Critique Group – Once Upon a Dragon

Yes, please. I’m sure it’s beautiful and informative, but the story gets kind of stuck in the mud.

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Once Upon a Dragon – by Natasha

(Rewrite of an older post –

War always arrived in the footsteps of greed and tomorrow, greed would arrive in a mahogany airship.

King Amancio reflected on this as he stood on his castle flight deck, a gentle breeze giving him some relief from the humid jungle air. His gaze drifted out past the flat expanse of the flight deck, beyond the spreading branches of the great tree-castle he called home, and across his kingdom. The faint lights of distant stars and planets were beginning to appear in the eastern sky. It took him only a few seconds to pinpoint the light of the planet Arrden. He glared at it. From here, Arrden was just one speck of light among many. But Arrden rivaled even the planet Eremita in size. As of late, its armies had grown as well.

Would their planets be allies or enemies after tomorrow? Kerr could not afford a war, especially with a planet so large as Arrden. Amancio needed a compromise that would satisfy King Balios without hurting Kerr further. And he needed one now.

King Balios’ son, Ilarion, would be arriving tomorrow for peace talks. If a solution could not be found before then, tomorrow would mark the start of the first interplanetary war in centuries.

He looked around at the flight deck. The quiet shapes of his kingdom’s airships filled up either side. Overhead, the branches of the castle formed a protective canopy. What would tomorrow bring? Would he be defending his castle, or celebrating with his kingdom? Would his fleet be mobilized for war, or his knights sleep in peace?

Amancio drew his greatsword from a sheath at his back and began to practice combat techniques. Practicing always helped him think more clearly, not to mention he might soon be called upon to fight alongside his kingdom. He wanted to be prepared for either outcome.

“Care for a sparring companion?”

Amancio stopped and turned around in surprise. He had not heard anyone enter the flight deck. His wife, Queen Zarita, stood a few feet away, her own sword in her hand. She had already adopted a fighting stance, her weapon raised. Unlike him, she wielded a light one-handed sword.

Amancio smiled. “Certainly.”

They engaged, their swords clashing. He was careful to keep his movements slow, as was his wife. He preferred to focus more on technique when they sparred, and he had no intention of letting any accidents happen. He opened with a feint and swung at her side.

“So did you come up with anything to appease Balios?” she asked, blocking his strike.

He shook his head. “No. Perhaps I could offer him another trade discount. But I fear he will not accept it. Besides, I cannot give him too large of a discount or Kerr will suffer.” He dodged a jab from her and swung for her leg.

Zarita countered with a slow swing that he parried. “We could give him access to some of our best medicines.”

“Perhaps. But we have already given him a large discount on our herbs and fruits. Any more and Kerr will suffer from that as well.” He blocked an overhead strike.

Zarita lowered her sword and rolled her eyes. “King Balios is a greedy fool. Can’t he just be satisfied with his own planet? I mean, it’s a planet! How much more can he possibly need?”

Amancio growled and lowered his sword. “I don’t know. But we cannot afford to give him much more. I have already sent word to all the heads of the provinces, as well as our military base. They are making preparations if the peace talks tomorrow don’t go well. Which they won’t, knowing Balios,” he added under his breath.

There was a long moment of silence. Zarita sheathed her sword. “Sometimes I wish Asar’el would just show up in his physical form and slap Balios.”

Amancio chuckled. “Yes, I suppose that would be nice.” Another pause stretched out. “Honestly, I’m afraid. I know we’re supposed to trust Asar’el but I fear the worst. Balios does not follow the Nine Decrees as we do. Or if he does, he surely has a different view of them than us.”

Zarita nodded in silent acknowledgement, then pulled him into a tight embrace. He hugged her back. The tension in his muscles eased slightly.

A soft chime and a faint swish signalled the flight deck doors opening. Amancio drew back and looked up. His daughter, Basilia, sprinted across the flight deck towards him. “Dad! Mom!” She grabbed them both, hugging them tightly. Then she pulled away, a wide smile stretching across her face.

“What is it, Sprout?” Amancio asked.

When she spoke, her voice grew quiet and serious, though a smile still tugged at her lips. “I’ve figured it out. I know how to avoid a war with Arrden.”

Amancio tensed and his eyes widened.  

“How?” Zarita demanded.

“I’m going to unite our kingdoms by marrying Prince Ilarion!”

“You’re gonna what?” Zarita shrieked.

Amancio choked inwardly and gaped at his daughter. “No,” he muttered. He shook his head. “No! I refuse to allow you to do this!”

Basilia’s smile faded and her posture faltered. “But it makes sense! If we were united as allies, then we wouldn’t have to go to war. And if I marry Ilarion, Kerr will be protected under laws too, so you won’t have to keep paying Balios. I researched everything and-”

Zarita began to nod but Amancio shook his head violently. “Absolutely not! I will not allow-”

Zarita placed her hand on Amancio’s shoulder. “Hold on. She might have a point. If-”

He stepped away. “No.” As he continued, his voice grew louder, until he was shouting. “It doesn’t matter! Marrying Ilarion is out of the question, period. We will find another way or I will go to war.” He stopped himself, taking a deep breath. “I am sorry for shouting. Please just… leave me be for a few minutes. I need time…” his voice trailed off and he shook his head.

Basilia gave him a long look. “But-”

“Not now Basilia,” he said, holding up his hand.

Basilia turned and walked slowly away. Zarita started to follow, then looked back. “You should think about it. Basilia would not say such a thing on an impulse.”

Amancio gave her a nod of acknowledgement and watched her leave. Once again, he was alone on the flight deck. He turned around and gazed at the sky. “What now, Asar’el?” he whispered. With heavy steps, he walked out to the far edge of the deck, up to the low barrier that ran around its border. He knelt down and stared at the night sky, now pitch black and ablaze with stars.

The stories told how millennia ago, the great dragon Asar’el had created those stars and galaxies with just a single flap of his mighty wings. They also said Asar’el would always walk with those who sought him. He believed those stories, with all his soul. Yet sometimes he couldn’t help but feel powerless and alone. He loved his kingdom, but even more so, he loved his daughter. A war could destroy Kerr, perhaps even take away Basilia. But to marry someone like Ilarion? How could he allow that?

“I am afraid, Asar’el.” His voice came out as a hoarse whisper. “I am afraid for my kingdom. I am afraid I will lose the only people on any planet whom I truly care for.”

Amancio looked about, wondering if Asar’el might appear to him as he did sometimes, but he saw nothing. His gaze returned to the night sky. “What should I do?” His plea was met only by the cries of insects.

For a long time, he sat there, thinking. In some small part, he knew what he needed to do. He had to talk to Basilia and hear her out. And ultimately, he needed to allow her to make this choice. The thought sounded crazy. Yet if there was one thing he had learned from his years as a king, it was that Asar’el communed with everyone differently. If he had called Basilia to do something, Amancio would not stand in her way. Still, he continued to wait, hoping Asar’el might appear and tell him otherwise. Finally, he gave in and rose to his feet.


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13 replies

  1. This is a very intriguing beginning to a great story!

    A few things that stood out to me, Natasha, were sections of dialogue that seemed too colloquial. The reason this seems a problem is because the setting, people, and sense that I get from the story are supposed to be a little more formal/medieval.
    An example are the multiple uses of “discount”. This is too modern of a term. You could say, “Perhaps I could offer him another trade agreement. One exempt from taxes, though the people of Kerr can ill afford it.” Make sense?
    Or when Basilia approaches and says, “Dad! Mom!”. When I read this, it threw me off the “medieval” feel of the story into more of a “present day” setting.

    Her nickname, Sprout, also seems out of place. Maybe something that has to do with the stars since it seems that the dragon and planets play a major part?

    One more thing, NEVER use the word “gonna”. I get in trouble for using it all the time and am still learning to find synonyms to replace it with. “Gonna” is poor English for “going to”. You wrote it correctly when Basilia says, “I’m going to unite our kingdoms by marrying Prince Ilarion!”
    Her mother should say: “You’re going to do what?” Zarita shrieked.

    I hope this all helps and makes sense. Can’t wait to see more!!

    • Gonna tends to be a bad choice in most writing, at least from a grammar standpoint(but there’s exceptions to every rule and some may choose to use the word gonna all the time if it suits the narrator’s voice) But the word gonna is perfectly acceptable in diologue if that is how the character speaks. People talk however they want to in real life, so sometimes grammar mistakes make diologue sound more realistic 🙂

    • Thank you very much for your thoughts AJ! You definitely have a poitn about the word usage. However, it is intended to be blend between modern and medieval/formal. (Hence the reference to things like electronic doors and the fact that there is interplanetary travel.) I also wanted to make things between Basilia and her parents feel more familiar and close. Mom and Dad felt like it would be more natural for her character.

      The nickname is actually a childhood thing and their planet is big on selling herbs and rare plants, hence the name 🙂

      As for ‘gonna’, you do have a point. My intent for using that word is to highlight the difference in how Amancio and Zarita speak. Zarita is usually very informal and even bordering on slang and more modern. Amancio, as you saw, is very formal and eloquent.

      Thank you again for your comments! I’m definitely going to keep them in mind.

  2. It is Original, which is good. Nicely edited as well.

  3. Wow! You did a great job updating this! I can see it a whole lot clearer and I love the thoughtful details you wove into this.
    Just a couple things:
    > “You’re gonna what?” Zarita shrieked. ~ “Gonna” isn’t the best word choice. I’d suggest something like “going to” instead.
    > “Not now Basilia,” he said, holding up his hand. ~ You need a comma between “now” and “Basilia”.
    Your God-character “Asar’el” sounds really cool! 😀 Where did you come up with the name, if you don’t mind my asking? :} [I love finding unique names and their meanings.]
    If I came across this in a bookstore, I’d continue reading in a heartbeat! 😀 Keep up the great work!

    • It seems to be a common theme about the word “gonna”, so I will consider other options. Although its mostly in there for character and dialogue purposes.

      Thank you for catching that comma! Totally missed that.

      And lastly, I like to use to find most of my character names. It’s a fantastic resource and it lists names by gender and origin, and gives their meaning. I use that site a LOT and I love it!

  4. Natasha,

    You’re writing is getting quite good. Keep up the great work.

    The main problem I had with the piece was the slow beginning. In the first five paragraphs nothing at all happened, just interior monologue that provided a back story information dump.

    Then, when his wife appeared, the sword training merely provided another opportunity to provide back story information. Nothing really happened to advance the story until the daughter showed up.

    I would like to see you advance the story immediately and provide background information as the story progresses. This is exceptionally difficult to do, but it is better storytelling. More in the next comment.

    • Thank you very much Mr. Davis! I actually thought that having them discuss it seemed natural because it’s something that’s upcoming for the characters but I see now that it doesn’t advance the story much, so I’ll work on that!

      The part about Kerr I actually noticed too, but I wasn’t sure how to present it. I thought it might be too out of place to have him think “my planet Kerr that I live on”. Do you have any suggestions how I might present that without making it obvious or unrealistic?

      As for the cliche, I actually didn’t even realize at first that it was a cliche. I was thinking the cliche would be the parents forcing the daughter to marry, but the thing with the king is definitely a bit cliche after further consideration. I’ll definitely look into other options. Thanks for that!

      Is there any other suggestions? Thank you again for everything!

      • It is natural to discuss the situation, but you still don’t want to slow the story down. We writers skip lots of things that are natural but are tedious.

        Regarding Kerr, I think the previous sentence steered me the wrong way – “Would their planets be allies or enemies after tomorrow?” “Their” could refer to two other planets and not his own, and Kerr could be a person, a leader of one of those planets, or Kerr could be another planet itself.

        Maybe skip the “Would their planets” sentence and go with, “No planet in our system could afford a war with a planet as large and powerful as Arden, not even Erimeta, and certainly not our little planet Kerr.”

  5. A few details:

    When you mentioned Kerr, I had no idea what or who Kerr is. A person? A country? It wasn’t clear.

    I don’t have a problem with “gonna” in modern dialogue, but it did feel out of place in this scene.

    The king’s immediate, angry, adamant refusal to allow marriage felt like a cliche. I wonder if you could make his reaction less common and interesting. Maybe the queen could be the one against the marriage for a change. Or maybe the king could be more calculating and agree at first, then begin to remind his daughter of some of the man’s awful qualities while brushing them aside for inadequate reasons.


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