Saturday, March 29, 2014

Another short scene from 'The Price of Compassion'.

Princess Sofia has just been informed that after secret negotiations with their enemy, she is now betrothed to Prince Mathias of Marlinor. The impact of this revelation is almost more than she can bear and blames her mother, the Queen, for her betrayal.
Please give it a quick read and comment on story flow and if the humor provided by her maidservant helps to diffuse the situation.

Somehow Sofia managed to make her way back to her rooms through a fog of despair and disbelief. Of all the things she had envisioned for her life, being married, especially to a Malinorian, had never been one of them. Deep inside of her, where the cauldron of anger normally simmered, sat a cold emptiness. Floane, sensitive to the mood of her mistress, moved quietly about the rooms, laid out a change of clothes and poured the Princess a cup of chilled wine. At a knock on the sitting room door, Floane quickly hid in the bedroom.

Queen Oliva entered and stopped just inside, then quietly closed the door behind her. The Princess stood motionless, staring out of her window.

“You will leave in the morning with an escort of ten men commanded by Lt. Marton. You may take along one maid. The men will escort you to Seaside where a ship will be waiting to take you and the escort across the Straits of Durmont to the capitol city of New Bratan. There you will be met by King Charles and Prince Mathias.”

Gliding to a side table, the Queen carefully set down a small bejeweled chest.

“Inside of this chest is an ancient wooden box, the contents of which are unknown. No one has been able to open it for many generations. The box has been part of the Royal Treasury since the time of the first Queens of Dahlian and is believed to contain an item of great power. King Charles’s only requirement for the betrothal was the gift of this box, so you will present it to him immediately upon meeting. How he even knew of its existence is a mystery.”

Unused to being ignored, the queen ordered, “Face me while I am speaking.”

She involuntarily took a step back as Sofia turned to face her. Out of lifeless eyes spun a darkness that threatened to draw the color out of everything in the room. Determined to finish what she had started, the Queen continued.

“My daughter, your sacrifice will benefit our country immeasurably. As your Queen I demand it of you. As your mother I ask it of you.”

Receiving no response, the Queen turned and made her way back to the door and risked one final look at her daughter on the way out. As the door clicked shut, a breath of sound escaped Sofia’s lips, “I have no mother.”  

Unable to think, she continued to stand long after the Queen was gone. A movement drew her attention to the bedroom door where Floane stood transfixed. With faltering steps her maid walked across the room as if being pulled by a rope straight to the jewel covered chest.

Once there, her hands slowly grasped the lid and raised it. Eyes bright with wonder, she trembled slightly as she reached inside and lifted out a wooden box darkened with age. A smile danced at the corners of her mouth as the box appeared to open on its own accord and she was bathed in a golden light. Closing her eyes with a sigh, the lid of the box closed and she returned it to the chest.

 As the glow around her maid diminished, the Princess heard a voice, as if someone was speaking to her from the bottom of a well.

The bearer of the box is found. Guard her life with your own.’

Sofia shivered and pulled back from the abyss where her shock and despair had led her. The sharp edge of her reasoning flared to life and cut through the events of the morning. She was being manipulated for someone else’s gain but would have to deal with it later. Right now she needed to make plans and prepare for her departure in the morning.

“Floane! What are you doing over there?”

“Your Highness? I… it is such a lovely chest!”

Tearing her eyes away, she bounced across the room, hands clasped together.

“This is so exciting! Are you really going to Marlinor? And to be escorted by Lieutenant Marton. He is so handsome! I have always dreamed of sailing on a ship. You have to beware of pirates though or so I’ve heard. And the King! They say he is so strong and handsome that women fall down at his feet!”

Laughing at her maid’s excited ramblings helped to lighten Sofia’s mood and put her in the right frame of mind for what she had to do.

“It will take more than a pretty face to make me fall down at the feet of any man,” she snorted. “And don’t you worry about pirates. Our ships are a match for anything those thieves will have.” Turning toward the bedroom, she continued. “Now I need to get out of this gown and leave to make certain arrangements. While I’m gone I want you to pack only the two large travel chests. When I return I’ll have one of the Guard escort you to your quarters so you can pack without being disturbed. I want us both ready to leave first thing in the morning.” Not receiving a response, Sofia turned back to find her maid frozen like a deer caught in the gaze of a hungry wolf.

“Floane? What is wrong? You heard the Queen. She said I was allowed one maid and you are the only one I would trust to travel with me.”

Fear filled eyes regarded the Princess as Floane trembled, “No one in my family has ever left the Rose Palace, your Highness. We have always served the Queens of Dahlian. My grandmother told me that a curse had been placed on our family and anyone who tried to leave the Palace would die before reaching the end of the bridge.”

Putting an arm around the shoulders of her maid, Sofia steered her towards the bedroom. “I imagine your grandmother told you that just to scare you into not leaving the Palace and getting into trouble. Don’t you worry Floane. I will protect you with my life.” With a sense of unease, she wondered, why would I say such a thing?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Do you read visually?

There has been a lot of discussion lately on the merits of story telling vs good writing. While it behooves us, as writers, to position our words on paper in an intelligent and thoughtful manner, precise adherence to the rules is not always necessary and can actually disrupt the reading experience. Let me explain.
As I read, each word or phrase immediately forms an image in my mind. As those images come together, a motion picture of the story develops. If the images fit together, then the motion picture continues without interruption. However, sometimes those images are out of order and I have to stop the movie and re-wind. Story comes to a halt.
The general rule is that you should always write in the active voice. This works fine for action scenes but does not always work when writing descriptions. For example; let's say you want to describe a castle and where it is located. In active voice, you might write "The ancient castle sat on a pinnacle of rock'. As soon as I read 'ancient castle', my mind conjures up the image of a castle, maybe on a river or in the center of a city. Who knows where my mind will place it. Then I read that it is located on top of a pinnacle. Now I have to completely re-imagine a different castle that would fit on top of a pinnacle. Motion picture stops.
Now, if you wrote that same description in the passive voice, it would go something like this: "On top of a large pinnacle of rock, sits an ancient castle". As I read this, my mind forms an image of a large pinnacle and automatically positions the correct shape and size of castle on top of the pinnacle. The motion picture continues without interruption.
For me, another rule that will stop the story in its' tracks is showing vs telling. While showing can add dimension to a story, some writers will try so hard to show me something that I have to stop and re-read to make sure I understand what they are saying. In those instances, I wish the writer would just tell me that the character is 'boiling mad' and get on with the story.
When I'm reading, I always picture the author sitting across from me, drinking coffee or sipping on a beer, as they take me for a ride in one of their tall tales. If that writer starts to take on the aspect of an English lit professor in a suit and tie, I will get bored and leave.
I don't believe I am alone in this, considering how some of the most popular fiction writers of our day, receive the harshest criticisms. Critics complain that their writing is abysmal and does not meet current standards.
I don't know about you, but I would much rather produce a whale of a story that, hopefully, thousands will enjoy, than a grammatically perfect piece that only a few will appreciate.

Do you read stories the same way? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences while reading.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How wordy is too wordy?

The following is a short scene from my work in progress. The Queen is waiting impatiently for the arrival of her youngest daughter. When I submitted this to my critique group, half loved it and the other half felt it was too wordy. I love to read and write epic fantasy, so for me, wordy is good.

Her Majesty, Queen Oliva Salidoris, was on display in her Crystal Throne at the northern end of the Great Hall. Today was the first day of summer and one of only four days that she required her three daughters, the four Governors and the local nobility to attend her. Dark and curly shoulder length hair, adorned with golden threads containing delicate pink blossoms and tiny green leaves, framed the face of a mature yet strikingly beautiful woman. The intricate Crown of Dahlian, nestled atop the curls, appeared to anchor the golden threads in place. A sleeveless, floor length gown was the color of spring wheat in celebration of the new season. The gown was trimmed with the same profusion of leaves and blossoms at the hem and waist with the neckline cut just low enough to hint at the femininity hidden within.

Intense hazel eyes, partially hidden behind lowered dark lashes, scanned the courtyard as she greeted her guests with a nod and a distracted but benevolent smile. The fingers of her right hand continued to tap out a rhythm on the arm of the throne despite her best efforts to still them. Today’s major announcement involved an agreement that had been reached concerning Princess Sofia. An agreement that her daughter was completely unaware of and the Queen was concerned what her hot tempered daughter’s reaction would be. At a discreet signal from the Queen, the Seneschal lowered his head to hers.

“Any word as to the whereabouts of Princess Sofia?” she whispered.

“No, your Majesty. The servants are being uncommonly tight lipped. No one has seen the Princess since late last night.”

Just then a movement at the southern entrance to the chamber caught the Queen’s eye like a breath of air rustling the leaves of a single tree branch. A young woman dressed in a blindingly white gown with folds of sheer lace down the sleeves and around the neck, strode down the aisle. Back straight, every muscle loose and in perfect balance, her eyes never seemed to move yet saw everything around her. The lethal grace of her movements was a testament to the years of clandestine lessons she had received from the Palace Guard’s retired arms-master.

 A wave of silence spread out from the Princess as the sea of courtiers parted in front of her on the way to the Throne. Even from far away the Queen could see the anger smoldering in the eyes of her youngest daughter. Knowing her daughter wouldn’t have created a dramatic entrance on purpose, something or someone must have delayed her. The barely suppressed smirk and look of distain on the face of her middle daughter, Princess Dianna, confirmed her suspicions.