Sunday, 28 June 2009


Hi I'm going out on a limb here.
This is the opening chapter of a book that I'm writing. I would appreciate some constructive criticism please. Good or bad - OK?

Peter Averillo

The sun was a huge orange ball that was, slowly, sinking into the distant horizon. Diffused light painted the town purple with stretched black pools of shadow.
Against the sun both the stationary horse and rider were a black silhouette that cast a long deep shadow down the hard packed, purple rutted, sun reddened earth that formed the main street.
The rider sat still, moving only to pull a roll of paper from a black leather boot. With a flick of the wrist the poster unfurled enough for the rider to study the artist’s impression of the wanted man. Another wrist movement allowed the paper to curl back again before it was replaced.
Shaded eyes looked down the street where some shopkeepers, unaware of the rider’s presence, commenced shutting down their stores. Blinds were pulled shutting away the day before some retired to their backrooms to count their takings.
None of which was of interest to the rider who gently nudged the horse into a slow trot down the street towards the town’s only saloon. Here the rider dismounted and tied the reins to the hitch rail before climbing the two steps to the boardwalk. There was no hesitation as the rider swung through the batwing doors and stepped up to the bar.
The saloon was like any other. The bar ran the length of the saloon; the floor was covered in sawdust and circular tables were scattered around a potbelly stove. A couple of men sat at one table, their beers forgotten, as they played a game of chequers. In the far corner were four men playing poker – a couple of cowboys, a salesman and Aaron Park. Park’s was the face that adorned the poster that had interested the rider.
“Hey, feller,” a painted, buxom lady greeted as she approached the stranger. “Name’s Marie. Buy me a drink and maybe – just maybe, I’ll show you a good time.”
A pair of ice-cold green eyes swung in her direction and froze the smile to her face.
“I don’t -,” Marie spluttered, backing away.
“Nor do I,” the stranger replied, the voice soft and husky.
Marie gave the stranger a good looking over.
The stranger couldn’t be more than five foot five nor weigh much more than one hundred and thirty pounds – if that – with a slim, compact figure. Dressed in a black denim waist length jacket that matched the black jeans tucked into knee high black leather boots.
Around the waist was a black leather gun belt with a silver eagle buckle and rigged for a left-handed draw. Close to the butt of the pistol rested a black leather gloved hand; the moleskin leather stretched tight like a second layer of skin.
The only change to the colour scheme was the grey shirt unbuttoned to mid chest and exposed a smooth expanse of lightly tanned skin.
The face beneath the wide brimmed, low crowned black hat and framed by a mane of black hair, was triangular in shape – but it was the eyes, shaded by the hat brim, above high cheekbones that held Marie’s attention.
“Park winning or losing?” The stranger asked of Marie.
“Winnin’,” Marie replied with a smirk, finding it amusing that this kid was hunting a known killer of men. “Then he always does.”
“Has to lose sometime,” the stranger shrugged with eyes watching Park as he scooped a fistful of dollars from the pot and stacked them in front of him.
“Kid,” Marie advised, earnestly. “You ain’t gonna fool him. You look the part but he’ll be wise to you. He’ll cut you down while uppin’ the ante with them.”
A slight smile touched the stranger’s lips.
“Touched by your concern, Marie,” the stranger said, genuinely, eyes swinging towards the intended target. “But I guess he’s made his last bid.”
“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Marie sighed with resignation. “Aaron Park’s planted too many kids like you. Still, you look like your minds made up; so don’t know why I’m botherin’. You’re funeral, kid.”
“Wrong,” the soft voice was as cold as those green eyes. “It’s his.”
The stranger bent down to slide the poster from the boot before striding across the room to where Park was dealing a fresh hand.
“Let’s up the ante,” Park suggested, thumbing his grubby, grey felt hat, further back to reveal a balding pate. “Five dollars?”
“Five hundred sounds better,” the soft voice interrupted, as the stranger tossed the wanted poster onto Park’s stake. “Either way I win.”
Park unrolled the poster, then grinned: “Dead or alive, now, huh?”
“Which way’s it going to be?” the stranger asked, the eyes watchful.
“Neither,” Park sighed as he looked up at the stranger. “And this is one bet you’re going to lose.”
The other three card players were quick to scrape back their chairs and get clear of this sudden arena. The stranger did not bat an eye but did step back a pace or two in anticipation. Nor was that move made too soon for Park upended the table scattering cards, money and beer glasses across the floor. At the same time he went for his gun, only to stand there open mouthed as the gun in the black-leathered hand erupted twice. Two bullets, one to the chest and the other to the head slammed him back into the wall. For a moment or two the body leaned there before sliding down, leaving twin trails of blood, to slump in a sitting position. With his head lolling to one side and his unfired gun resting in his lap it looked as though Aaron Park had fallen asleep.
The stranger whirled around but there was no threat from the other card players for they all had flung their hands in the air the moment the gun barrel arced in their direction.
“Anyone else want to play?” they were asked.
All three shook their heads.
“Then best you take your money back,” the stranger suggested – head nodding to indicate the dead man. “Feller, there, was dealing from the bottom of the pack. Guess tonight he was the one got fleeced.”
“Man,” the salesman gasped, as he rushed over to crouch down and help himself to a wad of cash. “Never seen anything like that. Been in many places but never seen a fast draw – not like that.”
This as the batwings crashed open and the law and its deputy rushed in.
“What was all that shootin’ about?” the law demanded, as his deputy raked the room with his rifle held at waist level.
“That kid just took down Aaron Park,” Marie offered, pointing towards the stranger.
The law glanced at the stranger and burst out laughing: “You gotta be kiddin’ me. That kid?” then looked towards the dead man. “Get up Park you ain’t foolin’ no one.”
The law stomped over to where Park lay and studied the blood trail before beginning to believe that he was staring at a corpse. While he was taking this all in the stranger rolled a cigarette and had just lit it when the law looked up.
“What you have to go and do this for?” the law demanded.
“The money,” came the soft, disinterested voice. “What other reason could there be?”
“The money?” the law repeated, as his eyes located the poster.
“Five hundred dollars,” the stranger pointed out through a haze of smoke. “Just like it says there.”
The law climbed to his feet and looked over to the deputy.
“Joe, go get the ‘Taker,” he suggested, before turning back to the stranger. “You’d best foller me. But I’ll say this you’d better spend that money quick. Park had a few friends and they’re goin’ to come lookin’ for you.”
“And I’ll be waiting,” the stranger assured him.
“Not here you won’t,” the law replied, grimly. “You take your money and git.”
“Don’t intend hanging around,” the stranger shrugged. “Just tell anyone who’s looking that I’ll be in a little town called Clementine.”
“And who should they look for?” the law wondered out loud.
“The name’s Darke,” the stranger supplied, with an impish grin. “Morgana Darke.”

Copyright: Chantel Foster 2009


  1. Just a cautionary word, if I might be so forward. I'd be careful posting your work on your blog. You're liable to get all sorts of imbeciles and weirdos taking pot shots at it. You might think that won't bother you,, but I can guarantee it will and as a fledgling writer you don't want your confidence battering by no nothing no alls.

  2. I love all the description in the opening paragraph. It was also a nice touch when the main character was described to make him the opposite to the huge man I'd imagined until that point. Stick with this - you obviously have a talent and I, for one, would like to see more. What for instance is the significance of the Morgana Drake name?

  3. Jo - I hummed and hawed about this for a few days. But this is taking the story out of my comfort zone without seeking approval. If you get what I mean.

    Archavist - thank you for being honest.

  4. Well, it's got me wanting to know what happens next, so in a sense that's the main mission accomplished!

    As you're inviting comments, here are some:

    I think you rein back just a bit on the description. Don't want to lay it on too thick. One thing about westerns, they happen in a kind of shared world that we all know, so you don't need to colour in every corner. Talking of colour - you've used a lot of colour-words in the early paras.

    Without blowing the reveal (or hint) at the end of the chapter, it would be good to find some other word than 'rider' in the first part to reduce repetition.

    Watch repetition in general - couple of 'black's close together early on.,

    Proofread like a lunatic - for literals as well as typos (You're/Your for instance) - these days it's rare that anyone can write perfect English so you may as well be one of the ones that does and put yourself above the pack straightaway.

    Think about realism detail - would someone shot in the head look just asleep?

    Hope this helps and doesn't seem like potshots - the spectator sees more of the game - just suggesting things since you asked - you have my admiration for being able to write fiction at all, I know I couldn't.

    Do,for the sake of all that's holy, persist. This is good stuff and you obviously have talent and a feel for the genre.

    - Roy

  5. Thank you, Roy. I've printed off your thoughts. They were very helpful and I do appreciate them. And I will persist.

  6. I agree with the comments above and I could add a few style suggestions, but carrying on from Jo's comment I'd suggest you don't worry too much at this stage about technique. If you break down what you're doing to the basics: you're trying to write a good story and you're trying to write it well. If you spend a lot of time worrying about the writing well side of things you can get bogged down with showing and repetition and being specific and a thousand other things and lose sight of the other basic aim of writing a damn fine story. You could even argue that as it's a western, it's the only aim!

    So I'd suggest surging ahead and keep on going until you reach The End. Only then start to worry about things like plotting and how your story has developed. And only when you've ensured you have a good story should you worry about the words and how you can shuffle them around to convey the story more effectively.

    Good luck!