Critique Group – The Council of Arganath

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The Council of Arganath – by Daniel

Enrothor blew the shavings off of the wooden horse he was making. It stood nearly two feet tall, its eyes caring and loyal. He smiled as he gazed on the finished work, each contour working together in perfect harmony to create a masterpiece. The high level of detail almost made it seem like the statuette was an incredibly small steed.

He placed it on a table beside him and grabbed four blocks sitting on an otherwise empty shelf. He still had no idea what they were to become, but as he would work, they slowly took shape. He remembered when his father had purchased the wood for him years ago.

When Enrothor went with his father on one of his travels to the capital, the governor held a parade. The crowds that were drawn there provided good business for people selling goods. One man approached them and offered the large blocks for an extremely low price. He claimed that it was a rare species of wood and that if they were to buy it from anyone else, the cost would be crippling.

Enrothor touched one of the blocks. He had determined to make something of infinite worth out of them, which was one of his barriers to know what it was to be. They were all somewhat shapeless, though each had distinctive characteristics. One seemed to be forming a tail, another had some sort of claw-like protrusion near the base. The largest seemed like a head was forming, though the shape gave no indication as to the animal it belonged to. The smallest was difficult to discern, though it had shallow, intricate lines that almost looked like chainmail.

“Enrothor!” somebody yelled from outside the barn. Enrothor went to the door and looked out. His brother, Sarinothor, was approaching. He smiled as he neared. “Mother wants you inside for supper.” He looked at the workbench. “Have you finished it yet?”

Enrothor nodded. “I think that I’ll give it to Serunet on my way to Gaoren next month.”

Sarinothor slapped him on the back. “You are the best woodworker I have ever even heard of. You can make things look so natural I sometimes fear that they will jump up and start running.” He let out a sarcastic huff. “And I don’t want to have to catch it. You know how hard it is to catch a chunk of wood.”

Enrothor laughed with his brother and walked up toward the house, ready for a good meal and an evening spent with his family.

 

 

Enrothor stopped and looked through the crowd that was gathered around a wagon in the town square. He pushed through as a man climbed onto it and faced the people. As Enrothor neared, he heard two men talking.

“He’s a Phanor,” one man said.

“Do you mean one of those priests?” the other replied.

Enrothor cocked his head. Only twice had a Phanor been through their region of Chornia. Despite the fact that many Phanorrim traveled habitually, few had even heard of Enrothor’s village.

The Phanor spread out his hands to silence the murmuring people. “Citizens of Chornia, in the village of Arbet,” he began, “I am here because of a rising rebellion in our great empire. Radical people from all kingdoms are rising up against Lord Árganath, our gracious ruler. They oppose the state and all that it stands for. They have killed the lawful protectors of our cities and robbed farms of their produce.”

At this the people began moaning and shouting. Enrothor had to move closer to be able to hear the Phanor’s attempt to quiet the people. When their protests diminished, he continued.

“They openly criticize our god, Gornin. This is their worst crime because it is the seed from which their rebellion grows. I am here to recruit strong, able-bodied men to join the fight against the rebellion. I, myself, will be joining the army in a few months, when I have finished recruiting.” He held his hands out to the crowd. “If any one of you is willing to protect your freedom, step forward.”

For a full minute, absolute silence dominated the crowd. Enrothor wondered what the others were thinking. He knew some well enough to know their first impulses and concerns, but most were an enigma. Finally, one man spoke. “What about our families and farms? What will happen to them if we go?”

Murmurs ran through the people. The Phanor held up his hands. “If you cannot get help with your farms and businesses, by all means stay. Know, however, that you can request to be assigned as a guard over your own city to protect it. As for your families, our gracious governor has stated that he will support the families of all Chornix men that enlist as warriors.”

Behind Enrothor, the man that identified the Phanor spoke. “You speak of Gornin as though he was a god,” he said, adding disdainful emphasis on the word Gornin. “What of Helaris, the Lord of all?”

The Phanor cocked his head. “I do not personally believe in the existence of Helaris, though Gornin’s laws are all-encompassing. He states that an individual may believe in any gods that they desire, only if they give him supremacy over other deities.”

Enrothor turned and looked at the man who had spoken. His face was like flint, his countenance fierce. “Helaris commands his followers to be loyal to Him only.” The man’s voice was laced with anger and carried a deep resonance, as though he spoke with two voices. One sounded rough, common for the Chornix, in a tenor pitch. The second was baritone and polished, though slightly more subtle.

He continued. “Helaris deems worship of any so-called god as an act of heresy, especially if the god is elevated higher than Helaris. ‘Gornin,’ as you call him, is emphatically against the Lord and all his servants.”

The Phanor raised his chin slightly. “You say that we call him Gornin. Do you have a better name?”

The man stood firm. He glanced at Enrothor, his eyes cutting deep into his soul. The brief moment lasted a lifetime as this stranger seemed to search his heart. Just before they broke eye contact, something akin to golden fire flashed in his eyes.

He looked back at the Phanor so intensely that the priest flinched, his confidence draining from him. The man opened his mouth and spoke in a foreign tongue. “Rooth ek re Talir: ek Sathnakh.

The air was sucked out of Enrothor’s lungs, causing him to drop to the ground. He tried to inhale, but the air was cut off. He faintly heard the Phanor give a confused reply, but Enrothor was not listening.

Just as he thought that he was going to fall unconscious, a gentle, yet firm hand gripped his shoulder. “You know who it is, son of the Drake.” The voice was the same as that of the man who spoke of Helaris, only now the deeper voice was prominent while the other was faintly babbling nonsense.

Air instantly rushed into Enrothor’s lungs.  The hand released his shoulder and he looked up, but nobody was there. He shook his head, wondering what had happened. He pushed himself to his feet and exited the throng of people to complete his errand and return home.

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10 replies

  1. This excerpt impressed me. There are clearly mysteries that are not yet being revealed to the reader, but it still displays a trustworthy and believable setting and plot. Here are a few things I noticed:

    Watch for verbs like “was” when you’re writing. They tend to weaken writing, and they also become monotonous when used too often. For example, “The air was sucked out of Enrothor’s lungs, causing him to drop to the ground. He tried to inhale, but the air was cut off,” could be written more like, “Air fled from Enrothor’s lungs, making him drop to the ground. He gasped for breath, but it evaded him.”

    The names you chose are wonderful. They hint at the setting without being completely foreign and impossible to pronounce 🙂

    In the first sentence, it seems like Enrothor is still working on the wooden horse, but, according to later paragraphs, he has finished it. To make the first sentence clearer and more concise, you could just eliminate the phrase “he was making.”

    The passage about the wooden blocks is intriguing, but it seems rather abrupt to write about them in the second paragraph. Is Enrothor in the habit of studying the blocks after he works, or is he doing it this time just for the benefit of the readers? For a smoother transition, he (or his brother) could bump into the shelf, knock the block(s) onto the floor, and reminisce as he makes sure they aren’t damaged. An event like this would display the blocks’ worth while allowing you to hint at their backstory.

    If you decide to keep the description of the blocks where it is, look at the sentence structure of “He still had no idea what they were to become, but as he would work, they slowly took shape.” First of all, has he already been working on them, or did his father buy them with the designs described in the fourth paragraph? If the former, then you might want to rephrase it like, “…He still wasn’t sure what they would become, but their shapes grew more distinct each time he worked.” If he hasn’t worked on them at all, you might want to say something like, “…but over time, he would chisel them into something magnificent.”

    The Phanor’s visit and speech, as well as the debate about the gods, is fascinating, but also somewhat abrupt. Is there a way for you to hint at unrest/strife/disagreement earlier (especially if Enrothor is so involved that it leaves him breathless and almost unconscious)?

    On the same note, it might be a good idea to let Enrothor’s opinion about the gods and/or the Phanor be known. His bout of breathless dizziness left me wondering why the news affected him so much. Even if you don’t want to reveal everything to the reader yet, I think a slight explanation would strengthen the scene, not weaken it.

    Basically, just watch out for abrupt transitions and aim for verbs more powerful than “was.” Also, try to give readers hints about why events are taking place (for example, why does the foreign name of Gornin affect Enrothor so much). Even if you want to keep certain things concealed from readers and characters at this point in the story, you can tell the reader more of Enrothor’s personal thoughts, feelings, and reactions.

    All in all, this is a very entertaining excerpt. It gives readers an impression of the setting without being too wordy, and you succeeded in making me want to keep reading.

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    • Anonymous –
      Thank you. This was very helpful. I will definitely try to get rid of some “was’s”. I had no idea I was using that many.
      As to your comment about the Phanor’s visit, there is not much strife in the area. I could tell you who the man is who is protesting, but I think it would ruin the story. As for why Enrothor couldn’t breathe for a while, he doesn’t even know why. In short, there was a spiritual significance in what the man said that Enrothor subconsciously understood and reacted to. I will go on refining the piece, as I know it is a far cry from being perfect.
      I’m glad I was able to keep you interested. I was working pretty hard to make it intriguing, especially after the less-than-glamorous first draft.

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  2. This is quite well done with lots of intrigue and nice descriptions.

    I agree with another comment that said to watch for uses of “was.” Try to get rid of at least half of them by choosing more vibrant verbs. You can do that at the very start.
    Enrothor blew the shavings off of the wooden horse he was making.
    Can be = Enrothor blew the shavings off of the wooden horse taking shape under his wood chisel.

    Watch for narrator phrases like this – “Enrothor wondered what the others were thinking. He knew some well enough to know their first impulses and concerns, but most were an enigma.”

    Instead show him wondering and supply visuals. “Enrothor looked into each set of eyes. What were these people thinking? Friends and neighbors proved easy to read, their impulses and concerns written in deep furrows, but others displayed blank faces.”

    And this one – “As Enrothor neared, he heard two men talking.” You don’t need to write that he heard. Just report that they were talking.

    Be careful to make sure that your participles add on to the main verb phrase, not something else. “He smiled as he gazed on the finished work, each contour working together in perfect harmony to create a masterpiece.”

    The main verb is smiled. The participle phrase is “each contour working,” which should indicate what the smile is doing.

    Overall, this is an excellent piece. Keep up the good work.

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    • Thank you, Mr. Davis. I’ve always struggled with using narrator phrases. In the first few pages alone, I probably eliminated 20 – 30+ of those things since the first draft. I never thought about participle phrases before. I will be sure to watch out for that.

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  3. I found the characters interesting, esp. the family relationships.

    I apologize for not reading past the first dividing line, but I’m late for an appointment already! Two quick thoughts.

    1. The names evoke Tolkien, but I had trouble reading them. To me, they didn’t feel natural and I found them hard to pronounce. Also, there were a lot of them–which may be necessary, but if you could wait until later to name things as their names become important, it might help.

    2. The part where he buys the wood blocks seems to be a flashback, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that it was. Typically, I find it helps to use some “signal words” to intro/exit from a flashback and also to change tense at the boundary sentences. (Sorry, I feel like I’m not explaining this in sufficient detail, but…I’m late.)

    I’m also looking forward to what becomes of the magical(?) blocks as he carves them. (I need to come back and read past the first dividing line!)

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  4. Thank you, John! Sorry about the names, but Enrothor uses the names all the time and I’m trying to make it seem natural from Enrothor’s perspective. Believe me, there are many more (and harder) names to come (sample: Kalot, Arganath, Eliyon, Ferunax, Peralinat, Larenteth, etc.). I’ll work on the flashbacks. Honestly, I didn’t devote much time to making it sound better. I’ll fix it soon!

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  5. Hey Daniel,

    This story sounds like its setting up for something really good. It has that sense of adventure coming that makes the reader want to read more. Here are some things I noticed. Hope it is useful information. I’m no expert, so ignore anything that doesn’t sound right.

    You wrote: He still had no idea what they were to become, but as he would work, they slowly took shape.
    – I think you need the last line to say “they would slowly take shape.” To me it sounds like him talking in the present about what would happen in the future. So use “take” rather than past tense “took”.

    I stumbled slightly on this paragraph: “Enrothor!” somebody yelled from outside the barn. Enrothor went to the door and looked out. His brother, Sarinothor, was approaching. He smiled as he neared. “Mother wants you inside for supper.” He looked at the workbench. “Have you finished it yet?”
    – I feel Sarinothor was still approaching, so who looked at the workbench? From the wording I feel he was moving closer to his brother and wouldn’t be able to see the workbench in the barn yet.

    You are the best woodworker I have ever even heard of.
    – Would this sound better as: “You are the best woodworker I have ever seen.” I picture walking up to Stephen King and saying you are the best writer I have ever heard of. It just doesn’t sound right face-to-face.

    First we see: Enrothor cocked his head. Then a number of paragraphs later: The Phanor cocked his head.
    – The line cocked his head stood out when I saw it, then again. Maybe change the word so it doesn’t feel repetitive.

    At the end I felt too rushed. Almost cheated slightly. It’s an amazing scene where some foreign language is spoken, like an ancient curse, that affects Enrothor so deeply that he nearly passes out, and a mysterious hand gives energy back to him, from the same guy, but then Enrothor goes through the crowd, finishes his errand and goes home silently. I think we need at least a line or two of some introspection by Enrothor to let us feel what is going on in his mind at that moment. Let us feel it with him rather than witness it as a spectator.

    Overall this is interesting and the ending makes the reader need more of the story. We got to see some of his daily life and then mysterious things shake up his world. Good job Daniel. You’re a good storyteller.

    Tree

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    • Thank you, Tree. Your insight has been very helpful. I did notice that something was wrong with the last paragraph, but couldn’t put it into words. Thanks for articulating that for me.

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  6. Political and religious intrigue makes for exciting backdrops. I’m definitely interested to see where Enrothor goes from here.
    A couple small things, in the sentence talking about the merchants at the parade you use the word “good/s” twice. Switching one (ex ample business or selling wares) can help decrease potential repetition.

    When the Phanor says the country is now at war the people “moaning” seems a little awkward. It makes me think people who are more in physical pain. Gasps, muttering etc feel a little more in keeping with the shouting.

    I like how Enorthor wonders what the others are thinking, but we don’t really know what his personal/initial thoughts are on the matter.

    As Phanor describes the rebels he says they’ve rejected the country diety, which heightens the fundamental differences between the groups, but I think adding what they’ve rejected him for may be helpful (saying a different diety’s name or if they’re eschewing religion) unless it’s a later plot point. Phanor claims worshiping others is fine as long as they acknowledge Gornin, but when the villager proclaims Helaris above all Phanor doesn’t really react either the same “fervor” that he denounced the rebels with.

    One last thing is to me Arbet sounded like a small, isolated village. With that picture it seemed odd to me Enrothor wouldn’t at least know the names of the people around him even if he didn’t know them well. If you have a larger town in mind maybe a couple descriptors as Enrothor walks into the square can help invoke the size of the settlement that you were going for.

    Great job and keep up the good work!

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    • Thanks, Haley! I tried to eliminate some repetitions (without sounding like I launched a thesaurus at somebody by using each word once), which goes to show just how much of a problem I have with repeating myself. I will keep working on that. With the size of Arbet, it is fairly isolated, but not so small that one can know everybody. There are a couple hundred people that call Arbet their home, even if they live relatively far away. I can try to show that the Chornix are generally more introverted, though still reasonably social (I am very introverted, in case anybody was wondering).

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