This is episode 8 and, by pure chance, this week’s submissions have very similarly named protagonists. Interestingly, last week’s submissions both came from writers who are English-but-now-living-in-Scotland. I didn’t realise until one of them pointed it out to me on Twitter. I’m quite keen to see what will tie next week’s submissions together.
The episode may run a little longer than usual, because I’m doing something a bit different in the first segment. I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.
Also, I’m trying some new processes for the podcast. I haven’t been terribly happy with the production of the previous episodes, mainly in the editing and sound design limitations of the software I was using before. So please let me know what you think of the changes.
And now, on with the show!
As ever, I’m not an expert, my intention is to be positive and helpful, and my opinions do not reflect the authors’ worth as people or as writers. Please ensure adequate sodium intake with this podcast.
by Storm Pentz
Our story begins one dark and dingy night. The night was chilly. It filled Alexis’s chest with an icy grip. She was not sure what this night had in store for her. All she knew was what the note had said. Why is it so chilly?, she thought, as the stagnant air enveloped her. She pulled her hooded coat tighter around her neck. The night was so silent all she could hear were her heeled knee high boots. She felt like she was in a suspense movie, taking quick glances behind her, making sure she wasn’t being followed. What would she even do if she was being followed? Cast a spell on them? The idea made her giggle out loud. Casting a spell in a mortal city would mean certain death.
For a while now I’ve been wanting to try a rewrite of a submission, and Storm has very graciously agreed to let hers be the one. Thank you, Storm! I will try not to be too brutal.
Let’s start with line-by-line comments, and then we’ll get into my version.
I don’t think we need the first sentence. We know the story begins because it is beginning, and we know that the night is dark because nights are, by default, dark. So, unless this is meant to be a framing narrative, which I don’t think it is, it should be cut.
In the second sentence, I think ‘chilly’ is too mild a word given the tone and setting of the story. There are more forceful words which I think are better suited, like frigid or glacial, but we don’t want to reach for the thesaurus at every turn. So, it’s fine to just say that it was cold.
And for the third sentence, I’m not sure that a grip is a thing that can fill something, so I would suggest changing ‘filled’ to something more in line with the idea of a grip – clenched, took, etc.
There’s a bit of intrigue woven in with “She was not sure what this night had in store for her. All she knew was what the note had said.”
But then “Why is it so chilly?, she thought, as the stagnant air enveloped her.” If you’re reading along, you’ll see that there’s nothing distinguishing Alexis’s thoughts from the surrounding text. Now, the exact manner in which thoughts are identified within text is a matter of preference or house style, but the thought should either be Italicised or encapsulated by quotation marks. That said, I don’t know that this particular thought adds anything to the scene, so I would be inclined to cut it. Although I do quite like the phrase “the stagnant air enveloped her”…
“She pulled her hooded coat tighter around her neck.” is good, as is “The night was so silent all she could hear were her heeled knee high boots.” I have no major input there.
“She felt like she was in a suspense movie, taking quick glances behind her, making sure she wasn’t being followed.” Storm has told me that this is her first attempt at fantasy, and up until this line, I had read it as sword and sorcery but it makes me think this is urban fantasy. Regardless of the subgenre, I feel like we can cut the “She felt like she was in a suspense movie” because it’s more showing than telling. Her looking behind her and similar actions will allow the reader to experience that feeling far better than simply making the comparison.
The rest of the paragraph is ostensibly fine. I don’t have anything in particular to say there.
So, with all of that in mind, I’ve attempted to rewrite for a leaner and, hopefully, more on-brand opening.
The night was cold. It clenched Alexis’s chest in an icy grip just as she gripped the note that brought her out into the city on a night like this. She pulled the hood of her coat tighter around her neck. It was quiet, too. So quiet that all she could hear were the heels of her knee-high boots as she walked, taking quick glances behind her to make sure she wasn’t being followed. And what if she was being followed? What would she even do, cast a spell on them? The very idea made her giggle. After all, casting a spell in a mortal city would mean certain death.
What do you think? Do you agree with my take on this? Let me know on Twitter or by email! And again, a huge thank you to Storm both for submitting her opening and for letting me run wild with it.
TWINS OF THE TETHER TREE
by Cara Helene
Alexia drew a deep breath, relaxing against her instincts to open her inner eyelids and expose her sensitive irises to the caressing glow of the moon. Dark corners cleared gradually in her vision. She smiled and allowed herself to drop from the edge of her windowsill.
I quite like this. Right off the bat, there’s a sense of interest and intrigue. Why does Alexia have inner eyelids? Is she not human? What kind of not human is she? Is she good, bad, or just “other”? And how high is this windowsill that she’s dropping from?
In nitty gritties, I see a number of adjectives in this paragraph. I don’t think they’re necessarily a problem here, but if the rest of the page is similarly populated, it may be a bit much. So be cautious that you don’t run to purple prose. There’s only one adverb, which is fine, and I think it fits – it doesn’t immediately jump out at the reader, so that’s good.
Just one thing: “Dark corners cleared gradually in her vision.” I wonder if that “in” shouldn’t be “from”. “Dark corners cleared gradually from her vision.” Unless she is actually having a premonitory vision, which I hadn’t actually considered until just now. In which case “in” is definitely right.
Cara, thank you for sending that in and all the best for the rest of the project – let me know how it progresses!
Music: Continue Life by Kevin MacLeod
Sound effects from freeSFX [https://www.freesfx.co.uk/]