The TKZ Monthly Critique Group: The Shattered Kingdom

Note: Let’s approach today’s critique as a virtual critique group. We’ll go around our virtual “table” here at TKZ, giving constructive comments on today’s submission, THE SHATTERED KINGDOM. It’s described as “YA High Fantasy.” I’ll put comments at the end to get the ball rolling, and y’all take it from there! 

The Shattered Kingdom 
Lyria crouched in the deepest shadows, waiting for her target to make his move. The pommel of her knife stuck uncomfortably into her side through her jerkin; she shifted and impatiently hoped he would make it soon.
      Commotion at the front of the manor caught her eye and she shifted her fingers against the worn leather wrapped around the belly of her bow. The rattle of an opening portcullis broke the silence and a flash of light from a torch lit the side of a small cart emerging through the gatehouse.
      This was it, he was running. Lyria stood, grabbing her full quiver from the ground. She hooked the quiver to her belt and nocked an arrow to the bowstring. Shaking back a lock of loose hair, she waited for the small cart to roll into range.  The hilly terrain gave her an excellent vantage point and in the moon’s light she saw two men, one whipping the single horse into a swift trot and another hunkered inside the cart.  “Got you,” Lyria muttered, drawing the bowstring back.    
      The driver urged the horse to a canter, swiftly bringing the cart and its occupants into range. The driver was either well acquainted with every rut and turn of the road or an imbecile to drive in the dark at such speeds. Lyria suspected it was the second as the horse threw its head and the cart lurched and bounced.
     They hurtled closer, the cart’s wheels clattering in the silence. Lyria sighted along the arrow at the man hunched behind the driver, tensed to release and put an end to this man who thought he could cheat a demon.
     Something wasn’t right, instinct stayed her fingers. She eased her bow down and studied the man in the cart.       
      “Curse it,” she spun on the spot, silently dashing into the thick crop of trees where her horse waited. The horse spooked slightly as she jumped into the saddle.
     Clutching her bow, she grabbed the reins with one hand and turned the horse’s head, urging her to a fast trot through the trees.  They burst onto the road in front of the speeding cart. The driver shouted in terror at the black clad figure and yanked hard on the reins. His horse squealed and reared, its panicked eyes showing white. The cart skidded to a stop mere feet away from Lyria.
My thoughts: Even though YA and fantasy aren’t genres I typically read, I enjoyed this setup. The writer uses lots of “muscular” verbs, which are appropriate for an action scene (“hurtled,” “tensed,” “burst,”). That is good! My main suggestion to the writer would be to use shorter sentences. Action scenes are driven by short sentences and strong verbs. Using short sentences will add lots of punch to the verbs that are used here so well. For example: instead of
“Got you,” Lyria muttered, drawing the bowstring back.
Break it up as follows:
“Got you,” Lyria said. She drew the bowstring back.
Instead of:
Something wasn’t right, instinct stayed her fingers.
Break it up as follows:
Instinct stayed her fingers. Something wasn’t right. (I changed the order of the phrases because I think her thought should follow the physical instinct.)
Try to rewrite the scene so that there is no more than one action per sentence. When the sentences are broken up, I think this will be a strong opening scene. I did have a bit of confusion over the object of Lyria’s focus. At first, I assumed her “target” was an individual. I got confused when it shifted to “cart,” and then went back to “he.” That potential confusion could be avoided by including the moment when Lyria (and by extension, the reader) realizes that the hunkered down figure is, in fact, her target.
But these are all easy fixes! Overall, a promising start. Thank you for the submission!
Now I let’s go around our TKZ table. Please add a Comment with your notes for our brave writer.

10 thoughts on “The TKZ Monthly Critique Group: The Shattered Kingdom

  1. The beginning is slow and unnecessary. I think the story starts here:

    The hilly terrain gave her an excellent vantage point and in the moon’s light she saw two men, one whipping the single horse into a swift trot and another hunkered inside the cart. “Got you,” Lyria muttered, drawing the bowstring back.

    That is the point where I started to follow the story. It’s tight and there is no wasted moment. Also, Lyria is named as the protagonist right off bat.

  2. It’s not my genre, but I can see where it will be successful. It does feel a little overwritten. I liked the leather tied around “the belly of the bow,” and knocking the arrow. But there’s a feeling as if the author has a list of medieval terms she/he is determined to get in there to make sure we don’t miss the setting. Pommel? Check. Jerkin? Check, Porticulus? Check. It just feels forced, or as if the author is showing off her/his vocabulary. Serve the story. Also, does a trotting horse “burst” onto the roadway? Even a fast trot?
    I like the earlier suggestions. Generally, start the story at the last possible second, as close to the action as possible. DC’s suggestion about the starting point feels about right to me.

  3. It took a while to read where Lyria was. At first I thought she could be in the shadows, hiding in the mansion, or right outside the mansion…I didn’t know where to place her until I got to the hilly terrain. I’d like to be able to imagine the scene better from the beginning.
    Great action start!

  4. For me, the missing element is the why. Why does the MC want to kill or maim the target?

    Most agents don’t like manuscripts that start with a battle or a killing (unless from an established author), but I’m okay with them as long as I know the why, and even better if I can identify with the why.

  5. Well done. The action moved quickly and kept me wanting to read more. I agree that shorter sentences would give the action more punch. The establishing shot in the second paragraph needs some clarification. A manor house (a large country house with land) and a portcullis (in a castle or city wall) are not usually paired together in a medieval construction so it made it difficult to visualize the scene. I definitely would read more.

  6. I’d glanced at this yesterday and came back to it today when I could read the selection with more attention.

    I also should say this is not my own genre, but to tell you the truth, it didn’t matter. Change a setting, a few details, and this could be a riveting action scene in most any book.

    The beginning seemed fine to me, keeping me interested. And just picked up from there.

    No problem with no “why” yet, but I think it’s because the action was so interesting, and created so many questions, each begging a “why” and a page turn.

    I do think segments could use shorter sentences. But not the whole thing, like a template.

    So, “This was it, he was running. Lyria stood, grabbing her full quiver from the ground. She hooked the quiver to her belt and nocked an arrow to the bowstring” –

    I’d suggest (but only experimentally, and mildly, letting the author decide) :

    This was it. He was running. Lyria stood, grabbed her quiver from the ground. Hooked the quiver to her belt and nocked an arrow to the bowstring.

    Finally, the esoteric terms stumbled my reading. But, if this was my “field” – I’d probably expect those terms.

    All in all, surprising very very nice (smiles).

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