Jump to content

19 December 2011 - Rayonn - An Eye in Time, chapter 1 - L


Recommended Posts


My first submission is the first chapter of an alternate history/science fantasy novel called 'An Eye in Time'. (The title refers to the town of Eye, Suffolk, but I'm open to suggestions for one that is not an unintentional WoT reference).

Note: some of the details need to be revised for historical verisimultude, and some of the minor characters may be subject to name-changes.

I went ahead and tagged this with an L; however there is no stronger language than 'd---'.

Thanks in advance for any critiques.


Link to comment
Share on other sites


-My first thoughts are, I don’t really know where this story is going with time travel. My first red alarm was that, if you are going to make a history/parallel story about English history, make darn well certain you know about the period. Let me just say, its going to be VERY HARD to incorporate Edward, Henry, and Elizabethan time periods all together succinctly without already having a broad knowledge on them. I read your email preface and saw you needed research work to be done. I might ask, are you English already? Or are you American? I would just like to know, honestly, because at times the writing seems like it was American viewing the old English (particularly the dialogue), and by old I mean the Henry and Elizabethan era. Its going to be VERY hard to convince your audience (who might be English buffs) that your characters are from that world if you don’t already know about it. I just want to say this now, if you don’t know what those times were like; I wouldn’t advise setting the protagonist’s world in that time. Like I said, I don’t know if you are English or not, but unless you know any substantial information on the Elizabethan time period, don’t set it in that time period. From what I read alone, it wasn’t accurately set during those times (even though I know you said the information wasn’t there, the rough writing didn’t even seem realistic to me). And if it was, it was just a caricaturization of how they acted then. I know you think this stuff can be found out later, but its just going to make it that much harder for you. In a story where historical accuracy matters, this is already a glaring hole.

-About the characters; now I think Hughes is our protagonist. There are times when Hughes is just a supporting character to the cast. But later, it seems as if Hughes and Williams are the major characters. I would say, write the opening in one of their viewpoints (third person limited of course). (And if you did it didn’t seem they were the viewpoint character) Tell us the story of mother on the bed, telling stories, but give us access to Hughes’s or Williams’s thought on it. I almost thought for awhile that their story was hijacked by Carrie or one of the sisters. I know that you were trying to write a sentimental scene there, my biggest suggestion is show us why her oncoming sentimentality is substantial to Hughes. Why is this story memorable? Does she only remember it at certain times? Does she have poor memory? Is there a reason why she remembers this story now? I feel like if you give us those answers, it won’t just feel like a throwaway story about how things used to be, but that it serves a purpose.

-I think what you did well was the story about the Bridgeborn. I really liked this concept, that people were born of a certain time periods by two different members of times. I can’t make this clearer enough, THIS IS A GREAT CONCEPT. Build on it, make this the catch all of your story. How you described Hughes and Williams traveling through the time bridge was the best part of the narrative, but I didn’t understand why they were doing it. Why were they going there? And also, what is the purpose between the bridge of worlds? Is it the purpose of making worlds perfect? Who is governing the bridge? And don’t tell me that we find out later, we need to find out now. These sorts of answers at least, need to be made clear in the first chapter. Very interesting concept though.

Like always, I hope this is helpful. I look forward to your next chapter. 


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I might ask, are you English already? Or are you American? I would just like to know, honestly, because at times the writing seems like it was American viewing the old English (particularly the dialogue), and by old I mean the Henry and Elizabethan era.

Yeah, I'm American.

Regarding the dialogue, I was trying to avoid modernisms with sounding overtly archaic (especially since the characters are mostly native French speakers, and would have learned English in the States), but I guess I failed at that. Will fix.

Also, I'll change the chapter to make it clearer, but the Malloys are from the 11th century, several of the other characters (Elizabeth Malloy and Reverend Harrison) are 19th century Americans, and they are currently in the midwestern US, late 20th century. (This is the problem with alpha readers who already know your story--they don't catch things like that.) Hopefully my historical details don't seem so egregiously bad in this context.

And the second scene scene (with Elizabeth telling the story) is supposed to be from Sarah's PoV, guess I need to state that outright.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What is Gilbert's wealth? My impression of a medieval setting is that a lord's wealth is largely the land he owns; and 11th century money won't exactly convert easily.

How old is Hugh? 16?

1979 - is this world supposed to be like ours? Because it wasn't common to carry a weapon in 1979. Concealed carry laws were basically nonexistent at the time so people didn't lawfully carry at all. They would probably have either a 1911 model gun or something like a Walther p38 or a Browning Hi-Power, as Glock hadn't yet introduced their first modern-style pistol and triggered that particular trend. Since Hugh put his in a pocket it's probably something smallish like a P38. (If I read this wrong and it's not supposed to be 1979, make sure your "midwestern state" isn't Illinois or you'll have the same problem with legality - though nobody lets a teenager walk around with a gun in his pocket.)

I liked the scene with Elizabeth and her daughters.

The big "I am having trouble with believing this" bit is the 20th century American end. Either everyone there knows about the Bridge in which case it should be a really big deal - like, the government came in and confiscated the land and manages things - or no one does in which case the knights wandering around really should attract a lot of attention.

Also I'm not convinced that the characters you say were debating whether it's parallel worlds or a single timeline have the background to have that kind of understanding. It seems a bit of a stretch that a native of the 11th century could get past "it's magic" or "it's a miracle" to discuss quantum theory and paradoxes. Is there a way to convey this to the reader without having the characters wonder it?

Why is the brother "Robert Malet" while the family is the Malloys?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Time travel. The others raised some valid points about that and the chapter that I fully agree with. It’s a risky thing to write about because you need to know a lot, not only about the places the story takes place, but also the cultures and what effects they have on the people from them. Mashing three different cultures, spanning times, is not something that should be undertaken lightly. So take care.

I’ll add that for me the chapter was mostly confusing. I didn’t get that it was time travel until the end of the second page. During the first two pages I kept trying to figure out when the story was taking place and failing. I got that it was a hospital, but with the initial references to knights sparring I thought we were in some sort of medieval hospital – which didn’t make sense, because they didn’t have hospitals like we know them back then.

Even after I figured out there’s time travel involved (which was also proven unfound since it’s actually alternate dimensions) there were still confusing bits until I finally got that the characters are from three different eras. I like this concept, especially the Bridgeborn, but I think you need to make this clearer right from the start. When I’m confused this early in the story I’m liable to put the book down, despite how great it might turn out in the end.

While I liked the bridgeborn concept there’s still something that bothered me. I got to thinking about how this conglomeration of times got to be. Uncle Charles discovered the Bridge, and we have several children around who seem to be, at their oldest, twenty years old. Given that uncle Charles is still around and not infirm that gives about thirty to forty years given present day age estimates, for people from three different eras, with nothing in common, to travel together, form relationships that produce children, and successfully blend their societal views in such a way they can function in all the different eras. Maybe it’s just me, but I found this to be rather unlikely.

Aside from the confusion this chapter has one really big problem: I don’t care about any of it. I’m not hooked to the characters or the plot (nothing happens this chapter) and the bridgeborn concept (while interesting) is not enough. What I look for in a first chapter is character and conflict – why should I keep reading this book rather than another?

In terms of conflict there isn’t really anything of note. Yes, the mother is sick, this is a sad thing but it’s not enough. With characters you introduce a big cast, but as a result we don’t get to know any one of them well enough to form a connection. Why should I care about these characters? That’s a question that should really be answered as soon as possible. Make the POVs more personal – I didn’t get any individuality from them; you focus on the outside, what got the characters where they are, who the characters around them are, but you don’t address what’s inside – their emotions, ideas, thoughts, the things that make a viewpoint personal for a character.

The last thing I want to point out is pacing, since there simply is none here. Nothing happens in this chapter aside from the characters sitting in the hospital and you, the writer, telling the readers about the different characters, the existence of the bridge, a history of these particular bridgeborn and their families. You disguise a flashback / history infodump as a story told by the sick mother. I don’t care about these characters in their present. Why would I care about what happened in the past?

I think you should definitely introduce the Bridge as soon as possible, but the rest you can address when and if the characters are in those particular times or let it come up naturally as different cultural views clash. If I can make a suggestion I’d start with something like the third scene, having Hugh go to the bridge. This introduces the concepts of what you’re trying to do without first miring the reader in the slowness and info-dumpiness of the first two scenes. Introduce a conflict fast. Everything else you address in this chapter can be far more subtly addressed later in the story. We don’t need to know everything right from the start. Knowing about the bridge is enough, knowing about the bridgeborn (Hugh) is enough as background.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Others have covered many of my concerns, especially considering the strength of viewpoint, the clarity of the time-travel aspects, and getting to the conflict faster. Instead, I'll try to focus on a few other items I noticed.

The first part starts with a strong statement about cancer. How closely is it related to the rest of the story?

Right after the first statement, you pull back and things get very general, covering what Hugh did with his time. If you want to continue to show this, I would suggest more specific details to really get it going. It seemed as if you tried by describing the blow Sir Edric took, but even that wasn't well described. It also goes into an inventory of people and how they are reacting to the current waiting, which really slows down the story. It might be better to space out the introductions and save the reactions each one is showing for when they are specifically in the scene. Either that, or make it more explicit, such as Hugh detailing his family's reactions in order to avoid his own.

I will also mention one more technical item: I spotted a number of "was verbing" or similar constructs in the text. Some examples include "the waiting was taking its toll", "Hugh had seen", "had been showing her grief". Those could be, respectively, "the waiting took its toll", "Hugh saw how" or "Hugh noted" or "Hugh noticed', and "showed her grief". Each of these brings the action closer to the reader, instead of introducing a level of removal from them. I'm sure there's a name or label for it from English class that I'm forgetting, but you can hopefully see the effect in the examples.

Now, the biggest problem I have with this is the (pseudo) time travel. Not the fact that it is there, but how it isn't being used in your story. From the description at the end, there are many possibly places and times that the bridge may connect to. Why, then, is the family in the 20th century in order to have their mother treated for cancer? Why have they not found, or at least searched out, a more advanced location, one where there has been a better cancer treatment discovered. Heck, even 30 years into the future we understand how to treat cancer more effectively, even if our actual tools for treatment are similar to those before. Even if the people from the older times don't understand the implications of having the installation's computer talk to them, a modern traveler should. A rule of thumb might be, if your readers can figure out what is happening, then modern-day characters should be able to figure it out as well, unless there is a well-explained in-novel reason for them not to.

Related to this are the various other anachronisms that surface. I assume some of them were to demonstrate the differences between the times, but (for example), why would the household in the modern times expect Sarah to oversee the household? If there is some reason, it isn't given, and that makes me question some of the other decisions as well. Such as having the knights train and spare in the common area, where everyone can see -- even given the supposed wealth. Maybe especially given the supposed wealth, which could purchase them a private area in the countryside to practice, where they wouldn't be nearly so visible. Others have mentioned other concerns this makes me start questioning as well.

Like Asmodemon and ACharles78, I think that the Bridge and it's various regions may be the most compelling aspect to the story, but right now it appears to be a sidelight, not the main setting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm very worried that this story will prove difficult to tell.

I mean, the initial premise is nice, but when I start to think about the implications, I only find questions and not solutions.

For one thing, the juxtaposition of modern characters and very archaic ones makes for a hell of storytelling. You can have a book describing Normans, and use almost modern terms there, but as soon as you introduce characters from two different times, you have to show their differences. Someone from the 11th century wouldn't even understand someone from the modern era (he's speaking like in Beowulf if he's English, and the Normans spoke an entirely different dialect than other French people, both of these being completely different from modern French). From what I've seen, your characters don't sound like they came from a different time at all.

Uchronia are notoriously difficult to write, needing massive research, and I find your text lacking there. Some of the terms or scenes you evoke didn't even exist back in the 11th century. "Sir", for example, is a much more recent denomination. At this time, "Sir Eric", would have been called "Suffolk" (assuming he ruled over all Suffolk). In the same vein, an 11th century lord wouldn't know a thing about dancing (even the basic court dances started around 1300). Can you imagine a Norman warrior falling in a Jane Austeen novel, trying to seduce a lady by dancing? The whole idea seems a little comical. You also have to show us how much religion colors their view. You had a nice try with their priest being around, but it wasn't much.

Then, I have other fears. Those are not about the execution so far; they're rather about the implications of your idea. Others have mentioned questions (like why didn't they go forward in time to cure their mother), but I find myself wondering how someone constantly switching between different times can even make the necessary adjustments. Imagine yourself going back to 11th Suffolk. You have to change language, and culture and stick to it. At the first slip, people will believe you are mad. They will suspect you of witchcraft, and you may find yourself in a very difficult situation real fast. I hope you have thought about all those little (or not so little) things.

Something else always bothers me with time travel : why is everyone assuming that while you're in one timeline the other timelines go on and that you have to hurry if you don't want too much time to pass in your original time. I mean, if your bridge links points in time, why aren't they fixed points? Why aren't you going back at the instant you left in the first place?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

Does anyone have any ideas for how I might tell this story? The learning curve for this setting is very steep, and I can't see a good way to fix that. I already thought I was infodumping too much, then you all asked a lot of questions which I know the answers to but didn't give them in the text. (For example, Gilbert is rich in the 20th century world because he and Charles founded an oil and natural gas company there, not because of anything to do with his holdings in England.)

One solution I'm trying in a new draft is using a first-person narrator who is writing a history of these events some time after the fact. The narrator, Lewis, is one of the three main characters (the others being Hugh and Sarah Malloy) but doesn't enter the story as a character until about a third of the way through. He's a scholar, originally from the 20th century, and treats the story as a biography of Hugh--he's talked with as many of the characters as he can, and writes from a semi-omniscient viewpoint, stopping occasionally (as the scene warrants) to comment on the events. I've got a prologue written from this POV (I'll probably submit it later) and I like it so far, but it looks like it's going to be ridiculously difficult to write. I might just set this aside until I have more experience.

What do y'all recommend?

EDIT: Clarified that the first-person narrator would be a new version of the story. The draft I submitted was always intended to be third-person limited.

Edited by Rayonn
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What do y'all recommend?

Here are two possibilities.

One, I recently read Born to Run, a wonderful nonfiction book (that I'd recommend to many people). In it, the author starts by introducing the reader to the question that had set him on his journey. It is a very nonlinear book to read, jumping all over the place and digressing into many related topics. However, the initial question was enough to get me reading the first few chapters, and he slowly expands the scope to include more and more questions and mysteries. You might try relating your book like that, treating it almost as a fictional memoir (or biography) and directly introducing a question to be discovered through the reading of the book.

The other alternative is character. If you can really get us rooting for a character, and quickly show how his circumstances may be in doubt, you can get readers continuing on to figure out what happens next to the character. If done well, you can introduce more information a bit before it's needed, in order to let the reader properly appreciate the next obstacle that is coming.

Another similar possibility, strongly related to this, is voice. You say that eventually there's an "I" showing up. I would think you want to introduce that right away, because it will clear up some POV confusion and allow more flavor into the text. If you do this, you may want to consider a flashback to get the backstory as needed, rather than starting at the beginning (such as there is one in a time travel story) and moving forward from there. I don't usually recommend this, since I think the default order should be chronological, but your story might demand it. If you can introduce the narrator and a conflict that is somewhat understandable, you might be able to jump back for a chapter or two to present information that the narrator isn't present at, but written in the all-knowing viewpoint, which deepens the understanding of the conflict. The book I mentioned at the beginning, Born to Run, has many chapters that are presented in exactly that way, with the narrator just saying what happened, even though it becomes obvious that he couldn't have been there (and likely spent many hours interviewing the people that were).

A third alternative, which I'll suggest just to keep the options open, is to move on to another story for a while. It could be one completely different, or one set in the same world but telling a different aspect of it. Perhaps that will let you lead up to how to tell this story.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...