Critique Group (Extra) – The Unraveling of a Prince

I am adding an extra piece to critique this week. Enjoy.

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The Unraveling of a Prince – by Pamela

The slow lapping of the waves was rhythmic, like a lullaby, murmuring as if putting the day to sleep, and covering the morning glory with the starry blanket of night. The moon hung like a baby’s mobile. Even the rough mountains around Bethesda Showers softened in the presence of such quiet majesty. Everything was still and silent, except for the metallic boots that crunched against the sticks and against the tree roots and Coal Mountain’s pebbles and rocks.

Five men approached, wearing black cloaks woven by magic that protected them from detection. They walked three steps behind their leader Mortem, who for his part barely looked at the scenery. He only had eyes for Coal Mountain.

Now that is an impressive sight! Mortem thought. And it was. Some called it the gem of the islands. It was a mountain like no other, easily distinguishable by its orange, red, and yellow coats. It made Mortem inexplicably giddy.

Those following him temporarily wondered if the full moon had made him mad, but while they entertained thoughts of coups and escapes, Mortem set his thoughts on the mountain.

A fitting place from which to set the world on fire, Mortem thought.

The others wished they could’ve hacked into the vast electric train systems or stolen a car that could brave Coal Mountain’s tricky slopes and curves. No such luck. The few vehicles which rose to the challenge were government operated.

Defiantly, the five went up—up against the laws of gravity, up into the heart of darkness, up as loudly as if they meant to break every stick and pebble in their way. When they reached the top, each henchman got to work. Glaucon, the shy newbie, magically manipulated his tablet’s geography hologram. Rob had his eyes on Bethesda University’s residents, hoping to locate the heat signature of the Prince family heir and preemptively strike against a future threat. Silver Smith knelt to set up the telescope to see farther than science would allow.

the second-in-command, folded his hands behind his back as he looked up at Mortem. Mortem didn’t pay him any mind, preferring to look up as the skies passed the Bethesda Showers, a colorful set of waterfalls that led down to the shores of the isle of rising smoke, the isle their chosen mount sat.

“Mortem,” the second said. He’d hoped that his superior would turn to him and discuss their unfolding plan.

“Not yet,” Mortem said, still unwilling to turn his face an inch closer to Siegel.

Siegel pressed his lips, but he knew not to force a conversation with such a brutal man. He looked away and noticed Silver, with his back to them, was waving his hands to push the telescope lens farther. They needed to see this first domino fall. Bethesda University—their first target—was a large place, with spires that almost reached heaven. But more importantly, it was full of the brightest and best magicae from the all four points of the compass, and especially from every well-to-do family in the North. Yes, this target would do nicely.

Some believe in chiseling stone until it reflected their image. Siegel prefers dynamite.

o{O}o

At Bethesda University’s chief library, Doron passed long rows of tables and bookshelves as he trudged toward the lounge section. Most would think this kind of silence eerie, but Doron didn’t mind. Silence was nice. Much nicer than the hectic energy of procrastinators and grouchy snark of night owls stuck in morning classes. His best friend, Ivan, fiercely disagreed, preferring to study at a loud café or a boat amid the sea.

Stupid hippie, Doron thought with a smile.

Usually, Doron was able to drag Ivan here, at least at night. Cafés closed their doors by this time and the natural light overlooking the seas blinked out for some rest, so there were fewer places left to study. But today was Friday, and Ivan chose sleep over getting ahead, never mind that finals are next week.

Then again, though the school housed the future Einsteins and Shakespeares of the world, it also housed students that firmly believed in Friday night parties. At least Ivan was sane enough to choose sleep over turning his brain to mush.

“You’re already two years ahead of the rest of us—just relax!” Ivan always said.

Doron didn’t think Ivan understood how horrible it felt to fall short of your own expectations. Ivan never felt stressed.

Grudgingly, Doron sat by the Corinthian pillars, letting his body lounge on the soft half-couch, half-chair seats. He put his backpack on the seat beside him, taking out his laptop and his automatically-refilling coffee thermos.

Doron almost smiled at the thermos, thinking back to when his brother snuck him coffee before his bar mitzvah (was that really six years ago?) and now, at 18, he was still hooked. He sighed and wished Ivan were here again. It’d been a difficult month with his oldest brother missing. He’d left a note saying not to look for him, but Doron couldn’t help but worry—none of them could! He pursed his lips and shook his head. It wasn’t time to worry.

He opened it at the dog-eared page and ran his hand through his black locks. Crunch time.

o{O}o

A few hundred kilometers away, Mortem hummed with excitement. He’d tear down a kingdom and rebuild it in his image. He frowned minutely. He’d have to kill his brother to do it, but he supposed everything came with a cost. A brief image of Doron’s bloody corpse flashed through his mind, but he shook his head. The cost would be worth it. It had to be.

 

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21 replies

  1. First of all, I just wanted to say that this is an intriguing idea! I definitely want to know more about what’s going on, and what will happen next. I’m very interested by the descriptions of the technology, and hints about the government that you’re dropped.

    That said, your constant switching between POVs is kind of distracting, and a lot of things are stated as slightly awkward, out-of-text, facts, drawing me away from the heads of the characters. An example that I’m thinking of could be shown here.

    “Now that is an impressive sight! Mortem thought. And it was. Some called it the gem of the islands. It was a mountain like no other, easily distinguishable by its orange, red, and yellow coats. It made Mortem inexplicably giddy.”

    In my, personal, opinion, this would flow better if you removed the ‘and it was’, and left the description of the beautiful mountain to Mortem’s thoughts. Another problem can also be shown in the following sentence.

    “Those following him temporarily wondered if the full moon had made him mad, but while they entertained thoughts of coups and escapes, Mortem set his thoughts on the mountain.”

    Why do they think he is mad? All you’ve describing him doing is enjoying the sight of the mountain while walking. I don’t see how that makes him mad. Coups and escapes from who? Mortem? Or is the whole group planning a coup right now by blowing up this university?

    There are numerous things like this throughout the excerpt that I think would be improved by these suggestions. But overall, a great story, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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  2. Woah! This is a very intriguing start to a story that definitely had me hooked😂! I love how you put just enough visual description to give me an idea of the world you brought me into, but not so much that I’m tempted to skip over it (a bad habit of mine😖😅). Great work😄👍!!!

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  3. Pamela,
    Interesting story!
    I agree with Shana. You need a firmer point of view. The first paragraph was wonderfully descriptive but is that how Mortem would see the scene?
    ‘Defiantly, the five went up…’ This sentence is more wordy than descriptive because the reader has no idea how they went up. At first I thought they were floating but then you mentioned crunching boots so they were climbing? Show us how they ascended.

    You introduce 5 characters in the first section but no depiction of their looks. Some personality was given but it became confusing with Rob. We have no context when you talk about the university and the heir. What does that have to do with the mountain? Is the university on the mountain? Is Silver Smith the second-in-command? No. It’s Siegel.

    It would be helpful if you developed Mortem character more. Why does he want the world to burn? Why does he want to reshape it in his image? Assuming he is the missing brother Ivan, how does he go from normal brother to evil mastermind in a month? The reader needs to know why he is ok with killing his brother.

    You’ve got quite a story on your hands. Can’t wait to see how it’s developed.

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    • I just didn’t want to exceed he word count, but I’ll definitely take your advice to flesh out these fun (and evil 👿 ) characters 😀 Thanks so much!

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  4. I like the concept you’re going with. It includes a few elements that I see for writing prompts a lot and wish I could find more stories that included them (ie magic combined with modern technologies, etc)

    That opening paragraph was wonderful. I love the visuals you gave. I would, however, like to see an explanation of what Bethesda Showers is. I feel like it came in a little late.

    To build on Shana’s suggestion, maybe allow Mortem to have a bit of an unsteady gait to go along with his giddiness, or a wild excitement that others would see as madness instead of mere excitement. Show his giddiness with a slight bounce or relentlessly pushing his men into precarious and uncomfortable situations, such as walking up the mountain instead of riding (which I think you explained well).

    “But today was Friday, and Ivan chose sleep over getting ahead, never mind that finals are next week.” I think you could reword this here. Adding the thought at the end of the sentence feels awkward. Maybe try “…ahead, despite the fact that finals are next week.” Or “… ahead, regardless of next week’s finals.” Something like that.

    “He opened it at the dog-eared page…” What is he opening? Was a book written in and then deleted?

    You could also make some of the details in the library part of his musings, especially reflecting on his brother. Don’t narrate, allow the reader into his head for a minute, if that makes sense.

    I think you have a great story going here. Good luck!

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  5. I am super intrigued! I love the combination of magic and technology in society. That being said one aspect that slightly confused me was how the men are wearing cloaks to avoid defection, but they can still be heard? Do the cloaks just hide them from peoples eyes? And if they’re wearing the cloaks it seems like they don’t really want to be found out but why then would they make so much noise?
    One minor thing with Siegel and the dynamite you switch from past to present text with “prefers.”
    When you describe the colors of the mountain- orange, red, yellow- the word coat seemed a little odd to me. That makes me think the colors fluctuate (which they might for all I know) since coat to me denotes something that can be changed. Maybe colors/crags/peak/slope just to help invoke the mountain picture. But I loved how you describe the scenery. It felt very natural and I felt like I could see where the men were.

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  6. Ooh, I love the description! It paints such a vivid and beautiful picture, it’s almost like music – it definitely would make me want to read the book even just from the first paragraph.
    If I have a particularly pressing note, it is to watch the transitions between description and thought – both are well done, but there is not much to go on in between from what seems to be outward happening (the surroundings) and what seems to be inward happening (the characters’ thoughts). Also, motivations for the characters could be helpful to list, but not necessary quite yet. Hopefully this helps! Thank you for the lovely piece, Pamela!

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  7. I love the combination of fantasy elements and modern technology! I’ve seen very few works of fiction that let a world like our own co-exist with magic. I agree with a lot of other critiquers in that the descriptions are great, and I felt like I was in the story. I also really like how neatly you create the connection between Mortem and Doron at the end. Great job so far!

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  8. Hi Pamela!

    You definitely have a creative idea going on here, and I can tell that you are being intentional with every word you choose. That’s a great skill to have, as each word needs to be necessary, or it shouldn’t be there at all.

    Others have alluded to point of view errors, and I just want to offer another suggestion in addition to theirs. The most common type of POV is Third Person Limited, which is what I would suggest for your story. However, it requires that you choose one protagonist (for each scene, so it’s ok to switch to Doron’s POV later) from whose perspective you will tell the story. If you choose Mortem, which it seems like you should, then within that scene, we should not be aware of ANYTHING else except what is going on in his brain. So, things like: “Those following him temporarily wondered if the full moon had made him mad” and “The others wished they could’ve hacked into the vast electric train systems” cannot be known to the reader, because Mortem doesn’t know they are thinking that in that moment. If those things are necessary to the story, they must be told another way, such as through Mortem’s thoughts or through dialogue.

    There is another POV called Third Person Omniscient, which you may have been going for, that allows the reader to know multiple characters’ thoughts, but this POV does not allow you to make close, personal connections with characters, as the narrator is distant and not one of the characters. Depending on what your goal for the story is, I wouldn’t suggest this POV, since it is hard to do well.

    You have beautiful, vivid descriptions in the beginning of this excerpt, but be sure that they aren’t over-the-top and distracting for the tone you’re going for. I was thrown off a little by the baby’s mobile. You want descriptions to feel effortless, not forced, and some of the descriptions felt a little contrived. But for the most part, you captured the scene very well and painted a beautiful picture!

    One other quick note, there is a grammatical error at the beginning of one paragraph: “the second-in-command, folded his hands behind his back as he looked up at Mortem.”

    I love the intrigue that you build at the end of this excerpt with the connection between Mortem and Doron. You have the start of a great story here, and I hope you continue to work at it! Great job!

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    • Thanks for the suggestions!! The comments about the others’ thoughts on Mortem are necessary foreshadowing, but I can probably include their POVs later, or just list Mortem’s paranoid observations of their behavior. Grammar is a little hung, but sometimes when u know ur story it’s hard to see the little things since your mind reads it differently, so thanks for the grammar help!

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  9. Pamela,

    You have a lot of nice prose, engaging and lyrical.

    As others have mentioned, this would be better with a consistent point of view. I was wondering who noticed all of the lovely images you mentioned in the first paragraph. It couldn’t have been Mortem. He barely looked at it. I also wondered who noticed the five men approaching and what it was they were approaching. Since they wore blacks cloaks that made them undetectable, who could have seen them approaching?

    I was stumped about what Bethesda Showers is until you revealed it later. Maybe do so when it’s first mentioned.

    Be careful about making your descriptions too flowery. For example, “The moon hung like a baby’s mobile” shook me out of the story. I can’t see how the moon could hang that way. In my mind, it simply doesn’t do that.

    In what way did Mortem act giddy? In this case, showing would be better than telling. Then showing his followers as wondering about his behavior would avoid your need to reveal their thoughts.

    Because of the lack of singular, intimate POV, you explained a lot about personalities through narrative and interior monologue instead of showing through action. I prefer these characteristics to be discovered by the reader as they are revealed in real time actions.

    You have a lot of talent. Keep up the good work.

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  10. Hello Pamela,
    I really like the premise of the story so far. There are enough descriptors about the surrounding area to get a feel for where your group of characters or single character is in the beginning and in the middle section. Also, I was very happy to see the scene break you added to indicate you were taking your audience to a different place/view. Some people like this, other’s don’t. It’s all reader and author preference.
    That being said, I am a little confused as to what time period your story is supposed to be happening in. You mentioned magic and cloaks. Cloaks bring to mind swords and gauntlets. But then electric trains and cars are mentioned. A little bit later, one of your characters is using a telescope to “see farther than science would allow”. Is he using a magic telescope? Is science limited in some way that it hasn’t advanced very far? Before the character with the telescope, you have another character magically manipulating a tablet. I am confused. What kind of a tablet is it that it needs to be manipulated with magic? Things like this might be solved through a bit more description of how your characters are using their tools or getting them set up. During the section with Doron, he has an automatically refilling thermos. This made me even more confused (and this could just be me nit-picking) because now I really don’t know where to place this story on the time-scale. Does the thermos pull water particles from its surroundings in order to replenish the coffee inside? Or is it refilling a single cup (usually the lid of the thermos) from a reservoir inside the receptacle?
    Bethesda Showers. Where is this place located? You have given us descriptors such as mountains and water being around, which is great for your audience getting a feeling for the setting. But is Bethesda Falls in the United States? The U.K.? A different world entirely? I realize this is a work of fiction, so it’s probably not a huge deal. But if your are basing your story in or around a real place, your readers who aren’t from your area will want to know where that place is.
    I didn’t want to repeat too over-much on what other readers had commented. I hope this helps. Being such a short excerpt of what feels like a much larger story, it’s hard to get a handle on whether some of the stuff I had questions about will be expanded upon and explained later. There’s a lot of good stuff here and I hope you keep working on it!

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    • Thanks for the feedback! It is kind of hard to establish an urban fantasy book from the get-go, so I’ll try to see how to make it clear to future readers 🙂

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  11. Truly an interesting story, but I do have some questions.

    Is this a futuristic story that mimics Star Wars in the different kinds of people? Is it an advanced civilization from the past? You’ve got a very nice description of the scenery, but I’m curious about the history/backstory. That’s something that could draw readers in deeper. Of course I understand if you have stuff like that saved for later areas. You can’t tell everyone everything at once.

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