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Writing tips and techniques from the publisher of Swimming Kangaroo Books. Send your 3-page writing sample to be critiqued to dindy@swimmingkangaroo.com with the word "critique" in the subject heading. Your submission will be critiqued on the blog, but your name will not be used unless you give permission.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Critique of Chastdel Flashback: Burden of History

(My comments will be in Purple. Words and punctuation that need to be deleted are in Red. Words and punctuation I added are in Purple. At the end I will have general comments about the passage.)

Keil Las’Demar, Shadow Warrior of Darnok Terien, stood alone in a secluded chamber within the upper level of Darnok S’Ludos, the Citadel of Shadow, home and heart to the outcast elves of Darnok Terien. He stared out a large, faceless window that overlooked the desert spread before him, rolling on and on as far as the eye could see. The fading day’s heat danced upon the faraway dunes in waves of menace and oppression.

The young elf looked down at the stone around him. Darnok S’Ludos, a massive spherical dome that took had taken the painstaking labor of more than three hundred human slaves to shape and erect, had stood here, in the heart of the Spurna’else, desert for more than a thousand years. Across from the window he now stood by, he could see one of the four soaring sentinel towers, each of them shaped in the likeness of robed and hooded elves.

A breeze came from the desert to whisper through his long locks of silver hair, stinging his face with beads of hot sand. So thick was the silence in the ancient fortress that the wind made an echo around him, eerie and imploring, as if warning of death to come. Once that wind would have been drowned in the noise of gathering elves, of battles between Shadow Warriors waged in the arena below, of lectures and diatribes hosted by venerable sages and masters of the Order. Very nice job of setting atmosphere!

Now only the silence of looming death lingered, brought here as if by the harsh desert wind, a creeping storm beseeched by the human Meithcael’s ascendancy to supreme power within the Order. Meithcael, Keil’s mentor, his Kressil, revered teacher and sponsor in this, the coterie that elves of Shanakri had deemed to be called Darnok Terien, the Cult of Shadow.

Keil’s faint, crystalline blue eyes continued to stare out into the desert, as if attempting to thrust his vision through the blurred waves the desert lifted in defiance to beings of flesh and water. Somewhere across that vast, empty distance was Meithcael, Master of Darnok Terien, the Lord of Shadow.

Meithcael would come, he knew. The human’s patience was not eternal, and he would expect Keil, his honed and trained assassin, to have completed his assigned task of decimating the Order’s last voice of significance.

“Keil.” Her voice was a caress upon his pointed ears, soft but strong, possessing of a power he himself felt forever deprived of. He turned to look at her from over his shoulder, watching as she approached him. She walked with a grace that defied time, the fabric of her swishing, gray robes pouring from her body like the cascading water of an Amastrian waterfall. As she drew near to him, he temporarily lost his breath in awe of the dance of sunlight upon her crimson tresses. From beneath that veil of red hair, brilliant eyes of emerald stared up at him, the corners of which were ever so slightly sharpened and defined by elvish age. “What are you doing here? We have lessons that must be covered.”

He looked from her and to the desert beyond the exposed window. “I was trying to find time,” he murmured in a tone that mixed rebellious scorn and boundless sorrow.

The combination brought a brief look of pain into her eyes, but she quickly pushed it aside, regaining an air of composed superiority. “We haven’t the time for you to find more. Meithcael—”

“He would have expected me to have killed you by now,” the Shadow Warrior coolly interrupted. “This has been my argument since you began to teach me without his knowing. You are always the one insisting that Meithcael would not anticipate my victory over you to be a quick one.” He turned to her, his eyes adopting the chilling quality of ice that had made him so feared in the arena back in the time before Meithcael’s ascension, back when Darnok Terien was more than a step from ruin. “Why the sudden change of mind, Serena?”

Serena V’Lakan, Voice of the Order’s Inner Circle, turned away from him. “The heat must make you delirious to speak to me so,” she said evenly, a notable edge in her words.

He instantly regretted his callous attitude. Thoughts of Meithcael had wrought an anger in him, especially when coupled by the secret truths Serena had been sharing with him during their brief time together, time which the Shadow Lord suspected was being used for his puppet assassin to battle and kill the female elf. Time that Serena had reshaped as a period of enlightenment and revelation to the young Shadow Warrior. With such ease had she convinced him to lower his blades, to hear her voice, and to know truths which Meithcael would forever keep him blind to. Serena was his true Kressil now, though not a soul could ever know.

“Serena,” he started in an apologetic manner, but she whirled on him, her green eyes full of that strong passion that had first captivated him, that had seduced him into making her his first and, at this point, only lover. The experiences shared with Serena were something that he hadn’t been able to enjoy with his precious Ayanala Elasrinan, who had been murdered long before Darnok Terien had issued its calling to him.

General comments:
This is a very nice passage! The writer has done an excellent job of setting the atmosphere and blending the flashbacks with the present. I especially want to call your attention to the attributions, however, because this is something that many writers have a hard time with. I've colored all the attributions in blue, and also repeated them below:

Her voice was a caress upon his pointed ears, soft but strong, possessing of a power he himself felt forever deprived of.

he murmured in a tone that mixed rebellious scorn and boundless sorrow.

she quickly pushed it aside, regaining an air of composed superiority

the Shadow Warrior coolly interrupted

she said evenly, a notable edge in her words

he started in an apologetic manner

Notice that the author manages to use an attribution with every bit of dialogue, but it is done so smoothly that the reader doesn't even notice it. The word "said" is used once, synonyms of "said" ("interrupted" and "murmurred") are used twice, and the other two attributives are descriptive passages that also identify the speaker. Notice how much we learn about the characters just through the attributions alone: She is powerful; he is sorrowful. He is rebelling against her, against his training; she is trying to maintain control over him.

We haven't had an exercise this week so let's do an exercise in attributions. Below is a snippet of dialogue. Make up three attributions to go along with the dialogue.
  1. With the first attribution, use the word "said."
  2. With the second attribution, use a synonym for the word "said."
  3. With the third attribution, use a descriptive passage that identifies the speaker.
"Liar! You insinuate yourself into the Temple under false pretenses. Even now our leader lies ill, dying. What did you do to her?"

Send your exercise to me at dindy@swimmingkangaroo.com with "Dialogue Exercise" in the Subject Heading, or post it to this blog as a comment. Everyone who participates will be entered in a drawing to win a free eBook from Swimming Kangaroo Books.

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