Critique of Chapter VIII(B)
By: Dhalgren99

Gasp. Does he dare crawl back to the Phantom Realms after sending everyone five of the same message because he's too stupid to realize that it's been sent already. Can he dare show his face again? Will he? Must he?

Sure he can. That little part of my brain that holds "shame" isn't there anymore, I took it out and life has been fun ever since. Whee! Let's see how detailed I can make this round of commenting, my arms are probably going to start aching fairly soon, played a mean round of volleyball today at a family party and as usual I cleaned up (the great thing about this is that there's no one around to dispute my story...heh heh heh)...I even discovered that constantly talking in a loud voice about whatever pops into your head and striking provocative dance poses (even when serving! boo-yah!) very much distracts the other team. However, as a negative side effect, it also distracts your team as well. Oops. Also managed the dubious feat of landing the ball on the highest branch of the tallest tree in the yard. Grr, I'm diesel. Sure I am. And people wonder why I don't describe my lilly white boy body. I'll save you all from nightmares.

But back to Hensbane we are and Hellbore's continuing quest...there's actually some clarification for that quest finally (and thanks for Hensbane herself for graciously answering my scattered and nonsensical questions), seems that some people have been getting killed near the Inn and Hellbore's here to investigate...I'm not sure exactly why she feels she needs to get involved, but hey, get the character there any way you can, I say. And Karl could use the help, other stuff. If you know what I mean, wink wink nudge nudge. This section was definitely more fun than the last section, I know it's all of a piece and that the beginning is mostly setting up the rest of the chapter (had to get her there somehow) and unlike all of my characters none of you folks seem to be able to teleport (now if I was a mage that would be the first spell I'd learn, you never know when instantaneous transportation will come in handy) but the scenes that were here, especially toward the beginning, were very memorable and nicely done. The interactions with Karl and company were good, nice to see him showing up for once, though it's probably good to keep Hellbore at the spotlight for the moment.

The spectre scene was definitely something reading this far for and remember how I said that it'd be great if you could go into more detail with the stuff Old Frank described in the last section...well there you go that's it right there, exactly what I was looking for. Either you're telepathic or I'm simply easy to please. My needs are so little. Ha! The concept of the wandering spectres was very creepy and the setup was good, I'm not sure how Hellbore can talk to ghosts but I'll just chalk that up to an ability explained in the bios that I still stubbornly won't read (and you can't make me, DanO...nyah!)...some of the dialogue bordered a bit too much on explanatory, description is something that you can go on and on for pages if necessary and to a certain extent detailing people's thoughts (well, I do, but that's the Joycean influence creeping in, I think) but when it comes to dialogue you've got to cut out all the "fat" and strip it down to exactly what needs to be said. A sentence like "Now I want to ask you who brought this fate upon you and your people" to me is more wordy than it needs to be...granted it tends to be a fantasy thing, if there's one thing I learned in SwordSearch is that fantasy folks don't speak like normal people but that sentence could be reduced to the more concise, "Who brought this fate upon you?" you don't even need the "and your people" because the "you" can mean the collective "you" (there's an actual word for it in Spanish but we don't have a special one) a scene like this where I think you're trying to shoot for something both horrifying and creepy short stark sentences probably work best for dialogue because it gives the reader a chance to let every word sink in.

If say, Zeta's Karnak speech went like, "Karnak, the dark one, he did it. As an offering to his dark gods he slew us, and our blood ran into the soil and our screams tainted the air. The torture was...terrible, he wouldn't stop, he wouldn't let us die until he wished it...he...listen. You can still hear it. You can still hear the screams."

I try not to let dialogue be expository if necessary, the Phantom Realms don't seem to be a place where steam of consciousness techniques are welcome (mostly saved for pretentious little twits like myself) and so dialogue is really the only place where the character, any character can emotionally engage the reader. The shorter the better when it comes to dialogue, the ultimate test is when you take out all the narration and the reader can figure out who's talking just by the cadence of the speech and what words they use and what they're talking about. Imagine the two people actually speaking in your head. I tend to speak in run on streams of non sequiturs piled one on the other, while my brother tends to mostly say stuff like "Don't speak. No, just be quiet. Didn't anyone ever tell you that you aren't funny?" and the like. Sometimes he's even nasty to me. Go figure.

Dialogue is annoying because it has to move the story along but at the same time it can't be like the narration stuck between quotation marks. So there has to be balance between chatting and the pushing the plot forward. The only thing I can mention is also imagine what your character is doing while they're speaking and throw in stuff like that when they speak, I've found that it adds a lot of color and it certainly helps me make up for the fact that I'm not as descriptive... most characters don't just stand there and deliver all dialogue like speeches and most of my characters tend to fidget something fierce, change facial expressions, fix their hair, pace around, look at different things, all that stuff can be added in...for me it's a crutch to hopefully distract people on how crappy the rest of the story is but for this section when the descriptions are stunning and there's a workable plot in motion, it can only do good things.

And while I'm molding you in my own image (please, keep in mind that I'm only suggesting stuff, I know what works for me as a writer and I've developed certain quirks over the years, some of the things I mention you may want to consider incorporating, others you may want to go tell me a dark place to go shove my suggestions)...I don't know a darn thing about active voice versus passive voice (it's an English concept I could never get for some reason) but the section where Hellbore experiences the memories of what happened back then might be an example of where you want a more active viewpoint.

To whit: instead of decribing it neutrally, you know like "Hellbore witnessed" and the like, describe it like it's actually happening, use lots of little paragraphs and not one large paragraph. I've found that varying sentence length often can create an off kilter rhythm that can set susceptible readers on edge (sort of like playing with their heads, but legal) and manufacture suspense (I actually got that one from reading comics) the scene where Hellbore is experiencing we'll call it, have it more like:

"They were tying them to stakes. People were screaming and there was blood all over the ground. The air was thick with burning human fat, clogged and choking.

"A girl pleaded for her mother before hairy hands cast her into an open flame.

"A woman writhed in agony, her jaw working soundlessly, her eyes nearly bulging from her head as her exposed stomach split and something toothy and glittering began to emerge.

"Blood was running down his face as a man kept howling, two crusted sockets sightlessly weeping. Next to him they were holding someone down as they jabbed a white hot iron rod at his eye."

And so on, how gruesome you want to make it is up to you but by doing that you engage the reader more directly, instead of going through Hellbore technically you bypass her completely and make your case right to the person where it matters most, the guy or gal reading the story. By hitting them rapidly with a series of increasingly horrifying images you leave them dazed to the point where you can sneak into their house and steal all their stuff. Or at least think about doing that. I think it boils down to that "showing" versus "telling" argument, I straddle the fence on that but I think in this case it would be more effective, especially since you're trying to get across to the reader that Karnak is an evil, evil man, sure Karl and Hellbore say he is but other than that, what do we have to go on.

That said, nice to see the Karl and Hellbore plots meeting, since they were by the same author I figured they'd connect in some way but it looks like Karl and Hellbore are going to be working the beat (and maybe some other stuff...oh I'm a dirty boy) together to crack this case. Still, Karnak is really go out with that alter matter thing, still why bother using the typical stuff to torture people, if I could alter matter I'd so use that for evil and not for good in every way I could...turn their stomach into a horde of stinging wasps, make their eyes melted butter, fill their veins full of fresh mountain air. The possibilities are really endless.

The first meeting between Karl and Hellbore is neat, as are the subsequent conversations, the interplay between the two of them, with just the right amount of sexual tension (at least I see that, but then at my age it's apparently all about sexual tension, I guess) to make the reader wonder just when these two might end up in bed (and wouldn't shapeshifting abilities be useful then...oh ho you sick little man, stop that, thank God I'm fairly sure you're all over eighteen, I don't need nasty phone calls from parents). Good to see the Inn as well, it's figured prominently in several chapters so far and it's starting to get a character all its own.

So I can assume that the massacre of Hellbore's village was two hundred years ago (how did she pass the time, out of curiousity, has she been training all these years, what got her out of hiding, the reports of the deaths near the Inn?)...I'm surprised that she didn't go live at another village of her people, I'm sure they would take her in.

Mention of her silver allergy...(hm wonder if it's just special antibodies...probably can get a vaccine for it somehow...or maybe a certain, we'll call it IgS, where the silver substance causes anaphylaxis...anyone have epinephrine?) is a nice detail, a lot of writers forget stuff like that. Good work.

Hellbore appears to be slightly that from the werewolf ability (like smelling emotions) or just something she learned how to do after two hundred years. I'm sure the Green Man taught her lots of stuff along those lines.

And battle my jungle friends! Hellbore gets caught in some unpleasantness but at least that means she's on the right she's a true shapeshifter, can other werewolves do that as well or is that because the Green Man trained her bad self...I'm curious to know whether she can change into only "real" things or say, change her arm into a bear's giant arm and start busting heads with it. If so then I'd be much more imaginative, but at the same time being she was trained by the spirit of the forest, I guess her palette is a tad limited in that respect to things that only exist...maybe showing her experimenting with the ability to learn it's limit might be in order.

The battle seems to be with some of good ol' Karnak's friends (question: magic isn't usuable within the Inn...would Hellbore be able to shapechange since that's innate but it's also I think magical...hey if I can't do it then it's magical but I guess that means flying a plane involves magic then) only complaint here is the same one that I take up with our buddy Odan (see, DanO, I'm not just picking on him!), the characters here win too easily...I know the battle between two random beasties isn't something worth wasting pages on but if it's going to get resolved in ten seconds...let's see Hellbore sweat just a little, and work for her victory...she changed into a bear and beat the heck out of them, let them get surprise and throw her around for a bit, I mean Karnak clearly isn't playing around and I don't think he'd create weak minions...I'm not saying turn every conflict into a sweaty epic world spanning, property wrecking monster but just a little more work for poor Hellbore. Still the combat was short and brutal, which is the way fights are in real life so that was good. Sometimes you do get tired of punch dodge kick dodge kick punch flip dodge, etc.

But hey it's only her first combat I'm sure there'll be others.

Or maybe I'm just a bloodthirsty runt. It's quite possible.

That's all on that for now, the next section will come along tomorrow hopefully. And with luck (he prays) I'll only be sending this out ONCE and not torment everyone like last night. Did I mention I'm really sorry about that.

Odds and ends, then.

Aside to Dru Driver: the character sheet looked dandy to me, me and DanO wrangle over reading the bios, I'd much rather see the character in action myself so hopefully you'll get a spot on the writing order soon and show us what you've gone. And then you've mine, bwah-ha-ha. But, no, I'll be gentle. I promise. Heh. Did I sound sincere?

Aside to DanO: While the land offer is nice, if I do contribute any characters/stories, chances are it'll only be people who are passing through (you know I'm going to find some way to ram Tristian through the Realms if I can manage it) and so I have no problem tearing them across other lands or just creating stuff so they can destroy it (or try to stop someone else from destroying it).

Aside to Kenicy: You know, after your comment I figured it wasn't fair to say what I said without practice data backing it up so I went and did a little experiment and compared blood and berry juice in the light of a tallow stick (and I'm not even to go into how hard that was to find) and, nope, no dice, they still look different. Craven has dumb relatives, or at least ones who aren't interested in detective work, even if they do have excellently rendered dialects. Of course now my family thinks I'm really weird but it's all in the name of science. It marches on!

Aside to Firestarter: Get that character out and get in on this while you can, by gum, I don't want to pass up a chance on taking a crack at your stuff as well. You're not getting off on this easy either, I'll critique the character sheet if I have to.

I think that's everyone. Hi everyone! How about I start all over again?


All right, I'm off! Bye now!

- Michael

"Just like a mad dog you're chasing your tail in a circle, it's all in your backyard, you've got the whole world at your feet, I said the grass is always greener when it bursts up through concrete..."
- XTC, "River of Orchids"

Critiques and/or comments are most welcome.
If you would like to critique this, or any other chapter,
please e-mail NovaReinna the ScrollKeeper
referencing "PR Critique" in the message title
and detailing the Chapter Number to which your critique is directed.
All such critiques and/or comments will be posted for public
viewing in this area of the Realm.
The WordSmiths thank you for your interest and participation.