Critique Group – Zënaide

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Zënaide – by Hannah

Zënaide squeezed her eyes closed. Word battles raged around her in the court room, debating whether to declare her guilty or innocent. I didn’t do it, and they have no right to say I did, she thought fiercely.

A loud bang drew Zënaide out of her thoughts. As their leader’s son, Micreanis, drew back the red curtains hanging on the large balcony, the court room silenced. He stepped towards the crowd, and greeted the court warmly.

“My people,” he began, “I am sorry my father cannot be here to hold this important trial. I am confident I can handle it, though.” He smiled, then turned and took a large white folder from a guard behind him. He opened it, and began reading aloud, “‘Zënaide is accused of murdering the Sacred Flower, as she was the last one to be with it and touch it before my father found it wilting. She was with her friends Hyreo, Illiea, and Terowin, seeking knowledge for a school project,’” he paused, eyeing the three he spoke of. “Am I correct?”

The three friends nodded almost simultaneously. Micreanis pressed on, “Thirty-six months ago, Zënaide’s… father, so bitterly ashamed of her, threw her into the streets. He perished two nights after she left. No one, with the exception of me and Zënaide, know why. This has led to similar belief that this young woman–“ he nodded to Zënaide, his gaze fully on her “–is a witch.” His mouth closed almost abruptly, and he sat down.

Zënaide nearly lost complete control of herself, which is a rare occasion. Her father… she couldn’t even think about him without causing deep fury to sweep itself through her bloodstream. My father abandoned me. The memory banged in her head; she struggled not to relive it again.

Despite her best efforts, the memory flooded her thoughts, crashing through everything until only it remained.

The birds sang in the bright golden sunshine that day, warming their cold, aching wings. It was the first real day of spring. As Zënaide entered her small cottage, she heard screams and shouts from the back rooms. In spite of her panting and exhaustion due to her run from school, she bolted down the hallway, reaching the kitchen just as her mother’s new baby was ready to be born. Zënaide’s father, Denolú, so consumed in birthing his child, didn’t hear her enter. His focus concerned only this woman and their baby. Zënaide knelt beside her mother, clutched her pale bony hand, and willed her to live.

Finally seeing her, Zënaide’s father reached to her. She expected him to embrace her, murmur comforting words, something soothing, but he didn’t. He grabbed her shirt sleeve and threw her away from her mother. “Leave this room, young woman. Get Gernae water, a towel, and two poppy seed pills.” When Zënaide didn’t move, he shoved her. “GO, Zën!” Running fast, she left the kitchen the way she had entered, turned left into the bathroom, and retrieved the items from a cabinet. She ran numbly back to the kitchen, stopping when she felt Denolú’s hands grasp the pills. After a moment’s hesitation, Zënaide’s father whispered, “Thanks, Naide. Now leave, this isn’t something for a fourteen year old girl to see.”

“Yes sir, Denolú. You’re welcome.” Zënaide left, casting long glances at her mother’s nearly limp body.

Zënaide reentered when her father called her, though she knew she could return. She had been standing outside the door frame, not missing a single thing Denolú did. The cries of pain had subsided, now only a soft whimper replaced them. “Oh, Gernae, please stay with us,” Zënaide pleaded, clutching her mother’s hand again. The baby, a girl, lay writhing on a small white sheet a foot from its mother. Its cries, frail and pathetic, quietly subsided as the family sat watching, not doing a thing. Gernae sat up suddenly, hugged her husband tightly, then lay back down and whispered, “Take good care of each other.”

Bursts of “No! Don’t leave” and “Why?!” filled the kitchen. Zënaide, heart-broken and weary, looked to Denolú for support, but his gaze was far from love as he watched her. He stood, grabbed her neck, and dragged her to the front door.

“You killed her,” Denolú hissed in Zënaide’s ear, “This is your fault. If you would’ve gotten home earlier, you could’ve saved her” He hit her head sharply, then threw her into the yard, turned back to the house, and slammed the door.

Zënaide felt eyes burning into her skull, just as piercing as the hit from her father. “Zënaide?” Micreanis’s voice boomed above the nervous murmurs. “What do you say about these accusations?”

“W-what accusations?” Zënaide croaked, the memory still throbbing in her mind.

Micreanis closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “The ones about you being a witch,” came his voice, clear but strained.

“I-I… I don’t know what I think.”

“It is time for the mid-session break,” Micreanis changed the subject abruptly. He banged the gavel down. “I call recess.”

The rush of excited people out the eastward doors left Zënaide dizzy. The flashing color, angry words. She knew she couldn’t handle the next part of the trial. She wasn’t hungry, either. She stayed put in her chair, her mind empty and blank. Zënaide felt a tug on her hair, drawing her out of a daze. She turned to see Terowin grinning widely. “Hey,” he said, “wanna eat? I’m sure I could find a seat or two next to your friends.”

At Zënaide’s shake of her head, he left her alone. Looking after her undernourished cousin, Zënaide felt sympathy rise within her. He looked skinnier than usual. She brushed away the feeling away, breathing out a sigh as she gazed around the empty courtroom. The ceiling towered high above her, and the floor was littered with trash of all sorts. A tear trickled down Zënaide’s flushed face.

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19 replies

  1. Hannah,

    Overall, I think this can be a cool story. An accused witch on trial raises lots of emotion, especially since she has been abused.

    Now to the details:

    Zënaide squeezed her eyes closed. Word battles raged around her in the court room, debating whether to declare her guilty or innocent. I didn’t do it, and they have no right to say I did, she thought fiercely.

    Since the thoughts are in italics, you don’t need “she thought fiercely.” How does a person think in a fierce way? Can you show her fierceness instead of telling?

    Also, telling that word battles are raging is a lot less interesting than showing the battles. Can you show some of the words? Something like:

    “The wench is guilty. She was caught in the act.”

    “She was framed by a scornful rival. She was nowhere near the scene.”

    A loud bang drew Zënaide out of her thoughts. As their leader’s son, Micreanis, drew back the red curtains hanging on the large balcony, the court room silenced. He stepped towards the crowd, and greeted the court warmly.

    How is she seeing this with her eyes closed? What caused the bang? To whom does “their” refer in “their leader’s son”? I am having a hard time picturing this. Why are curtains hanging on a balcony in a courtroom? Are they veiling people who are watching? Courtroom is one word. No comma after “crowd.” This is not a compound sentence.

    “My people,” he began, “I am sorry my father cannot be here to hold this important trial. I am confident I can handle it, though.” He smiled, then turned and took a large white folder from a guard behind him. He opened it, and began reading aloud, “‘Zënaide is accused of murdering the Sacred Flower, as she was the last one to be with it and touch it before my father found it wilting. She was with her friends Hyreo, Illiea, and Terowin, seeking knowledge for a school project,’” he paused, eyeing the three he spoke of. “Am I correct?”
    I find his words to be counterproductive. Someone who is trying to instill confidence in others wouldn’t mention that he can handle it. Mentioning it raises the idea that maybe he can’t, which doesn’t help. This doesn’t sound realistic.

    “He paused” is not a speaker tag, so you would have a period after “project” and capitalize “He” in he paused. No comma after “he opened it.” It is not a compound sentence.

    The three friends nodded almost simultaneously. Micreanis pressed on, “Thirty-six months ago, Zënaide’s… father, so bitterly ashamed of her, threw her into the streets. He perished two nights after she left. No one, with the exception of me and Zënaide, know why. This has led to similar belief that this young woman–“ he nodded to Zënaide, his gaze fully on her “–is a witch.” His mouth closed almost abruptly, and he sat down.

    “Micreanis pressed on” needs a period after it, not a comma. How can a mouth close “almost abruptly”? It seems to me that an action is either abrupt or it isn’t. Also, the two parts of the sentence aren’t balance. “His mouth closed” sounds like the mouth is moving on its own, but he sits by volition. It would be better to write, “He closed his mouth and sat down.”

    Also, why “similar belief”? Similar to what?

    Zënaide nearly lost complete control of herself, which is a rare occasion. Her father… she couldn’t even think about him without causing deep fury to sweep itself through her bloodstream. My father abandoned me. The memory banged in her head; she struggled not to relive it again. Despite her best efforts, the memory flooded her thoughts, crashing through everything until only it remained.

    What does “nearly lost complete control of herself” look like? Can you show instead of tell? She was thinking about her father, so why isn’t she showing fury? That “telling” phrase is quite long, yet it seems that she is not furious, at least not in a way that readers can see it. You are not showing readers that she has such deep fury sweeping through her bloodstream. How does fury go through the blood?

    The italicized paragraphs are a flashback that comes in the middle of the action. This is not a good time to do this. The time it takes to think through this scene is much longer than the pause in the story, and there is no real pause at all. It amounts to an information dump.

    I won’t take the time to critique the flashback, because I think you should take it out completely. Whatever facts you need readers to know from the flashback should come out a little bit at a time through natural events in the story.

    Next: “I-I… I don’t know what I think.”

    I had trouble believing that she would answer this way. Yes, she was under duress, but if she isn’t a witch, it’s easy to deny being a witch.

    Next: “It is time for the mid-session break,” Micreanis changed the subject abruptly. He banged the gavel down. “I call recess.”

    You wrote this as if “Micreanis changed …” is a speaker tag. It isn’t a tag, so you need a period after “break.” Also, it is clear from what he says that he is changing the subject, so there is no need to tell what you have already shown. I suggest:

    “It is time for the mid-session break.” Micreanis banged the gavel down. “I call recess.”

    Next: The rush of excited people out the eastward doors left Zënaide dizzy. The flashing color, angry words. She knew she couldn’t handle the next part of the trial. She wasn’t hungry, either. She stayed put in her chair, her mind empty and blank.

    “She knew” is a narrator phrase that harms intimacy. Just write, “She couldn’t handle the next part of the trial.” Also, why mention that she wasn’t hungry? I don’t see why that came up.

    Next: Zënaide felt a tug on her hair, drawing her out of a daze. She turned to see Terowin grinning widely. “Hey,” he said, “wanna eat? I’m sure I could find a seat or two next to your friends.”

    I find it unbelievable that a friend would tug her hair, grin, and speak in such a casual manner to a girl who is on trial for being a witch.

    Next: Looking after her undernourished cousin, Zënaide felt sympathy rise within her. He looked skinnier than usual.

    The sympathy line is telling instead of showing. Show sympathy, like this:

    Zënaide watched her cousin walk away. He was so skinny, so fragile. The poor kid. If he didn’t get more food he would blow away in the next storm.

    Next: She brushed away the feeling away

    Delete one of the uses of “away.”

    Next: The ceiling towered high above her

    No need for “her.” Including it pulls readers away. Deleting it puts readers inside her head.

    Next: and the floor was littered with trash of all sorts.

    Can you show this? Give some examples.

    Next: A tear trickled down Zënaide’s flushed face.

    Since this is from her point of view, you can’t describe her face as being flushed. She can’t see it.

    Regarding the feel of the entire excerpt, you seem to have a mixture of old and new. The courtroom scene and the names felt old, but the manner of some of the speaking and house layout felt modern. This felt odd at times.

    Your main needs are to show rather than tell and to avoid the information-dumping flashback. It is difficult to bring in necessary back story elements while continuing the natural flow of storytelling, but doing so makes for a better story.

    Keep writing!

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  2. Thank you for the critique, Mr. Davis. You told me some very useful things. 🙂

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  3. That was a very cool story. I really want to know how it ends now!

    On a side note, where do you present a critique? I know the guidelines and everything, but where do you write it down on here?

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  4. Hannah,
    If you are the same Hannah from the last critique submission, your writing has really improved a lot! As Mr. Davis was pretty thorough in his critique I really don’t have a lot to add.

    I would just remind you to choose your words carefully and efficiently. By this I mean try to choose one word that relays the context as well if not better than three or five or seven words. Or sometimes just omit certain unneeded words. Less is usually better.

    Sometimes you have the right words, but they are in an awkward order and just need to be switched around. This can be tricky, I know. I have pained over a single sentence for hours.

    Some examples…

    Word battles raged around her in the court room, debating whether to declare her guilty or innocent.
    could be…
    Debate over her guilt or innocence raged around the courtroom.

    Since your first sentence shows we are viewing this passage through Zenaide, there is no need to add that the raging is going on around her in the courtroom as we already know she is there.

    I didn’t do it, and they have no right to say I did, she thought fiercely.
    could be…
    I didn’t do it, she thought, and they have no right to say I did.

    Normally I believe this one would be considered a narrator intrusion, but I personally don’t mind reading intrusions of thought and use them myself on occasion. However, I use them only sparingly and to the best effect I possibly can.

    His mouth closed almost abruptly, and he sat down.
    could be…
    He fell silent and sat.

    Try to avoid redundancies like ‘sat/hung down’, ‘stood/climbed/rose up’, ‘the sky above’, etc.

    Her father… she couldn’t even think about him without causing deep fury to sweep itself through her bloodstream.
    Could be…
    Her father-the thought of him made her blood boil.

    Short and efficient.

    Despite her best efforts, the memory flooded her thoughts, crashing through everything until only it remained.
    could be…
    The memory flooded her mind, washing away everything until only it remained.

    ‘Washing away’ links better visually with ‘flooded’. I don’t feel that you need ‘Despite her best efforts’ in this sentence. It is implied as the memory is unpleasant.

    Running fast, she left the kitchen the way she had entered, turned left into the bathroom, and retrieved the items from a cabinet.
    Could be…
    She rushed from the kitchen and collected the items from a cabinet in the bathroom.

    Efficient.

    Zenaide left, casting long glances at her mother’s nearly limp body.
    Could be…
    Zenaide shuffled towards the door, her gaze lingering on her mother’s limp body.

    This is an instance of order of events rather than efficiency. She can’t leave and then look at her mother. This can be a tricky sentence to construct without making it sound like her mother’s limp body is the one that left.

    Those are few examples. Overall I can tell a marked improvement over your story of Annabelle.

    Well done and keep at it!

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  5. Hi, Hannah!
    I thought your story was great!

    Here are a couple critiques I had:

    I found it strange that she called her parents by their first name…Maybe that’s part of their culture, I don’t know. If it is, maybe add a little hint off that. I had trouble pronouncing her name. I’m not sure how you would sneak that in, but maybe just something so that people have an idea on how to pronounce it. And I also found it strange on how she just responded “I don’t know what I think,” to her accusation.

    Couple of compliments. 🙂

    I loved the flashback. It was really emotion-packed and I loved it. And I liked the way she snapped out of the flashback, because you’re dazed for a second, just like she is.

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  6. Zënaide (Zeh nay d) And yes, it’s part of their culture. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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  7. Great story, Hannah! This story is really cool and I want to keep reading. This story is very compelling and held my attention the entire time. I liked how you used vivid details and descriptions to paint the scenes in my mind.
    There were only a couple things I noticed that could use a little fixing.

    A loud bang drew Zënaide out of her thoughts. As their leader’s son, Micreanis, drew back the red curtains hanging on the large balcony, the court room silenced. He stepped towards the crowd, and greeted the court warmly.

    How did drawing back curtains create a bang? Did Micreanis bang on something before drawing the curtain?
    And is there a specific reason there are curtains on a balcony? Why did he draw back curtains?
    Also, it says, ‘As their leader’s son, Micreanis,…’
    Who is the ‘their’ that is mentioned in that sentence? The court?
    I may have misunderstood most of this, them having different cultures and everything. I just wanted to point this part out and let you know it confused me a little.

    There was also this sentence:

    He hit her head sharply, then threw her into the yard, turned back to the house, and slammed the door.

    In this sentence, ‘ hit her head’ is kind of broad. I would suggest using a synonym for ‘hit’. Maybe ‘slap’ or ‘punched’ (quite an abusive fellow isn’t he? 🙂 ).
    Also, ‘head’ is a broad term. Maybe use ‘face’ or ‘ear’, instead.
    Also, there were four clauses (possibly phrases, I have a hard time figuring out which is which 🙂 ) in this sentence, all four having ‘he’ do an action in past tense. But the second clause has the word ‘then’ before the verb, while none of the other clauses have that word. I would take out ‘then’, just to make it flow better.

    There was this too that I noticed:

    After a moment’s hesitation, Zënaide’s father whispered, “Thanks, Naide. Now leave, this isn’t something for a fourteen year old girl to see.” “Yes sir, Denolú. You’re welcome.” Zënaide left, casting long glances at her mother’s nearly limp body.

    Why does Denolú call her Naide? Does it mean something? I was confused with this part because Zënaide is suddenly Naide. It was slightly confusing

    I really like your story. It’s awesome! Keep on writing! 🙂

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  8. Nathan, thanks for your critiques! 🙂 Naide is one nickname her father used, Zën is another.

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  9. Hannah,

    Great premise for a story! Witchcraft is normally a serious subject, so it becomes even more serious if there is a person who has been falsely accused. With that said, I’m not sure this is the best place to start this story. I, personally, find it jarring to find myself in a courtroom-type situation when the rest of the setting and scene is undefined. I find that I have to work overtime, trying to puzzle together a bunch of clues to answer the following questions:
    1) What kind of time period is this set in? What kind of medicinal knowledge and technology do they have?
    2) What kind of world is this set in?
    3) What’s already happened in this story world to bring us here? Is there something important?
    Trying to answer these questions makes for a stressful story opening.
    In addition, as you did introduce the question of witchcraft, I found myself wishing I knew the answers to two more questions:
    1) What, exactly, happened in her father’s death to imply /witchcraft/? Was it that suspicious?
    2) Is there really magic in this world? Is Zenaide actually magical?

    The fact that I had so many questions right from the start was a little frustrating. In addition, you threw a lot of names at us of characters we can’t even “see” yet. My suggestion would be to back up a little bit more when you go to revise this draft. If you started it with the scene involving the Sacred Flower, for example, you could show us a little bit of your story setting, set up the trial scene, and at least introduce the friends to us. You might even be able to show some of her emotions towards her father and hint at some of the trouble (baiting the reader) before the story in the flashback is revealed.

    All-in-all, I think this story has a lot of potential. Keep at it!

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  10. I never thought of it as jarring or confusing before (maybe just becuase I know all the info; being the author) but now that you point it out, I realize many could find that too many questions are raised – and not the good kind. 🙂

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  11. I love where this story is going. There is so much potential that you really could do some very cool things. There have already been some very thorough critiques here, so I will be brief. You might try experimenting with the order of things. For instance, starting with the gavel banging, having her drift in and out of the trial between memories and the conversations. Also, I think the back story is going to be amazing, but you may want to consider revealing less this early on. Keep writing, please!

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  12. Thanks! That’s really helpful, Chad!!

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