2000th post

Discussion in 'Critiques' started by Boneman, Oct 3, 2011.

  1.  
    Boneman

    Boneman Active Member

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    In keeping with the tradition of posting from wip, here's my 1179 words, taken from The Iron Curse. Since my website has almost all of the opening chapter, I thought I'd post a pivotal scene early on in the book.

    Some background: Garryd is about to undergo Selection, a ritual that marks the turning point from childhood to adult. For a week before this point Assessors from the city have been interviewing every person in his village, including all those who will undergo the ritual. It's important, as their society is tightly controlled, and their professions will be selected for them in the ritual, and a brand imprinted on their wrists, marking them forever. Naturally each person has worked hard to try to ensure they will be selected for the one they most desire, but the needs of their society sometimes means they are selected for another. Garryd has already discovered he has an affinity for iron, a prized rarity in his world.

    The Iron Curse
    The girl at the front of the line stepped forward and Elder Goodman closed the door behind her as soon as she was through. The silence descended again. It wrapped itself around you, isolated you, despite the closeness of people nearby, and I felt cold. I convinced myself that being at the back of the line made it worse. Elly’s head turned to me. I saw how pale she was. I looked at her, and shifted my belt round so the knife was on my left, her side, and I gripped the handle. She watched me as I did this, and a small, brave smile showed on her lips. Her right hand covered the brooch, and she stroked it. The unspoken communication helped.

    The quiet continued, and then we heard a swelling of noise, a rising sound of murmured expectation. It died away and then rose again. It faded once more, and then rose to a crescendo. Applause and cheering suddenly overwhelmed us, startlingly loud after the silence. Margaret had passed Selection. The applause went on for some time, and I tried to visualise what was happening

    Eventually the noise subsided and Elder Southern rang the bell again.

    “Jonathon Kingsby.”

    I mentally wished him fortune and he stepped through the door. We waited in silence while the same process happened. I vowed to make sure he drank lots of wine, later, now he was an adult.

    “Emily Cutler.”

    Some of the Assessments went quickly, and others took longer. The tension that rose with the protracted ones was heard as the sounds rose to fever-pitch before cheering broke out. I became more and more nervous as the others passed through, and found myself wiping my damp hands on my breeches. I smiled at Elly, and she at me, but we weren’t convincing. I could see the hem of her dress shaking. I wanted it to be over.

    “Ellyanna Fairstaff.”

    My heart lurched in sympathy, and her face was white as she shot a glance at me. I kissed my fingers and blew it to her, but she’d turned away. I’ve no idea if Elly’s assessment took the longest, but it seemed like it. My heart was pounding and I could feel it shake me with each beat. Tingling started in my hands, and my breathing raced. I wanted to lick my lips, but my tongue was arid. Sweat trickled from my underarm. The desire to run was almost overwhelming. Then a loud burst of cheering rooted me to the floor, and relief flooded through me, for Elly. I heard whistling and clapping and it went on for a long time. As it died away, my legs trembled.

    “Garryd Westmaine.”

    I almost fell on the first step forward, as the muscles in my legs had turned to water. I took another step and another, and some strength returned. I stepped through the door, and it closed behind me. It was pitch-black; I could see nothing. Then a patch of light appeared a small distance in front of me. As I moved towards it, I felt the cloth hangings pressing in, making the way smaller. I had to hunch to progress further, and as I got closer to the light the walls bore down further, and I was crouched double. I emerged, blinking, into the brightness of the massive tented pavilion, and straightened.

    The walls and roof of the tented pavilion were covered with designs of flowers, hundreds of them. They moved with the breeze that made the canvas swell in and out slightly, a dazzling display of colours, quite breathtaking. A wide channel of grass lay before me, stretching away to a raised dais, where a long table extended to both sides. A wooden tripod stood on the grass in front of this table, with a richly embroidered cloth draped over it. Assessor Collins waited at the end of this table to the left and Assessor Littlefield on the right, dressed in robes identical to the Elders. To my right, row upon row of chairs were laid out, with the men standing, facing me. To my left, the same, with the women. Every person had their left arms in the air and their armlets removed. A sea of brands waved at me, and I was stunned. I knew I was to walk to the Assessors. But something was wrong.

    As soon as I’d entered, the smell of iron assaulted me. But this smell was tainted, like rotted meat and burning sulphur. It almost overpowered me, and I thought I was going to vomit. I tried to shake off the nausea, and Granny Coldstone’s words came unbidden to my mind. Iron-cursed. I gripped the blade at my side and the smell receded, but still lingered. I tried to swallow, and walked forward. As I got closer, neighbours, friends, Marcus and Leif, and my father alongside Alastair, came into view. I glanced to my left, and there was my mother and grandmother, and so many women of the village. And in the very front row, was Elly.

    She looked radiant, and her left wrist gleamed with the imprinted brand of a house. She’d got what she’d been praying for, and my heart swelled with love and pride. But the smell was worsening. I tightened my grip on the knife, trying somehow to ward off the stench. And I became aware of an underlying vibration, like the lowest note of a fiddle, if someone had loosened the string further. It sounded a long way away, and I ignored it; I assumed it came from outside the pavilion. I walked on.

    Then Assessor Littlefield was beside me, and the rustle of clothing and creaking of chairs told me everyone had sat down. He looked very stern; no welcome showed in his eyes, and I supposed the gravity of his role made him thus. He motioned me to the tripod, and I knew the smell came from whatever lay under it. The cloth covered a bulky object, about the size of a plate, but it protruded upwards in a dome. The Assessor pulled the cloth clear. A shaped rock, rounded to a point, like a cake that had risen to a peak at its centre, was revealed. Deep patterns were ingrained into every visible surface. The patterns were intricate; triangles interlaced with squares and pentangles. I don’t know how I knew, but I understood with complete certainty: it was connected to the Ancients.

    Assessor Littlefield gestured, and I placed my left hand on the relic. Something jolted into me; through my hand, up my arm, across my shoulder and into my chest. Immediately, the reek of rotted meat was gone. I was immensely relieved, and believed this was the final part of Assessment. Littlefield stared at me with an intensity that made me uncomfortable. Then his face cleared, he covered the relic with the cloth, and took my right arm. He led me to the end of the table, on the right, and I sensed the anticipation build up in those watching; Selection was upon me.

  2.  
    Vertigo

    Vertigo Mad Mountain Man

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    Gah! How can you leave us like that Boneman! What happens?....

    I thoroughly enjoyed it. You have built supense without dragging it out too far; one more person ahead of Garryd would have been just too much.

    My only comment is that, whilst I get that the knife and brooch were presumably exchanged gifts, I felt the action of moving it round to Elly's side was a bit odd. I think I'd just have had him hold it and have it being in her sight implied.
  3.  
    Boneman

    Boneman Active Member

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    Thanks Vertigo.

    What happens? It all goes horribly wrong...

    Glad you enjoyed the suspense - Garryd was last of twelve, so I'm also pleased that section worked okay.

    They were exchanged gifts, designed to bring fortune to each other in the selection. As it's on his belt he just moves it, so his hands are free, I guess.
  4.  
    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    Good and atmospheric.

    I agree with Vertigo that you don't want to delay Garryd going in any longer, and you do have a number of names already, but if he is the very last of 12, I think you need to make this a little clearer -- on first read the "some went quickly" seemed only to refer to the names we'd heard. Perhaps something like "One by one they went in until only Elly and I were left"? Also, it seemed a bit odd you say "The girl at the front of the line" and she's Margaret in the next para -- couldn't we be told her name initially?

    I know you say some of the youths don't get what they want, but has anyone in the past ever failed the Selection? If not the "Margaret had passed" line is a bit odd.


    A few nit-picky things.

    A crescendo isn't (as I confidently thought until about 12 months ago) the climax of the noise but rather it's the gradual increase in loudness itself. That paragraph is a bit repetitive anyway, saying the same thing but in different words, so I'd be tempted to cut it down a little.

    You use "tented pavilion" twice in successive paras. I'd lose the tented in both, since medieval-type pavilions were almost always tent structures. I was a bit confused how "designs" of flowers moved in the breeze, as designs to me suggest they're just painted on the canvas, but the way it's phrased it appears it's quite separate from the canvas swelling.


    Lots happening. Lots of tension. A good voice. Well done!
  5.  
    Boneman

    Boneman Active Member

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    Many thanks TJ, for the comments and the critique.

    Margaret's name has been called out just before this piece started, and we've had a scene where the Elder instructs them in what's going to happen, so we know how many are there. But an excellent suggestion to change it to 'One by one etc'.

    Nobody has failed Selection: "My grandpa told me of a lad, sixty years ago, who refused his Selection, but he wasn't right in the head." but people don't always get what they want: we meet one guy who was selected for military service, who admits he was very poor at it, as his heart wasn't in it. A bit like conscription, really...

    Dammit, why can't I see the tautology of the tented pavilion? Thanks for pointing it out! It's now down to 1178 words..
  6.  
    TheEndIsNigh

    TheEndIsNigh ...Prepare Thyself

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    Congrats and all -

    Here we go :-


    There is an excellent building of tension, and like everyone else I want a few more paragraphs to see what happens. I have a little problem with the week of assessment followed by a supposed magical decision. If the stone has the final say why the need for the assessment.

    However, all good intriguing stuff. I would certainly read on and I'm keen to see where it's going.

    Hope I helped

    TEiN
  7.  
    telford

    telford Member

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    Congrats Boney. Terrific story btw. The bare bones of talent? Ah, yeah, right.
  8.  
    Peter Graham

    Peter Graham New Member

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    Hi Boneman,

    Happy 2,000!

    I really like your method of weaving snippets of character information through the narrative. It's a fine example of showing, not telling. You also keep the narrative voice under control and consistent, which is no easy task.

    I'm less sure about the pace. It's not that the piece is overwritten as such, but you are taking too many words and too much time to tell us too little - notably that the youngsters are all terribly nervous. As the passage unfolds, Our Hero naturally becomes more nervous still, but it feels like you are perhaps running out of ways to tell us the same thing again. As I read, I was reminded of Neil Young's rendition of Rocking in the Free World at Glastonbury a couple of years back. Just when you thought it was going to end, it didn't!

    You also have a tendency to flood your work with commas, often in place of other punctuation marks - such as the dash or semi-colon - which might be more appropriate. You also use the Oxofrd comma a great deal - that's OK, but bear in mind that the comma is there to denote a little pause - and you dont always need one when you are linking two bits of a sentence up with an "and".

    The comma use is perhaps linked to your tendency to write fairly cumbersome sentences or to use the passive when the active might be more appropriate. By way of some examples:-




    This is a really hard sentence to read or understand - and I'm still not sure what you are telling us.



    The smiles weren't convincing (in that they looked like leers), or what was intended by the smiles ("it'll all be OK") wasn't convincing? It might be both, of course.


    The second sentence naturally attaches to the first. He therefore wants her dress to be over. Although over what, you mercifully do not tell us! To link the second sentence to what has gone before, I think you need to make it clear that "it" refers to the selection ordeal.





    Blew his fingers to her? This would work better as a simple "I blew her a kiss"




    Keep it active - "my hands started to tingle....."




    This is OK, but a little clumsy. The "for Elly" hangs on the end like an afterthought, whereas I think you mean it to be the main thrust of the sentence.




    "...which went on for a long time.."





    OK - this would work better as a simile. Metaphor tends to do better for poetic description than for action scenes.

    These little niggles tend to repeat throughout the rest of the passage. I think that perhaps you need to simplify some of the sentence structure, which in turn will lead to less perceived need for commas.

    The good news is that you don't need to change the content - it's a strong story.

    Regards,

    Peter
  9.  
    Boneman

    Boneman Active Member

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    Thank you so much TEIN and Peter. That's the problem with putting up a piece that is a way into the story - so much that has happened before is relevant, and understandable... only if you've read it.

    The Village hall is where the assessment takes place and the marquee is at the back of it, to enclose the ceremony, and let all the villagers in. Hence he enters a door, and walks through the darkness of the hall, symbolising the womb and rebirth, as he is forced to crouch, (yup as the roof presses down - it's black cloths draped to make the tunnel) and emerges into the tent. Elly is standing in the girls' line next to him but three feet apart. A bell was rung to begin the ceremony, and rings for each candidate. All they know of the ceremony is what they glean in rumours and stories. The assessment decides their professions (Elly becomes a 'homemaker', hence the house, and will become a wife/mother and have no profession to speak of.) It's a very patriarchal society, and women are not terribly emancipated, except in the big cities. The assessors are effectively manipulating the population, to ensure that The Balance is kept - enough soldiers/fishermen/wives/hunters/blacksmiths/etc etc, to ensure the 'whole' is kept.

    But thank you both for pointing out inconsistencies in the picture generated, and helping with wordage (for want of a better... word...). I must get to grips with commas!
  10.  
    Phoenixthewriter

    Phoenixthewriter Maniac Braniac

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    I don't want to be a bother, as I actually have nothing to add in the way of a critique...

    However, I am curious about this "tradition" you guys are referring to. Is it every thousandth post you are then allowed to post here? As if you're holding back until then? Or is it that you simply ensure that whatever thousandth you're on winds up here, regardless.

    It's interesting to me just because I have seen a lot of you folks doing it, but I can't seem to find where it began!
  11.  
    Phoenixthewriter

    Phoenixthewriter Maniac Braniac

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    By the way boneman...

    Amazing visuals. You didn't describe hardly one thing about any character, but I felt I was there. I don't understand the significance of much of what was going on, other than it was a large part of Garryd's and Elly's lives. I really enjoyed it. If there is ever more to it, I'd be inclined to read it.

    Unfortunately I would be a poor critiquer of such text, because the way its presented, I'd get lost in the visuals and forget I was supposed to be being critical of your work.
  12.  
    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    Phoenix -- don't worry, it's as much of an in-joke as anything. A little while ago chopper wanted to do something to mark his 1,000th post and entry into the prestigious 1,000 Post Club, so he put up a piece in Critiques. (Though, if I'm remembering aright, as with all these things it went slightly wrong -- due to activiity back stage, he lost a post elsewhere and it was only his 999th...) HareBrain hit 1,000 within days and did the same, and not to be outdone so did I a little later. Then it was just a question of nagging people (at which I am very good) and lo! a Tradition Is Born!

    Some people post in Critiques a lot. Some of us -- eg me, TEiN and Ursa -- only ever post here on our 000th, so it's a bit of an event (for us if no one else...). Most people fall somewhere in the middle.
  13.  
    Boneman

    Boneman Active Member

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    Thanks, Phoenix, I appreciate the comments - if I can garner that sort of reaction, then I'm doing something right!
  14.  
    ctg

    ctg weaver of the unseen

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    This is close a third person start. As through the eyes of the first person it's not working. So if there's a way for you to open up through her eyes, then do so as the personalisation has to start from the first sentence.

    Watch this sentence as it's structurally wrong. You identified the I person at the end of the sentence, when you should have started the whole para from the first person.

    You could have written,

    I watched her standing at the line a few meters from me. She was wearing raged clothes, old shoes and greasy long blond hair, looking as bored as everyone else, that were waiting for the clerk of Eddison and Burger getting on with the paperwork.

    What she was doing?

    I don't know. Couldn't tell. You could have asked a better question. You could have asked what we all were doing there. In that place. In that line. All looking so bored.


    “Jonathon Kingsby.”

    I, I was there because... and it's not about because we all loved to be in that line. No sir. We were there for a reason. A good reason, but you must understand those queues. They are the salt of the British etiquette. Everyone do them.

    I know. I know. The name. You want to know about the name. Why they were calling the name. You see, like that girl. Man. You must believe me, she got something in her. Something that made her special. I thought about what if she were a singer or something.


    And they called another name.


    This time
    . “Emily Cutler.”

    She stepped on the door. Raised her gaze and then gave her papers to the man. The man checked them against the list and then nodded to the guard, who slammed the button.

    The door buzzed for a second. Then it slid open. There was a dark tunnel and another door behind it. As soon as she stepped in the room, the lights in the tunnel flashed on and the door slammed shut.






    In that way, you are telling another layer of story. You are telling the story that is underlining the original point-of-view. But you do it from your own personal perspective.

    The actor and in this case your "Jonathan Kingsby" becomes the hook of the story. And as you progress through the story you develop the character voice. You make it your own.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2011
  15.  
    Percival

    Percival New Member

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    I struggled with "you" and "I" in the same sentence; "It wrapped itself around me" would be more consistent? This paragraph feels a little disjointed, as though the sentences don't quite flow together as they might. I don't know about "I convinced myself ...": it reads oddly to me - it's not that it's ungrammatical, it's that it seems an odd way to express the idea. "I was convinced" is not the same thing.

    There are too many voices: "I", "you" and "we". It would be better to pick one. As others have pointed out, it feels like you need to either shorten the dying and rising, or attach a pattern to the whole thing (like ebb and flow, or your choice of suitable metaphors). The last part ("I tried to visualise...") didn't seem to me to work because you don't go on to visualise it (which in some ways might help); what about just "wondering" what's happening?

    "Mentally" seems awkward here, but that's probably just a matter of taste. The last sentence is also a little awkward: I think what doesn't work is that it reads to me as an adult welcoming a new adult - not a fellow companion on the journey. "I vowed we'd get drunk tonight" is what you mean I think, but that doesn't come across.

    What kind of sounds are rising to fever pitch? I pictured it originally as a gradual crescendo and diminution of cheering... but that's contradicted here. What kind of sound would carry to him that people would make (in fear? in expectation?)?

    I think the problem with the hand wiping is its written as a one-off action but it occurs in a passage about an ongoing action. I would either pick a specific assessment, or make the hand wiping an ongoing process (e.g. doing so more and more frequently, or as you will).

    You and Elly aren't convincing, but convincing whom? The problem really with that sentence isn't the idea, it's that you're bringing the reader in as a third person perspective in a first person perspective narrative. She can not convince you, or you can not convince one another, but no-one else is there surely (certainly not the reader in a bird's eye view, if you're writing as "I").

    One criticism I have of this scene overall (which might be unfair, since it's just an excerpt) is that I don't have a picture of the space they're in. I would have liked more hints about how the sound is getting to him: through what? Past what? From how far away? Where is he standing? What's the door a door _in_?

    For me, the reason this first sentence reads awkwardly is the use of metaphor as direct explanation. If you cut "as" and move turned to the continuous present ("turning") I think it reads well. A matter of taste I guess.

    I really struggled with this part, because I can't visualise what's happening. Just how far ahead is the light, why did it appear? Where exactly is he, and what are all these cloth hangings? Would they really press in? What are they made of, how do they feel? Are they heavy? Why are they there, what _is_ this place?

    I really enjoyed this initial pair of sentences, the tent walls rippling really caught me (though for some reason "breathtaking" is a stretch - it's only cloth, have you ever caught your breath looking at cloth? - but the rest is good). I would have liked to know the time of day and the season though, for the image to really do all it can. I leapt to a spring morning, but it would work in any season and time. Maybe more senses here? I don't know, I like description but I know that's only one point of view.

    When we get to the tripod, its placement is a little awkward for me. I just mean that I found myself trying to work out how the setup was laid out, in an awkward way. It might be easier on the reader to introduce the tripod and the rest separately (when he approaches it for example) rather than enumerating all these things and their relative positions, which honestly gave me a bit of a headache.

    Entered where? This comes too late for it to be "as soon as". It needs to drop back into the first paragraph. By now, it's not "as soon as" it's after he's had a while to look around and assess things. So it can be a strange smell insinuating its way into his perception, but I don't think it's happening immediately. In many ways, I think the rule about stream of consciousness is worth following: that you describe and show things as your character examines them, and everything takes time (not necessarily a direct word-time relationship, but definitely time is advancing as you write).

    "Thus" is strange; not wrong, it just feels forced. I guess I'm not clear on the era and how they speak. For the most part, this feels like a consistent, mostly modern American voice, and "that way" fits better with the rest. Another question of taste I guess.

    The description of the rock doesn't work for me. I can't picture a pointed cake, because I've never seen a cake rise to a point (they rise to a dome surely?). The "patterns/patterns" repetition is awkward. Are you sure you really mean to have geometric shapes "interlaced"? Have you tried drawing what that looks like? Intricate, angular and sharp are all good expressions; sometimes narrowing it down too much doesn't help.

    What does it mean for something to be "connected" to the Ancients? Maybe this would be clear in context. I read it initially as "being a part of the Ancient's plot" but it could be a comm-link (of whatever fashion) or merely an artefact.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this fragment. I agree, there is definitely tension, and I would keep reading. I didn't suffer from perspective problems for most of it, though there were too many different pronouns in places for my taste (I'd rather a "we" or an "I" was used consistently, and definitely not a "you"). The biggest problem I had was picturing where he was, how it looked, how it smelled, what he was hearing. There were moments it formed clear images in my mind, and there's absolutely no problem with the plot, but I didn't feel like the characters were seen clearly (in the sense that neither the hero nor anyone around him felt distinguished by any clear feature during this segment) or that the world was sharply in focus for much of the time.

    This is only my third attempt at critique, so apologies if the form is wrong. Hopefully some of it was useful anyway!
  16.  
    Boneman

    Boneman Active Member

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    Many thanks ctg and Percival! The narrrator to the whole story is Garryd, it's written in close 1st person, and because I've pulled this out of chapter six, a lot of what is hidden in this excerpt is revealed previously. But suggestions and critiques always help me to see how I could do it more effectively, and I really appreciate it.

    Hell, if that's only your third attempt at a critique, it's very helpful!! Great job - especially my use of words and the context I use them in. Back to the writing board....:)
  17.  
    springs

    springs Juggling life

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    Hi Boneman well, this is my first attempt, and I'm certainly not going to set the world on fire after all the feedback you've had. I really liked the piece, I thought it was vivid, well described and the first person voice added a speed and impetus I liked.

    I thought the sentence beginning "The tension rose with the protracted ones" read slightly clumsily, and I reread it a few times, and I think it's to do with the word was pulling it out of it's tense, perhaps.

    The sentence structure's short style gave an immediacy, although the one beginning "But something was" came across a little truncated.

    I didn't want to start breaking down in too much detail, as you have a lot of that, but overall the piece read well, quick and snappy; I did get a little lost in all the names, though.

    The description of the marquee was very good, but I did wonder if I would have liked it a little earlier.

    Oh, and it definitely made me want to read on, so I think that's the key thing? Oh, and I liked the first person character, although I'm a bit worried given the cliff hanger that's not going to be a good thing...

    Take care Springs
  18.  
    Boneman

    Boneman Active Member

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    Yeah, now it's been pointed out to me, it is rather 'wordy' isn't it? So easy to see when ohters point it out, so difficult to see when you've written it! Glad you liked it, and the cliff-hanger has been coming for six chapters, and I'm pleased with the way it goes. It's Garryd's first time in the marquee - you only get to see the inside at your assessment/selection... :eek:

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