Critique of Chapter VIII(C)
By: Dhalgren99

Remember me?

I know, I know two days isn't that long of a time (probably not long enough for you guys and gals...come on, you knew I wasn't going anywhere, I come from a tenacious lot) but I did want to finish this monster of a chapter as quickly as I could and so the delay for me is just unconsciousable. But oh well, you do what you can, but if I labored under that I'd do absolutely nothing at all. Tee hee. Oh boy do I feel mean today, I had two pharmacists tagteaming me with questions for five hours straight, just one after the other, I know which organ the middle ear most resembles, why nitrates and viagara don't go well together, which statin drug you can take without a working liver, what to do when someone has hyperkalemia and those are just the ones I remember without feeling the urge to break down into frenzied weeping like the pitiful little man I am.

But...ah, deep breath, I'm back here, among friends. Right? I said, right folks? Oh dear, this isn't good either. At least now it's ME exercising the power and answering the questions and believe me, anyone who thinks that I'm going to take the higher road and not be petty and vengeful doesn't know me very well.

So, that said, hi Hensbane! No, no, don't pretend to be watching your wallpaper set, you were paying attention, I can tell. How've you been doing, he asks, keeping it simple and smiley. Your day been going well? That's good. I hope it was a really really really spiffy day because for the next bunch of paragraphs, you are MINE, woman. A locked room, a cold metal table, a burning lamp, and worst of all, me.

Let's kick this show into gear now, shall we?

When we last left our heroine (amazing how one letter can make a word so different) she had laid the smackdown (I hate wrestling but I love that word for some reason) on a bunch of pseudo-creatures that I'm guessing Karnak created with his bad self wonder why Karnak just doesn't wait a few months, use his matter altering ability to change ordinary rocks into evil creatures and swarm the Inn with them until there's nothing left but some splinters. I'm sure Karl will enjoy that just fine but he'll love it even more when he goes to face Karnak and the man simply turns his muscles into cotton candy. Word of advice, Karl, get that jewel away from him first, unless you want to discover what it feels like to have sulfuric acid in your veins instead of blood. Or perhaps the old favorite of fresh mountain air? Sound good.

Um, still, this is Hellbore's chapter, I can give Karl advice on his own time. I wonder if Hellbore's decision to not tell Karl (or anyone) about fighting some very strange things outside the Inn was a wise one...after all, they were kinda looking for the things that were killing people and Hellbore might have stumbled onto the reason...keeping that bit of information to yourself probably won't make people like you anymore. Plus it reeks of splitting the party, and we can't have that.

The conversations between Karl and Hellbore are fun, the two of them seem to be getting along very well...the burgeoning friendship between the two of them is nice to see, and they appear to hit it off just fine...though it's pretty obvious what Karl his pure hero like way of course (unlike Odan who is probably a magnet for latent sexual desire, if DanO can be believed...his thoughts I probably cannot print in this quasi-family setting). Some of the details are nice, the pewter mug thing was interesting, but why doesn't Karl just put all of his drinks in the same type of tankard to avoid screwing up and killing somebody (not that I'm sure someone doesn't have a "purify food and water" spell...what kind of magic have we got here, do I have to inject fireballs into this story too...)...the werewolf eating often thing was a definite nice touch though and very welcome from the Dean of all Logical Explanations and Absurd Extrapolations (and believe me, I earned that title)...if you think about it, the changing from woman to wolf and back again is going to take a hell of a lot of energy, that's gotta come from somewhere. The reason that Hellbore probably keeps the figure she does (oh ho, no, she's not real, she's not real) is because her metabolism is totally out of whack (to the max, yo), I'm sure every time she changes the woman has to down what my entire family eats in a day so she doesn't waste away...actually since we're talking about shapechanging, I'm curious to see what the extents of her powers are in that respect, I mean, where does the mass go when she's changing, if she turns into a bear it has to come from somewhere, right? Plus how fast can she change, I mean she turned into a bear and beat the crap out of the things, why not change into a bird, fly over their heads, and then change into a bear in midair and drop on their heads before slipping back into like monkey form get the idea. I don't know how long she spent with the Green Man (who no doubt is in a meeting with Blue Man and Red Man, his backup singers in the band Primary Colors) but two hundred years means you've got to have had to learn something off the wall with if I had a power like that I'd very much experiment with it...I'm sure you can think of lots of nasty things you can do to evil people with it. Hopefully we'll see some of that. A dinner party probably isn't the best place for it, mind you. Unless she wants to give herself a bear's liver and drink as much as she wants. Whee! Get into the spirit.

Just as a note, careful with what information you tell the reader, we were reminded at least three times in this chapter that Hellbore was two hundred years old and that her entire family was dead. Even after five days and a memory like wet tissue paper, I remember that...and it makes me want to say callous things like, "It's been two hundred years, get over it..." (says the man who's family still cooks him dinner...boy, talk about ungrateful)...when you're dealing with long stories like this, once is probably enough since you assume that most people will be reading from the beginning (and if we get confused, gently remind us, the way you've been doing to me...really folks, Hensbane has been unimaginably tolerant of my babble, so far)...especially when the stuff is long you have to keep this in mind, believe me, if I reminded readers every time Tristian shows up in a stories that he's the host of the Agents and has a sword that cuts through everything, people would be even sicker of me than they already are. So just a thought to keep in mind, feel free to make an obscene gesture at the screen if I'm not making any sense.

The next few sections are good and again, seem very much to be drawn from experience, Hensbane you either have a vivid imagination or you're very well travelled and have a good eye for detail...or perhaps both! "Do you like sheep?" is the best unused pickup line ever, ranking just under "Let's make ugly babies" for potency and rapid onset of effect.

The next scene with the candlers and the scene with the kids after that made me think of my views on magic...when you think about it, Karl's viewpoint is terribly backwards, after all, magic is nothing more than another tool, the same way you'd harnass wind or water to get power or run a machine. To say that magic in some way belittles human achievement when it's allowed Karl to do so many great things, magic isn't something that falls down on you, it's as much a part of you as your organs are, as your eyes and ears and nose. As I've commented elsewhere on a slightly different topic, hating yourself for using magic is like chopping off a third arm because you feel bad because everyone else only has two. Magic in its own way can represent the first step in a drastic change for a society...think of it when early people learned how to farm by sticking plows onto cattle, they didn't step back and go "Gee, this isn't fair to the people who don't know how to do this, let's just chuck it and go back to doing it the hard way..." the fact that we could have a stable agricultural system meant that we had more time for leisure, for art, to create. By sitting around all day making candles and shearing wool because we refuse to use magic because of some wrong headed idea that we're somehow "tainting" ourselves and wasting away...the people are missing out on taking society to the next logical step...a world with perhaps lights powered by magic, vehicles, art that is totally based on magical energies (light shows that shift depending on the viewer, for example, or scupltures that talk or lots of stuff).

The details with everything, especially with the craft sections, are excellent but keep in mind that the reader doesn't need every single detail, if you start describing the direction of the grain of the wood and how many bricks make up the oven...all detail should be enough so the reader has a general picture, you don't have to mention everything that you see in your head, we can fill in the me. Sections like the crafting stuff were finely written but while Hellbore is going about that the plot sort of disappears...or gets ramped down, my personal little rule when writing long pieces is that every single section should move the plot forward even a tiny inch. Just a tiny bit. Hellbore doesn't seem too utterly concerned with the beasts she recently fought, the conversation with the guys at the bar doesn't tell us anything we didn't know...beasts are running around killing people and you'd think Hellbore might be out looking for them since she already has some idea of where they might be (well if she hadn't offed two of them...girl power!)...the main thing you seem to be trying to get across in this chapter/section is Hellbore and Karl meeting and hitting it off right away. Generally I find the best thing for me to do is identify the "core" of the section, what HAS to happen, this way I can somewhat stay focused (not that I don't go off on tangents)...this way you can keep things to the point and not let the reader feel you're either treading water or just wandering off, even when the story itself is sprawling...I'm writing a section now (well not "now" but you know what I mean you silly people) where it's two people talking in a hospital waiting room, I know what has to happen and generally what they're going to talk about, stuff like where they're standing, what gestures and expressions they make, the little metaphors that I think spice up my work (got a great dragon and maiden one now...who says you can't ram fantasy into anything)...all that I do as I go along, but I do my best to keep everyone on the same path...that's especially important with dialogue, you have to keep it "natural" but if you make it totally realistic you'd never get anywhere, people just ramble when they talk and chatter on and on without saying anything or even listening to each other. I've fallen into traps where my dialogue just starts to ramble for no reason and I've got to work hard to reel it back in before I can't even salvage the entire section.

It's a fun game, and you're doing a swell job so far. But I have to find something to talk about or else I'm just summarizing the plot...there's detail and then there's DETAIL, you have to decide where the balance is and draw the line. As I've said before, I'm not a detail oriented writer, so I'm not the one to even suggest such a thing. So don't mind me, I only lurk here. Boo-yah!

Man, Karl is really falling hard for Hellbore...the man is nearly throwing himself at her, show some dignity, man! Let the woman come to you (he says, standing in the center of a group that consists of ninety percent women...did I ever mention I say a lot of stuff I don't mean...girls?, let's not be, please, not in the face, not in the...ahhhh!). Those scenes are touching in the quasi-romantic way that I always avoid because underneath I'm a cynical and cold hearted bastard. Still, nice to see other characters grasping at happiness.

Hellbore's speech just gets "this" close to being over the top...I think she's spent a little too much time alone. Though her comment that she will die unmourned is interesting...what did happen to the Green Man? She should probably hook up with Dave Sim's Cerebus character, who is apparently fated to die "alone, unmourned and unloved" but we won't find that one out for a few years yet. But I do think that she needs to get a grip, a companion might be good for her to come back to reality...hey, peering in people's houses is a crime where I come from buddy, keep your eyes on your own for Pete's sake. You wonder though, if Hellbore's insistance that there is no one to share her hopes and dry her tears is partly her own fault, when you separate yourself from the world it's mostly self inflicted, often the world tries to reach out to us whether we want it to or not...I think Karl is more than willing to, um, help if she would let him. But no, she heads back off again on a quest that she barely seems to even she trying to find the dude who ordered her family killed or after Karnak or the beasts

Still the ending sequences, if a little wordy dialogue wise and leaning toward saying too much when just a little might do...are marvelously poignant, there's honest feeling between two characters and howevermuch the word choices aren't mine, the emotions there are clear enough. This has the potential to bring a lump to someone's throat, I think it has to be taken down just a tiny notch and then start buying stock in Kleenex because the tears'll start flowing.

And so ends another chapter...Hensbane thanks kindly for giving us this insight into Hellbore and filling in lots of gaps about her, there are still a million questions I have (such as why is she seemingly incapable of speaking in sentences of less than five words...oh but then look who's talking, the King of Parenthetical Commentary, oh yeah, I'm the last one to be lecturing people).

Quick note, you and FragmentFour must have looked in the same dictionary for the word "geas" since you spell it wrong twice you mean a literal geas by the way or is that just a figure of speech, because if she has one on her, when the heck did that happen? But she could just be talking metaphorically.

Overall, fun stuff, Hellbore is an interesting woman two hundred years young, it'll be interesting to see if the Realms can safely hold TWO shapeshifters (maybe they'll meet and turn into each other...or cancel each other out)...the Inn got lots of ink which is good considering it's apparently the central location (and beware: Odan is coming)...I liked it.

Yet another chapter gets the Pouches Seal of Approval. Gosh you people make this job so unexciting, my critic's knives are going to get all dull and rusty at this rate. But wait, new blood is coming in, perhaps the two newcomers will have flaws I can exploit...sigh, no probably not, the only flawed one around here is me. Oh well.

Various odds and ends to deal with, FireStarter seems to have officially joined the crew so welcome aboard to their happy family (I'm more like the dirty cousin that you only invite when you absolutely have to...), can't wait to see your characters in action.

Congrats to NovaReinna for winning her award on the AIN, I'm sure it was well deserved and well earned. The website looks as spiffy as ever, the rules and regs looked fine to day I'll have to see how many I can break before DanO notices. Got the magic sword one all sewn up at least. That's one. But I can do better than that.

Speaking of DanO, thanks for the kind words, but frankly I'm the least important "member" (if you can even call me that) of the little coterie you folks have going on here, if nobody wrote and posted I'd have nothing to comment on and annoy people with and I'd just be another hack plying his trade on the boards, stringing pretty sentences together and pretending that it all means something deep and profound. So instead, I can do that here. Whee! So it's been a pleasure to have this opportunity.

Oh gosh eight chapters in and I'm getting all misty eyed, this is not good. Sigh.

That's all from me for now, have fun all.

Until next time, let me be your loop diuretic of choice.

- Michael

"There is nowhere to go but know that before I tell you..."
- Guided by Voices, "So Fine to See You"

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