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Macros
March 18th, 2004, 09:52 AM
Hiya all, I need some feedback on the following opening scene to a short story I intend to write. I'll be submitting it on fictionpress.com and just wanted to see if it was good or could do with a bit more polish.

____________________________________________

“You are leaving?”

The voice made him pause. He had not wanted this confrontation but his life had rarely ever been that easy. Letting the bag which carried his meager possessions slip to the floor, he drew the sword strapped to his hip. Killing the old master would be hard but it was necessary in order to earn his freedom.

“I see.” The voice was frosty, all ice and hard edges. “This is the thanks I get for taking you in.”

It was funny how one single voice brought forth such a flood of memories. However, he focused on one memory among the multitudes. The girl had been young and wanted only to learn how to defend herself in a hard world. She had been used cruelly by the master for his own pleasures and then discarded like a broken doll. It was just one among the many atrocities he had seen the old man commit but oddly, it stood out in his mind the most. The tears on the girl’s face intermingling with the dirt as she had been so casually dismissed; good enough to sleep with but not to teach.

Turning around, he lifted his sword wordlessly in an age old challenge. The master sneered, his old withered face twisting almost demonically. That was a familiar expression he had seen in the dojo dozens of times but it failed to impress him now. He would do whatever needed to be done to gain his freedom. If that meant killing the old man, then so be it.

“I told you when you first came to me that the only way you would leave was over my dead body. Are you prepared to go through with that boy?”

He did not let his hand waver. The sneer on his teacher’s face deepened.

“It was nice knowing you boy.” He put an emphasis on the last word, rushing forward. Calmly meeting the charge, he deflected the seemingly random strikes. Still, a few managed to get through, opening cuts on his arms and shoulders. After a particularly fierce exchange, the two combatants leapt apart.

“You can’t win boy.”

He remained calm, not listening to the taunts. Then, rushing forward, he began to press the attack. The old master fell back, moving his sword deftly, trying to catch all of the blows. He began an elaborate combination that the master had taught him knowing fully well that all the blows would be anticipated. However, before he got to the end, he made a slight variation in the end move, bringing his sword sweeping towards the old man’s midriff when he should have gone for the man’s head. The old man, caught in his own reflexes, blocked high instead of low and the sword sank into his ribs. It was a killing blow and both men knew it.

Sword clattering from nerveless fingers, the old man looked down in surprise. “Set... suna,” he gasped as blood bubbled up to his lips, choking him.

He watched wordlessly as the old master sank to his knees and slumped forward onto the ground. Raising a hand to his shoulder, he brought forth his inner light, healing the wounds that had been inflicted upon him. Then, turning around, he picked up his bag and continued on his way.

This part of his life was over.

________________________________________________

JRMurdock
March 18th, 2004, 11:02 AM
Good piece. I would recomend some rewording and some elimination of certain words. I'll give examples, you can look over the rest of the work and decide if these work for you...


He had not wanted this confrontation but his life had rarely ever been that easy.

This confrontation was unwanted, but his life was never that easy.


The master sneered, his old withered face twisting almost demonically.

In this sentence you switch tenses. The word almost takes away from the effect (for me). Is Master a title? if so, cap it. commas between adjectives.

The Master sneered; his old, withered face twisted demonically.


Then, rushing forward, he began to press the attack.

You switched tenses again. be careful

Suddenly, he pressed the attack.

I'll let you pick apart the rest (unless you really want me to do that). In battles, if you want quick action, use much shorter sentences. If you want to s l o w d o w n a scene, then expand that thought to make it linger.

Avoid words like almost, appeared, seemed, etc. These words make for weak sentences as though you are unsure of what's happening. State what's happening, don't make it appear to be happening. This makes for stronger, tighter writing. and I've been guilty of it many times and I'm just now starting to notice it and am correcting much of my older writings.

Watch your tense. You switch a lot from past tense to present tense. This is confusing. If it happened, it happened. If it's happening, it's happening. If it happened, it's not happening. If it's happening, it couldn't have happened. Tense will bite you. Look over your story and pick a tense, either will work for this story, but not both.

On a high note, I liked your story. Good visuals. Good ending. Good fighting.

Dawnstorm
March 18th, 2004, 01:14 PM
I like the piece, too. The point of view is well done; I got a pretty vivid impression of the character's inner life.

As Maus mentioned, getting rid of ballast would be a good idea (in your text the "howevers" struck me as unnecessary, perhaps even disrupting the flow).

Sometimes, I'd rearrange the words in a sentence:


The girl had been young and wanted only to learn how to defend herself in a hard world.

"...and only wanted to..."

Of course, now the tense is more ambiguous, as it's no longer obvious that the "had" modifies both verbs in the sentence. So you might want to reword it thus, to bring back grammatical clarity:

"The girl had been yound, had only wanted to learn..."


Turning around, he lifted his sword wordlessly in an age old challenge.

For some reason that escapes me I feel that "wordlessly" and "in an age old challenge" don't work well together. How about this:

"Turning around, he lifted his sword in an age old, wordless challenge."

===

Maus, there are no tense-switches in the piece that I'm aware of. What you quote are not tense switches. He's just using the present participle to replace a clause, which is perfectly acceptable grammar.

"Then, rushing forward, he began to press the attack." = "Then, as he rushed forward, he began to press the attack."

What am I missing? :confused:

JRMurdock
March 18th, 2004, 01:31 PM
I guess I'm used to writing an entire piece in one tense, or at least in the same paragraph.


He remained calm, not listening to the taunts. Then, rushing forward, he began to press the attack. The old master fell back, moving his sword deftly, trying to catch all of the blows. He began an elaborate combination that the master had taught him knowing fully well that all the blows would be anticipated. However, before he got to the end, he made a slight variation in the end move, bringing his sword sweeping towards the old man’s midriff when he should have gone for the man’s head. The old man, caught in his own reflexes, blocked high instead of low and the sword sank into his ribs. It was a killing blow and both men knew it.

He remained calm (past)...Then, rushing forward (present), he began (still future)... The old master fell (past) back, moving his sword deftly (I'm fine with this pattern)... He began (present) ... he made(past) a slight...

Reading this paragraph made me wonder, did this happen or was it happening. For me (and it may just be me) it was confusing. I thought this entire paragraph could be cleansed to give better flow and better use of tense, but it's not my piece, so I didn't want to give it a complete re-write. I'll leave that to Macros to decide if it's worded the way he wanted.

Will writers ever agree? I think not. That is what makes writing both fun and challenging. :)

Macros
March 18th, 2004, 02:00 PM
Wow, thankyou both for the suggestions.

One question I have is whether I should describe the setting a bit more? Since this was just a short prelude, I wanted to sort of paint as stark a picture as I could. The reader should be pulled in by the dialogue and the fight and not worry so much about the setting.

Will something like that actually work though or should I include more about setting? The thing I'm concerned with is that describing the setting could throw off the pace of the scene.

Julian
March 18th, 2004, 02:12 PM
Okay I had a go myself. Since I got a bit confused with two essentially nameless characters, I named the protagonist "Crennin"" .

Here goes:

“You’re leaving?”

Crennin paused. This was a confrontation he did not want. Letting the bag which held his meager possessions slip to the floor, he drew his sword. Killing the old master would be hard. But obviously necessary, now.

“So.” The voice was all ice and hard edges. “This is the thanks I get for taking you in.”

The words brought it all back. A flood of memories. He brought them back to one: the tears on the young girl’s face as she was abused and then readily dismissed. She had come looking for knowledge, looking for the means to defend herself. He had loved her desperately, not having anyone else to love. But the old man had broken her. One of a long list of atrocities so casually committed.

Oh yes. The thanks we get.

But he couldn't speak. Turning around, Crennin lifted his sword. The master was sneering at him, his withered face twisted almost demonically. It was an expression Crennin had seen in the dojo dozens of times, but he would not let it impress him now. I will do what it takes to escape, he thought. Whatever it takes.

“Didn’t I tell you when you came that the only way you would leave was over my dead body. Are you prepared to go through with that, boy?”

He did not let his hand waver. Whatever it takes. The sneer on his teacher’s face deepened.

“Nice knowing you, boy.” And suddenly the old man was rushing forward, curved blade flashing. A flurry of swift, almost random strikes followed. But no, not quite random: Crennin felt the blade opening wounds on his arms, his shoulders. Savagely, he counter-attacked, driving the old man back.

The master sprang away; there was a sudden lull in the fighting.

The master was still grinning wildly. “You can’t win, boy.”

But he knew that he could. A calmness had come over him; he moved forward, resuming the attack. And again the master fell back, his sword dancing a hurried dance.

Well now, Crennin thought. Like this. And this. Like his master had taught him. And he began an elaborate series of feints and thrusts, knowing full well that each move would be anticipated. But then, just before the end of the sequence, he altered it. He thrust his sword forward instead of up, and already the old man was parrying a move never made. The blade entered his midriff even as he tried to ward off a strike to his head. Astonishment flooded into the rheumy eyes.

It was a killing blow. Both of them knew it instantly.

Sword clattering from nerveless fingers, the old man looked down in surprise. “Set... suna,” he gasped as blood bubbled up to his lips, choking him.

Crennin watched as his master sank to his knees and toppled forward to the ground. Then, for a while, he watched the motionless body lying there. Finally, he raised a hand to his shoulder, healing the wounds that had been inflicted upon him.

Picking up his bag, Crennin continued on his way.

Maus, have to admit I find your comments on tenses a bit curious. What's wrong with: "He rushed forward, sword swinging..."
"Swinging" itself is not tense-sensitive, surely, since it could be "was swinging", "is swinging", "should be swinging"- well, any tense could apply, depending on the rest of the sentence.

No?

JRMurdock
March 18th, 2004, 02:42 PM
Perhaps it's just me. I just found the wording a tad confusing is all. It's all a matter of style. Writing is art and art is subjective. What works for one person may not work for another. In this case, I liked the story, just had an issue with the wording. It 'felt' like tense switching to me. That's it...:)

and Macros, if you feel you need to describe the setting, do so. But in 'my mind' I envisioned a plain room with a hard, sandy floor (perhaps just dusty and dirty) and poorly lit. If you think the story needs that described, feel free, but as an intro (prelude, prologue, what ever) it's fine with just the characters and the action.

Dawnstorm
March 18th, 2004, 02:47 PM
Originally posted by maus99

He remained calm (past)...Then, rushing forward (present), he began (still future)... The old master fell (past) back, moving his sword deftly (I'm fine with this pattern)... He began (present) ... he made(past) a slight...

Thanks, for explaining. Unfortunately, now I'm more confused than ever.

I've gone through that paragraph again and again, and I fail to find any fault with either grammar or sequencing.

"rushing forward" (present) :confused:
"he began" (still future) :confused:
"he began" (present) :confused:

Sorry, if I'm pressing the subject. It's just that I want to understand. I'm not a native speaker, you see.

===


Originally posted by Macros
One question I have is whether I should describe the setting a bit more? Since this was just a short prelude, I wanted to sort of paint as stark a picture as I could. The reader should be pulled in by the dialogue and the fight and not worry so much about the setting.

I don't think you should describe the setting in this piece. It's not something that's on the main character's mind at the moment (being pretty familiar with it), and we're getting to see the scene through his eyes.

What you could do, on occasion, is hint at the setting.

For example: Instead of saying "The voice made him pause." you could say "[Name] had almost made it to the door/gate/whatever."

You could incorportate "obstacles" into the battle scene. (chairs, tables, pillars, statues....). And so on.

You wouldn't want to do that too much. Just a word here, a word there. I don't think it's necessary, though.

Julian
March 18th, 2004, 03:20 PM
Originally posted by Dawnstorm


Thanks, for explaining. Unfortunately, now I'm more confused than ever.


Me, too! But I already said that, didn't I? Oh dear, poor old Macros...

Listen, Macros, we're talking specifics here - and we obviously don't yet agree amongst ourselves. And, equally obviously, you can write.

So I think, on the whole, you should just consider yourself initiated by a few fellow writers - none of whom might turn out to be better than yourself, but all of whom will nevertheless have worthwhile contributions (hopefully).

In other words, welcome to to the club!

JRMurdock
March 18th, 2004, 03:40 PM
Original:
He remained calm, not listening to the taunts. Then, rushing forward, he began to press the attack. The old master fell back, moving his sword deftly, trying to catch all of the blows. He began an elaborate combination that the master had taught him knowing fully well that all the blows would be anticipated. However, before he got to the end, he made a slight variation in the end move, bringing his sword sweeping towards the old man’s midriff when he should have gone for the man’s head. The old man, caught in his own reflexes, blocked high instead of low and the sword sank into his ribs. It was a killing blow and both men knew it. (118 words)

Re-Write:
Macros remained calm; ignored the taunts. Suddenly, he pressed the attack. The old Master fell back and deftly blocked all blows. Macros performed an elaborate combination the Master had taught him. He knew all blows would be anticipated. Before the maneuver was complete, he varied the final move; swept at the Master’s midriff when he should have gone to the head. Caught by reflex, the old man blocked high and the sword sank into his ribs. A killing blow. (79 words)

I redid the entire paragraph. It's trimmed, the battle happens smoother yet none of what Macros wrote was lost. The entire paragraph is now in one tense. I also named the nameless man to get the many pronouns to make sense. This was what I meant and how I would have changed it. Please let me know if this clarifies it.


"he began" (still future)

oops, I meant (still present). My mistake. For me, it's odd seeing 'ed words mixed in a sentence with 'ing words. 'ed denotes past tense and 'ing denotes present. As I said earlier, it's wither happening or it happened, not both.

Disclaimer: I'm NOT an expert. I'm NOT an editor. I'm NOT a publisher. I'm NOT a published author with credintials. I'm just another author with opinions. The way I reworded the paragraph is my style and only my style. It's not law as to how to write. It is only how I would have done it.