Covering Ground

Toby Frost

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A cavalry unit is riding north to try to seize ground before an enemy army can take it, to force the enemy to fight at a disadvantage. Albrecht and Margot are riding with them. The rest of the army is marching up behind them. The terrain is rather like the South Tyrol, so a mixture of Italian and Austrian. Nightwing is a friendly wyvern.

My main question is whether it all all feels convincing: in particular, the pacing of the riding and the look of the countryside. Any other thoughts would be welcomed too.

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They followed the road north. There had been a little rain during the night, and the ground was firm enough. By the time that the cannon trains and the camp followers walked this way, Albrecht reckoned, it would be thick mud.

The Hundred Swords rode in a fast trot that sped into a canter and then dropped down again as the horses tired. Albrecht saw riders move up the column and drop away as they pushed and rested their horses. Several riders nodded to him; one old fellow waved and smiled.

“This is how we used to do it,” Albrecht called to Margot. “This is how you cover ground quickly.”

She grinned at him. “No,” she replied, “that is.” She pointed, and he saw a vast shadow sweep over the land like a wave. He looked up and saw Nightwing soaring overhead.

They rode through a sea of fields, many of them staked with vines. A outcrop of grey stone rose from the fields like the back of a whale breaking the surface, and on top of it was a white church with a high steeple. The church was silent as they rode past.

Chunks of forest broke up the landscape; conifers jabbed upwards like barbed arrowheads. On both sides, the hills began to rise into mountains.

The sun shone, but the air was cold and fresh and full of the scent of pines. This was cavalry country, Albrecht thought. His mind drew lines across the fields like those in the old military textbooks: thrusts forward and arcing blows to the flanks like hooked punches to catch an enemy by surprise.

“Beautiful place, isn’t it?” Margot called to him.

For now, he thought. “You’d hardly know there was a war on!” he shouted back.

The sun swung across the sky and they rode for as long as they dared. As dusk set in, Francesco slowed the column to a walk, and then sent the signal to stop. A farm stood a mile to the east, apparently abandoned. Its walls would give them some cover if they were attacked. Too bad we couldn’t hold that church, Albrecht thought, but it was too far behind. What mattered now was taking ground, picking the place where they would fight.
 

sule

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They rode through a sea of fields, many of them staked with vines. A outcrop of grey stone rose from the fields like the back of a whale breaking the surface, and on top of it was a white church with a high steeple. The church was silent as they rode past.

Chunks of forest broke up the landscape; conifers jabbed upwards like barbed arrowheads. On both sides, the hills began to rise into mountains.

The sun shone, but the air was cold and fresh and full of the scent of pines. This was cavalry country, Albrecht thought. His mind drew lines across the fields like those in the old military textbooks: thrusts forward and arcing blows to the flanks like hooked punches to catch an enemy by surprise.
This might sound strange, but these three paragraphs was where the pacing got the most choppy for me. I think it was the shortness of the middle paragraph specifically. That this was cut into three paragraphs that were only a few sentences long each made the passage of time feel a bit rushed (at least to me) like we were jumping quickly through the setting without enough description to ground me in the place before it moved on to the next thing. It might just have been that this was cut into three paragraphs; it's possible that I might not have noticed the jumpiness of it if the second paragraph was attached to the top of the third. The description in that third paragraph is great, by the way. I love that Albrecht is interpreting his surroundings.
 

Toby Frost

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That's very helpful: I always find these kind of "time passes" scenes hard to write without them becoming choppy and episodic. Maybe it needs a bit more explanation. Thanks!
 

HareBrain

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The problem for me is that your paragraphs feels quite isolated; they don't run smoothly one to the next. For example, the start of your second paragraph, about the horses speeding to a canter, follows logically from "the ground was firm enough". But in between, you have the bit about the cannons and the mud. And the mud goes nowhere, meaning you have to start a new para. If you chopped the mud line, you could (and probably should) leave out the paragraph break. Or if you keep it, I think you have to find a way to bleed it into the next paragraph.

Then you have the bit with Nightwing. That's a dead end too, and you then have to start again from scratch. But in a passage like this, I think you need the whole thing to read as smoothly as possible. What Sule says about those three middle paras is true, but I think it would still be somewhat choppy if they were joined together, because they feel self-contained. I agree the best bit is where Albrecht is describing his surroundings through the filter of his thoughts. This makes it feel like the description is coming from him rather than a film-director author.
 

Toby Frost

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Thanks - I really find it very difficult to describe it in any other way. If I went on a long journey, and had to sum it up, I'd have a couple of vague overall descriptions (the countryside was very green) interpersed with small details (a statue I passed, the cafe I ate in, etc). I'm not saying that my approach is "right" or can't be improved, but I find it very hard to work out how to improve it. Perhaps more of Albrecht's thoughts would tie it together.
 

msstice

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I wonder if it would be better if you took a bit more time with the descriptions. Each sentence could be expanded into a paragraph. That by itself would slow things down, and perhaps give the sense of time passing. So you could describe the landscape a bit more, describe the riders a bit more, and so on.
 

.matthew.

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Before I even read this, I have to know, is this from the series you're currently working on?.. because I don't want any spoilers :)
 

Brian G Turner

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One thing I'm missing from this is a sense of feeling. There are a lot of objective descriptions, but how does Albrecht actually feel about all this? Is he exhilerated, tired, does it remind him of his youth, does the landscape remind him of anywhere else, is he alert for ambushes or fear what news returning scouts might bring, is he confident and impatient, etc. I don't expect you to cover all these bases, but at the moment I would recommend you consider putting some character emotion in to break up the list of observations.
 

Toby Frost

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Cheers guys. The passage is quite late in a sequence of fantasy novels, and we're nearing the big battle that will be the first part of the climax of the story. A magical spy has reported that the enemy are closer than the characters think, and so they have sent a force of cavalry to seize a useful position for the battle ahead - which is a risky tactic in itself. So perhaps Albrecht could be feeling that risk more, although he'd be very focused on moving quickly (there's some talky passages when they stop at night). I'm trying to be realistic or at least credible with the technology, which is why they're not riding at full gallop.
 

crystal haven

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I like this, and haven't much to add really. I would perhaps like to feel the movement and sounds of the horse as he's riding, the worry about pushing them too hard, the urgency of the situation causing the added worry if he doesn't move quickly. The landscape worked for me except for the whale description which took me away from the scene in my head. I hope my thoughts help a bit.
 

Bren G

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I had no trouble picturing it and think the advice thus far is sound. It certainly grabbed my attention too. And so, I'd offer just a coupla comments to draw your reader in even more.

Your first lines are critical. Yours clearly indicate there is a war on and that there is a marching army + Nightwings rule the skies. I can see it and I'm interested from the get-go. What I would like to know is some sense of mystery from the beginning. If I'm curious, I am more likely to read through. So for example, if the 100 Swords are retreating, you might say something like :

Albrecht muttered a bitter curse as they followed the road north. There had been a little rain during the night, and though the ground was firm enough, by the time the cannon trains and the camp followers walked this way, it would be thick mud. But that was the least of his worries as he wondered how they had arrived here. Yesterday's battle was all but won, Margot's legion had just taken the Sherwood Forest and prepared for the final surge of the Keep. But then the Mage arrived, shattered their forward ranks and reversed everything they had fought so hard for. That type of power was unheard of, unless one believed the tales from the days of Legends. How was it that it possessed so much power?

Great start !

Bren G
 

Phyrebrat

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Sorry I'm late to this. I think it's clean, well-written and all I need to know. What are your thoughts on it? What were you worried you were ding or not doing?

The only thing that occured to be, was when Nightwing flew over. Is he inured to that image, because the way it's described sounds pretty impressive but he doesn't make any note of it. Thing is, I'm not familiar with your playworld so not sure if he knows about this already, so ignore otherwise.

I'd read on.

pH
 

Guanazee

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Hello, I'm new here. I enjoyed your excerpt.

I generally like long explanations of scenery and backstory in my fiction so I had no problem overall with your piece. It might help a bit to change up how the scenery is experienced with the other senses. Like perhaps he's hot and sweaty on the road but coolness creeps up on him as he rides into the shadow of the looming mountains, etc.
 

Toby Frost

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Hello! That's a good idea. I think more about how the landscape affects him would be good. By this point, Albrecht is pretty used to Nightwing, who operates as a scout and something of a mascot for the others.

What are your thoughts on it? What were you worried you were ding or not doing?
Good question! I think it's a general "Does this work?" as much as anything. I'm very happy writing scenes that are effectively describing activity beat by beat (he said this, she did that in response, etc), but I'm less confident with scenes where time passes and the action is summarised into overall sensations and particularly notable details.

EDIT: interestingly, I asked quite a similar question about a journey scene in an SF story about a year ago. It must be something I feel particularly unsure about as a writer.
 
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