Author Topic: Love Letters - Spring 19 Prompt  (Read 432 times)

Matra Hammer

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Love Letters - Spring 19 Prompt
« on: March 13, 2019, 04:47:23 AM »
Glad tidings to all. Spring approaches, the dust is thick, and I've completely forgotten how formatting on this board works. Let's try a...

Writing Prompt!

Oooh, the handy buttons made it easy.


Love Letters is a characterization challenge which opens with a letter, cuts to a scene where the recipient acts upon the opening letter, and closes with a return letter from the recipient to the initial writer.

Hope to see all of you giving this a shot - Spread the word!


Hard Details

Due Date: March 25th, 11:59 PM

Participants will write Three sections.

The first section is a letter between 100 and 400 words from character(s) A to character(s) B.

The second section is 400-1000 word scene revolving around character(s) B reacting to the contents of the initial letter. This scene cannot be a letter and must contain dialog.

The third and last section is a letter between 100 and 400 words from character(s) B to character(s) A.

And that's it!

Send the completed draft in a PM to Matra Hammer.

I will repost the entries in this thread once the deadline is over. By default, each submitted draft will receive public feedback from me and will be posted anonymously.


A quick example of how it'll look.
Title: “Dog Apples” yes, you must provide a title.

Section One: a letter from Boss Mary to Newbie Pat about four apple crates being delivered.

Section Two: scene of Pat freaking out because his warehouse can only fit three crates. He panic talks at his dog, imagines the dog giving advice in return, and enacts a cunning plan.

Section Three: a letter from Pat to Mary sheepishly explaining his cunning plan...and the totally not a big deal disaster which followed.


General Tips

> Avoid the temptation to dump a ton of information any section, especially the intro letter.
 
> Consider the word limit AFTER you're done writing - first write a letter, a scene, a letter and only after you’re done go back and trim.
 
> The more characters you add the more difficult this'll become.
 
> If you're hurting for a starting point then think about the last letter you wrote, or the last fight you lost, or ask me or a friend for an idea.
 
> Focus more on the characters popping more than the story. One will lead to the other, and my feedback will focus on how the characters read over the overall story.
 
> Read the whole draft out loud, but ESPECIALLY read the letters and dialog out loud. Anything that feels wonky likely is.
 
> Characters are made interesting when we relate to, or empathize with, their Wants and Needs.
 
> Knowing how you want the entry to end will inform most everything else.


Preemptive FAQ

"Is this a contest?"
No. The entries will receive unbiased, craft-forward feedback from me (and I hope others) but there will be no formal grading system or vote. The default anonymity repost is for the ease and comfort of the writers, and is optional.
 
"Does my submission need to be Redwall related?"
Yes and no. Keep your entry as PG13 with low-fantasy anthropomorphic animal critters in medieval times. You don't have to talk about the Abbey or Martin or tow the vermin v woodlander line, or even have it set in Mossflower, but the Redwall spirit must remain.

"...I still don't get why this is a challenge?"
How do you make a letter interesting to read? What's the difference between the way a person talks and the way they write while keeping it true to the character? How do you provide critical information to a reader while making the correspondence sound natural? What're the best ways to amp up a character's appeal/voice as we read their letters, hear their dialog, see them move? There's a lot more to balance here than most realize, and that'll become clear in the drafting.
 
"It's called Love Letters, but I'm not really into the idea of romance..."
That's fine! The title is meant as someone saying 'Hey, just love letters' because they're a unique characterization tool. You can write about love, war, friendship, or whatever theme/genre you'd like. The only restrictions are as previously stated: “PG13 with low-fantasy anthropomorphic animal critters in medieval times.”

"I can't make the deadline! Can I have more time?"
It's 2 weeks for 600 to 1800 words. That's 4 to 6 pages at most, 1 and change at least. You can have all the time you need, but any entries PMd after the deadline will not receive feedback from me. They'll still get posted for others to read.
 
"Well, who cares what you think?"
I'm a published author with a history of providing fair, balanced, and helpful feedback. Others can attest to my insight, but the cold reality? Where else are you going to get professional, one-on-one feedback for free?
 
"Let me rephrase that: I don't care what you think."
Just fine by me! Join in anyways and let me know when submitting if you don't want feedback. I'll keep my possum trap shut, you'll have fun / an excuse to write, and everybeast wins.
 
"Why the anonymous reposting? I don't like it; can I just say who I am?"
Short answer: Yes, just drop a line in the thread and say 'this one is me!' if you'd like. Long answer: It's my hope that I'm not the only one offering feedback, and it can sometimes be easier to do so if you don't know who wrote what. Bias is pretty powerful, and this way people can focus on the content and not the how and why of the author.

Matra Hammer

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Re: Love Letters - Spring 19 Prompt
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2019, 05:52:52 AM »
Good morning, gentlebeasts.

Here are the entries for Love Letters!

They're anonymous as promised, and plunked beneath Spoiler tags for easy reading. Please refer to each entry by title, or the supplied author name, when replying.

You'll notice (if you're quick) there's no feedback from me but the space to do so. A cold on Monday and Tuesday meant a pile of work for Wednesday, so I'll edit in my observations when time allows. Entries received after this post goes live will also receive comments from me, but at a fraction of the effort.

Thanks to all who participated. I hope you found some fun/use in this prompt.

Please read, comment, and enjoy!

- MH

---------

Redwall's True Treasure
by Aspen


Spoiler: show

Tadmor,

The stones on the east wall have a different type of wear on them. You should be able to climb up them without difficulty.

Find a place to hide. You're on your own if you get caught. We will not waste beasts in a rescue.

Whatever you do, do not touch the magic sword. If you can help it, don't even look at the thing. It is cursed, and all who attempt to take it are doomed.

Anything of value that's small enough to carry, take when you leave. If you can find Redwall's secret treasure, send word and your brothers will come get it out.

Don't be stupid. You asked for this chance, so don't foul up.

Altaaf Quickclaw
Matron of the Claw of the North


~*~

Tadmor folded the letter from his mother and tucked it inside his tunic. He'd burn it first chance he got. He finally had a chance to prove himself to the weasels of the Claw of the North, and he wasn't going to screw it up.

Redwall Abbey sat before him, russet rock glinting through the green of the leaves of Mossflower Woods. Tadmor eyeballed the east wall, looking for the spots where he could climb up come nightfall.

He'd seen a few beasts come out the little wall gate that faced the forest. Woodlanders, but he knew from the stories that you didn't underestimate them. Even the fattest, laziest looking beast would fight you if properly roused.

Tadmor wasn't here to fight. He was just here to be a sneak.

He dozed in the warm summer shade while waiting for the sun to set. A couple old mice walked past on the wall. Their voices droned like honeybees, but nothing else moved on the top of the wall. Tadmor hadn't heard of anybeast threatening the ancient place recently. They didn't expect any attack.

Dark fell, and in the distance, Tadmor heard laughter and singing. A faint odor, something sweet and spicy, floated on the breeze and he raised his snout to get a better sniff, but it wafted away from him too fast to catch.

Little by little, all other sounds died away, leaving only the standard night noises. Tadmor slunk from his hiding place, ears perked, eyes wide and watchful. He padded across the open space between the woods and the wall, then, using moonlight to guide him, he found pawholds in the still-warm stone.

Tadmor swallowed down the lump that had risen in his chest, gritted his teeth, and began the climb. He'd show them all that Tadmor, the youngest son of the Matron, was a weasel worthy of being one of the Claw.

Little by little, while the moon rose higher in the east, Tadmor inched his way up. Twice he ran short of pawholds and had to backtrack down to find a different route. Once he held by barely a claw as he stretched to a pawhold almost out of reach.

Limbs trembling, gasping for air, he finally pulled himself over the battlements and flopped, exhausted, onto the stone.

There was no time to rest. Keeping low and sometimes scampering through the shadows on all fours, he worked his way across the top of the wall and down the stairs until he reached the main abbey building. He circled it until he spotted an open window on the second floor, where he slipped in.

Tadmor had infiltrated Redwall!

~*~

After six days of hiding in Redwall Abbey, Tadmor knew two things.

There was no treasure worth the Claw's time in the upper floors.

There was no food, either.

The little bit of food Tadmor brought with him had run out yesterday. He tightened his belt, but his grumbling stomach risked giving him away.

"I will not go home in defeat," Tadmor thought as he crept through the night to the lower levels. He'd learned that the woodlanders had a place below they called Cavern Hole. Maybe he'd find the treasure down there? Or in the cellars of which he'd heard.

He followed his nose first, because he knew that there were kitchens down here, too. He could smell something decidedly better than anything prepared by the Matron's cooks. With the utmost care, he slipped into the room of tables, ovens, and cupboards. Loaves of bread sat cooling on a table. Apples were heaped in baskets next to nuts. Pasties lay heaped on trays. Pies formed neat rows like soldiers. Every direction he looked, he saw food.

Tadmor swallowed the drool pooling in his mouth. Never before had he imagined such a bounty.

He grabbed a pasty and nibbled at it, nearly melting from the flavors on his tongue. He spotted a huge pot on one of the stoves. He lifted the lid and sniffed. His nose crinkled from the spicy odor. He looked about for a way to sample it.

His ears perked upright as he heard voices coming from the doorway. He shoved the pasty in his mouth and scrambled up a large cupboard. All the way up on the top, there was a rim and Tadmor laid down behind it amid baskets and sacking. A mouse and a hare strolled in.

"Flippin' good of you, Friar Nyle m' bob. Just the ticket, a little midnight snack by Redwall's most important mouse is just what a starving runner needs."

The mouse laughed. "Never knew a hare who wasn't hungry when he came to Redwall's gate. Fortunately, we're getting ready for the Summer Festival in two days, so there's plenty to choose from. Let's see. There's a pot of otter's hotroot soup simmering on the stove, a celery, leek, and chestnut tart in the cupboard, plus mushroom and herb pasties for supper tomorrow."

"You're a treasure, Nyle! An abso-bally-looting treasure."

Tadmor peered over the rim of the cabinet at the mouse.

~*~

Greetings to the Matron of the Claw of the North,

This is my report of the situation at Redwall. I've given the entire building, from attic to cellars, the most thorough of searches.

There is no gold or silver here worth raiding for. No gems. No jewels. Nothing of value that the Matron would want.

I have found a treasure of sorts, and for that reason, I will remain behind for a bit longer. There is a remarkable beast here named Friar Nyle, and I hope, in time, I can learn the secrets behind the magic he works in the kitchens of Redwall.

I made copies of the recipes I have found to be the best. Give them to your cooks. You won't be disappointed.

Tadmor



Regarding RTT

Formatting can bring magic where dialog and narration cannot.

Altaaf, Matron of the Claw of the North, cares a great deal for her son Tadmor. Do we see any real evidence of this in her own words? Not directly; no proclamations of love to be found. The most Tad gets from mommy dearest in the way of emotional support is a "Don't be stupid." What we can glean of their relationship comes in Aspen's choice of formatting for the letter, and it's more than enough to impart the mission's importance even if we don't know the how and why. The first line of the letter is a suggestion. Break. The next line is another suggestion and a warning. Break. Yet another warning about Martin's sword. You can almost imagine a mother weasel in her den writing a line, thinking about her blundering son, writing another, thinking of what else he'd fall into, and then when she's out of advice she throws a "Don't be stupid" in her desperation/unrealized affection/motherly concern. Is this all speculation on my part? Of course! But the brevity and direct delivery of the letter makes that image come alive - it gives just enough information for the reader's imagination engine to fire. This is perfect for the sake of this challenge as we we immediately get the harsh but caring manner of Matron Altaaf, and how she views her son, in...128 words. The letter expertly sets up Alt and the Claw, imparts the importance of Tadmor's task, and sends us on our adventuring way.

Tadmor himself is pretty threadbare, but I realize after the fact that this is a product of the theme: A loyal-yet-wandering lad who cannot prove himself discovers something bigger and more beautiful outside the den's reach...and of course it's Redwall's food! I don't blame him.

How did I reach this conclusion? Aspen very smartly decides on splitting the middle section into two chunks, which informs Tad's wants and needs by contrast. The first section is all about Tadmor's comforts (his dozing, recalling stories, lingering over scents on the wind) and him sizing up his task and infiltrating in the name of the Claw! ...which is immediately countered by the start of section two where eager Tad comes to terms with a treasure-empty abbey. His pressure to serve the Claw is soon banished as the comforts hinted at in the first section are brought against him full swing. He tastes his first Redwall fare (hinted at the start by the distant smell,) eavesdrops on the caring and easy manner of abbey dwellers (hinted at the start by him spying on "the fattest, laziest" Woodlanders,) and overhears the keyword (Treasure, his sole goal from section one) which makes him realize what his clan has been - but most importantly what HE's been - doing without. His wants are realized in the first sections, and his needs are refined in the second.

Tadmor's return letter does not have the impact it could and it's primarily a choice of language, though I'm of two minds on this point: what's there works for the theme but does not for the character.

The extras Aspen adds in Tad's sentences - "and for that reason" "from attic to cellar" "and I hope, in time," - are great in showing Tad's insecurity in his own stand, as he should since he's challenging the Matron! Overly formal and redundant lines are the sign of a person acting in trepidation, so it works well for little Tad who is insecure about finding treasure in food over gold! However, it is also difficult to believe the screwup son of a northern weasel clan starts a letter with "Greetings," or that he's enough of an education for full sentences and a personal evaluation. It flies against what's established as a weasel who didn't know what good food is like, who needs second chances, who is sent on a disaster mission alone.

Something basic and primal like "Good food here. Have recipe. Tadmor stay." is too far in the other direction, as he's a screwup but he's not a moron. What would've helped seal Tad's development, and finished the narrative circle, is Tad sharing his cautious excitement in a less formal fashion. A line like "Matron, what they do with taters here is worth more than any jewel. I've stolen a recipe for butter rum tarts, and you must show the others." imparts more of what Tad, the character, deems valuable. Let us see him gush to his formerly monolithic mother, moreso than him calling Friar Nyle a treasure. If he's to break protocol by staying out longer and securing an odd treasure then let us read of the steps he's taken (beyond coming up empty on coins.)

A strength of using letters is the implication of passing time without any setup from the author. Tad has now spent a good deal of time snooping and stealing, and found time to send a letter, so a finisher of his efforts realized (and not a rehash of the previous sections as it stands) would've punched this story home.

To close, there are also a lot of unanswered questions throughout the tale. The big ones of "what's CotN's deal?" and "why does Tad need a chance" and "why in hellsgates did the matron pick vermin disaster central for her son!?" are hanging but not entirely necessary. The little questions throughout are what hiccups the character development train.

"Tadmor hadn't heard of anybeast threatening the ancient place recently."
From where? How? Are there other contacts Tad works with that illustrate the CotN's reach?

"...but he knew from the stories that you didn't underestimate them."
Vermin stories of woodlanders? Like what? That sounds fun! Did the Matron tell them? Was she always so cold?

"After six days of hiding in Redwall Abbey, Tadmor knew two things."
Only two? How does one survive for six days in an enemy fort? How did Tad go about it?

Absolutes from the narrator (Tad knew two things, Tad hadn't heard, but he knew, etc.) are opportunities for better character development - let the character show what matters over a voice telling us how things are. A reader doesn't need a full breakdown of all of Tad's CotN contacts, childhood stories, and so on, but a word or two on why they're important to the character can make a world of difference...and open up other opportunities!

It's my hope Tad gets caught at midnight whipping up a pie. Perhaps by Friar Nyle, who panics at first but points out something missing in Tad's efforts and they secretly bond. Or even better, a shift in POV to Nyle finding poorly made pies hidden in and around the abbey, which eventually leads to him discovering Tad's midnight baking! But oh no - Altaaf leads a raiding party to recover her 'brainwashed' son and Tad must choose between his new life and...and...

Yes, this tale is a success overall because so many warm and wonderful tales are promised to follow. Why? Because Aspen chose a theme we can all get behind and characters with relatable wants and needs. Understanding all the parts, our brains swirls them into future opportunities and we read on in hope.

---------

Beyond the Walls
by Birch


Spoiler: show

My dearest Beatrix,

Your faith is soon rewarded. I’ve softened Gael’s heart and loosened his vault in turn.

Father’s work shall reach your little hideaway by the third moon of Spring. Be kind to Jameson’s Hill, if you please.

Sadly, I will not be joining the royal escort, as these cursed nut butters have struck me with the disease of kings. Weep not for your fallen brother and his bloated paws. I’ve the mental fortitude for resisting the normal courtly spread, yet the sun stands cold before this new, secret concoction. Gael’s own jester simply calls the stuff ‘Ooooooh’ for the noise beasts make on trying. Tell me if you do the same, as I’ve ordered a pot delivered with the painting.

Mother is well. I’m compelled to extend her usual offer to return with the guard. I know, I know. Your ‘creative purity’ is but a gospel on my tongue, but know well, dear sister, to see you among Floret’s walls would likely heal my paws by the celebratory dances alone.

Did it work? Are you properly guilted?

If not, then perhaps ‘Ooooooh’ will settle your wandering heart. If not for thrice’s sake, then return a letter at your earliest convenience and let us know you are satisfied with your artistic retreat. Add some dried northern flowers to show mother you’ve not gone completely feral. Or perhaps one of your own fine works in repayment.

Whatever you choose to do, we love you. We will always love you.

Pritchard Vertriumph Trace


~*~

“Wots all that at the end?” Ingela turned the letter over, then upside down, then held it as far away as her rat arm allowed. “A spell? Is you squirrels magic?”

Beatrix’ face screwed into a jigsaw puzzle.

“It’s his name, you rope-tailed ninny!”

“Manner manners or no nanner nanners.”

“...nanners? What are nan-”

Ingela stuffed one of Beatrix’ lace gloves into the squirrel’s mouth.

Beatrix thrashed against her ropes, but the rat’s knots saw her bound tight to a chair. A short whistle, and Ingela’s pups bolted from a nearby closet and piled upon the squirrel to hold her still. All three of the ratlings were coated with pigment dust of blue and red and yellow, turning their light gray hides as colorful as Beatrix’ painting studio.

“Fussin’ ain’t very royal of you, is it. You could learn from me darlin’ three.”

The chair tipped over backward as Beatrix fumed, but the resulting ratling giggles stayed Ingela’s concern.

“Now you, ah, sit tight missus.” The ratling giggles intensified in time with Beatrix’s muted huffs. “Mind the littleuns while I help meself?”

“MRRMPHFLL!”

“Yer all heart, luv. Truly.”

Satisfied, the dam crumpled Beatrix’ letter and set about the task of looting. Mossflower homes held all the same hidey holes, and Beatrix’ hollowed-out oak proved no different.

Beneath the hearthstones were recesses filled with mismatched silvered coins from distant lands. She paused before the little fireside stools, and left the coins for the kettle resting on the embers.

For every four jars of preserves in the pantry sat a fake. Ingela shook the jars and found a necklace of otter pearls within moments, yet she put those back in favor of the preserved strawberries and pickled carrots.

And in the main den hung fifteen versions of the same painting. At first Ingela ran her claws along the edges for nooks behind, but after the fifth miss she gave the works a look.

A squirrel family on a hillside. The father sketching upon a stool beneath the noonday sun. The mother setting out a quilted picnic of roasted nuts, the wind tussling her bonnet. The brother and sister running and laughing along tall grass.

Ingela touched the painted family, the title below of Jameson’s Hill #12.

Not a one of them hiding in the forest’s shadows, living on stolen scraps. Not a child trained for more than play.

WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP

Ingela hit the floor though curtains covered the windows. She stayed silent, but the knocking persisted until a husky voice barked out.

“Lady Beatrix, are you in?”

A quick bit of rat math and she recalled the season, the phases of the moon, lining with the visit Pritchard’s letter proclaimed. The locked door’s handle jiggled, mutters suggesting a forced entry slipped through the cracks, and only after a third round of knocking did Ingela speak up.

“C-Coming!” Ingela voice echoed too deep for a squirrel, but she added a cough for cover. “Yes, jus’ a mo or four, this damnable ick has stolen me speed.”

“...‘damnable ick?’” A moment of silence, then the shink of unsheathing weapons. “My Lady, what is the purpose of House Vertriumph?”

“...ah, My Word, My Day! My illness is met wit’ quizzes? Would yah question yer wife’s comforts so? Mmmmm!?” Silence from without. “I thought not! Your im-per-ten-nonce is the very reason I left Florence, yes quite, and I’ll have yer patience, sirrah!”

Ingela scurried across the floor and into the studio, where her children were busy braiding ribbons into a patient Beatrix’ tail. The captive trembled not with anger but with wide-cheeked mirth as the little ones marveled at her plume. Ingela stormed by, saw the windows were much too high for a jump, and found not enough rope or cloth in the closets for a climb.

Upon the latest easel sat the painting of a familiar hillside. Beatrix had not yet added the squirrel family, but an auburn paint sat at the ready, the pigments divided and ready for more agent to bind them.

“Killian, luv.” The red-dusted ratling perked. “Mix up those two paints proper.”

“Luella.” The blue dropped her braiding. “Into miss squirrel’s closet fer the biggest dress.”

And the last yellow dumpling of a child, Bellum, sat upon Beatrix and watched the transformation unfold.

When the lining of Beatrix’ winter solstice dress ripped by Ingela’s wide shoulders, a blanket was used as an ear cover and shawl. When the pigment ran out, and only mother rat’s brow and muzzle were dyed squirrellike, a kerchief wrapped about her neck to conceal the rest.

Ingela wove broom bristles along her tail to finish, her claws trembling so hard she did not notice Bellum approach.

“Are we runnin’ ‘gain?”

The chubby pup spoke more with the floor than his mother, and still Ingela could not face him, nor Killian and Luella as they ambled over. Instead she locked with Beatrix across the room, who no longer trembled with anger or mirth or much of anything.

The squirrel simply watched, her tufts perked and head tilted.

The whump of insistence sounded from the other room.

“COMING!” Ingela then pulled her pups into a hug and whispered: “We will be okay, luvs...drag ‘er into the closet, curl up outta sight, and no peepin’ or listenin’ no matter-”

The whump redoubled, and Ingela gathered up her best squirrel-like posture and made for the front room.

Obedient still, the ratlings pulled Beatrix across the room to hide with her in the closet. Muffled, unknowable voices sounded through the door, and soon elevated into roars and smashes. The pups hid behind a pigment satchel with their ears covered and eyes closed, as mother wanted.

They did not hear the snap of rope. They did not see the door open.

They did not move at the gloved paws pulling aside the satchel.

~*~

Brother Pritchard,

Knight Boxton is to be issued one season of finishing school to remind him of a Lady’s comforts. Extend the punishment to a full curriculum if this letter’s seal is suspect.

He expects some brand of punishment on his return, and you’re to ask nothing of his misdeeds and hand my judgment as written.

...but since you are you, and Boxton will fabricate the story when you ask on the sly, I will speak plainly. Our sitting guard knows dreadfully little of the wider world’s customs, and Boxton saw fit to forcefully enter my chambers when I did not immediately greet his arrival. He even had the gall to ask of Vertriumph’s duty when implored for patience. He shall relearn his own duty to King and Court before he serves again.

Father’s painting is hung and safe. I cannot replicate Jameson’s Hill to a fraction of Father’s original, but I hope my most-recent effort - sent with the returning guard - see his spark lives again. You’ll immediately notice we are no longer the subjects. I am counting on you to quell any upheaval, and right mother after her pending faint.

The rats painted are the Madame Ingela and her beautiful pups, and I think you will agree that their bond radiates from the canvas. You shall see so in person come our return next Spring. Yes, ‘our.’ It is a daunting task teaching a Mossflower native court manners, but as they’ve inspired my work then so shall I inspire them to a more civilized future.

And do save some ‘Oooooh’ for our arrival. I’d not a dollop as the pups fell crazed upon the pot, but I assure you there were many ‘Oooooh’s of enjoyment. Madame Ingela claims it is hazelnut and something she calls “Cohkow” but I’ve not the faintest idea what she means.

Until Spring, dear brother. Walk those burdened paws and look for more beyond the walls.

With love,

Lady Beatrix Vertriumph



Regarding BtW

These remarks will focus more on editing techniques than characterization by Birch's request. This entry's wordcount runs right against the limit, and I'll demonstrate a few tips on how an author can trim length without losing impact.

Let's start with Pritchard's letter. This is a beast obsessed with his own comforts, as shown by how much time is spent on each chunk of information. The family's treasured painting and all the efforts involved? Two lines. Expression of love at the end? One line. His mother's health? Three words. But matters of the court, himself, and a new confection? A paragraph and then some. This is a wonderful way to illustrate how Pritchard is a well-meaning windbag, and in turn the dangers of the life Beatrix left behind.

However, there are a few ways we can sharpen this up. A trick one of my editors offered is going line by line and asking "what does this sentence accomplish for my character(s) / scene?" If no more than one response jumps to mind immediately? Cut or rework. So let's apply this to Pritchard's letter.

"Your faith is soon rewarded." Initial intrigue, but nothing else - cut/rework
"I've softened Gael's..." Introduction of Gael Squirrelking as an obstacle surmounted and a forwarding action (loosened vault) - keep
"Father's work shall..." Time element and link to previous forwarding action (Father's work from the loosened vault) - keep
"Be kind to Jameson's Hill..." - the painting's name and a hint of lingering affection - too murky, cut/rework

And so on. This is part of the reason why my tip section included "resist the infodump urge, especially in the first letter." Birch simply crams too many elements into the first two paragraphs, and not all of them (like the painting's name) needed immediate inclusion. Same goes for the second and third sentence of the third paragraph. Same goes for trimming the last sentence of the fourth paragraph. Again, and so on.

The above helps identify how we can remove stragglers, but what about when a sentence or paragraph is fat for fat's sake? What're the best writing weightloss tools? Let's grab a graph and show a few.

"Beatrix thrashed against her ropes, but the rat’s knots saw her bound tight to a chair. A short whistle, and Ingela’s pups bolted from a nearby closet and piled upon the squirrel to hold her still. All three of the ratlings were coated with pigment dust of blue and red and yellow, turning their light gray hides as colorful as Beatrix’ painting studio."

These sentences are wonky, the action is confused, and there are a lot of unnecessary pieces. Trimming starts with focusing on a paragraph's verb(s), as strong verb choices help remove descriptive redundancies. We'll go line by line.

"Beatrix thrashed against her ropes, but the rat’s knots saw her bound tight to a chair."
We're looking at 'thrashed' here. 'Thrashed' is good because it implies an effort, and the sentence's object (ropes) is the obstacle in which the subject (Beatrix) thrashed against. So if Birch only used "Beatrix thrashed against her ropes." then what is missing? Not much beyond the chair she sits in, and that can come later. We don't need to know it's the "rat's knots" since Ingela is established as in control, or that she's "bound" because the "thrashed" makes the obstacle clear.
"Beatrix thrashed against her ropes."

"A short whistle, and Ingela’s pups bolted from a nearby closet and piled upon the squirrel to hold her still."
Confusing construction and unnecessary additives add length here. We don't need to know the whistle is short, we don't need to know the closet is nearby, and we can infer from "piled" that Beatrix is being held still. Getting rid of those we've an opportunity to show Beatrix is in a chair (which comes into play later) and that the pups were in the painting supply closet (which is built on in the next sentence.) And overall? Still shorter and none of the meaning/impact is lost.
"Ingela whistled and her pups bolted from a supply closet to pile on the chairbound squirrel."

"All three of the ratlings were coated with pigment dust of blue and red and yellow, turning their light gray hides as colorful as Beatrix’ painting studio."
Now we take the above lessons and combine them for this last sentence. The verb "coated" is weak, as indicated by the passive "were" and the odd comma mid-sentence. So let's rearrange and try something stronger.
"Blue, red, and yellow pigment dust trailed from the three ratlings..."
A good start! The color inclusion is necessary for later in the story, "trailed" as a verb paints an image of primary colors streaming from the kiddies, and the number element remains. What's left out from the original paragraph? The hide color - unnecessary and only does one thing. The setting - this is necessary since we don't yet know we're in a painting studio. So how can we build off of what was started above?
"Blue, red, and yellow pigment dust trailed from the three ratlings and streaked the painting studio's floors."

Excellent. We've all the necessary information...but now it's clear that the action is confused. Thrash, Whistle, Pile, Streak? It should be Thrash, Whistle, Streak, Pile. Here's what the initial editing drummed up...

"Beatrix thrashed against her ropes. Ingela whistled and her pups bolted from a supply closet to pile on the chairbound squirrel. Blue, red, and yellow pigment dust trailed from the three ratlings and streaked the painting studio's floors."

...and here's what a little action correction yields:

"Beatrix thrashed against her ropes. Ingela whistled and her three pups bolted from the painting studio's supply closet. Blue, red, and yellow dust trailed from the ratlings and coated the chairbound squirrel as they piled."

Tah dah. From the original 63 words down to 35. The fixed result has room for sprucing up (I'd start with the first sentence, as it's pretty bland and accomplishes little - perhaps combine it with the previous glove line?) and you've chopped 28 words without losing a thing.

TL;DR: Multi-purpose sentences and strong verbs make for trim yet powerful writing.

---------

The Travel Adviser
by Cedar


Spoiler: show

Dear Mr. Longhorn,
 
Hello and salutations! Me and my wife are a big fan of your travel blog. I’ve been following it since you visited Goldfield. The caverns were a delight to explore, even if a band of adventurers cleared out all the monsters before we got there. They left just the biggest mess, monster body parts everywhere.

So this year, we are looking for an quieter location to visit. Our anniversary is coming up, (The big number two, can you believe it!?) and I want to take my wife somewhere special. Have you ever been to the town of Drachenfield? I’ve heard good things about it from our friends, but it is a little out of our way to fly there. Do you think it would be a good place for us to stay?

Your fans,

Ryrry and Junni Greyscale


~*~

Gunther tapped his pencil to the notepad while fidgeting in his chair. The hole in the back was clearly made to accommodate the tails of creatures smaller than his own.

Trying to find a comfortable position at the table only made it harder to concentrate on his notes. Gunther prided himself on finding something positive in his reviews, but his first impression of Drachenfield was not too inspiring.
Gunther reached across the table, dipping his flat bread into a curry sauce. It was sweet, and spicy enough to accommodate even his reptilian tastes.

The food was, quite frankly, the only redeeming feature of the town.

It was the only feature of the town he could still enjoy.

He had yet to visit the old castle, nor had his scaled hide been able to grace the waters of the Hot Springs. Curse the luck! Of all the weeks to be under repairs…

Gunther had the suspicion however that they were booked up by a large party, as the locals became skittish when asked about either.

Robbed of the main attractions, Gunther was forced to find his entertainment from smaller tourist destinations. Those that were worth mentioning had sadly perished in a city-wide fire. Much of the village still bore scorch marks where houses were claimed by, or barely spared, a horrible fate.

All that really remained, were restaurants. Bakeries, cultural lounges and taverns galore. And they knew how to cook.

Gunther dared not count how many belt sizes he gained with only being able to bounce from one eatery to the next. All of them eager to please the few tourists left in the off season. Gunther could only imagine it was the off season, due to the lack of…

“Would you like some desert to go with yer curry?”

He blinked, glancing up from his note pad, and then down at the waiter. “Um, n-no. No thank you. I think I’ll burst just trying to finish this!” Gunther sheepishly laughed while patting his swollen midriff. He continued to be amazed at how calm the denizens were around him. They didn’t seem at all uneased by the sight of a towering lizard man. “A check will be fine.”

“Suit yerself.” The man paused, glancing curiously at the paper in front of Gunther. “What’s this? Do we have a scribe gracing our humble tavern?”

“Of sorts. I am a traveling critic.” Gunther polished off his wine before delving into an explanation, careful to extend his pinky claw as he held the cup, “I make my living traveling from city to city, leaving reviews in papers about the sights to see and places to go. I’m quite famous in the western parts.” A big, toothy smile split his snout, “Gunther. Gunther Von Kruqop. Perhaps you have heard of me?”

The man only blinked. A smile began to form on his own bearded face. He began to laugh. It wasn’t a mere chuckle, but a real gut buster of a laugh that only made Gunther lean further back into his chair.

“Sorry, I’m so sorry it’s just… I’m laughing at the irony.” When Gunther raised an eyebrow, the man quickly added, “Ya see, yer not the first scaly critic that has graced our town this week.”

“Eh?” Gunther managed before the waiter moved forward, thrusting his hands onto the lizard man’s shoulders.
 
“Don’t worry, you will meet ‘em soon enough.” With more force than Gunther thought possible for a human, the man shoved him backward.

Gunther hissed in panic, prepared to crack his skull on the floor behind him. Instead a sea of hands caught him as he tumbled out of the chair. An assortment of humans and beast-folk hoisted the reptile up by his limbs and tail, carrying him out the door and into the street, despite the mad flailing of his claws.

They reached the center of the market square before dumping the portly travel advisor head over heels onto the cobble stone streets.

Head spinning, Gunther struggled to stand. He turned to shout a curse at the villagers, but he found himself alone in a street of shuttered windows and bolted doors.

But not for long.

Still trying to process what had happened, Gunther saw a shadow descend upon him, smothering the light of the dying sun behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, eyes wide, jaw dropping.

He tripped over his tail while trying to out run the sound of air rushing over leather wings, quickly gaining on him as the larger, and more terrible reptile swooped in from above.

Gunther blathered out a whimpering scream as wicked claws encircled his torso, lifting him off the ground as the long-horned dragon scooped him up, and carried him off into the rapidly approaching night.

~*~

Hello, my fellow dragons and thank you for reading another segment of ‘Getting Out of the Lair.’

This week’s issue is response to a couple of fine drakes, Ryrry and Junni Greyscale, who are looking for a good place to celebrate their anniversary. The second century comes so fast, right?

I decided to take a quick glide down to Drachenfield. The trip was quite relaxing. I ran into only a single adventurer along the way!

I absolutely adore this village. It’s got that classic ‘small town outpost’ feel to it. The locals are friendly and so accommodating, I hardly had to subjugate them at all! The castle is just right for us taller dragons, but if you are like me, then you will be spending all your time at the hot springs.

My only real complaint, and it is a small one, but I found their sacrificial meal to be a bit on the chewy side, and kind of over spiced. But it wasn't enough of a complaint for me to burn down more than house on the way out of town.

Otherwise, I think it’s a great little stop for vacationers.

Pota Longhorn, Travel Adviser and Devourer of Light, gives Drachenfield three roasted knights out of four.



Regarding TTA

Off the bat: you'll notice this entry does not adhere to the guidelines specified in PFAQ #2. Cedar and I talked about them going off the medieval rodent track, so that's fine. Something something ask and you shall something something.

On the other end? The point of this prompt was to work on characterization. The format of letter from A to B, B acts, letter from B to A, is there so an author can play with character development in a structure that's proven to promote growth, since it literally asks an author to show the results of character B's actions in letter two. Aspen gave Tadmor some challenges and Tadmor wrote back how he faced them. Birch was unconventional in providing a different section two character, but Beatrix is still present and develops by the second letter.

In TTA there's little character development because the middle section is used for a bait-and-switch punchline. It's good of Cedar to subvert expectations (as all writers should) with the reader assuming Gunther is "Mr. Longhorn." I even exclaimed "Oh, heh!" when Gunther gets toppled, despite the not-so-subtly-jabbing premise.

However, this "gotcha" is at the expense of a lasting connection with any part of the story. As a result, all I can provide in terms of character development feedback is what's there on the page.

The World / Drachenfield: uncertain - there are blogs and cafes and humans...but also dragons, monsters, and castles? When playing with an original world it helps to take the time to establish its scope or the reader is left wondering.

The Greyscales: a jovial, recently-married couple looking for travel advice. They're simply a setup for the coming punchline, so there are no suggestions available.

Gunther Von Kruqop: an inexplicably rotund (perhaps lazy, perhaps indulgent) lizardman critic who is full of himself. A great deal of time is spent on establishing Gunther as a blowhard, and only a blowhard, to make the death payoff palatable. This is a mistake, as even villains need points of connection for their falls to matter. A few moments of him trying to overcome his abrasive nature would've elevated the character.

Pota Longhorn: a dragon and blogger of destinations worth subjugating. We know little else about him save he's picky about sacrifices and needs some SPAG help on his reviews.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2019, 09:51:35 AM by Matra Hammer »

Vizon

Re: Love Letters - Spring 19 Prompt
« Reply #2 on: April 02, 2019, 09:45:32 PM »
Redwall’s True Treasure
I think this is my favorite of the three because it is easy to follow and true to the Redwall world, written like a neat little package with all the edges tucked in. I was able to predict the outcome, but enjoyed it all the same. Anyone and everyone can appreciate Redwall’s delicious banquet foods – even a sneaking weasel. I like that he stole recipes rather than treasure, and the author wrote a fine hare accent as well, brief as it was.

Beyond the Walls
A bit confusing at first. It takes a lot of deciphering to figure out the letter and is best read again once you’ve read through the entire story. Of course, this is probably realistic, as it is a personal letter and none of the references within need explanation for the recipient. Still, puzzling out who was who and what was what took a bit of time. I like the idea of the rat family being “adopted” by their victim and their little family dynamic (the kids braiding the squirrel’s tail and Ingela leaving the pearls for the preserves), but I take some issue with the passage of time (it would take more time to create an entire costume than I think would have feasibly passed between the initial knock and the forceful entry). Also I feel somewhat unsatisfied with the explanation of what happened at the end. Did they actually believe Ingela’s ruse? I guess it doesn’t matter in the end, but then why put all that time into describing her disguise?

The Travel Adviser
I like twists in stories, and I am somewhat curious about this strange world of beast-men and dragons, but I feel there are so many gaps in the world setting that it is difficult to follow easily. What were the monsters Ryrry and Junni mentioned in the first letter? What would monsters be to dragons? The scene painted with the waiter and Gunther was also difficult to imagine and believe – where did the “sea of hands” come from that caught him? And the dynamic between Longhorn and the villagers is also difficult to decipher. They knew he was a critic, he burned down a good chunk of their village’s main attractions, yet they seemed largely unmoved by his presence. Also they seemed a bit too happy about tossing the lizard-man to their “guest.” I guess they’re just glad that they have a stranger to offer instead of one of their own. It’s all a bit confusing. But I do appreciate the fun little reveals – that the writers are dragons, that anniversaries are measured in centuries, and that Gunther, who the reader is fooled at first into believing is Longhorn himself, is actually the “sacrificial meal” for the real critic.

Oh – and one spelling error really jumped out – “desert” instead of “dessert.” That’s one that spell check can’t catch!
« Last Edit: April 02, 2019, 09:47:51 PM by Vizon »

Vin

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Re: Love Letters - Spring 19 Prompt
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2019, 11:21:16 AM »
So. A quick breakdown: I'm gonna go through, talk about things I think need to be talked about, things I liked, things I didn't like, etc., though I'll mostly be ignoring spelling/grammar. This could be anything, really, and will probably be different for each story. I’ll be going in the order that I read: from the bottom up. I know. Wild. Who reads the last story first? What can I say? I like to live on the edge. Anyway, without further ado, I present to you:

Vin’s Guide to Getting Vin to Enjoy Your Story!
(Because my opinions, of course, are more than a little subjective.)

The Travel Adviser

Regarding the World:
For starters, I actually liked how you ignored artistically chose to augment the prompt. It’s a fairly sparse world you’ve created at times, but it mostly works as a vehicle. For the most part, you know what’s happening and it doesn’t feel like you’re missing any details that hard to understand what’s going on. I think the fact that you chose such a basic scene helps that— and I don’t mean basic in a bad way just that it’s a very simple scene: lizard critic eats at a restaurant. That being said, while simple can be good don't make it too sparse. It doesn't detract from the story, sure, but it also doesn't add much and the world itself feels very empty. Occasionally you get details— Monsters? Lizard people? Oh my!— but it's not very clear how they fit together. It doesn't feel like a world so much as a painted set that doesn't look quite real. An example of this is the fact that we don’t really realize that our scaly friend is in a human’s restaurant until over halfway into the middle section. This makes it kind of a surprise, and not a good one so much as one that pulls you out of the world, when this is shown. It felt like you were just telling us, "Oh, by the way, there are humans in this world." Try to make things like a little more natural. Maybe describe the waiter so we know he’s human (but remember: always show, never tell), I don't know. But with worlds like this they need to feel natural or the story just feels like an anecdote rather than an actual story. See Vizon's point about making the world seem consistent. Sometimes it feels like a whole bunch of interesting ideas thrown in a pot to create something of a Frankenstein-style world rather than something cohesive.

Regarding Gunther:
I want to like Gunther, because he seems likable enough at times. But…then he doesn’t? The main issue for me is that there seems to be two different characters that you’re trying to portray here. To give you an idea of what I mean, I’d like to contrast two quotes I’ve extracted from your story:

#1:
Quote
“Um, n-no. No thank you. I think I’ll burst just trying to finish this!…A check will be fine.”

Gunther is a nice guy. A little awkward and hesitant with the occasional nerve-induced stutter, maybe, but nice. He’s polite! He cracks jokes! He may be having a crappy day in a crappy town, but at the end of that day he’s still a solid, stand-up dude.

#2:
Quote
”I am a traveling critic. I make my living traveling from city to city, leaving reviews in papers about the sights to see and places to go. I’m quite famous in the western parts…Gunther. Gunther Von Kruqop. Perhaps you have heard of me?”

Gunther has an ego. A big one. He’s quite famous in the western parts, after all. You should’ve heard of him. His job? Judging the plebeian masses. God, what a jerk.

See the difference? Not only do there seem to be two completely separate characters, they seem to be polar opposites of each other. Try to keep it consistent, even for what is ultimately a bit part whose purpose is to create payoff for what is essentially one big joke/humorous situation. Really lean into one— the nice guy or the egotistical food critic.

Regarding the Accent:
Ah, accents. The bane of any Redwall writer. The thing is, you aren’t writing Redwall so I’m not quite sure that you even needed an accent. But you still went for it with the waiter, and I respect that. Unfortunately, the accent comes off a bit like Cameron Diaz’ accent in Gangs of New York— that is, sometimes it’s there and sometimes it inexplicably…isn’t? Note the shift in accent in the following example.

You go from this:
Quote
”Sorry, I’m so sorry it’s just… I’m laughing at the irony.”
To this:
Quote
“Ya see, yer not the first scaly critic…”
To this:
Quote
”…that has graced our town this week.”

See how each of these three sections of a single line of dialogue sound like they were said by completely different characters? Character one is sort of an average guy without any distinct accent. Character two is a sort of rough, hardworking type. Character three is a bit more classy, maybe to the point of seeming standoffish.

Now, I would like to note that I have very particular opinions about accents and how they should be used that maybe not everyone agrees with. But there are two main things that I think are massively important when writing with accents.
First is that accent is a reflection and even an extension of character, not just a few funnily spelled words to add some kind of "flavor" to your work. Every accent tells a story, and it needs to be consistent to keep that story consistent. You probably wouldn't, for example, have a hardcore vermin accent on a character who, despite being a rat, is a scholar who reads books for a living. You probably would use it for a rat who grew up on the streets living the thug life but is trying to turn things around and signed up for the police force. If you're just going for flavor, don't bother. Sometimes less is more and unnecessary flair can unnecessarily distract from the story. If there isn't a purpose, ditch it.
Second, if you do decide that the accent is necessary, remember that an accent is still more than spelling words funny. Word choice, dialect, slang— these are all things that go into creating a believable accent. Somebody who speaks with "yer"s and "ya"s probably wouldn't use a phrase like "grace us with your presence". If you like what that phrase is trying to say, but want to use the accent, make your own idiom that sounds more believable! Flex that creative mind!

Regarding the Twist:
I thought it was funny. While the fact that the whole story is essentially one long joke sort of makes it hard to judge any of the characters in the piece as characters, per se, I still enjoyed it. With a little more polish, this could be something.



Beyond the Walls

Regarding the First Letter:
Honestly? I adore this letter. It's my favorite part of the whole piece. It really captures that warm, familiar, comfortable, and yet slightly rambling tone of someone writing to a beloved family member, and I think you get a firm image for a character that you never actually meet. Was it confusing? Sure, but wouldn't any personal letter written by an unfamiliar person be as such? It felt very personal in its references and its tone. Kudos.

Regarding the Accent:
It's a little all over the place. You're using "Yer" but also "You" and also "Yah". You use "COMING" but then "peepin'" and "listenin'". (That one could be believable if she was trying to put on a "proper" accent except for that fact that previously she miserably failed to put that proper accent on— "damnable ick"; "My illness is met wit’ quizzes?"; "im-per-ten-nonce"; etc.) Consistency is key to a good accent. It's not bad, because I think the accent reflects the character well and what Ingela says is reflective of the accent you're trying to make. But polish it up a bit. I'll say again— consistency!

Regarding the Story:
I like it. Other than Beatrix going from angrily yelling to laughing with the pups a bit too fast, I think the way you showed her slow realization of the true circumstances of this "gang of thieves" was done really well. This line, especially: 
Quote
Instead she locked with Beatrix across the room, who no longer trembled with anger or mirth or much of anything.
The only thing: the first time I read this, I thought Ingela had been killed. And honestly, I appreciated that choice, because it was done very subtly and adds a lot of emotional heft to the ending. And then I read it again and noticed this:
Quote
Madame Ingela claims it is hazelnut and something she calls “Cohkow” but I’ve not the faintest idea what she means.
All of a sudden Ingela isn't dead, and the story loses a bit of what is, in my opinion, very necessary emotion. 

Regarding the Second Letter:
Like the first letter, very well done. While the middle chunk of the story focused on Ingela and we only saw a bit of Beatrix, this letter really compounds her character. My only critique would be the one in the previous section, about Ingela surviving. (Almost sounds a bit callous to actively ask for a character's death, but I...felt the story more when I though Ingela had been killed by the Knight Braxton.)



Redwall's True Treasure

Regarding Altaaf:
I think you captured a character very completely with this letter. A sort of tough-love matriarch who isn't willing to admit she cares for her offspring but quite clearly does. A not-very-important side note, in one of my (never before seen, only in the vaults) stories I have a character named Alar Quickclaw, also a weasel and also something of a thief like the A. Quickclaws in your story seem to be. Guess I'll have to change it, since you beat me to the Quickclaw name.

Regarding Line Breaks:
This is probably the most subjective thing in these reviews, but I don't like how you break your paragraphs up. They feel short and stilted at times. I'm not asking for 5000 word paragraphs, but take this for instance:
Little by little, all other sounds died away, leaving only the standard night noises. Tadmor slunk from his hiding place, ears perked, eyes wide and watchful. He padded across the open space between the woods and the wall, then, using moonlight to guide him, he found pawholds in the still-warm stone.

Quote
Tadmor swallowed down the lump that had risen in his chest, gritted his teeth, and began the climb. He'd show them all that Tadmor, the youngest son of the Matron, was a weasel worthy of being one of the Claw.

Little by little, while the moon rose higher in the east, Tadmor inched his way up. Twice he ran short of pawholds and had to backtrack down to find a different route. Once he held by barely a claw as he stretched to a pawhold almost out of reach.

Limbs trembling, gasping for air, he finally pulled himself over the battlements and flopped, exhausted, onto the stone.

This is all one moment, really, one scene. It feels broken up. It could be one paragraph and the "flow", if you will, of the moment wouldn't be lost.

Regarding "Little by Little":
If you're gonna use a common, verging on cliche phrase like that, don't use it more than once, especially in a short story like this. You used it twice, and not just twice but twice in quick succession. In fact, unless you're using repetition for some kind of effect— "Little by little the ground grew farther away. Little by little Tadmor rose higher. Little by little the moon rose with him", for instance, and that's not a bad thing (I even overuse that technique myself)— don't start paragraphs with the same line ever.

Regarding the treasure:
Ah, yes, the famed food of Redwall Abbey. I figured that was what the "real treasure" you mentioned in the title right away, but I don't think that speaks to your story so much as how synonymous Redwall is with damnably delicious delights. However, the "treasure" is key to my main critique of this piece. Tadmor is looking for treasure, finds food instead, then realizes that this is the true treasure. The issue here is that the shift in Tadmor's thinking isn't really shown. He wanders into the kitchen and, yeah, it smells good but how does it shake him to his core and fundamentally change him? We don't see that. He smells the food, sees the food, hears a hare call the cook a treasure but it just doesn't feel like that would instigate the massive shift from Tadmor à la beginning to Tadmor à la letter. What I think this is missing— and this is probably due to word count restrictions but I still would've liked to have seen— is a scene where Tadmor watches the Friar cook and is blown away by the smell and the taste and the awesomeness of Redial food. I wanted in depth descriptions of the treasure, not just to be told, "Oh, food? That's the real treasure."

Vizon

Re: Love Letters - Spring 19 Prompt
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2019, 10:29:24 PM »
Vin- totally agree with you on Ingela. If I'd thought she was dead, that would have been pretty powerful. Disagree with you on the paragraph breaks in RTT though. I think without the breaks it would feel too rushed. I like the breaks because they made me pause before moving on to the next bit, which helped emphasize the difficulty of climbing and how long it took whereas if it was all mushed together it would seem less so. Kind of like with illustrating a graphic novel if you want to stretch a moment out and not make it seem like it's over in a second, you literally have to draw more panels that force the reader to take more time to get through them and linger more on those small moments. Could be done with words, but there is a word limit. I think this was a good compromise (AND who really wants to read a huge paragraph about the difficulty of a climb anyway? Though there are certain authors  who would even be able to make that interesting, I'll bet).

Vin

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Re: Love Letters - Spring 19 Prompt
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2019, 06:10:16 AM »
I know, I know. I'm late, but I got 'er done. Here she is. Only did some light editing, so there might be some mistakes here and there, but overall I'm proud of the result. Not anonymous, but oh well. But if you want to give thoughts, go in on it anyway. I can take it.



The Bells of War

My dearest friend,

I pray these words find their way to you in these dire times. The hordes gather, teeming below us like the rising tide. These storied walls have held fast against their furor thus far, but I fear that their next assault shall be our last.

I know not whether I shall yet be drawing breath by the time this sparrow reaches your halls. And still, I find myself only able to write words of comfort and distant dreams. The words of an old, vain fool perhaps, but necessary words all the same. For it is in the direst of times, I think, and the darkest, that the light of hope burns brightest. Hope. A beautiful thing. A beautiful word. And yet it is one that I find myself repeating all too often these days, such to the effect that it is becoming a word that now begins to lose all meaning. Hope, I say to the brothers and sisters, when fire and death rain down from above. Hope, I tell the little ones, while they stand by and watch as their brave fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers are laid to rest. Hope, I reassure myself, in the dark and lonely hours of the night when even my resolve begins to waver and the heart feels the cold grip of desperation.

But what do we have to hope for, in times such as these? Is there anything at all? I think so, dear Urthstorm. I think so. Survival, surely, but also this: that whether it is this day or the next that is to be our last, whether we live or die, it is not the end— that death’s red tide shall one day subside, and from the ashes, like the forest following the fire, the world will be born anew. Though at times the sun may seem to die the night shall not last forever. It is for this that we must hope. That barbarity of the ilk we face today shall not and never shall extinguish the spirit of this great Wood.   

The whole of Mossflower stands on the brink. It is for us to keep it from falling over the edge.

Father Rodolphus,
Abbot of Redwall



The fires set by the horde below raged along the foot of the mountain in silent furor. Urthstorm gazed at the sea of flames in silence from the peak of the mountaintop. The songs of war drifted listlessly up from the bowels of the earth— metal striking metal as hammers clashed against the anvil, shouts of determination as warriors steeled each other for battle, and that grim resolve that always seemed to appear at times like these, hanging not quite like a sound and yet as tangible as any musical note all the same.

“M’lud.” A hare stepped up to his side with a casual salute.

“Colonel Highwater.” Urthstorm turned to acknowledge him with a nod.

“Quiet night, wot. Gives me the flippin’ jitters.”

“Indeed.”

Highwater surveyed the horde at the foot of the mountain. “I’m almost impressed. They’ve bally well managed t’raise the whole o’ Vulpuz.”

“My father used to say that this mountain would fall only when the stars, too, fell from the sky and set fire to the sands below. There are moments I fear that perhaps that day has come.” Urthstorm paused, returning his gaze to the dunes below. “I have ruled this mountain for nearly twenty seasons, guarding the shores of Mossflower from all manner of death and destruction. And yet those twenty seasons now seem like a lifetime, an era of peace that may never return.”

“Calm b’fore the bally storm, eh, sah?”

“I am afraid so. And we stand now in the eye of that very storm. The worst, I fear, is yet to come.”

“We’ll weather the blighter,” said the colonel. “Give ‘er the ol’ one-two, dontcha know?”

“Aye,” Urthstorm replied, nodding slowly. “I hope that you are right.” He paused, eyes drifting up to the stars. “Hope.” He laughed, shaking his head. He turned to Highwater. “’Tis a funny thing, hope. And yet it is all we have left.”

The hare grinned back at him. “Hope, steel, an’ blood ’n’ vinegar, sah. Sounds like more’n enough to me, wot.”

“Blood and vinegar, indeed, Colonel.” Urthstorm laughed again. He looked at Highwater with a smile. “Thank you, Clarence.”

“What for, sah?”

“For standing by my side. Now, and every time before.”

“Always, m’lud.”

“We may not get another quiet moment like this in the coming days, I think. No more time for goodbyes.” Urthstorm sighed. “We have grown old together, you and I. We had a dream, ever since we were dibbuns stealing the pies from the kitchens and hiding with our spoils in the basement. Do you remember it?”

“Aye.” Highwater nodded. “To create a shining new Mossflower, free from the threat of warlords ’n’ pirate scum. For woodlanders ’n’ innocent vermin alike.”

“I am afraid we may not live to see that dream come to pass.”

“We’ll show these rotters wot’s wot, m’lud. Send ‘em scurrying back to Vulpuz with their tails between their flippin’ legs, wot.” Highwater grinned at the badger lord. “And if not, we’ll take as many as we jolly well can there with us.”

Urthstorm smiled. “Like the old poem. For us, there is only the final hurrah. One last eulalia, and into history we march.”

“One last good eulalia,” agreed the colonel. “I could bally well live with that.”

Urthstorm held out his paw. “Tomorrow, or in the Dark Forest, my friend.”

“Tomorrow.” Highwater grasped Urthstorm’s outstretched paw. “We’ll have a drink to celebrate. It’s been an honor, sah. Absoballyflippinlutely an honor.”

“Likewise. Now, go and rally the Patrol. We have a long day ahead of us."

Highwater nodded and sped off into the depths of the mountain after a final salute. Urthstorm once again turned to gaze at the fires below. From somewhere below, a bell rang the quiet mumur of the night.

“One last eulalia,” Urthstorm muttered. “Like my father and his father before him. Such is the fate of a badger lord.” He breathed a long breath, closing his eyes. “Such are my dreams of late. ‘The bells of war will toll, and your blood shall spill on the sand.’” He smiled and shook his head. “And on that earth, a new world will dawn. I can only hope that it is the world I dreamed of in my youth.”

With one last look to the stars, he turned and stepped back down into the mountain. 



Rodolphus,

Stand tall, my friend, in death or in life— however this letter finds you. Stand tall and we will stand with you.

I have little else to say because there is little to say. So I leave you with this, a poem left by one of the lords of this mountain long ago:

Where there is fire, there is blood.
And like a bloody fist, the sun shall settle in the sky

As ringing steel calls the dawn—
The song of war is pealing in the dark,

The song of a new world,
A world we will never see.

For us, there is only the final hurrah.
One last eulalia, and into history we march.


Tomorrow, a new world awaits. May it be the world we longed to build.

Urthstorm the Sage,
Lord of the Great Mountain by the Sea, Defender of the lands of Mossflower Wood.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2019, 06:19:08 AM by Vin »