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Nan
May 26th, 2007, 08:56 PM
I've written a description of a city coming back to life after a long storm.

The clouds and oppressive darkness of the two-week storm broke, and dawn spilled golden over the city of Kofu. The cityís buildings bathed in the warm glow and were radiant, drinking in light gratefully after so long in shadow. Illumination caught off the fresh, wet sheen on every roof and wall, reflecting and refracting a million times over until the entire city was filled with its dancing, swirling about rooftops and casting images in the alleyways.
The city came back to life. Slowly at first, a few hesitant figures stepped outside, to see that the storm caused no damage, to resume their lives where they had left off, or just to breathe in some fresh air. Shops began to open their doors, and customers began to fill them. Many were now taking to the streets, and the entire city began to pulse once again with the rhythm and bustle of urban life.
Above this fresh flurry of activity rose a grand mansion, whose own rhythm intricately began interweaving itself with that of the city. Messengers flowed out of its gates and entered the flow of the streets, swept into the veins of the city, bearing instructions to maintain that flow. The mansionís gates swung open more to permit exit to men astride horses, bearing word to the lands beyond the city. Finally the gates clanged to a stop, and even their age-worn, jagged surface caught a little fresh luster from the excitement of the new day.
The inside of the mansion throbbed with a life of its own; nobles and their kin walked about the halls with an air of dignity, while around them servants busied themselves with their household tasks.


I want to introduce a character after the last little paragraph, but I'm not sure how to make him fit in. He is a servant, and works in the kitchens. Critiques of the descriptions would also be appreciated.

choppy
May 26th, 2007, 09:37 PM
Hi Nan,

Here's a few comments for you to consider. Overall, this isn't bad writing, but there is some room for improvement. I think it would help to add specifics to the imagery to make this opening scene more vivid.


The clouds and oppressive darkness of the two-week storm broke, and dawn spilled golden over the city of Kofu.
This reads a little heavy to me. You might want to start out with something simpler, like:
"The two-week storm broke." This instantly stirs a little curiosity in the reader. A two-week storm? Wow.


The cityís buildings bathed in the warm glow and were radiant, drinking in light gratefully after so long in shadow. Illumination caught off the fresh, wet sheen on every roof and wall, reflecting and refracting a million times over until the entire city was filled with its dancing, swirling about rooftops and casting images in the alleyways.
Give me something more concrete here. What are the roofs and walls made out of? Brick? Wood? Stone and mottle? Clay? What images are seen in the alleyways?



The city came back to life. Slowly at first, a few hesitant figures stepped outside, to see that the storm caused no damage, to resume their lives where they had left off, or just to breathe in some fresh air. Shops began to open their doors, and customers began to fill them. Many were now taking to the streets, and the entire city began to pulse once again with the rhythm and bustle of urban life.

Was this storm so bad that life stopped? Why aren't shops opened during a storm? What kind of damage did the people of the village expect to see? For that matter, what do these shops sell? I'm assuming this is a medieval-type setting at this point, but I don't know. Tell me about cobblers and ferriers, and black-smiths, tailors and innkeepers, bakers, etc., and give me a picture of what life is like in Kofu.



Above this fresh flurry of activity rose a grand mansion, whose own rhythm intricately began interweaving itself with that of the city. Messengers flowed out of its gates and entered the flow of the streets, swept into the veins of the city, bearing instructions to maintain that flow.

In that last sentence you use "flow" three times. What exactly is it that's flowing? And why are messengers carrying instructions to maintain that flow? Who are these instructions for?



The mansionís gates swung open more to permit exit to men astride horses, bearing word to the lands beyond the city. Finally the gates clanged to a stop, and even their age-worn, jagged surface caught a little fresh luster from the excitement of the new day.

What word are the horsemen bearing?




The inside of the mansion throbbed with a life of its own; nobles and their kin walked about the halls with an air of dignity, while around them servants busied themselves with their household tasks.

What household tasks? What do servents in this house do? I would imagine multiple, mundane chores: laundry, baking/cooking, sweeping the mud from the floors, fixing leaks exposed during the storm, carrying water, etc. That's not all that exciting. But what if some of the regular chosed included something peculiar like collecting all the leeches that gathered in the gardens during the storm?

This then gives you an opening to introduce your servant character in the kitchens. You can give him a peculiar task, or perhaps one that would be mundane to anyone else, but not to him. For example, maybe it's his job to feed a rather ferocious dog that the nobles keep chained up in the courtyard, and he knows that one day that dog is going to take off his arm. Consider that character and consider the trait that you most want to introduce, then design a scene around that trait.

I know - easier said than done. Anyway, I hope this helps.

Prunephoenix
May 27th, 2007, 09:20 AM
I agree with much of what Choppy has said. I would add that "....the city of Kofu. The cityís buildings...." could/should be changed to "...Kofu. The city's buildings...." unless you specfically want the repitition for stylistic purposes. Let the second sentence tell us that Kofu is a city.

Regarding introducing the character, "servants busied themselves with their household tasks" provides (IMO) all the transition you need to leave the 'telling' behind and start showing a character in action, assuming the action is a household task. Just start a new paragraph with the character in action, the reader's mind will naturally follow along, and somewhere in the paragraph indirectly mention the mansion to cement the connection with the prior descriptive stuff.

Presumably this is a character we will meet again, so you want the introduction ot be memorable, either because of what happens or because of what we learn about the character. Or both. Unless you are trying for something more than just introducing a character (such as moving the plot along) I would be inclined to describe the character engaged in a typical activity, working in a way that reveals an important character trait - lazy, clever, careful, whatever.

Bethelamon
May 27th, 2007, 10:07 AM
I really like the imagery of this city you've got going. The advice given here seems very helpful to improve it further. But its certainly a very nice image.

One thing struck me as odd though.... if these people have been locked up away from the storm for two weeks, how come the storm hasn't done any damage? If no one is leaving their houses it must be a pretty bad storm. For it not to do any damage to the buildings, you'd think people would still be walking around in it.

I am interested though! Let us see the next paragraph introducing the servant once you have written it.

Nan
May 27th, 2007, 09:17 PM
Thanks for your help! Here's what I have so far:

The two- week storm broke, and dawn spilled golden over the city of Kofu. Its buildings bathed in the warm glow and were radiant, drinking in light gratefully after so long in darkness. Illumination caught off the fresh, wet sheen of raindrops on every roof tile and wooden wall, reflecting and refracting on the cobbled roads a million times over until the entire city was filled with its dancing, swirling about rooftops and casting reds and yellows and greens in the alleyways.
The city came back to life. Slowly at first, a few hesitant figures stepped outside to see the stormís damages. Clay roof tiles littered the streets, but no buildings were destroyed, and for that they were glad. Soon, the tiles were swept aside, and traffic once again took the streets. Shops began to open their doors; cobblers, carpenters, tailors, all were back open for business. Men hawked their wares as the smell of fresh dumplings rose, and the fire and clanging of the blacksmithsí forges drowned their cries. Stalls at the marketplace opened, and with them came livestock, produce, pottery, jewelry. Many were now taking to the streets, and the entire city began to pulse once again with the rhythm and bustle of urban life.
Above this fresh flurry of activity rose a grand mansion, whose own rhythm intricately began interweaving itself with that of the city. Messengers left from its gates and entered the flow of the streets, swept into the veins of the city. They walked with purpose, knowing the instructions they carried were important; knowing they were helping maintain the cityís military, economy, its society. The mansionís gates swung open further to permit exit to men astride horses, bearing word to the lands beyond the city; battle plans, notes of alliance and other matters of state. Finally the gates clanged to a stop, and even their age-worn iron surface caught a little fresh luster from the excitement of the new day.
The grounds of the mansion hummed with a life of their own; nobles and their kin walked through the gardens, holding themselves with an air of dignity matched only by that of the stately trees growing amidst groves of flowers. Soldiers returned to their posts along the outermost wall, and began the endless cycle of patrol. Other soldiers honed their skills in the practice yards, which filled with the clash of blades and whir of arrows.
Moving swiftly through the mansionís complex of buildings, servants busied themselves with their long-neglected tasks; laundry was aired in the fresh morning breeze as ladders were summoned and men climbed to the roofs to fix leaks and re-tile. Horses were brought out from the stables to stretch their legs, and resident craftsmen worked again at their trades; blacksmiths, sword-smiths, fletchers, producing the tools of agriculture and war.
Inside the mansionís towering main building, however, life had stopped for no storm. The strategy room was full of aides and warriors, charts, maps, and diagrams. Other rooms were full of nobles, minor lords, other courtesans. But far away from the nobility, in another wing of the mansionís main building, was the greatest commotion and congestion of people. The kitchen doors swung open and closed constantly, with a constant stream of servants bearing trays of food in and out. Warm, rich, luxurious scents emanated from various dishes being prepared and arranged for presentation; meat roasted over a fire crackling and spitting with fat, while cauldrons boiled over with huge amounts of soupĖ this kitchen supplied the entire mansion with food and drink, and had to be prepared for large orders.
Hotaka stood in the corner of the kitchen, up to his elbows in warm water, scrubbing. At that moment, he detested the war with a passion. The strategy meeting on the other end of the mansion now at its third day without stop, which meant more food, more drink, more dishes. This meant that more servants had been pulled to kitchen duty, and most of those, himself included, had been drafted into the unrewarding station of dishwasher.

Bethelamon
May 28th, 2007, 03:37 PM
I like it!

Illumination caught off the fresh, wet sheen of raindrops on every roof tile and wooden wall, reflecting and refracting on the cobbled roads a million times over until the entire city was filled with its dancing, swirling about rooftops and casting reds and yellows and greens in the alleyways.
Perhaps 'and casting reds, yellow and greens' would make this sentence more coherent.

Slowly at first, a few hesitant figures stepped outside to see the storm’s damages.
Perhaps some other word would work better than 'see'. Survey the storm's damage? Take in the storm's damage? Evaluate the storm's damage?

Clay roof tiles littered the streets, but no buildings were destroyed, and for that they were glad.
I feel this could be dealt with in more than one sentence. One sentence dealing with the roof tiles over the streets, and another one dealing with the fact that no buildings were destroyed. Also, I don't think the word 'destroyed' here works. 'No buildings were destroyed' sounds like the storm has done serious damage which COULD have destroyed buildings, but instead just loosened some roof tiles. Perhaps 'no buildings were seriously damaged' would work better. Either that or up the damage that has been done to more than loose tiling, but I don't think you want to do that.
Would 'for that the citizens were glad' work better? Perhaps not. But refering to them as 'they' seems a bit odd.

Men hawked their wares as the smell of fresh dumplings rose, and the fire and clanging of the blacksmiths’ forges drowned their cries.
Would the sound of blacksmiths drown out their shouting? Perhaps I have underestimated the loudness of blacksmiths.

Above this fresh flurry of activity rose a grand mansion, whose own rhythm intricately began interweaving itself with that of the city.
I feel simply 'weaving' would work better than 'interweaving', which seems to clash with 'intricately'.
By the way, is this mansion on a hill, or on the same level as the rest of the city? By 'rose a grand mansion' I get the impression its on higher ground. Or is it just really tall? If it is on the hill, I think you should refer to the hill it's on later on, perhaps when the messengers leave the gates they can gallop down the hill. This will confirm that it is on a hill, if like me the reader is thinking 'Is it on a hill or not?'. If its NOT on higher ground, perhaps put something in just to confirm this by referring to the vastness of the building, something like 'its turrets and ramparts reaching high above the surrounding rooftops'.

Messengers left from its gates and entered the flow of the streets, swept into the veins of the city.
I like the veins of the city, but 'swept' into them makes the messengers sound like they are being involuntarily swept away with no control over where they are going. Buried in the veins of the city? I dunno.

Soldiers returned to their posts along the outermost wall, and began the endless cycle of patrol. Other soldiers honed their skills in the practice yards, which filled with the clash of blades and whir of arrows.
Perhaps Im just slow, but when I read this I said to myself 'why weren't they along the walls already? Do the watchmen go home for night time, leaving the city unguarded?' I needed reminding that they were all hiding away from the storm. So I suggest you put something in which references them being unable to guard the walls in the storm. Also, perhaps 'Other soldiers resumed honing their skills...' rather than 'honed their skills'. They are out of practice after being couped up for so long!

laundry was aired in the fresh morning breeze as ladders were summoned and men climbed to the roofs to fix leaks and re-tile.
Perhaps 'retile' could be rephrased. 'fix leaks and loose tiling'? 'Fix leaks and replace broken tiles'?


Inside the mansion’s towering main building, however...
Perhaps I'm wrong, but would a mansion just be one single building? Perhaps you should describe it as more of a palace complex. Mansion to me speaks of just a very big house, rather than a complex of different buildings.

The strategy room was full of aides and warriors, charts, maps, and diagrams.
I don't think 'strategy room' works. How about 'military headquarters' or 'council room'?

...while cauldrons boiled over with huge amounts of soup...
I'd prefer 'huge quantities', or 'vast quantities'.

At that moment, he detested the war with a passion.
I like this, it's clever! Up till now you have just dropped hints that there is a war going on, and when you refer to it here in this way, confirming that the city is at war, it is very stylish.

The strategy meeting on the other end of the mansion now at its third day without stop, which meant more food, more drink, more dishes.
I would definately prefer 'palace' to 'mansion'. The way you keep refering to it as 'the mansion' doesn't work. You wouldn't say to someone "I'm off to the mansion, see you later", or "He works down at the mansion". You'd say "I'm off to the palace", "He works at the palace" and "See you at the palace". 'Mansion' seems more to be a way of describing a house, rather than an actual naming device to refer to it throughout. I could say my mate Dave worked at Lord Whosslebate's Mansion, but then I wouldn't later say "I managed to catch Dave on his way to the mansion". I could say "Come and visit my mansion sometime", but wouldn't later say "I'm going back to the mansion now, see you tomorrow". It doesn't seem there is really a rule here... just sometimes 'mansion' doesn't work, and I think this paragraph is an example of where it doesn't.
Compare 'The strategy meeting on the other end of the mansion now at its third day without stop' to 'The strategy meeting on the other end of the palace now at its third day without stop'.
And if you really don't want to refer to it as palace (or castle), just call it a house. Even kings live in houses (big ones).
'The strategy meeting on the other end of the house now at its third day without stop'.
Calling it a house, you can near the beginning state that the house IS a mansion. I.e. 'Hotaka worked at Lord Whosslebates's mansion' and later say 'He could hear a commotion from the other side of the house'.

I've reserved the name Lord Whosslebate!

Prunephoenix
May 28th, 2007, 06:20 PM
And if you really don't want to refer to it as palace (or castle), just call it a house. Even kings live in houses (big ones).

Another possiblity would be to make something up - The Grand House, or Grandhouse, or Lords' Manor or High Manor or something - like 'Mingelseat' - that makes no obvious sense (most names don't), at least not without some additional story. "Today our nations leaders met at the Whitehouse to discuss the war" means a lot to us, even though 'whitehouse' doesn't sound all that impressive. (Yes, I know there is a history behind 'whitehouse')

Bethelamon
May 28th, 2007, 07:00 PM
'The Manor' would be a simple alternative.

'My mate Dave works at the manor.'
'Im going to deliver some fish to the manor.'
'Did you see what was happening up at the manor last night?'
'All through the manor there was great commotion.'
'A fantastic manor house came into view'.
'The centre of all political life in the city was the manor'.
'Im going back to the manor now for a good nights' sleep'.
'In the centre of the city was a sprawling manor which dominated the area'.
'I managed to catch her on the way to the manor'.
'The city was ruled by the earl, who lived in his splendid manor atop the hill'.

Nan
May 28th, 2007, 08:01 PM
Thanks, all! Especially choppy and Bethelamon. The mansion turned into a castle (almost like magic) and yes, blacksmiths are REALLY loud. :D This just might turn into an awesome story indeed. Thanks!

TRPatrick
June 1st, 2007, 03:10 PM
The clouds and oppressive darkness of the two-week storm broke, and dawn spilled golden over the city of Kofu. The cityís buildings bathed in the warm glow and were radiant, drinking in light gratefully after so long in shadow. Illumination caught off the fresh, wet sheen on every roof and wall, reflecting and refracting a million times over until the entire city was filled with its dancing, swirling about rooftops and casting images in the alleyways.

The city came back to life. Slowly at first, a few hesitant figures stepped outside, to see that the storm caused no damage, to resume their lives where they had left off, or just to breathe in some fresh air. Shops began to open their doors, and customers began to fill them. Many were now taking to the streets, and the entire city began to pulse once again with the rhythm and bustle of urban life.

Above this fresh flurry of activity rose a grand mansion, whose own rhythm intricately began interweaving itself with that of the city. Messengers flowed out of its gates and entered the flow of the streets, swept into the veins of the city, bearing instructions to maintain that flow. The mansionís gates swung open more to permit exit to men astride horses, bearing word to the lands beyond the city. Finally the gates clanged to a stop, and even their age-worn, jagged surface caught a little fresh luster from the excitement of the new day.

The inside of the mansion throbbed with a life of its own; nobles and their kin walked about the halls with an air of dignity, while around them servants busied themselves with their household tasks.

---------- Below is what I would do --------------

But none of that mattered to me as I continued to scrub away the grime the nobles left on their plates from their afternoon meal. Though my belly ached with hunger, my daily chores never took a back seat; not even to the storm that seemed to have stopped everyone else dead in their tracks.

Though I worked at the center of the mansion, my accomplishments were far from the center of attention as the halls were filled with the decision making nobility of my land. With charts, war tactics and messages bustling through the torrent of a relentless process called, "Politics," I couldn't help but reflect how insignificant I was as I worked with my elbows submerged in hot soapy water.

"Hotaka!" Barked the slavemaster of a head chef from the other side of the kitchen as he stormed towards me with a furious passion. "How long is it going to take you to finish those dishes!" With a beet red complexion and his hands pressed deeply into his side, I could see his left temple begin to burst as the rest of the veins in his bald head grew swullen. "Their almost finsihed eating their dinner and here you are, daudling about the day!"

Without skipping a beat in the process of scrubbing a plate, or even turning my head I yelped my reply, "I'm going, I'm going! Calm down already." Without even thinking I allowed my mouth to utter muffeled curses as I worked with lament upon my heart. Washing dishes for the nobles who treated war like a game was already insulting enough to me; but this was my lot in life. This was what was expected of me.

-----------------------

Just an idea; besides I like those games!
Have fun!

T.R. Patrick