View Full Version : A Prologue, Critique/feedback much appreciated.

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July 9th, 2007, 10:37 PM
Errr, right. Ok then. Stumbled across this site a few hours ago on one of those random Internet wanderings. I've seen a few pieces posted for critique here and it occurred to me that I might be able to find some folks who could give me some tips and such on a book I’m working on.
Forums I tend to frequent don’t seem to have people interested in fantasy, and those who have given positive responses to my writing have been friends and thus their opinions must be taken with a grain of salt (at least). So I come to you in the hope that I can get some neutral feedback on my work. I'm sure you'll be honest but polite :)

Some background: I’ve been working on this story (which will be a series of six to seven books, plus at least two ‘spin-offs’ for about five or six years, and I’ve ended up writing more than a book’s worth of notes, without ever actually getting down to starting the blasted thing. I think this is because I’ve never really been confident that I was at the level where I would be able to do justice on the page to what I am certain is an excellent concept/plot. Recently however I’ve sat down and actually started to write the first draft. I’m currently about 10,000 words in. Having completed the prologue and the first chapter I’m half-way through the second.
Anyhow, I understand that the word limit is about 1,000 words so I’ll post the first part of the prologue (about a third of the total prologue, this is the first of three separate scenes). Not sure if this is the best part to get a critique on, but I reckoned I’d best start at the beginning. Apologies if there is any mangling of the tenses, it has undergone several revisions and I’ve tried to make it consistent.

The prologue is prefaced with the following quotes:

“When I consider this carefully, I find not a single property which with certainty separates the waking state from the dream. How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream?” - René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

“A lucid dream is experienced when our awareness breaks through the self-inflicted illusions of dreams. Upon realising the true nature of our surroundings, we find that what was once a rigid external reality is nothing more than ethereal clay to be shaped by our imaginations.
But what if I were to ask you then, to take that same conviction, that same force of will which subdues this fantasy, and apply it to the world around you? What illusions might you uncover? With what sharpened mind bend the world to your will?” - Elric the Exalted, Letter to King Segastes of Adraea, 112NE

This then, is the start of the Prologue:

THREE CRUMBLING TOWERS PROTRUDED FROM THE SANDS LIKE warped and weathered fingers grasping at the purple evening sky. These were among the last grey bones of an ancient city, slowly succumbing to the desert that had swallowed a civilisation, centuries before. Seat of a long-forgotten empire, its songs and stories eroded from stone and memory, even its name was now lost beneath the sands. Known simply as “The Ruin” to the tribes which still inhabited the land, its true name, Riel, had not been uttered aloud in over a thousand years.
Decades ago, historians from the Adraean Empire had travelled hundreds of miles north to examine the dead city. What little of it they managed to uncover provided a tantalising glimpse into a time before even the first Adraean colonists had arrived on the continent. But years of excavations and attempts at deciphering eroded symbols had ultimately proven futile: Riel refused to give up its secrets and the scholars returned home to disappointed patrons.
Local legends gave several versions of Riel’s history and downfall but none of these were even close to the truth. Riel was not destroyed by the great red serpent that lives beneath the sands. Its people were not so decadent and corrupt that the gods punished them with rains of fire and rivers of blood. In fact, Riel had never been destroyed at all. It was not a dead city as the tribes and scholars had supposed; It was merely sleeping. In time, as with all things within the Dream, it will wake. But for the moment, Riel sleeps. Dreaming its own Dreams. Remembering. Recovering.

In the centre of this sunken city, a small yellow bird alighted on what was once and what will be again a magnificent conch-shaped dome. Its long, slender beak probed between the many cracks which ran like veins through the dull grey stone. Nearby, its mate sheltered beneath a half-buried arch, shivering as the twilight deepened.
Long blades of shadow stretched out across the grey expanse, the pale watery sun dipping beneath the dunes on the horizon as the first stars revealed themselves. For a moment the stillness in the air was broken, with a small shrill cry and two sets of urgent wing beats fading across the dunes. An arid breeze ghosted through the slumbering city, winding between the drowned spires before picking up speed and rushing out again into the open desert with a sigh, as if eager to be away from this place.

As the last of the sun’s light abandoned the ruins, four hooded figures stepped out from the deep shadows into the moonlight. Tall and narrow and only vaguely human in shape, these were mere imaginings of bodies, created by beings for whom physical existence is but one of many options.
“There, I can feel it.”
They might have been words, or thoughts, or something in-between.
Something resembling a bone-white finger pointed towards the towers. The figures glided across the grey sand, their movements fluid and silent. The cloth of their robes spilled down onto the sand like water, rippling and contorting as they moved.
“Yes. Can you feel it too? Pushing.”
“I feel it.”
“As do I.”
A faint murmur in the air was heard, but only just. It was a sound like a scream, but so tiny and indistinguishable it was as though someone were calling from beyond the horizon, or the bottom of an ocean. One of the figures crouched down, its fingers spreading like thin snakes across the sand. The murmur persisted, slowly but inexorably gaining in strength and volume until it became a rumbling, and that rumbling grew into a roaring wave of noise rolling down the dunes and into the city, swelling to a violent crescendo that filled every crack and crevice until each stone groaned in pain.
The four shapes now looked even less human as the noise cascaded around them. The robes were losing the illusion of solidity and hung like thick black mists recoiling and expanding as the sound ebbed and swelled.
The air itself was beginning to quiver and ripple, the city seemed to bend and twist with the noise, the towers and arches stretching at impossible angles, reaching, receding.
Still the four watched. One stepped backwards, his hollow voice barely audible in the cacophony.
“So strong. I almost-”
In an instant the Sound evaporated, leaving only a soft echo throbbing with steady rhythm across the dunes. The air shivered one final time and was still. The four robed figures stood completely motionless.
A small blue spark hovered in front of them.
“Nothing is impossible”
“But so much power.”

As they watched, the light began to grow in intensity. The spark became a flame and from this flame, more tiny blue embers spiralled to the ground. The sand writhed and bubbled as the flames licked higher. There was a faint tearing sound then as the very air itself seemed to ignite. Flames lashed out and sprang back into the floating inferno.
One of the figures instinctively shielded what might be his eyes.
“Too strong. He senses us.”
“We were wrong to come.”
“We will observe from beyond.”
The robed shapes collapsed in on themselves, shrinking, spilling across the sand like an ink stain. In their wake, a few faint orange embers dotted the sand, damaged strands of reality.
But the blue flames continued to grow, eating up the air around them until a rippling curtain of fire stretched up and over the broken walls of the city.
A deafening crack echoed across the ruins, and the flames recoiled like a wounded beast, shrinking back until all that remained was a singular, tiny point of light. A second thunderous whiplash and it too was gone. The air shimmered one final time before silence settled again upon the sleeping city.

The being called Nashru let his consciousness drift across the open desert. He savoured every grain of sand beneath, every star above. A wind picked up and he flew with it across the dunes, almost forgetting in his joy that he would need to conserve his strength.
Nashru drifted back to the sleeping city. His mind extended down across the sands, beneath the arches and towers and into the cold stones beneath. The watchers were gone. It was safe to remain here and recover. The enormity of what he had just accomplished washed over him. He had made a breach. That in itself should have been an impossibility. However he had managed it, he has escaped. He was alive, though not restored. That would take time. Nashru flowed across the moonlit sands. Thin columns of slivery grains rose to meet his imaginary fingers, spiralling upwards, fading into him.

James Carmack
July 9th, 2007, 10:47 PM
There's no shortage of people of people interested in fantasy here. Consider it your lucky day. ^_^

I'll go over your piece in the near future. I've been out of action the past few days and I've got quite the backlog of critiques to do. You'll get your turn on the chopping block, don't you worry.

July 9th, 2007, 11:03 PM
Heh, thanks. I'll look forward to it :)

James Carmack
July 10th, 2007, 10:35 PM
It's rather ironic, really. You're in the same place I was about six years ago. (Not in the same physical location, I hope. If so, tell the Carbs they suck.)

I once had the ridiculous notion that I wouldn't be fit to write my stories until after college. I found myself bored in the barracks and I started to make a digital version of all the notes I'd built up over the years, expanding on them as I went. Spending so much time on peripheral material, I asked myself, "What am I waiting for? Why not now?" I then penned the first short of my "official" career. Pleased at what I had made, I then thought, "Why stop there?" And so I went on to write my first novel. The rest is history. (Okay, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself there. ^_^;)

Anyway, it's good to see that you've mustered the nerve to sally forth. Now comes the real test. Can you follow through? Can you see it to the end? If you thought starting was hard, try finishing.

Well, putting nostalgia aside, let's get down to business. As this excerpt is fairly short, it's fine here, but if you want to post whole chapters, I strongly advise you to use the Stories section of the site. To my knowledge, the output is plain text only, so you'll have to compensate accordingly (double-space paragraph breaks, etc.). If you want to have full control over the appearance, you can always provide an offsite link if you've got your piece elsewhere.

Being new to my methodology, I'll tell you now that I don't pick out every little mechanical error I spot. I save that sort of treatment for a full-fledged workshop, which I only do at special request due to the considerable time and effort it requires. Here I just cover general issues and some of the particularly nagging points that come up.

As for the excerpt itself, your technique is good and your premise intriguing. Under other circumstances, I would encourage you to force the reader to uncover the mysteries of Riel bit by bit, but that may not work so well with the way you're telling the story. Indeed, it could very well be opposed to how you want to tell it. I'm the sort who likes mystery, so coming out and saying all the myths about Riel are false is a little jarring to me. Call it a difference of style. It has no bearing on the actual quality of your writing. So far, your prospects look very good. I look forward to seeing more.

And now for the quibbles...

"to decipher" reads a little smoother than "at deciphering"

When you use a semicolon between two independent clauses, the second clause is not capitalized.

If it was once and will again be a magnificent conch-shaped dome, what on earth is it now?

"[...]but only just" Just what?

"[...]his hollow voice[...]" Before the figures were simply denoted by "it". Did you mean to identify this one as male?

When representing an abrupt cutoff in dialog, you use a dash, as represented in plain text by two hyphens, not one.

"[...]his eyes" Once again, did you mean to identify this figure as male?

And that's it for now.