Dyall Square

Discussion in 'Critiques' started by odangutan, Nov 30, 2011.

  1.  
    odangutan

    odangutan New Member

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    Let's dip a toe into this particular pool... This is a descriptive piece, although it does fulfil a fairly cloudy narrative role, of one of the main loci in my fictional world and is meant to be delivered in an almost oratory voice by some kind of cynical functionary. They are used to public-speaking and long, over-running sentences are as much a device as metaphorical confusion...

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    Dyall Square. A great, tile-lined plaza shifting constantly with the snapping pennants and fluttering tent-fabric of a myriad market stalls and faux-mystic hawkers. Sellers of fruit and mandalas and spices and candles and forgetfulness and knowledge and themselves and others, all dot-dotted about haphazard like a mercantile motley. A single, constant litany of prices, offers and plea-bargains rises up through day and lamp-lit night whilst stalls suddenly break camp and scuttle to a better catchment area, a more fertile feeding ground.

    And, in the centre, the great campanile rises high above the clouds of salesman's patter as if unconcerned by the price of silken gloves or sesame. An ersatz gnomon – although built long after the square was named for a now-forgotten bureaucrat, giving it a perhaps not entirely subconscious homophone – whose even-paced shadow strolls from dawn to dusk, a dark-suited overseer marking out ungraded time against lamp-post and flagpole.

    Myths and superstitions accrete pearl-like around its base, flowing out into the lyrics of the markeeters. Oaths are pinned on its solidity, boasts on its height. Shaded stalls are particularly favoured or cursed and make brief sales or losses commensurate with the owner's outlook. A bore-wave of beggars, dragged by the shadow's tidal pull, ebbs and flows against those certain, milk-and-honey shore-stalls where food is given as an offering to the momentary eclipse.

    And behind even them come the cut-purses and minstrels, wassailers and fools who dance and stalk and caper through the crowds in unwitting complicity against the Dalliance, the square's dedicated corps of peace-keepers and legate bouncers whose long service has seen even their name worn down into self-mockery by the grind of each day-noting sweep of shade.

    Here, in this irregular blend of self-organised regularity, everything takes on meaning. Repetition drives paths and memories into the square itself. The shadow's daily pass driving down tree-ring layers of a fractal, self-repeating tradition. Traders and browsers skirt around each other in daily, weekly orbits. The precision arrangement of wares, the fluid dispersion of stalls. The wax of cotton, the wane of linen, the weft and the heft and the warp of wood. All reflect in a higher arrangement. All are cogs within cogs within cogs.

    A delicate dance of give and take and move and shake where small disturbances give up rippling interruptions through the whole. Prices rise despite a glut, stalls slide away from certain ill-favoured patches, boisterous haggling turns to murder, olive-sellers crack barrels filed to the brim with briny eyeballs, water into wine into blood. The mercuspex watches all this and learns of subtleties that birds or fire, unaware as they are of the human magnetism of greed, are oblivious to.

    This is why, on the gargoyled edge of an overlooking roof, a rag-swaddled figure hunches and watches in the few minutes of tower-shadow with cog-eyes whirring and brass-gleaming fingers clicky-clicky nervous.
  2.  
    springs

    springs Juggling life

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    There's a lot of description going on here and I'm possibly not the best critiquer as I'm not as fired up by description as a good yarn. If this was partway through the book, I might overlook it and move quickly to the next scene, but if it was at the beginnning, I'm afraid I'd put it down.

    Having said that, the writing is very tight, and some of the description is excellent. I recognise the style of language you're trying to convey, I think, maybe like a tour guide, but to me the flat tone and the rich description jar. Sorry.

  3.  
    odangutan

    odangutan New Member

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    All fair points about the (over) wordy-ness of it but the tone is very much, as you say, of an old and slightly smug tour-guide. Perhaps one who is aware of much more than is made known and doesn't want to trifle with basic explanations.

    As for the market itself? Without 'explaining the joke', I think the idea is that it's not alive in a normal sense but that it's a system which works to its own rules and has the bloodstream, the organs and the defensive systems of a living body.

    And myriad can be used as an adjective as well as a noun...;)

    If you're looking for yarns then I might not be the best bet but that's good for me as I can feedback from an audience that differs from who I'm thinking of! I might have something more narrative-y for you soon.
  4.  
    Boneman

    Boneman Active Member

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    Odungutang (that name rings a bell...) I regret I don't have time to do a detailed critique, but I'd like to say you have a fantastic 'voice', and a really great stylistic way of describing things. I'm normally a fast reader, so I tend to scan, and when I saw your piece, I thought 'uh oh, I'll never get through this, it's a wal of text'. But it's a credit to your writing that actually, not only did I read it all, but I enjoyed the way you painted the picture, and I'd certainly want to read on, if I picked it up as a book. Forgive me if you have to, but I saw Assassin's Creed at the end of it - an atmospheric crush of colours, people, market stalls and buildings. Maybe it was the figure on the roof that did it...

    Oh, and it's 'marketeers', not 'markeeters'. Oh no: enjoy the markeet.com!!!
  5.  
    alchemist

    alchemist On holidays!

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    Well, it certainly does what you said it would, like a chocolate cake that's a bit too rich. I liked it a lot, but obviously I wouldn't be able to take too much of it in a story. I passed over some of the text, but thought that was almost expected -- it's meant to more to set the tone rather than paint intricate detail.

    Just a couple of tiny points - you mentioned the narrator as being cynical. I don't know if this piece was meant to convey that, but it came across almost as reverential, or at the very least as a small cynical skin over a body of love.

    I also assumed it was a fantasy story. If so, I thought the words "bouncers" (modern) and "fractal" (I associate it more with science, although it probably has a long history) were out of place. If not, they're fine. And I love the word "mercuspex", whatever it means.
  6.  
    Nik

    Nik Speaker to Cats

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    Warts and all, I feel as if I've been there-- Or at least read the gushing tour-guide before sampling its delights...
  7.  
    odangutan

    odangutan New Member

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    Thanks, all, for the feedback.

    Gah! Typo...

    It's certainly not strict fantasy in the High Fantasy sense, maybe more a mix of steampunk and fantasy. Alchemo-punk, perhaps. The City is a very cosmopolitan place and that applies to idiomatic development as much as anything else, the whole place is anachronistic in its outlook.

    Mercuspex is a neologism I bashed together from the root of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haruspex]haruspex[/url], to indicate someone who uses the body mercantile to predict the future rather than the entrails of birds or sheep's livers.
  8.  
    Tecdavid

    Tecdavid Verdentia's Gardener

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    You can deliver poetics very well, but, as has been said already, I feel there's a little too much. To start with, it does indeed paint a dreamy picture, but the more you try to read - try to understand - exactly what's taking place, you can easily get lost.
    Even if it was your intention to be very lyrical in your description, a reader might easily lose their place and patience if too many scenes in a book are played out this way. Such poetics are like a cake's frosting; they add sugar to the substance, but they shouldn't become the substance itself.
  9.  
    odangutan

    odangutan New Member

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    That is partially the intent.

    Perhaps predicatbly, I'd disagree. Personally, I'm increasingly bored by narratives that outline exactly what's happening and how it's happening. I've read that story enough times now and I don't know if I'm bothered about reading it again. I'm much more interested in unreliable narrators, looking at scenes from partially obscured vantage points and trying to work out even just part of what's going on for myself. I'm more interested in the story being formed as much as from how I'm feeling at any one time as it is from the specific words on the page.

    Still, don't worry. It's not all like this.

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