Item Reviewed: "Sword" by Barex Aster
Reviewer: Max Griffin 🏳️🌈
As always, these are just one person's opinions. Always remember Only you know what is best for your story. I've read and commented on your work as I would try to read my own. I hope you find something here useful , and that you will discard the rest with good cheer.
What I liked best
There is some really fine wordsmithing in this chapter. It's filled with excellent, vivid descriptions, some lyrical, but always lovely. The prose shows you spent a lot of time crafting the words, choosing them for maximum effect.
Openings are critical in any work of fiction. Some editors and agents will decide whether or not to read your submission based only on your first sentence.
Your opening is your best opportunity to draw readers into your fictional world, to induce a dream-like state in which your words guide their imaginations. The readers become the author's active partners in imagining the fictional world, in a state of suspended disbelief. In crafting the opening of any story, it's the author's primary task to launch this fictional dream.
This chapter is actually three, more or less disconnected segments. Lovely as the prose was, I confess I had a hard time following the first segment. I couldn't tell if I was reading a SciFi story with advanced technology or a swords-and-sorcerers fantasy. In fact, I'm still not sure exactly what the raven is. An intelligent bird? A fancy bit of tech? Or a real raven?
The final segment is somewhat clearer. I infer we have a princess who has been trained--possibly using extraordinary powers--to lead her armies. She seems to have not only powers, but a sword which she didn't deploy in this segment. She also seems to be a bit of a slackard in terms of her duties, although she also seems to have mastered an impressive range of fighting techniques. Apparently, she's about to assume the mantel of her duties, heir to her father. We meet her teacher--Wurlett--and a matronly figure named Mrs. Claudus. She's not exactly Miss Danvers, but her role in the household seems similar.
So...there's a LOT here. It's kind of overwhelming, getting all of this at once. Clearly, you've got a highly detailed fictional world, and these chapters drop the reader in the middle of it. The final section, filled with action, is the best, but...well, read on. There are some bits missing that would help readers.
The opening is lovely. Well, everything here is lovely, so all three segments have lovely openings. But all three segments open with an omniscient narrator, standing outside the story, describing things to the reader. This puts the *reader* outside the story, too.
All three openings have the feel of special effects in a movie. Indeed, the visuals might make a dynamite opening to a movie. But this isn't a movie. It's words on a page, and the psychology is different. In a movie, the *camera* is the eye of the audience. It's supplemented by the score, the lighting, the color choices, the special effects, the Foley artist, and other endless bits of of the art and science of motion pictures.
All a novelist has is words on the page. In a movie, everything happens on the screen. In a novel, everything happens in the head of reader. Effective novels inspire the readers to collaborate with the author in imagining the fictional world. The world comes to live in the reader's imaginations.
The most effective way to do that is to first put the reader inside the head of the point-of-view character. If the reader is in Kara's head, for example, feeling the silken touch of her pillow, the scratch of sleep in her eyes, the whoosh of air as the sword misses her cheek, then they are also inside your fictional world.
In the final section, the action *centers* on Kara, but an omniscient narrator tells the story. So, my first and main suggestion, is that you deploy your impressive wordsmithing skills to put the reader inside her head. Be relentless. Show the story the way she's experiencing it. The scent of the flowers, the feathery touch of her hair, the unyeilding metal when she kicks the Captain. Bring her to life instead of describing her.
In the line-by-line comments below, I make some specific comments about exploiting point of view to bring the story alive.
Kurt Vonnegut said that every character needed to want something, even if it's just a glass water.
More broadly, your protagonist--Kara--needs to have a goal. The goal has to matter: something bad must happen if she fails to achieve her goal. These are the stakes. Finally, Kara must have obstacles, something that stands in the way of achieving her goal.
The conflict between goals and obstacles gives rise to tension, the engine that drives your novel. The characters care about the outcome of that conflict because of the stakes. You can increase tension by raising the stakes, raising the obstacles, or broadening the goals.
In this chapter, we have only a vague notion of Kara's goal, and less of the stakes. As a consequence, as well-written as the fight is in the third segment, readers don't have much reason to care about the outcome. Indeed, Kara doesn't seem to much care--there's little sense of urgency in her during the fight.
The Captain has clearer goals, but again the stakes are unclear.
Claudus is the most opaque of all.
Goals, stakes, and obstacles are critical elements of story telling. I know that your story has all of these, because I'm sure you've thoroughly thought through your fictional world. But this chapter needs to show these things from the first paragraph.
You also need to give your readers a reason to care about your characters. Usually, this isn't much of a problem since readers will *want* to care about Kara, for example. But she gets off to kind of dubious start. She oversleeps. She lies to Claudus, and not very well. She doesn't seem appreciative of the people who help her. In short, she's not likable. She doesn't *have* to be likable, however, for readers to cheer for her. Deckard, in Bladerunner, isn't likable, but readers cheer for him.
The most compelling hooks are disaster, dilemma, and decision. Ending with a goal, conflict, or reaction is weaker but can be effective, depending on the situation.
I appreciate that you cut your chapter to meet the word limit guidelines for the review site, so no doubt the hook got cut. Note that the essence of a hook is unfinished action. If you've created characters readers will care about, with stakes that are high, readers will feel compelled to turn the page to the next chapter. That's the goal of a hook.
Style and Voice
Your voice is lovely and polished, but it's the voice of an omniscient narrator. If you're unfamiliar with third person limited, I can suggest some reading. It wouldn't take a lot to make the third segment third person limited in Kara's head and would, in my view, greatly improve the narrative.
Vonnegut gave lots of good advice to authors. Another of his suggestions is that every sentence should advance character or plot, and preferably both. He was writing about short stories when he said this, but it's still good advice to keep in mind.
You've done a wonderful job with descriptions and have a real talent at it. But, again, they often feel like an omniscient narrator is standing outside the story, describing things. It's better if you can tweak things so that it's Kara interacting with the fictional world, running a finger along the irridescent sheet, for example. That way, it's her acting and sensing rather than someone describing.
I don't read for grammar, but I almost always find things to whine about. Not so, here. Good job!
Adverbs. You don't overuse adverbs, but they show up enough to be worth a comment. You know what Stephen King says about adverbs . I think he is correct. Adverbs are often a shorthand in which the author falls into "telling" rather than "showing." I try to use zero adverbs, since otherwise I'd sprinkle them all over the place like fairy dust. I've marked one or more places in the line-by-line comments below where I think you might consider a more precise verb or a touch more description rather than an adverb.
Just my personal opinion
One way to think of telling a story is that it is a guided dream in which the author leads the readers through the events. In doing this, the author needs to engage the readers as active participants in the story, so that they become the author's partner in imagining the story. Elements of craft that engage the readers and immerse them in the story enhance this fictive dream. On the other hand, authors should avoid things that interrupt the dream and pull readers out of the story.
There is a lot to love here. There's a clearly detailed and well-thought-out fictional world. There is your amazing skill at description and elegant word-smithing. There are some rough edges, but you clearly have the skills to polish this and make it amazing. Thank you for sharing, and keep writing! You have impressive talent.
Your text is in BLUE.
My comments are in GREEN.
If I suggest a re-wording, it's in GRAPE.
Kara’s golden eyes opened halfway and glistened the whitish light blooming from the arched windows. The left side of her face sunken within the red silk of her pillow and tangled mane of hair matching her eyes in color nearly smothering it, she closed her eyes once more before slowly pushing herself up.My Comment: this is *so close* to being a great opening. You name your POV character, Kara. You have her doing things. The writing is evocative. But it’s an omniscient narrator telling us stuff.
For example, Kara can’t see the color of her eyes, so we start off with a POV violation—describing something she can’t see. If you start with her sensing things—as you nearly do—it’s stronger, because you’re reporting internal things that only she feels. Putting the reader in her head in the opening sentence brings the scene to life. All the impressive descriptions that follow are then things that *she* has seen, heard, and felt. Being in her head personalizes the experience and stimulates the readers’ imaginations.
“Your Highness!” The muffled call of a woman. “You better be awake and ready in there. Captain Wurlett has been waiting for you.”My Comment: Surely she knows this is Claudus, so why not say so now? You could also give us a sense of who, exactly Claudus is, what her job is.
“W-Wait!” Kara leapt out of her bed, sheets flying. Her bare feet hit the carpet with a thud and she bolted for the door, reaching out for the turning door knob. “Not yet! I—”My Comment: Some internal sensations here would be helpful. Panic flutters in her chest, or electricity jitters down her spine. Maybe the floor is cold against her bare feet. Be in her head, i.e., put the readers in her head.
“Hmph,” Kara lightly laughed. My Comment: I didn’t like her much before, but this light, dismissive laugh made me dislike her. Some emotional subtext would soften this, or even reverse it. Maybe she feels trapped, with people like Claudus always hovering, placing demands on her. But right now, it sounds like Claudus is a loyal retainer and Kara lies to her and shrugs off her help.
Finally, note the adverb, “lightly.” Usually, a more precise verb—maybe snickered in this case—is better than pepping up a weak verb with an adverb.
That’s why Ms. Talia is not present.”My Comment: who is this?
Claudus sighed. “21 years in and you still can’t help but feel like you’re constantly making the world harder for everyone else. My Comment: That’s exactly the sense I’m getting—a spoiled child. Also, write out twenty-one.
“No need to worry, Mrs. Claudus,” said a slightly muffled, male voice from behind Kara.My Comment: Again, don’t have the voice speak, have the character speak.
Shing!My Comment: Is this the sound of her summoning her weapon, as the prior sentence suggests? Or is it the sound of Wurlett’s weapon? And it it a sword, or something else?
Eyes widened, jaw open with shock, she watched him hold the blade for a second over his head. My Comment: She can’’t see her eyes or her jaw. A smiple rephrase can put this inside her head as opposed to an external observer reporting her appearance.
I only review things I like, and I really liked this story. I'm a professor by day, and find awarding grades the least satisfying part of my job. Since I'm reviewing in part for my own edification, I decided long ago to give a rating of "4" to everything I review, thus avoiding the necessity of "grading" things on WDC. So please don't assign any weight to my "grade" -- but know that I selected this story for review because I liked it and thought I could learn from studying it.
Again, these are just one person's opinions. Only you know what is best for your story! The surest path to success is to keep writing and to be true to your muse!
Thanks again for sharing this item. Keep on writing!
Max Griffin 🏳️🌈