I've been wrestling with this story in the back of my mind ever since the 'Inspired by Music' challenge back in May. I've written and rewritten it. I ended up with a completely different story than I originally intended, but it better fits the themes I was aiming for, so I'm okay with that. Comments and critiques are welcome.
(For the record, I know the first sentence is a terrible beast of a thing, and I apologize in advance. I fully intend to fix it, once I've had time to ruminate on it and figure out something better.) __________________________________________________________________
Agony coursed through Adelle's chest as she entered the arena that housed the fighting pits of House Favren. Her lungs burned; her breasts ached. The pain was getting too close to her heart. She forced it down, down, past her stomach, into her womb. She could heal the damage later. Right now she needed to be able to move, to breathe. The delay cost her dearly. By the time she recovered enough to seek out Lady Finsternis, the lady had already been seated and the fight was about to start. Adelle approached the stable masters' private booths. A quartet of heavy-muscled guardsmen stepped in her path. Adelle pulled a parchment scroll from her pocket and presented it to the guards. “I have important business with Lady Finsternis.” “The lady prefers her privacy.”
Hi Disgruntled Peony I really liked the descriptions of Adelle's feelings. I don't usually read this type of story but I think yours is going to be a good one. Metta
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An injured individual struggles to make a report to another individual.
Though close limited narrative point of view, the aesthetic distance remains remote to me, in part from the forceful language and headlong, breathless rush of the fragment. The sense of urgency is strong, though; however, feels unnatural due to limited inside looks in and out details reflected by Adelle and unsettled narrative point of view.
The first sentence -- well, again, "as" conjunction used for coordination, a certain signal of a run-on sentence. Yeah, many mediocre writers use the conjunction that way -- artlessly. Such conjunctions signal close connections between clauses, often that are not close nor connected, mere convenient writing habits.
For instance, the first clause tells Adelle's nociceptional (pain) feeling in a generic sense. The second clause, subordinated by "as," then tells, paraphrases, actually, a generic setting detail within the narrator's perceptions more so, if at all, than Adelle's. And so on throughout the fragment. Mere expression of state of being circumstances is the third degree type of static voice -- stasis of dramatic movement.
What does Adelle emotionally feel in reaction effect to her pains? To the "fighting pits"? (Consider a term that's not a gerund adjective-noun phrase, battle? Or gladiator, fight, itself, etc.)
Likewise, "Her lungs burned; her breasts ached." Bland and generic, lacks specificity and relateability. Metaphoric expression is warranted, such that the sensation perception is "vivid," tactile nociception, and emotionally charged. Even a syntax inversion develops more emotional closeness, from a true sentence subject instead of a personal pronoun in subject position.
True to mean the actual subject of the sentence, which is pain, //Fiery spasms racked her lungs; sharp aches clawed her breasts.// Verbal metaphors overcome otherwise metaphors problematic for fantastical fiction. Verbal metaphors are the most comprehensible trope type, especially when such describe personal, internal, emotional sensory perceptions.
This is static voice of the second degree: a to be and a parallel to get verb construct, unnecessary, "The pain was getting too close to her heart." "was getting" channels //was being//, a patent stasis statement, though, active voice. A more dynamic verb is warranted, say, //threatened// or its like, a verbal metaphor. //The agony threatened attack on her heart.// A curious polyseme there. To get verbs are often artlessly used as substitutes for to be verbs. This one does.
Stray commas here force unnatural emphasis, "She forced it down, down[,] past her stomach[,] into her womb.
Another false sentence subject sentence, "She could heal the damage later." The damage to be healed is the true subject, and, best practice, more specific as to what the damage is. What? A harmful possession or spell that imitates, say, curare's autonomic systems -- heart and lungs -- and motor muscles paralysis effect? Or is an actual wound the damage? Or both?
Conjunctive adverb phrases take comma separation. "Right now[,] she needed _to be able_ _to move_, _to breathe_." Plus three infinitive verbs in sequence -- forces unnatural emphasis.
"The delay cost her dearly." Note that sentence is a bald summary explanation and static voice -- state of being stasis statement. Again, best practice is too show circumstances such that Adelle discovers her lateness and imply the dear cost to her for onward dramatic movement processes.
This, too, is bald summary explanation and static voice, plus, a hedge phrase, "By the time she recovered enough to seek out Lady Finsternis, the lady had already been seated and the fight was about to start." Recovered from what? The delay? The damage done beforehand? And the time now come to exact the cost? When specifically is "By the time"? "When she recovered enough to seek out Lady Finsternis? When is that? Moments after she noticed she was damaged from what? Hours later? This is after-the-fact stasis, static voice that's stalled in a past moment; "had already been seated". Adelle sees the lady seated, action movement forward in time is best practice.
"about to start" is a hedge expression, either the fight starts as she looks, or is in progress, or hasn't started, and a "Begin fallacy: Describing action that is introduced to the reader for the first time by saying that so-and-so 'began to' <verb>. Eliminating the 'began to' almost always strengthens the text. A detail of Style." (David Smith, "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction")
This is a clear narrator summary tell, "Adelle approached the stable masters' private booths." Adelle cannot see herself perform the action.
This is possible for Adelle to see and a process statement, though is remote and a bald summary, "A quartet of heavy-muscled guardsmen stepped in her path." It, too, is an unrealized preparation segment, that a suspense segment follows up in the next sentence, though with no satisfaction conclusion. How does Adelle react? She whips out paperwork. No emotional response whatsoever, which would be part of the suspense segment or the now-moment satisfaction segment. Adelle allowed to pass after some hassle would be the full satisfaction segment, probably described soon thereafter.
"heavy-muscled" is an unconventional idiom, and a stumbler. The conventional expression is //heavily muscled. Flat adverbs, -ly adverbs with the -ly omitted, are a common US English dialect idiom (see "Flat adverbs" Webster's Dictionary of English Usage). This case, "heavily" is shortened to "heavy," nor is the hyphen warranted -- adverbs and the words they modify are not hyphenated. Still, a bland and bald, generic summary tell. //Muscle-knotted//? Or some such artful and dynamic and specific, personal to Adelle emotionally charged expression is warranted. Does she approve or disapprove of the muscle-knotted clod heads whose only resorts are blunt meat-force trauma?
"Adelle pulled a parchment scroll from her pocket and presented it to the guards." Maybe Adelle perceives those two actions, maybe the narrator does, still summary tell. The next sentence might best come firstly, too, causal logically. Can her pocket contain a scroll? How big is the scroll? How big her pocket? Would the vital scroll be stored somewhere safer than a pocket?
"'I have important business with Lady Finsternis.'" Vague specifics, possible anachrony "business." What is the true subject? Lady Finsternis awaits Adelle's report of, what? Something's afoot that affects the lady. What? Something artlessly withheld.
"'The lady prefers her privacy.'" Is that what a meathead would naturally say? "prefers" is too sophisticated for most people whenever and wherever. It's a polite refusal, when the natural want said is simple no and backed up by stubborn meathead menace. Easiest to outright deny any supplicants; after all, Cleopatra was the queen of denial.
Overall, the fragment to me withholds the true motivations for Adelle's circumstances, withholds how she was injured and what was really injured. And the emphases empty and forced, and action rushed.
The urgency of the fragment's action is a strong feature, though spoiled by specificity and static dramatic movement shortfalls. I would not at this time read on as an engaged reader. If I knew what harmed Adelle and what's at stake therefrom, I could be more engaged, though then would best for readers and my engagement express something about the human condition and what the story is really about. What? Pain as a great motivator?
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If someone tries to read this on their first pass, it’s easy reading. The flow works well, and there’s nothing overtly grammatical or structural that would deter people from reading on. That being said, I want to point out some higher level items that could be improved.
There are two points of confusion that took my attention away from the narrative. First, Adelle is in agony, but she’s also just entering the fighting pits. Agony and fighting are naturally related, and I want to connect the two concepts together, but I know that she has not started fighting yet – all of this caused some confusion. If you threw in a few words about what caused the agony, that would probably fix this. For example, if running for 5 hours straight caused the agony, I could attribute her current state to something that wasn’t caused by participating in the fighting pits. If fighting a previous battle in the fighting pits caused her agony, I’d like to know that as well.
The second point is at the beginning of the second paragraph, where you say that the delay cost her dearly. But, to me, the lady being seated is not something that would seem to have cost her dearly. If you added a few words about why the lady being seated has cost Adelle dearly, that would fix this point of confusion as well.
The magic system introduced in this excerpt (if there is one) reminds me of Sanderson’s Mistborn series, if you’ve read that. Forcing pain down from her heart to her womb sounds like a special ability, and the fact that she could heal later when she didn’t have to move further hints that either Adelle is special in some way, or the magic system in this world allows for this to happen. Anyway, just some of my thoughts.
Good work, and good luck on the rest of the piece!
Posts: 234 | Registered: Feb 2013
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It reads a great deal like a report, one intended to be read by the one who commissioned it, and knows the background. Unfortunately, the reader lacks the necessary context to make the scene real.
Someone we know nothing about is in a place and time unknown, for unknown reasons. We open with a medical description of the complaints of someone who feels “agony” for unknown reason. As a reader, do I really care that this person, of unknown age, background, and motivation has aching breasts if I don’t know why they ache? That applies to the pain elsewhere, as well.
You make a fairly startling announcement that the pain is moveable, and that through unknown agency, this unknown person is able to relocate it into her womb, which apparently is not only okay with it, it somehow makes it more bearable.
You say that the time this action took “cost her,” and say that the cost is that it delayed her. But by how much? Remember, we don’t know if she’s in a hurry when this begins or what made the pain begin. That matters a great deal. And certainly, she has to have suspicion as to why, which will dictate her actions.
And as a not minor point, since it takes long enough to make her late, why don’t people notice someone standing at the entrance to the arena, seeming to be in agony?
But that aside, why do I care, when I don’t know why getting to Lady Finsternis when “the fight is about to start” matters? Detail, we have. But events are not what make a story interesting.
If we know why Adelle wants to be there, what she hoped to accomplish, and what happens if she’s unsuccessful, we’ll have reason to care, and to wonder what will happen next. But if details just roll toward us, without our having been given a reason to care, what reason to we have to turn the page?
It seems you’re playing the role of camera, and making us know what’s happening in a film only you can see. But it’s her story. If you talk about it from the viewpoint of the narrator/storyteller, you can only be a dispassionate outside observer, speaking in a voice free of emotion. But place us in her viewpoint, acting as she does, for her reasons, and we have an interest in knowing what the response will be.