Author Topic: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)  (Read 547 times)

Offline lanettespc

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Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« on: October 12, 2018, 06:14:15 PM »
[author's note: Hi! This is my first time posting in this board, and I'm quite nervous. I'm only 17, so I hope your critiques aren't too harshly phrased. Please don't let that stop you from being honest! I'm sorry. The excerpt below is from a book I'm writing, and I hope to gain feedback. It's not the first chapter, but it's one of the first chapters. I'm reluctant to share the principal storyline for now, but she isn't the protagonist! She is one of the main characters. Um... I'm sorry I don't know how to introduce this. Here I go anyway.]



Seventeen-year-old Mela languidly crammed down a frugal breakfast of microworms. She was still half-asleep, her schedule for the morning unoccupied.

The sound of webbed toes pounding on the ingress of her castle jolted her into a more responsive state. At her doorstep was a newfangled Messenger Bird.

The Bird opened its beak to say, “Hello! My name is Amaranta!” Mela’s eyes widened in stupefaction—not because the Bird was talking, but rather the fact that it was flying. She’d never seen flying birds before; the aquatic society’s feathered population comprised only penguins. ‘Oh,’ she mused, ‘the science of magic!
   
“I have a message for you sent by the Philosopher.” The Bird emitted the message in a perfect duplicate of the Philosopher’s tottering voice. “‘I have momentous news. By the time the potter has turned her earthenware into shards, you know where you must be.’”

The potter was a bronze-skinned lady named Lualhati who lived on a secluded islet. Although usually alone, she never seemed forlorn. She wore a straw hat, adorned the walls of her hut with seashells from her diving excursions, and played airy music on her flute.

She crafted beautiful pottery. Yet at exactly 9:27 AM each forenoon, she methodically shattered her own sculptures and set off to mainland on her boat, ceramic fragments in tow. When she returned, she smelled of steam, and she’d exchanged her shards for mysterious gems. These gems invigorated the hibiscus that had somehow grown in water encircling her islet, from a gushing cove. Inside the cove lived the Philosopher.

Upon learning of this crucial arrangement, it was 9:27 AM. How she wished the Philosopher had notified her sooner! She dashed off to the cove without the opportunity to have changed her outfit, unfashionably late: Her blouse was a gaudy lime green colour that clashed with her ruby scales.

“I’m here! I’m here!” She panted. Her tail splashing skittishly behind her, Mela felt both nervous due to her delay and thrilled by the promise of news. She approached the Philosopher on her throne.

The Philosopher’s eyes were shut. Her face and wizardly robes alike had wrinkles; she was very old, although she preferred the term “centenarian” in reference to herself. She was also technically amphibious; but the wizard community was in a long-running dispute with frogs over the allocation of starfish, so she preferred to be seen as simply a wizard with some investments in underwater real estate. She was also asleep when Mela came in, and so didn’t answer.

Mela coughed.

“Hnn?”

“Great Philosopher, I’m here because you have summoned me to receive news,” Mela repeated more loudly.

“Ah, right,” said the Philosopher. “I was meditating.” She preferred this term for her habit of accidentally dozing off on important occasions. After all, philosophers meditated. “So… the news.”

Mela’s breathing halted in her giddy excitement. Was she finally going to be taught sorcery? She’d nearly besieged prospective mentors with her documents and evidence of magical ability.

Was she going to be given legs for the first time? The Philosopher had to have heard of her immense potential as a youth ambassador for water-land diplomacy! She could envision it now: a place among the mainland people’s winged homes, dealing with trade and operating curious gadgetry up high in the vast firmament….

The Philosopher spoke. “What is the ground state electron configuration of phosphorus?”

Mela’s breathing resumed in the form of a bewildered exhalation. “I beg your pardon?”

Her fantasy world evaporated almost as quickly as her imagination conjured it: in a single minute.

Propelled into reality once more, she found herself gawking at a sheet of paper. In ink was the question: “What is the ground state electron configuration of phosphorus?”

She heaved a sigh, gravely disappointed. “1s²²s²²p⁶³s²³p³,” she scrawled without much thinking. As she breezed through the test papers, she maintained hope against the logical explanation that she’d just lost control of her daydreaming again. However, no wizard appeared to greet her when she left the exam room; nor a mermaid tail to make the fresh, wide rain-puddles on the pavement outside more fun to encounter.



[ending notes for clarity: The inconsistencies from the opening sentences (e.g. "frugal" vs "castle") are because the setting arose from the spontaneous daydreaming of a discontented teenager with an overactive brain. (Yes, I based it on personal experience.  :D) There are some parts rich in extraneous detail because, again, although it's not really important, this is meant to convey some of the appeal of the imagined lives. Thank you for reading!]
« Last Edit: October 12, 2018, 06:29:29 PM by lanettespc »

Offline jkalman

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2018, 08:27:00 AM »
What a delightful imagination you have! And you do such a good job of bringing magic to your writing. Well done.
Here are some things that stick out for me.

Quote
languidly crammed down a frugal breakfast
What the heck does that mean lol. I had to look up languidly. So this raises a question of who your audience is ... adult, child, teenager? Also, how do you cram down a frugal breakfast? Cram gives the idea that there is lots of food to get down, and frugal gives the idea of not a lot of food. Or did you mean frugal in cost? Anyway it is a confusing image in the sentence.


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The sound of webbed toes pounding on the ingress of her castle jolted her into a more responsive state
Can webbed toes pound? How big is this bird?
Ingress? Again I needed a dictionary and I still cannot picture where the webbed toes are "pounding".
And "pounding"  is already a sound, so not sure you need to say "the sound of...". Why not simply -- Webbed toes <pounding/pattering> on the <whatever> jolted her [...]. It seems to give a more direct experience when I read.

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At her doorstep was a newfangled Messenger Bird.
I don't know what that means :)

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The Bird opened its beak to say ....
He opened his beak and said ...

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Mela’s eyes widened in stupefaction
Again big words. Who is your audience. Can you show rather than tell. In this case you show <eyes widened> and because the showing isn't strong enough, you tell <in stupefecation>. Can you find a way to just show? If I looked at her, what would I see?

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not because the Bird was talking
Is there a reason Bird is capitalised?

Quote
but rather the fact that it was flying.
Just a moment ago it was on her doorstep.

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Oh,’ she mused, ‘the science of magic!’
Why italics, and quotes for inner thought?

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By the time the potter has turned her earthenware into shards, you know where you must be.
You will know?

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forlorn
Again, word choice will depend on your audience's age.


Quote
She wore a straw hat, adorned the walls of her hut with seashells from her diving excursions, and played airy music on her flut
Fantastic characterisation.


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to mainland
to the mainland, unless mainland is a place name, in that case it should be capitalised.


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grown in water encircling her islet
in the water


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Upon learning of this crucial arrangement, it was 9:27 AM
Why not simple -- It was 9:27. Or -- Oh dear, it was (already) 9:27

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She dashed off to the cove without the opportunity to have changed her outfit, unfashionably late: Her blouse was a gaudy lime green colour that clashed with her ruby scales.
 
You mention her outfit, then that she is late, then her outfit again after the colon. It seemed like an illogical sentence construction for me.

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Her tail splashing skittishly behind her
Her tail splashed skittishly behind her. It feels more direct this way.
Also I don't know what a tail splashing
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skittishly
looks like.

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Mela felt both nervous due to her delay and thrilled
Can you show rather than tell here as she approaches the throne.

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Her face and wizardly robes alike had wrinkles
I love it.

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She was also technically amphibious; but the wizard community was in a long-running dispute with frogs over the allocation of starfish
lol, what? :)

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Mela’s breathing halted in her giddy excitement
For me, the "breathing halted" paints the picture, but you don't seem to trust your words so you then explain what you have just painted with words. I prefer it as simply -- Mela's breath halted. Maybe can show something extra too like a smile, or leave it with the breath. But don't tell if you can get away with it.

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nearly besieged
did she, or did't she? Its more powerful without the "nearly."


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The Philosopher had to have heard
Maybe it is me, but when I read this out loud I trip over it. Maybe "must have heard" is less awkward on the tongue?


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Mela’s breathing resumed in the form of a bewildered exhalation. “I beg your pardon?”
"In the form of" is wordy. And no need to say the word "bewildered," because the dialogue conveys that. Stick with the showing over showing +telling/explaining what you are showing.

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The Philosopher spoke. “What is the ground state electron configuration of phosphorus?”
What a delightful twist!

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She heaved a sigh, gravely disappointed
Again you show, and then tell. On top of that you modify an already strong word -- disappointed -- with gravely.  She heaved a sigh. Or. She sighed.


---
As always, take it or leave it :)

I loved your story, your characters, and your originality!













Offline lanettespc

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2018, 10:38:48 AM »
Thank you for such a detailed critique, Jonathan!

The points you have raised are all valid, and I'll definitely work on fixing the weak parts.

As for the frugal bit, I was thinking that the selection of microworms as a breakfast food was frugal as in simply cheap in the fictional underwater economy. The wizard-frog dispute is plainly just to show how Mela's fantasies are intricate even when they're ridiculous as heck.

I'm actually targeting the majority of my book to adults—or at least, an audience who would know what big words mean. The matter of a target audience is certainly a tricky one for me, because I have an extensive vocabulary and I've been told I grasp complex ideas at an advanced level; but I don't think like a great percentage of adults, I'm sure, and I really don't want to sacrifice my youthful voice while I'm still capable of wielding it naturally.

I suppose a good way of looking at this book is that it's a book written not for young people but not exactly for adults either. It's written to adults by someone like me, who's very young.

You're so right about my telling problem. I've always struggled with showing, to be honest, though I doubt you need my confirmation. Part of it is just an inherent predisposition I have towards telling (especially before I really did research about showing vs telling, I've had this habit of sounding downright technical sometimes); another factor is probably how obsessive I am about getting across what I mean to get across, because I hate it when people misinterpret the emotions/motives of literary characters. But the result has been cluttered-up, muddled-up text, and I really appreciate your constructive criticism.

Thank you so, so much for both your encouraging words and constructive criticism!

Offline jkalman

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2018, 11:12:42 AM »
The showing-telling thing gets me too. When I first heard it, I still didn't buy it. I thought, nope it still reads much better when you downright tell the reader what is being felt or how. Slowly coming around to see things differently.

Have you read anything in terms of  self editing books? Tons of pure gold to pick up from books written from an Editor's perspective. Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein I found to be masterful. And I just finished, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by David King and Renni Browne. Most of the last one came as review by boy have I needed it.

I am certainly interested in seeing more of your stuff if you want to share :D


Offline JanTetstone

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2018, 12:43:19 PM »
Have you read anything in terms of  self editing books? Tons of pure gold to pick up from books written from an Editor's perspective. Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein I found to be masterful. . .



Strange, that JK should mention Sol Stein. Today, is his Birthday. He was born October 13, 1926, in Chicago. For those who don't know: Mr. Stein  is the author of 13 books and was Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Stein and Day Publishers for 27 years.

 I agree with  all the advice JK has given to you  Lanette.
 It is a very good story.

Continue to follow your dream            jt


Offline Mark T

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #5 on: October 13, 2018, 03:33:53 PM »

The exuberance and energy in your writing carries its own appeal, along with the capacity (or at least the ambition) to convert your darting imagination into written symbols to share with others. There are some technical areas that can perhaps be improved on but the honing of your craft will come with practice, just keep writing, and experimenting too.
You strike me as a person of high intelligence and multiple aptitudes that just wants to absorb knowledge and experience and reflect it all back again in a dazzling array of creativity in different fields. Wherever your paths may lead you, having a strong command of written language will serve you well.

One way of dealing with 'show or tell' is to think of your writing in terms of active or passive voice and try for consistency. Think of whether you are reporting on something, filling in the gaps of outlines for the reader, exposition, in other words. With writing like this, it's the words that dominate, the writing is apparent as writing but it serves a purpose, like a newspaper does. With storytelling, the words and writing should only be a vehicle for the images and emotions you conjure up with your characters and settings, the reader's attention should be riveted on what's going to happen next. To move things along more rapidly to that end, put trust in your readers to fill in the spaces with their own imaginations, rather than focusing on making sure every nut and bolt is in place on the engine of logic - keep it simple and limit your modifiers. Less is more, in other words. I'm now going to heed my own advice and shut up.  ;D

Jonathan, that was a very well-reasoned and presented critique - excellent stuff, thank you. I think you are going to be a real asset to this writing site.

Mark

Offline Mark T

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #6 on: October 13, 2018, 06:12:49 PM »

PS Jonathan, your note on self-editing prompted me to look for an essay I wrote on the subject here. I hope you find it of interest.

http://mywriterscircle.com/index.php?topic=48712.msg860776#msg860776


Offline jkalman

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2018, 11:46:57 AM »
Thanks Mark. A useful article!

Offline Everyman

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #8 on: October 15, 2018, 10:32:57 PM »
At 17, you're phenomenally gifted.
You should identify yourself as a writer. And if you enjoy writing, you should determinedly set yourself on that path.

Don't waste your youth, dreaming.
Make your mark.

Offline hillwalker3000

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #9 on: October 21, 2018, 03:17:47 PM »
I'll comment as I read through, if I may.

First impressions - you write well. But you over-complicate matters at times. Write to express not to impress - that should be every wannabe writer's mission statement. When the reader is distracted from the actual story by fancy words and phrases, there's something not quite right. The author should always remain invisible to the reader. it's all about the story.

Seventeen-year-old Mela languidly crammed down a frugal breakfast of microworms.

Isn't there a better way to record this? The adverb and the verb seem to contradict each other. I want to watch as she places each microworm between her lips, and get to see her expression. 'languidly' simply doesn't work. Are they yummy? Crunchy? Does she dribble? We have no idea - so this hook which has potential is wasted.

The sound of webbed toes pounding on the ingress of her castle jolted her into a more responsive state.

Another awkward sentence. 'the ingress of her castle' - what does that mean? Is there a driveway, a cobbled street, a draw-bridge? And I'm not convinced webbed toes make a pounding noise. If you intend drawing us a picture, the detail has to be clear and concise. Keep it simple.

The Bird opened its beak to say, “Hello! My name is Amaranta!” Mela’s eyes widened in stupefaction —not because the Bird was talking, but rather the fact that it was flying.

Is it flying right now while it talks? And if it's flying, how did its webbed toes make a pounding sound at the same time? Whatever you write has to make complete sense to the reader. If we have to backtrack because the first reading is ambiguous, you're in danger of losing the reader's attention. And there's no need to tell the reader why her eyes grew wider. We can fill in the blanks, and by doing this for ourselves we participate actively in the reading exercise. That's important.

She crafted beautiful pottery. Yet at exactly 9:27 AM each forenoon, aren't AM and forenoon the same thing? she methodically shattered her own sculptures and set off to mainland on her boat, ceramic fragments in tow. When she returned, she smelled of steam, and she’d exchanged her shards for mysterious gems. These gems invigorated the hibiscus that had somehow grown in water encircling her islet, from a gushing cove awkward - do you mean the hibiscus grew in the gushing cove encircling her islet?. Inside the cove lived the Philosopher.

“I’m here! I’m here!” She panted. Her tail splashing skittishly behind her, Mela felt both nervous due to her delay and thrilled by the promise of news.
Another misplaced adverb that adds nothing useful.
 
Upon learning of this crucial arrangement, it was 9:27 AM. Odd explanation. How she wished the Philosopher had notified her sooner! She dashed off to the cove without the opportunity to have changed her outfit, unfashionably late: Her blouse was a gaudy lime green colour that clashed with her ruby scales.
and
The Philosopher’s eyes were shut. Her face and wizardly robes alike had wrinkles; she was very old, although she preferred the term “centenarian” in reference to herself. She was also technically amphibious; but the wizard community was in a long-running dispute with frogs over the allocation of starfish, so she preferred to be seen as simply a wizard with some investments in underwater real estate. She was also asleep when Mela came in, and so didn’t answer.
Try to figure out what the reader needs to know to drive the plot forwards and forget about the rest. There are various parts where the narrative flow is less smooth because you cram in too many disconnected or seemingly random facts.

A very promising start, keep at it.
My advice, read Stephen King's 'On Writing'.

H3K

Offline Inky

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #10 on: October 22, 2018, 03:15:44 AM »
Hi Lanettespc,

Firstly, thank you for sharing your work with us. I commend you for putting your work out there at such a young age. I'm only a beginner on this forum and I normally engage with the social realism genre so fantasy feels a bit foreign to me. Nevertheless, I'll try my best to give helpful comments. I'm not going to give sentence-/word-level advice, since other members have already done so. Instead, I'll try to give some 'big picture'/ structural comments.

I think you should start closer to the action. At this point, readers don't have a sense of who Mela is, what her role is, her goals etc and thus we don't feel invested in this character. You need to make us interested in her, perhaps by giving some insight into what her goals are, what she is unwillingly part of - whatever larger structure she is part of. It would be good to start with the fact that this is 'aquatic society' (e.g., the fact Mela has scales and a tail, that peguins dominate the bird population), since doing so fulfils two purposes: it is strange and thus attention-grabbing while also giving readers insight into the world.

I did laugh at the idea of the Bird duplicating the sender's voice.

When you introduce Lualhati, the same problem of making readers invested in her arises. Just as I've started to get comfortable with Mela's perspective, you let Lualhati's profile take over for about two paragraphs. Also, it doesn't make much sense at this point why she needs to make the pots at all if they're just going to be shattered. Why does her magic work this way? As the author, you don't need to explain everything, but readers may become frustrated if there are too many illogical mysteries.

I like your characterisation of the Philosopher as wise but a bit cloudy. The exam  reminds me a bit of an Alice In Wonderland scene actually (the one with the caterpillar in it?). I think you could draw out this exam-taking section to fully illustrate Mela's tension, surprise and milk some humour out of this scene because there's lots of it waiting to come out!

This is a piece with much potential and humour inside it.

Well done
Inky

Offline lanettespc

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #11 on: October 22, 2018, 02:22:02 PM »
Thank you so much, everyone! Please know that I’m taking your critiques to heart and that I’m reworking this part. Thank you so, so much for helping me.

It’s not an excuse to not make efforts to improve at all or anything; but I’m watching the miniseries Over the Garden Wall (for the millionth time) and there’s this scene where the younger brother dreams that he’s up in a “cloud kingdom”. The cloud kingdom is shown to have three vastly different reception committees, and the extra ones are totally redundant, but it makes sense as the figment of a young one’s imagination.

I feel like it could ameliorate the excerpt I shared to clarify that it’s just a piece of one of the opening chapters and it neither sets the tone for the whole book nor reflects it, but is just a weird daydream sequence (intended to tell you about Mela as a person more than anything else). I should’ve posted something less erratic; sorry!
« Last Edit: October 22, 2018, 02:25:24 PM by lanettespc »

Offline Shortcross

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #12 on: October 24, 2018, 01:48:28 PM »
Hello Lanette

Remember that if a title is used as a proper noun it gets capitalised. If not, it doesn't.

So..

Quote
“Great Philosopher, I’m here because you have summoned me to receive news,”

is correct, as it's being used like a name. Similarly, if it was her dad she was addressing, it would be 'Dad'.

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“Ah, right,” said the Philosopher. “I was meditating.

Isn't. It should be: "Ah, right,” said the philosopher. “I was meditating.

It's all the way through. Hope that helps.

Shorty

Offline Ollie The Legend

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #13 on: October 29, 2018, 05:21:40 AM »
Okay, the way I usually work is to take one paragraph and tear it to shreds. So... that.

The Bird opened its beak to say, “Hello! My name is Amaranta!” Mela’s eyes widened in stupefaction—not because the Bird was talking, but rather the fact that it was flying. She’d never seen flying birds before; the aquatic society’s feathered population comprised only penguins. ‘Oh,’ she mused, ‘the science of magic!’

First of all, different speakers should be in different paragraphs. I would put all of Mela's reaction to this bird that can fly into the same paragraph as the one that she talks in.

Also, the last sentence of the previous paragraph works better as the first sentence of this one.

The thing that Mela says to this bird in no way informs the bird that she is ready to receive the message. This could actually serve to make the interaction between them last a little bit longer.

I would recommend a cut between stupefaction and she'd never seen a flying bird before but then the whole science of magic line can come off even more confusing so I'm unsure.

Here's something along the lines of a way that this exchange could have gone;

At her doorstep was a newfangled Messenger Bird. “Hello! My name is Amaranta!”

Mela’s eyes widened in stupefaction— she’d never seen a flying bird before. The aquatic society’s feathered population was comprised entirely of penguins. ‘Oh,’ she mused, ‘the science of magic!’

“Hello! My name is Amaranta!”

She had forgotten her manners. "Hello, my name is Mela."

Then you can go into the thing about The Philosopher, which can be capitalized like so if it's a title but The also has to be capitalized in that instance.
Never make a decision standing up.

Offline BenSolo

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Re: Fantasy/Mixed-Genre Excerpt (682 words)
« Reply #14 on: November 11, 2018, 03:29:14 PM »
Overall, I think you have a pretty good base in terms of worldbuilding. I'm interested to know about this underwater society. However, while I won't go too deep on this because I think it has been covered well in other responses to your post, I think an important thing to remember is that complex language should be used for precision. There are certain situations where a big, uncommon word is the best, most concise way to convey an idea. If you have a certain person, place, thing, idea, or action that can be most vividly described by a big, uncommon word, by all means, use it. However, if a big word is used needlessly, it can be confusing and make your writing come off as ostentatious. I think you have that problem to some degree throughout this excerpt, but the use of the words "languidly" and "cram" in the first part are good examples. Languid suggests your protagonist is relaxed, enjoying her meal. Cram suggests she has somewhere to be and is wolfing down her breakfast as fast as possible. In this situation, those two words contradict each other, and I think it would be best to choose one or the other. In general, I think the goal is to be as vivid as possible while staying concise. At least, that's the goal I shoot for in my writing, whether I achieve it or not.