December 26th, 2009, 03:17 PM
General Criticisms Appreciated
First of all, sorry in advance for the 3,000 words
Second, this is a very rough draft (never revised) so if bad prose is to you what nails on chalkboard are to me, then click away now.
Third, because this has never really been revised, I don't particularly want specific things I should fix or change. That would take you, the critic, pages to write, and I have a feeling you do not want to write pages. If you do, for some reason, take the time to read this, all I really want is general things that really bug you about my writing.
I am hoping that this will be the first part of a much longer story, and since I have next to no experience with revision I decided to post this here in an attempt to anticipate what to avoid doing in the future and what I can fix in this.
Thank you in advance! (I hope)
Edit: I apologize profusely for the mini-paragraphs
[The strikethrough'd text is text that I hate and will likely completely replace, but it is, for the moment, essential to this part so skip it or read it, your choice.]
It was the last morning of my childhood.
[STRIKE] I woke up and saw the ceiling above me, the red glow of the night fighting a losing battle against the ever brightening blue glow of the morning.[/STRIKE]
Of course, like any event, momentous or mundane, the end of my childhood did not begin that day, or even that month for that matter. The orders had been given, armies moved, battles fought, and storm-clouds shifted months and years before, so that my life would change that day.
[STRIKE]I woke up for a second time, moments later, and saw the ceiling above me, the red glow of the furnace being steadily pushed back by the blue glow sneaking around the curtain.
After a weary moment or three spent staring at the ceiling above my head, I finally worked up the resolve to stand up and get about the day.
I lazily dressed by the warmth of the furnace vent before walking over and drawing back the curtain over the window. A mistake. The first real chill of the year, following close on the heels of the storm the night before, rushed into the room, barely rustling the curtains on the way in. Too late, I swished the curtain back in place. The damage had been done.
Already resigned to a bad day - I never have liked cold - I swung a coat across my shoulders and made my way downstairs through the strange passageways my father had designed. First down the narrow stairs and through the concealing tapestry, being careful of the bit of wall sticking up from the floor, and down the hallway that had my parents' bedroom and study and down another, wider set of stairs into the main hallway to the front door.
[R]"It's about time you got up," my mother called from the kitchen, "It's halfway to midday already! If you weren't down in another couple of minutes, I was going to come up there, late night or not."
I grunted in response and cut some slices of bread and cheese for a quick breakfast.
"I'm exhausted," I exhaled as I fell into the chair.
"And how's that? You just slept half the day away. Maybe that'll teach you not to wait so long to do your work around the house."[/STRIKE]
As if purposefully to prove her wrong, I soon bundled up and began the long walk to town to meet my friends and do whatever it was we were going to do that day.
That day, it was a little game we had made up that we called the forest game. It was essentially hide-and-seek with a little twist: there was a little 'jail' where the hiders who were caught went, at which point they were guarded by one of the two seekers. The twist was, if one of the other hiders who had not been caught could tag the inmates, they would be set free.
Generally speaking, that meant that the seekers were almost guaranteed to win at some point, provided that they could find the hiders (which they always could, since one of the seekers was always one of the twins) and provided that the jailer always stayed at his post. Which he generally did not. It is rather easy to distract a bored, twelve year old boy.
I was, as always, one of the hiders. Early on they had discovered that I almost never left my post when I was the jailer, and consequently I was quickly relegated to the hiders.
The two seekers were Alistair, the oldest of the group, and one of the twins, Asher. Asher's position as a seeker was the result of yet another quirk of our group. Asher [R] and his twin Dorre [R] were extraordinarily talented at moving through the woods unseen and unheard, to the point that they could have been invisible and it wouldn't have helped much. As might be expected, they were never allowed on the same team.
One time, we decided to try having both be seekers, the rationale being that it might be possible to hide from them, even if it was impossible to find them. It was easily the quickest game on record. Not only did they quickly find us, they made a trap out of the jail by appearing to wander off, while doubling back to catch whoever tried to free the inmates. I happened to be one of those unlucky ones and got the fright of my life as Dorre lunged out of a previously empty bush.
Certainly a game such as that had its fair share of scares - indeed, almost every game was constant tension broken up by intense moments of fear - but at least normally it is an expected fright. Empty bushes do not generally launch boys at cautious observers [R]. As the injured party, I was one of the major proponents of the permanent separation of the twins. I won.
In exchange, I only had to agree that I would never be a seeker again, as when I was a seeker we had an uncanny knack for winning. I prided myself on being more or less patient. At least sometimes. When I felt like it.
In fact, anyone who knew me well would definitely not describe me as patient, nor would I, if it came to it. That was part of the curiosity of my winning streak: it made no sense. The best way that I could explain it to myself was that there really wasn't any reason not to be patient. If I waited, we would win. If I didn't, we would not. Simple as that.
Still, I was banned from being a seeker, which only left the constant tension of one of the hidden.
That day, I was particularly proud of myself and my hiding place. I hadn't hidden far from the road that initially separated the seekers from the hiders while the hiders found their places, but I had taken extra care to hide my trail so that Asher would find it more difficult to use the woodsman's skills learned from his father to find me. With a little bit of luck and nose breathing, Asher would quickly pass me by without even noticing that I had hidden so close.
A few moments after the count reached two hundred, Asher flickered between some trees that I could barely see on the edge of the road. Already his eyes were fixed to the ground, searching for a likely trail. It didn't take him long, as skilled a woodsman as he was, and he was quickly off, moving with barely a whisper between trees following some invisible trail.
He wasn't following my trail, so I wasn't overly anxious, but as his path took him uncomfortably close to my hiding spot behind a bush at the crux of two twin trees, I couldn't help but catch my breath in anticipation of a lunge that did not come.
He moved by, I cautiously and silently exhaled.
A few moments passed, with no sound but the whisper of the wind through the almost still leaves.
A poke, followed by, "I'm impressed, I almost missed you," said in a quiet, innocuous voice.
"Son of a - !" I yelled as I twisted around.
Asher was chuckling quietly behind me, his eyes losing some of their usual quiet intensity. Still in a low voice he said, "You need to work on getting in to your hiding place. I didn't see your trail at all, but that bush right there might as well have been a sign post screaming, 'Here! Here!'"
Grumbling, I straightened up, trying to maintain my dignity by brushing twigs off my sleeves. "Well, I'll be off to jail then." I actually thought I had him that time, but I guess I should have known better.
"Don't worry, you'll have company soon," he said, grinning devilishly. His face quickly became suspicious and he wagged his finger as he warned, "But don't you be provoking Alistair, I told him not to move from his post."
"I would never dream of it."
With a quick hmph, Asher was on his way to scare some more unsuspecting victims cowering in the undergrowth.
Much less carefully than I had come, I made my way across the road and to the jail, a small clearing just beyond a screen of trees four or five deep.
"So your little plan didn't work that well, did it?" Alistair greeted me with a grin.
"Oh, don't gloat, Alistair. Like you could have done any better." I had forgotten that I had told Alistair about my 'perfect' plan for hiding place.
Alistair replied, "I dunno, I think if I ran straight to the jail screaming 'Here I am!' it might take a bit longer."
"You don't look like a bloody bush to me," I muttered darkly.
That had the intended effect of thoroughly confusing him.
I was feeling a bit petty because Alistair was entirely right. If I would have thought for a moment before rushing off to my so-called 'perfect' hiding place, I would have made some sort of strategy with my team. But no. I had been so convinced that I would win easily just sitting there that I completely neglected actual planning. Alistair would never had forgotten that. Making strategies was something of his forte.
Unfortunately for him, he was already larger than all the other boys - despite the fact that he was only half a year older than me, the second oldest - and it was reflected in his woodsman's skills, very poorly [R]. He couldn't hide his trail from a blind man, let alone someone as skilled in tracking as one of the twins.
Alistair broke the silence, stating, "I suppose you're going to try to distract me or something like that now aren't you?"
I casually looked from side to side, as if scanning the trees for something. "No, not yet, I don't think."
A huge grin split Alistair's face. "You didn't make a plan, did you?" I shrugged casually, my face blank. "You didn't! So, what? Are they just hiding out there with no idea what to do?" I shrugged again, my face still blank, though inside I saw a faint ray of hope that he might use backwards logic backwards. "Now you're just trying to trick me. I'll bet you were so excited for your new little hiding spot that you completely ignored everyone else." And there went my faint little ray of hope, crushed by Alistair's reason.
I tried to keep my face blank, but I guess something must have told Alistair that he'd struck a nerve because he burst out laughing.
After his laughter died out, and my glowering faded away, we sat for a while waiting for the others to come back, watching and waiting. It really was quite beautiful at this time of year. The leaves were just beginning to change, so most of them were green, but with just a few hints of gold peppered in for variety. It was also silent, eerily silent for a forest that usually had a barely noticeable yet omnipresent hum and buzz of activity as squirrels scampered, birds darted, and foxes padded.
There was none of that. It was dead silent, not even a breeze to disturb the complete tranquility of the motionless forest floor.
A flicker of movement caught my eye. High above the clearing, a falcon cut its way across the sky in an arrow-straight line, moving away from the forest in the east, and towards the civilization in the west. Behind the falcon, the sky was darkening rapidly, though as yet the source of it was blocked by the towering trees.
Looking at Alistair next to me, I could see that he was also captivated by the silence of the forest, though he had not looked up to see the kestrel. I was loathe to break that ineffable silence, but I felt compelled to say, "We should start heading in, a storm is on its way."
He waited a moment longer, trying to hold the fading silence, before a distant roll of thunder brought it to a final end. He sighed, glancing up at the sky. "I want to see how far away it is," he said, before leaping into a tree, lunging from branch to branch.
When he reached the top, moments later, he just sat there for a minute, staring. Though I could not see his face, something intimated that his eyes were wide open and his mouth wider.
"Farion," he murmured disbelievingly down to me, "you have to come see this."
"Alistair..." I replied, uncomfortably, "you know how I feel about heights like that."
"Farion." he said, looking down at me momentarily to reinforce his point, "It doesn't matter. You have to come see this."
"No, it's fine Alistair. I don't need to see it that badly." I did not like heights at all.
"How can you have a room on the third floor of your house, higher even than I am right now, and claim to be afraid of heights?" There was Alistair's pesky reason again. "Didn't you see how easy it was for me? If the tree can support my weight, and if I can climb up here without falling, you'll have absolutely no problem."
It was true, the branches probably wouldn't even know I was there, let alone think of snapping. Which would lead to a fall of at least ten feet. At best I'd break a couple of bones, at worst I'd die. Or was it the other way around? Would I rather break half the bones in my body or crack my skull open and die instantly? Both images flashed through my head in all their gory detail, with accompanying sensory impressions.
Probably wouldn't happen.
"No, thanks anyways. I'll stay down here."
"Farion, please. I promise you won't fall. Just please come up here? I promise you a dozen times over that you will not regret it."
That swayed me a bit. Alistair had picked up strong notions of honor and valor from his mother and the memory of his father, who had reportedly died as a knight in battle. Of course, his promises of my safety were entirely pointless, but he did seem adamant that whatever was up there was worth the risk...
"Is it really that important? You would risk your life to see it?" I called back up to him, wavering.
"You're not risking your life to see it, you idiot." Seeing the expression on my face he relented a bit. "I guess it would depend on the odds."
I knew it was what he thought was a white lie, but curiosity overcame my dwindling fears.
Who knows? I might even have gotten over my fear of heights then and there if it had gone well. But, as things tend to go, it did not go well.
Grumbling the whole way up, I slowly and reluctantly swung myself onto the first branch, being extraordinarily careful not to look down, even from that negligible height. Alistair's impatient calls came down to me, pushing me faster until, without realizing precisely how it had happened, I thrust my head above the top of the trees and stared at one of the most awesome sights I have ever seen.
A thunderhead, or rather, a large army of thunderheads, loomed across the horizon as far as the eye could see, crackling with lightning that erratically lanced out from the clouds at any point along the miles-long line of clouds.
But what was truly awe-inspiring, beyond the sheer size of it, was the color. Beneath the monolithic cloud, in a line so fine the eye could scarcely make it out, the sun may as well have not existed. It was a black that bespoke the absence of all light, so black it seemed to come from another realm entirely, drawing you into its unfathomed depths. Surely it was not of this world, but rather the stuff of dreams and nightmares.
But then there was the top of the cloud, miles and miles above the perfect blackness of the ground, the massive fluff that b_______ over the cloud below it, reflecting the perfect white of the sun, the blinding white of the sun. Where the blackness drew in, the whiteness pushed away. Even to look upon it for a second was to risk blindness.
But what was in between, in the comparatively insignificant cloud that lived neither in utter darkness nor in blinding light, there was color. There was purple: the purples of the mountains, the purples of wildflowers, the purples in between. Then there were the blues of the deepest rivers, of the deepest seas. And then there were the other colors. The purples so majestic, the blues so mysterious, that I doubted that the richest tapestry in the world could capture such colors. Though, admittedly, I knew little of the matter.
I do not know how long Alistair and I stood up there, staring at that cloud; it could have been seconds, or minutes, but likely not more than a few.
I do know that we were shaken out of our reverie by loud talking down below. Alistair and I both turned to glare down and our friends, who had arrived from their game and were now wondering where we were, as I said, loudly.
"We're up here," Alistair called down, in a decidedly annoyed tone.
Their heads all snapped up simultaneously.
"What're you doing up there?" Asher called up, "You're supposed to be guarding the jail."
Before Alistair could answer, Brand, the youngest, asked, "How'd you get Farion up there?"
That was exactly the worst thing to say. Suddenly, I remembered where I was (twenty or so feet in the air), and it was far too late to avoid looking down. And, in what could perhaps ironically be termed the 'perfect storm,' the wind chose that moment to kick in. At that moment, I learned how it feels to fly. Very briefly.
(Note: the storm-cloud is significant throughout the rest of the story)
Last edited by Farion; December 27th, 2009 at 03:53 AM.
Reason: 1) Spaces. 2)Wow that made that sentence better
December 27th, 2009, 09:29 AM
Originally Posted by Farion
I will be one of those to click away, but not without a polite reason as to why. You want a critique, but not for anything like grammar. You also don't want specifics. While this might be an easy way to dismiss any criticism by saying "I told you this was a rough draft", it doesn't help or protect you as a writer in my opinion. Why? Because it is the grammar and specifics that get you tossed into a circular file by an acquisitions editor. There is also the idea that folks like me are willing to take time out of their schedules to help you. In return for this gifting of time and expertise should you not take advantage of the opportunity and present your very best? Look at what a professional editor charges - and you are getting advice like that here for absolutely nothing. I think it deserves better than a rough draft on your part.
I am more than willing and happy to critique your work, but for me you need to bring your "A" game.
Hope this prods you into another swing at this (grin).
December 27th, 2009, 01:31 PM
You're completely right. That was actually one of the reasons (the only rational reason) why I considered not posting it originally, but guilt by association made me question the rationality of it, since all my other reasons for not posting were completely irrational. So, in the end, I decided that at worst no one would read it.
What I'm getting at is I completely understand what you're saying, and I'll be back in a little while (hmm... deadlines are supposed to be good for revision...) to edit in a revised copy over the old copy.
Until then, thank you for your polite frankness.
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