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Darknel
August 19th, 2004, 03:06 PM
This was the start of a story I wrote about a year ago now and had intended to have critiqued here but couldn't seem to post to the right section. Looking back at it now it seems a bit amatuerish even to me (a rank amateur) but I would still be grateful for any feedback. In particular I'm looking for views on the prose style. Please be ruthless, I'm yet to meet a critic of my work harsher than myself would be delighted to do so.

It was often said that the harsh lands of Northern Sermenia were the inspiration for the word desolate; Sagan was beginning to understand why. Black clouds lowered overhead, shrouding the windswept landscape in a preternatural gloom. Grey mountains loomed oppressivly, their towering summits dissolving into the murky, damp nimbus. Even in the height of spring there were precious few signs of life on the shale strewn slopes, save for the brown clumps of coarse bracken which sprouted tenaciously from the stony ground.

Lost in contempation, Sagan absently stroked the knotted mass of his greying beard, his undyed robes billowing in the mounting wind. In the distance thunder rumbled ponderously, like a leaden cart trundling over a bridge.
‘Not a soul to be seen old man.’ A voice purred behind him.
Startled from his reverie Sagan spun angrily ‘Damn it Victor,’ he snapped ‘how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me!’ A hooded figure, half the height of a man perched nonchulantly on a rock. A patch covered the halflings left eye, but his right eye sparkled wilfully as he met the wizards glare ‘And how many times have I told you to pay more attention. Remember what happened in Estolad when -’ Another roll of thunder cut Victor short. ‘Storms getting nearer,’ Sagan muttered as though to himself. Gazing intently skyward the wizard fell silent again; then, seeming to have just remembered his friend ‘I fear we have attracted unwanted attention Vic.’
‘Shit,’ the halfling groaned ‘I thought you said these barbarians abstained from using magic.’
‘They do,’ Sagan leant closer his voice dropping to a conspirital whisper, as if he feared the rocks themselves may be listnening, ‘This is something different. No human could have such a massive presence.’ Victor felt icy fear coiling in his stomach. ‘I first felt it back in Vlasnof, but it seemed little interested in what we were doing.’ the wizards’ voice was little more than a subdued hiss in the halflings ear ‘I fear that has changed. We’re being hunted.’

A flicker of lighning momentarily illumined the scene. Sagan straightned and drew a deep calming breath. ‘We should head back to camp now.’ he said.
‘Of course,’ Victor smiled back uneasily, ‘someone has to hold Friedrich’s hand during the storm.’
Sagan barked a laugh ‘It’s Karl I’m worried about.’

A roaring gale buffeted the two adventurers as they struggled down the rocky path, their cloaks flapping wildly behind them. Stinging sheets of rain mercilessly raked the hillside. ‘There’s something unnatural about this storm.’ Sagan bellowed over the howling wind. Victor nodded, striving to keep his balance as another gust threatned to blow him off his feet. ‘There's a small cave ahead.’ the halfling shouted back. Slipping on rain slicked rocks, Sagan stumbled after the spry figure bounding ahead of him into what was little more than a shallow recess in the rock.

‘We should wait here, till the storm eases.’ Victor said struggling out of his dripping cloak. ‘This all reminds me of when I was in Canlon.’ The halfling continued whilst rummaging in his pockets ‘It was during the rainy season you see,’ he paused to light his pipe ‘I was staying in the Katang valley with an order of warrior monks. Anyway one morning we were in the courtyard training when.-‘ Victor stopped. Through the cloying tendrils of pipe smoke now swirling in the dank recess, he saw that Sagan was sitting motionlessly, staring out into the storm. ‘Uh, is everything alright Sagan?’ Slowly the wizard raised his head, rivlets of water running down his deeply creased face. ‘Victor,’ he said laying a hand on his companions sodden shoulder ‘I want you to head back to camp and get the others up here. Quickly.’
The hobbit gave the wizard a probing stare as he re-fastned his cloak. ‘I gather your "unwanted attention" has arrived?’

For a moment the halfling stood bemused as he found himself roughly shoved out into the torrential deluge. ‘Run!’ a voice yelled behind him. Suddenly the air was pulsing with flapping wings. Dark shapes streaked out of the roiling clouds, their broken voices screeching in a terrible cacophony. Wild panic clutched Victor as he plunged frantically down the mountainside, cruel talons rending the stormy air around him.
Through the shimmering green barrier which sealed the cave's entrance Sagan watched the harpies scrabbling fruitlessly to reach him. Despite his confidence in the spell an involuntary shudder rattled down his spine as a hissing mass of sinew and claws slammed into the shield. Dark, leathery skin stretched taut over the simian creatures bony form. Bestial eyes glared from a twisted parody of the human face, threads of saliva dribbling from elongated canines. The wizard winced as another beast lunged at him. ‘Perhaps some fire will dissuade you.’ he muttered. Closing his eyes to the outside world, the sorceror drew the winds of magic around him.
A wave of fear snapped Sagans’ eyes wide open again. A massive presence disturbed the winds of magic, the sorcerous waves whirling around the monolith. A sense of futility washed through him, like cold fingers squeezing his heart. Not even his most potent spells could so much as scratch this ancient force. He was only dimly aware of the involuntary evacuation of his bowels and the steely taste of blood in his mouth as his veins silently ruptured. Red blotches swam before his vacantly staring eyes, dispassionatly watching as a seething crush of claws and fangs scythed through the dissipating barrier.

Expendable
August 19th, 2004, 03:24 PM
A good start, its well written. I'm not sure why this unseen force decides to squash Sagan, but he's clearly overmatched and can't be that much of a threat. So it's cruel too.

Only if its so powerful, why send the harpies at all?


Lost in contempation, Sagan absently stroked the knotted mass of his greying beard, his undyed robes billowing in the mounting wind.

I don't like the use of 'undyed' here. You're better off saying dark, dusty, pale or stained than undyed I think.

choppy
August 19th, 2004, 04:51 PM
Choppy hopped back and fourth outside the old phone booth like a kid who had to pee. He rapped on the door, urgently waiting for the lone occpant to leave.

"Alright already," the man inside said, hanging up the phone. "Got to get me a cell phone."

Like a dash of light, Choppy zipped inside.

"That will be $1.35," the automated phone said.

"But I'm not using the phone," he argued. "I just have to change."

Yes. New rules. All superhero identity changes are charged $1.35. Thank-you for choosing Telus."
"I'll deal with you later." On went the mask, and for a $1.35, digital theme music blasted through the streets (earning the hero a $35.00 fine for violating a city noise by-law).

Hands on his hips, mighty chest puffed out, leotard uniform so tight his religion was known to all...
"Fear not! The Masked Critiquer is here!"
__________________________________________________ ______________


This is pretty good Darnknel. You do a great job with the setting creating a very good atmosphere for the opening of a story.

"We're being hunted." For me, the was the line where the story really got going. It's a real attention grabbing line and presents your characters with an obstacle. I wasn't sure that I caught exactly what Sagan and Victor were up to in the first place. Do they just like hanging around on mountian tops?

The language felt a little out of place in parts of this. Consider for example when Victor says "****"... this just felt too colloquial for the rest of the piece. (Although maybe you were going for something a little less authentic, more gritty?)

As a note on dialogue and format (I'm using a linux machine at the moment, so I'll accept that some of this may not be your fault) - spoken words should be inside of double quotes ("speech") rather than single quotes ('speech'). The single quotes are used for speech within speech. As well, it's usually a good idea to start a new paragraph whenever a new character is speaking.

Towards the end when Sagan is being attacked he has the line: 'Perhaps some fire will dissuade you. This felt almost cartoon-ish which wasn't too consistent with the feel in the rest of the story.

Overall I think you did a good job. Keep writing.

Expendable
August 19th, 2004, 05:36 PM
Choppy hopped back and fourth outside the old phone booth like a kid who had to pee. He rapped on the door, urgently waiting for the lone occpant to leave.

"Alright already," the man inside said, hanging up the phone. "Got to get me a cell phone."

Like a dash of light, Choppy zipped inside.

"That will be $1.35," the automated phone said.

"But I'm not using the phone," he argued. "I just have to change."

Yes. New rules. All superhero identity changes are charged $1.35. Thank-you for choosing Telus."
"I'll deal with you later." On went the mask, and for a $1.35, digital theme music blasted through the streets (earning the hero a $35.00 fine for violating a city noise by-law).

Hands on his hips, mighty chest puffed out, leotard uniform so tight his religion was known to all...
"Fear not! The Masked Critiquer is here!"

(suave spokesperson wearing a mask and cape)
Superheros, how often has this happened to you?

With the advent of the cellphone, decent usable phone booths are becoming fewer and fewer, coupled with the dangers of camera phones and old grandmothers throwing themselves and their clothes at the changing superhero.

Sure, you can try a public restroom if you have the time to wait in a line, or duck down a homeless-occupied alley. Even rooftops are a problem with the various news helicoptors on the prowl not to mention spy satilites.

So is the supply closet your only alternative? Never fear! We have the perfect solution for you! The briefcase model Portable Phone Booth. Easily carried, springs open at the touch of the button, 1-way mirror glass panels to protect your privacy, folding seat and handy hooks to store both your civilian and superhero attire.

Bulletproof panels available on request.
Get yours today at any Superhero Depot or by visiting our website!
(website info flashes onto screen)

Darknel
August 20th, 2004, 12:20 PM
The Darknel dusts himself down as he gets back to his feet, his gaunt features set in a humourless smile.

Thanks for the views so far, but come on guys you can hit harder than this.

Expendable: first of all stop demeaning yourself with a name like that (how about 'Invalueable' instead?). Secondly, if the word "undyed" is the only one you object to, I think I'm doing pretty well ;)

Choppy I'm hearing all your criticisms but the trouble is these were largely points I was already aware of. The colloquialism for instance was an edit specifically for submission here, I originally wrote this to submit to a genre magazine and the line actually has the name of a diety from that universe (similarly I changed the place names from the first manuscript).

As to the whys are wherefores of Victor and Sagan being up in the mountains this is left intentionally ambiguous at this stage for reasons which only become clearer later on.

Sorry that this sounds like a refutation of all criticism so far, I genuinely do appreciate it and see the points you are making. I am seriously considering sending a second draft of the story stemming from this intro to a publisher so PLEASE, tear into me! It's the quality of the writing I want your views on. Does this seem good enough to go to a publisher? If you saw this printed would you just think: "wow, look at the talentless mooks that can get into print."? Am I just a deluded fool wasting my time here? If you feel the answer is yes please don't spare my feelings and tell me so.

Expendable
August 20th, 2004, 02:58 PM
1. Because Invaluable was taken and makes me sound like I've got a swell head. Please, I don't need another lecture about my name. I get a ton of them daily from people who jump in without asking.

2. I'm sorry about that superhero ad I put up, it was just a bit of fun.

3. Your hidden adversary's coming on too strong. He seeks out and immediately squashes Sagan like a bug and Sagan doesn't sound like he's a pushover. Anyone who goes after this adversary is going to get squashed too unless they can avoid being noticed. I can't see how anyone can.

But its a good story, good writing, not much to critique yet.

choppy
August 20th, 2004, 05:18 PM
Does this seem good enough to go to a publisher? If you saw this printed would you just think: "wow, look at the talentless mooks that can get into print."? Am I just a deluded fool wasting my time here? If you feel the answer is yes please don't spare my feelings and tell me so.

Unfortunately I'm not a publisher, so I can't say what makes the grade and what doesn't (despite my little build-up). Based on technical issues (the quotes and several spelling errors for example) it would probably be tossed aside as is, but I'm guessing that you're planning to polish it off a little before you send it out. I do know that even if the writing is great a story may not make the cut, simply because it doesn't fit what the publisher is looking for that particular month.

There's nothing here that stands out and tells me that you should "quit now and stop wasting your time" - if that's what you're looking for.

Expendable - I really liked the Superhero Depot. Unfortunately I spent my last $35.00 on the aforementioned noise by-law fine. There's not much money in critiquing these days. I do however have one slightly chewed pen I'd be willing to trade.

Rira
August 20th, 2004, 06:37 PM
Excellent, Darknel. i dont have Choppy's talent for critiquing, but as an avid fantasy reader, i'll say that the opening would keep me turning pages as fast as i can.
i guess the only thing i picked up on was the "winds of magic." cool phrase, but its repeated again a sentence later, and it just made me pause a bit...and i think it lost is affect the 2nd time. maybe it could be changed to just "winds" or "flow of power"....something like that.
i liked the dialouge between Victor and Sagan, it flowed nicely, and the discription of the attack.
like i said, its excellent. i hope you post more. id love to read it.

daiquiri_ice
August 21st, 2004, 12:07 AM
This is really good. I'm just offering up personal opinions here so take what works and chunk the rest. I'm simply looking at this with an eye for what flows easily and makes sense from a reader's perspective.


Black clouds lowered overhead, shrouding the windswept landscape in a preternatural gloom.

It seems as though 'lowered' is something a person would do (lowered the rope, lowered his expectations). Perhaps consider using 'descended'. This is a descriptively busy sentence - black, shrouding, gloom - these are all telling me the same thing. Were the clouds rain swollen? Was the wind churning them into a preternatural gloom?


Grey mountains loomed oppressivly, their towering summits dissolving into the murky, damp nimbus.

The use of 'loomed' and 'towering' seems redundant.


Even in the height of spring there were precious few signs of life on the shale strewn slopes, save for the brown clumps of coarse bracken which sprouted tenaciously from the stony ground.

The use of 'shale strewn slopes' and 'stony ground' seems redundant. The first description clearly paints a 'stony' landscape. The use of 'coarse bracken' also becomes redundant because the shale and stony already portray this as a coarse, harsh environment.


Lost in contempation, Sagan absently stroked the knotted mass of his greying beard, his undyed robes billowing in the mounting wind.

As mentioned in a previous post, 'undyed' doesn't work here. It feels like a hiccup. Also I think 'mounting' is unnecessary here because the use of 'billowing' does the job nicely all by itself.


In the distance thunder rumbled ponderously, like a leaden cart trundling over a bridge.

Lose 'ponderously' - it's too much and takes away from an otherwise wonderful sentence.



‘Not a soul to be seen old man.’ A voice purred behind him. Startled from his reverie Sagan spun angrily ‘Damn it Victor,’ he snapped ‘how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me!’

Noted in previous post - double quote thingy and change paragraphs when speakers change.


A hooded figure, half the height of a man perched nonchulantly on a rock.

Nonchalantly.


A patch covered the halflings left eye, but his right eye sparkled wilfully as he met the wizards glare

Those dang apostrophe! halfling's
And those dang periods at the end of sentences! .


‘And how many times have I told you to pay more attention. Remember what happened in Estolad when -’ Another roll of thunder cut Victor short.

Did Victor stop talking or did the sound of the thunder drown out his voice?



‘Storms getting nearer,’ Sagan muttered as though to himself. Gazing intently skyward the wizard fell silent again; then, seeming to have just remembered his friend ‘I fear we have attracted unwanted attention Vic.’ ‘Shit,’ the halfling groaned ‘I thought you said these barbarians abstained from using magic.’

More double quotes, new paragraph for a new speaker.


‘They do,’ Sagan leant closer his voice dropping to a conspirital whisper, as if he feared the rocks themselves may be listnening, ‘This is something different. No human could have such a massive presence.’ Victor felt icy fear coiling in his stomach. ‘I first felt it back in Vlasnof, but it seemed little interested in what we were doing.’ the wizards’ voice was little more than a subdued hiss in the halflings ear ‘I fear that has changed. We’re being hunted.’

DId you mean conspiratorial? Consider changing 'wizard's voice was little more than a subdued hiss' to simply 'the wizard hissed'. You can accomplish a couple of things by doing this: 1) remove the redundant use of the word 'little' which also appears in the previous sentence and 2) avoid diluting the impact of 'hissing'. By 'subduing' the hiss, you in effect remove the urgency from the wizard's voice.


A flicker of lighning momentarily illumined the scene. Sagan straightned and drew a deep calming breath. ‘We should head back to camp now.’ he said.
‘Of course,’ Victor smiled back uneasily, ‘someone has to hold Friedrich’s hand during the storm.’
Sagan barked a laugh ‘It’s Karl I’m worried about.’

'Flicker', 'lightening' and 'momentarily' all say the same thing. They all imply quick flashes of light. Revise this and make it more succint. Consider using 'Lightening illuminated ...' whatever it illuminated - a landscape, a barn, a figure moving at the edge of their camp. I did not get the feeling from what I read up to this point that Sagan was unduly shaken or upset so 'deep, calming breath' seems a little unusual.


A roaring gale buffeted the two adventurers as they struggled down the rocky path, their cloaks flapping wildly behind them. Stinging sheets of rain mercilessly raked the hillside. ‘There’s something unnatural about this storm.’ Sagan bellowed over the howling wind. Victor nodded, striving to keep his balance as another gust threatned to blow him off his feet. ‘There's a small cave ahead.’ the halfling shouted back. Slipping on rain slicked rocks, Sagan stumbled after the spry figure bounding ahead of him into what was little more than a shallow recess in the rock.

The use of 'mercilessly' seems overkill when you've got 'stinging' and 'raked' in the same sentence. This paragraph seems a little heavy on the adjectives. 'Spry' and 'bounding' are redundant - one who is spry would be expected to bound and one who bounds is assumed to be spry. One would also expect rain slick rocks to be slippery or that if one slipped on the rocks in a rain storm it is because they were rain slicked.


‘We should wait here, till the storm eases.’ Victor said struggling out of his dripping cloak. ‘This all reminds me of when I was in Canlon.’ The halfling continued whilst rummaging in his pockets ‘It was during the rainy season you see,’ he paused to light his pipe ‘I was staying in the Katang valley with an order of warrior monks. Anyway one morning we were in the courtyard training when.-‘ Victor stopped. Through the cloying tendrils of pipe smoke now swirling in the dank recess, he saw that Sagan was sitting motionlessly, staring out into the storm. ‘Uh, is everything alright Sagan?’ Slowly the wizard raised his head, rivlets of water running down his deeply creased face. ‘Victor,’ he said laying a hand on his companions sodden shoulder ‘I want you to head back to camp and get the others up here. Quickly.’
The hobbit gave the wizard a probing stare as he re-fastned his cloak. ‘I gather your "unwanted attention" has arrived?’

This transition from reaching shelter to pipes to stories to urgency happened too quickly and without a well threaded narrative. Because of this I find the implied danger unbelievable. Consider expanding on their time in the cave just a bit more - settling in, drying off, smoking, chatting with an underlying tension that builds until Sagan instructs his friend to bring their companions to the cave.


For a moment the halfling stood bemused as he found himself roughly shoved out into the torrential deluge. ‘Run!’ a voice yelled behind him. Suddenly the air was pulsing with flapping wings. Dark shapes streaked out of the roiling clouds, their broken voices screeching in a terrible cacophony. Wild panic clutched Victor as he plunged frantically down the mountainside, cruel talons rending the stormy air around him.
Through the shimmering green barrier which sealed the cave's entrance Sagan watched the harpies scrabbling fruitlessly to reach him. Despite his confidence in the spell an involuntary shudder rattled down his spine as a hissing mass of sinew and claws slammed into the shield. Dark, leathery skin stretched taut over the simian creatures bony form. Bestial eyes glared from a twisted parody of the human face, threads of saliva dribbling from elongated canines. The wizard winced as another beast lunged at him. ‘Perhaps some fire will dissuade you.’ he muttered. Closing his eyes to the outside world, the sorceror drew the winds of magic around him.

Several problems here. It was not clear to me who was being attacked. I think a spell was cast here. But this was not entirely clear either. Where did the shield come from? Was this a real shield or was this the result of the spell? 'Bestial' is redundant - it is a beast after all, isn't it? The last sentence is very cliche-ish.

See part deaux... :p

daiquiri_ice
August 21st, 2004, 12:09 AM
Part Deaux... :p


A wave of fear snapped Sagans’ eyes wide open again. A massive presence disturbed the winds of magic, the sorcerous waves whirling around the monolith. A sense of futility washed through him, like cold fingers squeezing his heart. Not even his most potent spells could so much as scratch this ancient force. He was only dimly aware of the involuntary evacuation of his bowels and the steely taste of blood in his mouth as his veins silently ruptured. Red blotches swam before his vacantly staring eyes, dispassionatly watching as a seething crush of claws and fangs scythed through the dissipating barrier.

'A massive pressence' and 'winds of magic' are redundant (gosh, I'm starting to sound redundant with my use of redundant!). The first phrase appears early in the sample (4th or 5th paragraph) and the seond in the previous paragraph. Lots of 'lies in this paragraph - dimly, steely, silently, vacantly, dispassionately. It feels very heavy on the adjective / adverb side but they don't seem to lend themselves to clearly describing what transpired. I think the wizard died from his veins rupturing but I'm not sure what caused it to happen or if it even happened. I don't know what the monolith is that you referred to and I'm not sure what it is that he was fighting. I don't really know much about the wizard so I don't feel very connected to his sense of futility. I didn't really sense much loss here - but that may be very well because of the short sample.

There is one theme I noticed throughout your writing - you use adverbs and adjectives almost to the point of excess. Too many of these and your writing can become an exercise in filling the page instead of telling the story. Sort of like when you were a kid and had to write a five page essay and you would write in great big letters so you could fill upthe five pages more quickly without having to put in a lot of content. Same, same. Be careful of uncommon or elite words (i.e., preternatural, nimbus, cacophony) . I get the feeling that you had your thesaurus open as you were writing and chose words that sounded original. Unfortunately, if you have to continually send your reader to the dictionary while they are consuming your story it will quickly become too much like a homework assignment or worse, make them feel 'talked down to' by your narrative. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself every time you type an adjective or an adverb if it is necessary. Look up the word you are trying to enhance (the verb or the noun) and compare its definition to the definition of the adverb or adjective you are about to use. Most times you will spot the unnecessary ones right away. For example: tip-toed quietly (tip-toed, by definition implies minimal sound) or torrential deluge (a voilent stream of liquid and an overwhelming amount of water, respectively).

Sagan and Victor needed more development. Who were they before they knew each other? How did they come to be companions? Are they together by choice or by circumstance? And who are these companions back at camp? What was their mission and what was their destination? Without any of this, it was very hard to care about what happened to them. I found myself more intriqued by and cared slightly more for Victor but I think this was because you revealed a little about him when he began to tell his stories. A bit more prep before the nasty demise will make the stinky in Sagan's britches a little more tolerable and a lot more sympathy-deserving.

Again, take what works for you, revise or not but don't stop writing because I found problems. Your story has a lot of potential and I'll look forward to another post from you! :)