Critique Group – Windsong

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Windsong – by Anna

A jagged knife flashed before Crow’s eyes. A man lowered it, slowly, giving Crow a good look at its razor-sharp, serrated blade. Then the man’s twisted smile caught his attention.

The man spoke one word.

“Goodbye.”

The silver flash jabbed down, bit his cheek, tore down his body. He screamed.

“It’s a dream!”

Crow flopped backward onto the ground. His head landed in a patch of slush. He grimaced, sat up again, and shook the wetness out of his hair. What a way to wake up.

He took a deep breath and shook his head again. “It was a dream. Calm down.”

He wiped the sweat from his forehead. The back of his hand brushed a rough spot on his right temple. He scowled. Touching the scar was no way to forget the dream.

He took a deep breath and looked around. Night still lay over his quiet forest clearing. Shadow was the most visible thing there. Even when she was dirty from head to tail, the white horse stood out against the dark trees. It looked like she was still asleep. Not surprising; his nightly fits rarely disturbed her anymore. He was the only thing there that was awake. Good.

Crow stood up. No point just sitting around.

He gave a low whistle. “Shadow.”

She stood still, head down. Her tail flicked to her hindquarters, then back to center, probably to ward off a fly. But she didn’t need to be awake to do that.

“Shadow.” He walked over and stood in front of her, hands on hips. “Wake up.”

Still, she didn’t respond. He sighed, walked back to his sleeping spot, and picked up his bow and a large bundle of pelts. “You have got to wake up, Shadow. It’s festival day. The townspeople will be up early.”

A hoof thumped against wet ground. Shadow said, “Oh, drat.”

Crow smiled. “Good morning.”

“Morning?” There was a pause. “No, it’s night.”

Crow glanced up. The moon was well past midpoint. “No, it’s morning.”

“Is it?”

Crow turned around. Shadow glanced back and forth, ears flicking around, then put her head down and ate a clump of grass.

“Let’s get going,” Crow said.

“I’m hungry.”

He sighed. “Fine. I’ll give you a minute. But I want to get in and out early today.”

“Why?”

“It’s festival day.”

She lifted her head and chewed for a moment, a piece of grass hanging out of her mouth. “Is it?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’ve been watching them prepare.” He slung his bow and quiver over his back, set the pelts on a patch of dry ground, and bent to inspect last night’s fire. “I know a celebration when I see it.”

“All right.”

He pulled the last bits of meat off the bones of last night’s meal and chewed on the meat. “Ready?” he asked around it.

“If you are.”

He scooped up the pelts again. “Let’s go.”

 

Crow left Shadow just inside the forest. There was enough grass there to keep her happy while he got what he needed.

He slung the bundle of pelts over his shoulder. There were more than enough; he’d had good hunting this winter, between rabbit, deer, and bear. And even though spring was here now, the townspeople would take his wares.

He stepped out of the tree cover and stopped. That always felt strange. He glanced back to the short, scraggly trees at the edge of the forest. Nothing was near him, and Shadow could take care of herself.

He started forward again, padding barefoot across hard dirt. Here, out in the open, the snow had been gone for days, leaving the salt roses free. And it was a good thing, too; it was tough going to get down the hill path in the winter. It was easy enough now; the slope wasn’t too bad. All Crow had to do was choose his footing carefully, to avoid knocking stones loose or leaving footprints.

At the bottom of the hill, the narrow footpath joined a worn road. Crow walked in one of the ruts. A cold breeze brushed his face, bringing with it the scent of salt; below, down another slope, the sea pounded against the rocks. The town, though, was straight ahead. Its squat wooden houses showed up clearly in the moonlight.

Crow slowed as he approached the town. Just before he reached it, he left the road. He slipped between rose bushes and behind each house until he came to the weaver’s place.

He edged out from behind and looked around. No one was nearby. He glanced up and tightened his jaw. The clothesline between the weaver’s house and the storehouse was empty.

He stood there a moment, the pelts dangling from his fingers. He should have known they would do something like this. Townspeople were still smart people, people who didn’t like to lose their things. There was only one thing for it. He’d have to get into the storehouse.

He padded over to it and slowly set his bundle down. He pushed on the door. It didn’t move. He pulled a knife from his belt, glanced over his shoulder once more just to make sure, and slipped the blade between door and jamb.

Crow slid the knife upward until it stopped. He smiled. There it was. He stuck the knife blade into the wood of the bolt and jiggled. After a few tries, he got the bolt free. He withdrew his knife and pushed the door open.

The hinges squealed.

Crow whirled around, knife at the ready. That was brilliant.

No one came tearing around the corner of the weaver’s house, but he heard a noise inside. He’d have to be quick. He snatched up his bundle of pelts and slipped inside.

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5 replies

  1. Off the bat, it sounds like an interesting concept. The talking horse definitely caught my attention, and I really like that (I always love talking animals 🙂 ). Also, the way that Crow seems to view the world is very weird and different, in an interesting way. Night/day being switched in his point of view is something unique. I’m hoping to see the reason for this, and why his horse seems to think it was day, while Crow thought it was night.

    When Shadow first speaks, I think it would be more surprising to readers if you put her dialogue first and speaker tag second. This also keeps everything in order. The conversation between Shadow and Crow feels a bit abrupt and awkward, but that is only my personal opinion.

    Next. If Crow flopped backwards onto the ground when he woke from the dream, was he sitting up before? Mentioning ‘he sat up again’ implies that he was sitting up before, which seems an odd way to sleep. If thats how he sleeps, though, that’s fine.

    It may just be formatting, but the first time I read “It’s just a dream!”, I thought someone else was speaking, which really threw me for a loop. Is he thinking these things to himself, or saying them out loud? It’s hard for me to tell.

    That’s all I have to say for now. This mysterious Crow character who can either talk to animals, or owns a talking horse, is intriguing. Good job.

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  2. This caught my attention from the beginning, and I love the talking horse! 🙂

    The only thing I noticed, (and I may be wrong) is when it says ‘A man lowered it, slowly, giving Crow a good look at its razor-sharp, serrated blade.’ It should be ‘A man lowered it slowly, giving Crow a good look at its razor-sharp, serrated blade.’

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  3. Anna,

    I found your character and setting intriguing. I would read on to learn Crow’s next move.

    Let’s discuss some issues:

    In the first paragraph, I had some trouble with the use of Crow’s name and “man.” They seemed overused. If you would employ a more intimate point of view (POV), you wouldn’t need phrases like “before Crow’s eyes” or “giving Crow a good look” or “caught his attention.” Those are narrator phrases that harm intimacy.

    In intimate POV, if you report a visual, we know your POV character sees it. We know it’s before his eyes. We know he has a look at it. We know the visual has caught his attention.

    Here is what the paragraph might look like stripped of those phrases:

    A jagged knife flashed. A man gripped the hilt and lowered the razor-sharp, serrated blade slowly. His smile twisting, he said only one word. “Goodbye.”

    If you want to indicate Crow’s presence, you could insert his reactions instead of narrator phrases.

    A jagged knife flashed. Crow flinched and tried to dodge, but his body stiffened, immobilized. A man gripped the hilt and lowered the razor-sharp, serrated blade slowly. His smile twisting, he said only one word. “Goodbye.”

    Next: The silver flash jabbed down, bit his cheek, tore down his body. He screamed.

    This confused me, because the closest antecedent for “his” in “his body” is the man, the attacker. So I was wondering why he would slice himself. Then I figured out that you meant Crow’s cheek.

    I would insert Crow’s name at that point. “The silver flash jabbed down, bit Crow’s cheek, tore down his body. He screamed.

    Next: Crow flopped backward onto the ground. His head landed in a patch of slush. He grimaced, sat up again, and shook the wetness out of his hair. What a way to wake up.

    This confused me, because it seemed like he was sleeping while standing. Then I saw “sat up again,” which implied that he was sitting. Was he leaning against something?

    He seemed to know immediately that his head hit a patch of slush, as if he could see it and was aware of it. Wouldn’t it make more sense for his head to land in “something cold that crunched under the weight of his head”? Then he could sit up and see that it is slush.

    Next: He wiped the sweat from his forehead.

    When you use “the” before sweat, it indicates that the sweat was familiar or mentioned before. I doubt this, considering that it must have been cold. I would delete “the.”

    Next: Shadow was the most visible thing there.

    This threw me off. Since a shadow is a natural part of a moonlit forest setting, I didn’t think it was a horse’s name, so it took me a moment to figure everything out. I would rewrite to activate the horse somehow, something like, “Shadow flicked her tail …” as your intro.

    Next: Even when she was dirty from head to tail, the white horse stood out against the dark trees.

    “Even when” indicates a norm, not an actual fact of the moment. You don’t actually state that she is dirty, only that when she is dirty, she stands out. I would change “when” to “though.”

    Next: It looked like she was still asleep.

    What looked like she was asleep? What did Crow notice that made him conclude this?

    Next: “Morning?” There was a pause. “No, it’s night.”

    “There was a pause” is weak. I suggest providing a visual that indicates a pause. Maybe have Shadow look at the sky.

    Next: The moon was well past midpoint.

    My guess is that you are using this to indicate that it is past midnight. If this scene is set in our world, that would almost always be wildly inaccurate. The moon rarely traverses the night sky so that the midpoint of the arc indicates midnight.

    Next: Crow turned around. Shadow glanced back and forth, ears flicking around, then put her head down and ate a clump of grass.

    “Around” is repeated unnecessarily. First, why did Crow turn around? He had merely looked up, not the other way. Second, you don’t need “around” after flicking.

    Next: She lifted her head and chewed for a moment, a piece of grass hanging out of her mouth.

    Instead of “piece,” I suggest “blade.” It is more visual.

    Next: He pulled the last bits of meat off the bones of last night’s meal and chewed on the meat.

    This threw me off. I knew that he bent over to check on the fire, but now suddenly he has food to eat. First, it is foolish to leave food out in a forest during the night. Since you indicated that he hunted for bears, then they might be around. Even if not, other animals might steal it. I assume Crow is experienced. He should know this.

    Second, you have “last night’s fire” and “last bits” and “last night’s meal.” Try to avoid repeating words.

    Third, you should have a transition from simply checking the fire to suddenly eating food.

    Next: Crow left Shadow just inside the forest. There was enough grass there to keep her happy while he got what he needed.

    Watch for overuse of “was.” I counted 23 uses, which is way too many for a 1000-word excerpt. In this case, you could change it to “Plenty of grass grew there, enough to keep her happy …”

    I didn’t understand “while he got what he needed.” You have provided no indication of what he needed, so readers are left in the dark.

    Next: He slung the bundle of pelts over his shoulder. There were more than enough

    More than enough for what? Also, you can eliminate “there were” with a dash. “He slung the bundle of pelts over his shoulder—more than enough”

    Next: He stepped out of the tree cover and stopped. That always felt strange.

    What always felt strange? I don’t understand.

    Next: He glanced back to the short, scraggly trees at the edge of the forest. Nothing was near him, and Shadow could take care of herself.

    Why did he glance back? Why did he ponder that nothing was near him? Did he fear that someone was coming? I don’t understand.

    Next: He started forward again, padding barefoot across hard dirt.

    If he has animal pelts, why is he walking barefoot in the cold? He could make shoes.

    Next paragraph:


    Here, out in the open, the snow had been gone for days, leaving the salt roses free. And it was a good thing, too; it was tough going to get down the hill path in the winter. It was easy enough now; the slope wasn’t too bad. All Crow had to do was choose his footing carefully, to avoid knocking stones loose or leaving footprints.


    Note that you used “was” five times in this paragraph. I would try to get rid of them, especially the three uses of “it was.”

    Next: The town, though, was straight ahead.

    An easy way to avoid “was”: The town, though, lay straight ahead.

    Next: “until he came to the weaver’s place.”

    This indicates that he had a target in mind all along, that is, “the weaver’s place,” but readers are blinded to his intentions. This harms intimate POV.

    Next: He glanced up and tightened his jaw.

    Why did he tighten his jaw? I assume because of the empty clothesline. If so, you reported the reaction before the motivation, that is, we read the character’s reaction (tightened his jaw) before we read why. This is out of order. If we are in the character’s POV, we should see what he sees before he reacts to it.

    Next paragraph:


    He stood there a moment, the pelts dangling from his fingers. He should have known they would do something like this. Townspeople were still smart people, people who didn’t like to lose their things. There was only one thing for it. He’d have to get into the storehouse.


    This paragraph gave me the impression that he wanted to steal something, but you failed to foreshadow this or provide Crow’s intent earlier. Again, readers are blinded. Earlier, I got the impression that he was coming to the village to sell his pelts, so now I am confused.

    Next: He pulled a knife from his belt, glanced over his shoulder once more just to make sure, and slipped the blade between door and jamb.

    To make sure of what? You didn’t say what he was looking for.

    Next: No one came tearing around the corner of the weaver’s house, but he heard a noise inside.

    It’s usually a bad idea to report the lack of action. It’s true that no one came tearing around the corner, but a million other things didn’t happen as well. It is better to report what he actually sees, something like, “The weaver’s house lay dark.”

    “He heard” is a narrator phrase that harms intimacy. Also, can you specify the kind of noise to make it more engaging?

    Maybe the following:

    “The weaver’s house lay dark. Somewhere inside, a heavy footstep disturbed the silence.”

    Anna, I think you have an intriguing idea. My biggest issue is how you blind the reader to what’s going on in Crow’s mind. We don’t know why he is doing what he is doing.

    Keep up the good work!

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  4. Thank you, everyone, for your critiques! I need to do a lot of work. I didn’t even notice all the point-of-view issues in this excerpt, and probably throughout the rest of my draft as well. I’m very glad you all like my concept, though! Thank you again!

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  5. Nice concept. I’d keep reading. 😀

    Other than the things that have already been pointed out, I noticed these:

    “Not surprising; his nightly fits rarely disturbed her anymore. He was the only thing there that was awake. Good.”

    Between “Not surprising…” and “He was…”, there should be a paragraph break, since it’s a change in topic. It threw me off a bit.

    “…his night fits rarely disturbed her anymore.”

    I would think that if they’ve been together that long, they’d be close friends, but because of the lack of body language shown, I got the feeling that they were close companions and nothing more. If they were, I would think that maybe Crow would pat her flank, stroke her nose, or something. I’d expect some similar action from Shadow; a nudge with her head, a snuffling of Crow’s hair.
    So are Shadow and Crow friends, or just traveling companions??

    Keep writing and God bless,
    -Merenwen

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