Our third submission for First Impressions is a YA sci-fi/fantasy titled THE DWELLERS from Mary O’Donnell.
By time the world listened, the pain was too much to bear. A new dawn had risen above them that cast a shadow so large that the sun couldn’t fight it. Now all there was to do was become something else, a dweller.
It was a cold winter, and Merrow didn’t want to be out in it longer than she had to be. Her thin coat was a gift given out of love, but it wasn’t as warm. Bright torches led her way through the moist cave as they made the dust within the walls sparkle like the diamonds she had seen up in the sky. The cave seemed to go on forever, and that only fed Merrow’s fear. She didn’t know why she had to come here, this forbidden place. All she did know was that you didn’t ignore a dying wish, especially from an elder. The light ahead became warmer and brighter as she walked. A smile crossed her face, Merrow was only ten, but that was old enough to know that warmth kept them alive in winters like this. The opening widened and there were places made for sitting cut of the rocks all around a large fire that came from the very depths of the earth.
“Your footsteps are loud. Do you have nothing to hide child?”
Merrow recognized this man, he used to lead them many moons ago. It took her breath away to know that a man who had been dead since before she had ever been thought of was here, and talking to her. Donn didn’t look like a ghost to Merrow. She couldn’t see through him, and there was dirt over his shaggy black hair and beard. His leather winter wraps that protected him from the cold looked solid enough for her to reach out and touch it. Merrow stayed where she was, taking slow and careful breaths.
“No, there is nothing left for me to lose,” Merrow said, standing tall, her shoulders rigid. Her fear didn’t show, which she was glad of. It was only her pride that gave her away.
This is an intriguing beginning, and as far as the content is concerned, I’d definitely turn the page to read more. It was easy to connect with Merrow. She’s cold, but walking toward warmth. She’s afraid, but honoring someone’s last request. She’s going someplace strange and forbidden – where she finds it remarkable to meet a dead man, but not entirely shocking. More like, she knew to expect this but found the reality of it different than anticipated.
I’m going to focus on editing. There are several places where pronouns are used without a discernible referent, most notably in the second sentence: A new dawn had risen above them … We don’t know who them refers to. And because we don’t know, we also don’t know the subject of this sentence: Now all there was to do was become something else, a dweller. Personally, I’d remove the reference to them and leave out that next sentence altogether. Introduce us to the concept of dwellers somewhere else.
Another place where them is not identified is in this phrase warmth kept them alive in winters like this, and although I know they means the torches in this sentence -- Bright torches led her way through the moist cave as they made the dust within the walls sparkle – something about the phrasing struck me as wrong. Maybe: The bright torches that led her way through the moist cave made the dust within the walls sparkle … or some other rephrasing?
Here we have an incomplete simile: Her thin coat was a gift given out of love, but it wasn’t as warm. I think Mary means the coat is not as warm as the love which prompted the gift, but rephrasing would make that more clear. There are also a couple comma splices in here – places where two complete sentences are incorrectly joined with a comma – and another place where a comma is used for a compound predicate and should not be.
Mary, thanks for sharing your first page with us! I think with a little editing and adjustment of the language, you’ll have an excellent opener. Readers, what do you think?
Don’t forget to check out Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same page at Mainewords.