Another brave author has sent in their anonymous submission of their first 400 words. My critique follows. Please provide your constructive criticism, TKZers.
“Strike faster,” Northbyr commanded, but Arthryn’s limbs felt like lead, as if he were swinging a blacksmith’s hammer rather than a sword. He grunted with the effort to keep his blade up, and struggled to land a sequence of slashes and strokes across the wooden training post. “Again,” his father ordered. Arthryn complied, forcing his arms to keep moving. He could feel the pressure of his father’s eyes, inspecting his every movement.
Not my father, Arthryn reminded himself. Not today. Today, he is my Commander, and I am his cadet.
Northbyr certainly fit his role. His tall frame shadowed Arthryn’s short, but fit, seventeen year old body. The Commander had gray eyes, and his face bore the marks of his years in combat. All that was behind him now, and he no longer fought in battles. Instead, he commanded the city guard of Brink, and served as protector to the city’s master, Vangres. Arthryn knew he was lucky to have his father’s experience to learn from, but that also meant twice as much work.
“Step left, strike three,” the commander said. Arthryn followed through. “Step right, strike one.” The cadet stepped and struck hard. “Step round, backward slash!” Arthryn stepped past the training post and twisted his hips to strike the hardwood with a powerful, back handed undercut, but his feet got twisted up and he fell to the ground.
“Snap to, son.”
Arthryn recovered and rose to his feet, readying his sword for the next move.
The young warrior wielded weapon over his head and aimed to bring it crashing down upon the wooden pole. The blade made his arms tremble, and his muscles protested. He gritted his teeth, and prepared to drop the sword into the target. He never got the chance.
Northbyr snatched the weapon from his hands. Arthryn stumbled to regain his balance. Without the weight of his sword in hand, he felt like a mouse without a tail. He spun towards his father.
“I had it!”
Northbyr glowered at him. “If this was battle, you’d be dead.”
Arthryn’s cheeks flared red. Especially when you take my sword! He wanted to blurt out, but kept his peace. Northbyr never accepted excuses.
Embedded dialogue – In paragraph 1 & 4, there is embedded dialogue that could be pulled out to accentuate it more. A reader’s eye looks for dialogue lines, especially those skimmers who speed read. Highlighting the dialogue as much as possible can focus a reader’s attention on key lines.
Backstory – In paragraph 3, the author resorts to character description and backstory in between the action of the intro scene. Although this paragraph is short, it can still slow pace and draw the reader elsewhere.
Name Confusion – The two characters in this scene have “Y” and “R” towards the end of the names. Since these names aren’t typical of present day/present world handles, readers could get confused and forget which is the father and which is the son. I found myself re-reading to remind myself of the two characters. Perhaps if the son were to call the father by his title, it might help make a better distinction.
More Setting & World Building Layering in Fantasy Genre – The Fantasy genre is known for its world building and other worldly setting descriptions. Even in the midst of a sword training scene, the author should layer in setting that will enhance this world and make it come alive for the reader. As a consequence, the writing comes across as sparse. Many readers wouldn’t notice this and might get into the story, but to make this intro come alive, the author should set their work apart with a deeper scene setting that immediately captures the senses of the reader. The use of all the senses can be effective when creating a new world.
Are there foul smelling blood flowers that emit a pungent coppery stench, flowers that only bloom when war is on the horizon? Does this world have two suns? Is water a precious commodity worth killing over? Do these people live in trees or in castles made of thatch?
How can you infuse these elements into an action sequence like this one? Add tension by the son stepping on one of the flowers and the stench makes him puke. Have him take a sip of community water, only if the father allows him to. The idea is to set up mystery elements to this world that can be explained later as the story progresses and the setting can be brought into the story without slowing the pace. Layer in world building elements that make the reader wonder more about the world they are about to embark into.
An author who writes fantasy must envision the world they want the reader to see in their mind’s eye and bring it to life. Sparse writing allows the reader to stay in their present world and not stray from it. Fantasy is all about the fantasy of escaping into someplace new.
I liked the voice in this intro and found it an easy read. I’d keep reading. I sensed the friction between the father and son and felt the tension in the son striking the blows. More effective layering and world building could really enhance this intro and make it stand out more.
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