived with the woman. The better dressed of the two stood and sketched a bow. “It’s like she says, milord. A couple of sheep went missing two days ago. All the land round our hamlet’s tended ‘cept a small willow wood, so we figured some bandits might’ve taken up in the hollow down in the ravine in the woods. Ain’t none of us warriors, so we was afraid to go look.” The man pointed at the woman sitting with Midas. “Then Mavvy’s boy didn’t come home after play yestereve. We came straight here first thing.”

     Midas had agreed to bring some men immediately to try to find the boy. Miros was thrilled when his father nodded to him and told him to get ready. As he leaped up to go prepare his equipment, his mother beckoned him close, enfolded him in her arms, and whispered to him to be careful and obey his father. His two younger brothers pressed in to grasp his arm each in turn, envy and excitement warring on their faces. His youngest brother Alekas grinned ruefully at him and said, “It’s probably the only chance any of us will get. There’s never any danger around here.”

     It was true. Except for some problems with the barbarian tribes beyond the wall of mountains to the east, the Known Lands had been at peace for eight centuries. The tiny province of Welby hadn’t had anything more troubling than a few bandit attacks during Miros’s life, though he did recall a pack of wolves once taking some chickens and sheep from a hamlet on the border with Vimar Keep. Perhaps it’s wolves again. Would wolves take a boy?

     Now as he shivered at the mouth of the ravine, Miros wished that it had been wolves or even bandits or goblins. Dalthis, his father’s captain of the guard, was a splendid tracker. When the villagers showed them the pasture from which the sheep had disappeared, it hadn’t taken Dalthis long to find the tracks. Midas looked shocked when he knelt down near Dalthis to inspect an imprint in the yellowed grass. He shook his head and muttered something Miros couldn’t hear. When Miros joined his father he paled at what he saw--a print far larger than anything he had ever seen before.

     His father glanced at him and clapped a hand to his shoulder. “A troll.”

     Miros shuddered. Few creatures were more dangerous and cunning than trolls. He’d heard stories of them his whole life, but trolls never came this far into the civilized regions of the Known Lands. How did one manage to get all the way here? All Miros knew was that any trolls remaining in the realm lived far to the east near the Hellisgaard Mountains that separated the Known Lands from the wilds. He thought about the young boy who had vanished and shivered again. I don’t think this will end happily.

     The woods, mostly willow but with a scattering of oak and ash, were not far from the pasture; it had taken less than an hour to approach the ravine at the center of the thicket. Miros watched intently as Dalthis slid back from the edge and huddled with Midas.

     “I can’t see the hollow from here,” Dalthis whispered, “but there’s a fire going.”

     Midas looked at each of his men, his gaze settling on Miros last. He tugged at his graying brown beard. “Should’ve brought more men. I’m not sure we can handle this with just nine of us.”

     Dalthis shrugged. “Six of us have bows, milord. I think we can take him.”

     Midas turned his gaze to the moons and remained silent for a minute. “At least that red moon’s not up; should bring us luck.” He tugged at his beard again. “All right, let’s give it a try. But I don’t want anyone closing with him. We’ll lure him out and use our bows.”

     Miros’s heart began to thump so hard he wondered that it didn’t burst in his chest. He forced himself to breathe deeply as he strung his bow.

     “Son, I want you to move back to those boulders,” Midas said, pointing to a spot well back from the ravine.

     Miros felt his breath catch in his throat. He looked into Midas’s eyes. “Father, I can--”

     Midas tilted his head slightly and tightened his stare, an expression that Miros knew well. It meant, Don’t argue with me right now.

     Miros looked at the ground. “Yes, father.”

     “Give your bow to Sir Meldon.” Midas turned and crawled back to where Dalthis was giving instructions to the men-at-arms.

     Miros handed his bow to Sir Meldon, who tousled Miros’s hair and said, “Next time. This one’s too dangerous.”

     Miros watched Meldon move to join the others, then turned and stalked toward the tumble of boulders his father had pointed to. He felt relief mix with his disappointment. Trolls were nothing to be messing with. This thought made him worry about his father. He turned to watch, leaning his right arm against the largest boulder.

     Sir Meldon and the men-at-arms had the bows and were skirting the eastern edge of the ravine in order to get a better view of the hollow. Midas had drawn his sword and taken up his shield. He stood chatting quietly with Dalthis.

     So intent was Miros on watching what was happening in front of him that it took a few moments for him to realize that something didn’t feel right. The woods had fallen silent around him. He heard a slight scuffing sound. A jolt of fear spiked through his chest. His training screamed at him to dive forward, but his instincts betrayed him and he whirled around instead.

     He saw his death standing before him. The troll was enormous, at least four paces tall, and wider than any two men. Miros glimpsed rusty chainmail, matted hair, and two large fangs thrusting up from a jutting lower jaw, but his eyes focused mainly on the huge iron maul the monster was holding up over its head.

     I should’ve dived, he thought. He knew he couldn’t avoid being crushed by the maul. Time seemed to slow, and despite his terror Miros felt his mind clear. He looked back toward his father. Midas was looking at Miros with a stricken look in his eyes, his face drained of blood, one hand reaching out, and his mouth just opening to scream. In that last second before he died, Miros felt the fear drain out of him, replaced by the anguish of knowing his beloved father’s heart was breaking.


  1. Hi Ted. I just followed you over from AW where you commented on my 99 followers challenge. I like your blog. I've skimmed through a bunch of posts and like what you have to say.

    As to your prologue, it shows that you know this world well. 20 years, did you say? You seem quite comfortable and the writing comes across as very natural.

    I'm still not sure what a prologue really is. I've always thought it was something that comes before the story, kind of a way of explaining, or setting up the story, but not actually a part of the story. But what you've written seems very much part of the story.

    It is intriguing, and I was concerned for Miros at the end. For a moment I thought it was a bad idea to invest the reader in a character that dies in the beginning, but then, I thought maybe it's setting up Midas's story.

    Only you know that, but that's what I thought when I finished.

    It was a bit heavy with characters for a beginning, but very well written.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Matt. Yes, this is to set up Midas as the main character, and since this takes place 3 years before the main story, that is why I felt it needed to be a prologue. I am open to criticisms, though, and ready to change if someone convinces me that there is a better way to do it.

  3. Oh, nice. I'm a habitual critiquer, and while I only came by to say I liked your comment on Nathan's blog, I'm really drawn into this. But it's late and I'm watching a movie - my kids hate it when I get distracted by the computer while spending time with them - so I'm going to favorite this and come back in a day or two.

    No, lunch tomorrow; hopefully. If that's OK with you. I'm really interested, and want to really read this and give the comment it deserves; from what I'm read so far.


  4. I really appreciate it, Donna, and anyone else who comments. Don't hold back on any flaws/opinions/issues. I can't make things better if I don't see where there is a problem.

  5. 1. very exciting beginning. very exciting story.
    2. too many characters in the first few paragraphs. perhaps make more description of the lands, the people, the weather, the clothes, the thoughts of characters... so as to space out the introduction of characters.
    3. thoughts of Miros come too abruptly --- it's not clear that they are his: "I’m fifteen now; it’s past time."... "I don’t think this will end happily"... perhaps add "Mros thought,..."... there appears to be a conflict between POV of the narrative and these sudden thoughts (italized).
    4. the italized sentence regarding the troll: "How did one manage to get all the way here?" is rather vague in all areas ("one" troll?, "manage to get" in what way exactly --- by bus?, "all the way" means how far or from where?)verb, noun, meaning)... particularly, the reader is piqued: what's so difficult or wrong for a troll to come to civilized land?
    5. should the "D" be capitalized in "It meant Don’t argue with me right now"?
    6. finally, the last sentence is intriguing but not sufficiently shocking (Miros is DEAD!!!): "In that last second before he died, Miros felt the fear drain out of him, replaced by the anguish of knowing his beloved father’s heart was breaking." perhaps completely leaving out "In that last second before he died"? --- this will create a question for the reader as to what happened, and the reader will only learn later that Miros is died?

  6. another thought: i wouldn't mind learning more about Miros --- how he felt about the current situation, what kind of relationship he had with his father and the soldiers, what previous "action" he had in life...

  7. Hi Gary, I added a 'he thought' to the first time, though this kind of 'thoughts as italics' is pretty standard, such as in Stephen King. I can't really get too much into Miros as he dies and is not a big part of the main story other than as an emotional catalyst. You do get to know his two younger brothers very well in the book.

    One thing about your comments re too many names or the troll being far out of its normal territory: since I am writing from the direct point of view of a single character, the writing must be true to that character's honest viewpoint. I can't go into detail about why the troll is far from home, because that is not something passing through the mind of the POV character. All I can hope to do is build up enough detail for readers through the continuing point of view snapshots.