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« on: October 16, 2009, 08:23:38 PM »

mustn't have my stuff here, ed keeps it.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2011, 07:07:25 PM by Woody » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2009, 04:00:29 AM »

Woody, it's important to orient your reader as to time and place as soon as possible. I assumed this was a modern-day piece until I was several paragraphs in and wondered what a constable was doing with a donkey. Even then, it took a while longer to discover that the story takes place in 1644. Instead of wasting time on a weather report up front, consider leading with the conflict between man and beast so the reader is at least put on notice not to expect automobiles.

The change in POV at the end of the first section threw me out of the story, and probably would have had me stop right there. I am unwilling to believe that a donkey is able to grasp the nuances of the English language. And even if it *could*, you're suggesting that it would take offense at a silly double entendre when it has just been called stupid. And finally with regard to the donkey, as much attention as you're giving the donkey's actions, it appears that it is going to play an important part in the story. If that is not the case, then I suggest you tone down the anthropomorphizing.

It appears that you're not totally familiar with the old English verb forms. Try looking them up on the web or get someone to help you. As an example, John says, “How doth the knowledge come to you that I hath travelled this far?” The word "hath" is equivalent to "has," so unless modern John would say, "How do you know I has travelled this far?" your character has just blundered in a very unrealistic way. I was also wondering why he doesn't use "thee" for "you" in that sentence. My suggestion would be to skip using the old English.

In this passage
Quote
In the dark it was difficult to distinguish between house and establishment. John pulled his letter of appointment from his tunic and struck the flint of his torch to shed light on the letter, to read again, exactly where he would be staying until the High Constable’s office had been refurbished.

“Until the office of High Constable has been refurbished you will reside in lodging rooms at the ‘Merry Widow’.”
you could avoid some repetition by deleting the words I've struck out.

============

So those would be my initial suggestions. You've created an intriguing setup with the landlady, but it took a bit of work to get there. Do we really need to know about Cromwell and the Parliamentarians just yet? Or could that tidbit be dropped in later at a point when it's relevant to something John is working on? At this point, I think I know as much about the donkey as I do about John--so help me understand why I should care about him.
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« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2009, 04:41:17 AM »

Hey Woody, congratulations on being asked to supply something. That's cool. That's like a solicitation rather than a "no unsolicitated submissions"...

Back to business. I think it was Elmore Leonard who said never start a story with the weather (in one of his ten rules). He's not a bad person to take advice from either. Although James Lee Burke often breaks the rules and he's not a bad writing role model either. Anyway, your first paragraph does hold a couple of problems for me:

Quote
The rain, though only being a drizzle, was of that nasty kind, a lazy and presumptuous rain. One that ignored the fact you wore appropriate clothing and passed straight through to soak your skin. Although the sun had set and the road into East Scythe was a muddy expanse of ruts and pot holes, John Devereux still looked forward to his new job, that being the latest in a long line of village constables.

Firstly I started to think about rain that could pass through appropriate clothing and get right through to the skin. What sort of rain is this then? I've never come across any that can do that (not as easily as this line suggests, anyway!) - maybe it's a sci-fi story about a new kind of intelligent rain? Then I'm pulled out of the story by the last sentence. The construction, the 'although', suggests that the sun having set, and the road being muddy and pot-holed would normally mean that JD wouldn't be looking forward to his new job...I don't see a connection between his state of mind and those conditions.

Why not dive in at paragraph two? "John Devereux's new appointment had come out of the blue..."?

I don't know much about village constables' wages but I suspect that if one is used to a personal fortune a constable's wage might not keep one in the manner to which one had been accustomed. There's a bit of tell around that fortune, too. It might be better to start in the midst of some action (i.e. paragraph three.) and worry about the explanations later.

As I get to the end of section one I start to understand the nature of the story - it's a comedy. Maybe I'd pick this up  from the anthology marketing/cover under normal reader circumstances. Given this knowledge, John's dialogue can be - just about - accepted. But it is very stilted, despite stiltation (!) being the intention. I also lose my sense of viewpoint for a moment - are we with the donky or John?

The second section is pure tell again, and though it sets the scene (again, until this moment I had no idea of the period we were in - nothing wrong with this, by the way) it does feel rather 'plugged in'. The usual advice is to pass such information off in more subtle ways - you know, dialogue in a tavern or something. At the same time, I'm firmly in the camp that it's okay to use a bit of tell now and again and save oneself several thousand words of beautifully crafted 'show'. Sometimes you just need to make your point and move on. In this case, I was glad of the anchor you gave me. Although the sentence:

Quote
In the north the Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, were battling the Royalists and closer to home, in Suffolk, a lawyer, who was not, was on the rampage, picking on any woman he felt didn’t fit his criteria for “normal” womanhood. 1644 was turning into one of those topsy-turvy years.

took me a few goes to unravel - especially the "who was not" bit.

Still nit-picking:

Quote
John trudged up the street, in the October twilight. On either side half timbered houses seemed to lean over and look at him as he made his way up the road, hoping to find the coaching inn, where rooms had been made ready for his arrival.

Having him trudge up the road is good, but the October twilight feels like it ought to be part of the next sentence. Also, I'm forever using the word "seemed" and forever being told to take it out. And the people doing the telling are right. It weakens any sentence it's used in. It's like - I'm not quite saying what I mean so I'll use the word seems... Better would be:

Quote
John trudged up the street. In the October twilight the half timbered houses on either side of the street leaned over and look at him.

It's not perfect yet, but I'm sure the reader will understand this is a perception not a reality. Interesting that there are rooms with the plural awaiting him at the coaching inn. In such days, I'd have expected he'd get a single room if he was lucky. But then that's based on absolutely no knowledge at all.

The next line suggests things are so dark that his view of the half-timbered houese in the preceding paragrpah wouldn't have happened. One of these paragraphs needs to be changed.

I'm not a fan of "All of a sudden." Again, I often find myself using "suddenly" in first drafts, but generally I find I can simply take it out, and the mere fact of writing what happens next conjures up the required vision.

Anyway, all of that is by way of analysing the language rather than the story and I'm sure you'd cover it off in subsequent drafts. Overall I think that you need to grab the reader a little bit more quickly. I don't know how many words you've got but you've used 800 of them here and nothing is really yet to happen. The obvious word-play joke is starting to feel over-used already, and the dialogue - as already mentioned - needs a little work even though the intention is to make it particularly styllised. The fact that this guy is a constable coming to a strange town would suggest (to me) that he's likely to be investigating something soon. Why not have him contemplating on whatever this issue is as he heads into town? That might form a hook and pull the reader along with you a little more willingly. Something like:

Quote
The donkey halted just before East Scythe’s high street started. John Devereaux pulled at the rope.

“Come on you stupid ass,” he said. “It’s bloody cold and the rain up here is wetter than at home. Come on. What are you waiting for?”

The donkey eeyored.

"I know, I know," John said. "But frankly, I don't care. Now move!"

John trudged up the street. So this is where it's all been happening, he thought. This quiet little potholed town. This muddy, dark, and wet pit.

Anyway, despite all of the above which is pretty minor really, I like this. I like the feel, the tone, and I'm intrigued as to where it's all going. Be sure and post the rest when it's done.

Hope that helps!

Del





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« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2009, 04:44:38 PM »

mustn't have my stuff here, ed keeps it.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2011, 07:07:43 PM by Woody » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2009, 04:45:42 PM »

mustn't have my stuff here, ed keeps it.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2011, 07:07:56 PM by Woody » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2009, 05:08:58 PM »

Yep, Matthew Hopkins. I did pick up the reference, it was just the complexity of that particular sentence that pulled me out of the tale for a while. Hopkins is a great resource / inspiration for horror sources (my recent witch anthology  acceptance was thus inspired) and also informed the classic Hammer film Witchfinder General.

Derek
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2009, 05:42:57 PM »

mustn't have my stuff here, ed keeps it.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2011, 07:08:09 PM by Woody » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2009, 06:15:58 PM »

mustn't have my stuff here, ed keeps it.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2011, 07:08:26 PM by Woody » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2009, 08:12:56 PM »

Quote
Overall I think that you need to grab the reader a little bit more quickly. I don't know how many words you've got but you've used 800 of them here and nothing is really yet to happen.
A good point and something that needs to be addressed. But I'm not sure how, at the moment. There are 8 main players in this story with a myriad of other minor parts - though the MC is John Devereux; with a possibility that his ass will be fulfilling the "Watson" or "Hastings" role.

Open with the crux of the matter - what the story is actually about. Hinting at a confrontation to come will usually be a good hook. Something like this would be good:

Quote
It was an unusual entry into the village. In years gone by there would have been a parade with the villagers welcoming the new constable, wishing the constable well, but this was not the case any longer; the office of High Constable was on the wane and the rulers of England had many other worries to deal with.

In the north the Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, were battling the Royalists and closer to home, in Suffolk, a lawyer, who was not, was on the rampage, picking on any woman he felt didn’t fit his criteria for “normal” womanhood. 1644 was turning into one of those topsy-turvy years.

As Del said above, starting with a weather report is widely considered to be a mistake, unless it's directly relevant to the plot. Must admit I also read what seemed to be quite a long way into the story before I had my legs taken out from under me by the description of a donkey and the fact it was set in the 1600s. The above extract would make a much better opening with its exposition setting the scene straight off the bat and hinting at trouble ahead. You can get away with far more exposition in setting the opening than you can further into the text.

I like the idea, and I think it's shaping up to be an entertaining story.

BTW, do you realise this bit of the forum is open to the outside world, Woody. Would you like me to move it into Ye Olde Workshoppe, which is password protected? It's easy enough for me to do, if you want smiley
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« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2009, 09:12:34 PM »

mustn't have my stuff here, ed keeps it.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2011, 07:08:47 PM by Woody » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2009, 04:59:31 AM »

Woody - when I say the crux, I mean the theme of the story - the meaning that can be extrapolated from the story as a whole - what idea is being explored. That type of thing. Not the actual scenes played out by the characters.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2009, 05:22:08 AM by Ed » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2009, 05:06:41 AM »

Fair enough, Ed. I suspected I was getting close to the line - hence my note about presumptiousness.

I've removed the post. Hopefully the rest of the world is still in bed so no-one will have seen it.

Anyone want some Marigold shoots??  smiley

Cheers,
Del
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« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2009, 05:24:44 AM »

Shame to lose the whole post, Del - some good stuff there. Like you say, it's good to mix and match crits to get out of them what you want to suit your style of writing.
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« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2009, 08:14:39 AM »

I blame the joy of writing, Ed. I started off with an opening line, thought I'd add a bit of dialogue...started to have some fun with the situtaion, and before I knew it there was a whole scene. If only my own stories came so easily!

Del
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« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2009, 03:22:59 PM »

mustn't have my stuff here, ed keeps it.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2011, 07:09:03 PM by Woody » Logged

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