Author Topic: Grateful for a critique  (Read 265 times)

Offline JWHMarshall

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Grateful for a critique
« on: September 24, 2018, 07:04:18 PM »
Hey Gang - this is the first thing I've submitted to the forum - I'm hoping for a critique. Be as harsh as you want - I can take it.

The piece is a fan-fiction fantasy piece, with original characters (I've essentially just co-opted a world another author has created. I realise the impropriety of this but it's for a specific multimedia project).

It's basically a chapter. I'm aware it needs an edit and possibly some structural work but I'm submitting it for feedback to see what others pick up before I proceed.

Advanced warning - there are adult themes - I hope I haven't been too gratuitous in my presentation of them. I think it should be okay, though I am interested to see whether the protagonist's actions 'blacken' him in the eyes of the reader.

*****

A Roll in the Hay

The bawdy din of drunks, the smell of smoke from pipe and roasting pit, and bodies packed together so thick it was claustrophobic - this was the inside of the Hound and Hawk. At the table before Murt sat a clay mug of schnapps, some salted melon seeds, and the sensuous, wriggling form of his new dear friend, Nicoletta.  She traced a finger along Murt’s arm, over his scars and around the undulating lines of a tattoo.

“And where’d you get this one, Sailor?” She cooed. She was feigning interest,  Murt knew, but she was doing a fine job.

“Hell knows,” said Murt. “From some bloody nightmare. Men, probably. Not monsters.”

“And this one?” She extended an unembarrassed hand toward the scar, which was partially concealed by Murt’s beard. 

Murt tilted his head to avoid her touch, intercepting her hand with his own. He let her feel his strength as he guided her hand down to the top of the table and held it there. Her half lidded eyes blazed. Maybe she just enjoys her work.

“That was a shaving accident,” Murt said. But as he spoke the words, the true events that caused the scar flashed through his mind.

Poisoned by a village wise-woman, then sentenced to hang without trial, then as life was being strangled from his body, the sword thrown by one of his elven kinsmen that flashed and severed the hangman’s rope, and helped him ward off death.

It was just another day’s work, for a witcher. A bad day’s work, admittedly.

“Hmph, some shaving accident,” said Nicoletta, as two tussling women moved into orbit around the table.

“Ow! Watch it you ploughin’ goat fiddlers,” Nicoletta said as the women bumped the table. She swept up her mug of schnapps before it was crushed by the bigger of the two - a soft blonde woman, thick and buxom - who fell backward on to the table.

Murt barely had time to be shocked at Nicoletta’s language before the blonde woman’s rump nudged his own tankard. His hands darted to rescue the falling mug before it spilled its contents on the table.

“Will you bleedin’ feck off, I’m with a fella,” Nicoletta said, flailing her arm at the two in a slap meant to deter rather than injure. The women spun away into Murt’s periphery. The crowd closed in around them but not before Murt saw a masked figure standing at the bar. A man, it was. A brute of a man the way he leant with his elbow on the counter, as though he possessed it and the space around it. He wore a mask - a V-shaped goat’s head adorned with two long horns and exaggeratedly sharp teeth. The eye sockets were hollow and black.

Something tugged at Murt's arm. As he turned his head, Murt caught the barest moment of recognition on Nicoletta's face - she had also seen the man at the bar. The thing tugging at Murt's arm, he found, was a young boy, who wordlessly pointed to an oren on the ground. The boy indicated with a gesture of his hand that the coin had fallen from Murt’s table.

Murt swiped the coin off the floor, then flipped it to the boy with a wink. The lad’s eye’s widened and his mouth formed an ‘O’ as he caught the coin before disappearing back through the legs of inn's patrons.

“So tell me,” Murt said to Nicolleta, “do you ever get any jealous men come into the inn?” Murt asked.

Nicoletta leant forward, exposing more of her cleavage before she answered.

“Whatever do you mean, Sailor? Jealous over me? Oh you are a charmer!”

She playfully laid a hand on Murt’s forearm.

“I tell you what,” Murt said, “Let’s go outside and find a brazier or two to sit near - this inn is a little rough for me.”

“But I like it rough.”

“I’ll bet you do,” Murt said as he grabbed Nicolletta’s hand and stood up from the table. He turned and gave the man at the bar a nod, as he pulled Nicoletta through the door in front of him, laying a firm hand on her flank as she passed him.

Walking from the inn was like stepping into another world of sound, smell and colour. The Spring Fool's Festival was at its climax in this part of town. The roads of Mournestead were congested so thickly with people it was like the melee after two great armies had collided. Murt waited for the spring loaded door of the inn to close, then without any sense of urgency, he guided Nicolletta around the side of the inn.

He pulled her in front of him and slapped her on the rump as he propelled her towards the side of the Inn. She turned with a  playful, delighted smile and leant against the stone facade of the building.

“I think I’m going to enjoy playing with you, Sailor.”

It was the alcohol and other intoxicants, Murt knew, that provoked him to recklessness. He said nothing and grabbed a fistful of her hair, drawing her in for a hard, deep kiss. She melted into him.

From their location, Murt could see anyone entering or leaving the premises while remaining inconspicuous. A party of drunken townsfolk, dressed in elaborate white costumes, drunkenly stumbled toward the inn door. A small tussle ensued as they tried to push their way past some impediment at the door. The men at the front of the group relented and were pushed aside. The man wearing a goat’s mask emerged from the inn and jogged into the throng on the street. Kissing Nicoletta, Murt pulled her against the side of the inn, himself ducking out of the man’s vision as the man looked around. Murt stood kissing Nicolletta, hard and deep for a time, almost losing himself in the kiss. By the time he looked again, the goat-masked man had gone. Murt smiled at Nicoletta as he pulled her by the hand to the stables at the rear of the inn.

“There’s no messing around with you, is there Sailor?” Nicoletta asked, coquettishly.

Murt shouldered the door to the stables open. A triangle of faint light appeared on the ground and then was gone as murt closed the door. The stable was dim and unlit. It smelled of beasts and dung. Murt’s witcher eyes adjusted almost instantly to the absence of light. Shad, stabled towards the rear of the building, whinnied.

Murt pulled Nicolletta in front of him again, and with a hand on her rump, nudged her towards the ladder up to the hayloft. He found a lantern hanging from the side of the stable and lit it. It cast a flickering glow across the roughly hewn wooden interior of the stable, and the moving animals within.

“Up,” he said to Nicoletta, with a jut of his chin towards the ladder. She pouted and crossed her arms. Murt moved to where the harness and tackle was hanging and removed a leather strap, testing it for strength.

“And just what do you propose to do with that?” Nicoletta asked.

“Nothing at all unless you ask me nicely.”

“Well,” Nicoletta said, biting her bottom lip.

She turned and began climbing drunkenly up the ladder. Murt flicked the strap over his shoulder and followed her.

Murt reached up to grab the top rung of the ladder and, as he hauled himself up onto the mezzanine level hayloft, Nicoletta slithered towards him. He grabbed her firmly again, this time around the waist, and kissed her, gently at first, then with increasing intensity. Eventually, unable to ignore the firm heat against her abdomen, Nicoletta reached down.
“My, you are a big boy, sailor.”

Murt scooped up Nicoletta and carried her to a soft place in the hay.

“Be gentle with me she cooed,” as Murt lay her down.

With a sudden aggression, Murt heaved the woman onto her stomach. He pinned her to the ground with a hard knee to the back, and a hand to the back of the neck,

“Hey, let go of me - you’re hurting -“ Her voice cut off as Murt pushed her head into the hay.
Still kneeling on her back, he gathered up both of her wrists and tied them with the leather harness, before capturing the woman’s flailing legs in a scooping motion, and binding them with the harness too. She was hogtied.

When Murt stopped exercising pressure on her neck, she spat out a mouthful of hay, which seemed to be the only impediment to an unending torrent of profanity that streamed from her mouth.

Murt sighed and left the woman to go down and check more closely on Shadrach. Murt loped through the dim interior of the stable to find Shad standing, waiting for his arrival. The horse’s gums were pulled back in an enormous parody of a human smile and he was gently bucking his head. Eventually, the horse began flapping his lips across his teeth with up-and-down jerks of his head. Horse laughter.

“How you doing, Boy?” Murt said, extending his had for the horse to nuzzle. Murt scooped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a hard end of bread. He held it in front of Shad’s mouth. The horse snuffled the bread before using his lips to pull the bread into his mouth. Murt gave Shad a final pat, and returned to the hayloft. Nicolette railed pointlessly against her leather bindings.

“Are you finished?” Murt said. He stooped to cup the woman’s mouth with his hand.

“While you’re a lovely dinner and drinking companion, the only thing I want from you, my dear, is information. Give me that, and I will let you go. But not a moment before.

The woman manoeuvred her lips and jaw to attempt to bite his hand. Murt moved it just beyond the reach of her chomping teeth.

“Have it your way then - it’ll be a night in the stables for you, to be found by whoever is first in here in the morning, I imagine. I hope it’s a man of good character.”

He waited for her protestation as he climbed down the ladder, and saddled Shad. Nothing. He opened the barn door and guided his horse out. Still nothing. He mounted and began to canter away. Still nothing.

It wasn’t until Murt was a good ten paces from the stable, and barely able to hear Nicoletta’s cries, muffled as they were by the stable walls, that the woman finally capitulated.

As Murt pulled on the reigns to turn Shad, he reigned himself back from any satisfaction he otherwise might have felt.

“I’m not going to be kind to you if you’ve brought me back here for more games, woman,” he said as he crested the top of the ladder for a third time that evening.

“You fecking half-cast - I should’ve listened to ol’ Hallam - all of youse are the same. Scum.”

The barb might have provoked another man to strike the woman. But Murt had seen raiders do worse evil to his women kinfolk too many times, when he was growing up in the forests of Brokilon.

“I won’t ask you again, woman - you’re wasting my time and I’ve almost changed my mind about leaving witnesses.” Murt grabbed the woman’s hair as he hissed the words. He pulled his belt knife and held it against the pulsing vein in her bare throat.

“Now you will give me the information I want or you will be breathing through your throat for the few seconds before you die. Do you understand? Nod if you do. Good. Now, who was the man in the wolf mask in the tavern?”

“He was one of the town guard - something to do with intella… intel-intelligence or something, he said.”

“And how long had he been in the tavern?”

“Only a couple a' hours. Honest. Said he was lookin’ for someone but wouldn’t say who and ‘at we should just go ‘bout our business.”

“Wouldn’t say who? Bullshit.”

“It’s true, I tell you - I ain’t got nuffin’ to ‘ide. Please. It’s true.”

Murt supposed it might have been true. But there were no coincidences in the Witcher trade. The town guard would have had a man stationed at any number of inns around town. Though it really only meant they were looking for him, not that they knew his precise whereabouts. Had they known where he was, they would have had half the garrison stationed outside the inn.

It was beyond time to be gone, he realised. His witcher metabolism had processed most of the intoxicants he had consumed. He was sobering. It was well beyond time to be gone.

He sheathed his knife at his belt and left Nicoletta shouting behind him as he trotted Shad away from the stable. He stopped briefly in the tavern to leave the honest tavern-boy another oren and instructions to wait 15 minutes, then visit the stable. If the boy had seemed shocked at his good fortune before, his eyes near bulged from his head at receiving two orens in one night for tasks he would have done for free. Murt wondered exactly what the boy’s station was at the inn as he leapt into Shad’s saddle. He tapped Shad’s flanks with his heels and steered the horse towards the perimeter gate and the outskirts of town, where he would wait until day break before making his next move.

Murt patted Shad’s mane and clucked to the horse, and Shad began a canter. As it had been countless times before, it was going to be another night beneath the stars. Another night on the path.

Offline Mark T

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2018, 02:19:32 PM »

Hi JWH - welcome to MWC.
Please take a moment to introduce yourself on the Welcome board.
I've created a thread in the Newbie Nest where you can rattle up a quick 50 junk posts; this will promote you to Jr. Member and allow you to edit your posts.
The Stickys on the various boards offer guidelines for posting.
Fire away if you have any questions.
Regards, Mark.   

Offline JWHMarshall

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2018, 03:32:08 AM »
Thanks Mark T - I appreciate the gentle nudge.

I am actually wondering why people haven't commented on my piece - I'm thinking it was either because it was terrible or that I've transgressed in some way that has motivated those who read it to leave before giving an opinion! Or perhaps the subject matter was off-putting...

I will get going on those 50 posts and change my submission to align with the forum conventions.

Thanks again.

Offline Mark T

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2018, 07:10:58 AM »

The site's been through a phase of losing members to a runaway spam invasion, and things went very quiet for as while. Not many people around to comment, your writing is fine enough, it's not that. Still quiet here but picking up again. So thanks for showing up, the site needs new blood to revive itself, and you can be a part of that by finding a writing home here. Just keep posting and commenting and your patience should be rewarded. 

Offline hillwalker3000

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2018, 11:35:58 AM »
I'll comment as I read through if I may.

I'm guessing from the word 'bawdy' that this is set in some Middle Age English tavern so the 'clay mug of schnapps' seemed a bit weird. A tankard of ale might have been more in keeping with the setting, but hey-ho.

The writing's mostly fine - just a few more observations.
Action scenes are difficult to write - the danger is you end up with something more like a witness report or a list (this happened then that happened then something else happened). You manage to avoid this to an extent, but it could be tightened.

The pacing isn't always smooth. You cut from the clinch here (which is quite clichéed by the way)

Quote
He said nothing and grabbed a fistful of her hair, drawing her in for a hard, deep kiss. She melted into him.

to a rather lengthy description of what Murt can see close by

Quote
From their location, Murt could see anyone entering or leaving the premises while remaining inconspicuous. . . ducking out of the man’s vision as the man looked around.

then back to the sloppy bit

Quote
Murt stood kissing Nicolletta, hard and deep for a time, almost losing himself in the kiss

It breaks the flow and makes any attempt at passion, tongue in cheek or otherwise, seem almost matter-of-fact.

Also, this sentence repeats the typo 'reign' when you presumably meant to write 'rein'
Quote
As Murt pulled on the reigns to turn Shad, he reigned himself back from any satisfaction he otherwise might have felt.

Overall you've not done too bad a job. The dialogue at times is a little predictable and makes your characters appear less than believable. You have the stereotypical 'buxom wench' cooing twice and behaving like a 'Carry on' character which makes most of the chapter difficult to take seriously. Maybe we're not meant to. Maybe it's just a bit of fun, and that's how fan fiction works (I'm not a follower of the genre).

The only advice I can offer is continue to write - read as widely as you can. And if you're looking for tips on how to improve your technique - beg, borrow or steal a copy of Stephen King's 'On Writing'.

H3K

PS   Most of us don't get around to commenting on a piece as soon as it's posted. That doesn't mean you've been ignored or got off lightly.

Offline JWHMarshall

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2018, 07:15:22 PM »
Thanks for the feedback Hillwalker - I agree with your comments. There are more cliches in there, I've realised - situations where if the prose itself isn't cliched, then events I've described are hackneyed or reminiscent of tropes. It is an interesting part of the creative process where you can write something banal or worn-out and still not pick it up, despite knowing that things like that need attention.

Re: your remarks about how believable the characters are - this is exactly the type of feedback I wanted, so thank you very much for your observations. Now that I'm thinking about it, the female character really has limited agency in terms of the story - she is largely passive. I should change that.

I don't want to take up too much of your time - you've been more than generous already - but when you say the female character is behaving like a 'carry on' character - do you reckon you could expand on this a little? I have tried to cast her as an inept or transperant sociopath but, without my conscious effort, I can see that she's become more comical than I intended.

And thanks for picking up the typos!

Offline hillwalker3000

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2018, 09:54:33 AM »
I don't want to take up too much of your time - you've been more than generous already - but when you say the female character is behaving like a 'carry on' character - do you reckon you could expand on this a little? I have tried to cast her as an inept or transperant sociopath but, without my conscious effort, I can see that she's become more comical than I intended.

By female 'Carry On' character I meant one of those stereotypical late-60's British comedy films where a leading lady is chosen for her voluptuousness and willingness to wear skimpy costumes, the emotional depth of her acting is limited to displaying hopelessly lascivious behaviour in the presence of any attractive man. It's not real and the 'comedy' element quickly becomes stale.

We learn about a character most by what they say and how they behave or interact with other characters. As you have already noted, Nicoletta is paper thin. She plays a mostly passive role - simply there to show Murt's cavalier attitude to women. This seems to be the case with many tales set in olden times so no fault there, but it's a well-trodden path. Maybe you need to give this a twist and make Nico a stronger, less compliant character and adjust the dialogue accordingly. Who knows? She might turn out to be the main character.

Just a thought.

H3K

Offline JWHMarshall

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2018, 12:09:26 AM »
Thanks again Hillwalker - good points.

Nicoletta is a support character in the context of the broader story - but yes, I like your thinking in terms of subverting the 'tavern wench' trope.

I reckon I'll do the following to reduce the effects you've pointed out:

Have Nicoletta do one significant thing that has percussive force in terms of these few scenes - possibly collude more obviously with the masked man.
Re-write some of her so that she's more shrewd and calculating, and less compliant.
Give her an obvious physical flaw (it feels precariously anti-feminist writing this, by the way) or otherwise make her physically unremarkable.

Anyway, thanks very much for your input - I really appreciate it! I'll attempt to repay the favour sometime.

Offline jkalman

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #8 on: October 01, 2018, 01:30:06 PM »
Overall I liked your writing. You have a pretty good command of description and dialogue and your grammar is more or less very good.

I started reading with interest, but found myself skimming after a while. Maybe it is more about me, but I want to know why I am reading. By that I mean I want to know what drives the main character, and what's in their way. And I want it early, like first paragraphs, otherwise I have a hard time investing in the character or book. I seems to take over 2000 words before my interest was snapped back up, when he hog tied her and it was clear that they weren't there for sex. Can you bring the "good bit" closer to the beginning somehow? Or, if the interaction between them in the tavern is more unexpected and less cliched, it would be easier to hold interest. Otherwise its too much -- seen/read this before. Give me something to remember.

One thing I was left questioning was why didn't he just give her money for the information he sought? Or why not just take a knife to her throat in the stable instead of that cliched game of leaving her tied up and walking away? Something is just off about that scene, because he worked a plan to get her there and then was willing to play poker on information that is clearly driving him. I didn't buy it.

Again, great job. By the end I was interested in the main character and I am curious in what shade of good/bad he is.




Offline JWHMarshall

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #9 on: October 01, 2018, 09:21:22 PM »
Thanks Jkalman - you're absolutely right - a scene should present the protagonist's goal almost from the outset, otherwise we can't identify where they're tracking or the tensions that might prevent them from reaching it. And if the goal changes, that needs to be made obvious also.

Good call on the  characters' motivations - it is a pet peeve of mine when the characters in movies I watch behave irrationally  - so thanks for picking that up.

When I was writing this, I didn't have a clear goal defined for the main character (or even the piece as a whole) - it was more of a 'just see what happens' process. And I think that shows up in the issues you've described.

If you get a chance to respond again - at what point did you begin skimming through?

Thanks very much for your feedback!

Offline jkalman

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2018, 07:05:00 AM »
Hey! You're welcome.

I started skimming when she said, "Hey, I like it rough."

I skimmed to find a place where something unusual was happening, something with some unexpected dialogue or action.

Offline JWHMarshall

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Re: Grateful for a critique
« Reply #11 on: October 06, 2018, 06:16:32 AM »
Whoops - bit of a delayed response to this one. Thanks for that feedback - yes, that was a pretty cheesy line!

Cheers mate