Critique Group – Dreamscape

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Dreamscape – by Autumn

The sky hung high over her head, stretching wide across her line of sight.  Building tops edged the view, nearly black against the fading orange expanse above.  The ground she reclined against was flat and hard in some places and uneven in others.  It grew more uncomfortable each moment, practically nagging her to sit up — yet, that wasn’t enough reason to move.  Everything lacked context, having filled her vision only moments ago, so there was no reason to think there was anything worth moving for.

Gentle noise rose and fell like the quiet babbling of a brook — whatever a brook was.  A hollow ache started in her gut, insisting on attention.  Things like that were confusing, yet other things she simply knew — just like she knew words like ‘brook’ and ‘building’, or how she knew to wonder what things were in the first place.

The ache grew more incessant, so with a sigh she rolled to the side and stood, but the world immediately swayed before her.  She took an unsteady step backward, slumping against the building behind her and touching her forehead until the dizziness faded.  The annoying ache remained.

Movement flickered leftward, drawing her gaze.  Someone strode past the buildings, gone in only a moment.  She stared briefly before darting after the other, away from the buildings’ shade.  Pinkish orange light tinted the area several shades brighter than her previous location, and she blinked until the onslaught of light became bearable.

There were more buildings across from her, lining the wide, hard surface beneath her feet.  It was just a bit louder out here, too.  And there were beings everywhere, walking, gesturing with their hands or talking enough to add to the gentle murmur that plagued the air.

She slowed to a stop, studying the noisy creatures as they moved.  Which one passed the buildings earlier?  Could it offer help?

A sickly faint feeling swept through her, and the ache bit vengefully.  The ground pitched and rolled before her, and she shook her head, heart pounding as she fought to stay standing.  She ripped her gaze away from the unsteady terrain and inspected the others around her once more.  Who cared which one she saw earlier?

She stumbled as she lunged forward.  The feeling gnawed resentfully on her insides, threatening to make her feel weak enough to faint and never get up again.

What was this?  How could she get rid of it?

There were a lot of beings loitering outside one of the buildings across the way.  She bolted for the nearest two, drawing in a breath.  “Please, please help me, I’m so hungry!”  her voice tore hoarsely from her unused throat

But the two just blinked and looked at each other with confusion.  “Help?  Hungry?”  they echoed uncertainly as she halted before them, panting.

Other beings close enough to hear glanced her way, but only for a moment before going about their business.

She gritted her teeth and whirled away from them, turning to the next person, then the next, begging again and again.  At first, she waited for their response, but after a while she fled from each one the moment they donned that infuriatingly perplexed look.

Her feet pounded the earth.  They felt like they’d give out at any moment, but she had to find someone, someone that actually knew what was going on.

So she asked another, and another as she ran down the path everyone else walked.  Her lungs burned with every breath they pulled through her parched throat.  She stopped, swaying until she leaned forward with her hands on her knees.  Why was she the only one like this?  She glared at the ground as she swallowed, then panted.

A light brushing sound stirred to her right, and her gaze pounced on it.  There was someone there, pushing tiny bits of debris away from the entrance of the building behind him with a long stick tipped with furry stuff.

‘A broom’, her mind supplied idly.  The broom wielder’s hair was thin and gray, and his face was etched with odd creases.  More importantly, he was staring, his brows furrowed as if he was trying to figure her out.

She scowled a bit.  “Do you have any food?”  Not that she expected him to.  Why would he be different than the others?  Even she didn’t understand what that was, regardless of how her mind practically screamed for it earlier.

Her limbs trembled, as if punishing her for exerting them without eating first.

The other blinked, pausing his task.  “Ah…”  he trailed off hesitantly.  “Who are you?”

She stared.  He didn’t answer her question, but at least he didn’t repeat it and look confused.  She nearly shrugged, not even sure what a ‘name’ was, but opened her mouth instead.

“Aspen.”  Somehow, she knew that the moment she spoke.

Now if only the question of ‘food’ could be answered so easily, because ‘hunger’ still attacked her with sickly flashes of weakness.  Then again, it wasn’t as bad as before.  At least her misery wasn’t so strong that she felt like falling over.

The gray one leaned on his broom as the edges of his mouth pulled downward, deepening the cracks around them.  “Well…I don’t know what ‘food’ is, but most newly manifested beings go to school to hang out with the others, or entertain themselves in the Library’s archives, which is that way.”

He pointed down the path, and her sight followed the gesture to what she was probably supposed to see: a large building in the distance, towering above the others.  The explanation was so slow, hesitant and irrelevant that the broom wielder probably only used it to make up for his cluelessness.  He knew about the ‘Library’ and ‘school’, but not about ‘food’, which meant those places wouldn’t rid her of hunger.  So this person was just as useless as everyone else.

But…at least he tried.

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8 replies

  1. Nice! Its very intriguing. I’m not the best person to critique writing, but here goes.
    I like that you write it in a way that you can actually feel with the character. (I’m pretty bad with that) I’ve always liked the idea of the main character of a story getting amnesia (is that what she has?) And trying to figure out things. Of course, with your story her mind already had the answers, which is another interesting mystery. I would definitely continue reading! Keep up the good work!!

    • Thanks 🙂 She doesn’t have amnesia, though her symptoms are a bit similar. Her lack of knowledge is actually more a product of the fact that she barely manifested in her world(beings in this world are not born biologically. Instead, they ‘manifest’, which basically means they just show up one day with some preprogrammed knowledge in their heads).So she has no prior experiences at all, and is experiencing hunger, a thing that most beings in her world have no concept of.

      It’ll probably be a long while before this story is complete, but when it’s done it’s release will probably
      be announced on my tumblr. Here’s the tumblr link if you’re interested:

  2. Your attempts to show the perspective of a confused person were valiant and somewhat successful. I found the excerpt to be intriguing.

    Still, the scene should have hit me harder than it did. I felt little compassion for the character, because I didn’t know her yet, and I had no idea what was at stake for her in her dizzied quest. Readers don’t know what danger she is in or what will happen if she fails.

    Is there a way to show what danger she might be in? Can you give her a more focused purpose? If keeping this totally confused state is important for the story, then maybe you can’t provide these things.

    Regarding details, watch for overuse of “was.” I think I counted more than twenty uses. Strive for more vivid verb constructions. Also, the more often you refer to your character by her pronoun, the less intimate the scene might be. Check out some suggested changes I made here –

    Let me know if you have any questions.

  3. That was super helpful, thanks 🙂

    And yeah, unfortunately her being this confused is important, since it lays groundwork for her future behavior and a little bit of the frustrations of living in her world(she’s one of the only beings capable of feeling hunger, though she can’t die, so she basically has to live in pain and it’s frustrating since practically no one has any concept of what she’s going through). I probably made things difficult for myself by choosing this as the prologue, but thankfully this is the only scene she’s completely confused in. I guess her goal in this scene is figuring out what’s hurting her and how to stop it, but then she ends up feeling a little helpless and frustrated since she can’t at this point(the rest of the story revolves around what she does when she finds a way to alleviate her hunger and how the other characters react.)

    Another thing to note is that in this world, characters are not born biologically and instead ‘manifest'(basically just show up one day). They already have some knowledge preprogrammed into their heads upon manifestation, which is how Aspen knows about random things or sometimes realizes what things are when she encounters them. This scene is what happens immediately after she manifests in this world and wakes up, and thus she has no prior experiences.

    Given all that, is there anything else that could be added to make the scene more vivid/make Aspen a bit easier to sympathize with?

  4. Hello! I am a new subscriber and wanted to try this out since it will help me in my writing immensely. Thank you!

    My name is Lyn, I am seventeen years old and labeled as a thief.  There is nothing I can do that can peel this label off of my body. It seems to be as hopeless as an animal’s chance to escape the clutches of a starving bear’s claws.  Except I’m not in a hungry bear’s claws- I am in a poor village in the kingdom of Galador. I live with my grandma only, as my parents are in prison (for the crime of theft of course).  I have dark hair, dark eyes, and- unlike most thieves in my village, I can speak in full, structured sentences.  My grandmother calls me her “Little Bella” because for one, I am below the average height, and two- she thinks I am very beautiful. However, it is my grandma who is the most stunning, born with bright green eyes and skin tan from working long hours in the sun in her earlier years… my grandma may be considered old age-wise, but she has that personality of a curious kitten, a playful puppy, and a trickster monkey all combined into one soul, which makes her seem the spiritual age of a six-year-old.  She is the world to me, and I wouldn’t know what to do without her. Another reason I admire my grandmother so much is because she tells amazing stories that she heard when she was my age and kept hearing them until her parents passed away due to literally rotting in the corner of a prison cell to death. She was currently sitting down in the one chair that we have made entirely out of wood and straw, and I was over in the corner, making some cabbage stew (which we have almost every night). She folded her hands over her lap and closed her eyes. “Bella,” she whispered so softly I could barely hear. “I have a story to tell you.” I reached up and pulled out of our cupboard two small wooden bowls that almost matched my home, for my cramped, cozy, little home consisted of one major room- the southern part of our room occupying a stove, a fireplace, and a small cupboard randomly placed to the side. Our home is made out of only wood and straw, but it was surprisingly sturdier than most of the homes in our village. But, that’s because my grandpa stole the glue-like material the castle has to keep their walls from collapsing or crumbling in the middle of the night.  I brought one bowl to my grandmother, her emerald eyes still closed, and sat down. My grandma held the bowl in her hands and looked at me. “You know, you could’ve stolen from the kingdom’s bakery for dinner,” she said, eyes twinkling with mischief. I scowled. “And be in prison like mom and dad? And be called a dog by the royal guards? I don’t think so. Remember last time I set foot near the castle?” I responded, lifting an eyebrow. Last time I went into the kingdom’s wealthier village, it was a lovely summer day, and I was feeling the need to leave my poor village to see what the kingdom’s wealthier side looked like. I got the guards called upon me because I looked ‘like I was a fox in a henhouse’ or ‘that I was a dog in the streets’, and other analogies I didn’t want to ponder on according to the townspeople.  One person; however, saw me and screeched, “That’s the one! The one who stole from my shop!” It was the baker, Miss Mayella. Now, I haven’t stolen anything in my life from the town, so I just stood there, dumbfounded. The guards took one look at me and laughed, chortling and cackling like they had pieces of wood in their throats. “This little thief? She looks like she couldn’t even steal a glance at the King, that dog!” a tall, bearded guard guffawed. The others laughed, and one took me by my collar. He had a big nose and tiny, beady eyes. “Get out of here, you little thieving rodent, before I join you with your other wretched kind behind iron bars.” he growled. I was literally spat on the guards and ran away, crying the rest of the way home.  I have never been back since. “My Bella, that was ages ago.” My grandma said softly, while lifting the bowl to her lips.  I stared at her. “Grandma, that was three days ago,” I said back. My grandma chuckled after finishing her stew. “As I said, forever ago.” she told me once more.  I rolled my eyes. “So, you said you have a story for me?” I asked her, making sure she remembered she called me over not just to talk about how much I needed to steal goods from the market.  My grandma became serious, and set her bowl on the dirt floor gently. “I have told you many stories, but this one is about a creature that has haunted our kingdom for centuries, one that has killed thousands of knights, and captured thousands of princesses,” she started, eyes clouded, looking as if a storm was brewing behind them.  “A creature that is a living nightmare. The infamous dragon.” I perked up. Dragons were greatly feared in Galador. One mention of the word, and the kingdom goes to chaos. What could be different from the normal, ‘damsel in distress, happy ever after’ dragon story that my grandmother has to tell that I’ve read in books (stolen too, of course)?  As if my grandmother could read my mind, she said, “Lyn, this is a story that took place long ago. One that is a true tale- one that many people wrote off as a myth,” my grandma started. I leaned in closer to signal for her to keep going. Oh, how she could stall! “Go on,” I pushed. My grandma looked out our one window, staring in the distance as if a dragon just flew by. “This is a legend that could make a kingdom have control over a giant beast that could slay knights and warriors in one swoop of its tail,” my grandma foretold. I was more intrigued than ever, since I’ve always been fascinated by the creatures of old. My grandma rubbed her wrinkled hands together, took a deep breath, and continued.  “Long ago, there were more dragons than there were people in the kingdom of Galador. There were all types of dragons then- black ones, blue ones, red ones, all colors you can imagine. Unfortunately, the dragons and the humans did not get along with each other.  Dragons kept killing knights and citizens of the kingdom and on the other hand, knights kept slaying dragons and stealing the gruesome lizards’ treasures. Our homes, crops, and animals burst into flame from the fire of the dragons’ nasty bellies. Finally, an old king named King Arthur waged war against the dragons.  Bless his soul, he gathered many knights of all ages, convincing them to clash against the lizard-wings. The war was violent and blood poured down the flesh of those from both sides. Many dragons and people died that day, but every war has a victor. Soon, there was only one dragon left against ten knights and the King.” My grandma paused again and looked at me.  “You may think, my Little Bella, that a dragon is no match against ten knights and one king, but ten knights almost have no hope of surviving against one dragon. A dragon is a master weapon, immune to the sharpest of blades and the hottest of fires. Now, Lyn, I said that every war has its victor, but in this case, no one won.” My grandmother claimed.  I was perplexed. How could there possibly be no winning side? The only way this is possible is if they both surrendered, or perhaps one let the other live by showing mercy. Surely, though the humans didn’t show mercy of all things to a dragon!  Dragons are notorious, evil, beasts.  In their veins flows the blood that belonged to those they killed and ate. And the fact that one of these dragons could actually be the opposite of what they’ve been depicted as for hundreds of years seems absurd!  “The last dragon in the world was left against the last ten knights of Galador and the King. Legend says you could feel the tension, taste the suspense, and see the lives of the enemies flash before your eyes as well as your own.  Heartbeats were beating like a drum, chests heaving in a steady pace. The dragon that was left was ruby-red, and had two protruding horns at the top of his skull.  The dragon was massive, almost as tall as half the size of the castle the king lives in today. The knights had their swords and shields at the ready, until the beast actually communicated with them without moving its snarling mouth at all.  The dragon simply said ‘peace’ and walked away.
    “Of course you can only imagine how bewildered and puzzled the knights were that the dragon actually spared their lives.  They marveled at the fact that such a notorious beast could actually offer peace and mercy. The knights looked at their king for guidance on what to do, but the King was just as marveled as they were.  Finally he said, “When death itself offers you a chance of life, it would be foolish to chase after it.” They returned to their families and they say that the last good dragon still lives today, hidden in the forest of Nachuda in a cave full of mysterious wonders and treasures.  Maybe one day, we will see that dragon again.” My grandmother concluded and sighed happily, as if a dragon offered her all of its treasure. I, on the other hand, was so shocked that that lizard-monster could offer mercy, that the first thing I blurted out was, “Do you honestly expect me to believe that a dragon could spare not just one life, but the lives of eleven people?!” My grandmother looked at me with laughter in her eyes.
    “Do you expect me to believe that everyone born in this village loves to steal except one?” she returned.  I could only stare at her. She had hit my soft spot, and she knew it. I hated being called a thief when I never stole anything in my entire life, and I hated that the guards, the wealthier villagers, the King, the knights- everyone based my personality and beliefs on the attitude of others.  I was not like the others, whose destiny was to be caged in bars like an animal or sentenced to be hanged from stealing the crown every now and then. I was different and I appeared to be the only one who was so. “This- this is different,” I argued. “It is nearly impossible for that dragon to spare human lives! Grandma, do you seriously believe that story?” My grandma actually looked sad and confused.  
    “I do not understand, my Little Bella.  You complain about being judged based off of the reputation of others, but here you are, doing it to this dragon. I believe that story, Lyn. I firmly believe it because you also are proof to me that regardless of someone’s family and history, someone can be different.”

  5. “Newly manifested beings” is interesting and possibly the hook for me. I would have liked the explanation of what that is (from your comment) earlier on in the story.

    I’m not sure why she’s there, or what here goal is. Short-term, it’s obviously to find food. Long-term? No idea. Maybe that’s what you intend, but as a reader I would want some idea of the overall story goal sooner if I were going to continue reading much longer.

    You asked in a comment, “Is there anything else that could be added to make the scene more vivid/make Aspen a bit easier to sympathize with?” You also mentioned that this is a prologue. I’m no expert, but I have heard that it is better to start “in media res”–in the middle of the action–rather than after a lot of introductory material. I wonder, could this passage have the impact you want if you were to make it a remembrance later on in the story? After we know the character a bit, we may be able to sympathize better with her plight in this moment. Perhaps you could show Aspen (after she’s fully aware) helping another newly-manifested being and then recalling her own manifestation experience?

    One other tiny point: You can let the reader know her name before she remembers it herself. I usually attach to characters better if I know their names earlier.

    I hope this helps!

    • Thank you, the feedback does help 🙂 I might make it a flashback, as you mentioned, since there will be other flashbacks in the story as well and it probably won’t feel out of place to make this a flashback too. It may be hard to say for sure on that until I get further into drafting the novel, though. Thanks again 🙂

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