Critique Group – Shatter Soul

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This excerpt is not the beginning of the story, so critique accordingly.

Shatter Soul – by Ben

Alaric escorted George into the Royal apartments.

“Quit apologizing!” The King’s slurred speech gave them pause and they looked at one another. The King’s manservant shrugged and waved that he should continue. Alaric narrowed his eyes. Coward.

He knocked on the door frame as the King spoke again, “What do you mean it might not work?”

George clapped him on the back and slid past to stand by the King, leaving him on the uncomfortable side of the King’s bleary-eyed glare. He fought the urge to fidget. Instead he stood at attention, pretending he was in the parade grounds.

“George.” The King pointed at the far wall. “If you would be so kind to get us some more brandy and several other cups.”

“Of course your Majesty.” George walked to the opposite wall the King pointed and opened a tall cabinet.

“Soldier.” The King pointed to Alaric’s left. “Tell the lieutenant to come here.”

He bowed then left, thanking the Gods he didn’t have to witness the spectacle of an insane drunk.

“Lieutenant.” Alaric saluted rapping his breastplate with his knuckles. “The King wishes to speak with you.”

“At ease private.” The lieutenant peered at him closely. “Talking to himself again?”

“Yessir. I mean…” He wasn’t supposed to gossip and he felt his cheeks flush under the commander’s scrutiny. “He spoke before we entered, Sir.”

The lieutenant nodded. “You have the watch,” he said then entered the apartments.

A few tense minutes later he returned. Alaric saluted again, glad for the heavy gauntlets protecting his hands from his breastplate. The lieutenant looked thoughtfully down the hall for a moment before turning to him.

“You’re still on watch duty. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Alaric saluted, again. “Sir.”

He heard them before they came into view. A double collum of Royal guards in black and gold tabards marched toward him, the lieutenant and Physic Yin at their head.

“Private Alaric.” The lieutenant drew him inside the doorway and Yin, a black bag in his hand went to the study. “Before we go any further, are you ready to die for your King today?”

Even knowing he shouldn’t, Alaric paused, eyes darting. He’d never really thought about it. He trained to fight and kill, but die? For a mad King? What would his sister do without him? He mentally shook himself; she’d be fine. His honour demanded his life before the King’s, insanity be damned.

“Yes Sir, I am.”

“Good man.” The lieutenant clapped him on the shoulder, hard. “Second lieutenant,” he called out. “You have the watch.”

One squad followed them into the room, closing the doors behind them. His eyebrows rose when two guards dropped a heavy bar into place securing the door.

“You,” the lieutenant said, steering him towards the study. “Have been invited to drink with the King.”

“Sir?” Alaric asked. “I’m still on duty.”

The lieutenant sighed. “He’s drunk already and probably wouldn’t notice if you just held the cup.” He put his hand on the study door. “I need you ready more than the King needs a drinking companion. He, and I, fear an attempt on his life tonight. Stay sharp.” With that he pulled open the door and motioned Alaric inside.

The fumes of alcohol assaulted his nose and his eyes watered. He blinked rapidly to clear them and found the King slumped in his cushioned chair. Yin stood over a makeshift operating table. Draped in white cloth the table jarred with the rest of the dark wood in the room. George stood off to the side, a glass filled with a clear liquid in his hands, and a faint sneer twisting his lips.

“George,” the King slurred, nearly intelligible. “Get that man a drink.”

“At once your Majesty.” And he handed Alaric the glass.

He touched the rim to his lips and the acerbic bite burned the inside of his nose. He coughed and the King laughed.

“We’ll make a man of you yet!” Turning to George the King pointed. “Drink up man! Tomorrow we all may be dead!”

The manservant paled and his hands shook, but he poured another drink, the glassware clicking together.

Alaric turned, the King leaned back tipping the rest of the alcohol into his mouth. His eyelids fluttered a moment then closed. Alaric’s shoulders sagged and he let out a deep breath.

“That,” Yin said. “Will be all gentlemen.”

“Bbut,” George stuttered, “I must attend his Majesty.”

“There is no need, and you will only be in the way.” Yin motioned them towards the door. “Quickly now. Before he wakes up.”

George opened his mouth, to protest Alaric supposed, but a firm grip on the manservant’s elbow was enough to steer him to the door.

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9 replies

  1. Very interesting, Ben. I wish there was more so I could find out what happens to the King and his guard.
    There were just a couple of things that I think need work. The first is a couple of grammatical errors that sort of bugged me. The first one is there should be a comma when you are addressing someone, like in the sentence “Of course[,] your Majesty.” And the other error is in the sentence “That,” Yin said[,] “[w]ill be all, gentlemen.”

    And lastly, I thought there were a few things that were confusing. Where was the lieutenant? Was he in the same room as the King or a different room or out in a hall?
    And the transition between these sentences isn’t very smooth.

    Alaric saluted, again. “Sir.”

    He heard them before they came into view.

    How much time has passed? And maybe don’t use “them.” Or maybe say what Alaric is hearing: voices whispering, shoes stomping on the floor, etc.

    Other than that, nicely done! Good luck with the writing!

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  2. I found the conspiracy intriguing. That part was interesting.

    I always find it difficult to critique an excerpt that is not the beginning of the story. I have no idea who Alaric is or what his goals are. I don’t know who George is, what his goals are, or why he needs an escort. Should we already know anything about the Royal apartments, what they look like, who lives there besides the king?

    This is why I always hope to get the beginning.

    In any case, I will do the best I can.

    “The King’s manservant shrugged and waved that he should continue.”

    The closest antecedent for “he” is the king, as if the manservant were telling the king to continue talking. It took me a moment to figure out that you meant Alaric. Or maybe not. I’m still not sure.

    “Alaric narrowed his eyes. Coward.”

    I couldn’t figure out whom he thought a coward or why.

    “He knocked on the door frame as the King spoke again.”

    If the manservant waved for him to continue, why is he knocking?

    “He fought the urge to fidget. Instead he stood at attention, pretending he was in the parade grounds.”

    Again, the closest antecedent for “he” is the king.

    “Soldier.” The King pointed to Alaric’s left. “Tell the lieutenant to come here.”

    “He bowed then left, thanking the Gods he didn’t have to witness the spectacle of an insane drunk.”

    Who bowed? Alaric?

    In the next paragraph, Alaric is suddenly with the lieutenant. Where did he go and how far? I sensed no travel time at all.

    “At ease private.”

    You need a comma after “ease,” and capitalize Private when it is used as a name.

    “he said then entered the apartments.”

    How far was it to the apartments? Were they in an office close by? In a hallway? A courtyard? I get no sense of position, placement, or travel time.

    “A few tense minutes later he returned.”

    Why was it tense? What did Alaric do during this time? Watch? Watch what and from where?

    “He heard them before they came into view.”

    Just mention the sound. Don’t include “he heard.” What did it sound like?

    “ A double collum of Royal guards”

    Spell it “column.”

    “Private Alaric.” The lieutenant drew him inside the doorway and Yin, a black bag in his hand went to the study. “Before we go any further, are you ready to die for your King today?”

    What doorway? Into what room?

    “One squad followed them into the room, closing the doors behind them.”

    What room?

    “His eyebrows rose when two guards dropped a heavy bar into place securing the door.”

    The securing of the door came before his rising eyebrows and also motivated his response, so report the securing first.

    Punctuate the following this way:

    “You,” the lieutenant said, steering him towards the study, “have been invited to drink with the King.”

    “George,” the King slurred, nearly intelligible. “Get that man a drink.”

    If he was nearly intelligible, that means he was not intelligible, and Alaric would not understand.

    “He touched the rim to his lips and the acerbic bite burned the inside of his nose. He coughed and the King laughed.”

    Watch for compound sentences, that is, sentences that have two independent clauses. You need a comma separating them, one after “lips” and one after “coughed.”

    The manservant paled and his hands shook, but he poured another drink, the glassware clicking together.

    The manservant was there? I am confused.

    “Alaric turned, the King leaned back tipping the rest of the alcohol into his mouth.”

    I don’t understand this sentence. Why a comma after “turned”?

    “Will be all gentlemen.”

    You need a comma after “all.”

    “Bbut,” George stuttered, “I must attend his Majesty.”

    Use a dash to show the stuttering.

    “but a firm grip on the manservant’s elbow was enough to steer him to the door.”

    Is George the manservant? I am confused about this. Who put a firm grip on his elbow?

    One of the main issues with your piece is your use of pronouns. It is often unclear to whom you are referring. Also, you need to provide more guidance regarding where the characters are.

    You did a good job with setting up the conspiracy intrigue. Keep writing!

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  3. Hello, Ben!

    Thank you for sharing your work with us.

    Your writing definitely has a very strong setting of military conduct, something that readers will like and appreciate as it gives a good look into the gears and cogs that make a royal household tick. I happen to love stories that have strong, well-built military themes, so keep up the good work.

    What I also liked about this piece is that you have started a good tension point with the plot of the king’s life being in jeopardy. The plot is there, but it is veiled in mystery for the reader at this point. It’s a fabulous way to keep the reader engaged and interested.

    I find, however, that lack of setting, character motivation, and punctuation errors are hampering what has great potential.

    The beginning of the story shows two men walking into the royal apartments and I can see where confusion might set in on the reader because it is not made clear who they are. At first, I assumed that George was the king and I didn’t know who the manservant was. As writers, we don’t want our readers to assume anything about our writing. Clarity is paramount.

    In the third paragraph, there is mention of one of the men knocking on the door frame. As it was told that they had already walked into the apartment, it might aid the reader to have more descriptive narrative of what the apartment was like. Was the bedchamber separated from an antechamber therefore necessitating the knocking on the bedchamber door? Good description of places and people go a long way to clarifying details that seem simple to understand in the writer’s mind because we know what we are envisioning in our heads. Readers need to be shown what we are thinking.

    Including a motive that brought Alaric and George to the royal apartments would be a good addition as well. As it was, it seems to the reader that they have no reason of being there. Did the king summon them? Was it a routine checkup? These are details that make stories even better.

    It is also unclear in the fourth paragraph whom it was that George clapped on the back? Did he clap the king’s back or Alaric’s? Also, as there was no description of the room, I couldn’t picture where the king was. I thought that he might be in bed, but it wasn’t until much later on that he is said to be in a cushioned chair. Go ahead and bring this detail into the story the first moment the king seen. Show the reader what he’s wearing, what he looks like, and show more of his character. Readers like to know if they can love or hate a character. At this point, the king is an enigma.

    Be careful about punctuation errors. There were times in this piece when a speaker was addressing someone by their name or title that the comma was dropped before the name. Hope and Mr. Davis pointed out some of these.

    Issues with punctuation and capitalization in dialogue come in paragraphs five, seven, nine, seventeen, twenty, twenty-two, twenty-six, twenty-seven, and thirty-one. Here are some of those sentences rewritten:

    “George,” the king pointed at the far wall, “if you would be so kind to get us some more brandy and several other cups.” (It should be noted that the king did not use a proper sentence. It may be taken as proof of his drunken state, but, if this is the case, it may be even more realistic to give him obvious sentence fragments like this: “George!” The king pointed at the far wall. “More brandy! More cups!” To pull off this effect, I changed the punctuation and capitalization again to fit the new sentence structure.)

    “Soldier,” the king pointed to Alaric’s left, “tell the lieutenant to come here.”

    “Lieutenant,” Alaric saluted, rapping his breastplate with his knuckles, “the king wishes to speak with you.”

    “At once, your majesty.” And he handed Alaric the glass.

    It is also acceptable to use dashes when you are breaking up dialogue with an action only, such as: “Lieutenant,”—Alaric saluted, rapping his breastplate with his knuckles—“the king wishes to speak with you.”

    As a final note, I was surprised by the use of the word “damned” especially if this is a young adult novel. Even if it is used in its proper definition rather than as a curse, I would be uncomfortable even presenting the word to a young person’s mind. This usage feels awkward to me because insanity cannot be damned. If it is an adult novel, then I can understand your want of a strong word in this case. These are just a personal opinions of mine as I do not even use the word, or any form of it, in the adult novels I write.

    What you have presented is most certainly interesting thus far so do keep writing! It held my attention from beginning to end and, ultimately, that’s what all writers want to do, present an engrossing work. Good stories always have issues that have to be sorted out as the project unfolds and I hope that I have assisted you in that respect.

    Once again, thank you for sharing.

    Warmest regards and happy writing!

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  4. This looks awesome Ben! One thing I did notice was that all your characters are men and when you shifted between people, you just said “him”. For example;

    “George,” the King slurred, nearly intelligible. “Get that man a drink.”

    “At once your Majesty.” And he handed Alaric the glass.

    He touched the rim to his lips and the acerbic bite burned the inside of his nose. He coughed and the King laughed.

    In this section, I don’t know if it is the King, George, or Alaric who is drinking the alcohol. All in all, great start. Can’t wait to see how it turns out, but DEFINITELY bring back the sister. You can’t mention someone and not go back to them later.

    Have fun!

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  5. Thank you everyone for your time! I apologize for the grammar errors. I should have done a better job checking my submission over before posting. Thanks again!

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