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  1. #1
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    Feedback request on chapter one.

    Hi all,

    Hope you are having a nice Saturday. It's been a long time since I posted in the forums. If you're in the mood to give feedback, please have a go at my first chapter.

    Thanks,
    N.



    CHAPTER ONE: THE OUBLIETTE
    Serifos, an island off the coast of Greece
    Royal Household of King Polydectes
    Sixteen years later

    Beneath the white washed stone walls of King Polydectes’ palace, beneath servants’ bronzed feet rushing along dolphin mosaic hallway floors, and further still, underneath the tangled roots of aged olive trees, lies a maze of tunnels and prison chambers. Sunk into the prison’s deepest corner was the oubliette; a stone cell, shaped like the hive of a honey bee but without its sweetness, a dank place full of the earth’s constant chill. At the door, the Phulaxa rapped his flat knuckles against the oak panels, speaking to the man lower down, inside the darkened hole.

    “Atheos.” A prisoner, disturbed by the sudden noise, howled in the upper hallway. He rapped again. “Atheos.”

    Below, tucked around himself like a fox against the snow, a man shivered. Weeks of beatings had left rivulets of filth on his once tanned skin and stiff peaks of blood in his brown hair crackled as he wedged himself into the dark corner. He held his breath, body tight in the fetal position, listening. When he heard nothing more, he assumed that the voice was a delusion and burrowed an aching shoulder further into the mildewed straw.

    Another hallucination. When was the last time I ate?
    From slave to solider to sculptor, to slave again; my luck has brought me back to the beginning instead of back to you. Mara, my love, I’m sorry. When will I ever see you again?


    He concentrated on his breathing to ease his many pains, the silence of the hewn stone encircling him in its damp grip, forty-two rows of stones up and ninety-six stones round, his home for the past several months, for the crime of Atheos.

    Above, the Phulax stood in the torch lit corridor, waiting for Atheos’ usual denial, the denials that sanctioned a beating, but none came. After a moment, he slid the bolt and swung open the wooden door, covering his mouth and nose with his free hand, the stink of human feces and infection slipping past him in a rush of air; he recoiled, the nausea twisting his stomach despite his many years of service, and the Phulax staggered backwards into the narrow hallway. Perhaps he had gone too far last time. He shook his head from side to side, flaring his nostrils and breathing out in short, ooofs, clearing his nose of the curdled stench. He peered from the edge of the sill at his charge. Seeing neither movement nor hearing a reply, he pried a chunk of mortar from the wall with his fingertips, and hurled the nugget at the prisoner’s head. The chip rebounded off its target with a thud, and then settled within the Phulax’s shadow, cast long and low onto floor.

    “Have the rats chewed out your tongue or are you dead? Atheos?”

    The Phulax threw a rope ladder into the hole, watched it unroll, slapping once against the curvature of the wall, and then securing it to the entryway, he lowered himself into the cell. He was a short, stout man, balding and in his middle forties, dressed in a dirty linen tunic, cinched at the waist by a leather belt. Tucked under his belt was a baton.

    “You can’t be dead yet,” he said, stepping heavily off the ladder, the twine creaking under his weight. The walls of the oubliette curved overhead. Within the height of a man’s reach, the walls wore jagged claw marks of desperate inmates; beyond that, they were high and smooth. “I hardly touched you yesterday-- Ah, there you are, Sculptor.” The Phulax jammed a sandaled foot into the prisoner’s armpit, producing a spasm in his charge. The prisoner recoiled, tucking his hands underneath his chin, reflexively preserving his fingers.

    “Alive. Good! Don't curl into a ball; you make it harder for a good man to do his job. King Polydectes has a message. Your execution has been postponed. He wants the statue finished. So tonight is our last night together.” The Phulax hooked his thumbs under his belt, leaning back and at ease in the dim light. "What do you have to say to that, Atheos?”

    What do I have to say? Mara. I want to come home, to you, but you wouldn’t want me to lie. Not about this.

    He winced, furrowing his brow above his swollen eyes, bludgeoned shut from abuse. Many weeks ago he had buried all thoughts of the statue from his mind. The brief mention of it now caused his fingers to ache, and the gritty taste of marble dust bloomed in his mouth and nostrils.

    “Tell King Polydectes,” the prisoner said, “that I am not Atheos.”

    Hooting with laughter, the Phulax removed the baton from his waist, and cracked the tip of it against the prisoner’s skull.

    The evening’s activities had begun.



  2. #2
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    Don't think I've seen you here before, but then again, I haven't been here for a while. I noticed a few things, though. Nitpicks, mainly.

    the stink of human feces
    Should be: the stench of human feces?

    Weeks of beatings
    Is telling. Perhaps, weeks of flogging?

    but without its sweetness
    Is the bit about sweetness necessary? It's incongruent with the rest of the descriptions.
    Last edited by Author Pendragin; 03-29-2014 at 12:39 PM.

  3. #3
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    Naomi,

    Let's look at your first paragraph. My comments are in CAPS. Not yelling, just making them easier to see.

    Beneath the white HYPHEN washed stone walls of King Polydectes’ palace, beneath servants’ bronzed feet I KNOW SOME PEOPLE BRONZE THEIR CHILDREN'S BABY SHOES, OR USED TO. I HAD NO IDEA SERVANTS FEET WERE ACTUALLY BRONZE. I'M NOT SURE WHAT YOU MEANT TO CONVEY, BUT IT STOPPED ME IN MY TRACKS. rushing along dolphin mosaic hallway floors, and further still, underneath the tangled roots of aged olive trees, lies a maze of tunnels and prison chambers. Sunk into the prison’s deepest corner was the oubliette; a stone cell, shaped like the hive of a honey bee but without its sweetness, a dank place full of the earth’s constant chill. At the door, the Phulaxa rapped his flat knuckles against the oak panels, speaking to the man lower down, inside the darkened hole.

    YOUR FIRST SENTENCE IS ABOUT 40 WORDS LONG. THE SECOND IS AROUND 30. THE CONSTRUCTION IS COMPLEX. THAT MAY BE FINE IN SOME INSTANCES, BUT THIS IS THE OPENING OF YOUR TALE. YOU TRULY WANT YOUR PROSPECTIVE AGENT TO JUMP FROM HER CHAIR AND YELL, "BRAVO!" I DON'T BELIEVE THIS OPENING WILL ELICIT THAT REACTION.

    BEYOND THE LABORIOUS CONSTRUCTION, WHICH CAN BE EASILY FIXED WITH WORK AND LEARNING, IT'S NOT CLEAR TO THIS READER WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO SHOW ME. IS EACH "BENEATH" UNDERNEATH THE PREVIOUS ONE? IF SO, DO THE ROOTS OF OLIVE TREES GO DOWN DEEP ENOUGH FOR THE CELL TO BE UNDER THOSE ROOTS. AND, HOW ARE THE OLIVE TREES IN THE MIX AT ALL? ARE THEY IN THE CASTLE? THIS IS CONFUSING.

    FOR THIS RAGGEDY READER, YOU'RE OVER WRITING. CRAMMING EVERY POSSIBLE DETAIL INTO EACH SENTENCE. IT'S IMPORTANT TO ASK YOURSELF WHICH DETAILS ARE VITAL, AND WHICH ARE SUPERFLUOUS.

    YOUR PARAGRAPHS FURTHER DOWN RELY ON THE SAME SENTENCE STRUCTURE. YOU'RE NOT WRITING A LEGAL BRIEF. YOU'RE WRITING COMPELLING FICTION, NOT PAINTING A LANDSCAPE. DOES THAT MAKE SENSE?

    FOR INSTANCE, HOW DOES "DOLPHIN MOSAIC" ADD TO YOUR TALE. IF YOU'RE AN ARCHAEOLOGIST WRITING IN A LEARNED JOURNAL, THAT DESCRIPTION MAY BE VERY IMPORTANT. IN THE OPENING OF A NOVEL...

    WRITING FICTION IS A LEARNED CRAFT. (YOU'RE INTELLIGENT ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT.) IT TAKES PRACTICE. AFTER THAT, MORE PRACTICE. REQUIRES THICK SKIN IF YOU SEEK CRITIQUE. PERSEVERANCE IS A PREREQUISITE. (YOU LIKELY KNOW THAT, TOO.)

    OPEN WITH TENSION. MEBBE BEGIN WITH THE GUARD POUNDING ON THE GUY'S CELL. ALL THE LEAD-UP TO THAT MOMENT APPEARS TO THIS READER TO BE UNNECESSARY. IF IT'S VITAL FOR SOME REASON, YOU CAN WORK IT IN LATER. SO, FOR PRACTICE, CONSIDER REVISING YOUR OPENING. GET MY HEART RATE UP. MAKE ME CARE ABOUT YOUR PROTAG. WORKING AT THAT WILL HELP YOU SEE HOW TO MAKE REVISIONS IN THE REST OF YOUR OPENING CHAPTER.

    OTHERS MAY DISAGREE WITH MY COMMENTS.

    DON'T BE DISCOURAGED. KEEP AT IT. THE OTHER SIDE OF THAT IS WRITING IS A BITCH. THINK ABOUT IT THIS WAY. LET'S SAY YOU ACCIDENTALLY CUT YOUR FINGER. IF YOU BLEED TIMES NEW ROMAN 12-POINT FONT, THAT'S A VERY GOOD THING.

    OKAY, CAPS off. I scanned the rest of the chapter. There are some promising things. Your protag worrying about his enamorata. The guard is kind of interesting, but I don't know whether he's a throw-away character. Are you writing this tale for people who already know the legend? The answer to that has huge implications for how you write the tale. Ponder that.

    Hope this is useful.

    Cur
    Last edited by Smiling Curmudgeon; 03-29-2014 at 08:53 PM.

  4. #4
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    Hi Aurthor and Cur,

    Thanks for your input. You've given me lots to think about. It's been about 4 or so years since I've visited WN. It's nice to be back in the rough and tumble of honest critique.

    I agree completely that I wrestle with creative writing versus legal writing. Hard habit to break. Especially when writing my book synopsis.

    Cur, this is chapter one. To answer your last question, there is a prologue explaining the myth's back-story and other items in case a reader is unfamiliar with the myth. A recent piece of querying advice was to start my query sample at CH1, rather than emailing the prologue. The reason given was voice. What do you (or anyone else who wants to chime in) think about that advice?

    Thanks,
    N
    Last edited by Naomi B.; 03-30-2014 at 06:08 AM.

  5. #5
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Yeah, over-written and some confusing language, but not the worst I've seen by far. You have a little trouble with word choice. Read it cut by over 20%, and tell me what you think:


    Far beneath the palace of King Polydectes, sunk into the deepest corner of a maze of tunnels and prison chambers was the oubliette; a dank, chilly, stone cell. At the door, the Phulaxa rapped his baton against the oak panels and spoke to the man buried in the darkness within.

    “Atheos.” A prisoner, disturbed by the sudden noise, howled in the upper hallway. He rapped again. “Atheos.”

    Below, tucked around himself like a fox against the snow, a man hidden in the darkness shivered. Weeks of beatings left him weak and haggard. Rivulets of filth streaked his once tanned skin and dried blood spiked his filthy brown hair. He held his breath, listening. When he heard nothing more, he assumed the voice was a delusion and burrowed an aching shoulder further into the mildewed straw.

    Mara, my love, will I ever see you again?

    The silence of the hewn stone entombed him in its damp grip - forty-two rows of stones up and ninety-six around - his home for the past several months for the crime of Atheos.

    Above in the torch lit corridor, the Phulax waited for the usual denial, but none came. After a moment, he slid the bolt and swung open the wooden door, covering his mouth and nose with his free hand as the stink of feces and infection assaulted him. Nausea twisted his stomach despite his many years of service, and he staggered back into the narrow hallway. Perhaps he went too far last time. He shook his head and breathed in short deep bursts, trying to clear his head. He peered from the edge of the sill at his charge. Seeing neither movement nor hearing a reply, he pried a small chunk of mortar from the wall, and hurled it at the prisoner’s head. It rebounded off its target with a thud, and then settled within the Phulax’s shadow, cast long and low onto floor.

    “Have the rats chewed out your tongue or are you dead? Atheos?”

    The Phulax threw a rope ladder into the hole, secured it to the entryway, and climbed down. He was a short, stout man, balding, and in his middle forties, dressed in a dirty linen tunic cinched at the waist by a leather belt. Tucked under his belt was the baton.

    “You can’t be dead yet,” he said, stepping off the ladder that creaked under his weight. The walls of the oubliette curved overhead. Within the height of a man’s reach, the walls wore jagged claw marks of desperate inmates; beyond, they were smooth. “I hardly touched you yesterday, Sculptor.” The Phulax jammed a sandaled foot into the prisoner’s armpit, producing a spasm in his charge. The prisoner recoiled, tucking his hands underneath his chin, reflexively protecting his fingers.

    “Alive. Good! Don't curl into a ball; you make it harder for a good man to do his job. King Polydectes has a message: your execution is postponed. He wants the statue finished. So tonight is our last night together.” He hooked his thumbs under his belt and leaned back against the wall with an air of ease. "What do you have to say to that, Atheos?”

    Mara. I want to come home to you, but you wouldn’t want me to lie. Not about this.

    His brow furrowed in pain above eyes all but bludgeoned shut. Many weeks ago, he expelled all thoughts of the statue from his mind. The mention of it now made his fingers ache and his mouth taste of gritty marble dust.

    “Tell King Polydectes,” the prisoner said, “that I am not Atheos.”

    Hooting with laughter, the Phulax slid the baton from his belt, and cracked the tip of it against the prisoner’s skull.

    The evening festivities had begun.

  6. #6
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    I think there are two kinds of readers and writers:

    Those who appreciate the music or musical potential of prose, and those who don't.

    I think you have this sense--a sense of pattern, of flow, of euphonious rhetorical effect.

    My vote: Keep the music--don't lose it by trying to cram your prose into a simple, plain, dull, blunt, Strunk+White template.

  7. #7
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    By that, I take it you're of the opinion that Naomi's post is music, while my edit of it is simple, plain, dull, and blunt. I don't think I can disagree, but let me ask you a question: What kind of language do you think best to describe a coarse Phulax guard with a baton who is built like a fire plug and preparing to beat the crap out of a helpless man wallowing in excrement in a dungeon? Musical or simple, plain, dull, and blunt?

    Music has its place, Robin...and this ain't it. But if you think this is the perfect place for poetry, we'll just have to agree to disagree.

    And by the way, I have plenty of ability to appreciate the "musical potential of prose".
    Last edited by John Oberon; 04-01-2014 at 04:45 AM.

  8. #8
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Oh, and Naomi...the point of my edit is not to write your piece for you. It's to show you that you have about a ton of dead wood in your writing. In my years as an editor, I've developed a scale to gauge the quality of writing. It's based on the percentage of words I can remove from a piece while still retaining the original meaning. Here it is:

    0-5% - Pretty darn good writing
    6 - 10% - average writing
    11 - 15% - Pretty bad writing
    16 - 20% - Really bad writing
    21 - 25%+ - Awful writing

    So by that scale, your original post is verging into "Awful" territory, but as I say, I've seen worse. Take a look at RodentSoldier's post just before this post. I removed over 40% of his words and still told the same story. I've gotten up to the 60% range before, so don't feel bad.

    In my opinion, your weakness is trying to make the reader feel an emotion by the words you use instead of by the action you portray. VERY common, and not so difficult to remedy. Most of the battle is recognizing and admitting the weakness. Once you do that, fighting it is not so hard, if you're willing.

  9. #9
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    Robin, what a nice compliment to read first thing in the morning. Thank you!

    John, no worries. Thank you. We have a difference in style and I appreciate the input. It's refreshing to see my work through someone else's eyes.

    N.

  10. #10
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Especially if those eyes belong to a professional writer/editor.

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