First 500 Words: The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith

I recently signed up for the free trial of Kindle Unlimited (hashtag notsponsored) and, after finishing Lindsay Ellis’ new book and Will Wight’s new book, I realized that there wasn’t anything in particular that I wanted to read next. So, I went through the fantasy section of Kindle Unlimited. I really just wanted a female author with a female protagonist, and this was the first book title that jumped up that I thought looked promising.

Original First 500 Words:

Her eyes rested above the waterline as a moth struggled inside her mouth. She blinked to force the wings past her tongue, and a curious revulsion followed. The strangeness of it filtered through her toad brain until she settled on the opinion that it was best to avoid the wispy, yellow-winged ones in the future.

Unperturbed, she propelled herself into the murky shallows to nestle among the reeds. As her body absorbed the late-season sun sieving through the half-naked trees, she let her eyelids relax. But with the sun’s energy came new hunger. She swiped a forelimb across her mouth and considered hunting for snails along the mud bank when a second peculiarity pricked her instinct. Shapes and colors intensified in her vision, and not merely by a seasonal trick of the light. A brown leaf fluttered onto a ripple of black water. A silver fish with pink gills nibbled at an insect just beneath the surface. A dragonfly zipped across the pond, a blaze of neon green.

Her toad brain latched on to the insect’s emerald color and held it in its cortex like an amulet even as her nostrils filled with the sudden stink of fish slime and putrid muck. How had she not noticed the stagnant, vile smell of the shallows before? A muddy chill needled her leathery skin, prodding her to back out of the foul water.

The skin. It was time to shed again.

The shudder began involuntarily, as it had once a week since her toad memory began. Her body writhed, compelled by an uncontrollable urge as the outer layer of skin stretched and lifted, sloughing loose from feet, back, and tender belly. Tugging and twisting with her forelimbs, she pulled the spent casing over her head like a woman removing a sheer nightgown. Then she gathered the wad of skin in her mouth and began to swallow. Yes, she must always remember to do that, though the reason flickered just outside her grasp.

She blinked hard, maneuvering the skin deeper into the gullet, when a queer stirring in the bones halted her midswallow. Her insides churned and tumbled, and she coughed the skin back up. A lacerating sting, like claws tearing into flesh, gripped her hunched back. Panic ignited her instincts. Jump! Back to the water before Old Fox takes another toe with his teeth! But then her other mind, the one that had been wrapped and tucked away like a jewel deep within her subconscious, snapped awake. The hidden emerald of intelligence recognized the pain for the sign of hope that it was. It had her hold steady even as a fissure opened along her spine, agony nearly splitting her in two.

Splayed toes dug into the mud as four phalanges morphed into five, elongating joint by joint. A human face pressed beneath the speckled skin, forcing the toadish nostrils and mouth to tear and peel away. The metamorphosis accelerated. Shoulders, arms, and stomach grew. Brown hair, slick with a sort of

What Works:

The description of the book says that it’s about a witch who awakens from a curse to find her world is a total mess (my synopsis of the synopsis). I was down, so I sent it to my Kindle app and read the first chapter. For me, a first chapter should be action-oriented (not like a fight scene or anything, but something other than the MC sitting around, thinking — or waking up and getting ready for their day, or a few lines of a cool action scene followed immediately by the author backing up to tell us how we got here and starting with the MC thinking or getting ready for her day — uuuuuuugggggghhhh!). So, to find the MC in the middle of the curse wearing off, was great!

The next thing I look for is vivid and evocative language, so the first sentence being, “Her eyes rested above the waterline as a moth struggled inside her mouth.” Yes. I’m instantly transported to another location, inside another body, with an unexpected physical sensation. There are a few things I can be right now, but toad springs to mind, and that guess is confirmed in the same paragraph. So, something mystical is happening, but I pretty much immediately have a grip on what it is. The author doesn’t leave me to wallow in suspense or confusion.

Also, as the POV character starts to transform, the action is coherent, without losing the mood of the scene. There are a lot of ways to start off a book well, and this is one of them. Especially having read a brief description of the book, I understood that I was reading a curse wearing off of a witch, but I was intrigued by the author’s way of handling it. As a reader, it’s easy enough to find stories with interesting premises, but it can be more of a challenge to find an author who, from the the first sentence, draws me in and compels me to keep reading. More often, I have to be patient and give the author the benefit of the doubt that they’ll get to an interesting part — soon, hopefully. Figuring out how to start a story is hard, so I do try to be patient with the first couple of chapters, but the author immediately gained my confidence in her by having her first chapter written so well.

What Needs Work:

Not much. Maybe a few wording things, like the toad blinking in order to swallow. Is that a toad thing? They swallow as they blink? (After a quick Google search, yes. Yes, they do. So, I would maybe make that a bit more clear, even if it took a few more words.)

Also, I’m not sure why, if the toad has to re-swallow its shed skin every week, why does doing so only break the curse this time? Has the witch forgotten to swallow the skin every other week? That’s not clear.

Honestly, there aren’t enough flaws with the writing for me to re-write this, so this is my first First 500 where I won’t even try. I probably wouldn’t even have shared this except that I really liked it. I think it’s important to point out that there isn’t one perfect way to start a story but, again, based on the description, this seems like the perfect way to start this story, so I can already see myself enjoying the rest.

First 500 Words: Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

So, Lindsay Ellis is one of my favorite YouTubers. She does video essays, mostly about popular fiction, movies, and TV shows. She’s smart, funny, and thought-provoking, and any time she uploads a video, I watch it as soon as possible. Her first novel debuted on July 21st, and I’ve been listening to it on Audible. I thought it might be fun to do a First 500 on her book. This is the first time I’ve chosen to do a book that I’ve a) purchased and b) actively wanted to read. I actually pre-ordered this in December of last year, I think.

In between chapters, there are “leaked memos” written by the MC’s father. I’m going to skip the one that precedes Chapter 1, partly because it’s so prologue-ish/foreshadowy that critiquing/editing it wouldn’t do much and partly because I prefer to just jump into the beginning of the story. Here are the first 500 words of Chapter 1:

On the morning of the second meteor, Cora’s 1989 Toyota Camry gave up the ghost for good. The car was a manual transmission with a stick shift its previous owner had wrapped in duct tape years ago, a time bomb the color of expired baby food that should have gone off sooner than it did. At $800, she had paid more for it than it was worth, but back then, she had been a freshman in college and desperate for a car. In the two years since, she’d grown accustomed to the ever-loudening squealing of the fan belt, but on this morning, after she put her key in the ignition and the engine turned, the squealing turned into a hostile screech. A disheartening thunk thunk thunk followed, then a snap, then an angry whirr, all before she could react. But by the time she turned off the ignition, it was clear that the car, her first and only car, was dead forever.

And she was already late for work.

As the Camry went into its final death throes, Demi, who was locking the front door on her way to work, froze mid-motion as she beheld the scene, wearing an expression of disappointment, but not surprise. Cora’s feeling of horror that this was even happening quickly hopped to embarrassment before settling into her old standby: numbness. She got out of the car, with no choice but to leave it on the street despite it being street cleaning day, approached her mother, and asked, “Can you give me a ride to work?”

Demi looked at her like she had just lost their house in a drunken bet. “Sure.”

It was the last word she said to Cora for about half an hour.

In short order, Cora was suffering the indignity of her mother driving her to work through the vehicular sludge of the 110. In any other circumstances, Demi would have told Cora she was shit out of luck, that she should have gotten the car fixed months ago, and that she could find her own damn way up to downtown LA. But it had been through PMT, the temp agency Demi worked for, that Cora had her temp job, and it had been Demi who had vouched for her. And so, here they were, crawling under the 105, Demi sacrificing her own punctuality for her negligent daughter’s.

“What happened to the $200 I loaned you?” asked Demi just after they passed Rosencrans, her anger now cooled enough that she was capable of speech. “You were supposed to replace the belt and get your hair done, and you have done neither.”

Cora resisted the urge to pull her hair behind her ears, as though that would hide her mess of a dye job. She’d bleached it blond several months ago, before she’d dropped out of college, but about six inches of her natural wet-hay hair color had grown in since.

“I had to use it for gas,” lied Cora, keeping her gaze

What Works: The book is set in 2007 and is centered around a young, college dropout who is estranged from her father who she thought was crazy but may actually be correct about the government trying to hide extraterrestrial visits from the public. Nice and angsty, and even though I like fantasy better than sci-fi, but I probably would have tried whatever genre of fiction Ellis put her hand to.

The way that the story starts is good in that we get to experience the strained relationship between the MC and her mother, a sense of her financial status, and overall priorities. Just after the first 500 words, we find out that Cora spent the money her mother lent her on a concert. She’s feeling disenfranchised and is ready to grasp at fleeting happiness, because of an assumption that investing in her future won’t pay out.

What Needs Work): There are a lot of wasted words. For instance, the first 500 words describes the MC’s car dying and needing to get a ride to work from her mother. This is a great start to the story because it gives the reader a glimpse at the dynamic between the mother and daughter and a snapshot of how the MC’s life is going. However, the first interesting thing that happens in this chapter is that Cora realizes that her mother’s car is being followed. AND that her mother has seen the car before. But the best part is that neither woman is surprised. This is about 600-700 words in. So, anything before that should be a lot more succint.

Another issue I have with the first part of Chapter 1 is that Cora’s father has made the news. Unfortunately, the author holds back this information until later. In the scene, Cora’s father is referred to just by his name. When his name is mentioned on the radio, Cora’s mother changes the station. Cora indicates that she doesn’t mind having the station changed, but we don’t know why our viewpoint character doesn’t want to hear about this “Nils” person. We find out pretty quickly that Nils is Cora’s father and that their relationship is estranged, but I would have felt more engaged if this had been mentioned when his name came up.

One of the quickest ways to separate me from the MC’s experience is for the author to create purposeless mysteries. It’s a weird power-play a lot of authors like to perform. Terry Pratchett is the only one I can think of who does this effectively, but that’s because the information that he does let the reader in on is at least as interesting as what he’s purposely holding back. For most authors, it’s more effective to have the reader on the same page as the viewpoint character, rather than constantly lagging behind. The story should (generally) be a mystery that the reader and MC are solving together.

Anyway, with my edit of the first 500 words, I’ll focus on condensing the beginning so that we can get to the interesting parts quicker, without losing the dynamic between Cora and her mother that the author has set up.

My Version:

Cora was already late for work when her 1989 Toyota Camry went into its final death throes. Cora’s mother, Demi, in the middle of locking the front door of their three-bedroom house, turned, her attention attracted by the last, furious screech of the Camry’s transmission. Cora winced. She could feel Demi’s glare though the grimy, bug-spattered windshield.

If Cora hadn’t gotten her job through the temp agency Demi worked for, Cora would have been shit out of luck. Then again, she wasn’t feeling super lucky as her mother’s immaculate, but ancient, Olds Cutlass trudged through morning traffic on the way to downtown LA.

“What happened to the $200 I loaned you?”

This was how Demi chose to break the silence after — Cora glanced at the dashboard clock — twenty-seven minutes.

I had to use it for gas,” Cora lied. Demi had wanted Cora to replace the fan belt on her car and get her hair done. She’d bleached it platinum blond before she’d dropped out of college, but, since then, about six inches of her natural wet-hay hair color had grown in.

First 500 Words: Shifting Greer’s by K.D. Bledsoe at Inkitt

(This story was found on Inkitt. I present the first 500 words as the author wrote them, provide notes on what works and what needs work, and then re-write the first 500 words. I try to keep the author’s voice but edit for clarity, formatting, spelling, grammar, etc. No offense in intended toward the original author. This is a writing/editing exercise that I thought would be fun, since this is something that I do mentally with everything I read — until I get lost in the story, that is.)

Original:

How do the stories begin? Oh, right, with once upon a time.

So, so here it goes:

Once upon a time, there was an overlooked, beautiful girl who longed for someone to come and notice her. Along comes a handsome prince on horseback to save her. They live happily ever after in a ginormous castle.

Well, you know what I’ve got to say to those stories? Bullcrap.

Fairy tales are stories written by lonely people that want to deceive the minds of the youth. But listen up kids, no one ever gets their happily ever after. Some messed up shit happens in life. Did you get that? Are you taking notes? You could be because I’m a prime example of someone not getting their happily ever after. Heck, I would even settle for Cinderella’s life before she met Prince Charming or whoever.

Because right now, my story belongs in the tragedy section of the bargain bin.

My castle comes in the form of a one-story house, parked on the side of a busy street, in a small crater in the earth in Washington.

And it’s freaking raining.

I stare up at the brick ranch style house with a scowl on my face. My one suitcase is on the wet ground at my feet. My brunette hair is soaked to my skin. I’m not wearing a jacket, just a think t-shirt. There’s a black pickup truck parked in the driveway. It has a bumper sticker for the high school in town. I can’t help but laugh. I haven’t even been to the school yet.

I can’t get my feet to shuffle up the cracked walkway. This doesn’t feel real. The last few months, I’ve been basically sleepwalking through my life. Standing here in front of my new home starts to wake me up a bit.

“You’ve been standing there for ten minutes now, are you going to go in?” Says a deep voice from beside me.

I gulp, “I’m working up to it.”

“It won’t bite, you know?” He chuckles.

I turn to look at the older man standing to my right. A shot of pain grips my chest tight as I look into his sparkling blue eyes. Leo looks almost identical to my mother. I wonder how long the pain will last every time I look at him. I wonder if it’ll ever get easier.

He gives me a forced smile as he noticed the look on my face, “One step at a time, remember, Greer?”

I nod. It all seemed so simple on the drive over here. I pumped myself up the whole plane trip. I told myself I could do it the whole car ride from the airport. So why couldn’t I do it now?  Why was this such a hard thing to do?

I vigorously nod, shaking myself from my stupor, and put one step in front of the other. I drag my suitcase behind me on its wheels. Leo keeps a safe distance behind me and…

What Works: First, the style is great. The beginning may sound a little cliched with the “once upon a time stuff” but, to be honest, even as a full-grown adult, a story that starts like this will still get my attention right away. Generally, when this opening is used, it’s in a romantic-comedy context, so to have it in the Action section, with the story description being that Greer is a teenage girl in witness protection after her parents are murdered is a fun switch. Also, I just like the voice of the character right off the bat.

What Needs Work: For a book in the Action section, absolutely nothing happens in the first chapter (I read ahead). The author also hints around about “the incident” and how she has a different last name now but if you read the summary before reading the book, this is not a mystery to the reader and it’s frustrating to have that reveal dragged out for so long.

Although the author is good at setting a mood, the writing could be more concise.

Also, the title should probably be “Shifting Greers” instead of “Shifting Greer’s”.

My Version:

How do the stories begin? Oh, right, with, once upon a time…

Once upon a time, there was an overlooked, beautiful girl who longed for someone to notice her. Along came a handsome prince on horseback to save her. They lived happily ever after in a ginormous castle.

Well, you know what I’ve got to say to those stories? Bullshit.

Listen up kids, no one ever gets their happily ever after. Life is full of some messed up stuff. Watch your parents be murdered and then tell me how there is such thing as justice, let alone happiness.

Right now, I’m standing in front of a red brick, ranch-style house, in a small town in Washington.

And it’s freaking raining.

There’s a black pickup truck parked in the driveway. Uncle Leo’s new truck. There’s already a sticker for the high school I haven’t started attending yet stuck on the tailgate.

The wind whips dark, wet strands of hair across my face, casting diagonal prison bars across the view of the house. I’m not wearing a jacket, just a thin, black t-shirt. There’s a sweater in the suitcase next to my feet. The material of the suitcase is not waterproof, so the sweater is probably as soaked as I am.

The cab dropped me off ten minutes ago, but I can’t get my feet to shuffle up the cracked walkway.

The front door opens and Uncle Leo steps out of the house. He fwoops open an umbrella and then jogs down the walkway, toward me. 

I love Leo but I have to fight the urge to run away. This can’t be real. It can’t be my life now.

Leo stops in front of me and tries to hand me the umbrella. I don’t budge, so he hovers over me awkwardly, using the umbrella to try and cover both of us.

“How long have you been out here?” he asked, sounding concerned and exasperated. His voice is deep, nothing like my mother’s, but his eyes are the same exact shade of blue as hers. A stitch cramps up my chest, like when I run too fast without warming up first.

A wry smile quirks my uncle’s lips, though the wrinkle between his brow still displays his worry. “Are you coming in?”

I nod, but don’t move.

His smile turns encouraging. “One step at a time Greer,” he says.

I take a deep breath and step forward. He moves aside and walks with me, still trying to hold the umbrella over both of us as I wheel my suitcase up the path.

First 500 Words: Angelfire by GT_Cooper at Inkitt

Original:

Pain ripped through me as I heard the crack of the whip. Again and again and again. I could feel my blood oozing from my slashes, hot and wet. I fought against my restraints, my wrists burning as the metal cuffs chafed them. Then Mordecai, the traitor, came around to face me, and ask me questions. Once I didn’t know the answer to. So he tortured me.

After I burned the ice away from Aquaia, and passed out from exhaustion, I woke up to find myself here. And at the mercy of Mordecai Gregori, one of the most trusted council members.

I couldn’t escape using my powers either since, I guess, I burnt out. I can’t feel it anymore. It’s like I had no power to begin with. At least that’s how it was when I first got here but now I can feel creeping back in everyday.

And today I think I could use it. That I could escape. So I let Mordecai think I was still weak, that I didn’t have my power yet. But I was waiting for the perfect moment to get out of these chain, and kill him. Because he would help the enemy. And he had probably injured many more before me. The sadistic bastard.

So today, I was trying to escape. And when Mordecai came to caress me, as he usually does which was extremely weird and creepy, I grabbed his arm and let the fire free. He was ash on the wind in no time. Then I burned through the cuffs, the hot metal burning into me. I peels off the hot metal, and rubbed my raw, bleeding wrists, trying to soothe them. It didn’t help.

I took two daggers from the assortment of knives, and daggers. They were about the same size, and light enough for my weak body to wield. I hadn’t had a proper meal in weeks, maybe months. And I was so hungry. I was starving. I had been fed a small meal everyday. And it wasn’t enough to feed me, as well as keep my strength, my power. Finally I had enough strength to escape.

I went out the door, having to route around in Mordecai’s pocket for a key to unlock, the door. Gross. Once the door was unlocked I walked out to see that there were guards lining the hallways, and when they saw me all of them unsheathed their weapons, most of the weapons two handed swords. Not as efficient as my dagger, but that’s why I was able to keep my stamina and agility up. After that long time chained up all of the muscle had disappeared and it was a wonder that I could even walk or hold the daggers in my hand.

They attacked, and I slashed. I had killed maybe five guards, most of them different kinds of dark creatures. Then ones of them slashed my leg. I hissed in pain, and hurried to get this fight over with. I…

What Works: The hook; captured and tortured hero has to escape a formerly trusted bad guy. I like that we start on action and betrayal.  This is a really compelling way to introduce readers to an unfamiliar character; put them in utter peril and let them fight their way out.

What Needs Work: This is a lot of tell, not show, there are some grammatical and spelling errors, and certain things don’t make sense, like burning Mordecai to ash and then going through his pockets. Also, there is a random switching between past and present tense, so I’ll have to choose one.  

Obviously, I don’t know the entire story, so I’ll have to fill in the blanks myself and maybe my changes wouldn’t work for the overall story. For instance, I would have Mordecai burn to ash, including his clothes, but have the MC dig through the pile of ashes to find the key. If this is a world in which the MC can burn through flesh but not clothing, that wouldn’t work. 

 My Version:

The whip cracks. Pain rips through me again. And again and again. Blood oozes from my slashes, hot and wet. I fight against my restraints.

It’s the silence that tells me that Mordecai has stopped. My back feels no less ablaze as his boots echo against cement. The whip slithers against the floor, trailing streaks of blood. He turns to face me.

“Tell me where to find the crystal,” he demands.

I glare up at him through eyes streaming with tears. It’s not just the pain in my back or my wrists, or my knees, which have been kneeling on concrete for weeks. It’s the betrayal.

“We trusted you,” is the only answer that my cracked and bleeding lips have to give.
When I burned out my power saving Aquaia, I had blacked out and woken up here. Weeks of torture have broken my body, but given my magic a chance to replenish itself. I feel it rise as I glare at Mordecai’s blurry figure.

I flinch back as Mordecai steps toward me. He reaches forward and tenderly sweeps a greasy, sweaty hank of hair out of my face, pushing it behind my ear. It’s a gesture as familiar and natural as my own mother’s touch. My stomach clenches as I wonder where she is, if she’s okay, or if Mordecai killed her like —

I let the fire free.

Mordecai’s mouth opens in surprise as he screams in pain. His clothes are the first to burn to ash, then his skin and his hair. The last thing I see of him are the eyes that had gleamed with pride with my first step, my first word, my first fireball.

The metal that binds my wrists heats as I concentrate my magic on them. The locks melt and the chains fall free. I slump forward. My thighs hit the cold ground, and then my belly, my chest, my face. The cement is cool against my skin, and I revel in the relief of being able to lie down properly for the first time in too long. The slashes in my back shriek in agony with every breath, so I try not to breathe, try not to think.

Distant shouts make their way through my foggy brain. Claws scrabble in the passageway outside. Mordecai’s minions must have heard his shouts, felt his death. They won’t last long without him, but they’ll certainly last long enough to tear me to shreds if I don’t get up. Now.

I push myself up and groan. I might let them rip me to shreds. It can’t hurt any worse than scrambling over to Mordecai’s ashes on bleeding knees. I plunge my hands into the dust he left behind, and pull out a key. It’s one of the only artifacts in any of the worlds that can withstand my fire and it’s the key — to everything.

I stumble to the door and melt the lock. It swings open, just as one of Mordecai’s minions leaps at me. It’s an over-sized black cat with bat wings and glowing green eyes. 

I burn it to ash in mid-air. 

First 500 Words: Becoming His Male Empress by iLyna_chAn on Inkitt

Original:

In Tang Qin Shang dynasty strength was everything, Magic ruled the world, it was said that from birth a child could already sense the mana in the world and have an idea of which element they had an affinity to, be it water, air, fire, earth, light, darkness, space, time, wood etc., people with two elements were usually extremely rare, same with people with three element, as four  elements it was a legendary level.

A child was born useless, a total trash to such a world where power was everything and to make matters worse his face was disfigured, his unfortunate circumstances made his father General Lei despise him, to General Lei this child was cursed, a stain to his unblemished name.

General Lei strongly believed that this child was sent by the heavens as punishment to him for betraying his one true love by having an affair with a low born despicable, conniving servant who once tended to his beloved needs.

The pitiful child without a name knew fully well that his father was not been fair to his naïve and innocent mother, she could never have seduced him because she wasn’t that type of person, Although General Lei tried to paint himself white by plastering dirt all over that child’s mother the truth could never be hidden forever and there where people who knew that he was the one that forced himself on his wife’s servant girl and the fruit of this ugly was the child without a name.

The child knew the truth and felt his mother’s grievance but just like her he couldn’t voice out his resentment and pain.

When the incident was found out by the legitimate wife of the Lei’s manor she ordered that both mother and unborn child be thrown out of the Lei Manor and going forward this pair that only had each other were made to live in a deserted thatched house by a hill in the forest.

“Mother why don’t I have a name like other people, please give me one” The child had once pleaded and his mother shown a solemn expression, one that he had gotten accustomed to and hated seeing the most on his mother’s face.

“Don’t be sad mother, I don’t mind not having a name” the child said as he tugged on his mother’s sleeves and tried to smile to lighten the mood, she ruffled his hair and smiled back while saying, “I am sorry for been so useless son, I am so sorry” a tear fell down from her eyes and she quickly raised her sleeves to wipe it off, she had to be strong for her precious son.

The powerless child soon got to find out that the reason he could never bear a name was because his mother had been told by his father’s beloved wife not to give him one and his father stood strongly behind his dear wife despite his mother pleads.

After the child’s mother’s death when he was…

What Works: This is the beginning of a classic Cinderella story although the title suggests a bit of a twist. The author is good at setting up the pathos of the characters and there is plenty of drama in being the ugly, magic-less bastard son of an army general.


What Needs Work: This is all info-dump backstory with very little action. A lot of this information is interesting, but lacks finesse in the way that it’s presented. Also, plenty of typos and a lot of repetition. This is also told from an omniscient point-of-view which always sounds a little impersonal. I’ll take it as part of the challenge to keep the same POV.

My Version: 

“Mother, why don’t I have a name like other people?” the child had asked once, clinging to his mother’s knee.

She didn’t answer but he saw tears fall into the dough that she was kneading. The dumplings were salty that night, the mood somber. The child never asked that question again.  

He also never asked why they no longer lived in a manor, why they had moved to a dusty shack at the edge of the forest. In the end, he found he didn’t mind the change, once his mother had chased out the spiders and rats. He helped drag water, bucket by bucket, from the nearby stream, growing stronger and freer with each trip. Out here, there was no one to glare at his disfigured face or tease or kick him for not having any magic.

His mother scrubbed at the wood of the walls until it gleamed golden with the light from the stove. She patched up the thatched roof and wove flowers into the fresh, new straw. She swept the dirt floor free of debris and covered it in rose petals. She filled the bed with freshly plucked feathers, and, every night, she told her beloved child stories of magic rings and grand destinies until he fell asleep.

Then, one day, his mother died.

First 500 Words: Dragon’s Princess by C. Swallow on Inkitt

Original:

I jogged at a steady pace through the jungle while howls of many dragons filled the sky like haunting music. Dragons only howled in extreme circumstances, and right now, many of the dragons were being injected with a deadly poison from a local tree frog in this area of the Patter Forest.

The King, Ross the “Great” wanted all dragons tamed and controlled by local Warlords to be loyal pets under the Kings dominion. It was far fetched, reckless and just plain stupid that Ross the Great had gone to such lengths to make his dream come true.

I myself tagged along on this newest mission to lure the dragons in with a strong peace scent so I could disable as many traps as possible. It was treason, yeah, but I couldn’t live with myself by not doing anything. I was allowed to come because I was a natural Healer, I could heal by drawing power from the earth. I could help any of the injured that would indefinitely come with this suicidal mission to bring the dragons under control, so I was using this opportunity to my full advantage.

I was meant to be back at the main trap site but I already had an excuse planned for later when I’d be questioned where I had disappeared to. I had disabled two outsider traps already, and there were at least 16 traps altogether. The central traps had already been successful so I only had a chance at disabling one more trap on the outside perimeter before it’d be too dangerous to be out in the open, especially with blood thirsty, revenge seeking dragons flying above. The only protection I had was the dense coverage which made it harder for the dragons to land.

I saw the last trap ahead of me and quickly went down on my knees to smother the rock that emitted the peace scent with mud. It would effectively counteract the scent and be disabled completely. It was as I finished smothering the scent rock that I realized just how quiet it was. In fact, it was deadly silent and that only meant one thing.

Every so slowly I raised my head and looked ahead, nothing, to my left, nothing, the slowly to my right. A glowing pair of blue-green eyes level with my head was staring straight at me. I sucked in a breath, fear closing off my throat and making my heart start to race at surely an unhealthy speed. I slowly made out the outline of the humungous black head, and the long glinting fangs, the length of a short sword. I closed my eyes in silent acceptance.
I was going to die.

Technically, this is only 450 words but it’s the full first chapter, so I’ll work with this. 

What Works:  Great hook; the protagonist is working to protect dragons, which is treason, but the dragons don’t know that she is on their side, so when she’s caught, she thinks the dragon will just kill her. Great start. 

What Needs Work: Oh, so very much telling instead of showing, too much set-up, not enough action. Some awkwardness with the phrasing, too, although in general, the story is easy enough to follow. 

My Version:

The air hung heavy with the earthy promise of more rain mingling with the spicy musk of dragons. I jogged at a steady pace through the forest as dragons haunted the darkening sky, their howls eerily musical.

King Ross “The Great” had wanted me to accompany his army, knowing they would need a Healer. I had agreed, planning to commit treason.

I followed the scent of peace extract to a small boulder that came to the tops of my knees. It took several minutes to cover it with mud, but the forest floor had plenty to spare. There were at least a dozen more of these dragon traps, so I searched for the next one, hoping it would be smaller.

The clash of swords against dragon scales rung through the forest. I would be missed soon, as the dragons fought back against the king’s army. The dragons hadn’t started this war, but maybe, with my help, they would win it.

For me, if I didn’t want to be branded the traitor I was, and exiled, I’d have to maintain the appearance of fealty. The screams of warriors joined the dragon howls as I moved through the forest. The next trap was a rock only about as big as my foot. I kicked mud over it and moved on.

Peace extract was ensorcelled perfume. Ladies used it to calm themselves when their corsets got too tight, and men used it in battle when their broken limbs needed to be re-set or cut off. It was currently being used to trap dragons in a part of the forest that was too dense with tree cover to escape by flight.

The next boulder was half as large as the first. I coated it with mud as quickly as possible, fighting the urge to lay down next to it instead. At this moment, I had three enemies; the army, the dragons, and the weapon I was trying to diffuse.

I was already tired, and already needed back at the base. I was lured to the next boulder almost against my will. It was twice as big as the first one, almost as tall as me, and nearly perfectly round. This would take forever! I didn’t even know if I’d be able to resist the scent long enough to cover it up. I kicked the boulder in frustration. It wobbled and slid an inch or so on the muddy ground.

My breath caught. Could I – just roll it over? I nudged it with my shoulder and praised whatever gods might be listening when it spun away from me, almost as though it was eager to help. A few more nudges and a hefty shove later, the peace scent had been neutralized. I sagged against the side of the muddy boulder in relief.

This was definitely the biggest threat against the dragons. I could detect smaller threats close by but I wondered if it would be safer for me just to return to base.

Before I could decide, I realized that the forest had gone silent. Distant shouts and clanging persisted, but all of the forest sounds; rustling, chirping, slithering — had ceased. I turned slowly, bracing myself against the boulder with one hand and reaching for my dagger with the other.

My hand froze as I stared into a glowing pair of blue-green eyes. The dragon was jet-black with tiny scales that glimmered like freckles across his nose. His fangs, as long as my forearm and as sharp as my dagger glinted dangerously, inches from my face.

I closed my eyes in silent acceptance.

I was going to die.

First 500 Words: Devil Vs Alpha (The Millennium Wolves 01) by Sapir Alexandra Englard at Inkitt

Original:

London, England

May 16, 2014

The clock ticked midnight and I closed my eyes, letting the sound of the Big Ben echo through the square, the neighborhood, the quiet city of London. The sound was rich and bombastic, carried away by the slapping wind, and I would’ve smiled at its familiarity had I remembered what it was like to smile from the heart.

Another sound invaded the quiet while the bells began to diminish. That sound was rougher, rugged, that of a motorcycle. Across the square from where I was sitting, a bike appeared, its rider draped in dark leather clothes, thinking himself to be a cool gangster, but I knew better. He rounded the square dramatically, riding over puddles on purpose so he could splash water like the little kid he was, and then stopped right next to me. Show-off, I thought disapprovingly as he removed his black helmet and, as if he was in a hair-conditioner commercial, flipped his dark gold hair so the silky locks wouldn’t simply be messy, but orderly so. Then he opened his gold-flecked brown eyes that seemed like molten honey that melted many a woman, and gave me a grin full of dimples and sin.

Killian Darrow was nothing if not a charming son of a bitch, but no one should underestimate him; he might be a pretty boy, but he had a mind sharper than a scalp, held ruthlessness within that he mostly concealed, but let pop out here and there. All in all, though, he was good people, and he was one of mine. That, including his intelligence and the excellent job he was doing for me, made him of deep value to me.

He was also my ward.

“You look just the same as you did a couple of years ago,” he said as a way of greeting while I rose to my feet. He scanned me from head to toe and back, and his lips curled into a mocking smirk. “Your fashion statement also stayed the same.”

I glanced down at my black hiking pants, black cape on top of black, baggy tee, black hiking boots, and black scarf and gloves, and knew he was right. “It’s necessary,” I responded dispassionately. “It helps me blend better.” Because if I were to wear what I truly wanted, I would’ve attracted too much attention, and that wasn’t acceptable.

“I know that,” he said, tucking his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. “I just wish I could see you in other clothes, because as far as I’m concerned, your wardrobe consists of this outfit only.”

He wasn’t wrong but talking about my attire was not the reason we were meeting tonight in such a secluded part of the city, with no one around but us. “Killian,” I said, giving him my hard stare, the one that had once made his knees shake, but now only made him arch an eyebrow. “While I love talking to you after so long…

What Works: The first two paragraphs are about as perfect in introduction of a first chapter as one could ask for, and is particularly refreshing in a Prologue which is usually just a fancy word for Infodump. Unfortunately, the prologue turns into that after the first 500 words, but it starts out great. Still, the last line of the first paragraph stabbed me in the gut, the second paragraph made me smile, and the first sentence of the third paragraph almost made me laugh out loud.

What Needs Work: The story kind of drags after the first two paragraphs, the writing gets less sharp, and nothing actually happens in this chapter except for a frustratingly vague conversation and then a giant infodump. There are also some romantic overtones, which, considering that the MC is Killian’s ward and she’s known him since he was 16, could be pretty creepy, depending on how old the MC is. In my version, I’ll probably focus on editing a lot of unnecessary or repetitive description and/or dialogue. 

My Version:

London, England

May 16, 2014

The clock ticked midnight and I closed my eyes, letting the sound of the Big Ben echo through the square, the neighborhood, the quiet city of London. The sound was rich and bombastic, carried away by the slapping wind, and I would’ve smiled at its familiarity had I remembered what it was like to smile from the heart.

Another sound invaded the quiet while the bells faded. The new sound was rougher, rugged, that of a motorcycle. Across the square from where I was sitting, a bike appeared, its rider draped in dark leather clothes, thinking himself to be cool, but I knew better. He rounded the square dramatically, riding over puddles on purpose so he could splash water like the little kid he was, and then stopped right next to me.

Show-off, I thought. He removed his helmet and, as if he was in a shampoo commercial, flipped his dark gold hair. Then he opened eyes the color of molten honey and gave me a grin full of dimples and sin.

Killian Darrow was nothing if not a charming son-of-a-bitch, but no one should underestimate him. He might be pretty, but he had a mind sharper than a scalpel, and a ruthlessness that most people who met him would never even glimpse. All in all, he was good people, and he was one of mine.

“You look just the same as you did a couple of years ago,” he said as a way of greeting while I rose to my feet. He scanned me from head to toe and back, his lips curling into a smirk.

I glanced down at my black-on-black outfit of hiking pants, cape, baggy tee, and hiking boots. I shrugged. “It helps me blend.”

He acknowledged my response with a jerk of his head and another full-body scan.

“Killian,” I said, giving him my hard stare, the one that had once made his knees shake, but now only made him arch an eyebrow. “While I love talking to you after so long…

First 500 Words: The Loudest Silence by snisismtoney12 on Inkitt

Original:

A cool autumn breeze whisked past me as I softly shut the door behind me. I quickly ducked and crept past the front lawn as I made my way towards the small gate that enclosed the perimeter of the house. I held my breath as I heard something fall from inside the house. I quickly moved towards the house and pressed my back flat against the wall. The only sounds I could hear were those of my labored breathing and the sounds of cars as they drove by. I silently stood there hoping that he didn’t see me sneaking out.

The consequences would be intolerable.

I pushed my medium length raven hair behind my ear and stared up at the window that was directly above me. I let out a deep sigh of relief as I saw the light go out. He was going to sleep much earlier today.

Pushing myself off the wall, I once again ducked and made my way across the lawn. Quiet as a mouse, I lifted the lock to the gate. Glancing over my shoulder, I made sure the lights in the house were still off. Upon noticing that the coast was clear, I quickly rushed out.

Shoving my hands in the pocket of my worn out hoodie, I began walking towards the park around the corner from where I lived. A small smile rested on my face as I walked towards the one place where I felt at peace. It was the one place where I could always gather my thoughts and clear my head. It was a safe haven in the dark world I lived in.

I soon made it to the park and took a seat on the small bench under the large Oak tree. It was nearing sundown and there were only a few people left in the park. I moved my legs on top of the bench and placed my chin on top of my knees. I let out a deep breath as I cocked my head to the side and stared ahead. To most people I must’ve looked odd.

A 19 year old sitting on a park bench alone as it was nearing dark. It wasn’t ideal being out here at this time, but I’ll take this over nothing. With the risks I took by even sneaking out, I was determined to enjoy whatever small amount of time I got out of the house.

I silently scoffed as I thought of my life. A young adult, hostage to a criminal, living right under the noses of oblivious neighbors who have yet to notice. I shuddered as I thought of the punishment I would receive if he ever caught me sneaking out, or trying to escape. There was no escaping him as long as he was alive. The connections he had were too strong. He would always end up finding me.

I bitterly chuckled.

My own father was the culprit.

A father didn’t act the way that he did, a…

What Works: The author has set a fearful and melancholy tone for this story. They have taken a small act of rebellion and effectively added enough tension that it can hold the reader’s attention as a first chapter. 

What Needs Work: It always irritates me when an author adds a mystery to a story that doesn’t need to be a mystery. The man could be a father, a stepfather, a caregiver, a boyfriend or husband, and we find out toward the end of the chapter that it’s the MC’s father, but the revelation does nothing to shock or enlighten the reader. When an author leaves the reader out of fairly basic information like this, it creates distance between the reader and the MC. Anyway, I could rant about this for a while, but I’ll move on. 

The other issue I have is, if you’re in an abusive or controlling relationship, you make sure that the other person is asleep first, before sneaking out. It also seems weird that she’s leaving when it’s still daylight, but I guess that’s necessary so that she can make the comparison to the other father/daughter combo (I read ahead).

I don’t mind that not much happens in this scene/chapter, but if you’re going to describe an entire walk to a park, include some sights, smells, etc. If you’re sneaking around and don’t want a neighbor to tell your father that they see you taking walks around the neighborhood, what precautions would you take to avoid them?

My Version:

As the back door clicked quietly shut behind me, I heard a crash. I froze. I had thought my father was asleep. An hour ago, he’d mumbled something angry through my open door. A moment later, I’d heard his own door slam – his drunken pre-bed ritual.

I pressed myself against the side of the house and looked up to see the dark window to his room light up. I edged back toward the door, anticipating the bellow that would follow his discovery that I wasn’t in my room. 

Instead, his window slid up and I froze again, holding my breath. A lamp smashed against the tree in the middle of the yard, raining down bits of ceramic. A smaller piece of lamp joined it a moment later, followed by a lampshade.

The window slammed shut again, the light went out. I waited. If he called my name, I’d be back in the house in an instant, in the kitchen, sweeping or doing the dishes – again — or something. All I heard was my own labored breathing and the cars whooshing down the street.

The fence was 8-feet tall, making the yard a white-picket prison. I edged toward the side of the house, still listening for my name. When I didn’t hear anything, I swung two loose pickets open and slipped through the gap that created. They swung back into place. 

One good thing about living on the corner lot was that my escape hatch led directly to the street rather than into a neighbor’s yard. I glanced up once more at my father’s dark window, and then headed toward the park.

I shoved my hands into the kangaroo pocket of my worn-out hoodie and let the crisp autumn breeze sweep all of the worries out of my head.

The park was just around the corner, and the sun was just about set by the time I made it to my favorite bench under an old oak tree. I pulled my knees up to my chest, tucking them up under my sweatshirt. I rested my chin on top of my knees and watched shadowy parents herd their wayward children toward the parking lot.

My life was a mess. I was nineteen and hostage to a criminal father. Sneaking out was dangerous enough, but every time I’d run away, he’d found and punished me. 

He had too many connections and I had too few.