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July 11th, 2004, 07:53 PM
This is from a completed novel. I covet any opinion, good or bad.


Year 1210 – Days 11-13

Thunderheads had been towering all afternoon – hard edged, big-shouldered monsters that grumbled the threat of sky ripping lightning and bark-stripping wind. The lone rider kept one fretful eye on the burgeoning clouds and the other on the rocky hills. With the heavens at the brink of violence, he craved cover. Fortunately, he had just left the shelterless plains and here in the wooded limestone-mountains of southern Pneumaria he was likely to find some sort of refuge, a cave or at least a deep overhang. He was a brave man, a warrior and swordsman with few peers, but his heart hammered, swift reflexes and a steel blade were useless against lightning and wind.
Suddenly, with a leaf-churning blast, the air chilled, and the driving tempest engulfed him. Storm clouds, dense with frenzied power, blackened the sun and whipped the gentle afternoon breeze into a howling gale. Instantly, the horse and rider were drenched by cold rain and bludgeoned by fist-sized-hailstones. Raising a clamor like a stampeding herd on a covered bridge, the wild racket of tree battering hail, chest thrumming thunder and thrashing wind was maddening.
Shouting prayers to Tsarx, he burrowed into the stallion's rain soaked mane and spurred the charger into a turf-slinging gallop. As he pounded down the trail, he frantically searched for any kind of cover from the storm. At last, a score of yards off the path, illuminated by the ceaseless strobe of lighting he spotted the perfect refuge. Just beyond a copse of wind-whipped trees, an enormous slab of rock protruded from the mountain's steep face. There, sheltered beneath the rocky overhang, he saw a beautiful sight, a dark breach - the mouth of a cave.
Great gouts of lightning shredded both sky and hillside as he raced toward safety. "Almost there!" He cried into the wail when suddenly, with a ferocious crack and a blinding flash, a lightning bolt struck his horse in its flank, blowing him from the saddle and jerking his body like a cloth doll in the mouth of a mastiff. Flung from his mount, a spray of blood blossomed when his head speared the gnarled roots of one of the nearby trees.
Shadowy tendrils of unconsciousness dragged him towards darkness. Nevertheless, he bull-doggedly clung to awareness long enough to drag his way through the roar and fury and deeply into the cave. Therein, soaked with blood and rain and pummeled by the storm, he surrendered to oblivion's pull and heard the rending fury no more.


Pain. That distant and vexing sensation that had been worrying the edges of his consciousness was pain. It was a bit of a relief to finally be coherent enough to put a name with it. Unfortunately, as he was emerging from his stupor, the pain was throbbing into something far beyond a mere vexation, but that was not the worst. Like a demonic jockey straddling the back of his galloping agony rode an intruder even more dreadful – panic. For as the bewilderment of fading unconsciousness gave way to wakefulness, he realized that he was not only injured but also in the dark. The total dark, the hammered shut coffin dark. But even that was not the primary source of his horror. For in a flash of crystalline understanding, like an icicle through his soul, he was exquisitely aware that not only did he not know where he was - he did not know who he was. Then, swept away in a frothing flood of terror, he filled his tomb with his screams.
Later, how long he could not say, an inner "something" managed to press through his panic. Clearly, he would not be delivered from the grasp of his nightmare by yielding to fear. He must try to be calm. He had to think, and take stock of his situation. Thus, on his back in the smother of a hellish midnight, fending off demons of insanity, and biting back his cries, he made this assessment: His head hurt. He probed the right front, the source of his greatest discomfort. It was gashed open and swollen, but not bleeding. It had been though, profusely, as flaky dried blood covered the side of his face and shoulders and matted his hair. Other injuries? He hurt, all over. Since it was impossible to take a visual inventory, he experimented by feel - he wiggled his fingers and toes, lifted his legs, rotated his arms, bobbed his head. After a thorough examination he was satisfied that none of his bones were broken - at least he could move everything.
But, the darkness! Seized by another crippling shot of terror, he feared that he was blind. Could not head injuries cause sightlessness? In desperation, he tossed a hand in front of his face, but that solved nothing, the impenetrable pitch saw to that. Yet, the utter blackness not withstanding, that intuitive sense rose again assuring him that his sight was fine and that he was just in a completely dark place. So, what place? With this thought, he decided to stand and find out. With great effort, throbbing head, and every muscle protesting he gathered himself, slowly took his feet, and there in the suffocating night, he listened.
Holding his breath, he pressed his faculties against the lightless void. Behind him he heard a distant and occasional “ploink” of dripping water and before him there was the faintest whisper of… "Perhaps the wind," he thought hopefully. And then stretching out his hands, he groped blindly in all directions. His left grazed something, so he scuttled a bit closer. It was rock, a wall of rock – cold, lumpy, and damp. And the smell that surrounded him? Fetid and earthy. With a small grunt of insight he muttered, “I'm in a cave."
As he pondered his predicament, chilling questions like where, why, how, and who bayed like hungry hounds, but he refused to deal with those issues until the present predicament of reaching sunlight had been resolved.

Rocket Sheep
July 11th, 2004, 09:47 PM
But it's not a blurb. You'd need a bloody big book to put that on the back...

And why is "had been" your second and third words? Scared me right off that did. I liked the first word tho. Very nice.

ironchef texmex
July 11th, 2004, 10:30 PM
Sorry Orty, the Sheep has a thing about critiques.

First off, welcome. Haven't seen you before. I see you hail from my part of the country. I take it you go to OSU. Good school. Sorry about the quarterback situation.

Now, about the introduction. You definately have a poets sensibility with your prose. That's both good and bad. The good is that your writing is full of suprises. Good variety in sentence structure and rhythm. Maybe a little too much lyricism, though.

"like a cloth doll in the mouth of a mastiff"
"like a stampeding herd on a covered bridge"
"Like a demonic jockey straddling the back of his galloping agony"

Similies and metaphors are like garlic. A little is good. Too much is just vampire repellent. If your whole book has as much symbolism as the blurb... well brother, that's alot of allegories. And almost every sentence has "colorful speech". You might think about trying to write something with a slightly heavier narrative content. A short story, a paragraph. Remember, narrative is simple description - "He fell unconscious." Lyricism is - "Shadowy tendrils of unconsciousness dragged him towards darkness.".

I'm not saying "write like Hemingway", just tone down the poetic language a few notches. As it is, it feels forced.

Also, "He was a brave man, a warrior and swordsman with few peers,"
I've never seen a writer define their main character in a tidy package in the first paragraph. Personally, I never do it. I let the reader decide whether or not he's brave and they can figure out his level of weapons proficiency for themselves when he starts killing things.

If I went on any further I would just be guessing. I'm not sure where the plot is going or what the level of atmosphere or characterization is going to be. Sounds interesting though.

Rocket Sheep
July 11th, 2004, 10:49 PM
Hey, I'm the mod! I'm meant to apologise for the bad posts.

Sorry Orty, I have a thing about critiques. I tend to upset people with mean nasty critiques so now I just post little wisecracks alluding to the fact that there may be passives or something because I can't help myself. I'm a sad sad sheep. I think I have red ink in my veins.

If I keep it up, I may have to ban myself. :o

July 12th, 2004, 11:54 AM
A few things.

To start with, I think that the content is very good. This is a great way to open things up, though perhaps it could use some expansion.

One thing that absolutely jumps out at me and beats me in the face is your use of hyphenated qualifiers on almost everything. For example: wind-whipped trees, bull-doggedly clinging, bark-stripping wind and sky-ripping lightning (you forgot the hyphen here, but there should be one). This is okay in moderation, but what you're basically doing is compressing a simile or a metaphor into a somewhat abrasive two-word combination, and it interrupts the flow somewhat.

Instead of wind whipped trees, why not (and this is totally off the top of my head, so please do something better with it ;p): "The wind, like a whip, cracked and spit fury over the bent heads of the trees."

You can use simile and metaphor to create mood. Hyphenated words are more a device for conveying information than creating mood.

The second part of the blurb was, imho, much stronger than the first. I liked it a lot. My only suggestion is to do less telling the reader how horrified the character is, and more showing. Rarely does a person lay in the pitch dark and think, "Oh dear, I'm horrified.", more like, "Holy ****! Jeezus christ it's dark. ****. What was that noise? omg.... panic... panic... fight or flight...."

I like the way this story starts. Retool it and repost it ;).

Pax Noctis
Original Fiction, Fantasy and Sci-Fi

July 13th, 2004, 09:44 AM
As usual in such a post it is only really possible to comment upon the prose style as opposed to plot-line. That point is particularly acute here though given that your verbosity has overridden the narrative arc. In what would be over a pages worth of trade paperback all that's really happened is your protagonist, amidst a storm, has taken refuge in a cave.

Moreover, precisely because of all the poetic turns of phrase this passage did not build a particularly strong mental image for me. You must credit the reader with more imagination, you can't always direct all five senses through every moment of the action. Tempo is a crucial consideration. What you are describing is a lonely traveller galloping through a raging storm. The writing ought to reflect his speed and urgency. For instance:

suddenly, with a ferocious crack and a blinding flash, a lightning bolt struck his horse in its flank, blowing him from the saddle and jerking his body like a cloth doll in the mouth of a mastiff. Flung from his mount, a spray of blood blossomed when his head speared the gnarled roots of one of the nearby trees.

These events are taking place within split seconds, yet for the reader it is a drawn out protracted event. I don't want to give suggestions of how this may be rewritten because you have to find your own narrative voice, but I do feel that the same information could be conveyed in half the space and that so doing would actually benefit the sense of action.

I'm sorry if this post sounds harsh. Over-writing is my demon too and one which I am desparately striving to exorcise. Taken individually each of your sentances are evoctivally written and you obviously have a flare for description. The difficulty is that they are too numerous and too long. You say this is from a completed novel, why don't you try pairing down another passage and then post it up?

Rocket Sheep
July 13th, 2004, 11:20 AM
Sequential actions being expressed simultaneously by writers overusing the ing form of the verb is my current pet hate after passivity. And so many popular and entertaining writers do it! Don't they realise what it does to me?

However, Orty, doesn't need ranting sheep. Sorry, Orty, sorry. It's not you. You've got the great story, you just need to know a few tricks.

Short sentences speed the action. Embrace them, make them your speed freak friends. Lightning flashed. Is a sentence. (Remember that light travels faster than sound but not by much when it hits you.) Don't use two words where one will do: ferocious crack = whack, blinding flash = flare, the horse in its flank = the horse's flank, that kind of thing. Keep it sequential and don't be afraid to spit out one action at a time in mini sentences. Active positive simple mini-sentences. The reader will speed read them.

Save the languishing sentences for the languishing moments.

July 13th, 2004, 12:09 PM
Thanks Sheep, I was just coming back to make precisely that point about using short sentances. And to apologise again if I seemed harsh first time round.

I was also going to recommend to you Orty, the thread started by Archmage on the fantasy board about:
Which current writers use language most effectively.
I always find that by reading a really good writer for a while before I start writing myself I can tap into their sense of rythmn and cadence. Thus I would suggest that you stay away from Dickens for a while and try picking up something by Guy Kay for instance.

July 13th, 2004, 12:49 PM
If you're looking for good prose that MOVES try just about anything by Roger Zelazny. I consider him probably my single greatest influence.


July 13th, 2004, 11:08 PM
Whew...my backside stings! I'm loving it though....really...I am. Keep it coming.