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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Short Works » Iron Quills

   
Author Topic: Iron Quills
babooher
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I just wanted to see how this works at all. It has been awhile since I've tried a different universe.

Ellis Ambrose ignored the changelings as he marched toward the main entrance of Amethyst Home. His top hat was pulled low and his cane, gripped firmly, never touched the pavers under his boots. His breath puffed in terse clouds that drifted across the grounds. The smell of burning leaves was thick in the air with only a few rebellious leaves scuttling away in the wind and away from the changelings that strove to gather each one.
The door swung inward just as Ellis reached the steps. The runner who had seen Ellis disembark from the dead train had obviously alerted the staff of Amethyst Home. The director, an old cleric in a purple cassock, said “Dr. Ambrose! I wasn’t expecting you for a few more days,” as Ellis stepped past.
“Expecting me? How did you know I was coming?” Ellis

New Version now with more info:

Ellis Ambrose stormed past the changelings on his way to Ambrose Home, a sanitarium housed in a chateau at the base of an old, crumbling tower on the Isle of Menesch. His top hat was pulled low and his cane gripped firmly. His breath puffed in terse clouds. The smell of burning leaves was thick in the air. A few rebellious leaves scuttled away from the changelings striving to gather each one. The director of the sanitarium, an old cleric in a purple cassock, waited just outside the entrance. Apparently, Ellis's departure from the dead train had been noted. “Dr. Ambrose! I wasn’t expecting you for a few more days,” as Ellis stepped past.
“How did you know I was coming?” Ellis removed his gloves as the director shut the door behind him.
The director frowned. “I sent word about your sister. Isn't

[ May 23, 2012, 10:14 PM: Message edited by: babooher ]

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Justin
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I'm having a hard time deciding if this works for me or not. On one hand, I can see some details of an interesting world here (and there certainly aren't enough characters who wear top hats.) Also, there's the hint of mystery in the last sentence that would probably keep me reading.

On the other hand, what's actually happening here is that an unexpected Doctor has arrived at Amethyst Home. Doctor of what? What's Amethyst Home? Does the Doctor's arrival imply that there's a problem at Amethyst Home? Is it a welcome visit from an old friend? (The exclamation point when the director speaks definitely doesn't imply that there's any tension created by Dr. Ambrose's arrival.) The presence of changelings could be a complicating factor, but they seem like they must be common in this world. Certainly Ambrose doesn't seem surprised by them.

I'm sure the drama is present in the story, but I don't see much of a hint of it here. I think you could probably eliminate the sentence about the runner seeing Ambrose, and this might give you some space for conflict of some kind.

Technical Point: There should be a comma before the "and" after "pulled low" in the second sentence.

Also, I'm not sure "terse clouds" works in the third sentence. "Terse" is generally an adjective in reference to verbal communication. Just a thought...

[ May 14, 2012, 02:13 PM: Message edited by: Justin ]

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History
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I like this but would tighten the sentences to match the action and pick up the pace to hook the reader into the tale.

E.g. There is repetiton about "the changelings" (who have my greatest interest within this entire excerpt). You may wish to consider removing "ignored the changelings as he" in the first sentence. Similarly you could omit "never touched the pavers under his boots" in the second line and "that drifted across the grounds" in the third. The now shorter sentences match his actions and his sense of urgency.

You could also consider breaking up the next line into two: "The smell of burning leaves was thick in the air. A few rebellious leaves scuttled across the grounds before the changelings who strove to gather them."

The next line seems reversed to me and the following one seems too long (and I'm not sure what is a "dead train"). Perhaps cut it and stay in the present action:. "As Ellis reached the steps, the door swung inward to reveal Director____ in a purple cassock. 'Dr. Ambrose! I wasn't expecting you for a few days," the old cleric said as Ellis stepped past.'"

I believe the goal here is to keep the narrative moving, sweeping the reader along with Dr. Ambrose like the leaves blown by the wind and being chased by changelings thereby enticing the reader to know:
--Who is Dr. Ambrose?
--What is Amethyst Home?
--Why is Ambrose there?
--Why is he surprised at being expected by the Director?
--What sort of cleric is the Director?
--Who are what are the changelings?

I'd read on.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Shaygirl
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I love the title, love the setting, love the top hat and cane.

Just a few thoughts that I've compiled:
I agree with Justin that the sentence with the runner could probably go. It distracts from the flow of the story.

When he enquires about being expected it feels just a little weak compared to the strong presence that you've given him. I'd try "You were expecting me? Why?" This feels to me to be a little more abrupt. But I don't know what his manner typically is; this is just my impression so far.

If you want someone to read the whole thing when you're ready I'd be more than willing to do so.

~Shay

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Eliza C
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The things I love and that really caught my interest in this beginning (in order):
The dead train. The changelings chasing after the leaves. The top hat and cane.
For me, these items gave me clues to latch onto - even if I don't know what they're clues to yet - and started to set the tone of the piece. The dead train is intriguing as it makes me wonder if only the dead ride that train and Amborose is a spirit, but I'm okay with waiting to find out.
Things that didn't add much to the beginning for me were - Ambrose ignoring the changelings in the first sentence as I think the second mention of them is far more evocative. The mention of the pavers as I was uncertain if that was just regular paving stones. If so, no need to mention, though I realize you're using that to point out that he carries a cane which never touches the ground. You might consider just saying the cane never touched the ground (pavement, whatever) and cut the bit about pavers and boots. Is the cane not touching important? Is it repeated elsewhere in the story or explained? If not, perhaps cut that altogether.
I like the descriptive sentences about his breath puffing and the smell of burning leaves, though I think that second sentence could be broken up into two - I also think that would give more emphasis to the changelings chasing the leaves.
Ellis Ambrose marching toward Amethyst Home is a bit pedestrian (pardon the pun) for a first sentence, especially if you remove the reference to changelings there - consider, if it works, to have him step off the dead train and walk to Amethyst home - that would get my interest right away and then you could eliminate the runner and the "had obviously alerted the staff" telling.
I would read on due to the hooks of dead train, changelings and some good, evocative writing in the first few lines, though I think it could be improved by tightening it a bit. I'm okay with waiting to get some answers, but hopefully the next paragraph sets the scene a bit more concretely. Good start, though.

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rcmann
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I got just a touch confused with all the new terms coming at me at once. Maybe I am just slow, but perhaps a slightly more deliberate pace for introducing unknown terms?
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extrinsic
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The voice of the excerpt feels like it comes from a distant narrator. Narrative distance is open. No matter the milieu, readers anymore prefer character voice, closing narrative distance.

The sensations are from a remote person observing Ellis Ambrose. They summarize the action in a recital form. Consider recasting from Ambrose's perspective. What do the changelings look like to him? What does Amethyst Hall's main entrance look like to him? And so on. How does he uniquely perceive and react to causal stimuli influencing him?

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MartinV
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Intriguing. I would continue reading.
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babooher
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Thank you all for the insight.

Dr. Bob, I think you diagnosed this one well. The pacing wasn't sitting well with me, but I wasn't recognizing that. I just kept thinking something was off.

Thanks all for the look!

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babooher
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I posted a new version with a little more info. I still haven't addressed what a changeling is nor what the dead train is. Those things come later in the tale, but I made what Amethyst Home is much clearer.

I'm worried that the first line is too long. I've tried splitting it, but then the second half become ungainly, enough so that I went with the long version I just put up.

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rcmann
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Might I diffidently suggest that you are still (to my limited attention span) trying to cram a little too much information into the first few lines? Do we really need to know how he got there right up front? Maybe you could work in a reference to the dead train later on, unless the fact that he rode on it is an urgent factor in the plot.

Same with the changelings. Is it critically important that they be introduced at this time? Or that we know he's headed for "...Ambrose Home, a sanitarium housed in a chateau at the base of an old, crumbling tower on the Isle of Menesch..."

Maybe we do. Only you can say. But I would suggest cutting back the info dump to only those details that are necessary at-the-time for the reader to understand. Then gradually insert the other information into the story as you go along.

I'm not trying to say that all this information is not important. Only you can say what is, or is not important. But it doesn't have to overwhelm the reader up front. A new universe can't be swallowed in one gulp. It needs to be nibbled and chewed thoroughly.

Just my two bits.

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