SciFi/Fantasy about 6,000-7,000 words. Would like readers of whole thing. Have about 1,500 words so far. Looking for honest critique, be as harsh as you want.
A brother and sister find a map in an antique shop that leads to a well in the Forrest that only appears at midnight.
The Midnight Well
It was a cloudless spring day and a blanket of light was sprawled over the green hillsides. The shadows of the mounds stood over the meadows. Flowing from behind them and down across the grasses was the Viciphicee River; its crystal clear waters reflected the afternoon light like camera flashes. The heads of blooming flowers hung over the riverbank, and the murmur of water passing over rock sounded beneath them.
Sitting crisscross by the riverside was Ben. His left elbow was on his left thigh and his chin was on his palm. He looked across the river and watched the flower petals fall off their stalks. They floated down the stream, clumping together to form colorful mosaics. Beyond the opposite riverbank a soft wind blew atop the long grass, creating waves and ripples; lining the side of the riverbank was a dusty dirt road. Ben walked along it everyday for exercise.
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Though the writing is poetic and appealing, an action event of consequence doesn't start in the fragment. This fragment consumes a good bit of real estate setting up a routine, if that's the intent.
Consider if this moment is where the narrative begins. For me, the beginning is the event that interrupts Ben and Sister's routine; that is the discovery of the map. Even then, the well's magics as life complicating events are the event of consequence. What, a portal to another reality, I suspect.
One grammar consideration, discretionary though. "was sprawled," helping verb past tense "was" doesn't help define the time significance. "Sprawled" by itself defines the time significance and keeps open that the light sprawls for a nondefinite time period; in other words, ongoing time.
Edited to add: Grammar fault, "along it everyday." "everyday" is an adjective that modifies a subject noun or sometimes a pronoun; "every day" is an adverb phrase that modifies the verb "walked," suited to the context. For example, adjective use, //Ben walked along the everyday road for exercise.// Or adverb use, //Ben walked along it every day for exercise.//
Hello Reticulum. This seems vaguely familiar. Did you post this on another critiquing website at one point?
Either way, I agree with Extrinsic. Nothing really happens in this opening. We have a debate on Hatrack about whether something has to happen in the beginning of the story, or whether a slow beginning is fine. Really, it's going to depend on the reader.
Some people may have no issue with this poetic description, and since it's well done, you may be on the right track. I, personally, can't help but feel this is warmup writing that could be cut or moved. Even if Ben isn't introduced directly in some sort of narrative conflict, I still want to get a sense of what his motivations are, and what's stopping him from achieving his goal.
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I suggest finishing this draft before you commit to an opening. Too often writers rewrite to the critiques instead of fully exploring the story. First drafts are bases to build upon, and you can't build without a complete story. So have fun. After you're done, put it aside for a day/week and work on another idea. After you've had suitable time to get your brain off of the piece, re-read it, and when you do, do it aloud. It seems silly, but while reading it aloud, you'll discover mistakes you mind would've gone past while reading silently. Also, a great piece of advice I gleaned was to change the font for reading, so that it is not the same as what you wrote in--it gives me a sort of different angle from which to approach.
That said, I see some passive constructs, which it's always better to be proactive. The language here is poetic, which, though flowery, in the end doesn't tell you much. What kinds of flowers are they? What do they smell like? What time period is this in? (I cannot clean anything more than it is *after camera flashes had been invented,* which could be the mid 1800s on.) Also, in a short story, brevity and clear verb choices are essential to pacing and economy.
Hi Reticulum, Let me ask a few questions that you can answer for yourself.
1: Why is the set-up you give not in the fragment? I see no sister, no map, no well, etc. 2: Where does the story part of the story begin? By this, I mean the inception. During your story, brother and sister will be going to a well in the Forrest at midnight. When do they get this idea? Did brother take his birthday money to the antique shop to buy something he had his heart set on only to have dear sis dissuade him from that course to buy a dusty...? 3: A bit technical. Why do the first two sentences disagree? Sunshiny day vs. Shadowed meadow. 4: Technical. Why is the second sentence constructed the way it is? 3 uses of the definite article "the". The blank of the blank did the blank. It makes me wonder what "them" in the next sentence is referring to: shadows, mounds, or meadows. 5: Technical. Why does the last sentence in the first paragraph begin with, "The heads of blooming..."? Aren't flowers already the heads of blooming flowers?
This is a lovely setting, but it can be tightened up and clarified.
Setting, Plot, Characterization, Conflict, and Theme are the major elements of any story. This fragment is long on Setting, which establishes Theme as one of Fantasy, but is not specific. There is a character, but other than his predilection for walking by the river, I don't learn much about him. There is no hint of direction (Plot) that the story will take, and similarly no hint about what might stand in the way (Conflict) of any possible direction.
Your set-up, if you don't mind my saying so, is huge. It describes the Quest Fantasy story. The set-up for a trilogy you've likely read might go like this: A young man must destroy an evil ring that his uncle brought home from a journey. See, little set-up, three books follow. The point I'm making is that I don't know how you're going to limit the length of your story.
You may wish to look into the definitions of Active Voice and Passive Voice. They both have their uses.
I love the name of the river! There just has to be adventure on the other side of the Viciphicee.
I see one passive voice sentence in the fragment:
"Sitting crisscross by the riverside was Ben."
Passive voice of the sentence works for me though. Hyperbaton is a rhetorical figure that inverts standard syntax sequence, which passive voice is hyperbaton. Hyperbaton, like passive voice, can be a grammatical vice or a rhetorical virtue.
The poetry of the sentence above works for me from the sibilants' alliteration, the rhythm of the syllables' stressed, unstressed inflections, trochee actually, pentameter, and the sentence's emphasis arc, a soft sibilant entry, a medial rise, and a final denouement end, plot-like architecture. Rhetorical virtue for me.
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quote:It was a cloudless spring day and [a blanket of light was sprawled over the green hillsides.<--Passive construct] The shadows of the mounds stood over the meadows. [Flowing from behind them and down across the grasses was the Viciphicee River<--Passive contruc]; its crystal clear waters reflected the afternoon light like camera flashes. The heads of blooming flowers hung over the riverbank, and the murmur of water passing over rock sounded beneath them.
[Sitting crisscross by the riverside was Ben.<--Passive construct that is a sentence.] His left elbow was on his left thigh and his chin was on his palm. He looked across the river and watched the flower petals fall off their stalks. They floated down the stream, clumping together to form colorful mosaics. Beyond the opposite riverbank a soft wind blew atop the long grass, creating waves and ripples; [lining the side of the riverbank was a dusty dirt road.<--Passive construct. Ben walked along it everyday for exercise.
No critique is a law. With the amount of passive constructs in such a short span, the voice feels passive to me, too. BUT, I truly believe you have to finish the story before you can seek to clean it up.
Posts: 3687 | Registered: Jan 2007
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I see stasis verbs of the to be variety, static voice, only the one sentence though in passive voice. Ben is in a stasis, a state of suspended being, at the time of the scene. For me, that stasis state holds a slight intrigue, from a mild ominous sensation events are about to be dramatically interrupted. Life, literature life anyway, will not tolerate stasis for long.