Critique Corner #2: THE RED AND THE SCARLET

By:       Rachel S.                                                              

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy  

* 1st 500 Words    

When Fyr was struck, and Vladyslav scarred, the world was shivering.

A blanket of clouds lay across the trinity of nations, and fingers of chill dragged into hearts and bones. Windows were shut, as were jackets. The breath of a hundred furnaces and the smoke of a thousand lungs rose to mingle with the skies.

A handful of bourgeoisie gathered outside the Vlalonnan King’s palace, hoping to warm souls and fill their purses. Ignoring winter’s slaps on their cheeks and voices, they sang.

They looked up expectantly at the massive windows, where they hoped to see the king deigning to pay them mind, or preferably, cash. Instead, a snowflake drifted from above to their feet, as if a promise.

And their ancient carol soared to mist-dusted rooftops, where relentless wind snatched and swept it south to the Grassland Reserves, where “savages,” the tribal Yihhe, lived.

The same clouds hovered in their sky, but different joy in their hearts. One that gloried in their enemies’ disfigured heads, once unfortunate Vlalonnan pilgrims, staked around the camp.

Yihhe children, free of chores, ran out shrieking to catch snow in outstretched fingers and dark lashes. Fyr, about eight, stood on the edge of her people’s territory, daring to poke toes past the invisible boundary, near the dreadful heads. She glanced at them curiously, balancing her infant brother on her hip.

While the other children held the bodiless things in fearful reverence, Fyr was grateful to them. From them had come the book in her hand. St. Thandos’ History of Sayy.

She had read it over in the two days it had been hers, glorying in the mythology it told, even reading it to her brother.

But now together they gazed in childish fascination at the falling snow.

And again the girl recited the poem that opened the precious book:

“What has been written,

            Cannot be undone.

            When comes the Raven

            Symbol of a time

            Time after a Time.

            Five Hundred Years Past

            Those Ships Came Afar

            And Raven sent Blue

            Back from Whence they came.

            Now he sits in stone,

            Now he does take flight,

            One-Earring sister

            Frees him from the tomb

            Five Hundred Years Came,

            Those Ships Afar Come,

            And look upon War

            What has been written,

            Cannot be undone.

            Ravens bow to Kings

            King Elian be,

            The left Eye is Dark,

            And the Right Eye Blue.

            Peace to Warring Lands.

            Freedom is not free.

            Heart, Strength, Elian.”

Her words, merely voice to ancient prophecy, lifted to blanketed sky, mingling with the carolers’ call, braiding them together with pure snow into something none of them knew would enter their lives in a matter of time.

Time after a time.

But then the moment ended, and the riders appeared on the horizon, warped shadows coming in the name of the dead.

They broke upon the village faster than it could panic, guns blazing, shattering the still air, and clogging it with black smoke and the screams of the dying. In the midst of the cold and chaos, the little girl ran in a forest of waists and belt buckles, clutching her wailing brother.

6 thoughts on “Critique Corner #2: THE RED AND THE SCARLET

  1. myinnermg says:

    What a beautiful writer you are, Rachel! And it sounds like you’ve got an interesting story going here! I felt the chill of your setting right away. Seriously, right in my bones. I think readers will totally want to know what happens to Fyr and her brother. (-: If I had any personal suggestions, other than what’s within your entry below, it’d be to spoon feed the unique names and places a little slower, giving the reader enough time to digest who’s who and what’s where in your world building. Otherwise, I think you’re off to a fantastic and intriguing start! Thanks so much for letting us read your words and for submitting! I hope you get tons of useful feedback here! Very best of luck with this!
    Melyssa
    @MyInnerMG

    When Fyr was struck, and Vladyslav scarred, the world was shivering.
    (…I had to read this first line a few times because I wasn’t sure if Fyr and Vladyslav were people or places. (-:)

    A blanket of clouds lay across the trinity of nations, and fingers of chill dragged into hearts and bones. – (Maybe -chilled fingers or chilly fingers would read a little smoother than fingers of chill?)

    Windows were shut, as were jackets. The breath of a hundred furnaces and the smoke of a thousand lungs rose to mingle with the skies.
    A handful of bourgeoisie gathered outside the Vlalonnan King’s palace, hoping to warm (their) souls and fill their purses. Ignoring winter’s slaps on their cheeks and voices, they sang.
    They looked up expectantly at the massive windows, where they hoped to see the king deigning to pay them mind, or preferably, cash. Instead, a snowflake drifted from above to their feet, as if a promise.

    (A promise of what? Consider adding something to connect the idea of snowflake to a promise. EX: as if a promise of more cold denial to come -obvs I don’t know the story as well as you (and even less about snowflakes) so you could fill that in way better than I ever could, but you get the idea. (-:)

    (And Their) ancient carol soared to mist-dusted rooftops, where relentless wind snatched and swept it south to the Grassland Reserves, where “savages,” the tribal Yihhe, lived.
    The same clouds hovered in their sky, but different joy in their hearts.

    (I’d suggest subbing “joy” for another word, as there doesn’t seem to be any joyous comparisons so far)

    One that gloried in their enemies’ disfigured heads, (once) unfortunate Vlalonnan pilgrims, (now) staked around the camp (just a suggestion to add those two words in there).
    Yihhe children, free of chores, ran out shrieking to catch snow in outstretched fingers and dark lashes. Fyr, about eight, stood on the edge of her people’s territory,

    (Is she part of the Yihhe or the other side of the boundary?)

    daring to poke toes past the invisible boundary, near the dreadful heads. She glanced at them curiously, balancing her infant brother on her hip.
    While the other children held the bodiless things in fearful reverence, Fyr was grateful to them. From them had come the book in her hand. St. Thandos’ History of Sayy.
    She had read it over in the two days it had been hers, glorying in the mythology it told, even reading it to her brother.
    But now together they gazed in childish fascination at the falling snow.
    And again the girl recited the poem that opened the precious book:
    “What has been written,
    Cannot be undone.
    When comes the Raven
    Symbol of a time
    Time after a Time.
    Five Hundred Years Past
    Those Ships Came Afar
    And Raven sent Blue
    Back from (w)Whence they came.
    Now he sits in stone,
    Now he does take flight,
    One-Earring sister
    Frees him from the tomb
    Five Hundred Years Came,
    Those Ships Afar Come,
    And look upon War
    What has been written,
    Cannot be undone.
    Ravens bow to Kings
    King Elian be,
    The left Eye is Dark,
    And the Right Eye Blue.
    Peace to Warring Lands.
    Freedom is not free.
    Heart, Strength, Elian.”

    Her words, merely voice to ancient prophecy, lifted to blanketed sky, mingling with the carolers’ call, braiding them together

    (<3 braiding them together!)

    with pure snow into something none of them knew would enter their lives in a matter of time.
    Time after a time.
    But then the moment ended, and the riders appeared on the horizon, warped shadows coming in the name of the dead.
    They broke upon the village faster than it could panic, guns blazing, shattering the still air, and clogging it with black smoke and the screams of the dying. In the midst of the cold and chaos, the little girl ran in a forest of waists and belt buckles, clutching her wailing brother.

    (Wow! What an amazing visual in that last line!)

  2. swirlandspark says:

    Hi Rachel, I love the tone of this scene. The feeling is other-worldly which is perfect for fantasy. The language is beautiful and creates a nice sense of place. Right away I get the sense that this is from another time period too, which is important being historical. Some things tripped me up though and I’m not sure if this is intentional to your style or not: I would caution the use of “was” and “were”. These are weak substitutes for stronger verbs. For this reason, the opening sentence gave me pause. I can see you’re trying to give an overview of things to come, but we don’t know yet who Fyr or Vladyslav are or even if they are people or places. As I read on, I know Fyr is a character but for too long I felt confused. Perhaps expand on this somehow to make it clearer? Also, you may want to add “their” to make it “warm their souls and fill their purses,” to keep the flow consistent.

    “Preferably cash,” took me out of the voice, like it isn’t the actual currency used. I could be wrong though since I don’t know what time period we’re in though, so just a thought. In the sentence about the snowflake, I suggest deleting “from above”. The sentence makes more sense and is stronger without it. In the paragraph where you introduce Fyr, there’s a missing “her” before “toes.” I read this whole sample several times and I was confused by what the “dreadful heads” and “bodiless things” were. Perhaps as I read further those things would make more sense. I do love the idea of a mythology book and prophecy poem. This is so cool! The poem itself is quite beautiful and even though I didn’t understand it entirely, I’m interested to learn what it means! I adore the last paragraph. I feel the intensity of the situation with your vivid descriptions. Nicely done!

    Although I do like this opening, it’s light on action. You give nice descriptions but if possible, I suggest focusing even more on your main character a bit sooner. If your MC is Fyr she may be young for YA. (I’m wondering if she ages up in the next few scenes?) If she is not the MC, it would be important to introduce him/her sooner. Overall, this is a nice start with many lovely elements. I would love to read more. I like the style of your writing, and this seems like a fascinating world. Thank you for sharing and I wish you luck with it!

  3. Nicole P. says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Good writing here. I love Fyr. I could see her watching everything and picture her running into the forest with a death grip on her brother as she tries to escape their attackers. She also seems pretty smart for an eight year old. I didn’t even look at poems until I was at least twice her age. It makes me wonder what she’ll be like when she’s older.

    The only thing I wanted to address on your 500 words was that I was a little confused by the first sentence as I wondered why the world was shivering. Fear? Sadness? Coldness from the snow? And though you identified Fyr I wondered who Vladyslav was. Her baby brother? But it seems he’d be too young to be scarred unless it’s physically rather than mentally like I was thinking. Or if this is a flashback before the story fast forwards to her current age (since this is a YA, it seemed like it would) then I think this scene should be told later on as I’ve heard it’s not good to start with scenes like flashbacks and dreams. If this isn’t the case then never mind. But either way I think it’d be good to clarify those points. Hope this helps and best of luck!

  4. Scarlett Kol says:

    Rachel,

    This definitely is a beautiful piece. It has great imagery and I could really feel the world as the characters view it.

    I think the first sentence needs to be stronger. It is trying to give us a strong image but I think either using shorter sentences instead of the commas, or making it clear who/what Fyr and Vladyslav would help.

    The poem also threw me out due to the length of it. I’m assuming that it is necessary for the rest of the story, but maybe it could be broken into smaller pieces, alternated with action or observance. Maybe her brother has a reaction to the poem and distracts her momentarily. I’m not sure exactly how it could be done.

    That being said, you have a great way of describing things in very unconventional ways. I loved the description of the breathes and the singing. Absolutely lovely!

  5. emilygmoorewriter says:

    You have a gift for vivid imagery and I applaud that. Its this gift that gives me a quick understanding and settled feel for where I am in this opening. However, the first sentence is followed by five paragraphs of description on a lot of unknown places and people. I’d encourage you to start us much closer to your MC and give us these details scattered throughout the following pages. Despite this suggestion, I’d love to read more of this. Its right up my alley, and I have a soft spot for prophecies. Best of luck with this. Hope I helped in some small way.

  6. Daniel Beerse says:

    Rachel,

    Wow, amazing description for this YA historical fantasy! For me personally, I’m not much of a reader of war or fighting themes and I had to re-read your story a couple of times to get a better understanding of people and places. As much as I love your choice of names I admittedly got lost with their reference. I think it was already suggested to introduce them slower (clearly for people like me!) so the reader can comprehend your descriptions better.

    Your setting was fascinating and I could readily see the lay of the land and these people standing among the stakes of dead heads surrounding their territory. I like the way you ended it but I have one suggestion here. Instead of running “in” a forest . . ., how about running “through’ a forest of waists and belt buckles, . . ..

    Good luck to you with this story, you definitely piqued my curiosity!

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