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A short story beginning





.xAssassin
I've started this story so often I think I've lost focus on my original intent, but this is probably my best work of any I've written. I've not gotten to the 'burning' part just yet, I need some time away from the interwebs to concentrate if I ever want to finish it.

"The Burning of Ouster-Bronus"

The evening sun sank in the still October sky, casting the last of it's reddish-orange light across the dry farmlands and rolling hills of Ouster-Bronus. The calm waters of Lake Tersha reflected the late autumn sunset with mirror-like precision. Erames, the blue moon, was fully visible on the lake's unbroken surface. A handful of lustrous stars surrounded her like a company of eager suitors.

Despite the passing of summer weeks before, the weather was inexorably stiffling. Sweat ran off the grim faces of the half-hearted farmers in steady streams, disappearing instantly into the deprived soil. The wilted crops and sparse rainfall were promising to make the upcoming winter very harsh. Many of the struggling farmers could been seen at the end of the day, staring listlessly at their land, as if by doing so they could will it to flourish. With heavy sighs and even heavier hearts, the hard-working men and women would finally turn, softly cursing the traitorous vegetation, return home to eat a cheerless supper, then fall in to a dreamless sleep. Even the children sensed the uneasiness and worries their parents strived to disguise with weak laughter and forced smiles. But try as they might, the Falonian adults could not hide every sad glance passing from husband to wife, as a child, when asking for seconds, had to be turned down, nor could they hide the tight, guant look that too many parents began to aquire for the sake of their children's hunger. For a people who'd never worried before about where their next meal would come from, hard times were fast approaching. If a change did not occur soon, many inhabitants would not be around to see the inevitable winter. With their final good night hugs and kisses, children were sent to bed, more likely than not with growling tummies, followed shortly by the parents. Ouster-Bronus went to sleep.

Livestock shifted and lowed nervously in their overly warm barn-stalls, but soon fell quiet as shadows faded from the land. Even the wolves and wild cats of the forest ceased their mournful yowlings when Erames, as if responding to some unseen danger, drew back her light, and held it to her breast, refusing to shine from her place in the cloudless heavens. Silence raged in Ouster-Bronus.

The croaking of the marsh toads stilled, as did the repetative songs from the crickets and circada. Very few of the townfolk sensed any change, wrapped up in their own problems to wonder about the silent circada. As it was, only two people felt it strongly. A third would soon notice, but by then, she would be too late.

The first to notice, a cruel, dark wizard; evil to the core with a power surging around him as old as the hills themselves. He felt it the strongest, perhaps because he was one cause of it...

The second, a strong, young Lakvidian warrior; although unsure in his abilities, his unwillingness to back down left him exposed to the potent evil surrounding the once quaint little town. His mission, though his knowledge of it was vague at best, would change his life forever.

The third, a misguided and unfortunate woman; a pawn of the heartless mage, playing a game she didn't and couldn't understand. Decieved, trapped, she made a choice for which the repercusions demanded the price be paid for in blood...
rightclickscott
Do what I do whenever writing a story, write a synopsis of the entire thing before writing, otherwise you'll just lose track and not know what the hell you're doing. The same thing is happening to me, since I have set up a guy and his girlfriend playing guitar on a rooftop in the middle of the night, and I don't want to cut back to the other characters just yet, since I have no clue what's going to happen to them up there. It kind of hurts, you know.

Otherwise, I don't want to critique your story, because, personally, I don't think your story is all that good. Then again, it's just the beginning. It seems like you want to suck people into your world, which is something I steer away from.
evanc88
Writing stories like this is near impossible to do nicely or correctly. They cease being interesting, most of the time, because it seems so cliche and overdone. Yours is written well, but I suggest sticking to more real-world things, not the fantasy genre. It's been so overplayed that it is impossible, almost, to be original anymore, and originality is what counts in writing (especially in short stories, where there is less to work with).
Obake
I agree with rightclickscott, in that it would probably help you to write out a synopsis or in some way plan what you want to do with the story--and for you that might just mean going right on and finishing this draft--and that you seem to be wanting to build up a very solid world before you actually get into the action, which isn't really the best approach if you're trying to come up with a short story. How long a story are we looking at here, exactly?

Never mind evanc88: not only is it entirely possible to continue doing original things in the fantasy genre (dude, seriously, it's a genre where the only limits you have are the ones in your head--it should be the best genre for an original notion), but you only need to look at the legions of Tolkien knock-offs, and more importantly the way they keep selling well, to know that formula has its place too. And we're nowhere near far enough into your story to know which one you're leaning towards.

So, yes, try planning it out first (and if you want to present your story for critique here, perhaps it would be an idea to let people know a little bit about what your story is going to be about?). Don't just plot it, either; sketch your characters out too, and then flesh them out. You clearly have a strong sense of place for your story, but the characters seem secondary--not only because it takes you three-and-a-half paragraphs to mention them, but because when you do, well, their gender, class, and occupation seem more important than, say, their names, or where they were or what they were doing when they noticed this raging silence in Ouster-Bronus--or what they thought about it. Most of the time people will connect to a story much more easily through its characters than they will through the beauty of its scenic descriptions.

With that in mind, I'd suggest cutting the last three paragraphs entirely from your final draft--they're all about telling us what the characters are like when we haven't yet got to meet them ourselves, and in the case of the woman in particular, it feels as if you're giving too much of the story away too quickly--if we know from the outset that she's being toyed with by some mage (possibly the cruel dark wizard of a few paragraphs above?), that she's completely helpless against him, and that she's apparently this world's Eve, what reason have we got to keep reading about her, except to watch the proverbial trainwreck? Leave us to find these things out when she does, the way she does.

With regard to your prose--it's promising, but needs work. Be really careful of over-using adjectives or throwing in cliches willy-nilly, because it may be a quick fix now, but it will weaken the story for readers later. Also, try to be a little more concise--check over your writing and flick out redundancies or unnecessary words; rework your sentences until they're as taut as they can be. Try to be logical in your descriptions and prudent in your choice of words. An example:

.xAssassin wrote:
The evening sun sank in the still October sky, casting the last of it's reddish-orange light across the dry farmlands and rolling hills of Ouster-Bronus.


Evening is unnecessary: the image of the sun sinking lets us know what time it is.

The use of sinking sun could be regarded as a cliche; it's been used enough--but it's a minor one and it's difficult to think of good alternatives. Is the sun sinking in the still October sky, or sinking from the still October sky? Maybe the sun's slinking from it? Think about the type of mood you want to create here, and choose your words based on that--slinking sounds ominous, but you're basically describing a pastoral scene, so do you want things to be ominous yet? There seems to be a drought going on, so perhaps the sun is melting from the sky in its own heat?

And why is it an October sky? Ouster-Bronus, unless I'm much mistaken, doesn't exist on Earth, nor ever has, so why do its people apparently measure time the same way we do, down to the names of the months? Does octo in their language still mean eight? And is their October still the eighth month, or has it been bumped up to the tenth, like ours?

The sun's reddish-orange light contains an awkward conjunction of adjectives--surely there's a stronger word than reddish-orange? Bronzed, even, maybe? Do you even need an adjective there? And may I ask why Erames the moon gets to be personified, name, suitors and all, but the sun is just the sun? Why would the people of Ouster-Bronus semi-deify the largest body in their night sky, but not the one that they count their working, living days by?

By the by--you may know this already and just have typoed, but--you'll need to remove the apostrophe from that its there in the final draft. It's is always only a contraction for it is or it has: its is for referring to a thing that it possesses.

The dry farmlands and rolling hills contains one cliche, and a rhythm that could almost be called a structural cliche (adjective-noun-and-adjective-noun)--although the structural one is one that works, so you could leave it be. Cliches are not always the big bad: you just need to be sure of how you're using them, and why, and not use them too much.

Rolling hills, though. Why do hills always roll in prose? In my personal experience, they tend to keep still. And when I think of rolling hills, I usually think of lovely green waves of them spreading out to the horizon--again, that doesn't quite work with the drought happening. What is a hill like when it's drought-stricken, or what does it do? If normally it rolls, then maybe with all the heat it has to stop. Maybe it squats, or hunches, just a big lump of land on top of more land. Maybe it gathers dust, not moss (moss is stones, after all). Again, think hard about the vision you're trying to create, and choose your words and images accordingly.

Maybe this all seems incredibly nit-picky and daunting--and, well, at this stage it is. What you've shown us is an incomplete first draft, and while it's handy to have these sorts of things in your mind while you're writing, the main thing for now is just to get the story out on paper (or computer screen). To paraphrase one of my teachers: if all you can write is crap (and I'm by no means suggesting that what you've written is crap), then darn it, the crap's gotta come out. Only way to make room for the good stuff.

Once you've got a draft, you've got a map to help you complete the story. That's when you can start combing through sentence-by-sentence to work out what works and what doesn't, what makes sense and what doesn't, what sounds good and what doesn't, and what you really need and what you really, really don't. The first time around everything will seem absolutely vital: by the third or fourth comb-through, you'll be surprised at how much you manage to drop.

And that's about the point where you'll have a story.
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