Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Talking Heads #10

TITLE: The wraith
GENRE: fantasy

Lady Adelajda’s men broke up a quarrel at the edge of her land. They brought the culprits before her.

The two men sized each other up. One turned to his captors:

“I was in my right” he articulated, painfully, since the guards still held a rope around his neck.

“Let him speak” Adelajda ordered and the guards loosened their grip:

“In your right to defile my land? Who are you?”

“I meant no disrespect milady. I am Gianfrancesco Alfieri, a Genovese merchant. I trade furs, precious hair cloths and adorned habiliment.” He bowed, then turned towards the other:

“And this man, this filth, he stole from me!”

The other prisoner twisted in his bonds: “I did no such thing!” He muttered behind his halter. “This man is a liar!” He added, and spat in the merchant’s direction. The guard had to yank at his ropes to tame him.

“Let the merchant finish” lady Adelajda ordered. “You will get your turn.”

“What did this man steal from you, sir Alfieri?”

“His scales were a sham. I ordered five marks of silver buttons and paid in solid gold. But when I returned to my ship, I measured only three marks.”

The prisoner accused of theft laughed bitterly.

“Is this true?” Lady Adelajda asked him;

“Speak stranger. Is the accusation true?”

They loosened his halter.

“He lies! He asked for five marks and that is what I gave him. Exactly forty ounces! I am Jawahir Akbar milady, I sell precious metals and stones brought from the Levant and this man tried to murder me and steal my merchandise.”

It was the Genovese’s turn to protest in his bounds:

“I only wanted to take what’s mine. The Levantines are thieves – all of you! Thieves!”

“Silence!” Lady Adelajda stood up:

“In my house, I decide if the man before me is, or isn’t, a thief! Tell me, sir Jawahir, the wound on your arm, is it sir Alfieri’s men that inflicted it?”

Jawahir pushed aback his bleeding forearm, ashamed:

“It is one of them. The one your guards hold outside. They caught him as he attacked me. I trust he will be judged for his crimes.”

“I didn’t mean it that way” Alfieri protested. “I sent you a messenger. My messenger was returned with a black eye. What was I to do?”



  1. There's a lot of promise here, but it tends to get buried under punctuation issues. Colons aren't really used for introducing dialogue. In most cases I would replace the colon with a period. There's also several places where commas are missing. I would suggest finding guides on punctuation and using their recommendations to clean up your writing. Also, in most cases you're better off using plain old "said" for the dialogue tag. Fancier words like "articulated" are just distractions.

    I do like the scene you're painting here, with the arguments between prisoners and Lady Adelajda trying to sort through their claims. With some polishing you should be able to make it work. Good luck!

  2. The dialogue is believable, but, echoing the above commenter, there are too many punctuation and dialogue tag issues. Here's an example of how I would change the second line:
    "I was in my right," he said, pushing past the pain of the rope around his neck.

    And instead of a "telling" sentence like "It was the Genovese's turn to protest in his bounds," you can easily simplify it.
    "I only wanted to take what's mine," the Genovese said. "The Levantines are thieves…"

    Best of luck!

  3. You seem to know your world and this situation well. The dialogue itself is good. You need to work on the structure though.

    You use words like articulated and muttered, when usually a simple "said" would do.

    Colons aren't used for dialogue, or much at all in novels. They should be periods or commas.

    One of the men mutters a phrase, but you use exclamation marks. That's contradictory. To mutter is to whisper.

    Dialogue and action from the same person should be grouped in one paragraph, not on separate lines.

    Read over some of the other entries to get a feel for how they do it. Here's a corrected example from your own excerpt:

    “Let him speak,” Adelajda ordered and the guards loosened their grip. “In your right to defile my land? Who are you?”

  4. I like fantasy and this promises a neat story with a lot of regional tensions, and I feel for Adelajda, trying to sort this out. The dialog, itself, sounds fine and I can tell what's going on, but there are some issues.

    I'm not a fan of the colons. It seems unorthodox and without purpose. I would stick with the normal convention and use a period. "One turned to his captors. 'I was in my right.'"

    The not-saids are also distracting. People articulate, order, mutter, add, ask, and protest, but no one simply says anything.

    I can't tell who says, "Speak stranger." With the odd semicolon, I'm assuming it's the lady, but it needs to be on the same line and punctuated properly.

    (I wrote this before reading the other comments, so I'm sorry for harping on the same things. Good luck with the revision!)

  5. I'm in agreement with the others on punctuation issues. Colons do not belong in dialogue, and there are many instances of missing commas. Also, new paragraphs should only be use when changing speakers or when breaking up a long string of speech. Otherwise, the dialogue should be on the same line as the narrative/action of the speaker.

    I would also suggest infusing setting with the narrative, and make the simple sentences such as "They loosened his halter" be rich with worldbuilding and better paint the scene for the reader. You say halter and I picture a horse halter...but how does it appear in the world you built? Who are 'they'?

    Good luck!

  6. When you look past all the creative punctuation errors everyone has pointed out, the dialogue itself is pretty good here.

    But I also agree with Kelly that it would be nice to see more description in a passage like this, particularly of the characters, but also of the setting. Partly that's a personal preference -- I'm very visual and I love to see lots of vivid description (as long as it's well done and put in the right place, of course!) -- but I also think it's appropriate in this kind of fantasy to paint a clear picture for your readers, just as Kelly said.

    I also wondered about the term 'halter'; I'm not sure that's the word you really want. And the line 'The guard had to yank at his ropes to tame him.' didn't sound right to me. If the guard is holding his ropes he wouldn't 'yank at' them, he'd just pull them tight. And saying 'to tame him' seemed a little melodramatic.

    But I wouldn't worry about your speech tags -- all of the ones you used here sounded natural to me. The idea that we should rarely use anything other than 'said' is one of the those 'false rules' -- that is, something that at some point was taken out of context and blown out of proportion, so that many people go around repeating it when it really isn't true. There are plenty of wonderful writers who use other speech tags -- i.e. replied, demanded, muttered, etc. -- far more often than they use 'said', and as long as you use them correctly, there's nothing wrong with that.