Wednesday 6 December 2017

#2 Chapter 1 critique

To understand what we're doing here check out Chapter Critique Corner.

To reiterate a key point - this process depends on audience participation. I'm just hosting, not taking part in the critique.

I converted this one from the original pdf so some formatting oddities may have found their way into the mix for which the author is not responsible. 

You can offer your thoughts in the comments - these are moderated and I will pass "tough love" but not anything that I feel crosses the line into meanness or mockery. So, rather than waste your efforts, do bear in mind that the object of the exercise here is to help. That said, robust critiques are encouraged and I guess we will just have to find our level as we go.

You can also email critiques to me and I will see if they can be transferred to the blog post in a way that preserves their editing markups.

Chapter 1
The cold of death touched Isabel first. Icy tendrils that crept along her alabaster skin, raising goose bumps despite the cool humidity of the tomb. She suppressed a shudder and continued the incantation without distraction.
The body on the stone slab before her twitched a fraction. A finger, then a leg, then the entire muscular torso of the newly deceased guardsman’s body. The sight sent a thrill coursing through Isabel’s mind. Again, she suppressed her emotions, her physiological responses. The ritual was too important. The slightest distraction could be disastrous.
The guards naked body writhed on the cold stone until Isabel thought he might fall from the slab completely. As the incantation came to an end however, he stilled. The body remained motionless for a long time, limbs twisted at odd angles. Isabel held back, her breath still. For a long time the young guards body was frozen. Then she felt it.
A familiar connection blossomed within Isabel’s mind. She sensed the dead man’s thoughts, still fresh from living. A hint of who he had been, his desires, his ambitions. And then there was the hunger. It came in a rush. A desire for living flesh, for warm flowing blood. Perhaps born of a memory of what it was to be truly alive, twisted into a keen hunger for these things he no longer possessed.
“Can you hear me?” Isabel whispered into the darkness of the mausoleum. The eyes of the corpse flickered open. Pale blue witch-light glimmered faintly in the half light. He turned to her, watching from under long strands of mouse brown hair. Waiting.
“Get up,” Isabel commanded.
The corpse sat up, like a puppet on a string, he simply folded at the waist, spine as straight as a rod. He moved mechanically, not with the fluid motions of the living, his limbs stiff as he swung his legs over the end of the slab and rose to stand still and silent before Isabel. Strangely his eyes fixed on her own. It was difficult for Isabel to return that cold unblinking stare. When she did, the ravenous hunger she saw there terrified her.
“Why do you watch me like that?” She asked, cursing the quiver she failed to keep from her voice.
The thing did not answer. It just stared.
“Look away,” she hissed, her nerve giving way beneath those cold eyes. The dead man obeyed, looking beyond her at the darkness.

“Deadwood, about a mile to the west of here. Do you remember it?” If the undead thing recognised the name, it did not show it. “You used to live there.”
An agonising drone filled the chamber. It was like the grinding of old bones, whispering together in the darkness. Dread filled Isabel as she realised what it was. “Not I.” It spoke with the lips of the dead man, but the voice was otherworldly. It carried the promise of the grave.
The voice unnerved her, but Isabel refused to allow it to show in front of this new aberration.
“But you know of where I speak.”
A nod. The eyes returned to watch her.
“I want you to go there. Avoid being seen. If you are discovered, make sure they don’t live to tell about it.” No answer. Isabel continued. “Go to the tower on the hill. Von Dinkler’s lair.”
Mention of the name drew a response. The guards eyes flickered, the pale blue light growing bright for a moment, the hunger replaced momentarily by rage, then it was gone. “You know of where I speak?” A slight nod. “Good. Go there, don’t get caught, bring me the stone there.
A large green rock, the size of a fist.” She held her hand up for emphasis. “It will be guarded.
Do you understand?” Another nod. “Then go. Be back tonight. If you are not, I will terminate our connection, and you will return to wherever it was you came from.”
The undead guard moved at her command. The piercing cold stabbed at her arm as it brushed past her toward the crumbling arch that led from the mausoleum. Isabel clenched her teeth against the terrible presence she felt from the brief contact. She ignored the sensation and turned to watch the creature go.
She allowed herself a grim smile of satisfaction when the thing disappeared into the shadowed halls, then began preparation for her servant’s victorious return.
Several hours passed. Isabel remained in the dark, a scattering of candles holding the shadows back. She kept to the edges of the candlelight, eyes on the black archway, waiting.
The shuffling steps of the undead thing preceded it’s return to the mausoleum. It emerged into the half-light more broken than it had left. Its right arm was missing, the stump a torn and bloodied mess, congealed blood oozing down the remains of a guard’s shirt. Interesting that it had thought to cover its nakedness. Shame was not a concern for the unliving. But Isabel supposed enough of the guardsmen’s own mind remained to know a naked man is more conspicuous than a clothed one.
Its left arm was whole, though its shirt here was torn also. In its hand it carried the stone, casting a green and ominous glow across the walls of the crypt.
The broken thing shambled to the centre of the room and stopped. It watched Isabel with that same tormented hunger. She thought it looked different somehow. Something had gone dramatically wrong, that much was obvious from the damage to the corpse, but the eyes were different. They held a cunning beneath the hunger. Something Isabel had not imbued the creature with.
She emerged from the shadows, drawing alongside the broken monster. “What happened to you?” She asked herself more than the creature. The intelligence to form proper sentences another trait she had not imbued it with.
But then it spoke. That same broken voice that came from another place.
“Von Dinkler sends his regards.” The stone fell to the floor as the creatures one good arm shot forward, its hand encircling her throat with a speed and strength Isabel could scarcely believe.
The frozen grasp of the undead stilled the blood in her arteries. Pain shot through her skull, blurring her vision, wiping all thought from her mind. As she slipped into oblivion, sheer instinct drove her hand to draw the double-barrelled pistol from beneath her inner jacket. Both barrels unleashed a torrent of flame and metal against her traitorous creations sternum, blowing bits of bone and blackened organs across the opposite wall. The force of the blast blew the dead guard backwards across the stone slab of its resurrection. It rolled backwards onto the floor, where it struggled with little success to rise once more.
Isabel gasped for breath, rubbing her aching throat tenderly, attempting to return some blood flow to the ice damaged flesh.
The dead guard gave up trying to rise, and decided to simply crawl using its one remaining arm, toward Isabel.
With a flick of her wrist, Isabel cracked open the pistol. Two expended cartridges ejected automatically, and she slid two more in their place.
Her throat still ached, but she straightened, rounded the stone slab, and unloaded one more round into her servant’s skull. Isabel dropped the pistol, clamping her hands to ringing ears.
“Fuck!” she screamed. Her voice didn’t penetrate the ringing in her ears.
Eyes clamped against blurred vision, ears ringing from gunshot, Isabel felt her way to the stone slab and slumped against it. The cold stone soothed her head, but she knew she needed to keep moving. She didn’t have long before…
clack… Clack… CLACK…
Slowly she registered the strange noise. A cold knot forming in her gut, Isabel’s head snapped up to see two very tall, very skinny figures enter through the decrepit arch. They wore long black robes that reached to their booted calves. Hoods hung low to cover their faces, but their long skeletal hands protruded from the end of loose sleeves, and betrayed the illusion of mortality. Skeletons. Held together by magic and sheer will. They were conspicuous, but more effective, full of dark magic, and wicked intellect.
They were clapping. Their fleshless hands sounding more like two bunches of dried sticks beating against each other. Following the two bone men was another, shorter fellow. This one was alive, and quite covered in flesh. It hung from him in rolls, expensive materials straining across a round stomach, thick thighs, and flabby arms. His bald head balanced precariously upon roll after roll of chin that connected without passing along a neck, directly to his shoulders.
Von Dinkler.
He wasn’t clapping. He saved the ironic gesture for his skeletal goons.
“Well done, I must say.” He looked rather like a toad, Isabel thought. Even his skin held a faint green tinge, perhaps from his years of studying the rotting flesh of his subjects.
Isabel backed further into the dank crypt, until she felt the slick stone wall press into her back.
Though no signal was given, the two robed skeletons moved forward, circling the stone slab in the centre of the room, cutting off Isabel’s movement. Von Dinkler stood between Isabel and the entrance, placing his fat arse on the stone slab with considerable effort.
“It took me forty years to raise my first subject,” he spoke dispassionately, as if recalling what he had for breakfast. “I had to put that one down, too. Though through my own inability rather than any loss of control to another summoner.”
“Are you trying to console me, Von Dinkler?” The pistol was heavy in Isabel’s hand, but not heavy enough. She was painfully aware of the single remaining shot in the twin barrels. Von Dinkler’s gaze twitched to her left hand uncomfortably.
“I am impressed. Though I am also rather disappointed a newcomer to our profession decided to try out their formidable skills to burgle me. But you knew I would come, didn’t you? You are aware of who I am, after all.” It wasn’t a question.
“I know.” Isabel fingered the dual triggers, deciding which of the targets before her she could bring down before they were on top of her.
“And yet, here we are.” Silence stretched between them for an uncomfortably long time. Von Dinkler watched her with an unreadable expression. The two bodyguards remained motionless, depthless sockets staring into oblivion.
“You may live.” Isabel jerked at the sudden statement, surprised. “I have been searching for an apprentice, and I think you will serve me well.” Isabel quirked a single brow. “Your powers may prove useful. There are many tasks which have become tedious to one such as I. But it would be good practice for the likes of you. If you can behave yourself.” Von Dinkler hopped off the stone slab, and motioned for Isabel to follow. He moved passed his guards, who remained as still as stone, waiting.
“Crendal.” Isabel whispered. The word dropped to the chamber floor like a stone in the dark.
Von Dinkler stopped. He breathed a great sigh, and he seemed to deflate as the air left him. He grabbed the arch of the mausoleum, leaning heavily against crumbling old stone. “So you’re not here looking for a master?” He sounded disappointed. “No matter how fast I run, my past always seems to catch up with me.” When he turned, he seemed to have aged a dozen years in an instant. “How do you know about Crendal?”
Isabel started shaking. Not fear. It was something else. Memories of her home, her family, came pouring back after more than a decade of pushing them away. “It was my home.”
“Impossible!” Von Dinkler snapped. “Everybody was killed…” He seemed to realise what he was admitting to, and stopped himself. He paced back passed the stone slab, coming to stand a few feet from Isabel. “You were not there,” he hissed.
Isabel held Von Dinkler’s gaze. A torrent of rage, and sorrow, and fear washed over her. A flood of old memories. Of her mother, her sisters, her baby brother. Memories that had lived in a corner of her mind, buried behind a mound of grief and denial for over a decade.
She lifted the pistol.
Faster than she thought possible, Von Dinklers two bodyguards rushed forward. The one on the left grabbed the Necromancer, and thrust him sideways. The one on the right reached for
Isabel’s hand, so she fired.
The imperfect shot tore into Von Dinklers body. It shredded his jacket, and exposed the flesh beneath his fat belly. In the instant before the second guard bore her to the ground, Isabel thought she saw bone.
The skeleton wrestled the gun out of her hand. Every touch from the evil thing stabbed her with grave-cold, leaving her limbs numb, sluggish. Fortunately, the skeleton was literally a bag of bones. Beneath the heavy robe were bones, and nothing more. Isabel placed her boot against the skeletons hips, and thrust the thing over her head. It landed on its crooked, between wall and floor, and collapsed into an odd shaped pile.
With a grunt, Isabel pulled herself onto her backside. Von Dinkler’s remaining bodyguard was rising from the crumpled form of its master. She cracked the pistol, reloaded two shells, and flicked it closed.
As skeletal hands reached for her throat, Isabel unleashed a torrent of flame and lead that tore the monstrous collection of bones apart before her eyes.
Isabel reloaded her twin barrels and advanced on the prone Von Dinkler.
“Please! I’m not that man anymore. That wasn’t me!” His flabby arms beat the cold stone ineffectually as he tried to crawl away from her. A trail of blood followed him across the floor.
Isabel knelt down, putting her knee into the old Necromancers lower back. He stopped crawling. “You killed my family. My baby brother.”
Von Dinkler whimpered. The rolls of fat that spilled above his collar quivered with terror.
“This is the great Necromancer?” Isabel couldn’t believe this wobbly mass of flesh was the same man who brought the Empire to its knees a decade ago. “What happened to you?”
Von Dinkler snivelled into the dirt. Isabel dug her weight further into his back, waiting for an answer.
“Please!” He groaned. “I’ll tell you. Just let me up, please.” He was crying now. Isabel rolled her eyes, and lifted her weight off him. Von Dinkler grunted as her knee lifted from his back. He rolled over, and for the first time Isabel noticed he was holding a smooth wooden rod, about a foot long, topped with a green metal cylinder. He unscrewed the bottom, and grabbed the ceramic bauble that emerged, attached to a cord that disappeared into the rod.
“Do you know what this is?” Von Dinkler puffed. He grinned maniacally, a sinister glint penetrating the fear in his eyes.
“I’ve heard about them.” Isabel backed away from the Necromancer. But if he held what she thought, there was not enough room in the chamber to escape the blast.
“Precisely. Now, I think you’re going to tell me just what you know about Crendal. The truth this time.”
“You’re mad. You wouldn’t set that thing off in here.” Isabel doubted her words.
“I’m not about to be taken by the likes of you, girl. Now talk!” He snapped into the gloom of the crypt.
Pistol still pointed at the Necromancer, Isabel’s hand trembled once more. She couldn’t think of that day without the cloud of pain and suffering she suppressed emerging, threatening to wash away all reason, everything that she was.
“I told you the truth,” Isabel ground from between clenched teeth. “It was my home. I was there when your dead men arrived. I was there when the living followed them. I saw men slaughtered, women and children violated and then following husbands and fathers to the grave.” Isabel dropped her head, loose hair falling to cover wet eyes.
“I saw my mother, my sisters…”
“Stop!” Von Dinkler shouted. “Please, no more. I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to remember anything from that terrible war.”
Bloodshot eyes shot up, almost glowing with rage. Isabel shouted, “You don’t want to remember. You don’t want to remember? What about your victims? What about the countless thousands who suffered at your hands?” She was screaming now. “It is the least you can do, you vile shell of a man, to relive the violence of your most horrendous crimes. Because we had to live through them. We had to lose friends and family in the most horrific way possible!” She spat on him. She didn’t mean to, but she couldn’t control herself. The rage blinded her to everything else but showing him how completely pathetic he had become.
“You fucking bitch.” He wiped the spittle from his straining vest with the sleeve of one arm that still held the grenade. “You have no idea the trials have suffered. What I have sacrificed for you, for everyone in this good forsaken town. In the whole fucking Kingdom!” He pulled the ceramic bauble from the wooden rod. There was a metallic click from within the green cylinder, and Von Dinkler smiled, dropping the grenade on the ground between his legs.
“It’s over,” Von Dinkler let out a great sigh, but Isabel was already moving across the room, diving behind the stone slab in the centre of the room.
She couldn’t be sure of much in those last instants before the explosion, but she thought something emerged from Von Dinkler. A fine mist erupted from between sagging lips, rising up into the room, faster than mist had any right to be moving. As she fell behind the stone slab, she thought she saw it shift, change direction, move her way. Almost like an animal, sniffing its prey, hunting something out in the cold crypt.
But then the explosion wiped it all away. Pain preceded darkness and so much noise she thought she would die, then she might have.
Grinding. Like the earth being split asunder. It tore through dreams of Crendal. Of times her family had played together in the waters of the Quad River.
“Come on, Izzy. Wake up!” A hand slapped her. Hard.
She reached for the offending hand, but found a piercing pain made it unbearable to move.
“You don’t look so good.” George. She recognised his voice now. Sleep was releasing its grip, but with awareness came pain.
“Ugh...” Isabel found her mouth full of dirt, and coughed up what felt like a vital organ before she could talk. “What happened?” The darkness was all encompassing. The explosion had clearly doused all light. What damage it had caused, Isabel could only guess. The sound of earth moving overhead was not a good sign.
“Come on,” George pulled Isabel into a sitting position.
“Fuck!” Her hip felt like it was full of broken glass. Isabel shoved her brother away, falling back on the debris strewn floor. “I can’t,” she panted, tasting blood.
The sound of George rummaging in the darkness, then the flicking of a kerosene lighter. Black smoke curled from the end of the flame when it sprang into life.
Her brother had been with Isabel for a decade. He had travelled with her across the breadth and width of a continent in their search for Von Dinkler. Together they had pieced together the mystery of the powerful Necromancer, and traced him to Deadwood. But in the darkness of the crypt, the flame spreading long shadows across his rotten flesh, Isabel found she was still scared shitless of George’s dead face.
The room was in worse shape than Isabel could have imagined. The roof had collapsed in the centre of the room, coming to rest on the solid stone slab there. Cracks in the stone radiated out, and through them dirt, rock and bones poured onto the floor. The piles in places nearly reached the caved ceiling, and in others it still ran like water to fill the empty spaces.
“Where is he?” Isabel struggled against the pain in her hip, rising onto her one good elbow. The other was a mess of blood and twisting parts that didn’t look all that familiar.
George ducked under hanging stone to circle the slab. “There’s a bit of a red smudge over here. It kind of covers the floor,” he looked around, “and the wall. And the bits of the ceiling that aren’t destroyed.”
“Show me.” Isabel struggled to rise. Her twisted arm screamed at her, and she in turn screamed at the darkness in pain and frustration. “Help me up!” She snapped.
“I thought you said you can’t?” George glided around the debris to stand over her. His charming smile that had endeared him to her so much in life, seemed a mocking simulacrum in death. Much of her brother had changed through the transition of living boy to undead soldier of vengeance.
Isabel held out her good hand and George took it graciously. His kindness grating on her more than it should.
The glass in her hip had not abated. It tore muscle and flesh, and made loud popping sounds as she stood. Isabel was beyond caring about the pain anymore. If Von Dinkler was dead, nothing else mattered. She just had to be sure.
George mostly carried his little sister around the slab. They stood looking down at the ample mass of Von Dinkler’s bloody remains. A leg lay crushed under a large piece of the ceiling. Much of his blood was congealing amongst the pooling sand. Some of the larger chunks of flesh wobbled in a rather undignified manner beneath the dull glow of the kerosene lighter.
“He’s dead.” A whisper. Barely heard above the sound of creaking stone and running sand.
“We really did it. It’s finally over.”
“No, sister,” George squeezed her hand gently. “It’s not over yet.”
Isabel looked up through raven hair turned grey from dust. “Yeah. Not yet.”
They walked, Isabel’s arm around her brother’s waist. His slung around her shoulders, carrying her with an ease borne of unnatural magics.
Isabel stopped at the archway. “Wait. The stone. The green rock. We need it.”
“Why?” George left her leaning heavily against the ancient stone arch. It took him a moment to find the stone, glowing eerily beneath some broken support timbers.
“It’s important,” was all Isabel would say. George shrugged. He pocketed the stone, then they resumed their egress from Deadwood’s collapsing mausoleum.

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  1. Nice premise - hooked me in. Main issues for me...the first is that we're not deeply into Isabel's POV; I felt as though there was still some distance between us and her. This might be because the action - especially after Dinkler turns up - is so carefully described, almost tell-y rather than show-y. I wondered if it was punchier, more visceral, whether that would help to sink us into her experience? There are also a couple of places where there's a repeat of what we already know... for example:

    She suppressed a shudder and continued the incantation WITHOUT DISTRACTION.
    The body on the stone slab before her twitched a fraction. A finger, then a leg, then the entire muscular torso of the newly deceased guardsman’s body. The sight sent a thrill coursing through Isabel’s mind. Again, she suppressed her emotions, her physiological responses. The ritual was too important. The SLIGHTEST DISTRACTION could be disastrous.

    She obviously WAS distracted by the cold in the first instance, and then by the thrill of apparent 'life' - so perhaps a change of wording, for eg miss out the first mention of distraction - or even move the fact that she's concentrating hard on the ritual as any distraction would prove disastrous to the first mention.

    Dinkler sounds interesting, but comes across as a bit of a contradiction; he starts off gloating, then is whimpering, then pulls out the grenade in a suicide bid. There wasn't a lot to show me why he decided suicide was a better option - unless we assume the gunshot was fatal.

    But like I say, a definite hook in the opening that made me want to read on - providing I could get deeper into Isabel's experiences and world view.

    1. Good advice about being distracted/not being distracted. Thanks.
      Also, your point about Von Dinkler, I didn't really notice. He is meant to be an unstable character, but after reading through that section again, I see your point, and there is a better way to show that unstableness without the seeming contradiction of his character.
      And the point about Isabel, I really struggle to inject her personality into it. I think it's a matter of finding her voice. She's sort of a growing character, and as I learn more about her, I will go back and develop that right from the beginning.
      I don't have character bio's or anything, and kind of just let people grow on the page as I write them.

      Thanks for your feedback.

    2. I know exactly what you mean about the character developing - you get to know them better the further into the story you get, get a feel for how they'd act in certain situations etc. But when you DO know them, it's really exciting to go back over the early versions of the story to write them in more fully.
      I was told to try the 'kick the cat' test - have your character observe a situation and write how they'd react to it. Or have a conversation with them - sounds mad, but it works for me! Good luck with the story, because it does sound intriguing.

  2. Something missing here
    . It landed on its crooked, between wall and floor, and collapsed into an odd shaped pile.

    1. I changed it a little.

      "It landed with a crunch, between wall and floor, and collapsed into an odd shaped pile."

  3. I liked it for the most part but am confused by the pistol. She fires both barrels into the dead guards chest, and the blast has enough force to knock him (it?) back across the room. Then she stands there, in violation of Newton`s law, rubbing her throat. If the gun had enough force to blast the target across the tomb, it would have knocked her back as well, or maybe since she is holding it in only one hand she would have dropped it. Then she fires a second single round, and suddenly screams and can`t function because of the ringing in her ears. If the noise is a problem after the second shot, why didn`t it bother her after the first shot? I don't understand why she is blinded - is it because of the flames? Guns don`t fire flames. If this one does, then it is sufficiently different from what most people will picture when one says "pistol" to need more description. Another thing that didn`t sit right is that Isabel talks/thinks in a convoluted poetical type speech throughout the whole chapter, as if she has read way to many books about King Arthur when she was a child, except when she stops to yell, "fuck!" It just does not fit in with the rest of the language used to describe the character and setting up to that point (ok when Von Winkler says it as we have not yet formed an opinion of him as someone who would not say that). I don't think her stilted language is necessarily a problem, but it needs to be consistent, and it needs to suit the personality that the author is going for, which I`m not sure is the case here. Isabel seems more aggressive and resourceful in her behaviour than in her speech and in how she is narrated, if that makes any sense.

    1. I like your point about Newton's law. I didn't realise how silly it seemed until you pointed it out.
      I changed it to this:
      "Both barrels unleashed a torrent of flame and metal against her traitorous creations sternum, blowing bits of bone and blackened organs across the opposite wall. The force of the blast sent the dead guard stumbling backwards across the stone slab of its resurrection."
      So that the blast is more reasonable, and it was simply backward momentum that forced the creature to stumble. The weapon is supposed to be powerful. But it is something Isabel is very familiar with, and so would be prepared for the recoil. It needs to be realistic, however.
      Your point about the language is good. I went back through and had a little play with it. I said in another comment above that Isabel is a work in progress. Her character is growing as I write her on the page, and as she does, I will need to go back and rewrite her a lot, I think. I don't want the "has read way to many books about King Arthur when she was a child" effect, and will work on it.

      Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it.

  4. My first thought is that this chapter almost has the feel of a story in its own right. We are given some background regarding a kingdom and a war, and a hint of something more at the end, but nothing with real momentum or tension to carry us forward. The chapter gives the impression that Isabel is already confronting her nemesis so whatever else she has to do in future has to be something bigger and more dramatic. To be honest the sense of conflict around Von Dinkler’s past actions and his emotions was more interesting for me than Isabel’s revenge. He seemed a more complex and compelling character, even from that brief glimpse.

    The prose is functional with little elaboration. It gets the job done without any fuss. I might have liked a bit more description and sense of place and character, but that is a stylistic point not a fundamental problem. There are sections of the prose that need looking at. “Cool humidity.” for example is awkward, and the use of egress in the last sentence, even if correct, sticks out as being out of character with the more straightforward nature of the rest of the writing. Although the action moves along well I think you need to consider more carefully the mechanics of motion and combat and the kind of technology you are using, particularly with regard to the pistol, how it works and how effective it would be in that situation. The same applies to the description of the ceiling falling and Isabel’s and Von Dinkler’s injuries. If you are going to have detail then attention to detail is needed.

    Overall I think this is largely an effective piece of storytelling that shows promise. I don’t know how much more of this you have written so it’s impossible to say what plans you might have for continuing, amending or rewriting what is here. What I would say is that what is already here is strong enough that a constructive line-by-line critique would produce something close to a finished piece, without the need for a complete re-write.

  5. Thank you.
    This is really insightful, I appreciate it.
    The idea is that Isabel HAS confronted her ultimate nemesis. At this point, she's achieved her goal, and it becomes apparent that she and her brother George have nothing left. George is a walking corpse, and isnt very attached to the lifestyle, while Isabel has no family, and no purpose moving forward.
    They plan to commit suicide. They are going to die together, with Isabel's passing, George will move on also.
    There is a hitch at this point however. Isabel finds she CAN'T kill herself. She sliced her wrists, but the blood won't flow, and it has to do with Von Dinkler's moaning about how much he has sacrificed for the kingdom, etc.
    So this becomes their purpose. Solve the problem of why Isabel can't die, remove that problem.
    In the process, Isabel begrudgingly discovers she may actually have a reason to live. And this leaves them wondering where to go with George. He doesn't want to leave his sister, she doesn't want him to have to live forever as a corpse.

    I feel my writing has a long way to go in the areas you describe. I received some feedback a while back saying I was TOO descriptive, and so here I have pulled back a lot. Perhaps too much.

    I feel about the technology the same way I do about my characters. They are being revealed to me as I write, and there will be a need to go back to earlier chapters to flesh them out as more is revealed to me later.

    Again, thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it.

    1. That's interesting, now that you've explained it. In some sense this is more of a prologue than a chapter one. It would be good though, I think, if you could somehow allude more consciously to the wider situation during this sequence so that it ties in more coherently. I'm not sure exactly how you would do that. Also, what you have hinted at is a considerable amount of back story which you want might want to expand on. It could even be a separate or parallel narrative. I think you should trust your instincts with your writing, you can clearly tell a story, at least until you have a finished draft and can begin to seriously look at any changes that need to be made with a view towards publication.

  6. Very interesting start, has hooked my attention immediately, atmospheric. Like the use of "alabaster" as it puts me in mind of something cold, something associated with death and tombs and ritual.

    The description of the guardsman coming back to life is simplistic yet sufficient, still conveys a sense of the macabre, the telepathic connection particularly unsettling, her own fear of what she's created a nice touch. This fear and uncertainty makes me wonder why she is taking this risk, she's not coming across like some evil madman doing it just for the thrill.

    I feel pity for the zombie? The thought of enough of its own mind remaining to wish to cover his nakedness? A mind trapped in that body?

    I stopped writing my thoughts as I read as the action picked up a pace at this point! Genuinely wasn't sure which way it would go. Thus far, there's no indication of whether Isabel is a main character or not so the threat feels quite real.

    In terms of first chapters and as an opening to a story, I enjoyed it; there have been a number of things raised here that intrigue me, make me want to continue reading. You've avoided expo-dumping, instead leaving vague hints that make me want to discover the answers; how did she survive? What was the war? How did she learn her craft? What else does she and her brother need to accomplish? What's the green stone for? Is von dinkler really dead?

    All in all, nicely balanced with action and suspended, and has succeeded in making me want to know more about the characters.

    1. Thank you. I appreciate the feedback.
      I want Isabel to be the main subject, for us to feel empathy for her. But she's going to be quite a tragic figure ideally. I need to work on how to convey that more immediately.

  7. "The cold of death touched Isabel first." What touched her second? This is the first sentence of a story and just feels a little clunky. How about, "Isabel felt the cold touch of death. Suppressing a shudder, she continued the incantation as icy tendrils crept along her alabaster skin."

    I made the change so that "Isabel" is the first word, and put "cold touch of death" closer to "suppressing a shudder," as I feel it more succinctly describes what is happening and to whom it is happening. Based on the feedback I get from this comment, I wouldn't mind running through the whole sample. Thank you.

  8. I really enjoyed the first part (which is impressive, I don't often enjoy it). There is some slight overwriting, some small ways the writing style can be improved, and a few small grammar errors I noticed. These are what I found:-

    Words and phrases you can remove to improve the writing style (removing unnecessary words and phrases makes your writing more exciting and engaging for readers, generally speaking):-

    * Remove "first" from "The cold of death touched Isabel first." (That solves the problem where readers are waiting for the second thing to happen)

    * Remove "without distraction" from "She suppressed a shudder and continued the incantation without distraction." (Her suppressing her distractions and her thoughts on it show us enough about the whole distraction thing. This extra bit becomes a bit repetitive)

    * Remove "a fraction" from "The body on the stone slab before her twitched a fraction." (The phrase isn't necessary, it's a bit wordy)

    * Remove "Again," from "Again, she suppressed her emotions, her physiological responses." (The word is unnecessary. We know she suppressed her responses before and that it is now happening again. You don't need to say "again".)

    * Remove "The slightest" from "The slightest distraction could be disastrous." (this is a great example of making something more punchy and exciting by removing a few words).

    * Remove "For a long time the young guards body was frozen." (It's just a repetition of what is already happening. We can already see she is waiting, still, and he is frozen and unmoving.)

    I hope these few insights help you spot the other places where cutting a few words can make a big difference. Next, grammar mistakes I found that you can fix. It isn't exhaustive, but it should help you spot a few more of these in your writing.

    * The guard’s (add an apostrophe between guard and "s") naked body writhed on the cold stone, (add a comma) until Isabel thought he might... (there is one guard, and the body is his. Use an apostrophe to show possession).

    * As the incantation came to an end, (add a comma) however, he stilled. (Two commas with "however", usually)

    * A desire for living flesh, for warm, (add a comma) flowing blood.

    * “Why do you watch me like that?” she (she must not be capitalized here) asked,...

    * The guard's (add an apostrophe) eyes flickered,...

    I hope this is useful to you.


    1. Hi Joybelle.
      These are great, thank you very much. It makes a huge difference to the flow of the writing with your changes, and I'll make an effort to apply it to the rest. I'm really impressed.
      Also, I read your own chapter 1 (prologue) and thought it was interesting. It certainly makes me want to know what is happening, just a note on character development, which I believe has already been spoken about in other comments. I think if their was a deeper connection, even with a bit character, it would hook me so much more.

      Thanks again for your feedback.

  9. Great for prologue. Has direction that way. Great building block and we know where it’s going just not how and why? We need more on how we got there. We know her actions are revenged based but how did her magic develop? Who taught her? Why did she choose necromancy as her revenge magic? Is it just because Von is a necromancer or is that the only magic she can use for her purpose..
    If we start the story there as the first chapter we lose a lot of pretext as well as a connection to both characters.But as a prologue you can use that scene as a possible ending and the audience has a direction and an expectation.

    1. This idea is interesting. I deliberately left a lot of story out of the telling here, so as not to go over the top with info dumping. My intention was to reveal Isabel's background throughout the story (don't really know how yet, as I haven't gotten that far), along with the ongoing story of where Isabel will go from here.
      Perhaps you're right though, and I need to rethink this scene. I suppose I could add more details through showing Isabel's thoughts and motivations as she takes the course she does.
      Thanks for the insight.