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hgsouth
June 5th, 2007, 10:50 AM
Ok, this is a short beginning that I've written. I'd love any and all criticism. Just don't mindlessly bash, please :p

----------


~*~


She found the sword lying in the grass, half buried in the damp loam under the boughs of an old oak. She was too young at first to quite grasp the significance of what she had just found, but it intrigued her nonetheless. It also scared her.

She had been out gathering some wildflowers for her mother, a new habit she had begun only a week before, but instead of taking the path to the town she had decided to walk through the meadow behind her family’s house. Upon reaching the first line of trees of the Forest, she had begun to pick her flowers, stuffing her small fist with the stems of Lilyboughs, Red Hawks, and Never-wilts. The flowers were more scarce in the damp, shady forest, and without even realizing it she had wandered far and found herself deep in the woods with no sense of direction whatsoever.

Instead of being scared, like most girls of six summers would be, she had felt an odd sensation of wonder at the giant moss covered trunks of the old Pine and Old Sage trees that surrounded her. Bouquet left on a nearby log, she had begun to weave herself into a fairy tale filled with Hedge Gnomes and handsome Princes, characters that had often made an appearance in the bedtime stories her Granny always spun.

She had been twirling around in the imaginary throes of battle—a magnificent Elven queen fighting off a Marauder Dragon—when she had tripped over a root and flopped to her stomach in the soft undergrowth. Shouting her imaginary war-cries, she had braced herself to leap up into battle once again when her hand had pushed against something cold and hard. Immediately she had been stunned by a searing pain in her hand and blinded by a white flash that stole her vision and seemed to emanate from within her skull.

In a moment, her vision had returned and with it a stream of tears and a while later a small choked sob. She had looked at her hand to see a crimson line that was dripping blood down her arm and onto the rolled up sleeve of her brother’s old tunic. Biting her lip and fighting off more tears, she had squeezed her fist, causing even more blood to come through her fingers and cover her entire hand. As her senses returned, she had looked down to see what had caused this rude interruption to her fantasy.

And now she found herself staring at the half-uncovered blade of the sword.

Brushing a lock of brown hair out of her face, wound momentarily forgotten, she cautiously picked away a few leaves and pine clumps, clearing off more of the blade. It was burnished with age, the edges notched and worn. Cautiously, she reached out to touch the steel with the thumb of her uninjured hand. Oddly enough, the metal did not feel cool anymore—it felt almost warm. A small vibration caused her to pull her thumb back, startled. She began to pick away more pine needles and then began to try to uncover the rest of the weapon which was buried in the dirt. Occasionally her fingers would touch the metal and she would feel the peculiar vibration coming from the sword. To her it felt like a bee when you accidentally put your hand on it, just before it stung.

She had just begun to unearth the hilt and was attempting to get her good hand around the ancient pommel when she heard a strange keening sound coming through the trees. The sword had so entranced her that she had not even realized that the sun had begun its slow descent into the Eahlhorn mountains, and soon the entire forest and town would be cast in shadow.

People of the swift shadow. This was the nickname given to the people who lived under the protective wing of the vast mountain range. She didn’t think the shadow was swift at all, however. Her young sense of time perceived that from the time her mother demanded she come in from playtime to the time it actually was dark was an enormous waste of time. To her, twilight seemed to last forever, and usually resulted in her staring longingly out her window, elbows on the sill and chin in her palms.

Never before had she been in the forest when the shadow had descended, and now she realized just how dark it could become. Her grandmother’s stories were chock full of the beasts that were said to have inhabited the woods in ages gone, but now she wasn’t so sure if her granny had been entirely accurate when she said that the beasts had long since moved to more northern lands. After all, she had never said the beasts didn’t exist.
She held her breath, motionless. Her attention drawn away from the blade, she now began to feel the pain of the gash in her left hand. Looking down, she noticed that warm red blood was still coming out of the cut. She brought her hand up to her face to examine the wound—burning now—more closely. Tears started to well up in her large brown eyes and dribble down her sun-browned cheeks.

The keening cry came again. Muted from the gathering mists, it seemed to come from everywhere at once, and did not echo through the surrounding mountainside as most sounds did. Inhaling sharply, she emitted a small squeak and noticed that she was dripping blood onto the blade of the sword.
Louder now, the keening cry seemed to cut right through her body. All thoughts of the sword and her flowers now forgotten, she scrambled to her feet and started to run in the direction she thought she had come from. The dark was gathering swiftly. Her heart began to beat faster as panic—an emotion mostly unknown to her young personality—descended like a bear upon a tired salmon.

She was sobbing freely now, all thoughts of trying to be tough like her brother lost amid the torrent of fear that coursed through her body. She had to go to the bathroom, she realized in the back of her mind. This was like when she played hide and seek with Raymo and Kirs, the two boys who lived on the next farm. The frantic excitement of being barely hidden as they walked past was usually fun. This felt the same, but now all the fun was gone.

Imagination running rampant, she was convinced that a Great Bear taller than her house would be upon her in an instant. She could almost smell its acrid breath as it licked its yellow teeth—teeth like the bully dog that once chased her from Arnot’s Grove last week, causing her to run crying into the arms of her father. Oh how she longed to see the familiar sight of the meadow with her house just over the small hill! The fog was growing ever more thick, rising from the ground and curling around the trees. In a few moments she would not be able to see more than a few marks ahead of herself.

Suddenly her small legs began to feel weak and unsteady; she felt as though she were floating, although when she looked at the ground her feet were firmly planted. She slowed down to a trot, then leaned back against the damp bark of an old Sage tree. The swirling fog made her head spin, and the throbbing pain of her hand could almost be heard in her ears. Every time it hurt, she heard a dull thud. Another story of her grandmother’s floated to her consciousness. The war drums of the Dark Elf army! Panic once more shot through her mind and momentarily her pain subsided. She began to take a few more steps, then stopped short as the sound of crunching leaves from something other than her own feet reached her ears.

Horrified, she slumped to the ground, red spots dancing in her vision. A dark shape began to materialize in the fog, tall and broad shouldered, and carrying a long staff. Time seemed to slow as the figure rose up before her. Oh father…where are you? Why can’t I find the house? I’m sorry I got lost, I won’t stay out past dark again…
The figure was running now, steps becoming dull thuds that rattled her brain. I wanted to tell Ced that I found—
Blackness came on her suddenly, and she slumped quietly to the damp forest floor.

James Carmack
June 6th, 2007, 12:54 AM
Well, well, well, you've got a decent bit of a story here. You do a fair job of ratcheting up the tension for the chase scene (with a notable exception detailed below). On almost all counts, you display a fair hand at the craft. This is one of the better pieces I've come across here.

That being said, your skill will not save you from the quibbles...

If the flowers are scarcer ("more scarce" hasn't won out yet) in the woods, why would our little heroine go deeper into the forest? Kinda defeats the purpose, now doesn't it?

Why are "Pine" and "Old Sage" capitalized?

You only capitalize "Prince" when referring to a particular individual (though some would only capitalize it as a title along with the name).

Familial titles are never capitalized when preceded by a possessive noun or pronoun. In your case, not "her Granny" but "her granny".

Unless "Maraduer Dragon" is a particular subspecies, it shouldn't be capitalized.

"and seemed to emanate from within her skull" Drop this.

Limit your use of the past perfect. Most times the plain past is the better choice. For instance, instead of "she had looked", say "she looked".

"Burnished" means "polished" and "shiny". I don't know of anything growing more polished with age. It's the exact opposite of what you mean.

The pommel is the (usually) rounded tip at the end of the hilt. It doesn't make any sense for our heroine to grip the sword by the pommel.

The Earlhorns is a mountain range, yes? Then it'd be "Earlhorn Mountains". Just like "Rocky Mountains" or "Appalachian Mountains".

"the entire forest and town"? Why not say "the valley"?

Why did you switch from "granny" to "grandmother" in the second citation and then back to "granny"? Be consistent, if you would.

One of the problems of not naming or otherwise identifying your protagonist is that you get in trouble with the pronouns when other characters are introduced. "She held her breath, motionless." The previous sentence was about Granny. Technically, we have to conclude that it's Granny who's holding her breath. If you don't want to brng in the name yet, at least have a label like "the girl" on hand to use on occasions like this.

"[...]all thoughts of trying to be tough like her brother lost [...]" You have to have something before you can lose it. You never established that she was trying to be tough like her brother, so we have precisely zero sense of her losing that.

I'm glad to know the Call of Nature is more powerful than mind-numbing, bone-chilling terror. I must ask, though, what that point adds to the story besides killing a good 90% of the tension.

Why is "Great Bear" capitalized?

While I can let you off for "more scarce", there's no excuse for "more thick". It's "thicker".

Without a possessive noun or pronoun, familial titles are capitalized. Also, you have to use commas for direct address. i.e. "Oh, Father..."

Also, I would say that larger selections like this ought to be posted to the Stories section of the site. Makes it easier on everyone.

And there you have it. Keep up the good work.

hgsouth
June 6th, 2007, 12:08 PM
Thank you! This definitely will help me clear up some bad writing habits before I write more of them. Thanks for the honest critique. :D

James Carmack
June 6th, 2007, 09:07 PM
De nada, mon frere. It's what I'm here for. ^_^

ZellieBerraine
June 9th, 2007, 12:51 PM
I'd be interested to see the first sentence as more active... not just she "found" the sword but she pushed aside the loam, dug through the grass when she found something shiney, etc

I dunno that you need to specify that gathering flowers is a new habit, reading it I'm not assuming that she goes to gather flowers every day...just that it is what she's doing this day.

"Never-wilts" - cute!

I don't think you need "odd" when you've already said "instead of" to define that she is reacting oddly.

All the "had beens" get tiring :/ I understand you want to get in the hook but not at the expense of background information on the character so I don't really know how to fix that. I ended up deleting all that kind of stuff about my character :/ slipped pieces of it in through the rest of the story

Marauder Dragon - Not sure why this is capitalized, is it a breed of dragon? I was reading it like 'a marauding dragon'

It surprises me that the sword cuts her. I have a sword, admittedly an unsharpened one, and when it is on the ground the flat of the sword--not the blade--faces up. If it is that old, the edge might be quite dull.

I'm confused as to wether the flash of light is magic or a very dramatic description of her being cut.

James Carmack
June 9th, 2007, 08:35 PM
A dull blade can still cut if you're not careful (which our protagonist wasn't). I also got the impression the sword was buried in the ground (hence it not laying flat).

hgsouth
July 5th, 2007, 02:31 PM
Yes, I was having a hard time with the tense and I think I dug myself into a hole. Need to think about how to repair it.

Thanks for all the suggestions!

gh0ti
July 5th, 2007, 05:40 PM
I would say that my main problem was the way you avoided introducing the main character. Unless there is going to be something revelatory about your character's identity, I'd drop the mystery as it serves only to confuse.

Otherwise, exciting and intriguing: I can't wait for more!

Severn
July 5th, 2007, 08:04 PM
You have the makings of a good story I think, and with some tweaking and a little bit more thought put into your writing you'll get there. So, to help you get to your second or third draft, here goes: :)

I'll bypass anything that James has already mentioned (although he has one I don't agree on, but I'll get to that).

Paragraphs 1-6

Here's your two opening sentences as they are:

'She found the sword lying in the grass, half buried in the damp loam under the boughs of an old oak. She was too young at first to quite grasp the significance of what she had just found, but it intrigued her nonetheless'.

Good opening line! Gives a nice image. Then the next line drags on and on. You don't need the 'quite', the 'just' or the 'nonetheless'. I'll say early on you need to watch out for what I call 'filler' words.

This:

'She was too young to grasp the significance of what she had found, but it intrigued her'.

is better, and has more punch.

However, you are literally saying that because she doesn't understand the significance of the sword she shouldn't be intrigued, but somehow she manages it. This makes no sense. Significance of an object isn't a precurser to intrigue. She's six. She's fascinated by tree trunks. Of course she's going to find a sword intriguing. Plus, she's just been cut by it - is intrigue really the right word?

Para 1 - 'It also scared her'.
Para 3 - 'Instead of being scared, like most girls of six summers would be, she had felt an odd sensation of wonder at the giant moss covered trunks...'

Several problems here I think. First - while she isn't scared of the wood, and is scared of the sword, and they are obviously two different things, this is frustrating. Before we know she's been cut by the sword she's both in a short space of time. This is a classic example of halting the reader in their reading - interrupting the smooth flow as it were.

She's six. Feeling wonder at giant moss covered trunks sounds pretty cool and typical of most six year olds I reckon. So I doubt it's really an odd sensation at all. It reads as if you're deliberately setting up a magical environment, rather than just letting it happen.

'She had been out gathering some wildflowers for her mother, a new habit she had begun only a week before, but instead of taking the path to the town she had decided to walk through the meadow behind her family’s house...'

Something to consider: showing, not telling.

'She had been out gathering some wildflowers for her mother, and she had decided to walk through the meadow behind her family’s house...'

is better.

However. She's six. Do six year olds actively, with a great deal of thought and precision 'decide' where to walk, or is it more keeping in character that she 'wanders' (or something similar, since you've used 'wandered' later down the paragraph) without really thinking about it, to where the prettiest flowers are?

It's not just the old sage trees that need un-capitalising, but the flowers too.

'The flowers were more scarce in the damp, shady forest, and without even realizing it she had wandered far and found herself deep in the woods with no sense of direction whatsoever'.

Here, you've stated that the child has accidentally wandered into the wood three times in one sentence:

'without even realizing it', 'found herself', 'no sense of direction whatsoever'

Consider:

'The flowers were more scarce in the damp, shady forest, and without even realizing it she had wandered deep into the woods'.

'The flowers were more scarce in the damp, shady forest. Wandering, she found herself deep in the woods'.

'The flowers were more scarce in the damp, shady forest, and soon she was deep in the woods with no sense of direction whatsoever'.

Personally, I think the second example works better. (And scarcer is definitely better). Another thing to think of though - forest and woods is tautological. You could perhaps say 'deep among the trees' rather than the 'woods'.

James pointed out that you're faced with an awkward problem. Why should someone who is out expressly gathering flowers go to a place where there is less of them?

'Bouquet left on a nearby log, she had begun to weave herself...'

While I like this first part, this is about the point where all those had's and begun's start getting annoying.

I can see what you're doing in the first 6 paragraphs, but it's not working. Your first 'had been' will work, it will establish that the points between Para 1 and Para 6 are in the past. Then you can drop the past perfect and do as James suggests: instead of 'had been' this and 'begun to' that, make it more active.

Consider:

'Bouquet left on a nearby log, she had begun to weave herself into a fairy tale filled with Hedge Gnomes and handsome Princes, characters that had often made an appearance in the bedtime stories her Granny always spun'.

I quite like this, very nice image of a little girl in the woods, playing.

I like it better like this though:

'Bouquet left on a nearby log, she weaved herself into a fairy tale filled with Hedge Gnomes and handsome Princes, characters that had often made an appearance in the bedtime stories her Granny always spun'.

There's many more instances in the first 6 para's, but I'll leave you to find them. (To drive home the extent of your 'had' addiction: You use it 19 times in the first 5 paragraphs).

'In a moment, her vision had returned and with it a stream of tears and a while later a small choked sob. She had looked at her hand to see a crimson line that was dripping blood down her arm and onto the rolled up sleeve of her brother’s old tunic. Biting her lip and fighting off more tears, she had squeezed her fist, causing even more blood to come through her fingers and cover her entire hand. As her senses returned, she had looked down to see what had caused this rude interruption to her fantasy'.

I have rather a macabre image of a little girl with a hand completely drenched in blood. I doubt that her 'entire' hand would be covered in blood. That would suggest a very severe injury, which I doubt think she has. Otherwise she'd be screaming in pain, and likely trying to run home, woozy with loss of blood. :) However, a 'crimson line' only 'dripping' blood won't produce that kind of injury. The paragraph itself is clunky, overburdened. Some of that is due to the 'hads'.

But let's examine the last sentence:

'As her senses returned, she had looked down to see what had caused this rude interruption to her fantasy'.

Her senses have already returned, in the first line. She's had time to cry for a while and then give a 'small choked sob'. So, it seems like she's been sitting for quite some time, whimpering. A nice image. Honestly, you can afford to lose this whole line. She's a little girl, she's not going to sit and think to herself 'my fantasy has been rudely interrupted!' She's just going to look down - remember your pov, and keep in character.

Paragraphs 7-11

Your first line reinforces the idea that it's impossible for blood to cover her 'entire' hand, as she 'momentarily' forgets the sword cut. I'm unconvinced by her picking off a 'few leaves' as well. Loam is decaying organic matter and clay. She'd be picking off, well, forest gunk. In handfuls quite likely. Especially if, as you say in line one, the sword is half-buried. And just what are 'pine clumps' anyway?

'Cautiously, she reached out to touch the steel with the thumb of her uninjured hand'.

Why? She's scared of the sword. She's been cut the sword. Would she really?

You've moved on from 'had's' to 'began/begun to's'. Icky, icky. Very passive. As I always say - you're either doing it, or you're not.

Example: 'It began to rain'. Very common phrase that. The thing is, if it's 'begun' to rain, then it's already raining isn't it.

Again, many examples of 'began/begun to' that I'll let you hunt out.

Likewise, using the word 'would' as in this sentence:

'Occasionally her fingers would touch the metal and she would feel the peculiar vibration coming from the sword'.

How about: 'Occasionally her fingers touched the metal and she felt the peculiar vibration coming from the sword'.

Active, rather than passive.

Or:

She felt the sword's peculiar vibration whenever her fingers bumped against it'.

Active.

'To her it felt like a bee when you accidentally put your hand on it, just before it stung'. I like this. Nice sense of little-girl character here.

'She had just begun to unearth the hilt and was attempting to get her good hand around the ancient pommel when she heard a strange keening sound coming through the trees'.

Tense problem again. Plus, this keening sound she hears. It's described in three different ways:

'coming through the trees'
coming 'everywhere at once'
'cutting through her body'

I can see you're going for movement here, but it's not quite working. It's a very confused set of images, and I'm not sure what's going on with the sound. It's not that the sound needs a definite direction of approach, but you need to make it clear whether it really is coming from a definite source, or it's just a mess of noise from all directions at once. Remember, it's from her perspective, so you need to show how she hears it, clearly.

'cast in shadow'

She's in a wood. I presume she's cast in shadow already yes? Maybe, just a simple 'dusk' or something similar. I know you're trying to link that to the next line where you describe 'people of the swift shadow', but it's unnecessary and silly when we know she's in a shadowed wood. Remember, it's from her perspective, not the perspective of the people in town.

'She didn’t think the shadow was swift at all, however'. You don't need the 'however'.

'Her young sense of time perceived that from the time her mother demanded she come in from playtime to the time it actually was dark was an enormous waste of time'. Five times in one sentence. Now that's repetition. ~grin~ The comical element doesn't work, it's just clunky.

Likewise:

'To her, twilight seemed to last forever, and usually resulted in her staring longingly out her window, elbows on the sill and chin in her palms'. Four hers in one sentence. Again, clunky. Nice image though, just need to reword it a bit.

'Never before had she been in the forest when the shadow had descended...'

Have you heard of inversion before? It's like yoda-speak, and many writers (often poets) fall prey to it's beguiling charms. They think it's a way to reword something so it sounds either lyrical, clever or just different. In reality, it's just a weaker way of writing.

'She had never been in the forest before when the shadow descended' is much stronger. Sometimes a simple sentence works best.

'Her grandmother’s stories were chock full of the beasts that were said to have inhabited the woods in ages gone, but now she wasn’t so sure if her granny had been entirely accurate when she said that the beasts had long since moved to more northern lands. After all, she had never said the beasts didn’t exist'.

This section is long, and clunky. Riddled with unnecessary words like 'were said to' and 'wasn't so sure if' and 'entirely'. Have a play with it.

'Tears started to well up in her large brown eyes and dribble down her sun-browned cheeks.'

Just: 'Tears welled up in her large brown eyes and dribbled down her sun-browned cheeks.' It's in the same vein as the 'began to's'.

'Muted from the gathering mists'. Muffled? And again, refer to my ramblings about the sound itself.

'...she emitted a small squeak and noticed that she was dripping blood onto the blade of the sword'. So? Seems a bit unnecessary, and, I also wonder if she would notice, given that two lines later 'all thoughts about the sword' are forgotten. Also - she's already forgotten about the flowers, given that she left the bouquet on a log a long time ago.


'Her heart began to beat faster as panic—an emotion mostly unknown to her young personality—descended like a bear upon a tired salmon.'

First thing - cull the 'an emotion mostly unknown....' It's info-dumping, awkward and unnecessary.

Next - a tired salmon? It's not usual to associate fish with tiredness unless they've been on the end of a fishing line for a long time. The 'usual' scene is of a bear waiting for salmon to swim upstream, with its mouth in the water, hoping one will swim into it. Maybe swiping here and there. Also, and more importantly: remember, this is from her perspective. Does she even know what a tired salmon is? Perhaps choose an analogy from her own range of experience.

Paragraphs: 12-15

She was sobbing freely now, all thoughts of trying to be tough like her brother lost amid the torrent of fear that coursed through her body. She had to go to the bathroom, she realized in the back of her mind. This was like when she played hide and seek with Raymo and Kirs, the two boys who lived on the next farm. The frantic excitement of being barely hidden as they walked past was usually fun. This felt the same, but now all the fun was gone.'

I like this. There's a few things that could be tweaked. I agree with James about the 'tough like her brother' part. Also, that part is repetitous with 'all thoughts of the sword....now forgotten'. I do, however, think it's fine that she realises she has to go. People realise weird things when they're scared. I think it'd be quite understandable for a scared little girl to have that thought flash through. I like that she compares the feeling of fear to playing hide and seek: that's her experience of adrenalin and the flight/fight instinct.

I'm not so happy with the great bear image though. Now she's thinking a bit too much. Children imagine all kinds of things it's true. I remember when I was a kid I'd imagine all kinds of skeletons and monsters if I walked home through the trees at dusk. However, I was safe. I had time to imagine things. She doesn't, she's running like hell for leather, thinking about the toilet, and Raymo, and hide and seek. Now a great bear? And a bully dog? Soon to be followed by the war drums of the elves. Select your images. We know she's scared and running. Maybe just a something with teeth, rather than a specific, well-thought out bear.

'Oh how she longed to see the familiar sight of the meadow with her house just over the small hill!' Far too dramatic, and the 'oh' and the '!' don't fit the tone of the story at all.

'In a few moments she would not be able to see more than a few marks ahead of herself.' How about a few 'steps'. Little girls aren't usually too good at using the local system of measurement when they're scared, or in general.

'She slowed down to a trot, then leaned back against the damp bark of an old Sage tree'. Would she care and/or notice what kind of tree it was?

'the throbbing pain of her hand could almost be heard in her ears.'

This makes no sense. Yes, I can see what you're going for, but no, it doesn't make sense.

'Every time it hurt...'

It's hurting constantly. Throbbing pain doesn't mean it stops hurting in between throbs.

'she felt as though she were floating...'
'Another story of her grandmother’s floated...'

'Suddenly her small legs...'
'Blackness came on her suddenly...'

'she heard a dull thud'
'steps becoming dull thuds'

Watch for repetition.

So, what's the reason for the floaty feeling? Does it get revealed later on in the story why, in the middle of flight, she rests against an old tree? Is it just that she's tired, or is it an otherworldly influence?

If I was running and heard something crunching leaves that wasn't me, I'd run harder. Not stop. Even if it meant turning around and running the other way. Why the red spots in her eyes? That sounds like she's hit her head. In fact, if she stopped because she'd run into, say, a low branch, or tripped over something, it would be a lot more plausible.

'A dark shape began to materialize in the fog, tall and broad shouldered, and carrying a long staff.'

I'm sorry but my first thought is 'oh, it's Gandalf'. Not a good thought to have in the middle of a chase scene.

'I wanted to tell Ced that I found...' I like this as a last panicked thought actually. I assume that's her brother?

'and she slumped quietly to the damp forest floor.'

I doubt she's going to slump with a loud crash, so the 'quietly' is unnecessary.

What happened to the keening sound?


****

Okies, done for now. Hope it helps. :)

Cheers, K

jemcaesar
July 9th, 2007, 08:55 AM
I quite liked this opening. I like the idea of a kind of flower called 'never-wilts'. I agree with the over-capitalization, which gets a bit wearing on the eyes.

One suggestion: give her a name, unless she is only playing a minor role in her story. It's all right to begin the story with 'She' but if she is going to be integral to the story, I'd like her to have a name.