2000th Post Critique...

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Phyrebrat

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Okay, tradition demands a sacrificial lamb and the only thing I have to offer is this brand new (as in days-old) opening for the 1760s section of my WIP. It's rough and I haven't done my research on 1700s life yet so there may be anachronisms and lack of detail in the world.

thanks

pH


Josiah Tanner’s vapid countenance hid his contempt for his master’s brother. If Bosthorpe Grange were his kingdom, you’d not find him puling and whining about finding people to share it with. Whoever heard of such nonsense?

‘Tenants, brother? How so?’ his master asked Earl Greville. Mad Earl Greville.

‘Books. Curses. Books. Nevermind...’ the Earl mumbled, curling a tobacco-yellowed lock of greyish hair round a similarly stained, trembling finger.

‘What imprudence ails you? You’d invite strangers in your home? And—’

‘Strangers?’ the Earl shrieked, and Josiah flinched even though he stood at the tatty panelled doors to the drawing room, a fair distance away from the brothers. ‘You have the measure of it then, Samuel. Strangers indeed! I have no need to invite them!’

‘Tell me, then, brother,’ his master said, softening, putting his cane across the crabs claw arms of the chair nearest, and pulled off his ivory scarf - I could teach the Mad Earl’s butler some manners in stewardship, Josiah thought; he scooted over and took the scarf in silence. He looked at the cane. Yes, he would enjoy teaching that sloping, dimwit ass how to care for guests.

The Earl had calmed somewhat but now slumped dramatically over his desk. ‘Oh! Brother, dear, dear Samuel. You look on me as you look on poor Adeline, as if her whiffs and megrims have infected me.’

‘I’m concerned, Nestor...’

‘No, brother, you indulge me with your soft voice and tilted head.’

Josiah gave a polite cough but his master made a brisk shake of his head. He’d have to stay and witness this, then.

‘Nestor, you’re talking of leasing the wings. I know you’ve no need to.’

‘Not, financially, no,’ the Earl said into his folded arms, ‘but I need companionship.’

Josiah dreaded what next would come from his master’s lips.

‘I could stay with you for a spell. Marlborough has no need for me - I was considering summer in Florence but I might enjoy Lowe's sea air instead.’

There it was; madness begetting madness, Josiah thought, and for how long? He looked across the rolling lawns towards the lake. At least there would be somewhere to go when the Earl was having his next storm of histrionics. Early daffodils speared the lawn from beneath - perhaps Josiah would have a word with the groundsmen, too, as well as the sloppy butler. Even the ancient yews looked shaggy and unkempt. He thought of the street-urchins who begged around Salisbury.

‘By summer’s end you’ll be gone though. The solution is temporary, at best!’

‘By autumn fall you’d want rid of us, I daresay, eh, Tanner?’

Josiah snapped out of his reverie on disciplining the Bosthorpe staff. ‘Yes, sir, quite possibly.’

‘Well, it will take more than a season to read what I’ve found, Samuel, and even longer to make sense of it - and proper arrangements.’

He could not see from back here what his master was doing, but he must have given the Mad Earl some silent response because he spun around and walked to a sea chest covered in a thick veneer of either dust or - what was that, building sand? Instead of opening the arched lid, the Earl reached into the side and brought out a small olive booklet. He threw it onto the cluttered desk.
Thin papers and ancient-looking parchments wafted to the floor in the breeze, and a small cloud of dust puffed from the booklet.

‘Hundreds of these, brother, hundreds!’ The Earl’s eyes bulged. ‘The woman was mad!’

Josiah stifled a laugh at the irony, although he also wondered what the little book was. His master was not so interested; he was busy collecting the papers from the polished red floor.

The Unquiet? Our Brooding Dead? Brother, these essays cannot be doing your soul much good.’ He put the papers back on the desk. ‘There shall be no need for such morbid distractions when I’m here.’

‘Maybe. I hope not. But once you’ve gone...’

‘Nestor, tidy them away,’

But the Earl waffled on regardless, ‘It’ll be just me and them again...’

‘Who, Nestor, for all the saints and angels’ sake?’

The Earl bent and retrieved a parchment that his brother had missed. He placed it on the desk with a strange reverence and pointed to it - reluctantly, careful it seemed, not to touch it.

Josiah inched towards the desk, intrigued by the large calligraphic swirls on the parchment.


Encyclopedia Daemonica.


‘Saints and angels, indeed, Samuel.’ The Mad Earl said.
 
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Congrats on the 2,000!

It's a bit rough at the moment, and you'll no doubt be tidying it up as and when you come to fill in gaps, so I won't do a full nit-pick. A few nit-picky things leapt out at me, though, that you might want to consider. Would Josiah think of his own countenance as vapid? Formally, it should be "the Earl Greville" though he'd probably just say "the Earl" at the beginning and not use his name. The "crabs-claw arms" -- needs a hyphen, I think, and I've not come across this before (no interest in antique furniture!) so I don't know if it needs an apostrophe as well. "Scoot" as a word is later than this is set, as is "tatty" meaning unkempt/shabby. "Nevermind" as two words, I think. The final line has errant punctuation.

I found the opening a little difficult on the first read, not knowing who anyone was, not helped by "his master's brother" and then "Earl Greville" as if they were different people (which I thought they were at first :oops:). I wonder if it might help idiots like me if the Earl is given first and brother after, with perhaps some confirmation of what kind of master we're talking -- ie whether Josiah is an actual slave (well, strictly he wouldn't be in legal terms) or just valet. The conversation also confused me a little on the first read, as the responses didn't follow -- though I can see that this may well be deliberate to show how out-of-it the Earl is.

Anyway, an interesting start to this age of the house, and a good character-filled introduction to the new people involved. I loved the puling and megrims, and good to see the yews, too! Well done.
 
Congrats on the 2000! It took me a little while to ease into this, but by 'imprudence' I had settled into the rhythm of the piece. I enjoyed the slow ensnaring of the manservant's interest; at first he's simply thinking about his comfort, and how to whip the staff into shape, but then his curiosity if piqued, and I thought it worked well feeding us the scene through his eyes since we are also similarly disengaged at first. (does any of that make sense?)

Agree with TJ on 'vapid', and also on the initial scene setting being a little confusing as to who is who. But all in all I enjoyed it, and a killer ending. :)
 
Congrats on 2k. *sharpens claws*

As always, I didn't read anyone else's thoughts so I imagine there'll be some overlap.


If Bosthorpe Grange were his kingdom, - you refer to two (or three) male characters in the preceding sentence, making this 'his' unclear in meaning.

you’d not find him puling - typo, or colloquial term?

Whoever heard of such nonsense? - little bit soft. May fit the character, but scope to sharpen it, if you want to.

Mad Earl Greville. - could axe this and show the madness rather than tell it.

‘Books. Curses. Books. Nevermind...’ the Earl mumbled, curling a tobacco-yellowed lock of greyish hair round a similarly stained, trembling finger. - like this, excepting that I'd axe 'similarly stained'.

‘What imprudence ails you? - I'd change imprudence. Affliction, malady, ill-humour etc.

‘Strangers?’ the Earl shrieked, and Josiah flinched even though he stood at the tatty panelled doors to the drawing room, a fair distance away from the brothers. - swap the order. You've got the 'even though he's far away' bit and the distance part separated by the description. Reaction, distance, then description of the drawing room doors.

chair nearest - nearest chair

and pulled off his ivory scarf - may wish to make it cream. The setting is the sort that might have ornamental ivory. (I might just be excessively picky. But then, it's a critique).

Yes, he would enjoy teaching that sloping, dimwit ass how to care for guests. - again, could be sharper. I'd suggest removing/reducing the personal insult and add more menace about the 'teaching' [unless this character's a bit soft].

The Earl had calmed somewhat but now slumped dramatically over his desk. - axe 'had', 'now' and 'dramatically'.

made a brisk shake of his head. - briskly shook?

He’d have to stay and witness this, then. - change 'He' to 'Josiah'

‘Saints and angels, indeed, Samuel.’ The Mad Earl said. - comma, not full stop, lower case T for 'the'


Overall, I'd make some changes. The Earl's madness seems a bit underwhelming. I'm not saying make him a prancing lunatic, but you could make his utterances more peculiar or give him a behavioural tic (comfort blanket, a fear of Tuesdays, etc). A few more names and fewer pronouns would make it smoother.
 
The big hitters have beaten me to the punch so I've got nothing that hasn't been touched on. Interesting tale. Well done. And, of course, congrats on the 2,000.
 
Many thanks for the very valuable comments, all.

It's true to say I confused myself a little with the he's and brother's and whatnot. I'm glad for the advice on that, for sure.

Sadly I can't over play the Earl Greville's madness, primarily because he's not mad, and the moniker has only recently been coined for him as is discussed in the following scene when they leave the house. I take the comments of Josiah maybe needing sharper teeth, Thad, but he has to be a bit disempowered himself - and certainly needs to come across to the reader as a nicer person than a fascist house steward so I'll have to be careful there.

Regarding the irrational fear of Tuesdays; can I just say that really cheered me up as yesterday was long and tiring and there was something so funny about that, I just loved it!

I pretty much intend to give it a good going over with your advises. It's so helpful when other people mention things you just don't see until they do, and then you go 'Duh, why didn't I see that?'

Juliana, I'm really pleased with your noting about Josiah's ignorance reflecting ours. I hope I can contine to snare that. And thanks for the compliment on the end. Thaos for taking the time to read and comment, drof, too!

TJ - a blessing of criticism as always, I sent you an email late last night with more details seeing how you'll probably end up owning shares in this Wip :D

pH
 
Phyrebrat, I'm glad you liked it, and I don't want to stress you out, but... it's Tuesday today.
 
Not much to add though maybe you don't need puling and whining, since one of the meanings of puling is whining/complaining.

Bit inconsistent here - "The Earl bent and retrieved a parchment that his brother had missed. He placed it on the desk with a strange reverence and pointed to it - reluctantly, careful it seemed, not to touch it." He already touched it when he picked it up ;)
 
I struggled with getting a grip on this at first read, and I realised why on second read -- for some reason, though not because of anything you'd done, I got it into my head that Greville was the one visiting, not Samuel and Tanner. Since getting it wrong causes such confusion, I wonder if you could find some way to make it clear.

There's also a profusion of names -- Greville is also Nestor, and Josiah is also Tanner -- which makes it quite hard work keeping track of who's saying what to whom, and therefore detracts from the focus on what's actually being said. Also watch out for places where it might be unclear who "he" refers to.

Having said that, once I was clear where they were and who was speaking, I found it right up my street and enjoyed it. The period style and detail feels authentic to me, though I'm no expert, and I like Josiah's sour, superior character; he feels very real and interesting already.

Well done on reaching 2000 posts!
 
Here is the amended version. I think I've taken all your comments on board. Additionally I have included the next 700 words which should expand on Josiah's character and perhaps explain why he acts the way he does in the inital scene with the Earl Greville. (This takes the total to 1428 words, so please don't feel you have to read past the initial changes.)

Josiah Tanner tried for a vapid countenance to hide his contempt for his master’s brother, the Earl Greville. If Bosthorpe Grange were his kingdom, you’d not find him puling about finding people to share it with. Whoever heard of such nonsense?

‘Tenants, Nestor? How so?’ his master asked Earl Greville - Mad Earl Greville.

‘Books. Curses. Books. Nevermind...’ the Earl mumbled, curling a tobacco-yellowed lock of greyish hair round a trembling finger.

‘What imprudence ails you? You’d invite strangers in your home? And—’

‘Strangers?’ the Earl shrieked, and Josiah flinched even though he stood at the battered panelled doors to the drawing room, a fair distance away from the brothers. ‘You have the measure of it then, Samuel. Strangers indeed! I have no need to invite them!’

‘Tell me, then, Nestor,’ his master said, softening, putting his cane across the crab’s-claw arms of the chair nearest, and pulled off his greatcoat and ivory scarf - I could teach the Mad Earl’s butler some manners in stewardship, Josiah thought; he strode over and took the scarf and coat in silence. He looked at the cane. Yes, he would enjoy teaching that sloping, dimwit ass how to care for guests.

The Earl Greville had calmed somewhat but now slumped dramatically over his desk. ‘Oh! Brother, dear, dear Samuel. You look on me as you look on poor Adeline, as if her whiffs and megrims have infected me.’

‘I’m concerned, Nestor...’

‘No, brother, you indulge me with your soft voice and tilted head.’

Josiah coughed discreetly but his master gave a brisk shake of his head. He’d have to stay and witness this, then.

‘Nestor, you’re talking of leasing the wings. I know you’ve no need to.’

‘Not, financially, no,’ the Earl said into his folded arms, ‘but I need companionship.’

Josiah dreaded what next would come from his master’s lips.

‘I could stay with you for a spell. Marlborough has no need for me - I was considering summer in Florence but I might enjoy Lowe’s sea air instead.’

There it was; madness begetting madness, Josiah thought, and for how long? He looked across the rolling lawns towards the lake. At least there would be somewhere to go when the Earl was having his next storm of histrionics. Early daffodils speared the lawn from beneath - perhaps Josiah would have a word with the groundsmen, too, as well as the sloppy butler. Even the ancient yews looked shaggy and unkempt. He thought of the street-urchins who begged around Salisbury.

‘By summer’s end you’ll be gone though. The solution is temporary, at best!’

‘By autumn fall you’d want rid of us, I daresay, eh, Tanner?’

Josiah snapped out of his reverie on disciplining the Bosthorpe staff. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Well, it will take more than a season to read what I’ve found, Samuel, and even longer to make sense of it - and proper arrangements.’

He could not see from back here what his master was doing, but he must have given the Mad Earl some silent response because he spun around and walked to a sea chest covered in a thick veneer of either dust or - what was that, building sand? Instead of opening the arched lid, the lunatic reached into the side and brought out a thick olive booklet. He threw it onto the cluttered desk. Thin papers and ancient-looking parchments wafted to the floor in the breeze, and a small cloud of dust puffed from the booklet.

‘Hundreds of these, brother, hundreds!’ The Earl’s eyes bulged. ‘The woman was mad!’

Josiah stifled a laugh at the irony, although he also wondered what the book was. His master was not so interested; he was busy collecting the papers from the polished red floor.

The Unquiet? Our Brooding Dead? Nestor, these essays cannot be doing your soul much good.’ He put the papers back on the desk. ‘There shall be no need for such morbid distractions when I’m here, brother.’


‘Maybe. I hope not. But once you’ve gone...’

‘Nestor, tidy them away,’

But the Earl waffled on regardless, ‘It’ll be just me and them again...’

‘Who, Nestor, for all the saints and angels’ sake?’

The Earl bent to retrieve a parchment that his brother had missed. He placed it on the desk with a strange reverence and pointed to it - reluctantly, careful, it seemed, not to touch it again.

Josiah inched towards the desk, intrigued by the large calligraphic swirls on the parchment.

Encyclopedia Daemonica.

‘Saints and angels, indeed, Samuel.’ The Mad Earl said.


On the way to the coach, the Earl’s brother stopped with both hands on his cane and stared up at the greying sky. Josiah waited just behind looking into the gathering mists, wondering why the carriage and horses had still not been brought round. Minute shifts in his weight caused cracks and crunches from the fine pebbles of the sweeping path, sounding as loud as pistol shots in the odd acoustics of the encroaching fog.

‘Do you really think the Earl Greville believes what he says, sir?’ Josiah asked.

‘That demons walk the halls of Bosthorpe? How could I?’

‘No, sir, I mean that he believes they do.’

Lord Samuel favoured him with an indulgent look. ‘Two things, Josiah: you can stop calling me sir now, if you please.’

‘Yes...Samuel,’

‘And you can stop pretending that you don’t know of my brother’s troubling moniker, of late.’

‘I do not. What moniker?’

Samuel turned to face him properly, the stones grinding like old bones underfoot.

‘You’ve not heard the fond term “Mad Earl Greville?” '

‘On my word, no, I have not.’

Samuel regarded him with squinted eyes, his eyebrows already tending to the bushy greyness of his older brother. Pray God, Samuel didn’t fall into a similar kind of insanity in his old age. He’d rather clean Samuel's arse once a day than try and cleanse a house of demonic influences. A fool’s errand. He laughed before he could stop himself, thinking the Mad Earl probably was sh***ing himself; he looked scared enough.

‘You’ve found some humour in all this business, Josiah?’

He paused before deflecting the question, ‘I have to wonder if he has let the majority of the staff go.’

‘What do you mean? What has that to do with any of this?’

‘Well, Samuel; your greatcoat and scarf, the grounds...’ he cast a wide arc over the lawns either side of the stony path. ‘And where is your damned carriage?’

‘Indeed, all valid observations, but you know full well my brother has released none of the staff.’

Samuel exhaled and turned the top of the cane to slide out a small cylinder. ‘I know you have a point, Josiah. I wish you’d just get to it,’ he said and twisted off the cylinder’s little cork cap before taking a small swig.

‘I hate to say it, but if you’re not already thinking it...’

‘For God’s sake, man, spit it out!’

Better couch this carefully. He didn’t want to offend Samuel, but he needed to convince him of the servants’ treachery. ‘If, as you say, the Earl Greville is referred to in hushed terms as...’ he cleared his throat. ‘Mad, then it is safe to assume the house staff - gossips and wretched in all estates - are taking advantage of this momentary lapse in his... judgement.’

‘Why didn’t you just say so, then?’

‘If I jumped to conclusions, my behaviour would be as errant as that of your brother.’

Samuel clapped a strong arm around Josiah’s shoulders and laughed. ‘As a steward, none beat you, my friend.’

He reassembled his cane and tucked it under his arm with a flourish. ‘Look around, Josiah.’

Now it was his turn to give the expansive gesture, but this time his arm took in the lumbering broodiness of Bosthorpe the building, as well as the grounds. ‘If this was your indentured home and you had access to the strange and beautiful airs of such a place, would you not take advantage of your master’s malady?’

Josiah stopped walking and frowned at Samuel. ‘I would certainly not!’

‘I know, dear friend, and that is why when we get back I shall let my brother know that you will be temporarily taking over the duties as staff manager when we return next month.’ He squeezed Josiah’s shoulder before continuing. ‘Get them in shape. Get Bosthorpe back on its feet!’

Josiah gave what he hoped was a humble nod.

Samuel looked up and down the wide path. ‘If and when the coachman arrives.’

‘Yes, when the coachman arrives.’ Josiah repeated and smiled.
 
Easy Ph, I see you've posted a revised version already; I was going to offer opinions on the original piece but will comment on the revised version instead.

Firstly, I'd give almost all my toenails to be in possession of your wicked flourish of the lyrical brush. There are some wonderful passages here.

As for the second version, it reads much clearer now. LIke HB, I struggled with the names but it makes more sense this time around.

A couple of tiny nitpicks.

"Crab's-claw arms" just reads - and sounds - too awkward to remain a fluid piece of prose for me, even with TJ"s suggestions. Personally (and feel free to thrash me soundly about the head and shoulders in dissent) I think a simple "fat leather arms" or something of that simplicity serves the prose better.

‘Tell me, then, Nestor,’ his master said, softening, putting his cane across the crab’s-claw arms of the chair nearest, and pulled off his greatcoat and ivory scarf - I could teach the Mad Earl’s butler some manners in stewardship, Josiah thought; he strode over and took the scarf and coat in silence.
In fact this whole sentence is a bit clumsy; you're mixing your tenses ("putting his cane... pulled off his coat...) followed by varied parenthesis and punctuation. We know what's going on but it could do with a slight polish.

You look on me as you look on poor Adeline, as if her whiffs and megrims have infected me.
Skills.

Samuel turned to face him properly, the stones grinding like old bones underfoot.
Nicely portentous, I feel.

Yeah, there's no getting round it. I'm really looking forward to reading the whole damn thing. Carry on, my wayward son!
 
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You have a very unique style PH, or for me at least, that carries an old world feel to the section. I would have liked a little more clarity and a better explained hook. I wasn't entirely sure what the point to the section was and where you were taking me as a reader, which was a pity, because the style was highly original for me. Not to my taste if I'm completely honest, but I wouldn't let that worry you too much. The world your presenting has a strong feel to it and that takes skill. Keep on going, even on Tuesdays.
 
Thanks Bowler. When I saw you'd replied I was worried I'd get zapped for errors ;).

I'm happy you think it has an old world feel as it's meant to be set somewhere around 1750-60 and I'd not yet placed a definite date marker in the text.

Just got back from France and adding another 5k words (although Find & Replace was heavily used when I'd realised I had been calling the Earl Greville 'Montgomery' when I'd already decided his name was Nestor :eek: ).

Now I've started it, I've developed a habit of putting absent period details in parentheses as in his eyes were as wide as the silver (period coins in the library), and louder than a (period soldier). It's helping keep the flow alive and momentum which is key for me. The only thing I need to keep checking are factual details - Josiah likes to spar but I'm going to have to research the history of boxing before I start getting him to beat up the lazy staff...

pH
 
I have a bit of a favour to ask and not sure where to put it...

There are two POVs in this era; The Mad Earl Greville (Nestor) and Josiah Tanner (the steward for the Mad Earl's brother, Samuel). I'm having to make Nestor sympathetic, yet enough evidence to make him appear slightly unhinged (not in a Renfield way, I might add). I want the reader to root for both Nestor and Josiah for different reasons even though they are two totally different people. Josiah I'm kind of happy with where I'm going, but I've never written a character like Nestor before. I'm aiming for a less aloof version of Mr Norrell (from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell) but am worried it may come off as too comic. Or too much of a scaredy cat ('fraidy cat to you Americans ;) ).

The section is around 4k.

Are there members who wouldn't mind casting an eye over the section by PM or email? This section is set in 1760 which I appreciate may not be to everyone's taste.

The reason I ask for this is because I'm largely happy with how I've characterised him, and will continue writing him along these lines, but if I am just enamoured with my own writing, and am not seeing issues, I'd rather identify now than later.

Please let me know if you'd be interested in casting a beady eye... thanks

pH
 
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