Critique for 'Dawnstar' (900 words)

Status
Not open for further replies.

KyleAW

Gaming Obsessed
Joined
Jul 30, 2015
Messages
213
Location
Shakespeare Country, UK
Hi all,

Firstly, I am happy that I have after two years of working in solitude taken the decision to join a community. It is so far the best decision I have made regarding my work, as reading your thoughts on different matters has been hugely illuminating. That said, the ultimate plunge for a writer is critique from others (especially critique for people that are not 'family and friends')

I look forward to your thoughts. This is from the very start of my WIP, happy reading! :)
-------
Pulling her cloak tighter Kara studied the City that stretched out in front of her. On her journey she’d heard nothing but the sketchiest second and third hand accounts of the City state of Stromgarde; the sailors she travelled had never seen the city before.

To either side of Kara’s small boat the wide river was lost in a swell of merchants and fishermen, as they strained at their oars or bent double to gut fish and haul their catch; Kara was happy to be stood at ease, even if she was a little cold. Normally all this commotion would have fascinated her, had she not been so intent on the walls of the city themselves.

They loomed over the small bay, shutting out the waning sun and leaving her chilled by a bitterly icy wind. Tall and strong they stood, white stone chiselled with intricate battle scenes depicting Stromgarde’s victories, a testament to the city’s legendary resilience. The shouts of oarsman and the constant thundering of a thousand fishermen sound like combat to Kara, a sound she was far too familiar with. It had been a long time since the city had last been known for its military prowess; years of peace and high living having left it fat and listless. Failure for Kara however could leave her broken like so many others had previously approached these City walls with hostility.

A shiver worked its way through her; in her native Rand far to the south it would still warm, even now in this late month. She hadn’t seen snow before her trip, though her father had told her of it; now she had left Rand to come to these lands it had been all there was to see, white seas to either side of the river. Holding her cloak against the biting wind Kara thought, not for the first time, that she had been sent on a fool’s errand. Her father’s last words as she had set off on her mission still echoed through her head, ‘You will work for the Family or you will take your last step into the depths.’ The horror of that long drop, wind ripping her breath from her lungs before the waves finally silenced her, had more than once managed to cool her anger, “I do this by choice.” Saying the lie again didn’t make it any less hollow.

As the sun began to set Kara headed below deck; her time was short and she wanted to spend it work on her new character. It had been a while since she had last performed; the danger back then was laughable compared to the razor’s edge she walked now. As she headed to her cabin the crewmen that passed-by bowed politely, mostly with haste, before scurrying out of her way.

Tall for a woman, with dark chestnut hair that flowed easily down her back, Kara was aware of the effect she had on men, whether it was welcome or not. Large innocent eyes and lips that were full but not over generous sat well on her pale face. Though she would go to the grave before admitting it, the dress she had been forced to wear was truly beautiful; pleated green silk that climbed high to her neck, yet somehow showed more of her than her normal attire. It was to her secret pleasure that she got to wear it.

Usually she wouldn’t wear clothes that restricted her movement so much but she had been ordered to wear the dress; if she was honest it was a pair of good breeches and a jerkin that she really wanted as they left her free to move and protect herself. Still, she thought smiling to herself as the crew went past blushing; the dress had its perks.

Her clothing, along with her simpering attitude, was designed to keep the men on board from finding out what she truly was. Here she acted as Lady Ashford, a silly young girl that had harassed her father into letting her see the big city; her father in this case was a well to do minor noble who apparently dotes on his daughter. The boat she now travelled on had been docked upriver about two weeks away from Stromgarde, in a grotty speck of a town called Marsh. At one time the fee she had paid for her passage would have seen her living like a queen the whole way, but hard times drove harder bargains. As it had turned out, her fee had seen her unceremoniously shoved onto this cramped hell with barely a polite word.

For the first couple of days she had put up with the sailor’s leers; it was nothing new to her. Even when she had been younger, not yet a full woman, she had become used to attention of men. Back then it had mostly been her father’s friends that took a special interest in her, starting shortly after her sixteenth year. She had tried telling her father after the first time but he had taken her back. He’d instructed her that it was time to learn that he wasn’t here to stop them or protect her; he expected Kara to be strong enough to protect herself. If she couldn’t then…the punishment took care of itself. Luckily, Kara Torani was not a slow learner; a good blade and the will to use it kept away the worst of men.
 
Kara was happy to be stood at ease
Makes her sound like a soldier, but reading to the end at first she seems like a "performing artist" of some kind, then maybe a spy.
she wanted to spend it work on her new character. It had been a while since she had last performed; the danger back then was laughable compared to the razor’s edge she walked now

Ultimately we don't know what she is.
Lady Ashford, a silly young girl
rules out the performing artist and soldier.
It all seems very descriptive, but I'm not sure if I've been told anything important. It reads smoothly enough and if it was clear she is a spy it might hook me.

Maybe an Assassin?
Usually she wouldn’t wear clothes that restricted her movement so much but she had been ordered to wear the dress; if she was honest it was a pair of good breeches and a jerkin that she really wanted as they left her free to move and protect herself.
 
Hi Ray, thanks for my first feedback ^_^

Interesting feedback and I like that it comes through that she is some form of performing artist/soldier/spy etc...

That said you make a valid point that it could be worth honing it in within this section, so we can get an idea of what type of role this person fulfills in the world. I'll consider if there is a subtle way to nudge it in that direction (y)
 
I think your use of words is good, but structurally you're falling into easy pitfalls - we see nothing of Kara's motivation, but instead get a history lesson on the place she's going to; then backstory of where she came from; then a physical description of her for the benefit of readers. Whenever we might see something of Kara's internal thinking, you pull back and hide it from the reader.

My recommendation would be to put all that aside a moment - deal only with immediate actions, and put Kara's conflict in quickly. By all means show the walls - but deal with what that means to her, and why - and do so in just a sentence or too. Ramp up any sense of danger so that we quickly know the stakes.

You're also good at setting, but once given, leave it - I mention that because you repeatedly mention details about the docks. You only need to do so once, for setting, then jump straight into character. No backstory - keep everything immediate, and drip in background briefly and only where necessary.

She's a warrior, yet she'd playing a role - a disguise as a noble woman? Then show us her playing up to this and steeling herself against dangers to come. Be aware of class - unless this is a modern or anarchist state, sailors should not be expected to leer at her, or treat her with anything but deference, because the historical nobility will severely punish the least disrespect. Perhaps that's a source of tension in itself.

Either way, though, not a bad effort, and looks reasonably polished. But - IMO - you need to stop thinking about explaining things to the reader, get into the immediate character experience, and leave the reader asking questions - drip in information only as its needed. Do these things and your story should be much stronger for it.

2c.
 
Thank you Brian, both for the feedback itself but more so the depth you go to.

Ironically, I have a habit of under-doing (by most novels standards) descriptions etc, preferring to focus on characters and dialogue. Maybe it was the fact that this is the first few pages that lead me to procrastinate with the 'scene setting'. Will look at this to see if it can be more succinct and allow more time for internal thoughts and motivations to be investigated.

The class bit had passed me by to be honest, I need to have a good think about that bit.

Lastly, thank you for the generally positive feedback, always good to have a boost. ;)
 
The class bit had passed me by to be honest, I need to have a good think about that bit.
Fantasy though doesn't need to copy our mediaeval past, though certain aspects are more believable.
@Brian Turner You explain far better my own reaction, which is the same, except I'd not worry as much as you about mediaeval accuracy unless it's a story set in this world's real mediaeval age. e.g. the issue of sailor "leering" which could even be mostly imagined by character if she is young enough.
Even when I don't respond on a crit I read most as I'm not good at expressing myself clearly and selfishly I think reading people's analysis even when I don't agree will help me write better.

Sorry for taking thread off topic a bit.
 
Maybe it was the fact that this is the first few pages that lead me to procrastinate with the 'scene setting'.

Don't worry - it's completely normal to want to explain things for the benefit of the reader at the very start. However, the opposite is actually true - raising questions is more likely to keep a reader intrigued. We are a problem-solving ape that likes to know answers - deny those answers, and that ape aspect of us wants keep reading until they are presented.

My own method is to imagine I've already explained all of the backstory in a previous chapter/book. Therefore I only need to refer to the relevant bits, as applicable. This allows the reader to build up their own picture, as needed, without infodumping. Less is sometimes more. :)

2c.
 
Well done for putting it up! Be warned, though, I have teeth. Thoughts in bold, take what's useful. :)

Hi all,

Firstly, I am happy that I have after two years of working in solitude taken the decision to join a community. It is so far the best decision I have made regarding my work, as reading your thoughts on different matters has been hugely illuminating. That said, the ultimate plunge for a writer is critique from others (especially critique for people that are not 'family and friends')

I look forward to your thoughts. This is from the very start of my WIP, happy reading! :)
-------
Pulling her cloak tighter Kara studied the City that stretched out in front of her. On her journey she’d heard nothing but the sketchiest second and third hand accounts of the City state of Stromgarde; the sailors she travelled had never seen the city before.

To either side of Kara’s small boat the wide river was lost in a swell of merchants and fishermen, as they strained at their oars or bent double to gut fish and haul their catch;i think a full stop rather than a semi - the clauses aren't really linked. Kara was happy to be stood at ease, even if she was a little cold. So, show, don't tell? Have her stamp her feet or clench her hands against the cold? Normally all this commotion would have fascinated her, had she not been so intent on the walls of the city themselves.

They loomed over the small bay, shutting out the waning sun and leaving her chilled by a bitterly icy windor leave the bit above and only mention the cold here?. Tall and strong they stood, white stone chiselled with intricate battle scenes depicting Stromgarde’s victories, a testament to the city’s legendary resilience. The shouts of oarsman and the constant thundering of a thousand fishermen sounded or you jump tenses like combat to Kara, a sound she was far too familiar with. It had been a long time since the city had last been known for its military prowess; years of peace and high living having left it fat and listless. Failure for Kara however could leave her broken like so many others who? - a lot of history here, I'd like to see the story moving on a bit had previously approached these City walls with hostility.

A shiver worked its way through her; i get that she's cold.... :) in her native Rand far to the south it would still warm, even now in this late month. She hadn’t seen snow before her trip, though her father had told her of it; now she had left Rand to come to these lands it had been all there was to see, white seas to either side of the river. Holding her cloak against the biting wind Kara thought, not for the first time, that she had been sent on a fool’s errand. Her father’s last words as she had set off on her mission still echoed through her head, ‘You will work for the Family or you will take your last step into the depths.’ The horror of that long drop, wind ripping her breath from her lungs before the waves finally silenced her, had more than once managed to cool her anger, “I do this by choice.” Saying the lie again didn’t make it any less hollow.

As the sun began to set Kara headed below deck; her time was short and she wanted to spend it work on her new character. It had been a while since she had last performed; the danger back then was laughable compared to the razor’s edge she walked now. As she headed to her cabin the crewmen that passed-by bowed politely, mostly with haste, before scurrying out of her way.

Tall for a woman, with dark chestnut hair that flowed easily down her back, hmmm, do we ever really think about how we look? I can just about live with it in this context but it still hints of wanting to tell me how she looksKara was aware of the effect she had on men, whether it was welcome or not. Large innocent eyes and lips that were full but not over generous sat well on her pale face. But this is definitely pushing it - small hints are enough. Your readers will fill in the gaps. Though she would go to the grave before admitting it, the dress she had been forced to wear was truly beautiful; pleated green silk that climbed high to her neck, yet somehow showed more of her than her normal attire. It was to her secret pleasure that she got to wear it.

Usually she wouldn’t wear clothes that restricted her movement so much but she had been ordered to wear the dress; if she was honest it was a pair of good breeches and a jerkin that she really wanted as they left her free to move and protect herself. Still, she thought comma i think smiling to herself as the crew went past blushing;thw whole crew were blushing? If you mean she was, I'd reword if, if the crew I'd wonder about it the dress had its perks.

Her clothing, along with her simpering attitude, was designed to keep the men on board from finding out what she truly was. Here she acted as Lady Ashford, a silly young girl that had harassed her father into letting her see the big city; her father in this case was a well to do minor noble who apparently dotes on his daughter. The boat she now travelled on had been docked upriver about two weeks away from Stromgarde, in a grotty speck of a town called Marsh. At one time the fee she had paid for her passage would have seen her living like a queen the whole way, but hard times drove harder bargains. As it had turned out, her fee had seen her unceremoniously shoved onto this cramped hell with barely a polite word.

For the first couple of days she had put up with the sailor’s leers; it was nothing new to her. Even when she had been younger, not yet a full woman, she had become used to attention of men. We know the gist of this from above....Back then it had mostly been her father’s friends that took a special interest in her, starting shortly after her sixteenth year. She had tried telling her father after the first time but he had taken her back. He’d instructed her that it was time to learn that he wasn’t here to stop them or protect her; he expected Kara to be strong enough to protect herself. If she couldn’t then…the punishment took care of itself. Luckily, Kara Torani was not a slow learner; a good blade and the will to use it kept away the worst of men.

Okay, I think it's clean enough and not a bad job. I think you repeat things too much and hit us over the head a little too much - one mention of cold or her beauty are enough. The sort of psuedo rapey feel at the end didn't sit well for me, I'm afraid. As ever, it's the great danger a woman must protect herself from and we see that a lot in fantasy.... :)
 
Hey Kyle. Congrats on posting something here, that is the first step.

I will reiterate what has been said here already. The writing was good, in a format and sound sense. I'm sure there are a bunch of threads here about starting a story. We really don't need to know all of her back story in the first few hundred words. Leave us wanting more, and slowly trickle it out through her actions and the story. Also, like Jo said, we don't need a description dump of what the character looks like.

I also don't like the 'psuedo rapey' feel the story gives off. You can hint about being leered at but IMO it gets a little too deep into that, and I honestly wouldn't want to continue because you are setting the tone to an area I don't really want to read about, in the first section.

I think you have a lot of good things to work off of, but just need to work on some stuff.
 
Thank you all for this.

Your thoughts on the last paragraph hit upon something that I think had been bothering me; the content of that section seems fine but really could come later on so it doesn't colour the work in a way that doesn't accurately portray where the story is going. Having it later on (if at all) seems better.

I think you repeat things too much and hit us over the head a little too much -

Great point that I think Brian also highlighted in detail. I guess I was concerned that my less descriptive writing style would need something more to fill it out (even using that term makes me wince...).

This has so far been a very constructive set of criticisms and I just hope that others have such helpful thoughts. :D
 
<To either side of Kara’s small boat the wide river was lost in a swell of merchants and fishermen, as they strained at their oars or bent double to gut fish and haul their catch>
just nitpicking,but if you can't see the river,you probably can't haul your nets ,and they migh get tangled underwater.Ditto for the oars:they might be in each others' way.
‘You will work for the Family or you will take your last step into the depths.’
you realize that this sentence might be construed to mean that she regularly steps into the deep? :cool::D
<<Her clothing, along with her simpering attitude, was designed to keep the men on board from finding out what she truly was.>>Pleated silk is great camouflage,then?:cool::D
<< Failure for Kara however could leave her broken like so many others had previously approached these City walls with hostility.>>This one jangles,i suspect a typo also
Also i have my doubts about "thundering fishermen"

I take it you yourself noticed your own typo's(eg "spend it work on her new character")?
Totally personal opinions:
<< her simpering attitude>>:you have yet to provide evidence of that.
<<Tall for a woman, with dark chestnut hair that flowed easily down her back, Kara was aware of the effect she had on men, whether it was welcome or not.>>
you might want to rewrite that.
anthropologically speaking,this implies some fetish for height,somehow.Hair flowing easily
sounds clumsy,again,my own taste in phrasing.
Last paragraph doesn't work for me.Again,the anthropology is not convincing.
You come up with an explanation later on?EG her father fended away all boys?

Personally,i don't mind the description part.
Your character interests me inherently.Pretension implies skulduggery,deceit,all sort so probabilities.
All of the above might sound overly critical,but my prevailing attitude is: i like this
 
Last edited:
All of the above might sound overly critical,but my prevailing attitude is: i like this

Fantastic feedback Hardscience (some minor edits i really agree with, along with some strong reiteration of previous points) but this bit means a lot to me. Great to hear I'm not barking up wholly the wrong tree!

Also I noticed that type last night, glad I got to it first ^_^
 
Last edited:
Firstly, I noticed that TYPO not type... The irony on misspelling that is not lost on me...

Secondly here is the refreshed version, hopefully tighter on the character, less 'psuedo rapey' and with some minor edits to wordings that I felt were unwieldy. I hope people enjoy :lol:

EDIT: Sorry Jo Zebedee! Just spotted how you did your critique (in the quote ^_^) So will look to fully process them into the next draft!
------
Pulling her cloak tighter Kara studied the City that was stretched out in front of her. On the journey she’d heard nothing but the sketchiest second and third hand accounts of the City state of Stromgarde; the sailors she travelled with had never seen the city before. To either side of Kara’s small boat the wide river was strewn with merchants and fishermen, who strained at their oars or bent double to gut fish and haul their catch. Kara was happy to be stood at ease, even if she was a little cold. Normally all this commotion would have been fascinating, but business came first on her trip.

She felt a familiar squirm of fear bubble up before she swiftly crushed back down; her father’s training had been very good at beating that particular emotion out of her. Kara looked away from the city walls; the person who had come up with the battle scenes that sprawled across them had clearly never seen a real battle before. The Family would never waste their time showing off their past exploits; Kara’s father was a more… practical man.

As the boat moved sluggishly into the harbour, its prow shattering ice that floated in the way, Kara watched as it started to lightly snow; she hadn’t even seen snow before her trip, though her father had told her plenty about it; since leaving Rand to come to these lands it had been all she could see. The boat lurched again as it pushed on towards the docks, turning Kara’s stomach to acid. How could anyone stand the random movement of the waves when they could so easily sail the sky like a normal person? Foreigners were strange.

Kara craned her head over the railings, straining to get her first proper look at the city beyond the walls; even from this distance it was clear the city was had issues. Rubbish piled against tumbled down warehouses and beggars that thronged along the waterfront sat as counter points to gilded towers that sat further into the city and armed guards that moved merchant carts into the city. Kara smiled; merchants were normally very generous, especially at knifepoint. Her father’s last words as she had left home echoed through her head, ‘You will work for the Family or your last step will be taken into the depths.’ Just the thought of that long drop, wind ripping breath from her lungs before the waves silenced her, caused the smile to slip; she was here for a reason, petty theft would have to wait.

The sun began to set Kara headed below deck; her time was short and she wanted to spend it working on her new character. It had been a while since she had last performed and the stakes were considerably higher this time, not to mention she now lacked any back up.

As she headed to her cabin the crewmen that passed-by bowed politely, mostly with haste, before scurrying out of her way. Tall for a woman, Kara was aware of the effect she had on men, whether or not it was welcome. Most had called her beautiful, though she rarely had time to spend enjoying such foolishness. She would go to the grave before admitting it, but the dress she had been forced to wear during her trip was gorgeous; pleated green silk that climbed high to her neck, yet somehow showed more of her than her normal attire. It was to her secret pleasure that she got to wear it.

Usually she wouldn’t wear clothes that restricted her movement so much but she had been ordered to wear the dress. If she was honest a pair of good breeches and a jerkin was all she really wanted; they left her free to move and protect herself. Still, she thought smiling to herself as the crew went past blushing; the dress had its perks.

Here she played as Lady Ashford, a silly young girl that had harassed her father into letting her see the big city. The boat she now travelled on had docked upriver two weeks away from Stromgarde, in a grotty speck of a town called Marsh. At one time the fee she had paid for her passage would have seen her living like a queen the whole way, but hard times drove harder bargains. As it had turned out, her fee had seen her shoved onto this cramped hell with barely a polite word.

For the first couple of days the sailors had remained polite, until on the fourth when the first tried his luck. A large man had approached her, polite as you’d like, with a set of broad shoulders and arms criss-crossed with scars from knife fights. There was a large cut across his nose, a nose that had been broken more than a few times; he was the type Kara normally liked, some habits were hard to shake. He’d stood, shuffling his feet in embarrassment as he had asked if she would spend an evening with him, a possibility she bluntly rebuked. It would have been comical to watch his face go from red-cheeked embarrassment to near purple with rage had Kara been in a position to laugh openly.

She decided to use her most pitying smile, “I think you would be best served looking elsewhere on this ship of men for your fix.” Turning back to her reading with a laugh she pointedly ignored him. Flexing his hands impotently the man had tried again, this time without any stunted attempts at courtship. Glancing back with a grin on her face, she slyly whispered, “Aren’t the boys you lie with pretty enough?” The poor, stupid man had stood, confusion washing across his face, before he caught on. Then roaring he rushed toward her, his head down like an enraged bull. She had waited until his fingers had brushed across her shoulder before twisting to the side, grabbing his wrist. Eyes widening in surprise he flipped, slamming into the floor with a thud.

He lay there stunned, trying to draw breath, before the wind was driven out of him as Kara sat on his chest. Faster than his eyes could track a blade was in her hand; before it pressed into his throat, “Don’t panic, my darling,” she cooed down to him, “I don’t normally hurt a man as pretty as you. It wouldn’t do to mar another man’s enjoyment by taking your toys away,” her smile turned roguish, “even if you were so willing to share them with me.”
 
Last edited:
There's not much wrong with the prose, but I'm not feeling drawn into the character's story here. She doesn't really do anything -- she sees, she feels, she watches, she looks, then she remembers something that happened before. For this to draw me in, you'd have to be writing prose that made me gasp with its skill. I think, for my money, you'd be better off starting the story later, when she's doing something interesting or exciting, and let the reader catch up with the setting by dropping a few details into the action.

Sorry if that sounds blunt, but it's an old maxim that most beginning novelists would do well to cut out their first chapter and start with the second, and it might be the case here. Boldness often pays. But it's only my opinion, of course.
 
I appreciate your opinion HareBrain. At some point (I don't want to flood the critique section so I might post it into the blog area) I will put up the full 2000ish words of the first chapter as there is quite a bit more going on towards the end of it, might get the action going a bit better.

That said, if it still seems stale to people I'm not above trying that, the second chapter starts with 3 bodies on the floor, slain by her hand. Exciting times ;)
 
Just one comment that hasn't been made yet: Kara describes (in both versions) the intricate battle scenes carved on the city's walls. At the distance that it sounds as if she is at from them, the carvings would have to be extremely large to see them at all. Which may be your intent, but I thought I would point it out.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Thread starter Similar threads Forum Replies Date
Ambriel Critiques 22
O Writing Discussion 1
ColGray Critiques 47
sinister42 Critiques 43
ColGray Writing Discussion 8

Similar threads


Back
Top