Author Topic: Quick sense check - is it confusing?  (Read 1332 times)

Offline Shortcross

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Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« on: November 11, 2017, 02:51:07 PM »
Helloooo

I've just started to rewrite 20k words of a story I shelved last year. It's fantasy, so all a bit... well, magical. Archaic dialogue and all that malarkey (the genre kind of expects it).

I just wondered if this opening scene is confusing or not. Also, while fantasy does tend towards the melodramatic in style, is it overwritten?

Cheers

Shorty
_______________________________________________



Scene 1
Dance of the Starlings (I)




The starlings flocked in their millions. Like a storm of wing and feather, they massed in a great, seething thunderhead of birds that whipped up winds of their own making and darkened the forest beneath them. It was a gathering the like of which Abbot Goodwin had never seen, and the young monk at his side would soon have to touch the mind of every single bird.

There were other kinds here, too: magpie and thrush and forest swift that carved the air on scimitar wings. And far above them, riding the high winds, killers circled: eagles, hawks, kites, searching for prey. But, they were nothing to the flock — they were flies, buzzing on the back of an elephant. 

‘So many,’ Raphael said.

Abbot Goodwin placed a hand on the back of the boy’s neck.
 
‘Think of your training, Raphael. Remember all you’ve learned. Touch each bird lightly and move swiftly to the next. If you are fast and silent, you’ll find the flock-mind.’

And what thoughts that mind will have!

Raphael’s grey eyes followed the starlings as they surged and billowed above the two monks. ‘And if I fail, Father Abbot? If I lose my way — will you help me?’

‘You know that I cannot.’

For a moment, Raphael seemed much younger than his sixteen years, like a wide-eyed child gazing upon the sea for the first time, and Abbot Goodwin smiled at the comparison. If the sea had memories, if it could speak of long-ago storms and lands lost to time and tide — perhaps, then, its mind would be like that of the gathering: for while the life of a single starling may be fleeting, flock-minds were ancient — born with the first birds.

But, the boy was right to worry. To dance with the starlings was no easy task, and the mind of a flock of this size would be old and cruel and cunning. Raphael must watch his step; Abbot Goodwin had left many an unwary supplicant to die in this forest, raving and witless.

‘Must I do this, Father Abbot?’

‘If you are to become a priest,’ Abbot Goodwin replied, as gently as he was able. ‘If you would wear the crow’s skull, then you must.’

Raphael shivered despite the warmth of the evening, and Abbot Goodwin removed his hand from the nape of the boy’s neck. He must treat him as a man if he was to survive this final trial; accord him all the respect he would a fledged priest of the Corvan Brotherhood. Raphael must believe in himself.

Abbot Goodwin squinted into the setting sun. The day lengthened, and soon the starlings would take to their roosts.

‘Will you join the dance, Raphael?’ he asked.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2017, 03:00:36 PM by Shortcross »

Offline Matthew Hughes

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2017, 03:46:53 PM »
Not confusing at all. It's intriguing.

I'm not a fan of fantasy, as a rule, but this has a pleasingly savage tone to it. The alternative world is created with subtlety, the writing is very smooth and central idea is interesting. I wonder, is this training to read a more complex, human flock?

I would read more.

Offline Shortcross

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2017, 03:58:30 PM »
Thanks Matthew. I struggled a bit returning to 'fantasy style' after lots of mainstream short stories :)

I might need to calm down on the melodrama a bit, but thanks for the encouragement!

Shorty.

Offline Gyppo

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2017, 04:16:07 PM »
No confusion here.  Didn't seem unduly melodramatic for fantasy either.

You managed to get across the ruthlessness of the Abbot, well aware that this is sink or swim time for his acolyte.  And the quiet trepidation of the youngster.

The Corvan Brotherhood is intriguing.

Gyppo

Offline Simple Things

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2017, 04:28:47 PM »
Seems fine to me. I'd read further.

tinkering

Quote
born with the first birds.

born at first flight

*

all done. :)


Offline Shortcross

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2017, 04:47:05 PM »
Thanks Gyppo and ST - I'll take that as official confirmation that it's not confusing :)

Thanks for reading. I can crack on with the rest of it now!

Shorty

Jo Bannister

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2017, 02:22:49 PM »
Looks pretty promising.  I'd only suggest a couple of style points:

"So many," Raphael said. comes across as rather pedestrian in what is clearly an emotional moment.  Would he whisper it instead?  Or gasp it?

And following But with a comma is a banana-skin waiting to be skidded on. 

And then, would these mythical monks be familiar with elephants?  Because if they're not, the Blockedogy isn't appropriate.

Good luck with it.

Offline Shortcross

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2017, 03:16:08 PM »
Thanks Jo. All very first drafty, so I'll be making changes (and 'whispered' is an excellent suggestion - I'll make that change right now).

You're right about the but/comma thing. I've done it about four times in the following section (not posted here). It's the grammartarian in me. If I wrote:
Quote
But, the flock was a galaxy of life — a great, shifting constellation that surged and swelled in the gathering night.

Could I get away with (and still be grammatically OK):

Quote
But the flock was a galaxy of life — a great, shifting constellation that surged and swelled in the gathering night.

I'm getting all itchy without that comma after the 'but'!!!

Shorty


Offline katehigh

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2017, 08:00:45 PM »
Interesting and intriguing story -I would definitely read more.  I don't think it's overwritten – in fact I would add a few descriptive bits:

It has a menace that lends itself to a darker and bleaker landscape – sharp rocky outcrops etc, but still with trees for the roosting.   And hearing the noise/sounds of the birds would add to the atmosphere – cawing, screeching, warbling, or whatever the various birds do.

I'd also be interested to know more about what the Abbot and boy looked like – are they dressed in monks robes for instance?  On my first reading I also had them sitting on horses – my imagination getting carried away! 

I'm new at commenting on here so hope I haven't overstepped the mark by these observations - just my two bob's worth :-)

Offline Shortcross

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2017, 05:19:09 AM »
No overstepping there, Kate.

I have a pathological fear of physically describing characters. I try to work little bits and bobs of description into the narrative, but it just feels too clunky to dedicate a whole paragraph to it! Maybe I'm wrong to do so, as critters ofen tell me that they don't know what the characters look like, but I feel like if I just give them a few hints, they can make their own minds up.

The danger is, of course, that I then go and later describe something about a character that contradicts the reader's image of them. So, I guess you are right, I should probably bite the bullet and describe them a little more.

Cheers

Shorty.

Offline Gyppo

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2017, 06:23:56 AM »

I have a pathological fear of physically describing characters. I try to work little bits and bobs of description into the narrative, but it just feels too clunky to dedicate a whole paragraph to it! Maybe I'm wrong to do so, as critters ofen tell me that they don't know what the characters look like, but I feel like if I just give them a few hints, they can make their own minds up.

The danger is, of course, that I then go and later describe something about a character that contradicts the reader's image of them. So, I guess you are right, I should probably bite the bullet and describe them a little more.


Like many things in writing precise description is a two-edged sword.  A bit like nailing your colours to the mast.  (Clichés shamelessly exploited as shorthand there.)

Outstanding physical characteristics tend to influence other people's first impressions.  Therefore your other characters, if they are to be believable as people and not performing cutouts, will respond the same way. When my female lead has green eyes and long black hair I don't want my readers picturing her as a short bobbed blonde, or a rainbow-hued punk.  If they already know a real person with the same name who fits either of those categories that is the image which will first spring to mind.

Physical appearance or peculiarities of gait or speech are the first things we notice when meeting a stranger, part of our instinctive primitive 'friend or foe' assessment.  Think about how people react when a stranger stalks into a room.  Even if they haven't spoken the gait alone raises your hackles.  When they're closer eyes and speech are factored in.

If your characters tend to rely on their wits for survival, and I'm sure your older Abbot would, they will be even more attuned to those instincts.  They need the clues as much as the readers do.  As in an action sequence the reactions often show far more than the original cause.   But without the cause the reaction would be unfounded, out of character, and confusing for a reader.

Less than 2% of the population have green eyes, in various shades from watery to cat-bright.  The first is unpleasant to see, the latter makes you a bit wary, seeming somewhat 'witchy'.  Both trigger a definite response even if it later proves incorrect.

The bright green would also be a bugger to disguise without using tinted contact lenses or glasses, thus creating a built in handicap for your character if they want to pass unnoticed.  These little problems can be a great asset to a writer ;-)

My suggestion is don't wallow in lengthy screeds of description, but don't be afraid of a short paragraph here and there.  If your hints are too brief or too well hidden, they won't even register with some readers who will then be disconcerted when something later on doesn't add up.  Such distractions don't help to hold their attention.

Just my thoughts on the subject.  Others are perfectly entitled to differ if they know their approach works for them, and their readers.

Gyppo     




Jo Bannister

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2017, 09:44:58 AM »
I'm not a grammar OCDist - I tend to go with what will sound right to the averagely well-educated reader - but to the best of my knowledge it would never be correct to follow But with a comma at the start of a sentence.  It might be needed if the but was the last word before a clause:

He was a freak for grammar but, to the best of my knowledge, otherwise a normal guy.

The best rule (IMO) is to use the minimum punctuation consistent with absolute clarity.  If if isn't achieving anything, do without it.  If there's a risk of confusion, even momentary confusion, then it earns its place.

Offline Shortcross

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2017, 09:55:21 AM »
Thanks for the excellent advice, Gyppo, and spending the time to give it.

I think I'm definitely averse to giving physical descriptions. I'm almost at the end of the scene now (the snippet above was just the first half), and all the reader knows is that the young monk has grey eyes and the abbot is wearing a cassock (in a damp forest, so it's now wet to his knees).

Describing the appearence of a character just feels too telly to me. George Double-R Martin is a bugger for it - I get stopped in my tracks (as a reader) when he introduces a new character and then spends half a page telling me exactly what they're wearing. It's like I just don't care - it's boring.

But I do like your suggestion of using physical appearence/description to further define the character. Maybe I'll allow myself the occasional short paragraph, as you suggest :)


Thanks again

Shorty.

ETA -  Just saw a reply from Jo. You're right, it reads much better without a comma after the 'but' -  but, I can't help thinking of it as an introductory phrase (which should have a comma).

But, we've only just begun.
But we've only just begun.

The comma reads worse but feels right. Aargh!

Offline Gyppo

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #13 on: November 13, 2017, 10:20:49 AM »

ETA -  Just saw a reply from Jo. You're right, it reads much better without a comma after the 'but' -  but, I can't help thinking of it as an introductory phrase (which should have a comma).

But, we've only just begun.
But we've only just begun.

The comma reads worse but feels right. Aargh!

Do you talk like that, using the 'But' with a short pregnant pause to capture or maintain the listener's interest?  If you do then that's probably why you instinctively want to add a comma ;-).

Offline katehigh

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Re: Quick sense check - is it confusing?
« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2017, 07:47:32 PM »
Hi Shorty

I was reading an article in a local magazine which included the following sentence:

"Above the golden-leaved oak trees, a murmuration of starlings swirls and swoops."

Murmuration!  Who knew?  Anyhow just shows how much your story stuck in my head.

Cheers.