Extract from A Day in the Lies of Inari Meiwaku

Discussion in 'Critiques' started by Inari Writer, Mar 19, 2017.

  1. Inari Writer

    Inari Writer Well-Known Member

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    Hi all.

    I'm writing a novel at the moment and there is a particular scene I've just started writing that I really need to get right. It's one of the oddest parts of the whole story and I need it to flow well, to be interesting and to seem somehow plausible even though it is complete and utter fantasy.

    So I thought I'd submit an extract from the first draft of the scene for your consideration.

    The scene takes place in a sort of underworld called 'England Underground' or 'The Land of the Buried Dead'. It is ruled over by the ghosts/spirits of dead or lost places.

    The novel itself is an Urban Fantasy about an immortal fox spirit. At the time of this story she has been around for a long time and lived in many places but her Japanese origins still shine through from time to time. Which is why she refers to the spirits depicted in this scene as 'Kami'. Another name for them would be Genius Loci.

    Any and all criticism is welcome but I'm particularly interested in the following things -

    - Grammar and punctuation. Particularly sentence structure and whether or not I'm using commas correctly. I've taken one or two liberties with sentence length to make the narration sound more like speech but mostly I'm trying to follow grammatical rules while making the sentences flow as well as I can.

    - The narrator's voice. Is she engaging? Can you see her personality shining through, (as far as is possible in this small extract)?

    - The descriptions of the Kami. Are they interesting? Do they catch your imagination? Is Kami an appropriate name for them?



    Extract begins under this line




    The Herald was the first truly bright thing I had seen since entering England Underground. He wore an overlapping series of steel plates that had been polished to a mirror shine. His face was obscured by a silver death-mask that looked like the face of a beautiful but terribly sad youth. His hands were encased in silver-chased metal gauntlets, even his boots were metal. With no breath and no scent to give him away I couldn’t even swear that the Herald had a body underneath his armour.

    He said nothing, only gestured us to follow him up the stone stairs and immediately began to clank his way up them.

    We followed him.

    We followed him for a long time.

    Long enough that my legs began to burn from the effort and Darren began to sway a little and lean more heavily against my side.

    I thought about leaving him tucked against the wall, safe and sound while I had my audience with the lords of the Buried Dead. But something might happen to him while I was gone, maybe something messy, possibly something permanent.

    Best to keep him where I could see him. My boss was fond of him after all.

    At last the steps ended and we emerged onto the flat top of a stone tower. It was at least four stories high and perfectly circular. I would have considered it a wonder of engineering if I’d thought that it had been made by human hands.

    Actually I’d have preferred the tower if it had been made by mortals; they would have remembered to put in a guard rail or some battlements. Or at the very least put up some kind of sign to helpfully remind people that falling off a building could be bad for their health. I stepped towards the edge so that I could look out from it, but tightened my grip on Darren’s arm in case a surge of drunken bravado sent him too far forward. It was a long way down with nothing to break his fall except the ground. And this was not the soft and forgiving kind of ground.

    At least the view was impressive.

    The Great Court of England Underground was a vast chamber carved out of raw bedrock. The distant ceiling was as smooth as polished marble, though the slender pillars that supported it looked like stalactites which had grown down to the floor over many thousands of years. Large braziers jutted out of the pillars at irregular intervals, burning with pale ghost-fire.

    The titanic figures of Kami sat or strode amongst the pillars, following their own inscrutable purposes. Each one was the spirit of a place that had died or that had changed so much that it was as good as dead. Roman forts and forgotten castles, abandoned settlements and burned out buildings.

    These were not creatures of flesh or even of bone; their bodies reflected the places they had once been, cut stone and fertile earth, broad timbers and bricks of clay, hot iron and belching smoke.

    I saw one figure made of glass and steel, with strips of fine fabric draped over its shoulders and a shuddering mass of clockwork housed in its transparent chest. I thought it might be the spirit of the Great Exhibition.

    The Herald interrupted my thoughts by moving past us and sweeping a gleaming steel arm towards three particularly immense Kami that sat or lounged on three stone seats directly opposite us.

    When the Herald spoke his voice was not muted, it was high and brassy like the tolling of a well-polished bell.

    “The Law of Three is in effect so three judges will hear this case. Let their names be known.”

    He pointed to each Kami in turn.

    “Old Sarum.” Giant though it was this Judge radiated the kind of quiet and ascetic dignity that I identified with mountain hermits and isolated holy men. It looked something like a king and something like the bones of a long dead city; it was made of white and grey stone clothed in grassy earth, its face was wise and immobile as a statue’s and a ring of battlements jutted out of the top of its skull, like a crown. Its throne was made of the same stone as its body, which gave the disturbing impression that it was trapped in this place for all eternity. Perhaps it was.

    “Bridges Fallen.” This Kami looked something like a giant human torso with arms and a head but no legs. Its arms were long expanses of shaped timber and cracked wooden planks while its central mass was mostly chunks of cut rock partially covered by a scaly mass of flagstones and cobblestones. Two metal struts stuck out of its neck in a V-shape, framing a constantly shifting face of smoke and dust. Its eyes were embers. It sat on the skeleton of a throne; a series of rocky struts that formed the outline of a giant chair.

    “Coria.” Of all the assembled Judges this was only one that seemed to be enjoying itself, or even of being capable of enjoying itself. Instead of a throne it reclined on a great stone couch. It held a winter-blasted cherry tree in one stony hand. Occasionally it would lower the tree to its mouth like a bunch of grapes and bite off a few branches, displaying glinting steel teeth as it chewed the treat. Its worn and pitted body was made of packed flint and concrete, striped here and there with rows of tiles. Brightly painted mosaic tiles adorned the front of its head, forming the picture of a human man’s face. It wore the rusted remains of a great iron helmet which looked to me like it had once belonged to a Roman legionary.
     
  2. Stuart Suffel

    Stuart Suffel Well-Known Member

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    I don't do grammar. Re questions 2/ Yes, engaging, and yes I get a sense of her personality. Cautious, calm and in control. Re 3/ Yes interesting.
    General comments: lotta info, even though it is interesting. The reference to Darren a bit confusing. At first I thought he was a child, then he's a drunk adult? Might be better to clarify EXACTLY who he is in a sentence at the beginning. By "who" I mean his role or purpose in the story. Something brief. There's enough going on at the mo, without a side story. Overall, some nice prose. If reduced, I reckon it'd be perfect.
     
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  3. dannymcg

    dannymcg Raoul Mitgong won't help

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    Hello. Had a little read through it. One thing that stands out is maybe an overabundance of 'like' or 'looked like' . I appreciate you're in descriptive mode but it seems to pop up a lot in such a short piece. A couple of places I don't think it was even needed. Just my opinion.
    Danny
     
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  4. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    I do like this piece - I thought you kept it engaging and moving forward nicely.

    My one personal reservation was introducing the the three judges - your descriptions come across as very detailed yet very different to the point where I found myself skipping because there was too much information. I wonder if perhaps you could introduce them faster, reducing the amount of time you spend with each. My impression is that at this stage they are mainly important just for this scene, but you spend nearly a full printed page just describing them all. Wonderful though your descriptions are, brevity might be better. There's an argument that says the skill of a writer is not in describing things with precision, but instead with as few words as possible - enough for the reader to make their own image.
     
  5. LittleStar

    LittleStar Well-Known Member

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    I really liked the piece (I'm glad your title gets built on well(y)). You write well, some really nice descriptions and great ideas (really like the ghosts of dead places), which is all very engaging. Just quickly, without knowing what Kami specifically means in japanese (I assume) if anything, then I think it's a good name for them, no need to change.

    I'm not a grammar buff, but nothing stuck out to me as wrong or out of place, so I say it's fine as is. Your character voice comes across nicely, i can get a good sense of them. My only nitpick would be you tend to put in quite a few unnessecary 'I thought' or 'I expected' etc. for me. 'i identified' was the one that caught me.

    Though you have really nice descriptions, I feel like the final three in the extract were a bit too much. I liked them, but found myself trying not (and failing sometimes) to skim over them. Partly due t the formulaic description; what they remind the narrator of -> what they are made of -> what they are sitting on...
    Three important characters for the scene, but three big blocks of description to introduce them, and for character introduction, I'm a less is more kind of reader/writer. I wonder if there is a way to break them up, or at least add in the info in a less telling way, in speech tag actions or something.
    Intro of the Herald stood out for me as well. For me its enough to say full suit of shining armour, rather than each individual piece described. It's the same as introing a character and telling facial features, hair colour, eye colour, clothing, how they walked, and their quirky actions, all in one paragraph before we even realise a character entered the room.

    Let's get to know who they are before knowing how/what they are :)

    Good work though.
     
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  6. tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    Either I'm dense or this interface doesn't like me
    I liked this, you have some great descriptors.
    I think that you could benefit from tightening things and making better use of description while remove excess verbiage.

    What I mean by that is you need to take what you have in the first paragraph and distill it down to the absolute description.
    ::
    Truly the first bright thing since entering England Underground, was Herald. Decked in a series of overlapping steel plates, polished to a mirror shine. Face obscured by a silver death-mask depicting the countenance of beautiful yet somber youth. Hands encased in silver-chased gauntlets and feet in boots of metal. Deathly silent he bore no breath or scent from which I could detect life beneath; and only the clank of armour betrayed the animation of his arm, entreating us to follow him up long stone steps.
    ::
    Normally I wouldn't swap the sentence around that much but it seemed so right for that first sentence and though you could drop the Truly I left it in.

    Some of what you have within that paragraph slow the sentences and border on passivity. More direct and concise might work better.
    But that's just me and it might not work for your style, although I would still advise some work on cutting the fat.

    Removing some of the had's and were's and that had been and that looked like. Depending on the mood and pace you want it may help or not.
     
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  7. December88

    December88 Well-Known Member

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    Hey Inari, I thought this was very cool, especially the characters. Although there's no 'action' per say, I think the unique characters themselves (the herald immediately caught my attention), are interesting enough to offset that.

    The narrator's voice is engaging, and yes her personality does flow through well, but since 3/4th of this piece is pretty much description, I didn't get as much of her personality as I'd have liked. Since this is probably not the start of your novel however, I think that's fine. You are after all, introducing us to this sprawling court sort of thing underground and.

    That being said, you have a gift for description. I'm repeating myself, but once again, very nice imagery, especially the three judges. They're so strange and yet, the cues you gave me allowed me to fill in the gaps and draw up some really cool pictures in my head. Brian does make a point though, you've spent one big paragraph for each judge. It might be fine, but it might tempt readers to skim. If you can maybe knock of one sentence from each of those paras, it would be a better fit for those prone to skimming.

    I know I'm not being very constructive, but for what its worth, I think this is very good and reads like a professional work. Would read on!
     
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  8. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee Come away, oh human child - Waters and the Wild

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    Line by line below in bold. I see none of the grammar guys have turned up. I'm no grammar specialist but I'll pick out any that stand out

    Mostly those are all small things. I think this is a good piece and very little about the grammar threw me off.
     
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  9. Martin Robert

    Martin Robert Active Member

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    Why is the part about following on 3 lines? Seems unnecessary. Kind of recurring theme - don't think you need to break it up this much.

    I'd ditch the fist "and" - 2 sentences...
    4 stories seems pretty meager for a super long climb.

    I'd probably insert commas in several sentences, but don't know if it's required grammar.

    The title and your description had me thinking more like poltergeist type things, but these Nami have interesting descriptions.
     
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  10. Inari Writer

    Inari Writer Well-Known Member

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    Hi all. Thank you so much for all your thoughts and feedback so far. They've been very helpful and encouraging.

    I'll start going through and answering any questions in individual posts soon. I also have a shorter version of the description of the Judges which I'll post soon as a few of you have mentioned that this part of the extract is over-long.
     
  11. Inari Writer

    Inari Writer Well-Known Member

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    Thanks.

    For context I should explain that this scene is about two thirds of the way through the story so Darren would have been introduced to the reader at this point.

    He is an adult. He has been given a draught of a very strong magical whiskey, (or at least Inari refers to it as whiskey), which allows him to interact with the spirit world. He is definitely drunk and possibly slightly trippy.

    It is possible that Inari is over-stating Darren's helplessness to make herself look better. I'm not entirely sure myself.
     
  12. Inari Writer

    Inari Writer Well-Known Member

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    Thanks.

    That is worth me bearing in mind. I do tend to use phrases such as 'it looked like ...' in order to avoid using straightforward adjectives.

    The idea is to make my prose distinct and memorable. But I'll try to be careful not to over-use the same expressions as I don't want them to become grating.
     
  13. Inari Writer

    Inari Writer Well-Known Member

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    Thanks.

    I'll post a cut down version of this description soon.
     
  14. Inari Writer

    Inari Writer Well-Known Member

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    Thanks.

    I might post a cut down version of the Herald's description as well. One thing that, on reflection, I'm definitely going to do is take 'truly' out of the first sentence.

    'The Herald was the first bright thing I had seen since entering England Underground.'

    That has more impact I think. Particularly as the previous scene describes everything in England Underground as drab, dirty, rusted, pitted, worn etc.

    When I write the second draft I'll definitely look at the 'hads' and 'weres' etc to see if they should/could be cut.

    I think once I've finished the first draft I can fine tune Inari's voice. (That goes for my tendency to use similes in place of adjectives as well).
     
  15. Inari Writer

    Inari Writer Well-Known Member

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    Thanks.

    That's very encouraging!

    I hope you like the trimmed description of the Judges once it's posted.
     
  16. Inari Writer

    Inari Writer Well-Known Member

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    Thanks.

    Very comprehensive and constructive advice!
     
  17. Inari Writer

    Inari Writer Well-Known Member

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    Thanks.

    I should add some context to the description of the climb.

    This is a subterranean realm and Inari starts the climb in a chamber which is bellow the Court. So the climb starts below the 'ground level' of the chamber where this scene takes place, so Inari has actually climbed more than 4 stories. In the novel itself I'll either explain that or change it, depending on what works best.
     
  18. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

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    I really like this, and I'd totally read this in full. Right up my street, to the point where I've got a synopsis drafted for a fox spirit story myself :)

    A few thoughts...

    I agree with Brian's comments on the intro of the judges. It reads like a bullet pointed list. I'd drip feed some of that in as they talk. If were describing just one it would be OK, but three makes it seem a bit like a list.

    There's places you could tighten things. A few examples...

    "His face was obscured by a silver death-mask that looked like the face of a beautiful but terribly sad youth. His hands were encased in silver-chased metal gauntlets..." Change to "A silver death-mask obscured his face..." and "Silver-chased metal gauntlets encased his hands..." for a more active/ less passive voice construct. This is minor, but it tends to accelerate the pace of things and cuts words.

    There's a few missing commas, like " “Old Sarum.” Giant though it was comma this Judge radiated..."

    Old Surum's description could easily be cut to "It looked something like a king and something like the bones of a long dead city; grey stone clothed in grassy earth, its face wise and immobile as a statue’s, a crown of battlements jutting from its skull."

    There's more like this but I'm down to wordsmithing. Overall I love the feel. Bridges Fallen is a wicked name. Nice job.
     
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  19. RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet Well-Known Member

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    Wonderful imagination. I love it :)
     
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  20. Paul_C

    Paul_C Well-Known Member

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    One piece of annoying pedantry coming up (or if I'm wrong about this, a fine example of leaping without properly looking). . . after a quick google to confirm my thoughts, I would have thought chased-silver gauntlets would be a better description, as chasing is a technique applied to a formed object to add ornamentation and neither adds or removes any material (so the word metal is unnecessary when silver has already been used).
     
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