Thursday, June 2, 2011

What's Broken? #5

TITLE: In the Garden of Iron & Glass

Two brothers are searching through a hill-top cemetery (of mausoleums) for glass tiles. They live in a desert by the ocean and have never seen plants/flowers/etc before. Are you horribly confused by this description?

"Wow! Look at these tiles!" Hector walked slowly, trailing his hands across the surface until one in particular caught his eye. The tile was made of clear blue-tinted glass, but the flattened object inside was frail, delicate, and would easily fit in his small palm. The center looked like a sun polyp, a tiny yellow disc with dozens of miniature tentacles sprouting from the entire surface. It was nestled in the center of a three-pointed star that was so white, Hector thought it was paper until he noticed the slight ridges of veins across the surface. "Hey, come over here, I think she'll like this one. Do you know what this is inside the glass?"

He stepped back so that Simon, who had been following close behind him, could see.

Simon frowned. "I don't know. It's too fragile to be coral and it's not any kind of algae or seaweed." He wiped a thin film of dust from the tile with his sleeve. "It's not paint, either. I wonder if it's something from far away that the caravans brought."

Hector's eyes roved over the row of coffins. There were hundreds of tiles with mysterious and colorful objects pressed between the layers of clear glass. He wandered to the end of the aisle, intending to check the other side, when he stopped, his heart hammering in his throat like the waves against the shore. "Simon... Simon, what is that?"

Below Hector was something strange. Behind the top row of mausoleums the ground dropped away, rolling down to a lower ridge before a sheer drop to the black, rippling sea. On that barren ridge of sand and stone, something large and green clawed up towards the sky, something wider and taller than any house or factory in the glass city.

Hector shaded his eyes against the sun and squinted at the tallest point, which was vaguely cylindrical, and tried to figure out what he was looking at. It rose from the wide nest of green, too perfect to be natural, but not smooth sided or linear like a building should be. From there, his eyes wandered towards the ground and across the mysterious expanse of green. To him, it looked vaguely like an underwater reef, pitted and twisted from the slowly compounding growth of coral life, death and rebirth. Hector stared, breathless, unable to describe the layers of green overlapped with sun and shadow in a wild and tangled nexus with blue sky tearing through every tattered gap. Then the wind blew, and what Hector took to be solid formations began to move. There was a muted rush as suddenly the air was alive with rustling, like the fluttering of a thousand birds. The snarl of green warped, shook and bucked as it yielding to the wind.


  1. Are we looking at a grassy hill with a tree growing out of it? There's a lot of good description here, but I had the clue that "they have never seen plants/flowers/etc before." I think the last two sentences, where the wind rustles the leaves, are gorgeous. I guess the thing I'm wondering is why they haven't ever *heard* of plants/flowers/etc. Maybe that's explained in the world building? I think it would be more realistic for them to have heard of such things, and hesitantly put a name to this phenomenon they've never seen before. Does that help?

  2. Sorry, just realized my comment isn't that clear: it seems that even a desert-dwelling society ought to have heard of trees and plants, even if they've never seen them. What if the boys see these things, and then say, "What do you think? Is that the trees we heard about in (bedtime stories)?" Something like that.

  3. Like Kathleen mentioned, I thought the description was good (I especially liked how they compared it to things they were already familiar with), if a little long. I'm not sure I would have picked up on what they were looking at without the hint at the beginning, though.

    I think Kathleen's suggestion is a good one. Even if these boys have never seen a tree or flower, it seems like they should have at least heard of them. Of course, maybe they get to that in another page or two...

  4. I agree with Kathleen in that with the hint, it worked pretty well, but I could see the difficulty in reading this without it.

    I like her suggestion, but here's another to possibly consider: zoom the POV out a little bit and tell us they are looking at a flower/tree/forest, then go back to their POV and show us their reaction.

  5. For me, there is just way too much description here...I get lost and nothing is making sense. I think you need more action, more dialogue.

    Just lightly pepper with some of description of what they see and how they try to process the alien objects around them. You have way too many colors and shapes and sizes being described, and you described EVERYTHING. Focus in on what you want us to focus in on so we can get grounded on what we should pay attention to.

    For example, in this excerpt, I don't know if the thing is a monster or a my intensity level reading it is on High Orange alert, and I get kinda pissed because whether this is something I should worry about for them is still not clear. I don't know if it is important that it is down by the water or not.

    "Below Hector was something strange. Behind the top row of mausoleums the ground dropped away, rolling down to a lower ridge before a sheer drop to the black, rippling sea. On that barren ridge of sand and stone, something large and green clawed up towards the sky, something wider and taller than any house or factory in the glass city."

    I also suggest on the last sentence above to say what it is as big AS, rather than what it is BIGGER THAN. That in itself helps you zero in on what is important in description.

    Best of luck, and thanks for sharing!

  6. Having read the last paragraph twice, I think he's looking at a tree rising our of a field of grass. However, that was only after a careful second read. The first time around, I pictured ivy.

    My concern is that these descriptions, while beautiful and well crafted, may not convey "plants" to the reader unless, like us, they are given the stated clue that the boys have never seen plants. In the description of the flower, I got hung up on the "tentacles" protruding from it's surface, and a flower wasn't at all what I pictured.

    I wonder if more simplicity, and fewer words, might help your readers understand what's going on here. Once you've got a sentence or two that obviously makes the reader say, "Ah, it's a flower," you can go on to something more detailed. Like this:

    It was a delicate thing, with a bright yellow center and three frail white triangles stretching out from it. Hector could see it had once been alive, but he'd never seen a fish or a coral anything like it. (and then you go on with tentacles and veins, but we've already got the idea of what we're looking at clearly cemented in our heads.)

    Hope this is helpful!

  7. I agree with what everyone said above and would add only one other thing: your mc's reaction is coming before his visual experience and that is jarring. He needs to see what he sees before he comments on it or asks what it is.

    Good luck!

  8. I was distracted all the way through this excerpt because I can't think of a single desert on earth (with the possible exception of Antarctic deserts) that doesn't have flowering plants. The deserts in the American Southwest have absolutely gorgeous flowers after the rains, and the Sahara has plants indigenous to the oases. I can still imagine the protagonists being surprised and confused by their first view of temperate-climate flora, though.


  9. This is an awkward issue to have to handle. The thing is, I don't know if you should have to handle it. Blondviolinist stated exactly what I was thinking - and if this particular desert is near the ocean, it seems especially likely that they'd see vegetation there.

    However, though, if you do leave the desert free of plant life, this could still use a little clarification. I think you could prune away some of the sentences to leave only the imagery-laden ones. For instance, I don't see why "From there, his eyes wandered towards the ground and across the mysterious expanse of green." couldn't go. With so much description, I can see a reader choking at sentences that seem to drag out the single moment.

    Rather than stopping and overdescribing to help the reader understand the concept, I'd advise getting through this as quickly and vividly as possible. If you can give us a sensory rush (and you obviously can), it'll probably tide us over until we can get a more concrete explanation. From the second part - the tree - I'm getting 'plant life', and that's pretty much all I need for the purpose of a first impression, honestly. But for the description of the flower, I wholeheartedly agree with Jane's advice. The word 'polyp' is very evocative - it instantly made me picture a sea anemone.

    Good luck!

  10. I'm not sure what you think is broken. If this is supposed to be a scene where the characters discover a tree, then it works. I can't speak to whether or not I think it's plausible that they are seeing a tree for the first time since I haven't read the rest of the story or know where this scene falls in the story. But, since this scene is revelatory to the senses, I think it should be revelatory in some deeper way. I was looking for an emotional connection to their experience and it wasn't there.

  11. I'm the author

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Essentially what they are looking at is an overgrown, abandoned garden. Should be clearer in the next scene, but I wanted to check if the idea of wild plant growth was coming across.

    Maybe I should have maybe specified the genre is YA Fantasy ...but no magic. Just a fantastical world. Anything living they are familiar with comes from the ocean, so I was thinking it would be natural in their eyes to compare something strange to something they know (ocean life, polyps, reefs, etc).

    Great ideas for improving, thanks! I welcome any further comments!

  12. The "cylindrical" bit threw me off, I had a picture in mind of big tree they were seeing, but the top of a (leafy) tree isn't a cylinder. Unless it's ... an evergreen? Hmm. But that's still not a cylinder. So I was very much pulled out of the story, reading it over and over and just not getting, at all, what exactly they were seeing. And ... nothing flowering in all that green? Just greens?

    Having said all this, I'd like to read more! :)

  13. One of the things that stood out for me was the word green was used five times in the last two paragraphs. Which most likely made the descriptions seem longer as well.

  14. I got that he was seeing a flower presed inside the glass, and thought it was evident, and I liked how you used things Hector was familiar with to describe it.

    As for the tree, I also got that that was what you were describing, but I also felt it could have been described better.

    I thought you used too many words that didn't do much to make it clear, and the use of 'cylinder' didn't work, either Perhaps use the same technique here as you did for the flower. Might the trunk resemble a huge chunk of coral? Might the leaves bear some resemblance to seaweed (and never having seen plants, or 'weeds,' would they even call seaweed, sea 'weed'?)

    I got the impression he was looking over a cliff at a meadow or valley. I didn't get the sense it was an overgrown garden. If you want us to see a garden, perhaps describe things other than the plant life. Describe the tree, but also mention a rock wall perhaps, a trellis made out of some strange element (because they wouldn't be familiar with wood)maybe a bird bath or bird feeder - things that would mark it as a garden. And show us it's overgrown by describing some running ivy or blackberry brambles crawling over the birdbath or a chair. Mention all that stuff first, then go to the strangest thing of all- and then describe the tree, because that seems to be the image you want to stand out most.

    And be sure to show us how he reacts to it. If you don't show any reaction, the reader won't react to it either.

    On the tecnical side, you might reword the first sentence -

    "Wow! Look at these!" Hector trailed his hands across the surface of the tiles until one in particular caught his eye.

    small palm - made me think he was very young, maybe 4 or 5. After reading more, I don't thnk he is. Maybe cut 'small.'

    I did wonder - if there were hundreds of tiles, might they consider breaking one to learn what it is inside them?

    Good luck!

  15. I agree you might want to simplify the descriptions. I love the phrase "sun polyp." That gave me a great visual, but it became muddied as things continued. Some of it seemed contradictory. For example, the flower (I assume) is flat, yet tentacles spring from the surface.

    I was curious about the tiles and the fact that Hector and Simon appear to be stealing them from a mausoleum. Perhaps that comes up earlier or later, but it piqued my interest.

    I thought you did a nice job describing the tree (I thought that's what it was), and the wind rushing through foliage. It's an interesting story, I would just pare down the descriptions.

  16. I started to be confused with the 'sun polyp' and the three pointed star. Then I didn't understand the reference to coffins, and later, mausoleums. Finally, I didn't really know if it was a tree because it was 'too perfect to be natural'. That doesn't sound like a tree to me. Like others, I loved the last two lines. I think you might want to convey simpler images and focus on emotion and dialog.
    Good luck!

  17. hahaha... y'know what's funny? I yanked out ONE sentence to bring it down to the word count limit... and it was the one line that would have specified that the tall, cylindrical thing ISN'T a tree... it's a tower made of red desert stone.

    Basically, it's a huge garden with tons of trees and a stone tower being slowly consumed with ivy/crawling vines.

  18. Yes, I found your set up confusing. Algae, seaweed and coral are plants. So I ignored your set up and delved into the work.

    Some wonderful fresh crafted description, but they twist and twine back on themselves.

    Resist the recap that is then described beautifully. It's redundant and weak to use both. Example: "across the mysterious expanse of green. To him, it looked vaguely like an underwater reef, pitted and twisted from the slowly compounding growth of coral life, death and rebirth." Skip the mysterious expanse of green and trust the following that is excellent!

    Some specifics: why does 'white' equal paper? You used 'something' four times, yet I found the use of the word 'reporting' rather than effective description. Use of 'nest' in last paragraph was confusing.

    Your physical action consistently isn't integrated into the work, nor does it reveal character. Example: "Hector walked slowly, trailing his hands across the surface..." You can show me more. Is he hesitant? Is he fearful? Is he bored? When your characters do something, have a reason.

  19. I know I'm late to this, but I just wanted to say that I really didn't think there was anything wrong with this at all - I thought your writing was fantastic.