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Author Topic: Fantasy - Heist  (Read 1858 times)
samcantcook
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« on: January 30, 2018, 01:02:48 AM »

Hey fellas! Wonderin' if I can get some thoughts on this. I was told by a few people in a writing group that this was pretty laughable. Biggest complaint was the writing style--apparently they felt that I was striving for Tolkien (I wasn't) and failing epically. That wasn't really my goal on either account. Overall it was a fairly embarassing experience, but I guess it helped me see where my story needs the most improvement. Can you point out the cringiest pieces and let me know what your overall vibe was with this? Thank you!

In the hand of a criminal, a dagger could be used to maim, injure, even kill. Marius’ smile was more lethal than any sharpened steel. Like a thief in the night, Marius knew how to use his smile to twist and pry the locks that were people’s minds, uncover secrets with his charm and his wit. No one was safe so long as Marius could look at them directly in the eye.

“Your papers, sir?”

Marius flashed the prison guard a smile, one that came to him as naturally as pride; it was a Royal’s smile, dark and cunning as a nightmare. “I’m here to see the Shadow Warden.” The smile was enough. It said a thousand things in the span of a second: that Marius was highborn, that he had never been told “no” (which was not entirely true), that he would kill any man foolish enough to deny him his wishes. “It’s about one of your prisoners.”

“This way, sir.”

A dozen guards—just two shy of what he felt comfortable dispatching without sustaining any injuries to himself—were stationed outside the entrance of the Shadow Wreath. It was a prison known only by those unfortunate enough to be trapped inside its walls and the Royals who’d condemned them to wallow in its perpetual black halls. The prison was located on the island south of Royaling, across the sea from where the Royals’ white palaces shone in the sunlight like pearls on sandy beaches. It had but a single entrance—one way in, no way out. And no one had escaped it in a hundred years. No one, that is, until now.

Having heard the news that his mortal enemy had escaped the inescapable, an act of magic that defied explanation, Marius had flown to the Shadow Wreath. Literally flown, the ends of his fine black coat trailing behind him like slashed ribbons. It was a bit of magic that would cost him a month or two of his precious Lifesource, a price Marius was willing to pay to see to it that Julian remained behind bars for crimes committed against the Royals.

Marius trailed after the guard into the labyrinth of twisting shadows. He couldn’t understand how they did it, how the prison guards managed to live on an island cast in forever darkness, beneath the wreath of overlooking mountains curved over the prison walls like a grotesque hand with bent, broken fingers.

“Here you are, sir.”

Marius nodded, and the guard left him to his business, taking the torch with him, the only light source in the Wreath other than the flickering candle in the Shadow Warden’s office. Marius detected the sweet scent of candle smoke, felt its warmth curling against his skin. He knocked on the door. The warden was inside; he could sense his Lifesource stirring, smell his cheap cologne. He pondered the fractured form of Julian’s skull, wondered if the beautiful pieces would fit back together once he was done.

The Shadow Warden opened the door. Marius’ smile was dangerous now, a barely perceptible smirk at the corner of his mouth.

“Tell me how Julian Octavius escaped.” Marius’ voice was like his smile, a tool of manipulation when he willed it to be—but now, it was a poisonous sound that could crush the life of any living thing with but a single word.

“Pardon me, who?”

Marius threw his shoulder into the warden’s chest, sending him to the floor. “Back on your feet!” Marius lifted the warden by the scruff of his collar, sat him back in his seat.

The Shadow Warden wriggled in the tall black chair stationed behind his tall black writing desk. His filing cabinets and drawers opened all at once, though not in the way that a burglar might have opened them—one at a time as he scanned for a particular document or piece of parchment bearing a valuable signature made with a Sealing Ring. They were opened in a magician’s fury.

Marius scanned the documents for any sign of his quarry. A form of registration, a notice, anything. All he found were letters. “Where did you get these?”

The warden eyed Marius with all the fear a child feels for God.

The warden of the Shadow Wreath, his mind a treasure trove of information and hidden things that Marius needed to know, buckled beneath the might of the young magician’s will. Like a snake coiling around its victim, Marius wrapped his will into little knots around the warden’s skull, compressing a little bit more each second, until the pressure finally split the bone in two—equal halves, of course. Marius didn’t like messes, a surgeon of precision with or without a wand, though everyone knew Royals didn’t need something so crude as a piece of wood to work magic.

“Tell me how a magician stripped of his Lifesource was able to leave the Shadow Wreath as easily as smoke through paper walls. Tell me why there is no record of a Julian Octavian dwelling within these halls. Tell me now or you will lose your tongue.”

“Please, sir. I. Don’t. Know.”

Marius gripped the Shadow Warden by the throat with his gloved hand—one glove, he never wore two—and lifted him from his chair, legs dangling in a death dance. The warden did little to resist: to lift a hand against a Royal was futile and would mean certain death. Besides, Marius’ Lifesource was too strong, an ocean compared to the drop that belonged to the Shadow Warden if they were to be weighed on a scale. Perhaps Marius would give him a quick end, but Marius was not feeling generous that morning.

“The letters. Explain the letters then. How can you have no memory of Julian, no records of his imprisonment, if your drawers are filled with his letters?” Marius knew the handwriting well. He’d often copied Julian’s swooping penmanship, pretty as calligraphy, during their time at the Royal Academy of Magic, though Julian was the farthest thing from a Royal. A Rag by all accounts. But that was many years ago, back when Marius and Julian were still friends. A lifetime ago. But time erodes all things. Friendship was not immune.

“Please,” the Shadow Warden said.

And Marius knew the warden was asking for death.

“Not yet. Your heart will tell me what your mind cannot.” I still need you to talk. Memories were tricky, but the heart could be coaxed to cough them up if you knew where to poke. And Marius knew all manner of such things. Royals were bred into their positions, but to maintain status required a certain finesse; Marius’ brutal cunning had served him and his family well.

The warden squirmed as Marius thrust his consciousness deep into the warden’s soul, twisting it like a dagger in soft flesh. The warden whimpered. “Almost,” Marius said. “Don’t die yet, or I will make you regret it in the Void.”

Marius pushed his thoughts deeper still. The pain inflicted upon the soul was something indescribable for beings so grounded in flesh and nerves.

Suddenly the warden’s eyes went white. His lips twitched and he spoke in a voice that was not his own, a voice Marius knew all too well, in Julian’s sweet, deep vibrato.

“I win,” the voice said.

Marius could practically hear Julian’s grin. His smile faded as the warden’s Lifesource slipped away and Julian’s letters tornadoed through the halls.
__________________________________________________________

My dearest Marius,

How long has it been since you locked me away? A year?—surely not. A decade perhaps? No, it feels more like a century. I half believed the stories about the Shadow Wreath before I became a permanent member. The stories don’t do it justice, however. There’s no worse monster than the one looking you in the eye. And you and I have never seen eye to eye, Marius.

You’re undoubtedly wondering how I escaped. As a fellow magician, you know I cannot reveal my secrets. And where’s the fun in that? But I know how slow you can be, so I have left you these letters as clues, in hopes that you haven’t grown too fat or too dull in the years since our parting to use them to find me.

How is our Trinity? Have you cared for our little Bird in my absence? Time is up, and rent is due. Did you really think you could get away with it, pinning your crimes on me? Of course everyone would believe a Royal over the son of a blacksmith, but how can you be sure that the Shadow Wreath was your plan, and not mine all along? How can you know with certainty that I did not intend for this placement? Have you considered that you are simply the pawn in My Game, the way you have always been.

King’s to you Marius. I do hope that you find me. Victory won’t taste nearly as sweet if you fail to locate my whereabouts. Bring our little Bird with you.

Your beloved,
         Julian

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alislove
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« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2018, 02:13:36 AM »

Hi samcantcook,

I'm out of my element when it comes to fantasy so I may not be equipped to give meaningful feedback. That said, I rather enjoyed this story and don't perceive it as laughable. Again, I am no aficionado when it comes to the genre so perhaps I'm missing something.

As a reader the only thing that stands out to me is I would like to hear the story in present tense.  With this sort of action I think it would bring more immediacy to the scenes.

I do think the word "smile" should be used more sparingly. This expression can be referenced with alternate wording and the reader will still know it is his trademark weapon. Seeing "smile" repeatedly takes me out of the story. I substituted some other wording and changed the tense.  See what you think:

Quote
In the hand of a criminal, a dagger can be used to maim, injure, even kill. Marius’ smile is more lethal than any sharpened steel. Like a thief in the night, Marius knows how to use this smile disarming expression to twist and pry the locks that are people’s minds, uncover secrets with his charm and his wit. No one is safe so long as Marius can look them directly in the eye.

Marius flashes the prison guard a the smile, the one that comes to him as naturally as pride; it is a Royal’s smile grin, dark and cunning as a nightmare.

“I’m here to see the Shadow Warden.” Marius' amused countenance smile is enough. It says a thousand things in the span of a second: that he is highborn, that he has never been told “no” (which is not entirely true), that he will kill any man foolish enough to deny him his wishes. “It’s about one of your prisoners.”

The Shadow Warden opens the door. Marius’ smile face is dangerous now, a barely perceptible smirk at the corner of his mouth.

“Tell me how Julian Octavius escaped.” Marius’ voice is like his the smile, a tool of manipulation when he wills it to be—but now, it is a poisonous sound that can crush the life of any living thing with but a single word.


You paint some nice visuals here: Yes

Quote
...Royals’ white palaces shone in the sunlight like pearls on sandy beaches.
Marius wrapped his will into little knots around the warden’s skull, compressing a little bit more each second, until the pressure finally split the bone in two—equal halves
...the ends of his fine black coat trailing behind him like slashed ribbons.

To be honest most fantasy makes me look away (just a personal taste thing). This, however, does not.  Nothing cringe-y here and I sometimes find fantasy cringe-worthy in general! This is smoothly written, not hokey, and has a nice hook. Again I'm not versed in the genre, but I enjoyed this. 

« Last Edit: January 30, 2018, 10:40:13 AM by alislove » Logged
samcantcook
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« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2018, 11:25:20 AM »

alislove,

Thank you so much for your constructive criticism and pointing out those bits of repetition. I can see how those can be cleaned up the way you've shown here! This helps me out a great deal Smiley Smiley Smiley
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alislove
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« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2018, 02:14:08 PM »

My pleasure  wink2 !
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scarlett25oh
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« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2018, 07:15:19 PM »

      I cringe whenever I give feedback because I'm not an expert and I don't think I could find a literary agent for my work at this point. So it might just be only me who would say so, but I didn't like the opening lines that explained the use of a dagger and the comparison to Marius' smile. I don't personally get around to using a dagger much but I didn't like it being explained to me. Also, the expression "A thief in the night" is often used in reference to Jesus in several places in the bible, such as 1 Thessolonians 5:2-6 and I might not be the only reader who thinks of that reference and dislikes it on that account.

     You're a really strong writer, I like the plot and the scenery. I sometimes wondered if it was too description heavy in places or too light in others but I hate to point those places out if I'm the only one who would think so. That might be what the writer's group was talking about? I definitely don't think it was laughable. There's a lot of good lines, a lot of good scene setting. The biggest flaw for me, was that when I read this piece I was more connected to the setting and the plot than I was the character. It might be helpful to keep that in mind if you go back to tweak anything.
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katD
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« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2018, 08:14:25 PM »

This is really good. I was drawn in by the voice and the opening of the plot, which very rarely happens to me in a critique. Other than genre, I don't see any relationship to Tolkien here. Your voice is modern, the pacing is way faster and the opening has a far tighter POV.  I suggest that you stay the course. Keep writing and consider working with a different critique group.
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Seanszlepcsik
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« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2018, 11:25:50 PM »

Hey fellas! Wonderin' if I can get some thoughts on this. I was told by a few people in a writing group that this was pretty laughable. Biggest complaint was the writing style--apparently they felt that I was striving for Tolkien (I wasn't) and failing epically. That wasn't really my goal on either account. Overall it was a fairly embarassing experience, but I guess it helped me see where my story needs the most improvement. Can you point out the cringiest pieces and let me know what your overall vibe was with this? Thank you!

In the hand of a criminal, a dagger could be used to maim, injure, even kill. Marius’ smile was more lethal than any sharpened steel. Like a thief in the night, Marius knew how to use his smile to twist and pry the locks that were people’s minds, uncover secrets with his charm and his wit. No one was safe so long as Marius could look at them directly in the eye.

“Your papers, sir?”

Marius flashed the prison guard a smile, one that came to him as naturally as pride; it was a Royal’s smile, dark and cunning as a nightmare. “I’m here to see the Shadow Warden.” The smile was enough. It said a thousand things in the span of a second: that Marius was highborn, that he had never been told “no” (which was not entirely true), that he would kill any man foolish enough to deny him his wishes. “It’s about one of your prisoners.”

“This way, sir.”

A dozen guards—just two shy of what he felt comfortable dispatching without sustaining any injuries to himself—were stationed outside the entrance of the Shadow Wreath. It was a prison known only by those unfortunate enough to be trapped inside its walls and the Royals who’d condemned them to wallow in its perpetual black halls. The prison was located on the island south of Royaling, across the sea from where the Royals’ white palaces shone in the sunlight like pearls on sandy beaches. It had but a single entrance—one way in, no way out. And no one had escaped it in a hundred years. No one, that is, until now.

Having heard the news that his mortal enemy had escaped the inescapable, an act of magic that defied explanation, Marius had flown to the Shadow Wreath. Literally flown, the ends of his fine black coat trailing behind him like slashed ribbons. It was a bit of magic that would cost him a month or two of his precious Lifesource, a price Marius was willing to pay to see to it that Julian remained behind bars for crimes committed against the Royals.

Marius trailed after the guard into the labyrinth of twisting shadows. He couldn’t understand how they did it, how the prison guards managed to live on an island cast in forever darkness, beneath the wreath of overlooking mountains curved over the prison walls like a grotesque hand with bent, broken fingers.

“Here you are, sir.”

Marius nodded, and the guard left him to his business, taking the torch with him, the only light source in the Wreath other than the flickering candle in the Shadow Warden’s office. Marius detected the sweet scent of candle smoke, felt its warmth curling against his skin. He knocked on the door. The warden was inside; he could sense his Lifesource stirring, smell his cheap cologne. He pondered the fractured form of Julian’s skull, wondered if the beautiful pieces would fit back together once he was done.

The Shadow Warden opened the door. Marius’ smile was dangerous now, a barely perceptible smirk at the corner of his mouth.

“Tell me how Julian Octavius escaped.” Marius’ voice was like his smile, a tool of manipulation when he willed it to be—but now, it was a poisonous sound that could crush the life of any living thing with but a single word.

“Pardon me, who?”

Marius threw his shoulder into the warden’s chest, sending him to the floor. “Back on your feet!” Marius lifted the warden by the scruff of his collar, sat him back in his seat.

The Shadow Warden wriggled in the tall black chair stationed behind his tall black writing desk. His filing cabinets and drawers opened all at once, though not in the way that a burglar might have opened them—one at a time as he scanned for a particular document or piece of parchment bearing a valuable signature made with a Sealing Ring. They were opened in a magician’s fury.

Marius scanned the documents for any sign of his quarry. A form of registration, a notice, anything. All he found were letters. “Where did you get these?”

The warden eyed Marius with all the fear a child feels for God.

The warden of the Shadow Wreath, his mind a treasure trove of information and hidden things that Marius needed to know, buckled beneath the might of the young magician’s will. Like a snake coiling around its victim, Marius wrapped his will into little knots around the warden’s skull, compressing a little bit more each second, until the pressure finally split the bone in two—equal halves, of course. Marius didn’t like messes, a surgeon of precision with or without a wand, though everyone knew Royals didn’t need something so crude as a piece of wood to work magic.

“Tell me how a magician stripped of his Lifesource was able to leave the Shadow Wreath as easily as smoke through paper walls. Tell me why there is no record of a Julian Octavian dwelling within these halls. Tell me now or you will lose your tongue.”

“Please, sir. I. Don’t. Know.”

Marius gripped the Shadow Warden by the throat with his gloved hand—one glove, he never wore two—and lifted him from his chair, legs dangling in a death dance. The warden did little to resist: to lift a hand against a Royal was futile and would mean certain death. Besides, Marius’ Lifesource was too strong, an ocean compared to the drop that belonged to the Shadow Warden if they were to be weighed on a scale. Perhaps Marius would give him a quick end, but Marius  was not feeling generous that morning but what had this man provide to warrant such generosity?

“The letters. Explain the letters then. How can you have no memory of Julian, no records of his imprisonment, if your drawers are filled with his letters?” Marius knew the handwriting well. He’d often copied Julian’s swooping penmanship, pretty as calligraphy, during their time at the Royal Academy of Magic, though Julian was the farthest thing from a Royal. A Rag by all accounts. But that was many years ago, back when Marius and Julian were still friends. A lifetime ago. But time erodes all things. Friendship was not immune.

“Please,” the Shadow Warden said.

And Marius knew the warden was asking for death.

“Not yet. Your heart will tell me what your mind cannot refuses to.” I still need you to talk. Memories were tricky, but the heart could be coaxed to cough them up if you knew where to poke. And Marius knew all manner of such things. Royals were bred into their positions, but to maintain status required a certain finesse refinement; Marius’ brutal cunning had served him and his family well.

The warden squirmed as Marius thrust his consciousness deep into the warden’s soul, twisting it like a dagger in soft flesh. The warden whimpered. “Almost,” Marius said. “Don’t die yet, or I will make you regret it in the Void.”

Marius pushed his thoughts deeper still. The pain inflicted upon the soul was something indescribable for beings so grounded in flesh and nerves.

Suddenly the warden’s eyes went white. His lips twitched and he spoke in a voice that was not his own, a voice Marius knew all too well, in Julian’s sweet, deep vibrato.

“I win,” the voice said.

Marius could practically hear Julian’s grin. His smile faded as the warden’s Lifesource slipped away and Julian’s letters tornadoed through the halls.
__________________________________________________________

My dearest Marius,

How long has it been since you locked me away? A year?—surely not. A decade perhaps? No, it feels more like a century. I half believed the stories about the Shadow Wreath before I became a permanent member. The stories don’t do it justice, however. There’s no worse monster than the one looking you in the eye. And you and I have never seen eye to eye, Marius.

You’re undoubtedly wondering how I escaped. As a fellow magician, you know I cannot reveal my secrets. And where’s the fun in that? But I know how slow you can be, so I have left you these letters as clues, in hopes that you haven’t grown too fat or too dull in the years since our parting to use them to find me.

How is our Trinity? Have you cared for our little Bird in my absence? Time is up, and rent is due. Did you really think you could get away with it, pinning your crimes on me? Of course everyone would believe a Royal over the son of a blacksmith, but how can you be sure that the Shadow Wreath was your plan, and not mine all along? How can you know with certainty that I did not intend for this placement? Have you considered that you are simply the pawn in My Game, the way you have always been.

King’s to you Marius. I do hope that you find me. Victory won’t taste nearly as sweet if you fail to locate my whereabouts. Bring our little Bird with you.

Your beloved,
         Julian







Just some minor things that i picked out. I'm no expert by any means. I just thought these changes could help your work, at least in my eyes. Otherwise i was quite intrigued and i would truly like to read more!
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RockinRobbie
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« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2018, 12:01:37 AM »

Personally, I liked it and thought the opening paragraph was effective.

Tolkien? Really? What type of pipe weed does your writing group smoke!  wag

Quote
that he had never been told “no” (which was not entirely untrue),
Was this supposed to be untrue? Maybe too many negatives?
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Dribbydrawers
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« Reply #8 on: March 13, 2018, 01:05:33 PM »

I like your plot, imagery, and similes. I don't know why you felt the need to name the character of Marius so often, maybe because you were identifying other characters at the same time? but I felt I read his name more often than necessary.

On a more difficult note, and this is maybe cultural, but can we give much weight to the influence of a person's smile? The eyes, sure, they bore into, pierce, question, etc.  I feel like a lot of people overcome others through their gaze and their mouth movements are measured against the gaze as indications of commitment from the person, not the other way around. FWIW.
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