Critique Group – All the King’s Daughters

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All the King’s Daughters – by Ashley

The last clod of earth fell into place at the edge of the mound, and three knights bent to smooth it with their own hands, their falling tears turning the dirt to mud.

Prince Konrad of Tholen’s mouth twisted in a sneer. What a ridiculous display of weakness. His knights wouldn’t cry over his grave. Crying was for children and women.

From the end of the mound, Prince Konrad cleared his throat, then spoke, raising his voice to be heard. “Sleep well, my dear brothers, Konner and Kurt, and my nephews Torsten and Esmond! May you wake in the arms of Christ! We will take care that our dear kingdom of Tholen until we join you. Men of Tholen!”

Konrad turned to the assembled knights, men-at-arms, and peasants. “Let us drink to their honor! They were the mildest of men and the gentlest, kindest to their people, brave, intelligent, humble, and courageous!” He lifted his drinking horn high, and as one, they drank the stale beer provided.

Then he dismissed them to finish the massive clearing of the battlefield. Konrad wiped his mouth as he ambled back to his tent.

Around him, smoke rose from smoldering grass and piles of burning enemy corpses, tingeing the blue sky grey and darkening the two moons to a red hue. Konrad’s living soldiers ranged the plain, busy at their post-battle tasks. The mass graves had already been dug and the dead placed inside, and the tall mounds of earth were almost finished. Squires attended to their knights’ horses, others gathered broken weapons to be melted down or repaired. Some soldiers guarded the prisoners of war, who would eventually be ransomed back to their people. Camp women tended to the injured and cooked.

Konrad grimaced as he approached his tent. How much his body ached! The last battle had lasted all day, and even at the rear flank he had been bruised and beaten. And then there had been that boy! What a stupid peasant!

Inside his tent, Azalea was waiting for him. “Poor thing,” she cooed, kissing him and stroking his beard. “You look weary. And smelly.”

“You’ve no idea, my sweet.” He groaned as he sat on a low stool and let her remove his boots.

“But now you’ll get to have so much fun, now that you’re the king!”

Konrad’s laugh came out as a bark. “You are right, my lark. I am the king. I only had to wait for my two elder brothers and both their sons to die in battle.”

Azalea winced. “I’m sorry, Kon. They were such nice people.”

“Nice to a fault. They never had any fun. Always off to church or helping with harvest or writing this or that.”

She clapped her hands. “Will we have lots of balls, now? Not any of those silly foreigners, though. I can’t understand a word they say. Except that foreign tailor. He makes lovely things.”

“We will see. I’ll get the army back up to snuff. We won and lost today. We won for now, but we lost a great deal. Soldiers need to be recruited. Taxes need collecting.”

“Ooh, can I have something pretty to wear?”

“Don’t you have enough, little girl?”

“Not as much as your wife.”

“Well, she is a princess. Queen. Ugh, she’ll be delighted.”

“Too bad she couldn’t have been here. She might have gotten in the way of a stray arrow or rock.”

Konrad automatically raised his hand to slap his mistress, but reconsidered when Azalea cringed away fearfully. “Don’t say those sort of things anymore. That’s treason that even I might not always forgive. She gave me my sons Godric and Leofsige.”

“I’m giving you a son, too!” She patted her four-month belly.

“Yes, but that one can’t be king. Huh. By the fates, Godric is heir! He’s always wanted that so badly. He tried to beat up his cousins several times. Got his back end handed to him, mostly. Well, now he’s got his wish.”

Azalea pouted.

“Now, now, don’t put wrinkles on. You’ll be comfortable as you can wish.”

“So will Aelfgifu and Marietta and Luce.”

“Yes, they will have a little comfort, too. Be generous, as I am. All of you were once poor girls without anything. Why, Luce’s father wanted to send her into prostitution! I couldn’t let that happen, could I?”

Azalea shook her head, not looking at him. She, too, had been a penniless orphan facing a life in a nunnery or on the street when the prince had taken a liking to her and made her his mistress.

“Then we shall worry about that later. For now, I need to rest.” She helped him with the rest of his outer garments and tucked a light blanket around him on his pallet.

He must have slept for only a few hours when Azalea woke him up. “Kon, important people want to talk to you.”

Konrad stretched and rose from his pallet. Why couldn’t they let him rest?

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19 replies

  1. Ashley,

    I enjoyed the gritty darkness in this piece.

    Overall, your writing is clear and mostly free of errors. Good job.

    I hope you will introduce someone likeable soon, because so far, I greatly dislike your characters. I need someone I can cheer for.

    Now for some details.

    In the first paragraph, I would like to get a quicker picture of the size of the mound. At first, I pictured something small. Maybe you could write “burial mound” in the first sentence.

    I had a hard time believing that tears were turning dirt into mud. That’s a lot of tears.

    Since you are writing from Konrad’s point of view (POV), he probably wouldn’t call himself by that full title. Also, the way you wrote the “sneer” sentence removes readers from inside his body and forces a look at him from the outside.

    For intimate POV, it would be better to write it this way – “Prince Konrad of Tholen twisted his mouth into a sneer.” That way, the motion is internal instead of external.

    Next: He lifted his drinking horn high, and as one, they drank the stale beer provided.

    This sounded strange, that they all had drinking horns in hand while the dead were being buried.

    Next: “the two moons”

    Good way to show early on that this is another world.

    Next: Konrad’s living soldiers ranged the plain

    You probably don’t need “living” unless zombies are among them. 

    Next: Camp women tended to the injured and cooked.

    On first reading, it sounded like camp women tended to the cooked, as if some of the people had been cooked. Maybe you could reverse the order – cooked and tended to the injured.

    Next: And then there had been that boy! What a stupid peasant!
    Good foreshadowing.

    Next: Azalea was waiting for him.

    This is weak. How about a visual with a stronger verb?

    Next: “You look weary. And smelly.”

    He looks smelly?

    Next: “But now you’ll get to have so much fun, now that you’re the king!”

    At this point, the dialogue strained believability. This mistress is in a tent close to the battleground, and she starts chattering about having fun. I think if she were more covertly suggestive, it would be better. I have a hard time believing that such an immature girl can be at a battle station, chattering about having fun.

    Next: They were such nice people.

    Nice seems like an odd choice of words in this context.

    Next: “Nice to a fault. They never had any fun. Always off to church or helping with harvest or writing this or that.”

    This also seemed like an odd thing to say. Fun? This is a battle commander speaking. And complaining about going to church? He sounds like a petulant child.

    She clapped her hands. “Will we have lots of balls, now? Not any of those silly foreigners, though. I can’t understand a word they say. Except that foreign tailor. He makes lovely things.”

    I won’t continue commenting on the rest of the conversation. It seemed like a petty, childish exchange. I think it would be much better to make it more mature, covert, and conniving.

    Next: reconsidered when Azalea cringed away fearfully.

    The reconsidering is reported before the reason for the reconsidering.

    The latter half of the conversation became somewhat of an information dump to establish back story and other characters. I think you need to bring out that information with more gaps between tidbits. Don’t dump so much in one conversation. It becomes contrived.

    I would like to see a few more visuals in the tent. We know that a stool and pallet exist, but what else. You can bring in one item in a time as the conversation continues by having Konrad pace and pick up things. Azalea can do the same.

    Next: She helped him with the rest of his outer garments

    Helped him remove them?

    That’s all. 🙂

    I think the biggest issue is Azalea’s character and conversation. It would really sparkle to have her be more mature and conniving instead of girlish and silly. Also, I would to see you shorten the conversation and avoid the dialogue dumping.

    Keep up the good work!

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    • Thanks for the input! Sorry I couldn’t reply back yesterday…I was away from home all day aaaand I forgot you were going to post my chapter.

      I will certainly work on their dialogue. I really haven’t edited this scene since I wrote it. The original draft had the nice king (Konner) helping to finish the grave and then talking to his son, then heading home to the capital. I deemed him too nice and needed a more antagonistic fellow. So here came Konrad and his mistresses. Sadly, I had to kill the two older brothers and their sons. But they provided no tension in the story.

      I actually intended Azalea to be silly. It just seemed natural, and let his other girlfriends be crafty and manipulative. But perhaps it should be the other way around?

      My problem with these characters is that they are indeed more sypathetic. Isn’t there something about a good “villain” (though these two are not the main antagonists) had some trait that makes them a smidgen sympathetic?

      And don’t worry…I have people you can cheer for coming up. Grieving parents, grieving widows, and the main character with a fiery personality.

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      • Did you mean “sympathetic”? If so, more sympathetic that what? I felt no sympathy toward these characters.

        Regarding Azalea, she is silly, wants to have fun, and is pregnant. That seems out of place so close to a battlefield. Since she craves fun, she wouldn’t want to be there, and pregnancy would make the situation far more difficult.

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        • I have completely redone the conversation. You’re right; most of it was out of place and silly. I have replaced Azalea with Marietta, who is not so silly. More selfish. However, I made Konrad just a little less cold, or I hope I did.

          ~~
          At last Konrad reached his tent and his squire held the door flap for him. The interior of the tent was dimply lit by a single lantern hanging from the center pole. The squire and two pages followed him in and began removing his armor. Finally, Konrad, clad in clean hose and clean tunic, flopped down on a mound of blankets.
          “Ouch!” The mound of blankets kicked him and he moved aside. The blankets parted to reveal a dark-haired woman with sleepy eyes.
          Konrad groaned. “Marietta, I hate it when you do that.”
          “Do what? Kick you or hide under the covers?”
          “Both.”
          “Then go sleep with your wife. I like blankets and I do kick when you sit on me.”
          Konrad laughed and flopped next to her. “My dear little Marietta, you amuse me so.”
          “And your smell annoys me so.”
          “You would smell, too, after a day in battle.”
          “Can’t you take a bath?”
          “Only if you would bathe me, my sweet.”
          “Maybe. But I’m too comfy right now. Oh, how did the battle go?”
          “We won. Or something. And…my brothers and nephews are dead.”
          That made his mistress bolt upright. “By the Ancestors! All of them?”
          Konrad nodded, and rubbed the top of his head. “Yes, dead. And I—” A lump formed in his throat. “They were good people. Better than I.”
          Marietta apparently did not here the last part, because she exclaimed, “That means you are the king! We’ll get to move to the capital! Imagine the balls and parties! You won’t have to listen to anyone anymore! Oh, please make me your official mistress!”
          “You’re a selfish little thing, aren’t you? Is that all me becoming king means to you?”
          Marietta pouted and snuggled back down beside him. “Konny, I’m devoted to you. You know that. More than Azalea, Luce, and Aelfgifu. And more than your wife.”
          “Yes, yes, you coddle me like a child when you’re not trying to charm me,” Konrad said, with a laugh. “Don’t worry, dear. You will be comfortable. We will all be more comfortable. No more living in the shadows of my brothers. And yes, no one to tell me what to do.”
          Marietta snorted. “Don’t put it past that ridiculous Julia. She’s a busybody, and a goody-two-shoes.”
          “Konner’s wife—sorry, widow—is rather nosy but I think she means well, in her way. We have never been close. She may have only be a shoemaker’s daughter, but she is very influential in the royal court, so you and the other girls had better be nice to her. I’ll see if I can get her to leave and return to her own country once my wife and I get settled in.” Konrad sighed. “I am sorry that my nephews are gone. They were good lads. Unlike my spawn.” He clapped a hand to his head. “Blasted Ancestors, my goose-brained son is the crown prince! He’ll be pleased, if no one else. Well, I’ll give him a command and maybe that will toughen him up.”
          “I’m sure it will. Don’t fret. Just rest right now, my prince—no, my king!”
          Konrad rolled his eyes before closing them and was asleep almost immediately.

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  2. I liked this! You did a great job! That I noticed, there weren’t any grammar/spelling errors, which is awesome!

    Though I agree with Mr. Davis, I’d hope you introduce a likable character, or greatly change one of the ones you have now.

    But anyways, can’t wait to read more!! 🙂

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  3. This was very well written, good job. You did good in showing us what kind of people your characters are through actions and dialogue. My first thoughts are that I greatly dislike Konrad, and you did a good job of displaying his character traits. I could also pick up on Azalea being a very silly women it seems, based on how she acts. If this is what you wanted to show, then good job! I agree with what Bryan Davis said, especially about the tears on the grave. Perhaps you could something like “their tears left muddy trails in the dirt”.
    I would be interested to read more!

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  4. Hey, Ashley!

    Wow! I love this snippet of your story! The first sentence pulls you right in, and the second paragraph is a wicked follow up. Great job! You are a skilled writer.

    Here are some things to consider:

    “The mass graves had already been dug and the dead placed inside, and the tall mounds of earth were almost finished.”
    I think this sentence is too long. Consider splitting into two sentences or turn the coma into a semicolon like: “placed inside; the tall mounds…”

    “But now you’ll get to have so much fun, now that you’re the king!”
    Two “nows” in the same sentence. I think it would read better if you remove the first one.

    “Not any of those silly foreigners, though.”
    I was confused when I first read this sentence because it transitioned right from the subject of balls. Consider reworking to something like “Let’s not invite any of those silly foreigners… .”

    I was confused when Azalea started talking about Konrad’s wife. I assumed she was his wife, and so I didn’t understand her sarcasm about the queen getting killed in battle. It might be better to make the fact that she is his mistress clear earlier.

    Are Aelfgifu (wow, that is quite a name to try and say lol), Marietta, and Luce also Konrad’s mistresses? This isn’t quite clear. If they are, consider tweaking Azalea’s story a couple paragraphs down to something like: “…had taken a liking to her and made her one of his mistresses.”

    “Then we shall worry about that later. For now, I need to rest.”
    Since this quote is followed by “She…” I thought Azalea was speaking. I had to reread the paragraph to understand what was going on. Maybe rework it?

    Overall, I like how despicable Konrad is. He was too cowardly to even kill his own family (speaking from a villainous standpoint). Suffice it to say that I 100% believe Konrad is an evil person. Ew. Great job!

    That said, is the whole book from Konrad’s point of view? I would not want to be stuck in his head for a long time, because he is so gross.

    I agree with Mr. Davis that Azalea’s character is a bit of a stretch. She has a cartoony, Harley Quinn kind of attitude. If that’s the style you are going for, then I think she’s fine. I was mildly entertained by her. But if you intend for the story to be dark, then you may want to reconsider her character.

    I love your style. You did a great job killing speaker tags. I got accurate vibes for who the characters are. I have questions about what is going to happen next (like who is the little boy and what did he do?) and I can say that I would keep reading this story. Keep up the good work!

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    • Don’t worry. Konrad is not the main POV. We have a grieving wife and mother (probably one of my fave characters) coming up, and then my protagonist. I simply needed to set the story up. The first chapter is critical for the story, I think. Unfortunately, I have an idea in the back of my mind that it might be wasting time when we could do straight to my main character. My other writing group did not think so, nor do I. I was more worried about being in other POV’s other than my MC.

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      • Considering these unlikeable characters, I think I would prefer meeting a likeable main character first.

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        • My problem is that I have a large chunk of “set up” to do before we meet my MC that I feel is important. But perhaps it’s not? I submitted the second portion of chapter 1 to you, which has a likable character. Then chapter 2 brings my favorite character, Julia, who is the dead king’s wife and Konrad’s sister in law. She is not intimated or fooled by him, and doesn’t quietly slink into retirement. It’s really Julia who concocts a plan to keep their kingdom safe–and that plan leads to my main character and the succeeding chapter.

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  5. Great job on this :). If you intend to have Azalea stay silly, I would recommend that you make sure she is very useful to the story. The silly characters that tend to work well are the ones that are smarter than they let on or that are important to the plot, rather than just being along for the ride. A good example is Misa Amane from Death Note, I’ll warn you that the show is a bit dark, though. If you want me to name a few examples of how she is silly but useful to the plot and intelligent, feel free to ask 🙂

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    • Oh, do tell! I tried watching that show but the foul language drove me off.

      I’m just not sure how I could integrate her more. She’s more a device to display Konrad’s less than moral personality.

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      • Cool.  The usefulness matters more if the char shows up more than a glimpse or two, but it’s still best to make every character useful rather than just show up now and then.

        (Spoilers ahead, everyone!)

        I think one of the things that stood out to me the most in terms of showing Misa’s intelligence was how she found Light.  Light saw that another person with the Death Note was looking for him, so he made a well thought out plan to avoid detection: hiding within a crowd of people so that none could tell who Ryuk, his shinigami, was actually attached to.  But not only did Misa track Light down, she disguised herself skillfully and deduced how to use the rules of the Death Note to identify Light.  Throughout the story, she is crucial to the plot both because she helps Light and occasionally hinders him, giving him yet more challenges.  She is also a great comic relief character, meshing well with the rest of the cast and thus bringing about humorous situations.  And even though I don’t agree with her views and see her as a villain, she isn’t only following Light because she’s his fangirl.  One of her motivations for her devotion is that Light inadvertently killed the criminals that murdered her parents, which gives her a little more depth and a reason for people to feel sorry for her even if they don’t want her and Light to win.

        You seem pretty flexible with what happens in your story so far, so if you want to do more with Azalea you certainly have the opportunity 🙂 If she’s just a minor character, you don’t have to do a ton with her to make her an effective character.  Think about the fact that she is a part of life for at least a few characters.  Decide how to portray ha and think of what the results are.  Is Azalea actually less silly and more manipulative than she lets on?  Is she eager to be near a battle field because she is sadistic, a thrill seeker, or because she doesn’t take danger seriously?  Is she used and manipulated by those around her?  These things can open a world of possibilities when it comes to making a minor character useful.  If she was, say, manipulated into poisoning an important well and then forced to shoulder the blame for it, a character like her could be poised to be a catalyst for the rest of the story’s plot.

        As for having one of your girl characters near the battle field/in a battle camp, I think I’ve heard of situations where they were kept with the men to ‘comfort’ them, tend their wounds, or to watch the fighting.  If I recall correctly, Boudica led a battle she was sure her people would win, and her army was so sure of their victory that they stationed their families around the battle field to watch.  Sadly, the situation ended tragically.  But I would recommend doing a bit of research on how armies handle wives/family/etc coming with them, or maybe give more explanation on why they are there or how close to the battle the camp actually is.  YouTube has tons of useful documentaries.

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  6. This is a very interesting excerpt! I like the term of endearment “my lark” and the names are cool. I’m definitely intrigued.

    I’m assuming you’re going for the antihero element with the main character mocking the soldiers. Is this POV going to be throughout the book? If so you may want to show some redeemable qualities this soon in the story, because so far he seems pretty nefarious.

    A few tweaks. I think it would be more gripping for your hook to be something about Prince Konrad’s mocking of the soldiers. The description didn’t grab me, but his paragraph did. I like how you slowly trickled in information but I felt like this part was an info dump:

    “Yes, they will have a little comfort, too. Be generous, as I am. All of you were once poor girls without anything. Why, Luce’s father wanted to send her into prostitution! I couldn’t let that happen, could I?”

    Azalea shook her head, not looking at him. She, too, had been a penniless orphan facing a life in a nunnery or on the street when the prince had taken a liking to her and made her his mistress.

    I would also make sure to clarify that this is a battlefield sooner. I thought this was a formal grave sight at first. I hope this critique helps! Happy writing!

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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