Joust Night

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
Richard Cleaver and Helen Frampton are two spies working for the same agency. Cleaver is human (and something of a mess), and Frampton is a rather prim android. They have been instructed to travel to another planet, Ravnavar, and are having a night out before leaving their home, Wilhelmina City. Wilhelmina is vaguely cyberpunk, but meant to be less hellish than most such places. As with all of this story, I've tried to make the settings interesting, but not to go into too much detail.

Seen from above, the skyscrapers of Wilhelmina City formed a crazy pavement of roofs, studded with sunlights and roof gardens, swimming pools, penthouses, helipads and radar dishes. But they were also stages. Every night, holographic projectors beamed logos and advertisements into the sky, to hover just above the city. You could pick out a building by the huge glowing mascot that towered above it.

And one a month, on joust night, the holograms did battle. The rooftops became steps in a giants’ causeway, and the mascots moved through a linked network, steered by experts in the buildings they represented. Sometimes they literally fought: great slapstick battles where holograms tossed each other around the skyline. More often, they played soccer.

Frampton and Cleaver stood on the roof of the Harmony Enterprises building, a light breeze ruffling his hair. Around him, drinkers at Le Manoir Boulet raised their glasses to the vast ghosts that strode across the rooftops. Three young men in suits burst out laughing. A blonde woman in a white dress slid past, holding a bottle. Cleaver glanced at her, finding her perfection as irritating as it was attractive. His eyes moved instinctively to her hand, saw a wedding ring, and he looked away.

A waitress in an apron approached, holding a metal box. “Bets on the outcome, anyone? All profits go to the Imperial Legion, looking after our returning soldiers.” Cleaver rooted about in his pocket for paper money.

“So,” Miss Frampton asked, “who do you think will win tonight?”

“I’m backing old Piglet there,” Cleaver said, pointing to a sixty-foot pink monster. “He’s wicked at centre forward.” The waitress smiled, as if he’d made a joke.

An immense figure slid up in the centre of the city like a missile rising from its silo. It was a soldier in battle armour. A lion crouched at the soldier’s feet. The huge soldier scanned the horizon, turning slowly on the spot. A speech bubble appeared beside him: “Support our heroes! Donate to the Legion!”

Miss Frampton was studying the holograms. “If you ask me,” she said, “I would back Ostrich Knight. Averaged over the last twenty-five joust nights, his form is consistently impressive.”

“Ostrich Knight it is,” Cleaver said. “Ten quid on Ostrich Knight.”

He put ten pounds Adjusted Sterling into the box that the waitress carried. Cleaver leaned against the balcony and watched the giant soldier fade away. A football appeared where he had been, a globe fifteen feet across. The mascots strode forward, waving to their supporters.

Cleaver looked to his left. Miss Frampton stood beside him, gazing up at the holograms as if entranced. The giant piglet gave her skin a lurid pink glow. Ostrich Knight strutted past, stopped and lifted his lance. She waved at him, and Cleaver followed suit.

“I love this,” Cleaver said.

“Joust night?”

“All of it. The holograms, the evening, all of it. The city looks beautiful from up here. And, ah, it's nice to be here with you.”

“Really, Mr Cleaver,” she replied. “You are quite sentimental sometimes.”

“But I’m right.”

She looked at him and smiled. He wondered if the other people on the roof thought that they were a couple. “I’m glad you like it,” she said. “But trust me, Mr Cleaver: compared to what happens on Ravnavar, this is nothing.”

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002
The setting seems well-realized and I don't see anything immediately wrong with the writing. However I don't get much of a sense of POV in this excerpt - you've focused very much on visual elements, rather than the character experience.

The first 2 paragraphs really underline this - the first is a distant visual image (which doesn't actually apply to the scene, which is not from above) and the second is an infodump you could work into the scene as the characters view them.

You do show a couple of thoughts, but not much and they're superficial - I'd like to see more focus on the character experience and less focus on physical actions - which really work in lieu of this - to create a stronger and more engaging POV.



Non-human Protagonist
Apr 18, 2017
Wilhelmina has an interesting feel to it and I particularly like the idea of rooftop holographic games. I think the only thing I have a comment for is the first two paragraphs, and it really isn't much of an issue for me. It was a little disconnected from the rest of the scene and felt more like an opening crawl than part of the narrative.

I was immersed at paragraph 3 and stayed that way through the end of the scene. The setting felt real and was a smooth read, so I quite enjoyed it.

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Nov 10, 2008
nearly the New Forest
I enjoyed it. It's as well written as always with your work, and the description was fine for me -- though it wouldn't have hurt to have it shown through Cleaver's eyes or through dialogue rather than your omniscient narrator of the first two paras. But I have to confess it felt as if it were only a bit of filling/padding, as if we're simply marking time before something actually happens. Presumably something occurs in the rest of the scene which is important to the plot? If not, I'd question what we're doing here.

A few nit-picks/things that stopped me as I was reading:
  • But they were also stages. -- I had to re-read this and the adjoining lines a couple of times before cottoning on what it meant. I initially thought "stages" was as in a step or a part of a journey, which didn't make sense with what followed, and then I thought there was a typo and it should have "But there were also stages" before I got what you were saying. For me it was unnecessarily confusing, and I'm still not sure the skyscrapers themselves are stages, if the holograms are hovering above them.
  • And one a month --- once
  • Frampton and Cleaver stood on the roof of the Harmony Enterprises building, a light breeze ruffling his hair. Around him -- since you've mentioned both of them in this way, and lead with her, the "his" and "him" seem wrong and I feel they ought to be "their" and "them". If you want to keep the focus on him, I'd suggest "Cleaver stood with Frampton..." making him the subject of the sentence. Though I have to say it seems odd to describe a man's hair in this way -- it seems more something a woman would notice, and the use of "ruffling" doesn't feel very masculine somehow.
  • It was a soldier in battle armour. A lion crouched at the soldier’s feet. The huge soldier -- I'd suggest dropping the "It was" and replacing it with a colon or long dash. And the three uses of "soldier" in three short sentences is a bit ungainly.
  • Cleaver looked to his left. Miss Frampton stood beside him, -- you've told us they're both standing there, and since they're talking to each other, we can guess she's beside him, so this and the "looked" line really feel like padding.
  • “But trust me, Mr Cleaver: compared to what happens on Ravnavar, this is nothing.” -- this seems very much a non sequitur, since there's not been anything particularly dramatic happening here anyway.

Anyhow, a good scene on which to build. I'm looking forward to seeing more.

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
Thanks everyone. I think those are all good comments and I'll be taking them on board. I agree that it needs a bit "more" in terms of character and plot. Someone (I think either Pat Cadigan or Bruce Sterling) talked the "eyeball kick", an arresting (visual) mental image, and I think I was concentrating on this too much.

Thanks everyone!

Joshua Jones

Well-Known Member
Apr 6, 2017
You've caught my interest. That said, I agree that it ought to be tightened up a bit. The visuals are great, but I agree with the previous comments about the first two paragraphs. I think you are capable of working that information into the narrative and make it more character focused from the outset.

Also, I didn't realize Brits used Soccer and Football to describe the same game. I was under the impression that Soccer was an American term, and Football is what the rest of the world called it. Learn something new every day...

But yes, it is a great start to a story, and I look forward to seeing where it goes!


Watching you from upside down
Oct 7, 2016
I thought this was fantastic, really engaging. Their banter was well done. Some niggles:

I saw JJ noted the football/soccer thing. Given the otherwise future-Brit style surely it would be called football?

The paragraph starting "Frampton and Cleaver stood on the roof ..." was awkward for me. Initially the jump from giant holograms to discussion of fellow guests had me double and triple-checking to see whether the people mentioned were actually holograms - which wasn't helped by the woman in white sliding. I found "slid" to be an odd motive choice as well. I found Cleaver's reaction to her not quite convincing either, it seemed a little awkward or forced, and I've never seen an automatic check for rings - if she's walking past it could easily be on the wrong side to be easily seen, ring could be hidden behind the bottle she's holding, etc.

Plucky Novice

Eat sleep write repeat
May 11, 2018
I quite enjoyed it and liked the concept. There were aspects of the world that didn't quite stack up for me which made it difficult to be immersed in the experience.

I wasn't sure why they were playing football on joust night. I didn't find understand how you could bet on one player winning a team sport, the betting was based on jousting, a football appeared and a player walked past holding a lance. Trying to make sense of that pulled me out of the story.

I thought there were some opportunities to bring in a few character points. We might have learned his motivation for checking for the wedding ring for example. Maybe he had his favourite drink that reminds him of a past time, event or person.

I definitely wanted to explore the world further though so primary aim fulfilled if that's what you were going for.

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
Thanks guys, that's very helpful. Ironically, I called it "soccer" rather than "football" to be clear that it was the British version!

The wedding ring thing is simply that - for plot reasons - Cleaver is single and lonely. He is both reliant on and somewhat attracted to Frampton, who is simply incapable of reciprocating. While he knows this, it's hard to shift, although he's certainly interested in the women around him. (This is actually really hard to write, especially since he's an adult and not prone to much emoting). Anyway, I'm glad that it's proved interesting and that people would read on. I've got a story planned, very roughly, so we'll see how it goes from here!

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Apr 9, 2016
It didn't speak to me, and the first two surface reasons I can give for that are:

a) Soccer. I think even in an American market, the use of pounds sterling would indicate this is British and therefore what football you meant. But even were that not the case, it still jars.

b) The line “But trust me, Mr Cleaver: compared to what happens on Ravnavar, this is nothing.” for exactly the same reasons The Judge gives.

It is possible I'd like it more in context in a story, when the details have more resonance to them. On their own, the details need more happening. The only thing that really seems to be here is setting exposition and subtle character development. I did like the character development though. The detail about the ring I thought spoke a whole lot with a single sentence.
May 27, 2018
Elkins Park PA
The problem that hit me is that from start to finish this is you, explaining the story (have the computer read it aloud and you'll hear how different what you hear as you read is from what the reader gets). Remember, you place emotion into the narrator's voice because you are the narrator. But the reader can neither hear that voice nor know what the line will say.

Yes, we learn what happens, so far as events and cinematic detail, but we learn nothing about how people in the story think, and what drives them to act. For example, why is the protagonist there on that roof? Dunno. When the woman passes, our protagonist notices her ring and looks away. Why do I, as a reader, care that he wasn't interested in a passing stranger if I know nothing about either of them? And if he ignores her, and doesn't react to the waitress, why does he wonder if the others, who are going about their own business, think he and a waitress—someone not important enough to have a name—might be a couple? If the thought matters enough that I must spend several seconds learning about it, shouldn't I know why? Does he want her? Is it bad if people think he may be interested? Unless I know what I have no context for why it matters enough to take up my time. Remember, the reader comes to you to be entertained, not simply informed.

The reported events might be relevant to the story, but because you're focused on visual plot events rather than presenting the viewpoint of our protagonist, there's no way to tell. But fair is fair. It is his story. If he's our protagonist—our avatar—shouldn't we know what matters to him, and why, so we'll care, and react? If we write horror, for example, our goal isn't to make the reader know the protagonist feels terror, Readers want us to terrorize them, and make them afraid to turn out the lights. But factual reporting of events can't do that.

So, instead of you talking about what happens on the mental screen you're watching as you write, place the reader into the story as the protafgonist. If we know what matters to the protagonist in the moment s/he calls "now;" if we know why, and what resources the protagonist has; if we know what the protagonist is trying to accomplish, and why that matters, our own responses will be keyed to that of the protagonist, and we'll react as that person—and feel as if we're living the scene with the protagonist as our avatar. And isn't that more fun than just learning what we would see on the screen were we in the theater?
Frampton and Cleaver stood on the roof of the Harmony Enterprises building, a light breeze ruffling his hair.
I'm confused. "His hair?" Is Frampton and Cleaver one person? You speak as if the reader will know them/him, by seeing the names. But because you present nothing but the names, we don't know why they're in that particular roof at that time. But we should, so as to have context for what's said and done.

In short, a good deal of the story, items that you take for granted, never made it to the page. That's because you're telling the story, and know the details well, so you don't notice that important details—things the reader needs—are missing.

That's why it's better to present a story from within the viewpoint of the protagonist. That way, as the protagonist takes into account the things that will motivate him/her to act, the reader does too, and will always have context. That matters, because without context, they're just words.

It's not a matter of bad or good writing, talent, or even the story. It's that there are some tricks of the trade that we're not taught in our school days—tricks that are worth the time to acquire and polish. As Mark Twain so wisely observed, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

So a bit of time spent on your writer's education, in the library's fiction writing section, would pay huge dividends, and make the act of writing not only easier, but more fun, too.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
Thanks. I agree with what you're saying, but I do think that some of the viewpoint criticism can be answered. This isn't the start, and the characters are acting in character as already established. There's a sort of feedback loop in characterisation: if we know X is worried about getting fat, then we see X looking hungrily at some cakes, then walking away, we can probably tell what's going on in his mind. And if that struggle not to eat the cakes is not terribly important for the book, I think that level of detail can be enough. Anyway, this is something of an attempt to write in a more stripped-down style to usual, so I'm certainly taking your thoughts into account.

The hair thing is simply a typo.


Character Nerd
Oct 6, 2011
I cant think of anything to say except "it feels Asmovian."
"I would keep reading."
not terribly helpful feedback I know... :) sorry about that.

Similar threads