It is winter and dark, and all the birds have fled

ckatt

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Hi and thanks so much for reading. I'm very grateful.
This is the first scene in a short story. I'm trying to keep the word count down while still including enough detail to not lose the reader.
How am I doing? Too many adjectives?
Is there enough information conveyed to keep you reading? If there are too many unanswered questions, I may add another scene to precede this one. But I wanted to start in media res, as they say. Do you have enough motivation from the protagonist? If no, could you wait for the next scene or would you need to get it here to avoid losing interest?
Also playing a bit with sentence length. Any of them getting too long for your taste. Or too short?

Thanks again


scene 1

It is winter and dark, and all the birds have fled the stronghold. A thread of wind rustles the leaves above, and frosted stone bites my bare soles. A rasped whisper hisses into the garden from the corridor, perking my ears and forcing a glance back before I duck between a column and a trellis still covered in brown vines and crispy leaves.

An ogre of a man, stumpy yellow tusks, says, "He can only have come this way."

"This way," says his bent comrade, thin finger pointed across the garden path. His other hand clutches a clinking blue chain that he silences against his ribs. He veers left and the other right.

My lungs burn with frigid air. It takes all my focus not to cough. I know you are back at home, in the nest waiting for me, wishing I'd never left. Part of me wishes that now. But the brave part knows I did what I must. They would have come for me no matter else.

"Over there," I parrot the second man's voice. "Back, under the arch."

The ogre whips his head about, uncertain from which direction my voice has come. "What?"

With a shake of his head, the bent man lifts a palm for silence. My ruse has failed like my mission. Victor still breathes. There is little left I can do.

The pair step toward my hiding place but have not spotted me yet. The one with the chain crouches low to the path, scrutinizing the flagstones in the moonlight. He's clad in a red wool cloak but has no house broach at his shoulder. Looking up at his large partner, he nods towards the trellis. They approach slowly, one to each side. I clench my eyes, looking inward, and constrict my arms tight against my body. I force my heart faster. Only one chance for this. Exhausted and naked, I fear I haven't the warmth to escape.

The ingot of heat at my core swells. My bare skin fizzles from the cold then prickles from a thousand tiny quills breaking through, still sheathed as new feathers are. My incisors fuse together and jut forward as my nose shrivels flat, forming a cere. It's happening too fast. My arms are tacky with blood. I've pushed too hard. But it's not hard enough.

"Got him" barks the ogre man as his hand seizes my blood-slick arm, dragging me out. The other wraps his chain around my neck. Its enchantment stuns me, and I crumple to the ground. A shamble of feathers bloody and arms long, half bent into wings. But the ogre doesn't loosen his grip.

"Thought you'd take flight on us, eh?" He swings a kick to my gut that would have sent something up, had I eaten in the past two days. Coughing and squawking, I grope in all directions.

The ogre laughs while the red cloak hooks a bronze lock onto the chain and clicks it tight. My head explodes with pain, and they drag me across the stones, back into the dim corridor.

Their words filter through the storm in my head. "Victor won't be happy."

"Let him complain. None but us can do the job."

"He's half dead."

"Just has to live long enough for delivery."

And the rushing in my ears consumes all.


~



Thanks for reading :)
 

Don

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Your story was curious enough to keep me reading until the end.
 

Wayne Mack

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I felt a little confused as to the scene and what was happening. I assume someone is being chased for some reason while also transforming into some sort of winged creature. I did not really feel tension in the pursuit nor pain in the transformation. It might be useful to bring those feelings more to the forefront.

It is winter and dark, and all the birds have fled the stronghold. A thread of wind rustles the leaves above, and frosted stone bites my bare soles. A rasped whisper hisses into the garden from the corridor, perking my ears and forcing a glance back before I duck between a column and a trellis still covered in brown vines and crispy leaves.

An ogre of a man, stumpy yellow tusks, says, "He can only have come this way."

The opening lines do not really grab me. Perhaps open with the dialog line.
Is the pursuer an ogre or a man. The text says he is a man, but also that he has tusks.
I feel the two paragraphs are switching between third person narrative and first person.
The mention of the corridor while in a garden confused me.


"This way," says his bent comrade, thin finger pointed across the garden path. His other hand clutches a clinking blue chain that he silences against his ribs. He veers left and the other right.

It was unclear to me which pursuer was which in this description. Perhaps give them some names even if they are throw away characters.

My lungs burn with frigid air. It takes all my focus not to cough. I know you are back at home, in the nest waiting for me, wishing I'd never left. Part of me wishes that now. But the brave part knows I did what I must. They would have come for me no matter else.

"Over there," I parrot the second man's voice. "Back, under the arch."

The ogre whips his head about, uncertain from which direction my voice has come. "What?"

With a shake of his head, the bent man lifts a palm for silence. My ruse has failed like my mission. Victor still breathes. There is little left I can do.

I am still unclear whether the pursuers are ogres or men or one of each.
I am unclear why the ruse has failed. Why would the chased character want to attract a pursuer towards him/her?
Who is Victor? Is the chased character referring to himself/herself in third person?


The pair step toward my hiding place but have not spotted me yet. The one with the chain crouches low to the path, scrutinizing the flagstones in the moonlight. He's clad in a red wool cloak but has no house broach at his shoulder. Looking up at his large partner, he nods towards the trellis. They approach slowly, one to each side. I clench my eyes, looking inward, and constrict my arms tight against my body. I force my heart faster. Only one chance for this. Exhausted and naked, I fear I haven't the warmth to escape.

This seems late to tell the reader that the chased character is naked. I would expect to read that before the opening description of the garden.
I don't understand the need for warmth to escape. The character hasn't indicated that s/he is cold (and the reader has just found out that s/he is naked.)


The ingot of heat at my core swells. My bare skin fizzles from the cold then prickles from a thousand tiny quills breaking through, still sheathed as new feathers are. My incisors fuse together and jut forward as my nose shrivels flat, forming a cere. It's happening too fast. My arms are tacky with blood. I've pushed too hard. But it's not hard enough.

The transformation seems to come very abruptly. Surely in first person, this would have been in his/her thoughts as a desire or foreboding.
When I first read the lines, I was not expecting a physical transformation, so I interpreted it as a metaphor for being tired.


"Got him" barks the ogre man as his hand seizes my blood-slick arm, dragging me out. The other wraps his chain around my neck. Its enchantment stuns me, and I crumple to the ground. A shamble of feathers bloody and arms long, half bent into wings. But the ogre doesn't loosen his grip.


This seems late to reveal that the pursuers' chain is magical.
The description was not clear to me, especially the phrase "arms long." Perhaps more detail on the earlier (failed?) transformation would help.


"Thought you'd take flight on us, eh?" He swings a kick to my gut that would have sent something up, had I eaten in the past two days. Coughing and squawking, I grope in all directions.

What would the kicked character be groping for? What would s/he be trying to find? I would understand a lot of reactions to being kicked. Trying to find something on the ground is not one of them.

The ogre laughs while the red cloak hooks a bronze lock onto the chain and clicks it tight. My head explodes with pain, and they drag me across the stones, back into the dim corridor.

This reads like the coat itself is putting the lock on the chain. Perhaps more detail earlier on the pursuers would make it clearer that this refers to an ogre/a man wearing a red cloak.
It is unclear to me why dragging someone across stones would make his/her head hurt.


Their words filter through the storm in my head. "Victor won't be happy."

"Let him complain. None but us can do the job."

For me, this is the first realization that Victor is not the captured bird character.

"He's half dead."

"Just has to live long enough for delivery."

I am unclear who is half dead and dying. Is it Victor or is it the captured bird character?

And the rushing in my ears consumes all.

I suggest deciding on a point of view, either first person or a distant third person. If first person, concentrate on the emotions and senses of the point of view character. Make the reader feel the terror of the chase and the pain of the transformation. If third person, describe the chased character hiding and the pursuers chasing him/her. If the chased character is going to be a main character, it might be useful to introduce the character's name. Given that s/he is a bird creature, describing a gender may be optional, but having a pronoun might help in later story telling.

I think starting with the chase sequence is probably a good opening, so I would not add a prior scene. I feel you could expand this to give a little more opening detail on the story plot to follow without giving away too much to the reader. Do not be afraid to be explicit and let the reader know what you are seeing in your head. I felt the details were too vague and seemed to just get dropped into the story in an unplanned manner.

I think you have the basis of a good plot here, but some of the story telling details need to be polished. Why not give this section another go and see how it comes out?
 

Edoc'sil

One day I'll find the words.
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And thank you for posting.

I liked this piece, there was enough description for me to picture everything clearly.

I agree with Wayne that the dialogue is a better place to open and with most of his comments actually, especially the deciding on a POV. I like this as an opening, don't think you need to include more beforehand. I have a couple of unanswered questions but I want to find them out from the next scene so I would keep reading. The style of your writing is nice and there are some interesting themes to pick up on.

The half bird half person protag reminds me of the lamia witches in the Spook's series, or the harpys from ancient greece. Cool use of the myth here and I think it has some legs.
 

ckatt

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Messages
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Location
Vancouver
Thanks for the feedback folks. @Edoc'sil @Wayne Mack

I have a question about POV
I felt this was quite clearly 1st person since the protagonist is 'I'.

I do understand that there is more to it than that and the specificity of detail and angle from which you are looking can actually matter more. So I'd love it if anyone can point out the spots where the POV has shifted. I might be out to lunch so it would be a big help if someone who has an excellent command of POV techniques could assist me.

One line I felt was out of the first person when I wrote it was:
The ogre whips his head about, uncertain from which direction my voice has come. "What?"

The problem here is that the 1st person protagonist couldn’t know if the ogre was uncertain or not. So what I was thinking is that the protagonist can see the ogre and is interpreting his actions as uncertain. As the scene is written from the “I” perspective I believed this would be interpreted as the pov character’s inference of the situation. I have seen this sort of thing done in published works before, so what am I doing that causes it to fall short?

I might have written the line:
The ogre whips his head about, seemingly uncertain from which direction my voice has come.
I avoided this because seem is one of those filter words that I try to avoid.

Alternately I might have written:
The ogre whips his head about. "What?"
Do you guys think this solves the problem? My feeling is that it’s just moved toward stark description so it isn’t changed with and particular POV.

Thanks so much. I am immensely grateful to anyone who can help me get a handle on this.
 

Wayne Mack

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Messages
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Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
In first person, it should be obvious that the character is observing the action.

An ogre of a man, stumpy yellow tusks, says, "He can only have come this way."

"This way," says his bent comrade, thin finger pointed across the garden path. His other hand clutches a clinking blue chain that he silences against his ribs. He veers left and the other right.
This might be expressed as,

From my hiding spot, I see two ogres enter the garden. The first is an ogre of a man, stumpy yellow tusks. I hear him say, "He can only have come this way."

"No, this way," I hear his bent comrade say and I see his thin finger pointed the other direction across the garden path. In his other hand, I see that he clutches a clinking blue chain, which he silences against his ribs. One ogre veers left and the other right.

This still feels a little clumsy because it still contains all of the original detail about the ogres. The underlined details could probably be omitted. In exchange for reporting less of the external details, first person allows greater exploration of internal feelings. Concentrate on things like feeling naked, cold, wet, and tired. Bring out the exertion of running, gasping breaths. Describe the fear of capture and the pain of the transformation.

You could also go the other way and go third person, which would allow a lot of the original detail to remain, but would limit (but not eliminate) the amount of internal dialog and feelings that are expressed. In first person, expect to write a lot of 'I' sentences.
 

msstice

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It is winter and dark, and all the birds have fled the stronghold.

Consider leaving out the last bit for more effect. Also, these should not repeat the title of the story.

A thread of wind rustles the leaves above, and frosted stone bites my bare soles.

It is poetic, but I couldn't visualize this. A breath of wind?

A rasped whisper hisses into the garden from the corridor, perking my ears and forcing a glance back before I duck between a column and a trellis still covered in brown vines and crispy leaves.

"perking" doesn't do it for me

An ogre of a man, >with< stumpy yellow tusks, says, "He can only have come (or gone?) this way."

"This way," says his bent comrade, thin finger pointed across the garden path. His other hand clutches a clinking blue chain that he silences against his ribs. He veers left and the other right.

What does bent mean here?

My lungs burn with (in the?) frigid air. It takes all my focus not to cough. I know you are back at home, in the nest waiting for me, wishing I'd never left. Part of me wishes that now. But the brave part knows I did what I must. They would have come for me no matter else (no matter what?).

"Over there," I parrot the second man's voice. "Back, under the arch."

The ogre whips his head about, uncertain from which direction my voice has come. "What?"

With a shake of his head, the bent man lifts a palm for silence. My ruse has failed like my mission. Victor still breathes (Who is this? This threw me out of immersion). There is little left I can do.

The pair step toward my hiding place but have not spotted me yet. The one with the chain crouches low to the path, scrutinizing the flagstones in the moonlight (clashes a bit with the dark described at the start). He's clad in a red wool cloak but has no house broach (brooch?) at his shoulder. Looking up at his large partner, he nods towards the trellis. They approach slowly, one to each side. I clench my eyes, looking inward, and constrict my arms tight against my body. I force my heart faster. Only one chance for this. Exhausted and naked, I fear I haven't the warmth to escape.

The ingot of heat (metaphor did not work for me. How about just "ingot"?) at my core swells. My bare skin fizzles from the cold then prickles from a thousand tiny quills breaking through, still sheathed as new feathers are. My incisors fuse together and jut forward as my nose shrivels flat, forming a cere (what is this word?). It's happening too fast. My arms are tacky with blood. I've pushed too hard. But it's not hard enough.

"Got him" barks the ogre man as his hand seizes my blood-slick arm, dragging me out. The other wraps his chain around my neck. Its enchantment stuns me, and I crumple to the ground. A shamble of feathers bloody and arms long, half bent into wings. But the ogre doesn't loosen his grip.

"Thought you'd take flight on us, eh?" He swings a kick to my gut that would have sent something up, had I eaten in the past two days. Coughing and squawking, I grope in all directions.

The ogre laughs while the red cloak hooks a bronze lock onto the chain and clicks it tight. My head explodes with pain, and they drag me across the stones, back into the dim corridor.

Their words filter through the storm in my head. "Victor won't be happy."

"Let him complain. None but us can do the job."

"He's half dead."

"Just has to live long enough for delivery."

And the rushing in my ears consumes all.


This is great! Nice flow, nice building of tension and description of setting and action.
 

ckatt

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@msstice
Thanks for reading :)

Just FYI, the story is so far untitled. I just copy pastaed the first line as the title of the post 'cause I didn't want to call it 550 word scene for critique
Cheers
 

tinkerdan

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I really enjoyed this.

However-a quibble.

I know you are back at home, in the nest waiting for me, wishing
You've done something a bit odd here and though it might pass through his mind this way, it unfortunately sounds like you are addressing the reader.
And I'm not sure it's necessary.

I know my love is back at home...
or
I know my mate is back at home....

will work and not be as distracting.
 

CTRandall

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Overall, I liked it. The beginning needs a little polish but, still, I think it was the right place to start. There were some long sentences and a lot of 'and' (esp. the sentence starting 'A rasped whisper...'). I also think you could use a touch (and only a touch!) more description of the guards entering the area. Their first appearance felt a little unprepared and awkward.

The piece got stronger as it went on. I felt the tension build nicely and liked your description of the transformation. The little hint of regret is a nice touch. I didn't share tinkerdan's problem at your use of 'you' in 'I know you are back at home'--it has a directness that feels stronger to me than the obvious alternatives.

I know others questioned the POV but I felt it was clear and effective throughout.
 
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In my amateur opinion, I liked how the main character was caught in half transformation as I have never seen that idea used before. I also like how the blood , and "Just has to live long enough for delivery" added to the tense tone. I was a bit confused about how Victor was but I am assuming that is because I have only read this one part. Honestly I cant find any thing that makes me dislike it, I was very drawn in for all of it.
 

thisreidwrites

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Oh, I LIKE this. I like this a LOT.

No, I don't think you have too many adjectives. You use them well, so they set the stage: I can see the whole situation and these characters.

I did catch a possible typo: there's nothing wrong with skipping the word "with" (An ogre of a man WITH stumpy yellow tusks), but it doesn't fit the rest of your style, so I'd consider adding it back in.

I'm quite intrigued, and I hope you're able to build on this. Keep writing!
 

Michael Bickford

Lost Coast Writers, Redwood Coast
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Hi and thanks so much for reading. I'm very grateful.
This is the first scene in a short story. I'm trying to keep the word count down while still including enough detail to not lose the reader.
How am I doing? Too many adjectives?
Is there enough information conveyed to keep you reading? If there are too many unanswered questions, I may add another scene to precede this one. But I wanted to start in media res, as they say. Do you have enough motivation from the protagonist? If no, could you wait for the next scene or would you need to get it here to avoid losing interest?
Also playing a bit with sentence length. Any of them getting too long for your taste. Or too short?

Thanks again


scene 1

It is winter and dark, and all the birds have fled the stronghold. A thread of wind rustles the leaves above, and frosted stone bites my bare soles. A rasped whisper hisses into the garden from the corridor, perking my ears and forcing a glance back before I duck between a column and a trellis still covered in brown vines and crispy leaves.
I know this isn’t really your title, but the title and first line being the same works for me for short work—like in poetry.
omit “still” unless you are going to develop something about them normally being removed. Vines, at least don’t fall away in winter, but regrow in spring. I don’t mine, as some here do, “A thread of wind”.

An ogre of a man, stumpy yellow tusks, says, "He can only have come this way."
I’d like a “with“ or “says through” somewhere in there. a little too sparse for me.
"This way," says his bent comrade, thin finger pointed across the garden path. His other hand clutches a clinking blue chain that he silences against his ribs. He veers left and the other right.
coma instead of “and”?
My lungs burn with frigid air. It takes all my focus not to cough. I know you are back at home, in the nest waiting for me, wishing I'd never left. Part of me wishes that now. But the brave part knows I did what I must. They would have come for me no matter else.
love “burn” and “frigid” together. Some have taken a POV issue with the internal voice to your nest mate, I had no problem with the switch in direction of the first person voice—did not think you were suddenly addressing me, the reader, and don’t know why so many people do in these situations (its clearly not a “dear reader” aside), but it is a different focus from the rest of the narrative, so you could italicize it to make it clearer that this is an actual inner voice, differentiated from the 1st person present tense narrative, which I, for one, don’t think of as some kind of on-going self-narration that just happen to now be written down. italics is how I make the differentiation in my work.
"Over there," I parrot the second man's voice. "Back, under the arch."
another clever bird reference?
The ogre whips his head about, uncertain from which direction my voice has come. "What?"

With a shake of his head, the bent man lifts a palm for silence. My ruse has failed like my mission. Victor still breathes. There is little left I can do.

Some here were confused because they didn’t know who Victor was. (One though the narrator was victor, now being referred to in the 3rd person? Oh, well!) I got that killing Victor was your mission, but to make it clearer try it this way?
“My ruse has failed. My mission has failed: Victor still breathes.” I don’t get why some would think your mission was Victor’s death AND think you were Victor.


The pair step toward my hiding place but have not spotted me yet. The one with the chain crouches low to the path, scrutinizing the flagstones in the moonlight. He's clad in a red wool cloak but has no house broach at his shoulder. Looking up at his large partner, he nods towards the trellis. They approach slowly, one to each side. I clench my eyes, looking inward, and constrict my arms tight against my body. I force my heart faster. Only one chance for this. Exhausted and naked, I fear I haven't the warmth to escape.
“tightly”? You have already said he has bare feet, so you could have mentioned naked earlier, but I don’t mind it being reveled here. Earlier would be OK too. “to escape” is not enough to convey what he is attempting to do and the need for “warmth” to do it. This is a key element of your exposition—revealing you protagonist’s true nature. ”the warmth to...” more descriptive language here—escape being the end product of whatever it is that he may not have the warmth to do. “transform”? Or something more original and pertinent to his species. Then we would be primed to to fascinated by the changes described—and unfinished—in the following para.
The ingot of heat at my core swells. My bare skin fizzles from the cold then prickles from a thousand tiny quills breaking through, still sheathed as new feathers are. My incisors fuse together and jut forward as my nose shrivels flat, forming a cere. It's happening too fast. My arms are tacky with blood. I've pushed too hard. But it's not hard enough.
Love “ingot of heat” Good description of a unique event. in the last two sentences: the second “hard”? Seems like it isn’t the strength of the push, but the speed, the time it took, that is his downfall. Maybe he did push to hard (the blood?) but the problem was that it took too long and he couldn’t transform in time to get away.
"Got him" barks the ogre man as his hand seizes my blood-slick arm, dragging me out. The other wraps his chain around my neck. Its enchantment stuns me, and I crumple to the ground. A shamble of feathers bloody and arms long, half bent into wings. But the ogre doesn't loosen his grip.
some here asked if he was an ogre or a man. I’m more into science fiction, not fantasy, so the thought never entered my mind that this person wasn’t a man, but might actually an ogr, whatever that is, by some fantasy convention of which I am unaware anyway. But to solve the problem for others, and without giving these functional (I assume)characters UN-needed names, you could just consistently refer to this one as “ogre man” (with a hyphen?) and the other one “the other one” or something simple, but consistent, so readers can keep them straight.
The positioning of the adjectives “bloody” and “long” after their nouns is a little stylistically jarring, as it’s not used elsewhere in the piece. As a poet, I have no problem with the switch, but I see how others might, and it’s not quite descriptively accurate: “bloody” seem to apply to both nouns if the feathers are coming out of the arms with blood, while long applies only to the arms, as the feathers themselves are not fully emerged and I see them as possibly stumpy. maybe give up the poetic device, or use it, but rewrite so that the descriptive relationship between the arms and the feathers is clearer.
"Thought you'd take flight on us, eh?" He swings a kick to my gut that would have sent something up, had I eaten in the past two days. Coughing and squawking, I grope in all directions.
I, too, have a problem with “grope” unless he is trying to get ahold of something you’ve previously referred to it’s the wrong motion for his situation. Is he flailing?
The ogre laughs while the red cloak hooks a bronze lock onto the chain and clicks it tight. My head explodes with pain, and they drag me across the stones, back into the dim corridor.
Yes! Always call him “red cloak” and no one will be confused.
Their words filter through the storm in my head. "Victor won't be happy."

"Let him complain. None but us can do the job."

"He's half dead."
Is he? He hears them refer to him as such. Reaction? Is he glad they think he’s so debilitated? Could be a chance to foreshadow any strong counter-actions on his part later and make them seem realistic, if you are going that way.

"Just has to live long enough for delivery."

“delivery” here is ominous!
And the rushing in my ears consumes all.
I’d like it better without the “and” and some allusion to his state of consciousness. Is he out? Or can he just not hear/see anything?

overall, very engaging. I‘m eager to see what happens to our hero/bird/man
you have nicely established my emotional connection to him with his aside to his partner/nest mate, so I care about his welfare and want him to complete his mission (and I want to understand it!) and kick Victor’s ass and get back to his cozy nest!
Thank you!

~



Thanks for reading :)
 

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