Critique of Chapter XV
By: Dhalgren99


Hi ho, neighbors, apologies for the short delay, I had promised myself that with the two week delay I would buckle down and get myself caught up by the time the writing cycle starts up again...oops. Unfortunately I had to answer some criticism of my own work since I can't ever be silent on anything. Well, almost anything.

FragmentFour is the merry winner this time out and boy is she lucky. This chapter is a quick read and not so much a holding pattern like some of the chapters in this stretch are turning out to be...there's still a "marking time" feel to it, Aulofu sure as heck doesn't deserve that much space. Or maybe she does, it ain't my decision. Still a plotline does get advanced a teeny tiny bit, much like Hensbane's previous chapter so we're not at the treading water yet...interesting that there isn't much note of the aftermath of the Lord of the Pit competition, you'd think someone would mention it. But then perhaps the Ricore party wasn't around for that, I don't remember seeing them there...Craven was there obviously and so is Sir Scat (not that I expect him to mention it, though he does mutter something about a quest...his cameo is well done by the way, though if NovaReinna can somehow get him to carry an entire chapter she'll have my everlasting admiration...in small doses he's just peachy keen) so the continuity is a bit vague again. Also of course there's no mention of what happened last chapter, Darvon was all set to do something and it barely gets mentioned here (but we've discussed that separately and belaboring that point merely for the sake of doing it publicly, while deliciously fun, would be ultimately a waste of space), if I had skipped the last chapter (from FragmentFour) with few exceptions, most of this chapter could be easily read. Which is good up to a point, I always strive to have my chapters stand on their own and tell its own little story. But still, there has to be some carry over or the reader can just skip chapters willynilly and read Burroughs style (what style is that...go read about how good ol' Bill wrote Naked Lunch and you'll go see...consider it a homework assignment for you kids). This is where plotting sessions will definitely come in handy, right now a lot of plot elements are being carried over author to author but not chapter to chapter...they're getting lip service but with more and more of the characters showing up in the same place, it's getting near integration time. Hopefully the upcoming powwow on long term goals and the like will give the team better direction.

This is the Aulofu chapter, more or less, she gets more air time than the Ricore family when you think about it. Her presence is interesting and I can't figure out why she's warning each and every person...still is Darvon dreaming, she appears to him and I don't think he was asleep. Readers may want to make a note of that. The wacky thing about dreamtime is that it's all dependent on will, not magic. A person with a strong enough will can easily bend the fabric of the dreamtime to match their own perceptions. I don't care if Aulofu is dizzingly powerful, if I keep imagining her as a chattering throw rug being walked over by elephants in my personal circus that I'm the ringmaster of, there's not a damn thing she's going to do. And the fact that she has no physical body (apparently) just makes it worse, there's nowhere to run, it's not like she can wake up. Still, her appearances are...eh, and this is no fault of the writer...she seems way too solid though...I'm big on utterly bizarre dreams and I tend to let stuff follow dream logic...my personal feeling is that she should appear in the middle of a typical dream and the fact that there's this very serious looking entity right in the midst of your mostly illogical dream would give it more contrast. But mostly she just comes and gives somewhat vague warnings and maybe those warnings are vague because when this chapter was written the future plots hadn't been worked out too clearly...it's not a shameful thing, heck I'd be vague to so I could cover my own rear and not run the risk of contradicting myself later. I do it now and I'm the only one in charge of my stories. Perhaps the deal here (and this is still speaking strictly personally, mind you) her appearances are too rote...it's like she's just making rounds and maybe that's the point. But it's a given that doing stuff like this is like eating Oreos, the first one tastes great, so does the second one but as you eat more and more you like it less and less (unless you're as fat slob like myself who can eat his body weight in cookies)...Aulofu's first scene with Ricore was striking and unexpected but the shock of the same starts to settle in and by the time she gets to Darvon, it's like "Oh here we go again". Plus, like Darvon correctly points out, she's not saying much of anything, she sounds like a bloody recording...the only thing of substance she really says is about Trey being a wood elf (we know he's not the only one...if he's even a wood elf, who went and told him that if no one has ever seen one before...did Ricore just assume or is there another purpose perhaps?)...the reader can't even get an inkling of her purpose (and again when put into context with the upcoming epic quest that I'm sure is about to happen, this may all make sense and everyone will see truly that I'm just blowing smoke and filling up pages of nonsense...come on, who am I fooling?) and so it's opaque.

I do like the rapid dialogue here, it's very short and to the point and carries the story along swiftly. I do think there needs to be some added detail to it, when Ricore says "Aulofu. Get out of here." it's merely written like that, there's no inflection or anything, you as the author hear it in your head but the reader hears mostly a monotone call...saying, "In a level tone of voice, Ricore stated" or whatnot, or even just using some nifty italics, you know like "Get OUT of here", nuances like that can make the dialogue sparkle more. But then I'm very dialogue and thought intensive so I'm just tipping my hand and showing my personal style and preferences more than anything else so take all that with the oft mentioned grain of salt.

I like the hints at the romance between Pedrin and Majica...it's handled well, albeit "cutely" which is an acquired taste but can be quite lovable in the right circumstances. So far so good there and it was nice to see Pedrin as smitten as Majica was, even if it never ever happens like that in real life, I don't care what you "love at first sight" people claim, I ain't buying it. But it does add a nice human element to the goingons, which I like. The idea of two people attempting a romance as the world blows up around them has a lot of facets to it, so don't ignore the potential here (not that I expect you to...but I think the writers expect me to say stuff like that...just between you and me).

Trey is still lots of fun, even if his dialogue was a bit snippy here...though it does demonstrate a little of what I was saying about Aulofu here (he's also not dreaming, hm...) because she just...appears, spouts a bunch of stuff and then disappears. No personality, no build up and very little atmosphere to her appearance. Sir Scat could have walked in and done it (not before hitting the door, I imagine)...I know Aulofu is a shared character but she definitely needs to be distinctive, she's like Obi-Wan (well after he got cut in half) without the always cool Alec Guinness accent (but then maybe she talks like the late Mr. Guinness, God rest his soul)...emphasize her translucent qualities, the vaguely echoing tone of her voice, like she's speaking from inside a large vault, does the room get cold when she's around, stuff like that. Is her gaze piercing, does she move at all while she's talking or just stand there like she's delivering a singing telegram?

But moving on, and let me assure you that the chapter is darn entertaining and succeeds on a lot of levels, the interactions are good, the subtle humor is still evident and moves swiftly enough so that if a scene falters a bit, we're not there long enough to dwell on it. It's only farts like myself who pore over each scene and try to pick it apart like it's a moldy onion...but that's what we're here for. To annoy you. Oh, wait did I say that outloud? I meant to help polish up those chapters until they shine! Yessir, I have no ulterior motives at all. Yup.

Anywho, I did like the mention of someone more powerful lurking about monkeying with the horse...given the mention a certain character near and dear to me at the end of the recent chapter twenty-two it certainly increases my temptation to figure some way to stick him in there. However, whatever the case, the mage involved in that horse like dustup wasn't him since he's not there at the moment. Though it would be amusing for Tristian and Ranos to show up, no doubt Ranos would turn invisible and scout out the Inn (he's not magical, whoo hoo!) while Tristian sits somewhere conspicuous. No doubt Darvon, perhaps wondering who this guy is, would try to probe his mind...and run into the lovely conditioning stuck there by beings that could turn a dragon into a large smoking and scaly corpse...there's a reason Ranos never read Tristian's mind, that tends to be a mistake you only make once and after Darvon winds up slumped against the wall and finding himself suddenly stricken with a bad nosebleed, I'm sure he won't try that again either. And that's when Ranos shows up. Whee! This plotting stuff is great when nobody can stop you! I should write my own stories! Oh wait, I do. Nevermind.

But I have no other guesses who the other mage might be, I doubt it's Karl, his powers are more druidic and nature and that generally doesn't lend itself to messing with people's heads...though druids always had crappy spells like "entangle" (hey, guess what I can teleport!) or "fairie fire" (gee, so I'll kick your ass and have a girly looking aura of pretty lights outlining me...I can live with that, the lights will wear off, the asskicking won't). I hope Karl is cooler than that. Please, Hensbane, tell me that he's the mack daddy of druids. If you understand my hip slang, homegirl. At least I'm not using British slang. Tee hee.

Pedrin seems to be doing...stuff in the clearing, I'm fairly sure Majica isn't there (in fact she doesn't appear at all, did they leave her behind?) which is kinda funny. And it's nice to see that you can ignore Aulofu if you really want to...I'm not sure what she'd say to him anyway, like I said last time around he's the character I have the hardest time getting a handle on, we need more spotlights on him to give him some depth that his brothers already have. The one problem with a lot of these characters is that chapters and people breeze by so quickly little time seems to be devoted to making them more three dimensional. Now, granted this is coming from someone who spends five thousand words on someone's thoughts while they're sitting at a table, so maybe my extreme isn't one you want to shoot for. I can cheat a bit because I use the slower stories to develop the characters, thus leaving me room in the swifter stories to just drop the characters into the plot and let them do their thing. Here you're manufacturing these people on the fly, so we need the right balance of swift and slow moments to chisel this people out. Definitely more conversations are needed and between two rational people, not between say Sir Scat and anyone (hey, I like him, but as Darvon points out, talking with him quickly becomes a surreal experience) but between two genunine characters, an actual conversation, not say, Ricore ordering everyone around or stuff like that. Just two people trying to make sense of the nutty world they live in. That's what the rest of us do, right?

Darvon makes perhaps the stupidest decision since the Realms crew got together and thought, "Gee, this Pouches guy seems to know his stuff, I bet he'd be great at commenting on our works"...what the heck were you thinking, boy? Yeah, I agree, he does need training, the one thing you always do when going into someone's head is to leave yourself an escape hatch. Ranos had failsafes so that he can completely withdraw into himself if things get too rough, so he's not trapped somewhere. Like in the middle of Aulofu. More detail on the mindbending process would be nice, was it like being thrown through a curtain of icewater, does he feel in the middle of a crowded marketplace where he can not only hear everyone talking clearly in a lot of different languages but see inside their heads at the same time, if Aulofu really is a taste of eternity (mmm...eternity)...I think your style and mine contrast to the point where you're very economical and to the point, whereas I am very much the opposite. I would have done this chapter in about twice the space you did here...am I better at it? No. In fact if readership can be a gauge, the Realmsters read and love (in a suitably platonic way, no one is asking anyone to leave spouses or significant others) the work done here while dear old Pouches has a readership of two if he counts himself and his mother (who wonders why he uses so many darn words anyway and why nobody ever really DOES anything, they just sit around and talk a lot...like Dawson's Creek but more depressing since it's got like gods and explosions and that's, like, cool and stuff...but I digress). Who should be advising who, here? The jury is still out, I imagine.

Darvon's lifestyle change is probably the most interesting thing here, since it was unexpected (and who ejected Briger from the horse, 'twasn't me)...and handled with quite a bit of humor. Is he going to get back into his body...well since he's talking about me in the newest chapter, I'd venture to say yes...not before he has to have Sir Scat ride him...interesting how the culture shock isn't as much, when Darvon pulled the old switcheroo on someone earlier, they were thrashing like they just got rammed into status epilepticus (which, for the record, I would never even wish on fantasy characters, unless you enjoy having lorazepam jammed somewhere you definitely wouldn't want it if you had a say in such matters)...Darvon seems quite fine, I'd woulda thought the transition would be rough as hell. Maybe it'll get worse later, he hasn't tried walking yet. Ricore is as cold a fish as always, out of curiousity, why can't Darvon can transport himself back into his body, the man is a mindmage for the love of God, he can do it to other people, if you ask me, before I learn how to do stuff like that I'd try it on myself. That way in case it ever happened to me, I'd know how to get out of it. Sigh. Darvon, Darvon, Darvon, you need a teacher or something fast.

The dialogue actually reminds me of Robert Heinlein's early books, very fast and breezy. I've been reading a lot of them lately (I'm only backed up two years on my reading now, whee!) and that just struck me. So I thought I'd share.

Aulofu as eternity? Boy, I never would have pegged that...actually being the source of all possible futures is almost ridiculously infinite, I mean if you think of every single thing in the world and the fact that say, Darvon takes two steps instead of one when he leaves the stable, or leads with his left instead of his right...there's a near infinite number of futures that don't change at all. The future isn't determined just by the big stuff, boys and girls, or do we have to go over the butterfly flapping and causing the hurricane metaphor again?

Still, the important part is that you've left us with something to hook us into reading the next chapter. The only problem of course is that it might not be for a while, but I'll have to make do with picking up another plotline (dear God, Hensbane is up again next time...I swear NovaReinna just moves chapters around when I'm not looking...it's a good thing I like your chapters, Hensbane!). So, overall most of my quibblings are questions of style, I would do this chapter far differently in structure and setup and delivery than you would...but that goes the same for everyone I think and while I can give my daily spiel that boils down to "If I Ran the Realms", it's up to your folks to pick amongst the debris of my comments and figure out what applies to you personally and fits in nicely with your vision. My vision of course is paramount but if you people want to pretend that yours have some meaning, go ahead, my ego will just sit back and chuckle in a vaguely amused fashion. Like this: heh heh heh.

Just kidding! Put the shiny sharp objects down. Geez, that's the problem with fantasy, too many dangerous toys lying around.

Okay, then, good job this time out, in at least maintaining interest while the epicness rests on the backburner (are the dragons sitting in some demigod dive bar playing cards?) for a bit. The crucial elements of your style are still in place and even though it can be a bit sparse for my taste...people liked Hemingway and he's far worse at this sort of thing. You bother with an adjective every once in a while at least. That's something.

Looking forward to hopefully picking this up tomorrow.

Bye team!

- Michael

"You turned my head until it rolled down the brain drain, if I had any sense now I wouldn't want it back again..."
- Elvis Constello, "New Amsterdam"


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