Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Name That Genre: Critique Round #11

TITLE: Children of a Broken God
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The wood of the door fails to mute Jilana’s wrath. “Fragments, Mazani, why!”

After each yell comes a strained silence.

“That’s months of someone’s work you’ve ruined!”

I would not be brave enough to defy Master Jilana. But Mazani is. After each refusal to speak her mother roars louder. The weavers around me stare at their looms, hands frozen in mid-knot. My mother’s eyes dart between the door and me.

It was Mazani’s idea to lead us into battle. Her game, Jilana’s other prentices versus the novices next door.


Mazani’s victims retaliate, of course: knives mysteriously blunted. Dragon dung on the yarn. If a journeymen sits on a thorn meant for us, we take the blame to hide what we did to them.

But this is different. Mazani would never have tipped a loom.

“We have to pay for that!”

In the silence that follows I am reminded far too much of another day and another door. I had been the one inside. Mazani had pounded her knuckles bloody, screamed her voice rough, until the shopkeeper was forced to throw the bolt open, forced to accept Mazani’s apology, there, in front of witnesses.

Mazani had admitted to her mother beneath the shopkeeper’s glare that she had broken into his shop, she had led us in trespassing in our game of sleeve-the-apostate. I had been barefoot; I had stepped on the glass she had broke -- that’s why I’d been caught.

I could pound this door now -- let them know it was my fault.

I could do that.


But -- it was an accident, the ruined rug.

But -- Mazani asked us to do these things.

But -- her mother won’t beat her. Not badly. Not like what the shopkeeper did to me.

I reach for a ball of yarn. Shame knots my stomach; the door stays closed.


  1. It took a little bit to figure what is going on and who was who. But once I got into the story it is well written and I would read on to find out who Mazani is. I was a little thrown off by the But But But towards the end. It took me out of the story.

  2. I really like the ending. I can feel the guilt and shame, the conflicting desire to confess and to stay still.

    But I had a little trouble really picturing what was happening, starting with the first line. "The wood of the door failed to mute Jilana's wrath." Why should it, I wondered? Is it magic wood? Was it supposed to mute her wrath, but failed? It took a while to realize that they're on the other side of a shut door, but can still hear through it.

    The other thing that jarred me was Mazani leading them into battle, and Her game. Is it a game or a fight? The feeling of the two is different, and I don't know which to assume. A prank gone wrong, or a deadly earnest rivalry.

    Otherwise, nicely done.

  3. I had trouble visualizing and understanding what was happening in the beginning too. And this "But -- her mother won’t beat her. Not badly. Not like what the shopkeeper did to me." Should it be "But -- her mother won’t beat her. Not badly. Not like what the shopkeeper will to me."?

  4. This is probably a personal preference thing, but I would change the exclamation mark at the end of the first sentence to a question mark. "Wrath" indicates that it's probably an animated statement. In fact, each bit of dialog in this exchange ends with an exclamation mark, so it feels like an overuse.

    Until I got to the line "But Mazani is," I thought the narrator was Mazani and now I can't really figure out which side of the door everyone is on, respectively. First it sounds like Mazani is on the inside and everyone else is outside, but then I waver back and forth on where I think they all are. I can't really tell. I also can't tell what's going on with doors in the shopkeeper flashback.

    I really am not sure what's going on with this "battle" and the "game." You're weaving (haha) in some background, but it's not clear to me who's who in this struggle. Who is retaliating, and for what? Is this a competition that got out of control? Is Mazani just trying to screw with the other group? I'm missing a crucial piece of why for this conflict, I think, because the base problem isn't clear to me. For example, you go into the idea of retaliation, but the POV character's "But" confessions at the end imply she did whatever is wrong.

    Aside from that, I do like the POV character's moral dilemma here and the narration for the most part. I didn't like the em-dashes following "But" in the final paragraphs; I think you should just use simple sentences there.

  5. The emotional draw and the stakes have been set well. When the readers feel the shame (or other emotion) the character feels, you have done your job. What I would like to see that is missing is for you to set your physical seen. I want to see, feel, smell the place we're in.

  6. I was confused as to what was going on. I get there's a loom and they are weavers, perhaps but the rest needs more explanation. The flashback scene was also confusing. I think if you add more details this would be an intriguing story. Good luck!

  7. I agree about the opening being confusing. The person talking isn't the one narrating, and the paragon narrating isn't the one being spoken to. I think the protagonist should be more active, especially in the open pages--unless the story is about Mazani. In that case, ignore this critique. Also, I think past tense might serve the story better, especially since the best part of this opening is a flashback told in past tense. Just something to think about.

  8. Shouldn't "why" be a question?

    I like the conflict here - many levels of conflict in fact, but it is the names that throw me - apostate, prentice, novice. Please don't wait too long to explain.

  9. I was also confused about where everyone was. Are Mazana and Jilani behind a closed door, and the MC is listening from outside? Because it takes a few sentences to introduce your MC, I wasn't sure who was talking. I assume Jilani is Mazana's mother, but then the MC mentions her mother being there too, so that also got a bit confusing. The writing is solid, though, and the emotion. I think if you ground us in the scene and start with your MC, then introduce the argument going on, it will intrigue readers.

  10. I agree with the general consensus. I didn't know what was happening or who was who. I did get it in bits and pieces as I read further, but only in a vague way. You might consider starting with the loom and a bit of scene setting, as wll as with the MC, rather than the others.

    You could also do a bit more showing rather than telling. How badly is the loom broken? Does the MC sit on one of those thorns? Let us see the yarn covered in dragon dung. As is, everything is being fed to the reader. Letting us see it instead will bring more life to this.

  11. I still think this is a very interesting milieu, but admit I needed a clearer picture of the scene as it opened. I was unsure what side of the door Master Jilana was on -- whether she was in the room with the narrator or if she and/or Mazani were on the other side of the door. I also found having 'her mother roars' and 'my mother's eyes' in the same paragraph confusing and had to re-read to be sure the narrator's mother was not the same woman as Master Jilana. I think if you could ground the scene a bit more, let us know where the mc is in relation to the action, that would bring the scene to life.

  12. Agree with comments above regarding confusion... One editorial... "dart between me and him."

  13. I read lots of fantasy, but still needed to go back through 3 times to get straight on who was the POV character, who was the friend, and whose mother was raging. The emotion is well done, but I'd like the characters and story to be more immediately accessible.

  14. I hope a couple days late is ok, but I wanted to give it a shot.

    "My mother’s eyes dart between the door and me."
    Attack of the disembodied eyeballs! I know, I know. Being five-years-old, I always find it amusing to read this perfectly acceptable sentence in the silliest way possible.

    The unfamiliar names ‘jilana’ ‘mazani’ ‘prentices’ and ‘sleeve-the-apostate’ sort of throw me for a loop in the same way introducing lots and lots of characters too quickly does. It’s just a personal preference, but I like fantasy to give me some sort of toe-hold on the world before introducing all the fantastic world-building concepts that make the book unique.

    There are two banging-on-the-door events going on in this first section. The first one I gather is about pranking someone by tipping over a loom. Got it. The second one involves ‘sleeve-the-apostate’ which I don’t understand what the action is. Since I don’t have much info to go on about the second incident, I’m tempted to skim it and get back to the loom-tipping bit that I understand.

    At first I thought Mazani was the main character, the one behind the door. I was pegging this as third person present tense narration rather than first person present. It confused me for a moment. I’d almost like to be introduced to ‘I’s name. Again, it’s just so I can grab onto something I do understand, so that I have a basis for understanding the fantasy elements that are introduced.

    Stylistically, if I’m reading fast, my eyes immediately want to skip over the longer paragraphs preceding the ‘But But But But’ which form a very visually distracting pattern. In my opinion, it detracts from the decision making process that ‘I’ is going through. It’s like a bullet pointed list.

    Overall, you’ve got a character who is making a choice that it (she?) is already ashamed of. She’s doing the wrong thing and knows it. Ok. It’s not exactly a sympathetic action, but it does show that she’s making a choice. I guess she was beaten, but I’m not exactly sure to what degree. I might sympathize with her choice more if the beating was unjustifiably harsh given the fact that she certainly deserved some punishment for ‘trespassing’. Right now I don’t have any particular reason to side with ‘I’ or understand her plight any more than the shopkeeper or any other person who ‘I’ has been pranking.

    I like to end all my critiques by saying that I’m a nobody whose opinion is just one in six billion. This is just a ‘first impression’ of the story. If you find it useful, great, if not and you think I’m way off base, sorry to have wasted your time. Only you know the right way to take your own story. Sail onward!

  15. Thanks so much everyone! This is all great feedback and I appreciate the time you took to critique my work. I had to prune down a lot to get this section down to 300 words, and it seems that I tried to cram too much story into short a word-count. Lesson learned!

  16. I had trouble with the first line. "The wood of the door" seemed awkward to me. I'd go with something more simple. "The closed door failed..." The other wayThe wood seems to be giving a lot of relevance to the door when honestly, we just want to know what's going on behind it. Most of us assume doors are wooden unless told otherwise. Like the others have said, it took a while for me to put it all together but once I did, I was interested so good work. And I totally understand what you're saying about cutting to get it to 300 and having it not quite work. I had the same problem on an entry some time back.