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Deus Militis - Soldiers of God - Request for some honest feedback.

It is time for me to share the first chapter of the first novel I wrote, but cannot find an agent to tempt with. It has been cut from 159,000 words to 102,000 words, and I now lay bare my soul for any of you good people who can find the time to read it, and in all probability rip to shreds my hard fought work. Something's not right, but I'm damned if i can figure out what. The leading protagonist is an English Crusader called Ralf de Capo and his main adversary is a French knight called Raynaud de Chauvigny. This first chapter introduces de Chauvigny first and gives the reader an idea of his mentality. De Capo is also introduced and I hope the antagonism between them is clear. From there the story proceeds to includes, battles, siege, tragic deaths and an ancient clay scroll that holds a secret the church want to hide.

The story is in two parts with part one set in the Holy Land. Part two is set in Kent and includes my fictionalised version of the siege of Rochester castle in 1264. 

I look forward with some trepidation to honest and blood curdling feedback

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  • Wow. Were they really so cruel? That is quite a piece. The writing is brilliant, you had me totally hooked from beginning to end. I’m so glad I didn’t live then, particularly as a peasant!

    I can’t imagine why literary agents aren’t interested, other people usually have better ideas than me on that. As a reader I was gripped. All I can imagine is that this period is not popular, or perhaps the rest is not as good as the beginning but, judging from the start I would buy it and whether I finished it or not I would give a copy to my brother in law who loves history books.

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    • Thanks Georgina. Very nice of you to say that. Very flattering. I believe the cruelty in the middle ages was worse than we realise, and I've tried to tone it down a bit. I don't think violence just for the sake of it makes good reading. It has to be part of the story, and there's enough violence in this one. I have tweaked it over the years, but I've never had any critical reviews as yet. Not that I want any, but I'm sure someone will tell me if I'm doing something wrong. Maybe you're right, wrong period and not popular. Never mind, I'll just keep trying. The book is on Amazon and Smashwords and the first 8 chapters are available on Amazon and 25% of the entire book on Smashwords. I'm not sure how many chapters I can keep putting on here for feedback without becoming something of a nuisance, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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    • Actually, if you’re interested I can gift the book to you and you can read it for free. Just send me your email address and it’s yours. Smashwords will send you an email and explain how to access it. I would then be pleased to get an honest opinion of the story as a whole.

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      • Brilliant, that is very kind. I’ll message you my email address. When I told my husband I was thinking of sending on to his brother he said he’d like to read it too. So, looks like 3 of us are going to be reading this one. Thanks.

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      • Hi Jonathan.

        I suspect, from your opening paragraph, I know the reason for at least half the agent rejections you have received.

        Your first sentence runs to 62 words. it also shifts perspective - jarringly - five times. And all it tells us is "they were killed by men who pray to a different God." Then, within that parapgraph, you pass judgement on the scene and behaviour of your 13th century characters with 21 century sensibilities. You are not giving us the scene from within their heads. You are not colouring it with their justifications.

        In effect, you are telling us - not showing us - that we are supposed to hate de Chauvigny. Even though you open the book in his POV. This telling rather than showing persists through the entire excerpt.

        Now, I presume from your summary that you are going mostly for a close third person POV, rather than omniscient. Yet, in the second section, you pick up from de Chauvigny's perspective, transitioning part way through to Ralf's.

        There are also weaknesses within the dialogue. For example, the line "Your looks have been improved, there are women who prefer their men scarred. Perhaps you should thank the man who marked you." would read better if it were shorter and punchier, more to the point, without the grammatical dressing. Say: "Hmm. An improvement. Maybe it'll earn you a woman. Have you thanked the bastard who marked you?"

        That said, your writing generally is decent. You appear to understand the space your action occupies (what can happen in given timeframes,) which is an issue I see with many people's offerings.

        If I were going to look to strengthen this piece, I would probably scrap the first half, writing the whole thing from Ralf's very tight POV. Starting away from the masacre, with the urgency to get to it: Time was of the essence… A reference to why he suspects something's amiss, the pressure of distance and heat, then coming upon the scene. And, because you're tight in Ralf's POV, that allows a description of the scene, and a (moralistic) rejection of de Chauvigny's behaviour. It provides a connection between the reader and Ralf, and also sows natural seeds for the reader to hate de Chauvigny.

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        • Interesting and helpful. I'm not sure what you mean about shifting perspective five times in the first sentence. I can only assume you see something I don't, but then I've read it so much I sometimes think I get blind to the obvious. I'm certainly not trying to use 21st century sensibilities, I'm just trying to set the scene and get the reader to imagine what they would be looking at. As for scrapping the first half, I think that might be a good idea. I've never been 100% happy with the way chapter one has opened, and I have tried various ways, but always with de Chauvigny. You've given me food for thought and I thank you for the honest feedback. Much to consider. Thanks.

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          • Here's my perspective-breakdown of that first sentence: Lifeless eyes [dead people] stared at the vultures hovering in silence on the high winds [vultures in the sky] above the scene of the massacre in the Valley of Souls, [an entire valley] a fitting place for the headless corpses [dead people again] that lay rotting in the blistering heat, the result of a savage attack [back in time to violence] by men who believe that death is the only redemption for those who pray to a different God [characters' mindset].

            There's no single directionality to this. By directionality, I mean stepping down, bit by bit, from wide-angle to tighter focus, to an individual, and finally into the person's mind. (Harry wrote a post about this subject a while back - I beleive the header image was a couple walking on a largely deserted beach, if you want to go a-looking for it.)

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            • Thanks for the breakdown. Might be a bit deep for me, but I appreciate the feedback and something to consider.

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            • Hi Jonathan - I attach my thoughts on your opening. Hope they're helpful, but as usual they are just my opinions so use what feels right to you and discard the rest.

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              • Thank you. Again very interesting and certainly some points to think about. 

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                • Hi Jonathan. I am no expert and can't give such detailed writerly feedback as the likes of Rick and Kate. (I learn lots for my own writing by reading their feedback on other people's). However, my first impression was that the opening sentence was long enough to get lost in. That was a shame because once we progressed towards the meeting between the 2 main characters it became clear that a great story could be developing. They were well written and the tension built nicely. I agree with what you said that violence for the sake of it is not good reading and I don't think you did use violence for the sake of it. It illustrated the barbaric times and the mentality of de Chauvigny. I think with a good hard edit to get to the meeting between the two of them sooner it will be a better read to pull the readers in. As I said, I am no expert, just my little thoughts.

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                  • Thank you. More to think about. 

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                    • It's an interesting read, but I would say in regards to this chapter being in Chauvigny POV it does not read that way at all. Actually, it reads more like a biased outsider. Most likely, he thinks he's correct/right, doing justice. That the 'heathens' deserve it. Would he consider that evil? It doesn't really get into his mentality more than a few brief glimpses.

                      I'd agree with Rick on starting it with Ralf's POV and going from there. You could throw in Chauvigny's reasons in through dialogue if you're wanting an insight to his mentality. (You do go in Ralf's POV through the bottom half of the chapter which also distanced me a bit from Chauvigny)

                      If you're still going to stick with Chauvigny (that is a handful to spell) I'd suggest dehumanizing the 'heathens'. Make it seem more than cruelty for cruelty sake (which, people do, do that but they usually have something fueling it/justifying it). He's not going to think it's evil and if he's going to be disgusted, it's going to be more with the 'heathens' than it is with his own actions against the heathens. He'd be viewing Ralf as the bad guy whose preventing justice or whatever. 

                      The reader will be able to figure out for themselves that Chauv is the bad guy (because the sympathy for the poor prisoners and victims, ouch), just in Chauv's POV he won't think like he's a bad guy because he would see Ralf as the bad guy. 

                      Outside of that, I think you do a pretty good job on setting up the future conflict and setting. Given, starting in Chauv's POV might be a bit odd unless you plan on swapping between the two (which I don't think you plan to?) since the reader doesn't have a reason to care and the first character they're introduced is usually the protagonist or someone on the side of the protagonist unless it's in a prologue. .

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                      • I want to introduce ethics to you. Battle, seems to be about pain, fear and anger, rather than strength, wisdom and courage, in this religious setting, where let us face it, they are all religious. When one is battle ready, of an Asian or Black persuasion, they are not as full of rage as perhaps the Caucasian male would be in the current fictional meta, but realize the problem to solve, of the violence, is more pertinent than the realism of the prose. And also, the only real folk are soldiers, everyone else is just subservient to them. Citizens verse Civilians, that's an interesting discussion. 

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                        • I would like to thank all of you who have read and supplied your views. You're a scary lot, but honest, and it is exactly what I needed. While I can't agree with everything that has been said, I will most certainly take everything into account. Some things didn't even occur to me, but that's the point of this isn't it? Now, once I stop screaming and drag my sorry head out of the hole I dug for myself I need to crack on. Lots to consider and I feel a lot more work ahead, and if I could call on you again in the future, I would be much obliged.

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