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Poker With The Devil - Opening Chapter

by Asith

Poker With The Devil - Chapter 1

"Author's note: This is the first chapter from a novel I'm writing. I've written a fair bit more than this by now, and have thrown subsequent chapters at various beta-readers, but this opening chapter still worries me. The opening chapter of a book is supposed to be excellent enough to draw readers in -- I fear this hasn't accomplished that. I'm trying to write an adventure/fantasy story with smidgens of dry humour and religious satire (later chapters obviously explore the Devil and such); I worry if that tone just makes this opening chapter, which doesn't have the theological elements introduced yet, feel weak. Tell me what you think -- does it form a premise that you want to read more of? Does it fall flat? Is it interesting enough? Is it rushed? Does the dry comedy just feel out of place? Is the setting and character too hollow? What parts of it make you go "this feels like a mediocre story, I'd rather not read it"? Really need advice here tbh." 

Lucian Belmont casually walked out of his favourite casino, his pockets filled with winnings. It was his favourite casino not because he was spoiled for choice, but simply because it was the only one that he had frequented for more than a month before the other resident poker players had strongly suggested it was in his best interests to leave. He was an exceptionally lucky poker player; but of course, he would argue that he was skilled, not lucky; and certainly any priest who happened to also be a gambling enthusiast would argue that he was neither lucky nor skilled, but blessed. None of these were traits that his poker opponents found appealing, so he would rarely get to bleed the same people of their money for too long. In fact, the only reason he was still welcome in this casino after so long was because it did not have one steady group of resident poker players, but many who came and went. This was a comfortable situation for Lucian, and he savoured the knowledge that he was skilled enough to win against any unsuspecting poker player that would walk inside throughout the course of the day, or indeed, well into the night, before he retired home with his winnings.

It was also his favourite casino because most other casinos were home to poker players that weren’t gentle losers. Lucian had angered them with his skill, and their various armed gangs had already made many attempts at attacking Lucian – and it was a very recurrent pain, because these gambling-centered gangs had infested Vegas. If there was such a thing as infamy in Vegas, Lucian defined it. This casino seemed to be void of those ruffians, and fortunately so, because he had been on the verge of running out of places to safely gamble in.

This favourite casino of his was doused with the customary Vegas lights, much like every other building in sight, so the night sky was not as dark as it might have been. On one hand, Lucian knew he was a ruggedly good-looking gentleman, and to be in the dark would be a shame. On the other, quite a few poker enthusiasts had by now memorized his dashing features, and would have assaulted him on sight, so staying hidden would have perhaps been more ideal. The truest of dilemmas – but Lucian had always been an uncanny step ahead of these thugs, inside the casino or out. Tonight, for instance, he was leaving very early; in order to avoid the small gang of armed card-players he suspected would want to intercept him on his route home.

Walking was not fashionable in the city of sin, but Lucian had secured an apartment quite close to a number of casinos near the Vegas Strip, so he had no long commutes to make. Given that poker was his only source of income, and that he had to feed both himself and his wife, Vegas was an abundantly satisfying place of residence. He had amassed quite a sum of money in a small time, and was certainly proud of himself. Even tonight, he was carrying home money in the thousands from a few decent cash games. Had he played longer, he was sure he would have won far more. In any case, the tall, devilishly-moulded man, with the dark hair that seemed as if it would take an eternity to grey, walked home underneath shimmering lights, shimmering stars, and shimmering lights that were inexplicably manufactured into the shape of stars. He soon found himself, having stealthily avoided the gang of assailants who would have cornered him had he been here a few more hours into the night, at the foot of his home.

This was Lucian’s daily routine these days; wake up, spend as long as he could in a casino winning as much money from poker as possible, and then travel back home. It was incredibly cyclic, and he would skillfully avoid any possible interruptions to his system. Be it angry poker gangs or the common mugger, Lucian had never run into any major trouble in Vegas, even though trouble desperately tried to meet him every day. He’d always escaped. The various gangs of Vegas that had lost their gambles against Lucian so continuously were no doubt infuriated by this. The consistency of Lucian’s good fortune had gradually inflated his ego, although it would have done this to most anybody. Many people had told him that Vegas would be a terrible place for him to live, but he had been enjoying nearly idyllic circumstances ever since he had arrived. Indeed, he was sure he had never even gotten wet in the admittedly rare rainstorms, because there was little shortage of shelter in the crowded city. The only stains in his routine were the threats to his life, kindly delivered by the gang-men, but he had consistently escaped those as well. This situation had, unfortunately, turned Lucian complacent, confident, and perhaps a little dull. But that did not matter, because he was good at poker.

At this point, any ordinary main-character would have realised that they had been living a life so free of conflict for so long that they had to be nearing the point of the story in which an excessive amount of conflict would be injected into their lives all at once, and so would have made a hasty exit. Unfortunately, Lucian was not ordinary. In fact, he was quite special, but this is not important yet.

Lucian found himself, perhaps serendipitously, thinking back to near-escapes from the armed gang-men. Tonight was relatively safe – he had avoided the trouble before it had even begun – but he had, on several occasions, actually been shot at, to which he had responded to by running away, using instinctually mapped-out paths which always seemed to reveal themselves to be expertly-designed escape routes. It was nothing short of a miracle that he had never been shot. He counted his blessings, or at least he would have done, if he had been a man of faith.

The pathway up to Lucian’s house could only have been described as clinical. You could not have guessed that anyone had ever used this pathway, because it was entirely resistant to footprints or any wear whatsoever. These were the qualities of a good pathway, as far as Lucian was concerned, because it helped keep the knowledge of where Lucian currently lived a fair bit more hidden from any dangerous poker gangs. It led up to an inviting wooden door, which opened up into the house, where Lucian and his wife lived, alone.

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101 Reviews

Points: 305
Reviews: 101

Tue Sep 10, 2019 10:31 pm
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AmadeusW wrote a review...

Greetings @Asith,
You had some concerns about this opening chapter and its strength. I have to agree with you. You have good ideas, but the thing about opening chapters is you want to open with a gripping and suspenseful moment, and not dump the information all in three or so paragraphs before the story begins. The way you have it written here, which by the way, has excellent grammar, is too much for a reader to handle, and quite frankly, after reading all of this plain-talk information, it bores the reader into not reading further. In order to make this story's intro chapter more interesting, I would recommend rewriting it to be all action and little information. Let dialogue, emotional responses, and actions tell the story, instead of the author. I hope this isn't too critical for you, and that it helps you with your writing!

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27 Reviews

Points: 807
Reviews: 27

Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:18 pm
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Necromancer14 wrote a review...

I see what you mean about how it doesn't quite draw readers in. I think it's because nothing really happens; it's just a guy who plays poker and always wins. You poured in a bunch of description right at the beginning about the guy and his poker life, without anything to really draw readers in. You wouldn't want to write Moby Dick with the whale description at the very beginning. I hope I answered your question.

Other than that, It's quite good. I like the humor.

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Points: 100
Reviews: 1

Sun Sep 08, 2019 3:06 pm
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Vareor wrote a review...

Hi, Asith!

I will first go over some details which stood out to me, then move on to the cogwheels of the chapter and end by answering your questions.

1. You use a lot of telling and show too little. That’s a side effect of leaning too hard on adverbs.

For example:
"Lucian Belmont casually walked out of his favourite casino …"

I can imagine how a man saunters but just because I’ve seen it before and not because you showed me how. Here, you can either replace “casually walked” with a better verb such as the one I have already used, “strolled” or better yet, describe just how usual and not of a big deal at all it is that he made a huge amount of money overnight. That way we already get a hint of how often he does it.

Another example:
"the other resident poker players had strongly suggested"

Again, you can replace strongly suggested with a better verb such as “urged”.

2. Be careful of how your descriptions intertwine with each other and pay attention to the logic behind them.

You already specified how much light pollution there is:
"This favourite casino of his was doused with the customary Vegas lights, much like every other building in sight, so the night sky was not as dark as it might have been."

Therefore, the following sentence doesn’t make much sense:
"walked home underneath shimmering lights, shimmering stars, and shimmering lights that were inexplicably manufactured into the shape of stars."
If you mean to imply that there are always shimmering stars above, regardless of whether people can see them or not, then I understand. Otherwise, the description points to a fallacy.

The engine of a first chapter.
The reason you might think it is lacking, especially for the first pages of a novel, is because there isn’t much of a hook. Aside from the main character’s special luck which makes me wonder how he does it, there isn’t much to reel the reader in. The title is more of a hook than the entire chapter.

As for your questions:

1. Does it form a premise that you want to read more of?
Absolutely. The idea behind your novel is intriguing and I love the Constantine vibe. I read the entire chapter in one go, which believe me, says a lot.

2. Does it fall flat?
No, it doesn’t. Despite the points I made earlier, if you ever post more chapters, I will be the first to read them.

3. Is it interesting enough?
This question is pretty much the same as the first one, which I have already answered.

4. Is it rushed?
It does feel a bit rushed due to the amount of telling.

5. Does the dry comedy just feel out of place?
“and certainly any priest who happened to also be a gambling enthusiast”
You have no idea how much I loved this. Please, go on.

6. Is the setting and character too hollow?
I can’t tell yet.

7. What parts of it make you go "this feels like a mediocre story, I'd rather not read it"?
I have already talked about what doesn’t feel right to me in the first part of the review.

Well, that's about it. There are a few things which can be improved but it did make me want to see what happens next. Especially so, after reading the priest pun. I hope my review can help you at least a tiny bit.

Asith says...

You've given me exactly the type of review I was after, cheers!

That's a stupid question.
— Jack Hanna