What Stace had to say on Monday, August 24th, 2009
On Critiques 10: Bad Crit 4

On Friday I told you there were two good comments buried in the drivel. I lied. There were actually a few, and all of you guessed at least two. I would have accepted any of the following:

1.“he’s already smiling”
2. “You need to show us how pretty he is, don’t just tell us.”
3. “I’d consider mentioning these back when you describe her clothes, to add to the tension.”
4. “Are there two stakes or four?”

What’s important about this is learning to determine which comments are useful, and realizing that even in the midst of a terrible critique there may be one or two comments which actually will help. This is why you should step away from a critique that seems useless or lousy. Chances are it is, sure. Some people simply will not get you or what you’re doing. But some people may not understand what they’e supposed to be doing or how to do it, or may simply be unable to put their personal feelings aside, or have strange and rigid “this is the way we write our books” ideas about things. (I recently found a link to an article which insisted every scene in a book should be 750 words long. No more, no less. I believe this is the silliest “writing rule” I have ever heard.)

So, we’re doing the same exercise today, but this time I won’t tell you how many comments are good. List all you think work.

We’re starting “good crits” tomorrow, time allowing, and I have one more Bad Crit to do, too. I also planted a little clue in the beginning of this one, to remember this is a fragment and not an opening, and adjust your opinions of the comments accordingly.

Hundreds of Faeid turned their heads in unison, each a horrifying glimpse of nightmare perfection. Haydn recalled dreams where she’d suddenly discovered she was naked, and fought the urge to turn and run. Are they looking at her? Are they naked? Is this a naked story?

Unmoved, the high king spoke into that silence. Is it silent? Does his voice ring? Show, don’t tell

“Tonight, we open the Conclave and celebrate the approach of the Alignment, when we shall once again renew the lifeforce of Danu.” Huh? His voice echoed down the terraced Hall, terrible in its power as he drew upon Haydn’s link to Earthame’s vast resource of life energies, of liveliness. I’m going to assume this has all been explained already The draw of energy pulled ice through her veins. She wondered if she’d ever feel warm again.

Murmurs ran through the crowd. Haydn felt them waiting, though, for more. Eyes were locked upon her expectantly. This section is a little awkward; consider consolidating into fewer sentences which say more, i.e. “Murmurs ran through the crowd, but Haydn knew they wanted more. Expected more. Their eyes, focused on her, were dark with it.” or something like that. Greed flavored the air with its bitter scent. They all of them knew of her existence. Some secrets, she knew, were not possible to keep. Of course they know about her, they’re all staring at her.

The high king understood and smiled thinly you could eliminate “understood and…”. Show us he understands, or don’t bother telling us as he drew her forward into view. “And, as my right to rule, I present the Earthwife to you all.”

The massed weight of desire, focused hungrily upon Haydn herself, seemed to draw the air from her lungs. The sensation was so strong she thought she saw the rushes strewn across the floor ripple with curlicues of power in her direction.

The tight-laced bodice of her gown began to stifle her. Hundreds of eyes glittered in the harsh faerie lights, all of them seeming to regard Haydn’s discomfort, all of them wanting to feed from her. All of them hating her humanity yet lusting after the power she represented… This is a weird contradiction

A sharp kick to her ankle brought her attention to her left. Awkward The Beauregrave had moved up beside her. She blinked, looked away. He had distracted her when she had nearly lost her composure; but Haydn couldn’t find it in her to be grateful. No, she thought resentfully, she wasn’t grateful for his presence. you could eliminate “she thought resentfully” and make a cleaner sentence She hadn’t been this close to him in weeks, not since the king had ordered her move into the royal chambers.

There was nothing to say of course. “Of course” is unnecessary flourish The Beauregrave was the high king’s champion and Lord of the Hunt, the Shining Folk’s very own boogeyman. Had she not known differently, Haydn would have thought him of the Shadowed Realms. Casting her off was nothing to him. She should have known it; he’d proven his inconstant nature before.

The high king guided her to her chair, gave Haydn the honor of sitting first. Why would he do that? Then he settled on the throne emblazoned with his coat of arms and colors, allowing servitors to move the stone monstrosity to the table with an even more ostentatious show of glamoury. He gestured; courtiers sat. The meal was served. That happened awfully fast. Why bot show us instead of telling?

Haydn concentrated on the table before her, ignoring the men to either side of her as much as possible. She ate what was presented to her, but without appetite. Nothing appealed more than leaving this hot bed of hostility. The emotional stew was like bubbling acid in the back of her thoughts. And the Faeid thoughts that occasionally rose above the mass slashed her like whips. There was anger, such anger, plus a sense of expectation and a longing for blood… Find a way to show these thoughts she’s feeling, not tell

“How is your soup?” The question startled her into meeting the Beauregrave’s gaze.

“Fine. Thank you.” She drank the last of the fish broth. Bouillabaisse, make up another name for it. This is supposed to be fantasy. People want stuff to have different names a rare treat even for the high king’s table, seeing as all the ingredients were brought from Earthame. Few Faeid could travel through the difficult passage of the unAligned Thresholds. Terrestrial creatures–birds, cattle, horses–survived, even thrived in Danu; however, water creatures did not. Shellfish became things of horror. The fish and eels just died. So how did they get the broth?

“You should try the pork. I caught it myself.” The Beauregrave sought to distract her, which was helpful. He knew her too well, which was not. Haydn found, to her relief, she was still furious with him. Why would this be a relief? She’s kind of a bitch, isn’t she?

She turned to the king, who raised an eyebrow. This close, they shared a single aura, part of the control Finvar wielded over his Earthwife. This close, he knew what she felt, if not what she thought. eliminate commas in those two sentences for better flow “You must shield yourself, mignette. You are projecting.”

Haydn blinked. The king had not described what she’d projected. But in his tone… perhaps anger, or jealousy. Unfortunate.

She gripped her cup and drank a long draft of whatever beverage had been poured most recently. It was a sour red, no doubt intended to go with the roast boar now being carved before the high table. The wine just might succeed in coping with the no-doubt gamey flavor. Does sour wine help gamey foods? That feels weird. It should be good wine. This is a king’s table after all

“I apologize, my lord.” She wanted to spit the drink in the king’s face. How is she spitting it after she’s swallowed it? Instead, she swallowed another mouthful of wine, wishing to drown memories as well as numb the sensation of being swallowed alive by the room’s inhabitants. Are they cannibals? But the past several years of her ‘training’ had taught her one thing very clearly, and that was the king would be obeyed. She maintained her dignity and took another, smaller, sip.

The king’s finger curled against the back of the hand in her lap. Whose hand? The look on his face was indulgent. “It will not always be so uncomfortable,” he told her. “It is natural that, after having been without a proper Earthwife for so long, the political factions resist the proper way of things.” Why has it taken so long? It would make more sense if his last wife just died. This makes him seem really disorganized and so not kingly

Proper way. Right. She fought an insane urge to snicker, thinking how this sick world was kept alive by draining her own. How proper was that? Well I guess it depends on who you talk to, really.

A moment later the meats were served and Haydn was able to withdraw her hand from the king’s. A masked attendant, human, leaned forward to cut her food for her, another embarrassment. Commas commas everywhere Tonight Haydn was not allowed a knife at table. Symbolism was important, the king had said, now that their roles were formalized: Earthwife and King, joined as one. They must present a united public face that displayed Finvar’s iron-fisted control of the glamoury that kept Danu running. Control of the source, his Earthwife. Absolute confidence in her safety in the Halls of Aonach, as well. Show, not tell

Politics, and potentially deadly for the chief game piece. After three millennia of magical drought, an Earthwife was even more riveting than the Lia Fwil, the glittering darkness hung about the high king’s neck. Where possession of the Lia bestowed the land of Danu’s favor and mastery of the High Arts, the Earthwife bestowed life itself, a pure channel for the liveliness that sourced glamoury and all life on Danu. This paragraph makes no sense at all

And Haydn had the unfortunate capacity to channel shocking torrents of power. They hadn’t said so to her face, but the dumbstruck manner of the High Mages had been telling during a recent demonstration. Did we see the demonstration? Perhaps you should show us some evidence of that power now

With that gossip spread, there would be those who might wish to kill her, fearful of the high king’s power. If she’s that powerful shouldn’t she be invincible? Some, she reflected, eyeing the Gehennan contingent, did not even need that much inspiration. Haydn could feel the idea, a subtle poison on the air during the past few days as low kings and envoys arrived for the Conclave.

The high king appeared confident of her safety. Yet Haydn was certain: If they believed they could take me away from Finvar, it would mean war, right here and now.

In particular the Legions of Hel would benefit from her loss, she thought, eyeing the Gehennan ambassador, a demon seated to the king’s right. The ever-open gateway to Gehenna meant border skirmishes and constant undeclared war as the demonae sought to gain more than a toehold on Danu’s soil. If they’re at war why are they there? And the demonae had gained a slow advantage and growing constituency since the last Earthwife was lost under what Haydn, at least, considered suspicious circumstances.

The Ambassador, one Takkenba, met her speculative look. A gray tongue slipped out to caress his lips. It was meant to disturb her. It worked. Show, don’t tell

Haydn speared a chunk of meat rather than risk temptation and hurl something at the demon. His party had arrived this morning. So far, she had avoided being alone with any of them. She made a mental note to continue to do so. Awkward

7 comments to “On Critiques 10: Bad Crit 4”

  1. Tyhitia
    Comment
    1
    · August 24th, 2009 at 5:44 pm · Link

    There were a few spots that I thought you were being helpful but it seems the bad critiquer (sp) was really suggesting rewrites based on your own writing style.

    I found what I thought were three helpful comments you made:

    Hope I got at least one right. 😀



    • Tyhitia
      Comment
      1.1
      · August 24th, 2009 at 5:47 pm · Link

      Hey, my picks from your comments got eaten. Anyway they were:

      you could eliminate she thought resentfully and make a cleaner sentence.

      eliminate commas in those two sentences for better flow.

      Show, don’t tell



  2. Tom Gallier
    Comment
    2
    · August 24th, 2009 at 7:04 pm · Link

    I’ve been censored! My BRILLIANT comment just vanished when I clicked on submit comment.



  3. Tom Gallier
    Comment
    3
    · August 24th, 2009 at 7:07 pm · Link

    Since my whiny comment survived, I’ll give a brief comment.

    I believe good comments were:

    you could eliminate “understood and…”. Show us he understands, or don’t bother telling us

    show, not tell

    Find a way to show these thoughts she’s feeling, not tell



  4. Cora
    Comment
    4
    · August 24th, 2009 at 10:46 pm · Link

    This critiquer seems to be another person who took the “show don’t tell” guideline much too seriously. Not to mention that this critiquer seems to have an unnatural aversion against commas. And standard Earth foods don’t necessarily have to be given different names in a SFF context, sometimes it can seem very silly indeed. Finally, the critiquer does not seem to have grasped that they are looking at an excerpt of a story/novel, not at the opening.

    Finally, one thing that (very subjectively) bothered me was the protagonist’s name. For me, the name Haydn immediately brings to mind Joseph Haydn, the classical composer. Hence, a heroine using an uncommon Austrian surname as a first name, a female character using a name that is linked to a male figure at that, is just odd to me.



  5. BernardL
    Comment
    5
    · August 26th, 2009 at 7:03 am · Link

    This section is a little awkward; consider consolidating into fewer sentences which say more, i.e. “Murmurs ran through the crowd, but Haydn knew they wanted more. Expected more. Their eyes, focused on her, were dark with it.” or something like that.

    I liked this comment although an editor will probably jump on the ‘murmurs’ becoming sentient beings capable of movement.

    ‘you could eliminate “she thought resentfully” and make a cleaner sentence’ I also thought this comment valuable. It does make for a cleaner sentence and reminds the author to be aware of a POV switch.

    ‘This paragraph makes no sense at all’ I would second this statement. Also the comments on the proliferation of commas were justified.



  6. driftsmoke
    Comment
    6
    · August 26th, 2009 at 9:23 am · Link

    Dang! I’ve visited this site four times to play the critique game, and every single time I’ve gotten interrupted.

    One thing this crit has going for it is that it’s not as (excuse me) smart-assed as some of the others. I am referring to the tone. The tone of this crit, for the most part, is respectful. That makes it easier to take the suggestions into serious consideration.

    Here’s what I got from the crit:

    The critiquer had some good stuff to say about show and tell.

    The comments that were good:

    * Is it silent? Does his voice ring? Show, don’t tell
    * you could eliminate “understood and…”. Show us he understands, or don’t bother telling us
    * It was meant to disturb her. It worked. Show, don’t tell

    The problem (for me) was that after the first one or two good remarks, the critiquer brought up the issue repeatedly. Some of the “show don’t tells” had me scratching my head.

    Example: “He gestured; courtiers sat. The meal was served. That happened awfully fast. Why [n]ot show us instead of telling?”

    Sometimes an author is better off summarizing an event that is not going to make a change in the story. Unless somebody choked to death AND that mattered in the story, summarize.

    There were also some good comments on clarity (or maybe the proper word is style).

    Examples:

    * This section is a little awkward; consider consolidating into fewer sentences which say more, i.e. “Murmurs ran through the crowd, but Haydn knew they wanted more. Expected more. Their eyes, focused on her, were dark with it.” or something like that.
    * you could eliminate “she thought resentfully” and make a cleaner sentence
    * “Of course” is unnecessary flourish

    Some of the comments on awkward construction rang true. A good one:

    ** A sharp kick to her ankle brought her attention to her left. Awkward

    There were the usual “I don’t get it” comments. The genre of this excerpt is one I don’t read, so much of the story world seemed confusing to me, too. :(

    On reflection, the “I don’t get it” comments (aside from the deliberately obtuse ones) do have a purpose. When the critiquer is arguing with standards of the genre the author knows to be, well, standard, it sends up a signal to proceed with caution on any such comments.

    The commas comments had me scratching my head. I couldn’t decide if I agreed or disagreed. Some of them looked like proper usage, but maybe they weren’t good for fiction writing. ❓

    Lastly, the one comment I flat-out disagreed with was “This paragraph makes no sense at all.” I understood what the author was trying to convey. I had to read carefully, but I did understand.

    Perhaps the way I’d take that comment would be to look carefully at the language I was using, to see if I couldn’t say things in a plainer way. Of course, that might take away from the voice of the story.

    I read somewhere that if a critiquer has a question, regardless of whether the author has an answer, it means there is something that needs to be addressed in the prose. Of course, that advice, like all advice, has its place.

    In all, this crit illustrates that it’s a good idea sort the floaters and rocks out of the beans before you start cooking.



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