Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Name That Genre: Critique Round #7

TITLE: A Chalcedony Trap
GENRE: MG Fantasy

You cannot kill magic, but if you capture it, you can use it as you please

— Old proverb

The dumpling-shaped man gripped the pages lightly in one fat, bejeweled hand and frowned. Despite its foxed edges, the paper’s thickness signaled its age, promising a good profit. Yet he wavered.

Across from him, perched on a high and narrow fencepost, the tall girl blinked, pretending that she hadn’t caught a whiff of his misgiving. “Take a good, long look. I brought them to you as I know you love a first-rate history,” she said.

As she spoke, the hot scent of frying lamb rinds cut through the chill in the air, and for a moment they both paused. “Snap ’em up! Frrreeesssh rinds!” hollered the high voice of a young boy from the marketplace below.

The man moved a hand involuntarily toward his belly, while the girl puckered her nose and drew in a hungry breath. But then she flashed an easy smile and swung her thin, stocking-clad legs back and forth like nothing else in the world mattered to her but the pages. She motioned with a wink. “I’m betting that little bundle’s worth at least a half dozen staters.” Her alert gaze fixed on him.

He narrowed his green eyes and scratched a thumb against his bald and shiny head. She was a starer, this one. And a liar, that much he was sure of. The pages were likely stolen from one of the hawkers in the Emporion, and easy to trace. He glanced at the sheaf of paper, moistening his lips as he anticipated how best to turn it into coin. Make a show of having it, and he’d have the weight of every market inspector in the city on him. But if he could offload the pages quickly… "Perhaps a groat, girl."


  1. First, let me say I enjoyed your first 300 hundred words. I think you did a great job describing your setting. I really felt like I was there, where your MC was. I felt like I could smell the fresh rinds and I could feel the type of atmosphere you were going for. Good job setting that up. I very much enjoyed your first line (proverb) as well. I thought it helped set the scene.
    I did get a bit confused about what exactly they were trying to sell. I would have liked for that to be just a touch more clear. Also, I wasn't sure what you meant in your line "She was a starer..."
    I also would have liked to know a little bit more right off about how old the girl was, and perhaps what she looked liked. You did a great job describing the dumpling shaped man, but I can't get a grasp on the girl other than she is tall and thin. I hope this helps. Good luck!

  2. I was confused. There were words like groat girl and hawkers in the Emporion (street peddler in a large store?)that had me scratching my head. The first 300 words were a lot to take in especially for MG. If some of this is explained in the next few pages then this might be an excellent start to an interesting read. When I read the Harry Potter books it took me awhile to learn new vocabulary like muggle and quidditch but I knew they were made up words, in this excerpt I'm not sure if some of these words are made up or just not in my vocabulary.

  3. 1)I love the description at the beginning of the first paragraph. I was drawn in right away.
    2)“The tall girl” seems really forced to me. After the beautiful descriptions of the merchant, this seems bland. I’d offer a better description as above, or none at all.
    3)“...hollered the high voice of a young boy.” The voice part seems obvious. What else is going to holler? I’d take that part out and just have the boy hollering.
    4)You start with staters, which is an Ancient Greece currency, if I recall correctly. Later, he offers a groat. Aren’t groats English or Scottish? I don’t know if both have ever been common in the same place at the same time. I might be wrong, so go with your own research, but it threw me off.
    5)I love this beginning. However, I’m concerned about your POV. So far, you have a very omnipresent voice. The reader knows what the girl is thinking, and the merchant, and I can’t yet tell who’s supposed to be more important. Are either of these a main character? Am I supposed to be able to tell?

    Well done! I’m intrigued enough that I would read more.

  4. The world is interesting and seems full of strong, but subtle references that set the atmosphere but didn't lose me. And I liked the merchant thinking out the consequences of buying what he assumed was stolen. I'm assuming stater and groat are currency, but I had to think about it for a second because they invoke different regions. I also got distracted by the shifting POV. Sometimes, it feels like we're in the girl's POV ("pretending that she hadn't caught..." "hungry breath.") and sometimes, we're in his. I'm not sure who the main character is or who I'm supposed to identify with--is this her story or his? Is someone else watching them? Is this a prologue? Curious about what the pages are.

  5. I really enjoyed this and I want to keep reading and reading now! I got a good sense of the world, which in 300 words is all I think you can hope to achieve, and the tone of the story was clear. All these things captured me.

    While the writing is strong, I think it could be stronger. I like descriptions but at times it felt that there were too many and it weighed down the narrative. I felt they even knocked me out of the story at points. For example the line, "He narrowed his green eyes...thumb against his bald and shiny head," made me leave the story and go 'oh right, time to describe the character.'

    Some of the descriptions are great, like the bit with the scents of lamb, but for what it's worth, I think just a little bit of trimming on some of the descriptions could make this even better!

  6. I liked this, but I must admit I stopped short when we switched to the fat guys POV. As another commenter said, I'm not sure who the main character is, or if both characters are important to the story. Consider naming the important characters. That simple change will signal who reader's should follow and who is only temporary. If they're both part of the on-going story, name them both. That way we know they are both important and the head-hopping POV change won't be so startling.

  7. The writing in this is very good. The only thing that's really giving me pause is who's POV we're in. I thought we were in the girl's and then you switch over to the old guy's, and I'm confused as to whose side I'm supposed to be on.

    Also, you might want to clarify what she's selling. Since this is fantasy, it could be anything. Is it a book? A stack of papers? A couple of the sentences make it sound like a single piece of blank paper.

  8. This is a really strong opening. You do a great job of setting the scene and letting us feel this strange world all around. Your word choices are great. I enjoyed it.

    I only had two concerns. First, is there some reason for us not to know the names of either character? It's harder to engage with them when they're just called "the girl" and "the man." And second, you switch perspectives in the last paragraph. We were in the girl's thoughts and suddenly we're hearing what the man is thinking. It threw me out of the story.

    But apart from those small things, I thought this was great. Good luck with it.

    PS The "prove you're not a robot" code has my first name in it. That's kind of unsettling.

  9. I enjoyed this opening too, but it didn't hook me quite as much as it should. I think the issues Abbe mentioned above are part of the problem. The lack of names added to the omniscient POV keeps the reader at a bit of a distance, although the descriptive details (and the smell of those rinds!) are effective.

    There's nothing wrong with the omniscient POV, although it's less common than it used to be, but make certain you know why you've chosen to use it and that you're certain it's best for this particular story.

    One other little thing I noticed is that it would probably be better to put the lines of dialogue into separate paragraphs. Although it's technically correct to include dialogue in a paragraph that's just described the speaker, it often reads better when the dialogue is separated.

  10. OP here. Thank you SO much for your comments, everyone! It's been especially instructive seeing where several people agreed on problematic aspects of the voice or description. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to post my WIP here and get such thoughtful feedback -- and thank you Authoress, for your unstinting generosity in fostering such a great writing community.

    All the best with your writing, everyone!