Critique Group – A Darkened Light

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A Darkened Light – by Josiah

Jacob Harrunson had always wanted to be a hero.

Unfortunately, living as a trader wasn’t helping him achieve that dream.

“Quickly—get him water!” Jacob heard his mother’s voice calling out from inside the tent and he moved closer. A wounded man had just been brought into the camp. Rumor had it that the man was a mage. His father had always told him to keep his eyes open for opportunities. And while, in context, his father had been talking about bartering well with strangers, Jacob was pretty sure he could apply it just as well to the situation at hand.

Jacob moved closer to the tent and stepped to the side as a girl with a bucket dashed out of the tent. Slipping past the folds of the entrance, Jacob moved into the tent to see his father lay a wounded man on the cot next to where his mother was standing. Jacob didn’t know that much about anatomy, but he was pretty sure that blood didn’t normally exit in such mass quantities. And he suddenly doubted whether or not this was really going to be an opportunity for much longer.

“Go see if you can find the person who did this to him!” his mother continued, now talking to his father, as she grabbed a knife. She ripped it down the front of the man’s shirt before stripping the bloody cloth off of him. “We can’t let them escape after doing this!” Jacob again moved to the side as his father dashed out of the tent.

The man opened his mouth to speak, but Jacob’s mother spoke first. “Jacob!” she snapped. “Stand by this man; I need to grab my supplies to try and save him!” Jacob nodded his head quickly—his mother was unwittingly giving him what he wanted. He stumbled over toward the man’s side as his mother hurried out of the tent and finally got his first look at the wounded mage. Upon further examination, the man was definitely dying. His aged face was bruised and his whitening gray hair was partially soaked with blood. Scratches and bruises could be seen all over his body, and his cloak was torn apart on his shoulder to reveal a nasty-looking wound. Two black arrows were lodged in his chest. Jacob felt a twinge of guilt for once thinking that this could be an opportunity for him. In truth, as much as his mother wanted to put on a good face, this would be nothing more than a funeral.

The man looked up at Jacob and tried to extend a clawed hand toward him, dried blood and skin under his black fingernails. “You…” the man said, and he suddenly clutched at his chest in pain with the other hand. “You… You there,” he gasped out hoarsely. “Come here—I want to help you.”

This man thought he could help him? Jacob felt bad for the man but he was really just fighting against fate at this point. Still, even a dying man should be pitied. Jacob knelt down beside the man as he opened his mouth to speak.

“Come closer,” the man rasped and lurched forward. He grabbed Jacob’s shirt with a surprising amount of strength and pulled him closer. Startled, Jacob began to pull back, but the man’s grip didn’t lessen. With his free hand, the man reached into his satchel which still hung loosely at his side and drew out a shining golden orb. Jacob stared at it in shock. But no sooner had the man pulled it out of the bag than he went into a coughing fit, bending over in agony. Blood spattered out of his mouth as he partially released his grip. Jacob stepped back, but his eyes remained fixated on the orb.

“Wait…” the man gasped hoarsely as he finished his coughing fit, looking up as a line of blood trailed down from the corner of his mouth. “What is your name, boy?”

“My name?” Jacob asked hesitantly. He glanced at the man’s hand, which was oddly distorted. White lines which appeared to be etched into his skin ran down from his fingertips into a white-etched circle in the palm of his hand.

Jacob looked back up at the man’s face. “I’m Jacob.”

“Iakob,” the man confirmed.

“No,” Jacob said frowning. “Jacob.”

The man seemed puzzled by the way Jacob pronounced his name. “Aye, Iakob,” he stammered in his accent. “Take it, Iakob.” He extended the golden orb toward him just as he again lurched into a coughing fit, doubling over in pain. Hesitantly, Jacob took the orb from his hand. While he came into this tent looking for an opportunity, he didn’t think that taking it from the hands of a dying stranger was generally a good way to do it. But he didn’t want to make the man angry. Jacob looked down at the orb. It was clear and lusterless, and despite the few sun rays that made it into the dim tent, the golden orb sparkled. Many different shades of gold seemed to move within it, as if it was golden smoke contained in a hollow container.

Biting back another cough, the man wiped his mouth with his cloak before letting it drop down again at his side. The cloak was smeared with blood. “You… you’ll need this as well,” the man gasped, holding out a ragged page that looked like it had been torn from a book. “Recite the words on it with your right hand on the Capstone to bind yourself to it and take hold of its power for yourself.”

Less hesitantly now, Jacob took the page while he looked at the man curiously. What did this man think he was doing—giving a prized magical object to a boy such as himself? This seemed too good to be true. And his father had always told him that if a deal seemed too good to be true, it was probably because he was being ripped off…

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8 replies

  1. Josiah, I really enjoyed reading it, good job, and I encourage you to keep writing.

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  2. Josiah,

    I like the premise—a young man seeking heroic greatness. That’s a story type that most readers love.

    Your first two paragraphs are really like a tag line rather than part of the story. They don’t relate to what’s going on. There is no transition from the thought to the action.

    I think instead of telling readers that Jacob wants to be a hero, you should show him trying to be a hero in his everyday life and show how being a trader frustrates that dream. As it stands, Jacob doesn’t appear to be striving for heroism at all, which I will point out as I critique.

    When I read the piece, I wondered if you read the list of mistakes to avoid – http://theauthorschair.com/2015/04/10/critique-group-avoidance-list-what-to-look-for-before-you-send/

    I address this “telling instead of showing” in #2 on the list. I will also point out other places where you made some of these mistakes.

    First, let’s look at the following paragraph:


    “Quickly—get him water!” Jacob heard his mother’s voice calling out from inside the tent and he moved closer. A wounded man had just been brought into the camp. Rumor had it that the man was a mage. His father had always told him to keep his eyes open for opportunities. And while, in context, his father had been talking about bartering well with strangers, Jacob was pretty sure he could apply it just as well to the situation at hand.


    You used “Jacob heard” like a speaker tag. Since you are writing in Jacob’s point of view, just report the mother’s call. I addressed this in #3 on the avoidance list.

    “He moved.” Use precise verbs. Moved doesn’t tell us how he moved. Did he walk? Leap? Run? Lunge? Also, you need a comma after “tent.” It’s a compound sentence.

    The next four sentences are back story. Since you began with intense action (see #5 in the avoidance list), this is not a good point to go back and tell. Events are happening in rapid succession. When you go back and tell about past issues, you harm the pacing.

    It would be much better to begin the story with Jacob doing something as a trader, show a brief relationship with his parents that gives readers an idea that his work is frustrating him. Then when the wounded man is brought in, he can show some heroic traits.

    Show the man being brought into the camp. Show people murmuring that he is a mage. Show his father (earlier in the story) telling Jacob to keep his eyes open. Show Jacob trying to be a hero.

    Next: Jacob moved closer to the tent and stepped to the side as a girl with a bucket dashed out of the tent.

    Jacob already “moved closer” in the previous paragraph. Again, use a more specific verb. Also, seeing the girl with the bucket caused Jacob to move out of the way, so you need to report that before the moving. I addressed this in #1 on the avoidance list.

    Next: Slipping past the folds of the entrance, Jacob moved into the tent to see his father lay a wounded man on the cot next to where his mother was standing.

    This is the third use of “moved.” Also “to see” is another narrator phrase. Just show the action.

    Next: Jacob didn’t know that much about anatomy, but he was pretty sure that blood didn’t normally exit in such mass quantities. And he suddenly doubted whether or not this was really going to be an opportunity for much longer.

    This is all telling instead of showing. You stopped the action to inform the reader with narrator-style text. It is better to inform the reader with the action.

    Also, Jacob seems to have no pity for this man. He is thinking only about his “opportunity.” He doesn’t even offer to get the water his mother called for. This is not a quality of a heroic character.

    Here is an example of how you might want to rewrite it:


    Jacob threw back the tent folds and ducked inside. His father laid the wounded man on the cot near the far end. Blood poured from chest wounds and spilled to the ground at Mother’s feet. “That’s a lot of blood, isn’t it?”

    “Way too much.” His mother fished through her medical bag. “I assume you want to help.”

    “Yes. Anything.”

    “Either get the water or find my knife. It’s around here somewhere.”


    Next: “Go see if you can find the person who did this to him!” his mother continued, now talking to his father, as she grabbed a knife.

    When I first read this, I thought the mother was talking to Jacob. Of course, you corrected that afterward, but it’s better to avoid the confusion by doing something like this:

    While I searched for the knife, Father dashed outside, shouting, “I’ll get the water.”

    When he returned with a sloshing bucket, Mother said, “Now see if you can find the person who did this to him.”

    Next: She ripped it down the front of the man’s shirt before stripping the bloody cloth off of him. “We can’t let them escape after doing this!” Jacob again moved to the side as his father dashed out of the tent.

    You used “moved” for the fourth time, and you got the events out of order. The Father’s dashing causes Jacob to move, so you need to report the reason for Jacob’s moving first. Also, I think she would give her reason for demanding the finding of the man immediately after the demand. Otherwise it seems that the father is waiting around to hear why before he moves.

    I might rewrite it as follows:


    “We can’t let them escape!” (This would go in the previous paragraph immediately after the demand to find them.

    Father dashed toward the tent’s opening. When I sidestepped out of his way, my elbow hit a basket and knocked it over, revealing the knife. I grabbed it and handed it to Mother. She ripped the blade down the front of the man’s shirt and stripped the bloody cloth away from his body.


    Next:


    The man opened his mouth to speak, but Jacob’s mother spoke first. “Jacob!” she snapped. “Stand by this man; I need to grab my supplies to try and save him!” Jacob nodded his head quickly—his mother was unwittingly giving him what he wanted. He stumbled over toward the man’s side as his mother hurried out of the tent and finally got his first look at the wounded mage. Upon further examination, the man was definitely dying. His aged face was bruised and his whitening gray hair was partially soaked with blood. Scratches and bruises could be seen all over his body, and his cloak was torn apart on his shoulder to reveal a nasty-looking wound. Two black arrows were lodged in his chest. Jacob felt a twinge of guilt for once thinking that this could be an opportunity for him. In truth, as much as his mother wanted to put on a good face, this would be nothing more than a funeral.


    For the rest of your submission, I won’t go over the types of issues I have already mentioned. I assume you will be able to root the mistakes out.

    In the above paragraph, again it seems like Jacob is self-serving. His only motivation to help is to make the most of an opportunity. This is a great place to show Jacob’s heart to be a hero. Instead of just describing the man’s features, have Jacob dip a sponge into the bucket of water and dab the features with tender care. Have him whisper words of comfort and encouragement. These actions will also give the mage a good reason to give Jacob the gift.

    Next: With his free hand, the man reached into his satchel which still hung loosely at his side and drew out a shining golden orb.

    This satchel comes out of nowhere. You need to foreshadow it somehow. The basic rule of foreshadowing is this: “Before a character actively uses something, show that thing in its inactive state.” In this case, if you choose to have Jacob sponge the man, he can notice the satchel and wonder what is in it.

    Next:


    “Wait…” the man gasped hoarsely as he finished his coughing fit, looking up as a line of blood trailed down from the corner of his mouth. “What is your name, boy?”


    You have two “as” phrases in the speaker tag, making it exceedingly long. I would take out “as he finished …” because since he is speaking, it is obvious he finished the fit.

    Next: The man seemed puzzled by the way Jacob pronounced his name.

    What about the man caused Jacob to think he was puzzled? Did he tilt his head? Did his eyes widen? Show us the visual that brought about Jacob’s observation.

    Next: “Aye, Iakob,” he stammered in his accent. “Take it, Iakob.” He extended the golden orb toward him just as he again lurched into a coughing fit, doubling over in pain.

    How does a man who is lying on a cot double over?

    Next: And his father had always told him that if a deal seemed too good to be true, it was probably because he was being ripped off…

    This seems like an odd thought considering that Jacob was paying nothing for the object.

    I think I’ll stop there. I saw a number of other issues, but I don’t want to weary you any further. I trust that others will chime in and give you more critiques.

    Again, I think you have a good premise. Here are the basics you should work on:

    1. Start with Jacob’s normal way of life and show his character qualities and his hopes.
    2. Show him being heroic, or at least more willing to help, instead of an opportunist.

    3. Use more precise verbs.

    4. Show, don’t tell.

    5. Put events in their proper order.

    6. Avoid narrator phrases, such as “Jacob heard.”

    I hope that helps. Keep up the writing!

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    • Thank you for this critique, Mr. Davis! I did read through that post before submitting my piece, but apparently I didn’t apply it carefully enough, haha. I really appreciate your time in critiquing my piece and will be sure to carefully go through all of your suggestions.

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  3. It looks like an interesting story and you opened in a good point to show who your character is. Now for the critique.

    Jacob moved into the tent to see his father lay a wounded man on the cot next to where his mother was standing.

    Bryan Davis already got some of this, but I did notice you use “moved” a lot, so you might want to watch out for repetitive words. Another thing in this sentence is “was standing.” It could easily be changed to “stood” and you’d have deleted a dull verb.

    “Stand by this man; I need to grab my supplies to try and save him!”

    This felt a bit off. If Jacob helps often, it should be obvious why she needs the supplies, so she doesn’t need to tell him “to try to save him.”

    Keep up the good work!

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  4. I like the premise of the story. There’s a lot of telling but when you do describe, like what the man looks like and the appearance of the orb, you do a good job. I like the sentence about nothing more than a funeral. You use the word etched twice when writing about the mage’s hand. I suggest dropping the one connected to the word white since the reader already knows what the lines look like against his skin. Also I didn’t really get the feel of where Jacob lived. Is it with several other tents or are they with one or two other families? If you decide to start the story earlier Jacob could see surroundings in day to day life, or if you start when the mage is brought in you could describe them trying to carry a litter over the rocky terrain or squeezing among the tents. Just ways to describe surroundings.

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    • Thanks for your suggestions, Haley! Good point about the setting; I’ll try to figure out how to work more of that in when I revise this chapter.

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