Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Entry for the Rainy Day blogfest

This is for the Rainy Day blogfest over at The Writer's Hole. There is quite a lot of rain through part of my novel. I suppose that if it is meant to portend anything that it would have to be this: the rain lasts as long as the prince is heading down the wrong path, and it clears up just as the correct decision is made. I didn't plan it that way, but it sounds appropriate.

Anyhow, this scene starts after the armies of the Known Lands have begun their march to attack the elves of Laithtaris for supposedly instigating it, when in fact the prince himself hired men to sabotage things because he wants an excuse to take more land that he sees as rightfully his.

Midas is the MC, a noble so minor that he's not even considered a noble by most, while Sol is the one true noble friend he has (other than his father-in-law Lord Tathis of Iskimir).

Sorry if it's a touch longer than the rules asked for. Any help spotting issues is greatly appreciated. You all found some great fixes the last time I did this!

*****

What should have been a three day march to the crossroads instead turned into a dreary, exhausting five day slog through pouring rain. The banks of the road back to Iskimir were now littered with broken wagon wheels and even a few dead mules. One of Midas’s mules had to be put down after snapping an ankle while trying to pull a stuck cart out of the muck that had once been a road. The men put their heads down and endured the misery with only the typical grumbling of soldiers on the march.

Midas’s troops had been the last in the line of march, and thus got the worst pickings of campsites upon reaching the crossroads. Sleep had not been easy to come by for anyone over the past few days, as there was no dry ground to be found, so tents had to be staked out in the quagmires that were once wheat fields. The prince and some of the other lords found farmhouses and barns to take over, forcing Lord Tathis to pay off his grumbling farmers.

Mules huddled in lines along the fences, while men huddled no less miserably under large tents. Putting tarps down helped little; water quickly poured in and formed pools inside the tents. Men placed boxes of supplies and packs and bundles of clothing around the tent, and tried to sleep on top of the uncomfortable mounds. Tempers frayed, so men talked little. When they did talk they often snapped at each other. Fortunately the men were too exhausted to resort to fist fights.

Midas gave up on sleep, groaned, and sat up. He rubbed his aching back. It was impossible to make the crates underneath him comfortable, even with the soggy blankets. He looked around the tent. His men appeared to be sleeping, but he could hear muttering sounds and quiet groans here and there, and he knew they weren’t sleeping any better than he had. The only one snoring was Sir Brindor. Midas rubbed at his aching head, wishing he could perform that wondrous elf magic that he had experienced a few short days ago.

He needed to go find Lord Tathis and see if he had been successful in seeing the prince and telling him about the elves’ offer to meet. He wasn’t hopeful that the prince would listen, but, nonetheless, he had to try. There had been no opportunity to speak with any of the other lords, other than Sol, during the march. Sol’s men had marched just ahead of Midas’s, so Midas and Sol had ridden side by side at times, trying to figure out anything they could regarding this miserable expedition. The only conclusion they could reach was that they needed to find a way to stop the attack on the elves, even if that meant committing treason.

Midas groaned again and stepped as quietly as he could into the pool of water beside his makeshift bed. The water reached his ankles. He waded to the entrance of the tent, balancing carefully so as not to fall on any of his men. He poked his head out and found the rain only a light drizzle.

He had no way of knowing what time it was. There was little to differentiate between night and day these past five days. They never saw any sign of the sun or moons, though there were times when the darkness appeared to lighten a bit. He kicked himself for not having a man keep an hourglass going, and then just as quickly dismissed the idea as pointless.

Heaving a heavy sigh, he set out toward the road, clambering over the wooden fence slats that marked the edge of the field. The road was only slightly better than the swampy fields. He walked along the rows of wagons and mules, looking at tent after tent and seeing no coats of arms. No one was bothering, and this made it impossible to find anyone. Midas wondered whether Lord Tathis would be with his men or with the prince in one of the farm houses.

After an hour he gave up. He stopped in the middle of the road and threw back his head to let the rain fall on his face. I’m too old for this. He turned around and set off back toward his own camp.

A short time later, he saw, low on the horizon, a small red ball glowing through the clouds. He knew it was either the sun or the small red moon; if it was the moon this was the first time in his life that he was happy to see it.

As he approached his own camp, he saw a figure sitting on the fence ahead. When he drew near he saw that it was Sol, and his spirits lifted a bit. Midas barked a laugh and climbed onto the fence next to Sol, who clapped him on the back.

Sol pointed down the road and said, “I think it’s that vile little moon, but at least something is breaking through the cloud cover.”

“Yeah, I saw it. Do you think these rains might subside?”

“I dunno,” Sol said. He groaned and stretched his arms. “I’ll tell you what--I doubt anyone is getting much sleep. I honestly don’t see how Prince Valderis expects us to be in any condition to attack anybody.”

“I keep wishing this could just be a nightmare, and I could wake up back in Welby, even if it means having to wake up next to Rina.”

Sol looked hard at Midas for a moment. “You know, Midas, the boys are about grown up. I don’t think Havlin would mind you and Rina splitting up. He thinks the world of you, and he knows you two are miserable together.”

Midas scratched the stubble on his cheek. “I suppose so. I just wanted to get the kids grown before I worried about what to do with Rina. I hate to think of upsetting Havlin, though.”

Sol leered. “Hey, my eldest is old enough to marry, and she’s not so bad looking now. She’s a little plump, but she’s got a pleasant enough demeanor. Hmmn?” He nudged Midas in the ribs.

Midas laughed. “Those red haired demons of yours? The prince should sic them on the elves; this would all be over by now!”

Sol laughed so hard he nearly fell off the fence. When he calmed down he said, “Yeah, they’re a handful aren’t they? I should’ve spent more time with them, tried harder to raise them better. Then maybe I could’ve married the girls off to your boys. I’m just not cut out to be a father, I guess.”

“Hey, at least Vona was a terrific wife. I envy what you had with her. The sickness took her so young. You can’t blame yourself for how the kids turn out when they don’t have a mother around. Hey, how come you never married again? You were always good with women.”

Sol groaned. “Oh, don’t start now. I love women, I do, but marriage doesn’t suit me. Anyhow, I have my fun when I want it.”

After a few moments, Midas said, “It’ll be a hard year. The crops are ruined.”

The two kicked at the mud puddles beneath them. The rain picked up again, and the red moon disappeared behind black clouds. A few minutes went by in silence.

Sol looked over at Midas again. “I know we keep asking the same question, but what are we going to do to stop this, Midas?”

“I can’t even find anyone to speak with, Sol,” Midas replied. “That’s what I was doing walking down the road--trying to find Havlin. You go try to find him, I dare you. No one’s bothering with livery right now.”

“We need Ord,” Sol said. “There’s no one else, other than the king, who commands as much respect among the nobles. He’d know what to do.”

“I don’t get it, Sol,” Midas said. “Ord cares as much for these lands as we do. More perhaps. He’d never let this happen if he could prevent it. Something must’ve happened to him.”

“Well, we don’t have time to send anyone to Pangalia to find out what’s going on. I had expected to see him in Iskimir. I hope you’re wrong about him.”

“Me too, Sol. Me too.

32 comments:

  1. Ted: You've got the makings of something good here. Having said that, I will repeat what I said on my own blog. I am going to be honest with everyone and I expect the same in return.

    Aside from punctuation and grammatical errors - all of which are easy enough to fix - I would love for you to read this passage out loud to yourself. I am willing to bet that you will hear what doesn't "roll off the tongue". There is somewhat of a cohesiveness missing from your paragraphs. It's almost as though I'm reading your outline. (sorry if that sounds harsh)

    You have a lot of "sentences". That sounds silly I know. What I mean is, you seem to add little short sentences after other sentences that could, quite simply, just be added together to make one "better sentence." Following is one example I have taken liberties with. It should explain what I mean.

    Your 2 sentences: Midas groaned again and stepped as quietly as he could into the pool of water beside his makeshift bed. The water reached his ankles.

    My 1 sentence: Midas groaned again and stepped as quietly as he could into the pool of ankle deep water beside his makeshift bed.

    Read both of these out loud. I catch all sorts of things in my own writing this way, you can't beat it for telling you the truth. When we read over things silently, our brains can trick us and make things up that aren't there, letting us skim our way into thinking we've nailed it, but it's a lot harder to trick your ears.

    Good luck with your writing and I consider it a privilege to comment on your work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Wendy. You make some excellent suggestions. My ear may not be good for this, because I have read this aloud more than once, so this style is perhaps something that feels right to me even if it isn't.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I liked this. I did flow for me. I saw a lot of character and world building going on here. To know if any is too much, I'd have to read more than this excerpt.

    For the blogfest; the rain is such a character. I liked how it pooled in the tent, and obscured the weird moon. So much going on here. I hope this scene is timely and appropriate to the novel progress because it really felt right to me.

    Midas is such an engagin character to me; and this scene just worked.

    .......dhole

    ReplyDelete
  4. I like the way ordinary life, and particularly the weather, intrude on what is supposed to be a fine campaign. The one question it did raise for me though was one of genre. It's the sort of thing you find in the grittier, darker type of fantasy, yet some phrases (like the 'wondrous elven magic' one) just seem to edge over into the brighter, happier sort of epic fantasy. Perhaps a slightly grumpier tone in spots, then?

    ReplyDelete
  5. You just made my day, Stu, because that is exactly what I was writing for! I love the gritty realism of George Martin, but I never see anyone apply it to high fantasy, which I also love, so that was my goal.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Visiting over from Christine's blog thanks to your participation in the Rainy Day Blogfest!!!

    I'm not one to comment on weaknesses, not because I don't want to, just because I am not yet confident in my ability for mistakes. I do however love this piece, I think rain is such a beautiful thing and can be used for several different scenes. I guess that's why I like it so much!

    Have a wonderful Wednesday!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks, Jen. I feel nervous about commenting on weaknesses, too. It does help, though. I have fixed an amazing number of issues with the help of those who point things out to me that I never considered. The first comment made me a little sad, but it also did show me how much better that sentence could be done!

    ReplyDelete
  8. The prince must have been doing things wrong for a long time since the world is flooded!

    Like Stu, I absolutely love the real-world feel. They don't have happy marriages, they aren't great parents; it's so different from the normal perfect fantasy.

    I want to know why they hate the little red moon.

    I think there are places you could consolidate like Wendy said. Cut cut cut and you'll have a polished piece.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I like how the "no shields" part illustrates how demoralized the camp's become. In this genre, treason is taken very seriously, if you'd said "..just short of treason," the seed would be planted while showing the gravity of it. I'm hoping for suggestions too, so have at it!

    ReplyDelete
  10. no suggestions this time!
    but i'll give an opinion...
    the beginning was kinda slow to me (but i'm kinda ADD anyway) but when Midas turns his face up to the rain, and says he's too old for this, and sees the RED MOON (hooray red moon!! so cool and creepy!!) everything really picks up. the conversation is hilarious and natural.
    GREAT SCENE!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks, Victoria. I have been thinking of trimming away some of the exposition in the beginning here, as I don't think it is all necessary, so your feeling kind of reinforces my own!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I agree with aspiring_x, I skipped most of the beginning and came down to the "interesting" bits down later...I would love to read the whole story tho...with a few rounds of editing, this would be very interesting material indeed!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I could really feel how downtrodden Midas was. You have some good stuff here! And I think you received some good avice up there.
    Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Love the mood and setting, and especially love the straight-forward sentence structure without a bunch of BS-iness. You don't sound like you're trying too hard, is what I mean to say. You're just telling the story in the clearest way possible.

    I'm willing to be good money, though, that if/when you find a publisher for this story, the editor make you change the name Midas, as it's too famous. That's no big deal at this point, but I'd change it on submittal.

    I love the premise -- a low noble who is barely considered a noble. Right there you hooked me, because don't we all love the underdog!

    - Eric

    ReplyDelete
  15. I enjoyed this piece. I do agree there are parts of it that need to be tightened up. I definitely could sense the drudgery of their situation. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I can't offer proper critique here because this format is all wrong for me, but I will say that I like this bit. It is a lot like most of the writing in The Shard, great characterization, great symbolism, and especially good dialogue. I do find it lacking a little description though, especially sensory description other than the visual kind.

    I mean how does the rain smell as it mingles with the saturated earth? How does it feel as it splatters against Midas' upturned face? That kind of thing.

    I don't mind the voice/writing/sentence structure bit because although it feels a bit formal at times, I also think it fits your story, plus I'm used to it.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I really like the fact that you provided a question in it to make us keep reading. great work there at the end, I would have turned the page just to see if they would find Ord.
    In the 3rd paragraph you mentioned tent 3 times, you have alot of the word "tent" through out, maybe try another word, like sleeping space, or something...
    my favorite line: "if it was the moon this was the first time in his life that he was happy to see it."

    ReplyDelete
  18. I liked it, too. Any grammatical errors will vanish with editing, and other than that, it's a good bit of story. The only place where you might reconsider the sentence structuring is the first paragraph, if you ask me...

    I do agree with stu on the grumpier tone bit. I like gritty fantasy (I'm thinking Brian Ruckley's Godless World, here). Matthew Rush also has a point on the description, but that could just be your style in which case it shouldn't be a problem - would have to read a longer bit to be able to tell.

    Two things that got to me: One, the name MIDAS. It has way too many stories associated to it in my head to let me read this story without preconceived notions in my head. Unless you say at some point that he was named for King Midas or something like that. Two, Midas groans a bit too much. Use different words, or let him yawn, or wearily comb a hand through his hair, or rub his eyes in exasperation or something.

    Tessa.xx

    ReplyDelete
  19. I can see your scene in all its rainy damp darkness. I love a good off to war sludge through the mud scene and you wrote just that.

    I also like how you describe your MC as someone at the bottom of the heap. I want to know more about him, root for him and see if he can make it to the top of the heap.

    I agree about reading ones work aloud. It has worked well for me when I get a bit wordy. I find extra sentences and words melt away for a cleaner read.

    And I caught 'groan' and 'grumble' often. May want to mix in anther word?

    I am still a bit uneasy critiquing others works, since I am so much a grammar nightmare myself, but I hope it helps.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thanks so much, everyone. I have already edited a lot of things that you have suggested, and I will do more.

    Matt, since I tend to not do too much description, I have always intended to do a full run through the book and find places to flesh it out a bit. I also want to look for spots to be a tad more lyrical, though without overdoing it.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hi Ted - I don't have a lot of experience in fantasy, especially not the darker type. Mine is more Terry Brooks - The Shannara Series.

    I did want to try and be helpful though because I know how frustrating it can be - to want help and not get it. I pulled out a Shannara book I had and then looked on amazon.com at his first book - The Sword of Shannara. You can read the first several pages there. The thing ABOUT fantasy is all of the description and the world building, but you have to be careful WHERE you put it. Right?

    What I would recommend is forward motion. Any good story must have that. Using words that, even if the characters have to be in one place a while, still move the story.

    This piece starts out with motion - words like "march" - but they quickly turn to "stuck" and "huddled".

    And yes, for the purposes of the rainy day blogfest we wanted to know about rain. I agree also that it's good to use all senses (I struggle with that sometimes too.) But keep the story moving forward. Really, all this piece needs is a faster pace. Knowing where to add description and where to cut. The pace slowed down, but you're very good at description. And, in fantasy, description is even more necessary than other genres.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Fantasy isn't really my area, but I thought there was some good work here, and plenty to build on.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Toilken also used the elements, directions, and landscape as metaphors to the danger, character, and wisdom of particular parts of his LORD OF THE RINGS.

    RaShelle is right. Forward movement is important in not losing the reader's focus and interest. A little trimming and this piece will go from great to excellent.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Dude! You have to get this published.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I liked the realism in this, and the concept. The beginning paragraphs were very "tell-y", i thought and one of my first thoughts was, "This is a little choppy. Some of the 'clarifying mini-sentences' should be consolidated." Otherwise, a great piece!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I love how the weather fits the mood of the scene. Brilliant piece. The dialogue feels natural. Love how the last line has so much weight to it. Great job. :)

    ReplyDelete
  27. It's amazing how just a few notes from people here and there can make one take a fresh look at a piece. I wish I could do this chapter by chapter through my book, but I couldn't torture you all like that!

    ReplyDelete
  28. Umm I don't see why you couldn't do that Ted. You might have to split some chapters up a bit, but yours are short enough that it could work ... I totally understand where you're coming from because in our crit group ... well I would like to think my feedback is good, but it means so much more when you can hear from this many people ...

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hi Ted: I know you're probably sick of hearing from me, but it bothers me when people think I've said something I haven't. So, here goes.

    This is in answer to the last post you left on my blog. I have re-read your piece and I have re-read my comments. I tried really hard to pick out what it was that prompted my comments. By punctuation I actually mean "commas". And truth be told, you're not missing many, just a few early on so that my brain has to think harder than "I" like when "I" read. Notice that I am stressing "I". Don't forget, there are people who pick up John Grisham and say they love, love it. Others pick it up and go "I just blew ten bucks". Now, as to grammar - what I really pick out is sentense/paragraph structure and, style aside, "my" brain wants to start at the beginning of the paragraph and "sail" through to the end. The two things keeping me from "sailing" on your "cadence" are; the sometimes jerky feel (and not that often) to your sentenses. (explanation is in my very first comment). Aso, something I couldn't quite put my finger on it the first time I read it - the use of the same word two and three times in the same paragraph (see p 3) during your descriptions. I think that is probably the thing that most prompted my comment about it feeling like an outline. You get me into the flow and then when you use the same word again so quickly I feel as though I'm re-reading the wrong sentence. It just all boils down to "flow" and not being jarred out of the story. Most importantly - a dozen other people may not notice this or even think it matters. This is simply the way "my" brain works. I guess that's why some of us love a book and some of us will hate the same book. It is clear that you have other strengths ie: superior world building skills as well as the ability to know what to do with plotting (you have no idea how many writers suffer on that account) so if you just have a few "mechanics" issues, you are well ahead of the game.

    -Best wishes.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I appreciate the clarifications, Wendy. I do know that one of my common weaknesses is the re-use of words, and fortunately my crit group is very good at pointing them out to me (we just haven't reached these middle chapters yet). I think we all have some blind spots like these.

    You are right that each person's stylistic comma use will work for some and not for others. Many people love Cormac McCarthy's style, for instance, while it drives me up the wall. I have always intended to do a complete run-through of the manuscript at some point looking specifically for language flow, but so far my editing has kept me busy with more visible issues. I'll get there eventually.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Great rainy setting. The first paragraph really depicted how bad the rain was--dead mules discarded by the road! Ew! Great entry!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Well, I'm finally wandering over to read your entry. Work has kept me too busy during the day and too mentally drained at night, but I promised myself I'd surf entries during my lunch breaks this week. So, my apologies.

    I love the world you've created, and the characters. You've obviously thought things through very carefully and it makes the story feel very authentic.

    There is a ton of exposition here that could be cut out or shown through action or dialogue. But I'm sure others have already pointed that out. I know how hard it is to do, and to select what goes and stays, so I won't even try to make any suggestions.

    I will suggest that you not worry about commas or word repetition right now. Focus on content; the rest of the details can be fixed on the final draft. At least, that's been my approach. Why go through the hassle of editing whole passages that might not even make it to the final version?

    I do think some of the dialogue sounded a little too modern, somehow. Like a couple of yuppies in a bar. You might want to try to rephrase it a little. I often have to do the same thing.

    Terrific entry, overall. Thanks for participating!

    ReplyDelete