The British Fantasy Society Forum

Fantasy => Other Media => Topic started by: C.C.Benjamin on February 27, 2007, 10:06:18 pm

Title: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on February 27, 2007, 10:06:18 pm
Hi Everyone.

If this is horribly inappropriate, please accept my apologies, but I am just starting to get back into creative writing after a long haitus and I would like some opinions on my work.

There is a general theme and purpose behind them.

The site is http://intotheaether.tripod.com/

Thanks in advance,

Carl.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Troo on February 27, 2007, 10:54:07 pm
That's a whole heck of a lot of colour in the first two paragraphs of The Cairn. In fact, I see colour all over the place. I don't have the time to do an in-depth critique, and this probably isn't the forum for it anyway.

At least you can spell!  ;D
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on February 28, 2007, 08:08:58 am
That's a whole heck of a lot of colour in the first two paragraphs of The Cairn. In fact, I see colour all over the place. I don't have the time to do an in-depth critique, and this probably isn't the forum for it anyway.

At least you can spell!? ;D


Hi there!  There is a lot of colour and texture in The Cairn...but that is kindof the point of that tale!  Any critique would be excellent, I look forward too it, thanks!

I am the sort of person who could spell "a" wrong...thank god for spell-checkers, I have no idea how they wrote anything pre-computers!
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Troo on February 28, 2007, 11:57:31 am
Well, see, all the colours actually put me off reading it through completely. I wound up only skimming it, and the colour words just kept leaping out and beating my eyes. If your writing's putting a reader off, there's probably nothing to worry about. If it's putting lots of readers off, it's time to worry.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Bryn Llewellyn on February 28, 2007, 02:43:06 pm
I should like to critique part of this work.

?The forest rolls out before the wanderer. It is green, verdant despite the baking heat, and epic. There is a smattering of crisp blonde leaves among the lush canopy, belying the early start of autumn.?

This opening paragraph has many classic mistakes: green and verdant mean the same thing, so use one word, or preferably none, since the reader will understand that a forest is green; heat is hot without being baking; leaves are not blonde; why does the start of autumn need to be early?

?The uniform height of the trees creates a vast jade blanket under the yawning azure of the sky, interrupted only by a single, fierce white orb. The wanderer?s cape waves gently behind him, blown by the breeze that rustles his faded old tunic.?

?vast jade?, ?yawning azure?, ?fierce white?, ?faded old? ? an over-emphasis on doubled adjectives. One of the most basic rules of writing is to use such descriptive words only when required.

?Despite the waning summer, the searing sun beats down oppressively on the wanderer, and so he pulls the front of his worn hood down a little lower to shade his face.?

Waning summer is not the same as early autumn. The sun need not sear ? people understand that at this time of year it is hot. If the sun beats down, why is it also oppressive?

?He stands on a dry and dusty beige outcrop of rock, almost atop a mountain, and surveys the vast expanse of the forest?s canopy beneath him. Each tree is gargantuan, two hundred feet tall, with a coarse trunk as thick as a house. He can see the first of them at the bottom of the steep slope ahead, treacherous with loose stones and cragged handholds.?

Dry is already dusty; vast expanse ? you have already pointed this out. If you tell the reader how high the trees are, why call them gargantuan also?

This work displays most of the classic errors of writing. You overuse adjectives and have not established anything about your main character.

You will doubtless be wondering if I can do better. I am an author at the earliest stage of his career, so am in no position to laud my own meagre abilities, but here is how I opened my novel ?The Rat And The Serpent?:

?Night was at hand and it was time for me to hunt for food discarded by the citidenizenry. I stood up, my tattered parasol sending a shower of soot around me, then limped down Blackguards? Passage to the Hippodrome. My crutch thudded against grime-encrusted paving slabs. Between the din of the Hippodrome and the chaos of the harbour further south was a good area to search for scraps, but that fact was known to scores of other nogoths like me, each with their own territory, each nursing their hunger like an ulcer in the belly.?

Note that here I make one of the mistakes you have made, namely a superfluous use of the word tattered. But note how the main character of the novel is established. Note how the particular details of this opening paragraph set a scene ? in your opening paragraphs you use details, but they are so general as to convey nothing. Mine describe a person. This is crucial. Your reader has to grasp a main character immediately ? preferably in the opening line.

This leads me to the subject of opening lines. Mine was written to intrigue the reader with mystery. Your main character is unknown after many words. All we can see is landscape. Your first line exudes blandness.

I sincerely hope that this critique helps. I myself received many critiques of my early work, all of which pointed out my weaknesses. These lessons I hope never to forget.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Stephen Bacon on February 28, 2007, 09:28:34 pm
Bryn,

I really enjoyed the critique. I actually learned quite a lot myself.

CC - I hope you accept the criticism in the right way. As a novice writer, we should be as grateful for such interest and help.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 01, 2007, 02:19:46 am
Hi there Bryn,

I really appreciate the time you have taken to read and critisize, but I do have a few counterpoints:


I should like to critique part of this work.

?The forest rolls out before the wanderer. It is green, verdant despite the baking heat, and epic. There is a smattering of crisp blonde leaves among the lush canopy, belying the early start of autumn.?

This opening paragraph has many classic mistakes: green and verdant mean the same thing, so use one word, or preferably none, since the reader will understand that a forest is green;?


That sentance probably would have read better as "it is verdant, despite the baking heat, and epic".


heat is hot without being baking; leaves are not blonde; why does the start of autumn need to be early?


I am afraid I don't really understand your point here; heat can be hot without being baking, leaves can indeed be blonde (very fine, thin, crisp leaves) and autumn happens to be early because for the purposes of this story, it is.  If the reader is not informed about the extreme temperature, how are they to know?  Just saying "heat" doesn't tell the reader just how hot and unbearable it is. 

Telling the reader it is late summer/early autumn, in my opinion, fleshes out the world a little more.  There are seasons, time passes, things change and the world moves on.  It's not just a static world built around one event (in this case, the story).


?The uniform height of the trees creates a vast jade blanket under the yawning azure of the sky, interrupted only by a single, fierce white orb. The wanderer?s cape waves gently behind him, blown by the breeze that rustles his faded old tunic.?

?vast jade?, ?yawning azure?, ?fierce white?, ?faded old? ? an over-emphasis on doubled adjectives. One of the most basic rules of writing is to use such descriptive words only when required.


agreed, a few of these could be cut, but this is a short story and not a novel, so perhaps some intense scene-setting is required?


?Despite the waning summer, the searing sun beats down oppressively on the wanderer, and so he pulls the front of his worn hood down a little lower to shade his face.?

Waning summer is not the same as early autumn. The sun need not sear ? people understand that at this time of year it is hot. If the sun beats down, why is it also oppressive?


See, this - like before with the criticism of the decision to make autumn early and the leaves being blonde - seems akin to saying "why make the heroes hair ginger when it should be brown?"

The sun need not sear, but it does. 

Have you ever been to a desert?  I have, and I can honestly tell you "oppressive" is the only way i can actually describe the heat.  it literally pushes down like a weight.  This is not a warm afternoon in france, this is a 40 degree saharah-desert style heat.  I don't feel that would be emphasized enough by just saying "it was hot, and the sun shone on the wanderer, so he pulled his cowl down further".




?He stands on a dry and dusty beige outcrop of rock, almost atop a mountain, and surveys the vast expanse of the forest?s canopy beneath him. Each tree is gargantuan, two hundred feet tall, with a coarse trunk as thick as a house. He can see the first of them at the bottom of the steep slope ahead, treacherous with loose stones and cragged handholds.?

Dry is already dusty; vast expanse ? you have already pointed this out. If you tell the reader how high the trees are, why call them gargantuan also? ?


I am afraid i have to disagree - dry is not necessarily dusty at all.  A dry, alpine mountain is vastly differnent to a north american desert rock formation.

How big is gargantuan?  I'd want to have a rough estimate at least.

This work displays most of the classic errors of writing. You overuse adjectives and have not established anything about your main character.

The fact that I have established more about the location rather than the character should hopefully imply that it isn't who he is but where he is. 

You will doubtless be wondering if I can do better. .

Honestly, I wasn't.  I critisize Ben Affleck constantly, at every given opportunity (like this one) in fact, but I don't think I would actually be a better actor.  Keanu Reeves, however, is a totally different matter altogether.

Its not whether you can do better, it's whether you enjoyed the twist at the end.  :)

?Night was at hand and it was time for me to hunt for food discarded by the citidenizenry. I stood up, my tattered parasol sending a shower of soot around me, then limped down Blackguards? Passage to the Hippodrome. My crutch thudded against grime-encrusted paving slabs. Between the din of the Hippodrome and the chaos of the harbour further south was a good area to search for scraps, but that fact was known to scores of other nogoths like me, each with their own territory, each nursing their hunger like an ulcer in the belly.?.

Just to say, I think the last sentance, at 49 words, is a little excessive.  The optimum length of a sentance should be around 20 words, I believe.

Note that here I make one of the mistakes you have made, namely a superfluous use of the word tattered. But note how the main character of the novel is established. Note how the particular details of this opening paragraph set a scene ? in your opening paragraphs you use details, but they are so general as to convey nothing. Mine describe a person. This is crucial. Your reader has to grasp a main character immediately ? preferably in the opening line.

I do not believe your use of the word "tattered" is superfluous in the paragraph you posted.  It is information we otherwise would not have and it helps build the character - if he can't even afford a new parasol, he must be pretty damn poor. 

I notice you wrote your extract from the first person perspective in the style of third person.  I found it a little grating - people don't talk in that way, so in my opinion, I think it would work better from third person.  People don't give that amount of detail when talking to each other, and it reads as if it were a spoken piece, rather than a diary.  I may be wrong there, but that's just the impression that I got.

Nitpick -  "citidenizenry".  Is this a world-specific phrase (Citi-denizen-ry) or a misspelling of "citizenry"? 


This leads me to the subject of opening lines. Mine was written to intrigue the reader with mystery. Your main character is unknown after many words. All we can see is landscape. Your first line exudes blandness.

The main character is meant to be enigmatic.  There are plenty of things in his description that lend an air of mystery to him.  Your main character is not meant to be enigmatic.  He is meant to be one with which the reader can identify and care about.  The main character is unknown at the end of the story, because he isn't the star of it.

It is a question of what does he find in the forest.


I sincerely hope that this critique helps. I myself received many critiques of my early work, all of which pointed out my weaknesses. These lessons I hope never to forget.

It does.  I have made a number of alterations based on your opinions (which will be updated shortly) - thanks again for your time and effort and good luck with your own writing!

Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Bryn Llewellyn on March 01, 2007, 09:47:31 am
First of all, 'sentance' is spelled sentence.

You have missed a number of the points I made. The most important of these is that you do not grasp that in the opening paragraphs of a short story or novel there is no space for adjectives or 'intense scene-setting', whatever that is. Everything must be subordinated to the task of establishing character and tone to the reader. All you are doing is exploring your own imagined scenario in your own time, which is of interest to you but of no interest to your reader. Your reader needs a character, and a hook. You have provided neither.

My point about the seasonal information is that 'late summer' is a different time to 'early autumn'. You used both, showing that you do not know the date of your story.

There is no need for a rough estimate of 'gargantuan'. The word conveys all the information required.

I can assure you that there is no optimum length for a sentence.

Citidenizenry is a world-specific word.

Now we come on to the question of your enigmatic character. You cannot begin your work with an enigmatic character. Characters become enigmatic once the reader is aware of them, that is, once they are aware that there is mystery. This cannot happen when the reader first encounters the character since, for there to be enigma, there must first be foundation. It simply shows that you know nothing about your main character. You will never sell a story or novel that begins with a characterless character.

As for the choice of first-person narrative and style, this was chosen for reasons of authorial voice. If you read the book, you will learn more about the man, and why I chose that particular style.

With all due respect,

LLEWELLYN
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Troo on March 01, 2007, 11:26:57 am
Thanks to Bryn for taking the time to do what I've been too busy for. His critique is excellent, and covers much of what I would have said.

CC, there is no place in writing for fragile egos. A critique is not there for you to argue about or make counterpoints to. It's there for you to read, absorb, and take from it what you will. People are offering you genuine advice formed of their own opinions, and if you ever submit yourself for publication you'll go through exactly the same process, but with a single editor who has better things to do than spend days discussing his / her opinion with you.

There's an excellent book by Rachael Stock called "The Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published" which, if you're based in the UK, it's well worth your time reading. It gives excellent insight into the expectations of editors, including the magic balance of "how good your writing is versus how much hassle you are to deal with".

Ultimately everyone who spends as much time as Bryn has critiquing your work has done so because they would genuinely like to help you improve. Nitpicking and fighting with these people shows vast disrespect for time and effort given freely, and makes them more reluctant to help you again.

Learn to take advice for what it is: Advice. You can either learn from it, or you can discard it. But don't bite back at the person who gave it.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 01, 2007, 02:35:29 pm
Thanks to Bryn for taking the time to do what I've been too busy for. His critique is excellent, and covers much of what I would have said.

CC, there is no place in writing for fragile egos. A critique is not there for you to argue about or make counterpoints to. It's there for you to read, absorb, and take from it what you will. People are offering you genuine advice formed of their own opinions, and if you ever submit yourself for publication you'll go through exactly the same process, but with a single editor who has better things to do than spend days discussing his / her opinion with you.

There's an excellent book by Rachael Stock called "The Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published" which, if you're based in the UK, it's well worth your time reading. It gives excellent insight into the expectations of editors, including the magic balance of "how good your writing is versus how much hassle you are to deal with".

Ultimately everyone who spends as much time as Bryn has critiquing your work has done so because they would genuinely like to help you improve. Nitpicking and fighting with these people shows vast disrespect for time and effort given freely, and makes them more reluctant to help you again.

Learn to take advice for what it is: Advice. You can either learn from it, or you can discard it. But don't bite back at the person who gave it.

Troo,

Please don't patronise me.  I was not "fighting" or "biting back" at Bryn at all.  It is useful to be able to discuss points civilly, which is exactly what I have done, knowing Bryn would be happy to reply.  I do not have a bruised or fragile ego, I am merely after information. 

Carl




Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: CarolineC on March 01, 2007, 05:15:04 pm
Hi Carl - can I throw in a few points too?  Now, I'm coming at this from the angle of a reader, rather than a writer.  I've published a few reviews and articles, but my fiction writing - well, let's just say it hasn't got me published yet!

From the reader's point of view, I have to agree with Bryn about the over use of adjectives. Of course, there's nothing wrong with some adjectives where necessary, but too many just puts me off reading straight away.

But I can certainly see your point that if the place/setting is more important than the character, there's no problem with emphasising this aspect. However, I agree that it really does need a "hook". I'm a lazy reader. If something doesn't grab me in the opening paragraph, then I'm tempted not to continue with it. Could you somehow change the opening round so that you've got an event occurring which grabs your reader, who then becomes aware of the setting and it's importance?

The problem is, when you write, you have a vision in your head of what the setting, etc. should look like. But the trick is not to describe this image in such detail that it transfers into the mind of your reader - this just won't work as we all develop our own imaginary pictures which are unique. What you need to do is write so that each reader is able to form his/her own picture. It may not be identical to your picture, but it needs to work for each reader. Now, that's much easier said than done - and is probably one of the reasons why I'm not a fiction writer!

The other reason I'm not a fiction writer is my own problems with characterisation. I tend to have great ideas for a story/plotline, but when it comes to creating a character who will interest the reader, I just haven't got the knack. I wonder if you, Carl, find this a problem too?  I'd certainly welcome some advice myself, from those who know, about how to create interesting and believable characters.

You're doing just the right thing in seeking advice/critique like this and taking it on board. And I think your response to Bryn's critique shows that you are considering it, and not just dismissing it. The person who dismisses feedback isn't going to be able to improve (and I can say that with authority in my "day job" as a teacher!).

And please don't worry about Troo and think that she's being patronising. I've done a bit of work for them over at Pantechnicon and she's a very helpful editor who knows her stuff (not that I'm "crawling" or anything - I really mean that!). And I hope you don't feel I'm being patronising either. There's a particular knack to giving constructive criticism online, without the richness of a verbal communication channel. It's quite easy to misinterpret comments, and I'm sure anything said on this board is meant in a constructive and helpful way.

Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: joshua rainbird on March 01, 2007, 05:17:15 pm
The Cairn

Bottom line: it lacks pace and the first line does not hook the reader into the story.
In the opening sequence the description of the surroundings heavily outweighs the character of the wanderer making it difficult for the reader to feel any resonance with the protagonist.

I would like to see some more originality, succinct description and a character that has motives and desires within the first paragraph. All I see is a man in a brightly coloured forest holding a sword and occassionally clambering over rocks.

HOWEVER,

Mind over Matter is stronger.

It starts with the tension of a card game and with an uneven game. One of the characters seems to be gloating.
Pace is slowed a bit by over description and I don't like 'silky, platinum robes' ideas of sheet metal don't strike me moving slinkily.
Like Bryn I would suggest you trim down the adjectives and think twice before you use the word 'and'.
(But when used sparingly double adjectives can have startling effects if they convey two disimilar ideas, like: the sweet, rusty flavour of undercooked flesh.)

One thing that lets this piece down is that the crowd seems to move in unison- specific behaviours might add more depth, for instance A does this whilst B does that.

But the important question that you constantly have got to ask yourself when you are writing is:

What am I bringing to this story/page/line that will excite the reader with its originality?

Best wishes
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: steven pirie on March 01, 2007, 05:35:04 pm
That's the big problem with online critting; it's so easy for the critter to appear to be lecturing/patronising and just as easy for the crittee to appear overly defensive. It won't happen when this Internet thingy becomes touchy-feely?:-)
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Troo on March 01, 2007, 07:11:27 pm
That's the big problem with online critting; it's so easy for the critter to appear to be lecturing/patronising and just as easy for the crittee to appear overly defensive. It won't happen when this Internet thingy becomes touchy-feely :-)

*Gives Stephen a good touch-up*


Hur hur hur  ;D
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: steven pirie on March 01, 2007, 07:32:22 pm
Oo-er, I'm all interfered with...

I didn't say stop  ;D
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: CarolineC on March 01, 2007, 07:37:21 pm
That's the big problem with online critting; it's so easy for the critter to appear to be lecturing/patronising and just as easy for the crittee to appear overly defensive. It won't happen when this Internet thingy becomes touchy-feely?:-)
I do like the description of Troo as a "critter"!  ;D

Oi, stop it you two. We'll have none of that touchy-feely stuff going on here - it's a respectable forum.  ;)
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Bryn Llewellyn on March 02, 2007, 09:09:26 am

The other reason I'm not a fiction writer is my own problems with characterisation. I tend to have great ideas for a story/plotline, but when it comes to creating a character who will interest the reader, I just haven't got the knack. I wonder if you, Carl, find this a problem too?? I'd certainly welcome some advice myself, from those who know, about how to create interesting and believable characters.

I will post some advice of my own on characterisation. I profess no great skill in it, but I will offer what I have learned. I shall do this on my new Internet "blog" (I understand this new word is short for "web log"), which may be found at:

http://brynllewellyn.blogspot.com

I hope to add to this "blog" regularly, so please feel free to visit my somewhat gothic life.

With best wishes,

LLEWELLYN
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Troo on March 02, 2007, 10:13:55 am
I didn't say stop  ;D

Now now. What would the neighbours say?  :o
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: CarolineC on March 02, 2007, 12:43:15 pm
I will post some advice of my own on characterisation. I profess no great skill in it, but I will offer what I have learned. I shall do this on my new Internet "blog" (I understand this new word is short for "web log"), which may be found at:

http://brynllewellyn.blogspot.com

I hope to add to this "blog" regularly, so please feel free to visit my somewhat gothic life.

Thanks, Bryn.  I'll take a look at that when I get the chance.  Sounds like it will be useful.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Lermontov on March 02, 2007, 01:28:27 pm
You could do a lot worse than Holly Lisle's stuff, Caroline:

http://hollylisle.com/

There is one on Creating Chracacter, costs about five quid.

You can download her first book of wrting advice Mugging the Muse as a PDF file for free.

She may not be considered the greatest fantasy or thriller writer by any stretch but she is an old school, daily at the chalkface, jobbing author with one of the very best sites by a writer offering writing advice on the Web. Her free Podcasts are informative, too.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 02, 2007, 02:58:59 pm
Hey all,

After reading the advice presented, I have made a number of major changes to both The Cairn and Mind over Matter.  If anyone would like to have a re-critique and tell me if I have managed to improve them, that would be fantastic.

Cheers all,

Carl
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Bryn Llewellyn on March 02, 2007, 03:38:57 pm
I see no evidence of major changes to The Cairn.

With best wishes,

LLEWELLYN
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 02, 2007, 04:13:16 pm
The entire introduction has been completely restructured.  It has been mostly moved and had passages edited out.  I am surprised you did not consider the changes quite major, considering the original.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: steven pirie on March 02, 2007, 05:38:19 pm
Well, I read the story, and I have to say it seems to me everything before the meeting wth the elf creature seems superfluous anyway. I think you begin too soon. Why not think about beginning in medias res with the fatal meeting?
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: steven pirie on March 02, 2007, 07:49:27 pm
Have you heard of ? http://www.critters.org ? ??

If you're serious about receiving criticism it's certainly a group to consider joining.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 03, 2007, 07:28:01 am
Why not think about beginning in medias res with the fatal meeting?

Maybe it's because it's 7.30am, but "why not think about beginning in medias res with the fatal meeting?" doesn't make any sense to me at all!

Superflouous introduction aside, did you have any other opinions?

And thanks for the link to Critters, I'll register with them asap.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: steven pirie on March 03, 2007, 08:48:29 am
Okay, well to put it more simply: begin where the action is.

If you rush home and say to your partner: ?I saw an armed robbery.?

She/he says: ?Tell me all about it.?

You?d probably babble: ?They had guns, and masks, only they must?ve been good masks because they couldn?t see out and ran into Woolworths instead of John?s Jewels next door??

You wouldn?t say: ?Well, twenty-one years ago this midwife slapped my arse, and I gurgled a bit for six months, and lunch came in a wonderful container?? etc etc.

So it is with short stories. All the stuff before your elf encounter is just midwife stuff.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Bryn Llewellyn on March 03, 2007, 10:43:23 am
Mr Pirie is both correct and amusing. Your new opening line runs, 'The forest rolls out before the wanderer.' It would be difficult to imagine a less exciting opening line.

This, then, is what we are saying. You have made no major changes to your story. All you have done is rearrange some words, an action which does not count as revision.

With all due respect,

LLEWELLYN
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: CarolineC on March 03, 2007, 11:27:02 am
You could do a lot worse than Holly Lisle's stuff, Caroline:

http://hollylisle.com/

There is one on Creating Chracacter, costs about five quid.

You can download her first book of wrting advice Mugging the Muse as a PDF file for free.

She may not be considered the greatest fantasy or thriller writer by any stretch but she is an old school, daily at the chalkface, jobbing author with one of the very best sites by a writer offering writing advice on the Web. Her free Podcasts are informative, too.
That's really helpful too - thanks.  As is the "critters" site, which I didn't know about before.

What Bryn and Steven are saying, Carl, is what I was trying to say with my comments about me being a "lazy reader". Unless the story grabs me with some interesting action in the first paragraph, then, as a reader, I just can't be bothered to continue with it. I guess from the writer's point of view it seems natural to start with some scene setting and then move onto the action, but this isn't really the best way to do it. Start with something which is going to hold the reader's interest, then continue to paint that picture of the scene in the reader's mind as the action continues.  Not an easy task - which is where all these useful sites and references to materials come in handy ...
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 03, 2007, 11:29:53 am
Thank you Steven and Bryn.

Steven,

Evidently I shouldn't post as soon as I get up, because I don't make myself clear enough at that time in the morning. ?"in medias res" either contains spelling mistakes or is just a phrase I have never heard before, but I took your meaning with no problem. ?Thanks for the response, though, and for taking the time.

Bryn,

I was referring not to what was happening but to how it was being related. ?As this character is to be featured in a collection of these stories, the question "who is the character" will become redundant to "where the hell is he this time?". ?These stories are to showcase what he encounters, not who he is, (with any luck) for a game that is currently in production. ?

Despite this, I don't doubt the introduction will be cut at a later date (for space reasons, if no other), but I do not need you repeating the same opinion to me. ?I have read and accepted your critique. ?I haven't changed the opening line because it will be, whether you believe it to be or not, important to the full tale itself. ?The Cairn is not the first story in which the wanderer is encountered.

I did agree with you that the introduction was a little too wordy and vague, and so I rearranged and edited a lot of it to make it read a little easier and hopefully get to the wanderer doing something (as in, traversing the mountain) rather than the description of him. ?An entire paragraph of that was removed. ?

I apologise if I am coming across as rude or arrogant, I am sincerely trying not to be, but I feel like I must seem that way due to the tone of your posts.


This next question is one I have had absolutely no feedback on: Did anyone have any opinions on the actual tale within the story? ?

Thanks

Carl



Caroline,

I must type slowly, because your post wasn't there when I started this one!  Hopefully this post clears it up though, and if it would help I could probably paste a version where it starts at the action, if anyone is interested.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 03, 2007, 11:34:50 am
I can't seem to see an "Edit" button, so just one quick thing:

How do the opening lines of the other two stories currently on the site strike people?  And any general language or story critique on the others would be very useful as well, thanks!
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Pigasus on March 03, 2007, 11:52:45 am
Mr Pirie is both correct and amusing.

Agreed...
I also presume his 'armed robbery' sketch was the start of a horror story.
Why else would anyone (even masked robbers) run "into Woolworths"?
 ;)
Liked Steven's phrase "just midwife stuff" for a story's needless preamble, too.
 8)   
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Lermontov on March 03, 2007, 02:22:16 pm
C.C. I think the best advice you can be given has already been given here: find a private members' forum in which to get your work critiqued. A public forum really isn't the place. No matter how measured, informative and helpful the resulting critique may be, you will always lay yourself open to the passing flamer and nutter on the trawl (luckily not on this site, so far!). Now of course, the first lesson for any writer, is to be able to take criticism, but there is critiique and then there is criticism; asking for a critique on a public forum is akin to bending over naked and grabbing your ankles for all and sundry to have a go. My advice is: don't do it! You don't know where they have been! Those private members' forums are the place to go, as I think you may already have found.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Bryn Llewellyn on March 03, 2007, 02:22:44 pm
As this character is to be featured in a collection of these stories, the question "who is the character" will become redundant to "where the hell is he this time?".

The question of "who" is never subordinate to any other question.

These stories are to showcase what he encounters, not who he is, (with any luck) for a game that is currently in production.

In that case, is this whole thread not a completely pointless exercise? We are not interested in your game. We are interested in people and story.

I apologise if I am coming across as rude or arrogant, I am sincerely trying not to be, but I feel like I must seem that way due to the tone of your posts.

Please do not be concerned. It is just the way I speak, or in this case write. You will have ample opportunity to critique my work when I post it on the "Writers' Dock" website.

With high regards,

LLEWELLYN
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 03, 2007, 03:33:54 pm
The question of "who" is never subordinate to any other question.

Personally, I disagree with this: "who" does indeed become subordinate to "where" after the N'th story involving a recurring character.  After reading the third or fourth story, I would become sick of hearing about the characters harrowing trials and past personal milestones, and would want to hear what happens next.


In that case, is this whole thread not a completely pointless exercise? We are not interested in your game. We are interested in people and story.

Of course you aren't interest in the game, which is why I made no metion of it.  It is only at this point, where you require justification for the lack of interest in the main characters history or motivations, that it becomes relevant.

I still want opinions on the stories, as stand-alone works preferably, because then a reader can pick up the manual at any point and start reading something enjoyable and understandable. Any advice that gets me to this destination is fantastic advice!


Please do not be concerned. It is just the way I speak, or in this case write. You will have ample opportunity to critique my work when I post it on the "Writers' Dock" website.

I look forward to it. I mostly trawl 18. Short Stories (R W R) and 26. Science Fiction/Fantasy! (R W R) forums, so if you post in any of those I will certainly have a read of your work.





Lermontov,

Then call me a whore, because I want everyone's opinion!  The reason I came here is because I do not want to be molly-coddled.  The worst thing to do, in my opinion, is to deny the truth.  If the truth is I ramble too much about setting and not enough about character or action, then it's something I need to know.  Hopefully the next piece of work will reflect what I have learned here.

If nothing else, brutal opinions at the very least build character, which is never a bad thing.  :)




I am currently mid-way through writing the next piece, which has obviously been shaped by much of the advice given from you guys, so hopefully it will get up and grab you and draw you into it more easily than the others!
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Troo on March 04, 2007, 03:09:59 pm
Unless the story grabs me with some interesting action in the first paragraph, then, as a reader, I just can't be bothered to continue with it.

This is exactly how editors approach their unsolicited submissions and slush pile, too. If you can't grab a casual reader, you sure as hell won't get past a professional one.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Bryn Llewellyn on March 04, 2007, 05:30:31 pm

This is exactly how editors approach their unsolicited submissions and slush pile, too. If you can't grab a casual reader, you sure as hell won't get past a professional one.

It turns out Mr Benjamin was not writing seriously. (See posts above.)
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 04, 2007, 07:40:32 pm
That is untrue, I am just not looking to get each piece individually published.

And even if I feel the collective advice on offer here isn't strictly applicable, it is always useful to know.  I don't doubt I will get on my way to producing a novel at some point!
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Bryn Llewellyn on March 05, 2007, 11:02:26 am
My apologies Mr Benjamin, that was a little harsh. But you must understand that the mere mention of the word 'game' will push away a good number of people from your compositions.

With best wishes,

LLEWELLYN
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Bryn Llewellyn on March 05, 2007, 11:54:01 am
My thoughts on the topic of characterisation have been posted on my web log.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Troo on March 05, 2007, 08:42:23 pm
My thoughts on the topic of characterisation have been posted on my web log.

Excellent! Thanks, Bryn!
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Rolnikov on March 15, 2007, 09:11:00 am
Quote
The forest rolls out before the wanderer.
This feels a bit like starting a story with "his eyeballs crawled across her body". It might be a common phrase, but as the first line of a story, and a fantasy story at that, where it's quite possible that a forest made of Ent-types really could be rolling around, it is very awkward.

The rest of the first couple of pages seems to have a lot of descriptions of scenery - do you realise how many people just skip those, or skim-read them? "Ah, green fields, mountains, got the picture, moving on!"

As for the story, it seems pretty standard fare - boy meets beautiful girl who is really evil and kills him. It's such a common plot, that it really cannot be considered enough on its own to sustain such a short story.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 21, 2007, 11:50:35 pm
Just a note for you all:

A new story is up, that I have entered into a competition on the giant in the playground forums.  It's called The Call, and any feedback would be great.

Also, pruned Mind over Matter heavily for adjectives/adverbs.  The Cairn may get the same treatment in the near future!

Cheers,

Carl
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: steven pirie on March 22, 2007, 08:02:55 pm
Quote
The forest rolls out before the wanderer.
This feels a bit like starting a story with "his eyeballs crawled across her body".

Oh, I dunno, in a fantasy story maybe they did just that  ;D
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: joshua rainbird on March 24, 2007, 11:51:34 am
I read the The Call and the revamped Mind Over Matter

here are my concerns:

It is difficult to identify a protagonist. The pieces are written in an objective style with great emphasis on character actions and location description, but most of this is irrelevant to either the plot or to giving insights into the characters' motives. The rest seems overstated and therefore loses pace. Most of the description seems unnecessary.
To pull this off your reader has to get inside a character and begin to share their emotions. That character has to guide (and mislead) them through the story.
Strip away the fantasy elements and what have your characters got? Think of Conan the Barbarian- a child seeking revenge on the man who killed his mother. Drizzt Do'Urden- at odds with the cruelty of his own culture seeks friendship amongst people who fear him. Frodo Baggins- a kid from the suburbs who reluctantly tries to rid the world of a menace before it destroys the people he loves.

It doesn't seem to have a uniqueness. Looking at the creature retinue- beastmen, satyrs, minotaurs, etc. and the character retinue- thieves, thanes, witches, mysterious mages and the props- grimoires, glamers, swords, coins called 'coppers' it reads as standard D&D fare.To add into that a few 'thees' and 'thous' and it becomes cliche. Good fantasy fiction, especially high fantasy,  introduces new stuff either by taking traditional ideas and twisting them (Stan Nichol's- Orcs) or inventing imaginative new environs and cultures (RA Salvatore- Menzoberranzan).
One half expects a stranger who walks into a pub to be greeted with suspicion, what if he was welcomed warmly? Wouldn't that create more tension? Why would they be so friendly? A friend once advised me never to write the first thing that comes into your head. Always think how it could be told differently.

There are too many loud gestures and hostile encounters. Such events should be the exception rather than the norm. You need to create tension in other ways.

Your crowds move in unison as if the onlookers are churned out of a sausage machine.

The pieces have benefited from the trimming of adjectives. Keep writing but may I make one one big suggestion?

Write about something that has changed your life and, if necessary, put it in a fantasy setting.
It's the empathy that hooks the reader.  :)
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 25, 2007, 10:02:25 am
Hi Joshua, thanks for reading!


I read the The Call and the revamped Mind Over Matter

here are my concerns:

It is difficult to identify a protagonist. The pieces are written in an objective style with great emphasis on character actions and location description, but most of this is irrelevant to either the plot or to giving insights into the characters' motives.

Yeah, I have been heavily criticised for using too much POV work, and so I have the options of either writing objectively or writing from a characters point of view.  As The Call is about an event, rather than a character, i chose objectively.  If people critise you if you do one or the other, you just gotta choose one and stick with it!

The rest seems overstated and therefore loses pace. Most of the description seems unnecessary

Really?  Could you give examples, please?  I honestly thought I had pruned pretty much all the unnecessary description, and I thought the pace was okay.  I realise it's rude to ask, but could you elaborate at all?


To pull this off your reader has to get inside a character and begin to share their emotions. That character has to guide (and mislead) them through the story.
Strip away the fantasy elements and what have your characters got? Think of Conan the Barbarian- a child seeking revenge on the man who killed his mother. Drizzt Do'Urden- at odds with the cruelty of his own culture seeks friendship amongst people who fear him. Frodo Baggins- a kid from the suburbs who reluctantly tries to rid the world of a menace before it destroys the people he loves.

I haven't read any Conan (is it good? I was tempted to pick up a massive volume, free incidentally, but chose The Dark Tower instead), but I have seen Conan the Destroyer.  I'm guessing that isn't a good point of reference for what you are saying, though!

I do see your point through, but I don't really want to give that much away in two pages.  Rather than giving the reader all the answers, I would rather leave them with a few questions.  Is this not being translated well, or am I just doing a bad job of it?


It doesn't seem to have a uniqueness. Looking at the creature retinue- beastmen, satyrs, minotaurs, etc. and the character retinue- thieves, thanes, witches, mysterious mages and the props- grimoires, glamers, swords, coins called 'coppers' it reads as standard D&D fare.To add into that a few 'thees' and 'thous' and it becomes cliche. Good fantasy fiction, especially high fantasy,  introduces new stuff either by taking traditional ideas and twisting them (Stan Nichol's- Orcs) or inventing imaginative new environs and cultures (RA Salvatore- Menzoberranzan).

I have to be honest, I read Orcs and The Crystal Shard, and I wouldn't put them in the realm of Good Fantasy.  I haven't read anything else of Salvatore's because, frankly, his inability to make me feel the mood put me off completely.

At one point in The Crystal Shard, Wulfgar is fighting 10-foot-tall giants in their caves.  One smashes him in the ribs with a huge club, but Wulfgar "was made of sterner stuff" or something and just takes the blow like it was delivered by a child.  That kind of logical inconsistency dogs the entire book, actually.  Causes without effect, etc.

Orc's is kind of the same, with this warband getting into dozens of fights without a loss, or significant injury.  Then in the final fight, the old guy just gets stabbed in the heart (or wherever) and after that I just yawned my way to the end.  Jup and Haskeer's interactions were good though.

Anyway, to the actual point:  I only used "thee" once, and that was in a quote from someone a long time ago! I suppose the lack of information regarding the cultures within the world is probably responsible for them appearing to all be the same as regular fantasy fair, but honestly I don't really want to needlessly elaborate on them as they aren't a major feature of the story.

I have entered The Call for a competition of competitor vs competitor, and in my bracket I am actually leading.  One judges criticism was that I have made the satyr goat-headed and female.  Apparently there were no female satyrs, and they had human heads.  I haven't bothered pointing out that this is where my version of a satyr differs (as in, they are a race, and would need some way to procreate.  Women were chosen because I don't even want to consider asexual reproduction in goatmen!).

One half expects a stranger who walks into a pub to be greeted with suspicion, what if he was welcomed warmly? Wouldn't that create more tension? Why would they be so friendly? A friend once advised me never to write the first thing that comes into your head. Always think how it could be told differently.
Quote

That is probably very good advice.

I agree with you, but given the situation it would be nonsensical.  To put it in a real-world context:

If a bar that was frequented by the Black Panthers was visited, one night, by a man in a pointy white hood, how would they react?   

Your crowds move in unison as if the onlookers are churned out of a sausage machine.

Do you have any suggestions on how to improve this?  Not necessarily "you should say xxx" but general techniques I can apply in the future.

Thanks for the input, I hope you can tell I haven't just dismissed any of it out of hand!

Cheers

Carl




Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 25, 2007, 11:48:04 am
Ack, sorry for the poor formatting, must have forgotten a [/quote] somewhere!
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: joshua rainbird on March 25, 2007, 12:13:32 pm
Hi Carl

Let me just explain the examples I gave:
Orcs introduced traditional high fantasy characters and put them in a totally new light. Stryke and gang were played as wild-west antiheroes- interesting slant. The plots were the weak point in the trilogy.
Menzoberranzan described beautifully how a race of subterrnanean elves lived in a cruel tyrannical regime: murderous hunting parties; constant threat and intrigue; wierd time-keeping devices; eugenic ideals; and the svirfneblin were even better. The impervious Wulfgar was a restriction imposed by trying to rationalise the bizarre statistics that D&D creates when characters get to higher levels.

POV can be a problem if misused. Readers particularly hate being spoonfed information so here are a few guidelines I created for myself:
Every character has an opinion and no one is always right. The arguments about events in the story can create some good dramatic tension, help the characters to interact and recap on the important stuff;
Don't tell readers what the characters are thinking unless the are all alone or the story is a first person narrative. Body language is essential here. For main characters I set up an unique 'poker-tell' which I then refer to briefly every time he lies (of course the reader can can only guess as to what he's lying about). And remember that even in a first person narrative the character could be in denial of their true feelings (George Orwell: Keep the Aspidistra Flying).
Don't jump around with point of view.
Rewarding reading is about working out the clues and fantasising about the outcome.
 
A brief note about overdescription: How many times are you telling the reader that the thief is crying? You also give actions to the Thane that are already assumed by the dialogue:
?I was in Aselun! I was a Legionnaire of the Black, ready to burn that holy city to the ground!? He boomed, raising his fisted hands aloft. Do you need the added description?

Crowd scenes can be tricky but I think the best way of dealing with this adding brief action/dialogue indicators of crowd attitudes. Why are people are there? Why are they staying? Are they listening? Are they uncomfortable? (e.g X yawns) You probably only need two brief well-timed instances to pull it off. 

'Thees' and 'thous' stick out like sore thumbs. You only need one to raise a criticism.  ;)

Quote
One judges criticism was that I have made the satyr goat-headed and female.  Apparently there were no female satyrs, and they had human heads.  I haven't bothered pointing out that this is where my version of a satyr differs (as in, they are a race, and would need some way to procreate.  Women were chosen because I don't even want to consider asexual reproduction in goatmen!).
From what I understand satyrs were into interspecial reproduction so it's probably best not to explain it.  :D Just for the record I think the judge is being purist.

Good luck with the comp.







Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 25, 2007, 03:52:51 pm
The impervious Wulfgar was a restriction imposed by trying to rationalise the bizarre statistics that D&D creates when characters get to higher levels.

Yeah, I know, but the D&D hit point system is purely an abstraction anyway, so that giant's hit on a level 20 barbarian wasn't really a hit at all, it was a glancing blow, dodged or blocked by Wulfgar.  Salvatore's bit really grated on me as being a wasted sentence!

POV can be a problem if misused. Readers particularly hate being spoonfed information so here are a few guidelines I created for myself:
Every character has an opinion and no one is always right. The arguments about events in the story can create some good dramatic tension, help the characters to interact and recap on the important stuff;
Don't tell readers what the characters are thinking unless the are all alone or the story is a first person narrative. Body language is essential here. For main characters I set up an unique 'poker-tell' which I then refer to briefly every time he lies (of course the reader can can only guess as to what he's lying about). And remember that even in a first person narrative the character could be in denial of their true feelings (George Orwell: Keep the Aspidistra Flying).
Don't jump around with point of view.
Rewarding reading is about working out the clues and fantasising about the outcome.

Very interesting.  I also enjoy having characters arguing points that may or may not be true - the point is the character does.

Much food for thought here, which is excellent as I am hungry.  ;D
 
A brief note about overdescription: How many times are you telling the reader that the thief is crying?

Er I had a quick look, and only once ("The thief covered his face with his hands and wept unashamedly." and a reference to him having bleary eyes).  However, this means that part reads like I am repeatedly telling the reader the thief is crying, and so should probably be revised anyway.  I'll have a look at get back to you!


You also give actions to the Thane that are already assumed by the dialogue:
?I was in Aselun! I was a Legionnaire of the Black, ready to burn that holy city to the ground!? He boomed, raising his fisted hands aloft. Do you need the added description?

Evidently not!  I added that as an extra after revision, because frankly I wasn't confident enough that the preachers mannerisms would be translated well enough through his speech. 

Crowd scenes can be tricky but I think the best way of dealing with this adding brief action/dialogue indicators of crowd attitudes. Why are people are there? Why are they staying? Are they listening? Are they uncomfortable? (e.g X yawns) You probably only need two brief well-timed instances to pull it off. 

Good call.  I take it you are referring to the guys in Mind over Matter (as this would not be the first time someone has suggested this point for that story)?  The thing is, how do you translate that well to a mixed crowd of double-hard bastards?

'Thees' and 'thous' stick out like sore thumbs. You only need one to raise a criticism.  ;)

But it was justified!  ;)  I don't like stories that use them in what is supposed to be everyday speech.  True, they may have talked like that back then, but we don't now.  The "thee" was there to emphasise the fact the alchemist was using a phrase/expression/quote from a long time ago.

From what I understand satyrs were into interspecial reproduction so it's probably best not to explain it.  :D Just for the record I think the judge is being purist.

Good luck with the comp.

Yeah, he said it was just a minor nit-pick and still voted for me, so no problem.  Thanks, it's going quite well at the moment, the content and way The Call was written seems to be what I'm winning on, however not all the votes are in so I may just have gotten lucky with the first two!

Cheers

Carl
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: Troo on March 25, 2007, 07:27:34 pm
Actually Carl, a really excellent place to get decent crits on your work is here: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php

I've found the writers there to be extremely helpful, polite, and constructive in their feedback. But do join in elsewhere in the forums before requesting feedback of your own.
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: joshua rainbird on March 25, 2007, 10:20:02 pm
You might also want to consider www.urbis.com where you critique others to earns credits to unlock peer critiques on your own work.
It can be a ruthless arena at times but highly entertaining in ego-masochistic way.  ;D
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on March 29, 2007, 06:33:36 pm
Well The Call won me the first bracket, and so I am through to round 2.  My entry for this round is probably going to be something sci-fi!
Title: Re: Some interesting (hopefully!) short stories...
Post by: C.C.Benjamin on April 14, 2007, 01:34:31 pm
Even though I doubt anyone is still reading, I have ripped the entire first section of The Cairn out, and added a sci-fi piece to the site which I would dearly love to have critiqued!

Carl