It‘s critique group day! Pass around the candy, and let’s get stoked to provide lots of writing help.
Because of all the critique submissions coming in, I am posting two today. If the rate continues, I will have to post three. That might reduce the number of helpful edits for each piece, but let’s see what happens.
With each critique, remember to follow the guidelines posted here. All you have to do is post a comment about the writing (see the submissions below). Don’t feel like you need to critique both or the whole piece of either one. Even a short comment on one aspect can be helpful.
When you critique, be sure to mention which piece you’re critiquing. This week I am including the author’s first name so you can address him or her directly.
We received lots of great critiques last week. Let’s keep up the good work. Don’t forget to start with something positive, like the person in the above cartoon did.
This post will stay active indefinitely, so you can come back and add comments at any time. If you are one of the writers who is being critiqued, you should subscribe to this post so you can be notified when any comments are added.
Submission #1 – Glorious Downfall (By Susan)
The sharp sound of a foreign horn split the air, rushing up the main street, ushering in a wave of silence over the crowd as cold as a north wind. The cheering went silent. The Blood Moon festival, in its entirety, came to an unceremonious, unnatural halt. A stir made its way through the people, and the palace banners flapped in the wind, the only sound after the horn ceased.
But it was only for a breath. The same horn blared again, this time joined by several others, like a pack of coyotes singing numerous harmonies, and the eerie clash of notes sent a chill down Shilow’s spine. She alone stood from her seat, leaning on the balcony rail to look out over the street below. Who in Urde was rude enough to interrupt the best part of the festival?
“Shilow, sit down!” the emperor hissed at her, probably waved a hand at her too. She could hear the rustle of his ridiculous robes. She leaned her arms on the rail, not sparing him a glance.
With a huff, she reluctantly heeded her father. Seeing what was happening wasn’t worth some irksome repercussion, like no weapons or no riding, later.
A loud tramping soon rose up as percussion to the horn blasts, like toms, the constant stamp-stamp ricocheting off the stucco buildings and sounding as though it came from all directions. The real source, however, showed itself as the people parted. A dark mass marched its way up the main street, soldiers in jagged armor that covered them from head to toe, bronze dragon masks obscuring their faces, swordstaffs in their hands and reptilian wings furled on their backs.
“Bellai, your Imperial Majesty,” said the warad, Yishta, at his post behind the emperor’s chair. Ekmaloaph merely nodded in response.
“I see that…”
“Who gave them the right to just march in here?” Shilow leaned forward, ready to spring to her feet again, only to be waved down by her father. “They can’t just do that!”
“Obviously, they don’t agree. Here they are.”
“This is bad, Adda,” Elcaern spoke for the first time, sounding more concerned than any of them. Of course, none would listen, and Shilow mentally slapped her forehead at the fear evident in her twin’s voice. “We should alert the guard.”
“Hush. Let us see what they want.”
The sheer size of the force entering the city prompted the people, previously enjoying the lively atmosphere, to completely clear the street to make way. The lines of Bellai soldiers spanned from gutter to gutter. Some carried banners in blood red, marked with a twisting gold and black dragon figure that was the Seal of the Nights, and others guided teams of half a dozen oxen hooked to massive wagons, laden with an assortment of goods. Fruits and vegetables of giants’ proportions, barrels, great iron trunks, and one even filled to the brim with glittering gold speckled with jewels of exotic colors. Shilow’s mouth went slack – what by Apep was this supposed to be!? She glanced at Ekmaloaph, ready to speak, only to have him shake his head at her. She clamped her mouth shut with a scowl.
The soldiers reached the edge of the square and came to a synchronized standstill, the abrupt halt enough to make the air seem eerily still without the sound of their march. Then, from the center out, the ranks parted to make an aisle, allowing a few figures to walk from the middle of the hoard to the front.
A tall, burly scarred Bellai came into full view first at the base of the fight platform. Half of his face and his entire right hand was disfigured, his eye – which should have been the same brilliant green as the other – a foggy white and his fingers twisted into a gruesome sort of fleshy claw.
After him followed one slightly leaner Bellai, with fiery red hair that spilled across his armor-clad shoulders – just like an elf; what was it with them and long flowing locks? – and the very same brilliant green eyes. His crimson-scaled wings stood out in the sea of black and gold, one of only two pairs of that color, and on his breastplate glinted the Seal of the Nights in bronze and rubies. A Bellai royal.
Lastly stepped out another red-winged elf, in more elaborate armor and a draping black cape that had slits cut to account for his wings and that trailed on the cobblestone behind him. His black hair was pulled back tight in a strange, high-set tail, but his face matched that of the redhead – prominent cheekbones, pallid skin, almond-shaped eyes, exotic compared to the surrounding Orklouise peasants. And without gauntlets like the rest of his company, this third Bellai’s long dark talons twitched at his sides as he strode right up and climbed onto the fight platform. The two fighters, confused, shared a look before giving the foreign stranger room.
Finally, Ekmaloaph stood, folding his hands in the gaping ends of his ridiculous sleeves – elvin fashion really didn’t suit him, but he refused to give it up. “Welcome to Kukefie – what is the purpose of your company?”
“Adda,” Elcaern hissed low, “that’s-”
“Greetings, O great Ekmaloaph of the Orklouise!” The Bellai that had intruded upon the platform gave a broad flourish of his arms, speaking loud and clear so that his voice echoed over the square. “We come bearing gifts from the imperial treasury of the Bellai empire!”
“And who is it that addresses His Imperial Majesty?” Yishta called down, standing at his master’s side.
The Bellai bowed low with extravagance that made Shilow wrinkle her nose. What a show pony!
“Where are my manners – I am Ameas Night, emperor of Bellus, ambassador of the East, ruler of the lands from Calla to Baccara and all between.”
He could’ve left off the entire last half; so this man was overblown and a narcissist. How annoying.
Submission #2 – Blood Cure (By Anna)
Michael Radner walked up the steps of the orphanage, slowly, thinking of what had happened over the past four years. And all of it was centered on the two boys who clung to his hands. It had been their fathers that had started this and they had left a heavy burden upon their son’s shoulders. Not that either the boys or their fathers knew. Not to mention their mothers who were giving them up to this place.
Michael scowled as he rang the bell beside the door. From the inside he could hear someone walking quickly to the door. The next moment it swung open to reveal a thin fierce looking nun in glasses.
“Yes?” she asked.
Michael took the folders from beneath his arm and passed them to the woman. She took them. “This is the information for these two boys. This is James Tomas.” He put his hand on the head of the darker haired child. Touching the one with lighter hair he said, “And this is Eko Amenta. Keep them here until I come for them or until they are eighteen. Do not let them be adopted. It is all explained. Good day.”
Michael turned and walked down the steps to a black car seated at the curb.
He stepped into it and sped away. The road flashed past him as he drove out of Chicago. As he drove Michael thought. He felt so angry. It had been his job to keep the Experiments from escaping but still they had gotten out. He had started calling it his greatest failure. Since his promotion he had been working steadily and diligently to cover up that painful memory. He would reach his goal. One day he and no one else would resurrect the experiment and this time he would not fail!
Michael’s cell phone rang. He reached over to the passenger seat and picked it up. He held it to his ear.
“Hello,” He said.
“Yes Agent Radner. You have a new assignment,” Said the man on the other end.
Robert Thernstrom rushed about his house grabbing things and putting them into the two bags sitting on the kitchen table. He shoved a laptop computer in to its bag and zipped it shut. He set it on the counter and looked over the two bags. One was his and one was his daughter’s. Both held clothing though his held more tools than clothing.
“Daddy?” the tiny girl’s voice spoke from the hall. He looked over. There stood his daughter Nella in her pink onesie. “What is going on Dad?” Her blue eyes were scared and confused. Through her eyes he saw the past.
She was a tiny baby. So small she shouldn’t have been alive. Her mother, Caroline, lay on the hospital bed sleeping peacefully. The doctor came up to him.
“Robert, you know what you have to do,” said the man, Robert’s closest friend. He knew about Robert’s past. The past not even his wife knew.
“Yes. I’m ready.” He handed his newborn child to Patrick and took from his pocket a tiny piece of computer material.
The next few hours as his wife slept would be terrible for him and for his daughter. She would have to endure the trauma of a surgery in the first few hours of her life so that his greatest secret could be kept. His wife wouldn’t wake the next morning leaving her child without a mother. Robert vowed to do all he could to keep his child safe.
Robert came out of his memory and looked at his daughter. He went over to her and crouched down.
“We are leaving Nella. We need to leave very soon. Is there anything you want to take with you?” he asked. He didn’t expect her to really understand but the three year old trotted to the table in the middle of the living room. She lifted a framed picture of her mother from it. The picture had been there all her life. Her mother smiled out with her arms wrapped around her swollen stomach. Hugging the child that at the time she believed she would raise. Nella handed it to her father and tears filled his eyes. She reached up and wiped her pudgy hand across his cheek.
“Don’t cry Daddy,” she said. Robert stood up and set the picture on the table. He took Nella’s hand and walked with her to her room. He quickly dressed her and led her back into the kitchen. He grabbed the bags from the table and they went into the garage. A small car sat there ready for use.
Robert backed out of the garage and they sped down the quiet moonlit street. As he turned down the street a black car sped past. Robert took a deep breath and gripped the wheel hard. He knew who had just driven past. Radner. The man who was the reason he got to have a child. The man who was responsible for the failure. In the rear-view mirror Robert could see that Nella was asleep on the seat. She looked so innocent, so young.
It was early in the morning when he reached his destination. Robert turned down a deserted dirt road and drove for another five minutes before pulling over. He stepped out and waited for Radner to catch up with him.
Caroline would kill him for he’d done. He’d left her. He’d left Nella. But she would be safe. The orphanage would take care of her. He’d made sure of that. He had money in the bank for her. They would keep her heart safe. Her pure innocent heart, that had been changed on the day of her birth. Her heart that now held the most valuable information in the world.
A black car rolled to a stop behind Robert’s. Radner stepped out. He was well built looking strong and sure. His brown hair was combed back. Radner walked toward Robert.
“Good evening Michael,” said Robert.
“Hello. It has been awhile,” Radner said. “I need you to come with me.”
“And if I say no?” asked Robert. “Will you kill me like you killed them?”
“No. You are much more valuable. We can always get a-hold of more subjects. But there is only one you,” said Radner.
“I won’t tell you anything,” said Robert, “But I will go with you.” Robert stepped toward Radner. They turned and walked to the car. An on looker may have thought they were friends but it was clear from the stiffness in their shoulders that each of them hated the other and neither was happy.
Categories: Critique Group
Critique for Submission #1 – Glorious Downfall (By Susan)
Susan, you have a great grasp of description with your use of vivid phrases, such as “split the air” and “only for a breath.” Well done.
Overall this is quite a good piece. Although I will comment on several issues, don’t let the number of comments detract from the evaluation. You really did a fine job.
First, the use of two “ing” phrases in the opening sentence seemed to take the edge of the force of the action. These verb phrases are supposed to occur at the same time as the main verb (split), and this is possible in that the rushing and ushering were part of the splitting. Yet, I think it would be stronger as successive actions, as you will see below, and I would also like more vivid words to describe sound.
In addition, putting “as cold as a north wind” at the end can feel like a description of the crowd rather than the sound. You see, “as cold as a north wind” is separated from “silence” by “over the crowd,” so a reader has to look back to connect the two, which takes only a split second, but it could interrupt the flow of thought.
“The blast of a foreign horn split the air and rushed up the main street. The reverberating sound ushered in a wave of silence, as cold as a north wind. Cheers from the crowd melted away. All was quiet.”
Next, the words “in its entirety” seemed unnecessary. If the festival came to a halt, then I assume it did so in its entirety. I see no need for the modifying phrase. Also, the other modifiers, unceremonious and unnatural are interpretations, and we don’t have a point-of-view character yet on stage to provide those interpretations. So I suggest adding Shilow earlier as an interpreter, something like this:
“The Blood Moon festival came to an abrupt halt. Shilow rose from her seat to get a better look at the people lining the street. Why such a sudden stop? What happened to the usual ceremonial ending?”
This way, the reader learns earlier who the point-of-view character is and whose eyes are providing the input. As you had it before, “sent a chill down Shilow’s spine” introduces her almost as an afterthought.
Next, “A stir made its way through the people, and the palace banners flapped in the wind, the only sound after the horn ceased.”
What kind of stir is this? Are the people moving? Swaying? Fidgeting? They couldn’t be talking or murmuring, because you say that the banners flapping is the only sound.
“But it was only for a breath. The same horn blared again,”
Since you use “again,” I see no need for “same.”
“this time joined by several others, like a pack of coyotes singing numerous harmonies,”
I think “numerous” isn’t helpful. Since you already have “several” we know that it’s numerous. How about a more descriptive adjective like “echoing” or “resonating”?
“and the eerie clash of notes sent a chill down Shilow’s spine.”
I would separate this phrase and put it in a new paragraph to show that Shilow is focal: “The eerie clash of notes sent a chill down Shilow’s spine.”
“She alone stood from her seat, leaning on the balcony rail to look out over the street below. Who in Urde was rude enough to interrupt the best part of the festival?”
Since I suggested moving the first of Shilow’s actions, this can now be “Shilow leaned on the balcony rail and searched for the source of the noise. Who in Urde …”
“Shilow, sit down!” the emperor hissed at her, probably waved a hand at her too. She could hear the rustle of his ridiculous robes. She leaned her arms on the rail, not sparing him a glance.
I don’t see the need for “at her” in either instance, since he calls her by name. Also take out “she could hear.” Since she is the point-of-view character, we know she can hear any sound that is reported. Still, you can make a point of her being able to hear by providing a clear contrast between the available audio vs. visual, like this:
“Shilow, sit down!” the emperor hissed, probably waved a hand too. She leaned her arms on the rail, not sparing him a glance, though she couldn’t avoid hearing the rustle of his ridiculous robes.
Next: “With a huff, she reluctantly heeded her father.”
“Reluctantly” is telling. You show reluctance well enough without using the word. You can drive the point home with something like this.
“With a huff, she sat down hard on the bench.”
Next: “A loud tramping soon rose up as percussion to the horn blasts”
Delete “up.” It’s redundant.
Next: “The real source, however, showed itself as the people parted.”
Since the parting of the people comes before the showing, put it in the right order:
“As the people parted, the real source came into view.”
Next: “A dark mass marched its way up the main street, soldiers in jagged armor that covered them from head to toe.”
I would delete “its way.” I see no need for it.
Next: “bronze dragon masks obscuring their faces, swordstaffs in their hands and reptilian wings furled on their backs.”
Why the “ing” phrasing? Make the descriptions bold and direct: “Bronze dragon masks obscured their faces, swordstaffs pierced the sky from their gloved hands, and reptilian wings furled on their backs.”
Next: “Bellai, your Imperial Majesty,” said the warad, Yishta, at his post behind the emperor’s chair. Ekmaloaph merely nodded in response.”
This dialogue seems to come out of the blue, and the speaker is identified after the spoken words, so the reader had no idea who was talking until after the dialogue. I think you should call Shilow’s attention to the speaker first by having him move. I would also make the initial address clearer. I didn’t understand until later that Yishta was identifying the marchers. Then set off the nod in its own paragraph.
Yishta, the warad, shifted at his post behind the emperor’s chair. “They are Bellai, your Imperial Majesty.”
Ekmaloaph merely nodded in response.
The dialogue sequence that followed confused me quite a bit. Who says ““I see that…” and why doesn’t he continue?
When Shilow speaks, who answers her with “Obviously …”? Then someone named Elcaern appears out of nowhere to speak. Where is he in relation to Shilow? His presence needs to be mentioned earlier.
Next: “Shilow’s mouth went slack – what by Apep was this supposed to be!?” Break to a new paragraph before her reaction.
Next: the abrupt halt enough to make the air seem eerily still without the sound of their march.”
I think it’s stronger to leave out “without the sound of their march.”
Next: “from the middle of the hoard to the front.” Use “horde” instead of “hoard.”
Next: “A tall, burly scarred Bellai came into full view first at the base of the fight platform.”
I would leave out one of the three adjectives. Three is too many. Also, I would delete “first.”
Next: “Half of his face and his entire right hand was disfigured” Change “was” to “were.”
Next: “his eye – which should have been the same brilliant green as the other – a foggy white and his fingers twisted into a gruesome sort of fleshy claw.”
I would break this into another sentence and change “His” to “One.”
“One eye – which should have been the same brilliant green as the other – displayed a foggy white glaze, and his fingers twisted into a gruesome sort of fleshy claw.”
Next: “After him followed one slightly leaner Bellai, with fiery red hair that spilled across his armor-clad shoulders – just like an elf; what was it with them and long flowing locks? – and the very same brilliant green eyes.”
Providing Shilow’s comment and question right in the midst of the description was jarring. I would take it out or move it to its own paragraph along with a visual action by Shilow to introduce the thought.
Shilow narrowed her eyes. Was he one of the elves? What was it with them and long flowing locks?
Next: “Lastly stepped out another red-winged elf, in more elaborate armor and a draping black cape that had slits cut to account for his wings and that trailed on the cobblestone behind him.”
At this point, I am weary of all the descriptions. I want the story to move along, but you continue to provide details that I don’t yet care to read. I would drastically cut these descriptions unless they are critically important.
Next: “Finally, Ekmaloaph stood, folding his hands in the gaping ends of his ridiculous sleeves”
You used “ridiculous” before. Maybe switch to something more descriptive like, “gold embroidered” or “pretentiously ornate”?
Next: “Where are my manners – I am Ameas Night …” Remember that it’s a question. Also, provide another visual to keep the readers’ eyes engaged.
“Where are my manners?” He pressed a fist against his chest. “I am Ameas Night …”
Next: “He could’ve left off the entire last half; so this man was overblown and a narcissist. How annoying.”
I think you should introduce this with another introduction by Shilow.
“Shilow huffed. He could’ve left off …”
That’s it. Good job. Most of my comments are merely tweaks. The only major issue for me is too much detailed description for so early in the story. I think you need to get things moving along so readers will attach to the tale so they will be interested in the details at a later time.
Critique for Submission #2 – Blood Cure (By Anna)
Anna, I find your concept intriguing, and your presentation makes me want to learn more. You are good at infusing mystery by revealing just enough to make the reader hungry but not enough to satisfy fully, which makes the reader turn the pages.
Now to address some issues:
“Michael Radner walked up the steps of the orphanage, slowly, thinking of what had happened over the past four years.”
There is no need to include “thinking.” If the focal character thinks something, just report the thoughts. We know he’s thinking so you don’t need to tell us that he’s thinking. Also, Michael wouldn’t think of himself as “Michael Radner,” so just use Michael. You can come up with another way to mention his last name.
I would add some language that would indicate his mood and quite a few more descriptors to give it some visual clarity. I’m not sure what Michael’s mood might be, but I gave it a shot:
Michael labored up the orphanage steps. The past four years had passed by like a blur. The two boys who clung to his hands had been the center of everything. Their fathers had created the crushing crucible, but the ingrates couldn’t finish what they started. Instead, they dumped the burden on their sons’ shoulders.
Sighing, Michael continued the march. Not that either the boys or their fathers knew about this dark future, not to mention their mothers who were giving them up to this wretched place.
He halted and rang the bell next to the jamb. From the inside someone shuffled to the door. It swung open to reveal a thin, fierce-looking nun wearing thick, circular glasses.
I think it’s sometimes more instructive to allow writers to study a proposed rewrite to figure out why the changes were made, and it would take too long to spell everything out, so compare mine with yours and see if you can figure out why I made each change. Even the minor changes are significant. If you can’t interpret them, please let me know.
I didn’t have too many issues until the paragraph that begins with: “He stepped into it and sped away.”
“The road flashed past him as he drove out of Chicago.”
The driving caused the road to flash past, so change the order. And you don’t need “him,” because he is the point-of-view character. “As he drove out of Chicago, the road flashed past.”
Next: “As he drove Michael thought. He felt so angry.”
First, you don’t need to say that he thought. Next, don’t tell that he’s angry, show it. And don’t dump the information. Give hints that Michael would naturally replay in his mind.
Michael slapped the steering wheel. What a fool! He had one job! One simple job! To keep the Experiments from escaping. And did they escape anyway? Yep. Living trophies marking his greatest failure.
He rolled a hand into a fist. He would get them back. He would reach his goal. One day he and no one else would resurrect the experiment, and this time he would not fail!
More suggested changes:
Michael’s cell phone rang. He snatched it from the passenger and held it to his ear. “Hello.”
“Yes, Agent Radner.” The man’s voice sounded like a low growl. “You have a new assignment.”
In the next scene, take out the last name. POV characters rarely label themselves with both names. “Things” is wholly non-descriptive. Do you mean food? Tools? Papers? And the structure of the rest is a bit too wordy. I’m not sure if there were two bags or three (the third being the laptop bag).
Robert rushed from the garage, carrying a screwdriver and a hammer. When he reached the kitchen, he pushed them into a bag on the table where his spare shorts and shirt had already been stowed. He grabbed a laptop computer from the counter, inserted in into the bag, and zipped it shut.
He picked it up and set it on the counter next to his daughter’s bag, a purple canvas duffle that held her clothes.
“Daddy?” Nella stood in the hall wearing a pink onesie. “What is going on Dad?”
I’m having trouble with the age of the daughter. A tiny voice and a onesie indicates a very young girl, maybe two years old, but “What is going on Dad?” sounds like an eight year old. I learned later that she is three.
From this point on, I became confused. There seems to be punctuation and words missing as well as lack of motivations. He said he’d left Nella at the orphanage, but the last we saw of her, she was asleep in the car. I lost her somehow.
Her heart had been changed? How did that kill the mother? I believe in giving tidbits of info, but the pieces feel too scattered and confusing.
“said Robert” is reverse order from your usual speaker tags. Be consistent.
Next: “An on looker may have thought they were friends but it was clear from the stiffness in their shoulders that each of them hated the other and neither was happy.”
If Robert is the point-of-view character, he probably wouldn’t see the stiffness of his own shoulders.
I left quite a bit to be critiqued, so I hope others chime in to fill in the gaps.
Keep it up, Anna! 🙂
Thank you. I always think of Michael as Michael Radner because he is my villain so I have difficulty thinking of him any other way. Nella, the child, is 4 at this point in the story. What I’m really trying to set up here is that Radner A. is a jerk, B. works for some group we (the readers) don’t know yet and C. had a major failure in his career with in the last 4 years and this is kind of like the deep seated core of his motivation.
Don’t know if that is too much expiation. Hopefully that clears things up for other readers.
If any of you guys have questions I love to talk about my writing. 🙂
It’s tough to step inside a character’s skin and think like he does. With intimate point of view we need to write as the character thinks. I don’t think my myself as “Bryan Davis.” To me, I’m just Bryan, so a narrative from my point of view wouldn’t realistically include my last name.
Also, the story says that Nella is three. “He didn’t expect her to really understand but the three year old trotted to the table in the middle of the living room.”
Oddly enough, I think of myself as “Davis,” not “James.”
That’s normal for police officers and military personnel.
Plus in my immediate division there are five people named James. If you call down the hallway “hey, James” we all answer. There is only one Davis.
Through out the story my main character go from three/four to 18 so sorry about confusion with ages
Excellent, attention-grabbing beginning. One thought, though: you said in the first sentence that the horn “ushered in a wave of silence”; you don’t need to say “The cheering went silent” in the next sentence.
I like your description of the Bellai procession and ambassadors. Very good details.
In the last paragraph, I feel like you should split your first sentence into two.
Overall, very nice work!
In the first sentence, I’d say to move “slowly” to come right after “walked”. I’d also suggest removing “And” from the beginning of the second sentence.
In the second paragraph, “thin fierce looking nun” should be “thin, fierce-looking nun”
Nice job creating mystery throughout these paragraphs by limiting what we hear from Michael’s thoughts.
In the paragraph where he’s driving away, I’d suggest taking out “He felt so angry” and instead using verbal clues- hands clenching the steering wheel, etc.- to show his feelings.
Next paragraph: I think the second two sentences would flow better if they were combined. “He reached over to the passenger seat, picked it up, and held it to his ear.”
Nice use of flashback in the next section. Also, Nella sounds cute.
I think you should change the “She looked so innocent, so young” sentence. She’s a little kid; of course she’s going to look like those things. Maybe say “She looked even younger than she was”, if you want to keep the effect, or you could remove the sentence entirely.
“He was well built looking strong and sure.” This sentence sounds awkward; maybe choose either “well built” or “strong and sure” and drop the other adjective. You could also combine this with the next sentence: “He was well-built/strong and sure, with brown hair combed back.”
Last sentence: I think that you could remove the “and neither was happy”. After all, if they hate each other, we can assume they’re not happy.
Overall, you’ve got an interesting idea, but you might want to work on making sure you’re not doing too much telling and on your use of punctuation.
Thanks for the feedback. I wrote this piece for Nanowrimo in 2013 so that’s most of why the punctuation is funky. I’ll work on it. Yes Nella is very cute in my mind.
Thank you so much! 🙂 I adore this project, and it’s so motivating to get feedback. Critiques and reviews help keep me writing. I have taken all the suggestions into consideration, and made the ones I feel are beneficial. Thank you again; God bless you!
(Seriously. I can’t believe I missed the repetitive silence thing at the beginning, or the misspelling of horde. >.<)
Susan: My, such detail! You painted a vibrant, brilliant picture of apparel, weapons, and creatures. However, there is a danger about writing in a fantasy universe, and that is isolating your reader. As the universe exists in your mind as the writer, it can be easy to forget that it doesn’t exist in a readers. This can make for great fun in plot twists, but descriptions can be difficult. For instance, I don’t know what a “warad” is, and it seems to be an important position. Is “Adda” another word for “Father” or “Emperor?” If it is for “Father” wouldn’t the emperor have rules for his children to be more formal in public?
I appreciate the read. I know it takes a lot of courage to volunteer for critiques on things you’ve written.
Yeah, warad was hard; my issue is always how can I explain something that’s normal while still stay true to POV? A warad is like a valet, but Shilow’s people don’t use that word and the only other alternative is the ambiguous ‘servant’, so I’m kinda stuck. 😛 I tried using the context of his position behind the throne and his address of his master as hints, but I don’t think it’s working well.
As for the last two questions, they’re both explained through the rest of the scene. I like opening up my worlds like a puzzle to be solved, and dropping hints and clues through context and description as the prose goes along, so being able to only submit 1000 words cuts out a lot of context, unfortunately.
I’m not going to address any of the prose or style things I saw, because others have addressed them already and done a better job than I could. Instead, I’m going to cover your worldbuilding and presentation of fantasy.
Before I do that, there is some striking imagery you should be proud of. At the very least, this is an interesting world, but the way you present it will make or break your story.
Glorious Downfall is apparently a world with dragons (or dragon-like entities) called Bellai that are also, apparently, like elves. There is nothing wrong with using familiar imagery, but I do caution against using the shortcut of describing them as being like something and assuming the reader is familiar with it. One downside is that a (very) small portion of your potential readers may not be familiar with elves and dragons. Another downside is that a much larger portion of your potential readers will be tempted to turn up their noses at you for taking this shortcut.
Instead, I suggest more specific descriptions, and more generalized labels.
For example, try this description for introducing your Bellai royals:
“His black hair was worn high, pulled so tight that it raised his brow into a surprised expression. Or perhaps it was simply a sneer. That sort of look suited his fey features: sharp cheekbones, almond eyes, and the rigidly pointed ears that marked his kind. Indeed, the man seemed to mock the surrounding peasants with a disdainful swish of his tail as he passed. But beneath the haughty veneer there was something more, something Shilow couldn’t quite name. His talons, free of gauntlets, twitched like those of a hungry predator. This Bellai was a man to be feared.”
Next, I suggest using Shilow as a stronger audience proxy. She’s younger, so it stands to reason that someone like her may not know much about these Bellai. She could be asking her father what’s going on, but he’s an important person, so perhaps an assistant could take her aside so she isn’t a distraction. This motherly or fatherly figure can offer explanations so the audience has insight both into what is going on, and into the nature of the characters. It not only tells the audience what to expect, it also tells the audience what the characters know and don’t know.
Also, I would like to share a personal preference for avoiding too much biodiversity in the apex predator spot. By this I mean that it’s unlikely that many sentient species could share the same niche in a planetary ecosystem. The Bellai and the humans may have a system that allows them to coexist, but add a third race, or a fourth, and you’re starting to have trouble. It’s one thing that annoys me with Tolkien: Elves, Men, Hobbits, Dwarves, Orcs, and Trolls, all living in an area roughly the size of England is a recipe for disaster. Though to be fair to Tolkien, it did result in a war of extinction. In my own high fantasy story, there are only humans, though there are stories that trolls used to exist.
However, this last note is only personal preference. There’s plenty of respect for a diverse biosphere in fantasy, but a lot of readers seem to have contempt for “like Tolkien’s elves/dwarves/orcs but slightly different” type races.
I love the suggestion for the detail paragraph about Ameas! I’m definitely going to use some of that; thank you very much!
And in response to your points:
The Bellai are one of five different elvin races in this fantasy world of mine, which is further explored as the story progresses. They actually are elves, which is why I used that term; they just have a few distinct draconian traits (the wings and the claws and the eyes). They look more elf than dragon, which is probably something I could get across clearer. But the Orklouise know vaguely who and what they are, which is why there wasn’t as much of a reaction or description as there could have been.
Which brings me to Shilow – all she knows is that these are Bellai and Bellai are elves (which are not viewed highly among her people, something that comes up within a few pages from the beginning) and they interrupted her favorite part of the festival and that’s all she cares about; in fact, she’d likely balk if somebody tried instructing her about it. 😛 She also has a hard time taking authority seriously. You see this short-sighted impulsiveness and disrespect as a flaw in her character as the scene plays out, which is harder to see without the proper context.
As for biodiversity, I myself have a hard time keeping up with too many species at once, so I’ve tried to keep it limited. XP Not only is this continent very large, but while I’ve listed in my brainspace numerous fantasy species that exist there, my book only focuses on a few humans here and there and then, of course, elves, which are divided into five factions/countries. If that makes sense. 🙂
I like your choice of a more contemporary setting. It’s a good type of story to start with, because you can assume your audience will be familiar with a lot of idioms and culture the characters are immersed in. You set a good atmosphere, but you could easily lay it on thicker and go for a bit of a noir feel.
From other comments, I gather that Michael Radner is your antagonist. It’s a bold move to start from your antagonist’s point of view. If you’re going to get into his head, you can do a lot more to build his character. Is he utterly without redeeming quality? A monster? Or is he a man blinded to what’s right by a sense of duty or a personal loss? Perhaps he’s the hero of his own story, misguided by a charismatic but evil master. Delve into this. How does he see the boys? Focus on them some.
Since your introduction is fairly short, I offer my take on the character. Please use whatever you like, or ignore it altogether.
I made some assumptions that may be incorrect. I also gave him a catchphrase.
I was tempted to go full noir, with rainy skies, a trenchcoat, and have him smoking, but this is your story and I’ve trampled enough with my comments as is. Hope you like the suggestions.
Michael slammed the door hard enough to rock the rental car and knock loose his papers from the roof. He cursed and crouched down to retrieve them from the gutter.
“You said a bad word.”
Michael looked up at the towheaded boy who’d spoken to him. Eko Amenta, one of his charges, held out one of the papers. Michael took the sheet and stuffed it back in the stack. “Thanks, kid.”
“What’s the papers for, Mr. Radner?” The other boy, James Tomas, looked up at him. The kid’s eyes were still red. He’d cried all the way there.
Michael looked away. “They’re for you boys.” He tucked the papers under his arm and took the boys by the hand. “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be alright.”
He set a brisk pace, almost dragging the boys along. He’d told the boys not to worry so many times he’d lost count. But were his reassurances true? These were no ordinary boys, not with fathers like theirs. No, it definitely wouldn’t be alright.
Michael shoved the door open and ushered the boys inside. They stood inside a bare reception area. The room was devoid its attendant. Michael slapped the bell on the desk. He waited a moment, then slammed his hand down repeatedly. A rail-thin nun hurried up to the desk.
“Can I help you?” She peered at him from behind her glasses, quizzical and fierce at the same time. She glared at Michael’s hand until he pulled it away from the bell, and she spirited the offending noisemaker to somewhere behind the desk.
Michael threw the stack of papers down in front of her. “James Tomas,” he said, pointing to the first boy. He set his hand on the other’s head. “Eko Amenta. The papers explain the rest.”
She scanned through the papers before staring up at him, an alarmed expression on his face. “Sir, you can’t expect us to keep them permanently? What about adoption?”
“Sorry, sister.” Michael turned and yanked the door open. “That’s a federal court order. I’m not breaking it.”
He walked briskly until he was out of sight of the door, then ran all the way back to his car. Michael wasn’t even breathing heavily, but he rested his head on the door frame. Poor kids. No matter what their fathers did, they didn’t deserve this.
His phone rang. Michael flipped the green answer switch, accepting the call. “Yes?”
“Agent Radner, we have a new assignment for you.” The man on the other end explained the new mission, his voice mechanical. “Can you handle it?”
Michael felt under his jacket for the handle of his pistol. He squeezed his eyes shut and nodded unconsciously before answering. “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be alright.”
Thanks for the feedback. First thing Michael has no pity or love for these boys or their fathers. In fact the boys’ fathers are the reason for what Michael considers his greatest failure. He doesn’t want to harm the boys (yet) cause they haven’t done anything to him (yet). Michael eventually becomes the head of this organization and by the end of the first book is hell bent on getting the boys along with Nella and another girl. Through out the series he goes crazy pretty much he becomes paranoid and angry and sadistic (well even more so than he is now). He’s one of those characters who is intelligent, strong, driven, and willing to just about anything to get what he wants. But at this point he is lower level. Right now he really doesn’t have any redeeming qualities and I don’t know that he will have them. I understand his reasons but I haven’t delved far enough into his back story to find out if he has any other motivation other than this revenge. He did before all of this but I don’t what that is yet.
I’m not sure why I opened from Michael’s POV it just felt right for starting the story. Also in the beginning my MCs are really to young to tell the story.
I like what you said about making it darker and that makes sense but I kind of find the whole idea of bad things happening in rain and darkness cliche.
Um… you are correct the boys are far from normal especially Eko for reasons later told.
Thank you for the suggestion it is great. Your comments were awesome. Sorry I wrote kinda of a lot in this comment.