Open Pen

Untitled Fantasy: An Open Pen Critique

This Saturday, we have a short piece from Emily who is experimenting with some characters! She is thinking about turning this excerpt into a novel, and so she would love some insights on her characters. Also she  is looking to improve her writing style, so any comments on her voice and improving her writing would be great! Since she is going to build on this excerpt, I am guessing that grammar and spelling critiques would not be as helpful, so please avoid those.

Before I put up her excerpt, here is a bit of information that Emily provided about her story world. The story takes place at the border between two fantasy nations of her creation: Ellorian and Morna, and the main characters are two border sentries from Morna who have been friends for a while. Though she hasn’t figure out the time periods of her world, yet, the story takes place in the typical Medieval fantasy setting (think Lord of the Rings or The Princess Bride.)

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“I tell you Nigel, this tunic is downright itchy!”  the defenseless bit of cloth in question was a bright red tunic he had swiped from some poor solders tent as he and his friend had fled the Ellorian encampment.

Nigel turned slightly in his saddle to see his friend Egor miserably scratching any part of himself he could reach. His horse had taken advantage of no reins to snatch a bite to eat from the sparse grass that grew between the rocky soil.

“How on earth those Ellorian solders stand to wear this scratchy stuff is beyond me!” Egor continued to complain as he tried to get to that impossible place to reach on his back.

Nigel struggled to keep a straight face but a smile tugged at his lips at the spectacle his friend made.

“I think it has less to do with the tunic and more to do with that itching weed you ran through.” he replied

Egor froze mid-scratch and stared horrified at Nigel.

“Itching weed?!”

“Yes, you know that bristly weed I told you not to touch.”

Egor clearly remembered getting smacked across the bare chest with something…..rather bristly feeling.

“I was running for my life” Egor said defensively “I wasn’t exactly thinking of much else.”

Nigel grinned and shrugged non to sympathetically. Egor looked so miserable that he almost felt sorry for leading him through that weed. However he thought of how they had ended up being held prisoner in the first place and thought better of it. He did not dwell on it long as his mind was focused on what he had overheard while being held prisoner. Perhaps being caught had been a good thing…well unless you’re a border sentry then it could be rather embarrassing. Nigel frowned in thought, war was on the horizon.

Egor glared at his friends back. Sure it was his fault for sneezing at the worst of times, which was how they ended up in the enemies camp in the first place, but he was sure Nigel did not warn him about the weed. In fact he was quite sure of it.

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6 thoughts on “Untitled Fantasy: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. Hey, Emily!
    I loved the situation you put your character into, and I loved how much information you gave the reader. It was perfect. You told us just enough to give us the setting, but it wasn’t an info dump. If you do decide to turn this into a novel, then you might want to consider starting your novel with this scene.
    As for your characters, I thought you have a good start on both of them, and I love how familiar they were with each other. However, I easily see Nigel acting the same way if he had been the one to run through the itching reads. I guess what I am saying is that you might want to make your characters a bit more different from each other in more ways that just that Nigel is smarter. You will have to give them more personality, goals, and motivation. You may want to check out my post on character outlines—I talked about a few of these things there. Also I wrote a post about writing yourself into your characters—that might help you flesh out these characters a bit better.
    Here are the two best tips I know to improve your writing style: read a wide variety of books and then mimic the author’s style. I would suggest starting with C. S. Lewis (any of the Narnia books would be good for your genre), Victor Hugo (Les Miserables), Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice—I personally don’t care for her novels, but she has a very interesting writing style), Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities), and Rick Riordan (The Lightning Thief.) By no means do you need to read these whole books (goodness! Les Miserables is referred to as “the brick” for a reason), but if you read a chapter or two of each (and start with a chapter in the middle of Les Miserables—the first chapter of each book is really boring), and then try to mimic the style in your own story, it would be really beneficial. As you try out each style, you will find what you like and subconsciously change it to make the style your own. Personally, I have found this writing drill to be really helpful (in fact, I am currently writing a short story in Victor Hugo’s style.)
    Another tip I find myself giving in almost every critique I have done is that you should probably vary your sentence openers more. Almost all of your sentences started with the subject. This is more of a stylistic comment, but it made your writing feel very flat and monotone (at least to me.) Try varying sentence lengths and sentence openers. Here are two links that really help me. The first is to a PDF on writing varying sentences (it’s on the second page, the first is about “Dress ups”): http://www.cambriansd.org/cms/lib07/CA01902282/Centricity/Domain/316/Dress-ups_Sentence-openers0001.pdf. The second is to a cool picture that talks about varying sentence lengths: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/52/83/0a/52830ad4be15cebadd85ef0889746a80.jpg.
    As for your voice, I could definitely see it in your writing 😉 Of course, it isn’t totally distinct, but as you develop your style and write more, it will come through better. I am sure by the end of your novel, you will have found it (then you can edit it back in the beginning.)
    I hope this helps, Emily. Hopefully, you don’t mind that I gave you resources more than a critique—I thought this might be more helpful since you are planning on turning this excerpt into a novel. Let me know if you want a more formal critique, and I will be happy to give you that, too!
    God bless,
    Gabrielle

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  2. Haha…the conversation about the itching weed was great! It made me wish this scene was longer and I could read more of these two.
    Just a suggestion: I would take out the “I tell you Nigel” in the first sentence. It sounds a bit unnatural. But that’s just my opinion!
    Your writing style was funny and entertaining. Keep it up!

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  3. Loved the interaction between these two – very funny. The mood change in the last two paragraphs seems a tad sudden and forced – unless you plan on having them doubt one another at an earlier stage then it’s perfectly reasonable. Just my opinion; I may be making something out of nothing though. Good writing!

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  4. I like it! The two friends are hilarious together.
    (I kinda feel like I might not have warned Egor either.)

    The one thing I tripped up on was this sentence: “Egor continued to complain as he tried to get to that impossible place to reach on his back.” The wording confused me for a few moments. It isn’t necessarily a BAD sentence, but I think that if it were worded differently it might be a bit clearer.

    The only other thing that bothered me was how abruptly you went from “Nigel grinned and shrugged non to sympathetically. Egor looked so miserable that he almost felt sorry for leading him through that weed.” to “war was on the horizon.” in one paragraph. But this is only a tiny piece from your chapter, so whatever led up to this, or came after, may alleviate this abruptness by being a little darker.

    What I really liked about this was the characters. You could see they knew each other really well at once, and that they were good friends. It is so apparent, even without the “Nigel turned slightly in his saddle to see his friend Egor ” line. I love it when I come upon something like this in books. Usually you will find an “I waved at my good friend, Jessica” description, and I cannot describe in words the intense loathing I have for that sort of non-descript description. You managed the friendship perfectly. Bravo!

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  5. I really like how you portrayed the two characters Nigel and Egor. You could easily see that they were really good friends by how they teased each other and how Nigel didn’t tell Egor about the weed. I also liked how you showed their friendship instead of telling us about it. The only thing that bothered me was the mood change in the last two paragraphs, from joking and funny to dark. However, I’m not very good at critiquing work, so it might just be me. Great story! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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