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Monday, August 4, 2014

Marabella - First Chapter, part I

This week I am continuing the critique of Marabella - Discovering Magics, first chapter.
Part I of three:

The bustling village of Helfin heaved and overflowed with the multitudes of visitors jamming its narrow muddy streets.  In addition to the usual market-day crowds, throngs of peasants, farmers, and their families, and mountain folk and their families tramped into town for Festival.  Festival had no set certain date in this unimportant speck on the map. *er, what? Read that sentence again please* But every fall, after harvest and before the winter cold set in, crowds would gather for days in excited anticipation of the arrival of the traveling clan of Demalions who brought Festival with them whenever they came.  Children lined the road on the outskirts of town each day, eager to be the first to see the brightly painted wagons as they rattled and bumped into view.  Every boy and girl knew that each wagon carried some wonder or mystery or entertainment.  Word had come days ago that Festival had ended in Sellwood, in the next valley east of Helfin.  All knew the Demalions were on their way.
Lots of descriptions in that first paragraph. Remember, it is difficult for the brain to wade through so many pictures. Cut back and I think you will find it easier. I used the strikethrough option to show where you can cut.
            The Demalions were an interesting people.  They *Why did I strikethrough this? Because you need to Show me the Demalions are interesting not Tell me* traveled from town to town entertaining and trading their wares*period* of their craftsmen But they were said to possess other skills as well.  *now why did I shorten that sentence and begin another? To increase drama and also to give your words a bit of poetic lilt. Pick a song that has a good beat to the lyrics for an example. I like What Was I Thinkin’ by Deirks Bentley. Video is at the end* The Demalions were rumored to have the gift of the magics, a cause for fear and mistrust among those Common-folk who neither used nor understood the magics. *would that make them belligerent then? Would the common folk want them to come to town?*  And while they traveled the whole of the Common Valley, they only resided in numbers in a few places. The remote towns, one in the mountains and one near the sea, were where they spent the off seasons. Westwytch, near the Pelagos Sea and Blackwytch to the east in the Black Woods were both outside the Common Valley. While traveling, the Demalions usually camped for a couple of days between towns. Days had passed since they had exited Sellwood.
An excellent setup for the rest of the chapter. You introduced us to the Demalions without too much description or backstory. Plus you threw in a little conflict also. What has kept the Demalions from arriving? I would get to this point earlier, maybe even the first sentence. “The Demalions were late and no one knew why.”
            Sellwood was considerably larger with more commerce than Helfin, and year round river access.  Smaller and more rural, Helfin only had access to the nearby ferry for part of the year.  When the spring rains came and the river swelled, it became too high and fast for access to the banks near Helfin.  But by summer and fall when crops began to flourish and harvesting began, Helfin was ready and able to use the river ferry once again to get cargo up and across to Riverton, the large trading town on the south bank.  *okay, now you are losing me. My attention is wandering. Stop with the background noise and bring on some action*The swirling, chilly waters had claimed more than a few who tried to cross after the spring rains began. Nearly seven years prior, the rains had come early, in late winter, and the last ferry of the season had tragically been splintered and broken on the rocks downstream.  Many bodies were eventually found, many were not. Whole families were lost. Only two survived, an old man named Broxton who died a moon cycle later of pneumonia and a boy, Wesley, just five years old.  Some thought the boy was not quite “right” after the accident.  *If this information isn’t absolutely necessary, cut it from this chapter and add it later on. It gums up the story. Way too slow for the first chapter when you need to capture then hold the interest of the reader* *Update: I see this is important later on but I think it needs edited for clarity and to increase the drama. Example: Nearly seven years prior, the rains came early. The last ferry of the season had splintered and broken on the rocks downstream.  Many of the bodies were found, many were not with whole families lost. Only two had survived. An old man, who died a moon cycle later of pneumonia and a boy, Wesley, just five years old.  Some thought the boy was not quite “right” after the accident.

            The people in the streets pushed and prodded their animals, wheeled carts and wares and listened for word of the approaching wagons. *a little bit clunky. Try re-wording* Merchants scrambled for places in the crowded market square as they prepared to set up shop.  Competition was fierce but Festival always increased the weight of every merchant’s purse*excellent use of arcane or local vernacular. Good job* Farmers and mountain-folk brought all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and farm animals. Hunters hauled in stacks of furs, skins, and leathers. *note the addition of commas*Tradesmen transported *note alliteration* everything from furniture to fabric and rugs, pottery and poetry to town for trading. *note additional alliterations* Makeshift kitchens were set up to prepared pies and breads, roasted vegetables and meats and an array of home-cooked foods. Anyone who had anything to sell could make a profit at Festival. 
Again I would shorten some of these sentence for drama and to make it flow. Example: Hunters, with stacks of fur and leathers. Tradesmen and their furniture, fabric, rugs, and pottery.   
             The sound of women's laughter and the odor of scented oils wafted through the air of Narrow Alley, known for its Ladies of the Red Sash. The wide Red Sash worn round the waist indicated that these ladies were open for business to sell their time, and their bodies.  The low mud-brick buildings that lined the street Narrow Alley were made up of rooms connected together so Narrow Alley and resembled a hallway of doors.  It was here in one of the smallest, darkest rooms a woman sat by the embers of a cooking fire combing her thick, dark hair.  She too was preparing her wares for Festival. *ah. Action*
            Once Mara had been a stunning beauty with fiery dark eyes and full red lips that needed no decoration.  Though only a farm girl from the village of Melilotus, she carried herself like a lady.  She was bright and witty.  She even knew how to read and do sums. *telling, not showing* Mara left her poor farmer parents and five sisters to seek adventure and employment.  But Mara became a victim of her own beauty.  The adventure she sought never took her further than this dark street.  The harshness of her life for the past decade had stolen the fire from her eyes and the adventure from her soul.  The cruelty of some of her past patrons had marred her beauty with scars and fear.  She brushed her hair in such a way as to hide the scar that ran in front of her ear and into her hairline.  *an example of Showing :)* She smoothed out the faded dress with the low neckline, and tightened the red sash to show off her still small waist and her firm round butt.  “They always like the view from the rear” she said to the room with a sad bitter smile.
            The small sparse room contained a table with two chairs and a shelf by the hearth, which held cooking utensils, a meager supply of food, a plain wooden box and two worn pairs of shoes.  On a peg by the door a green shawl hung over an old leather saddlebag.  *stop with the descriptions. Too much* A half empty bucket of clean water was nestled close to the fire to warm for cooking and bathing.  A smaller bucket by the door was draped with the remains of an old leather apron and served as a toilet. *eww* On the other side of the door a tiny window with a thread-bear pink curtain filtered indirect sunlight and offered some semblance of ventilation to the room.  At the other end of the room hung a worn brown curtain from the ceiling to the hard dirt floor.  Behind it a straw-filled mattress and blankets served as sleeping quarters and place of business.  Out from behind the curtain popped a dark tousled head, “Mama, you’ve waked the baby.”  The child scolded. 
I feel drowned in description again. Give the reader a color, object, scent, or sound to nail them to the scene then back off and get back to Action. Otherwise, the eye tends to wander.
            “Oh Marabella, I am sorry, I guess I forgot about you two for a moment”.  As the child walked into the gloom, the fire seemed to brighten and the room glowed with her countenance. *this word seems out of place with the arcane language* Her eyes shown like two fiery emeralds as she looked into the embers.  “We must stoke the fire so your friends can see how pretty you look.  Tonight will be a good night?” she questioned.*who is speaking? I’m confused*
            “Yes Marabella, tonight will be a good night.”  Mara smiled at her daughter.  “And tomorrow we will shop at the market square and get fresh tomatoes and apples and maybe even some sweet bread, if you're good.”
            “I’ll be good Mama, *quotation marks* the moon-faced child beamed.  “I’ll take the baby to Ma Nan’s and I’ll come when it’s time for you to wake up.” Mara smiled at her daughter, wiping a smudge from the child's cheek.  She changed the baby's wrappings and moved the heavy bar from the door.   Tears glistened in Mara’s dark eyes as she watched the six-year -old *note dashes* help the tottering baby down the narrow street, lifting the chubby cherub over puddles and dancing around, singing as they went.  *lots of verbs here. Cut back and lose the alliteration also*
            In the failing light, the children puddle jumped down the back streets, as shouts and cries could be heard from the main ways.  “They’re here, the wagons are here!”  The faint sound of music was barely audible *‘faint sound’ and ‘barely audible’ mean the same thing. This is called an echo. Cut one or the other* over the shouts of the crowds.  “The Demalions have arrived!” a boy bellowed as he ran past toward the square.  Festival had begun. 
            “Marabella, come on in here.  The street is no place for children on the first night of Festival, or any NIGHT *I would not capitalize this* of Festival for that matter,*cut the comma and insert a period*” The sturdy, plump woman scooped up the baby as the children came through the gate.  The two big, black dogs, usually so ferocious, whined and nudged at the little girl.
            “I want to stay out and play with the dogs for a while comma” Marabella said.
            “Out of the question.  No, you’d be out in the streets in a minute. I won’t hear of it,” Ma Nan stomped her foot on the porch *why did I strikeout this phrase? Because she had to stomp her foot on something. No need to tell us it was the porch* and tried to scowled to hide a grin.  “Come in and have some stew that I’ve made.”  The woman knew better than to look directly at the child because once faced with those enchanting eyes, it was almost impossible to deny Marabella anything.  “Get in here.” She held the door. 
            Marabella gave the huge dogs each a final pat and obediently followed the woman into the bright kitchen.  The dwindling sunlight shone through the front window, firelight danced in the cooking hearth and lamps lit the corners of the room.  She liked the musty smell of dried meat and herbs that permeated the dwelling.  In contrast to her own meager room, Ma Nan and her husband Henry had a real house built from rough-hewn cedar and quarry stone (not just smooth river rocks like many in Helfin).*I would not use parenthesis in a novel. Use commas or emdash* It was five rooms with a pantry and a washroom.  Henry had even built a wooden walkway from the back steps off the washroom to the privy.  There were two rooms for sleeping with real beds off the floor *I like this. It gives me an idea of living conditions.  And what is valued in this world. Good job* and a large great room with a big hearth that kept the whole house warm.  In every room comma there were shelves with pottery and books, and hanging from a rope strung around the ceiling hung herbs drying.  Marabella’s favorite room was the kitchen.  By the door hung the coat and blood stained apron worn daily by the butcher.  In the corner was a low table with a large basin and water pitcher.  A window with glass and cheery yellow curtains overlooked Ma Nan’s little herb garden in the front of the house.  On the other wall was a cooking hearth, which actually that peeked through to the larger hearth in the corner of the great room.  Marabella was amazed at the invention and how the real wood floors fit perfectly up against the twin hearths*I would re-word that sentence. A bit clunky* Henry explained that his brother had actually *don’t use this word* been a stonemason and had helped Henry build the house many years ago. The room was warm and inviting.  There was always something delicious in the larder or in the cooking pot. 
            Henry was a quiet man who enjoyed reading by the fire when he wasn’t working in his meat shop or smokehouse.  He was large and barrel-chested with an easy smile. His thinning brown hair was flecked with gray and his clear blue eyes sparkled every time he looked at his wife.  He and Nan enjoyed the children, as they no longer had any of their own, and they pitied them and their mother.
            Mara sometimes helped Nan when she had extra work to do cutting and preparing the meat for the smokehouse.  Henry, the butcher and his wife were not rich but they had a thriving business in Helfin.  He was known for his honesty in trading and was never too busy to help a neighbor.  Nan, known as Ma Nan by everyone, often worked by his side but was well known in the area as a midwife, herbalist, and healer. She often watched over Mara’s children when Mara had to work in her “profession.”  She enjoyed spending time with the youngsters as her young son had been lost in the ferry accident almost seven years before, and the only child left in her family was her odd nephew Wesley.
You are creating a fine world but too much backstory makes the reader’s eye skip. Not to say I don’t love it but maybe find a place or two to cut. It will increase the pace.
            Ma Nan scooped bowls of the steaming stew for the children.  She was a wonderful cook,*telling not showing* known also for her puffy meat pies that she sold at Festival each year.  Marabella liked her stew best of all.  Nan dipped a crust of hard bread into a cup of goat milk and handed it to the baby while the bowl cooled.  “Hot” she warned Marabella with a nod toward her bowl.  Marabella grinned from the corner where she made sure Ma Nan saw that she was washing up in the basin before eating*clunky. Not sure it’s needed* Nan smiled her approval.  “There’s some cheese if you like” Nan announced absently as she fed a spoonful of stew to the baby.
You’ve introduced a most excellent array of colors and smells. Thumbs up.
            Marabella went into the pantry to the large stone crock sitting on the floor.  Lifting the wooden lid from the crockcomma she retrieved a piece of goat cheese wrapped in cloth.  The smell was strong as she leaned over the crock that kept the cheese cool. Carefully replacing the wooden lid, she carried it back to the table and placed it on the cheese board.  “This cheese smells different from the last batch.  Did Wesley bring it by?”  Marabella inquired as she popped a crumb into her mouth.
            “You have a good nose, little one” Henry spoke from the corner where he washed up in the basin.  “Wesley brought that by yesterday.  He said the nanny just had two kids and I should bring you by the next time I go out to the farm.  Would you like that?” 

            Marabella bounced in her chair and exclaimed through a mouthful of potato, “Oh mmm huhm, pweese.” She swallowed her food and took a gulp of her milk.  “We can’t go tomorrow because mother and I are going to the market.  She said tonight will be a good night.”  The adults exchanged slightly embarrassed looks. *what does ‘embarrassed’ look like?* They both cared for Mara and often wished she could find work other than wearing the Red Sash.*telling not showing. You must show this. It’s a little tricky staying in Marabella’s head but here is an example: She looked up and saw the adults exchange a tight-lipped glance. Ma Nan’s cheeks were a curious shade of pink.
Part Two tomorrow.

Here is Dierks Bentley video. Note how synchronized the beat and the lyrics are to each other. Try this in your narratives:


mshatch said...

I agree with all of Huntress' suggestions. There is a lot of description and a lot of telling and in order to keep the reader's interest we need more action and more showing. I would've liked a lot less description before we meet Mara and Wesley (who got thrown off the ferry in the prologue), and then maybe more description of the town and life there through their eyes and thoughts.

Patchi said...

I agree with Marcy. I would prefer to start with Mara brushing her hair and read her thoughts about the festival. All the preceding info could be given in short bits later.