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Old 07-13-2012, 09:07 PM
Shrub Shrub is offline
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Review: Reflections

Reflections, Part I: Runaway, by Intrigue.

Better late than never, right?

So I finally got around to this. Sorry it took me so long. But I'm here now. So here is what I have to say. Remember, reviews are just opinions. Any changes you make are entirely up to you. You may agree or disagree with my opinions, which is perfectly fine. I don't expect you to adhere to every little critique nor would I want you to.

Also, since this is a character fiction I am reviewing, I will review it as if it were its own original fiction, like the starting chapter of a published book. It's more of a story format than an RPing format, since you are writing solo and not with others (which is what makes it a story format rather than RPing). I would focus on different things if I were reviewing an RP.

But in any case, here's my personal opinion.
The dawn crept like a thief, unhindered through the pale, snow-washed sky, alighting on the snow softly as the ghost of a feather. It peered tentatively through the window of the inn, spilling onto the floor with a liquid glow. It caught in the empty glasses which sat on the tables, lighting them up like long-lost treasures whose lustre had slowly faded over time, leaving only the nostalgic memories of radiance, which were faintly projected onto the walls. It cast long shadows along the edges of the room, the only witnesses to this spectral display. Lastly, it settled on the girl who lay curled up in the chair in the corner, announcing without a whisper the arrival of the day.
You sort of lost me at the underlined part. The order of your words was just sort of confusing. If you had it like this: "alighting on the snow as softly as the ghost of a feather," it would have been easier for me to understand. I understand that perhaps you may have forgotten to put the first "as" in that metaphor. A common error when writing. No biggie.

At first what confused me was the word "alighting" until I looked the word up and found you had indeed used it correctly. So thanks for teaching me a new word.

The only other thing I would worry about with this first paragraph is being too "flowery." It is also known as purple-prose. This is an over use of dramatic metaphors. However, I don't think you have to worry about that too much in this paragraph, but it is kind of on the border of too much. But you are successful in generally making it work. Because it is telling us information but without extra "fluffy" words. We are in a cold, still morning setting, and you're pulling the reader into your world successfully with this opening. It is neither too long nor too short of a description. So good work.

I suppose it just feels to me like you were almost trying too hard to be poetic in this description. Not that it's bad for writing to be poetic. It's just you shouldn't force it. Or maybe you weren't trying to force it, and I'm just rambling and being picky. Just giving you my take on it. To me, it felt like you were trying a little too hard, which is the only thing that I feel is exactly wrong with this paragraph. I wouldn't tell you to rewrite it, but it just felt as certain way to me as I read it.
Aurae opened her eyes slowly, then shut them again as the crisp air made them water. What time was it? The sun was up – why hadn’t she been woken? She unfurled herself like a leaf would after a shrivelled, wintry sleep, stretching stiff limbs that shivered as they felt the cold. There was no sign of anyone else; they must still be asleep. She crossed to the window, hugging herself against the bitter chill, and squinted out into the harsh light.
This paragraph is successful in conveying to the reader how cold it is. However, it wasn't because of the leaf metaphor you used (again, just almost too flowery, like you might be trying too hard, but not too bad when I take a second look at it. I sort of found it confusing, because don't leaves dry up and die in the winter? Trees just grow new leaves back. That's kind of being nitpicky of me though).

It was the underlined part about her eyes watering from the cold that really struck me (the leaf metaphor helps some but not as intensely). It's very good to use associations like that, bodily reactions that people remember and know very well themselves. It tells the reader that not only is it cold, but it is so cold that it makes the eyes water.

Here's another example of that:
The air was dry and cold, cruel to my sinuses. I was trying not to inhale through my nose when I passed by a narrow gap between buildings and heard voices.
You're almost making the reader painfully aware of the cold, which is what you want. It can be simple things like that which really draw a reader into the story and the character. It doesn't have to be poetic to be impressive.

Too often writers focus on visual metaphors rather than grounding the readers into bodily sensations and reactions. That's how the leaf metaphor wasn't as intense in relaying this information to the reader. However, it is good to have visuals too. So the leaf metaphor is fine as it is in this paragraph.
The inn was built precariously on the sloping walls of the valley, high enough to offer a breath-taking view of what was now a glistening snowscape. The sun was rising above the far mountains on the other side, crowning them with a thin, watery grandeur. The ground below the window dropped down steeply, making it seem as though the winding road that made the inn accessible from the small town below would slip and fall at any moment. People came up from there mostly in the evenings, for the food, drink and entertainment, a part of which the small girl provided. She sang – she had been told she had a pleasant voice, smooth and tuneful, capable of most folk songs and ballads. It helped the inn make its money, which was why she was still there, but also earned a little bit for her own personal use in the form of tips or requests.
Your descriptions seem to be smoothing out from this point, moving away from the edge of what sometimes feels to me as "trying too hard" or "forced." You are moving into the flow of the story, where you are more comfortable. We're also getting more information about the character and her life, which is good.

I like how for this character she seems almost unsure still that she has a pleasant voice. This is not explicit in her thoughts but implicit. "She had been told" is different than writing "she had a pleasant voice." It means the character is relying on others to be sure of herself in this aspect rather than having true confidence in herself that she does, indeed, have a pleasant voice. It might mean she herself doesn't really think she is good at singing exactly, but other people might say so. It also shows that she doesn't exactly love to sing, but does it merely because it conveniently provides her with resources and shelter.

The way things are phrased can imply a lot of other meanings than what is explicitly stated.
A fresh snow had fallen overnight, leaving the ground beautifully smooth and untouched, a new and undiscovered place. After staring a few moments longer, Aurae turned her back to the window to face the inn, dark after the bright white glare of outside. She didn’t bother to blink away the flashing shapes that appeared, moving instead straight towards the door. She fumbled with the bolts that held the heavy wooden slab closed. As it opened an even colder draught of air reached in and wrapped itself around her, sending shivers rippling through her body.
I really loved the underlined part. It made this description come alive with meaning. Otherwise, it would just be new, untouched snow on the ground. But then it's not just snow. It is a metaphor for exploration and possibilities.

However, be careful not to be too descriptive. This would mean, including details that are not necessary for the story's plot or meaning. Every story has things that are happening explicitly, but also things that are happening implicitly. However, everything you put into a story should have some kind of purpose in showing this to readers. It seemed a little unnecessary when you got to the "blinking away flashing shapes" part. Yes, this happens when you look outside at glaring white snow and then look away from it. But what is it's significance to the story? What meaning does it provide? The inside appearing dark already provides us with the understanding and remembrance of how bright new snow fall can be. I wouldn't tell you to remove it but just keep this in mind.
One bare foot reached out and touched the surface of the snow. It was bitterly cold at first, but she soon lost the feeling as her whole foot sank into the white dust. The other one followed it, and soon there was a trail of small footprints leading away from the door to the well which stood a little way away from the inn. She loved being the first one out in the snow – it made her feel as if she had the whole world to herself, instead of just the inn’s small garden. She felt as if she could draw the whole sky into her lungs, as if time had stopped, leaving her the sole inhabitant of this hushed, beautiful, sleeping world.
Very good stuff here, I find nothing to nitpick. It is shocking to the readers that she would go out barefoot into snow, but you can really tell how much she loves being out there because she does this.
As the water stilled, her reflection surfaced from the depths of the bucket to stare back at her; a thin, pale ghost of a girl, almost appearing translucent against the frozen sky. Maybe if she lay in the snow she would become completely transparent? Her face was pale as a candle, framed by a wispy curtain of light golden hair. Her hair had always been long - she liked it that way.
Okay, my nitpick here is this is a commonly used technique of writers to use mirrors or reflections to describe the appearance of their characters. It kind of breaks the dream, which is what is bad. What is "the dream," you ask? The dream is the story you are telling readers. If you are a good writer you can make readers forget that they are reading. This is the dream. Breaking the dream means you remind the readers that they are reading. You remind them that they are dreaming, and then once aware it is a dream, they are no longer sucked into the world of the story. I was entranced until you used the water to be her reflection. I understand that this character fiction is called "Reflections" for a reason, but I do believe the story is about something deeper than her outer appearance, which you actually do very well to imply. Which is why it is so disrupting for you to break the dream where you did. It ruined the flow.

Let me point out where you broke the dream exactly:
Her hair had always been long - she liked it that way. It was long enough to reach her waist, and she liked to leave it loose to do just that.

She was not large by most standards – in fact she was the complete opposite. She stood at no more than five feet tall, with a narrow, fragile body and thin, spidery limbs, not yet acquainted with hard manual labour. She was wearing a simple white shirt under a plain brown pinafore-style dress, collarless and sleeveless, the hem sitting just below her knees. The clothes were more for practicality that beauty, and hung off her small frame like curtains.
All of this broke the dream. All of this is good information about the character. But you don't need to lump it all right here because her reflection in the water gave you an opportunity. You have plenty of other opportunities to scatter this information lightly throughout the story. Do not lump too much description into one place. Otherwise it is like telling the reader, "oh, hey, this is what my character looks like by the way." By doing this the reader is then like, "Oh! That's right, this is a character that I am reading about." Dream broken.
She was not large by most standards – in fact she was the complete opposite. She stood at no more than five feet tall, with a narrow, fragile body and thin, spidery limbs, not yet acquainted with hard manual labour.
This information could have been given while she worked hard at breaking the ice on the well and filling the bucket, which you took the time to state explicitly can be "harder work." Use that opportunity to throw in a tid bit about how thin and frail her spidery limbs are as she struggles to break the ice. Her short and narrow body leaning on the wheel to make the bucket go down into the water.

As for her long hair and clothes, maybe she had to roll her sleeves up, because their draping off her body gets in the way of her work. She brushes her hair over to the side as she hauls the bucket full of water back up.

Distribute; do not lump.

Lumping only works when you are describing another character's appearance from the character whose point of view you are writing from. So if your character saw someone else, and you quickly described their appearance for the readers it is not dream-breaking because it's about a different character. It's like describing the snow like you did before. Those other characters are part of the setting, not part of the character whose point of view you are currently within.

Now look how much better this important part of the story flows without lumping a bunch of description in the middle of it:
As the water stilled, her reflection surfaced from the depths of the bucket to stare back at her; a thin, pale ghost of a girl, almost appearing translucent against the frozen sky. Maybe if she lay in the snow she would become completely transparent? Her face was pale as a candle, framed by a wispy curtain of light golden hair.

She stood stock still, staring into her own owl-grey eyes. Over the past six months or so, she had begun to feel as frail and wraithlike as she looked, somehow disconnected and out of step with the world around her.
I think this really is what embodies the title of this character fiction.

From here it moves on into what you have been preparing the readers for since the beginning of this post. New beginnings, exploration, undiscovered places, possibilities, and even a new self.

In all, I was actually rather impressed at your ability to put little hints of metaphor that cue the reader slowly into this character's life and who she is and what she is going through at this moment when the story begins. Beginnings can be very important, which might be why I was particularly nitpicky. There are a lot of mistakes that can be made at this point in story writing.

The story was entrancing but a little bumpy at the beginning and in the middle with the description of your character's appearance. Rule of thumb, don't draw too much attention to describing your character's appearance in story. Do characters think about these things explicitly? No. So you shouldn't write it like that. It should be side notes. Characters only think about their appearance when it holds meaning for them. They do not list everything in their heads at once.

In all, very nice work here. You are a very good writer, so keep up the excellent work ^^

So ends my first critique on the first post of this story. I will post again when I am ready to dive into the next chapter. If you have any questions or comments, you can voice them now and in this thread.

“We must be greater than what we suffer.”
[Between the Worlds|A Light in the Dark|Empire of Darkness|Under the Red Sea]
Last Edited by Shrub; 07-14-2012 at 03:33 AM. Reason:
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Old 07-15-2012, 05:33 PM
Intrigue Intrigue is a female Scotland Intrigue is offline
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Re: Review: Reflections

Thanks Shrub - I didn't realise I was doing half the stuff, so thank you for clearing that up

I think the main reason behind my descriptions is from my English teacher - one of the only pieces of work I've ever done that she hasn't turned her nose up at was a descriptive piece, and I grabbed onto that and used it as reassurance that I wasn't the worst writer in my class. I told myself descriptions were my strong point and tried to focus perhaps a little too hard on them.

But it's just a confidence issue, so it shouldn't be too hard to clean up. I've come across stuff about 'over-writing' before and apparently it's a common confidence thing for beginners ^^;

But the critique really helps, so I'm grateful :3

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