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Tarquin Seebohm Jenkins: Pacing and Description

Discussion in 'Critiques' started by The Bloated One, Oct 14, 2011.

    The Bloated One

    The Bloated One Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2007
    Life challenged and crazy
    Hi everyone,

    I am guilty of 'rushing' my stories, so in order to understand the problem better, I have a small piece from my story that probably needs more description, but where do I place it without it becoming heavy laden?

    I hope that makes sense...



    The dining hall shook with the sound of thunder. A seventeenth century sedan chair crashed through the back wall and landed heavily on the floor before being submerged under a pile of plaster and rubble. No one in the hall moved. With a scrabbling noise, a hand poked through the debris. A face emerged, then the body of a naked, hairy man. His wide, beady eyes scanned the many faces in the room until, recognizing one, he let out a tortuous wail.

    "Leonardo, Leonardo! EGO cannot puto is, est is vere vos?" he shouted in faltering Latin, and scrambled toward him. Two men barred his way and he fell to the floor, babbling. The master painter stepped forward.

    "I am Leonardo, who are you?"
The hairy man grasped the ankles of the nearest man and gawped at Leonardo through his legs, like a prisoner through cell bars.

    "Your humble servant, Michel de Nostredame.”

Leonardo looked down at the prostrated, pitiful caveman and turned to a student,

    “Get him some clothes.” He then looked at the large hole in the fresco where Judas Escariot, Peter and Mary had been and pointed angrily at the wall. "I don’t care if you are the devil himself, you’ve just destroyed my Last Supper!" he said, shouting and throwing his hands wildly above his head. "Do you know how much it costs to hire a good model?" He jabbed a finger at the flaxen haired woman sitting dumbstruck on a wooden chair by his easel.

    Nostradamus raised himself to his knees, shook himself down like a dog and pointed to the rubble.

    "Please, my chair. I have books, many books!"

    Leonardo angrily picked up a length of wood and walked toward the uninvited visitor. Several students restrained him.

    “Let me alone,” he shouted, glaring at the naked man cowering on the floor.

    “No master, not until you have calmed down.”

    The student returned with clothes and the man was allowed to dress.

    “let’s listen to the wretch’s story," said Leonardo, taking a deep breath, "then I’ll beat him.”
    Leonardo squatted next to the man. "Where are you from old man?"

    "The year of our Lord, 1550." 

    Leonardo seethed. He grabbed the wretch by his hair and dragged him to the door. “Put him on the street where he belongs. . .And get a mason in here, we need to rebuild the wall."

    As he was being dragged away, he screamed about his books and chair. A student close to the rubble saw a strange looking object on a piece of paper. He pulled it from the mess and ran to Leonardo.

    "Bring him back,” said Leonardo, looking at a picture of a winged sausage shaped object with the word ‘Virgin Atlantic’ written on its tail, “and dig out his chair and books!”


Nostradamus, his sedan chair and his books were taken to Leonardo’s quarters. Leonardo demanded that they were not to be disturbed and food be left outside the door.


    FeedMeTV The Fifth Member of SG-1

    Jan 22, 2001
    Ha! An intriguing piece!

    I enjoyed it very much and it only felt rushed in two places for me.

    Leonardo seems to go from furious and about to beat a man with a piece of wood to being very reasonable. Perhaps s little extra something between "No master, not until you have calmed down" and "Let's listen..". Leonardo studied the pathetic figure hunched at his feet and felt his anger subside etc

    And the final three paragraphs are all describing the exciting discovery of the drawing of the plane but they seem little bunched together. I understand it's a good bit and happens quickly in real-time though so you'd have to be careful about dragging the description out. I should have come up with a suggestion rather than just pointing it out! Sorry, I'll have a muse on it.

    TheEndIsNigh ...Prepare Thyself

    Mar 16, 2008
    Here we go again.

    Had a bit of trouble with this section. Both in the setting and the people likely to be present. Plus the lack of serious injury etc.

    As for description there is plenty of opportunity to add some information. A naked bloke (if that's the way you want to go) has plenty of things he needs to think about - why he's naked for one. But mainly I think the room the painting the reactions of the people in the room could all be expanded - the paint strewn across the floor the paint mixing boy covered in oil the trestles in disarray - which by the way would be up against that wall that he crashed through.

    Hope I helped


    Hex Write, monkey, write Staff Member

    Mar 3, 2011
    So, like I said, I love the writing. I don't have much to say except for disambiguating the odd bit. From about halfway through you could have snippets of description if you wanted them. Before then, I think there's enough. It would be sad to slow down your fast-moving events, so I think any description you added would need to be very lightweight.

    That's my opinion as someone who doesn't normally read much description, though, so you might like to ignore me :)
    Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Well-Known Member

    Jan 22, 2008
    It doesn't need much to slow it down, but there's a sense of breathlessness that I think you'd probably want to keep back for action scenes (this feels more like a setting-up scene rather than the centre of the story).

    I would rein in the exciting verbs - screamed, grabbed etc - very slightly. I'd lengthen some of the sentences a little, to get rid of the impression that the characters are doing the bare minimum, quickly, to allow the story to move on. So,

    "Let's listen to the wretch's story," said Leonardo, taking a deep breath, "then I'll beat him."

    could become,

    "Alright then," said Leonardo, taking a deep breath and pulling up a chair. "Let's listen to the wretch's story. Then I'll beat him."

    This slows things down, not just by its length but by the addition of a full stop and extra description (in a subordinate clause, no less!). I actually think the latter is more amusing, as it contrasts the apparent reasonableness of Leonardo calming down with the promised violence. Similarly, when Leonardo's men restrain him, what does Leonardo do? I'm sure a lot of humour can be got out of his facial expression. I think it would help to make the story less of a sequence of people doing things one after the other. Any kind of break from "He did this and then said that" would probably help, even (especially?) if the break was just a line of description. The fact that you're not comparing anything to anything else means that you're losing the opportunity for a good deal of humour that would slow the story down:

    Leonardo stood in the middle of the room, hair ruffled and eyes bulging. His hands shook around his paintbrush as if he had been struck by a bolt of lightning.

    Except better than that. Might I reccomend a look at Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis? Not a lot happens in it, in terms of dramatic events, but a lot of the humour comes from the over-description.

    Percival Active Member

    Sep 23, 2011
    Everyone sees these things differently. But my views (at the moment of writing) are below.

    The second sentence has some problems for me. Which point of view is this written from? How do they identify the object which has just barrelled through a wall in (presumably, given how walls usually are) a cloud of dust and debris as a seventeenth century sedan chair? Isn't it more like to be a "thing" or a "something" or a "dark shape" at first blush? It jarred for me.

    I don't know about "landed heavily on the floor"; if it's airborne then maybe its emergence from the wall should have added detail to reflect that ("ploughing through the plaster at head height"? "falling forward through the gap"?) and the landing could be more detailed too - it's unlikely to be straight and level in the circumstances; as it is I read it like an aircraft landing, it didn't feel of a piece with the destruction around it.

    "Submerged" made me stumble because we're shifting to a water-based analogy, when we're looking at what would probably be quite granular debris. "Buried" might be better? Would it really happen in this order - the crashing through the wall, then the being buried? Where's the debris coming from? I feel like if I pushed something through a wall, most of the stuff in front of me is forced out of the way by my passage, all that's left to come down on top of me is the top of the hole and the ceiling. But the ceiling doesn't seem to have come down on him.

    Do you mean "tortuous"? "Torturous" is closer? But even then it feels like a qualifier that doesn't convey anything. I don't know what's being added to "wail" there.

    Wasn't Leonardo Italian? There was something strange for me in the fact that the guy automatically addresses him in Latin, and that that's considered a distinct enough language from the narrator's (Leonardo is about to speak in Italian with translation) that it has to be separate and untranslated. A minor quibble, if that, I think.

    "Hairy" is repeated quite soon after you've already used it as one of the two adjectives describing the guy originally. It's a waste? You could use another adjective to add something to the reader's knowledge of this strange figure (something about how he reacts with the environment? He'll be dirty after being buried in rubble?) Not sure about "the nearest man": it felt too military to me. The nearest apprentice? A name? They are all presumably known to Leonardo if that's whose perspective this is written from.

    "Caveman"? I guess it's fine, it just jarred me slightly, I think perhaps because he speaks in such a courtly fashion. There's definitely a chance to have more description here though, at least a clause of it, if you so wish.

    This isn't a speech tag, I think, so grammatically it shouldn't join speech in a sentence. You can do it anyway of course, but I think a paragraph break over a comma is too much; the speech should be shifted back to join it.

    "Iscariot"? Shouldn't "Devil" be capitalised? I don't know that Mary was at the Last Supper? "Flaxen-haired"? It's a minor point but I think "flaxen" is over-used generally - I know it's literary but it started (as far as I understand) as a word used for emphasis, but it's now used as a baseline description because "blonde" isn't romantic enough. Also, this might be intentional, but the only girl I can see in Leonardo's Last Supper has brown hair.

    I don't understand what he's begging for, given that no threat has yet been made, and indeed no course of action seems to have been settled on. Shaking himself like a dog is nice, and conjures the animal level he's reduced to.

    I think "Several students restrained him" just doesn't work for me. Who restrained him and how? It's too terse for me, but that's just a matter of taste.

    This paragraph is where, left to my own devices in a bookstore, I would stop reading. I don't know that I buy Leonardo beating a man with a club on such short notice, especially with the strangeness of the situation (and the potentially injured state of the man). But the second sentence jarred me too much in any case.

    Who speaks in the second part? We still haven't narrowed anyone down out of the group that's restraining him. I think you need to pick a student here.

    We didn't see a student leave, and this blurs uncomfortably with the previous part where another student (but not "the student") was presumably speaking. Need to narrow it down or use the indefinite article. "Was allowed to dress" seems like it's a missed opportunity for description - you could say the same thing in not many more words while giving a hint of Nostradamus' character (does he throw on the clothes, pull them on awkwardly...?)

    "Let's." I agree that the second part of the speech should be another sentence for emphasis. It would add to the comedy impact.

    Repetition of "man" is awkward. Is he really old? Maybe it would have been nice to have some qualifier further back that suggested he was old.

    "Seethed"? I picture that as being an ongoing state, rather than a sudden reaction - for me "seething" would happen over a longer time frame than is allowed here. Repetition of "wretch" from a few lines ago; at the least it's a missed opportunity to tell us more about Nostradamus - how he looks, smells, acts and seems.

    Who "he" is shifted between paragraphs - it was Leonardo a minute ago, now without hints it's Nostradamus. Another "a student." To me this paragraph seems very terse, almost an outline.

    I like the payoff, though I wonder that he so easily recognises a jumbo jet as a flying machine. Is it so obvious, in an era in which most flight used flapping wings? And wasn't Leonardo's flying machine also one with flapping wings? The pictures I found of Virgin Atlantic planes only have "Virgin" on the tail - Virgin Atlantic is written along the side. I think you could amp up Leonardo's interest in the picture with a stronger verb than "looking"; another matter of taste.

    This part again feels like outline.

    Overall I enjoyed the idea, I think it's quite exciting. But for me anyway it didn't manage to evoke the place clearly. As far as pacing, it was if anything too fast. There are places where I think sentences should become (short) paragraphs to bring out the feeling of it more. A danger I found whilst reading it was that any actions, stripped of a good anchor to the world, can begin to feel like a laundry list of tasks.

    TheEndIsNigh ...Prepare Thyself

    Mar 16, 2008
    Sub note:

    I've just google mapped the last supper. The building is/was a church of very substantial proportions and build quality.

    If you threw a sedan chair at the walls you would end up with a pile of matchsticks and a person you could bury in a bucket. There no way anything is going to 'crash' through' the painting, as it is a mural painted into the plaster.

    I think you need to have the chair crash into the painting from the inside - perhaps while L De V is in another room with his cronies (having a tea break or something similar - wine and a kip maybe). Then they can rush into the see the carnage and so on.
    The Bloated One

    The Bloated One Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2007
    Life challenged and crazy

    Thanks for all your responses, I have a lot to digest!

    TEIS, you're absolutely right. though I should point out that the sedan chair is a a time machine that emerges at the end of a worm hole through the wall/ceiling into the convent dining hall. The force of the wormhole vortex does the damage, not the chair itself. The problem now becomes, how do I explain that to the reader without giving away what's just happened!

    Toby, Hex, Percival and Feed Me, lovely to have you comment on my work, it's a pleasure reading your thoughts and advice.

    TEIN, goes without saying, but thanks for your help.


    TheEndIsNigh ...Prepare Thyself

    Mar 16, 2008
    TBO: I don't think you have a problem with the vortex - I got the time travel thing and that the sedan chair was part of the method. I didn't need the vortex to make it work in my mind.

    Back in the day, to paint a Mural like TLS the artist would need a lot of wooden (all that was available) scaffolding and planks. (Think Michelangelo and that ceiling) These would provide an excellent source of material to crash down and ruin the paining (just dried plaster and all). But to say it crashed through the wall is asking too much IMO.

    I also (you probably picked up on this) found the idea they would carry the chair to L DE V's quarters a little hard to take. They would be nearby: L De V could just give instructions that the chair should be dug out and covered with a tarp. The students wouldn't question such an order - the books can go with Nostro - no probs there.

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