Gathering DustGathering dust
Posted Jan 07 2012 - 07:01 PM
The four Toa dragged their feet as they walked. The leader, a good five yards ahead of his companions, was hunched at the back and limped as he trod. His body was slender and fine, not meant for the hardship that had led him to his current situation, and it was patterned with thick scars that gaped freely as he swayed from side to side. In comparison to the other three Toa he fared well. A heavy-chested Toa of fire bought up the rear of the group, his head brutally cleaved in half leaving one eye socket devoid of apparent life. He bore no mask, and both of his arms ended prematurely in a ragged stump that spewed rusty wiring. The other two Toa made up the middle of the pack, and leant on each other as they struggled to stay upright. One, a Toa of illusion, clutched at his shoulder which had been torn open to reveal the innards of his skeleton. The other, a Toa of frenzy, stared blankly at his own feet, arm limp at his side. No injury was obvious, yet the faint glow in his eyes had died to nothing.
A shrill screech echoed about the great hills. At its sound the Toa's flinched. The leader hastily beckoned his flock forward with brash sweeps of his arm. They quickened in an attempt to catch him up, but fell back to their tired pace within a moment. The slightest gust of wind rippled through the valley. At its call a cloud of dust leapt from the ground and drifted quietly through the air. The afternoon sun shone through the dust and it sparkled in and out of view. In a way it could be considered beautiful. The leading Toa pulled up a soiled cloth around his neck and tied it about his face, The fire Toa hacked and coughed, glaring furiously through the haze of brown.
"We cannot continue now, wait for the dust to pass!"
The other Toa's almost jumped at the abrupt interruption to their silent journey. Without looking about the leader spoke, loudly and clearly in a smooth voice.
"Our enemy continues, dust or no dust."
Though his voice was light, it carried a harsh tone that quelled the fire Toa's rage.
The group of Toas, now no longer spread out, passed into the woodland. The transition was sudden and the forest was dense. Not watching where he was going, the Toa of fire walked through a twisted branch and a shower of gritty dust poured over him.
"Blast this evil dust!" He shouted.
"I know just what to do with you!"
The Toa roared deeply at the tree, and it burst into blood-red flames. The fire was powerful and the tree hissed in despair as it quickly blackened and shrivelled. The dusty coating melted and then cracked under the heat, covering the tree with crude shards of glass. The three other Toa flopped down in front of the blaze, glad of the warmth and colour that it gave. Their leader was not so keen, he tensed and his eyes suddenly were filled with glistening fear.
"Damp that flame you fool!" He cried.
"Our enemy will see us from a thousand Zyglak strides away! I beg you, damp that flame, and then follow me far from this spot!"
The Toa of fire snarled at his leader.
"You'd have us walk until we were on all fours, curse your cowardice. If our enemy knows our place, let him come! Let him feel his blood boil in his veins! We are Toa, not Matoran. Our duty is not to run, it is to fight!"
The Toas of Illusion and frenzy remained silent, content to let the mutiny play out for better or worse.
The leading Toa looked around cautiously as if he heard a distant whisper.
"If you wish to fight, then fight you shall, but do not doom our tired friends here with you" He uttered.
The Toa of Illusion looked up briefly, his face worn with exhaustion.
"Not me, my lord. I can no longer endure this journeying, I choose to stay in the warmth whatever my fate may be here. However I cannot speak for him."
He indicted the Toa of frenzy with a nod, who was now crumpled at the ground in an unnatural position. Dust was settling on his back already. The leader lacked the mental energy to argue Illusion's decision. With a great strain, he leant over and heaved the Toa of frenzy onto his slim shoulders. They buckled visibly under the weight that they were not intended to bare.
"We'll be all right."
The Toa of Illusion's words were said with conviction, and his Leader had no doubt that he was masking his true feelings with his power. He wasn't going to be all right.
The leader hobbled onwards, carving a thick line through the dust as he went. He disappeared over a distant hillock crowned with leafless trees of silver bark. Much time passed from then. The deserters said little for a long while, satisfied with simply huddling around the ever-flaming tree. The Toa of fire dangled his broken arms closer to the heat, his joints loosened as warmth spread through his aching body.
"I wonder what wonderful lands they shall see" he said aloud.
The Toa of Illusion smiled lightly in reply. His eyes were drooping shut from lethargy, the flickering flame of the fire easing them on their way.
"Do you think they shall ever find a land free of dust?" The Toa of fire added.
"Do such things even exist outside of dreams?" The Toa of illusion sagged as he himself entered his own land free of dust.
The Toa of fire hummed deeply under his breath and the tree's flames grew a little more joyous. The evening sun spread vast dark shadows across the ground until it was shredded by the shadows of tree trunks. Dust swirled in the air, glowing orange as the light set them afire. For a while the moment was timeless, and just once the Toa of fire began to feel sleepy.
A broader shadow cast itself across the forest floor. It fell like a cape over the two Toas, instantly dispelling the orange glow of dust. The Toa of fire felt a chill creep upon him. He inhaled sharply and sprang to his feet with surprising speed, quickly kicking the Toa of illusion in the broad of the chest to wake him. He erected with similar ferocity, eyes wide with new-born fear.
"Is it here?" The Toa spoke in a hushed murmur, soft if it weren't for the crackling of his sore voice.
The Toa of fire turned to face the shadow. The swollen silhouette of an immense Vortixx strode towards them, huge clouds of burning steam shot out from its flared nostrils and its terrible clawed feet hid beneath dust they kicked up. It broke into a run, striding fearlessly in their direction.
"- the we shall fight"
The Toa of illusion hurled a black orb onto the ground in front of them. It exploded into a heavy cloud of white smoke. The Vortixx faltered in its approach, and stepped left into the concealment of a short cliff in one sweeping movement. The two Toa ran frustratingly slowly across the dusty ground. Their legs bowed under the unwelcome strain, the Toa of fire in particular seething with pain. He soon fell behind, if 'behind' was measurable considering their direction was aimless. The Vortixx then appeared, leaping from behind a close-knit family of trees on top of a knoll behind the Toa of fire. He screamed an inaudible threat and lifted a crossbow to his shoulders, which then shook with an almighty crack as a bolt was released from its jaws. The projectile fell short, landing at the Toas feet. It spat and hissed in the ground that it had ploughed into, the Toa stepped over it as he paced towards the Vortixx. He through his head back, as if in the memory of a long forgotten power, and let out a roar that shook the trees and stirred the dust. Plumes of fire darted from about his broken body, punching the Vortixx with audible crumpling of metal. the Vortixx ran forward as if unharmed, slashing through the flowing flame with the bayonetta on his crossbow. With one fell-sweep he severed the main branch of the fire, causing the Toa of Fire to collapse under the strain. He approached the fallen figure, raising his weapon above the body.
A rock clattered against the Vortixx's head. It growled, baring its teeth almost in a grin, and turned to face the offence.
"Did you feel that?" Screamed the Toa of Illusion, rocks piled in his hands.
"Perhaps you'll feel this!"
Another rock, larger and pointier than before, smacked weightily across the Vortixx's crown. The smile faded and the Vortixx bore down on the Toa with a powerful blow. The Toa fell back onto his hands leaving the sweep to strike dust-choked air. The Toa of fire gathered himself from the ground and steadied himself for a new attack.
Anticipating his move, the Vortixx swerved around and stabbed the Toa of fire through the centre of his chest with the bayonetta.
The Toa of illusion stood still as stone as he gazed upon the limp body of his friend, caught on the devilish blade of the enemy. The Vortixx lifted the body into the air, bringing it to meet his cruel face. The Toa of Fire shuddered from the pain of movement, but lifted his head to look into the eyes of the Vortixx. It had none. The Toa shot back from the blade with a thunderous clap as the Vortixx let loose another bolt straight through the body of the ensnared victim. The Toa landed on the ground with a soft thump onto the dusty ground.
"I'll see you regret that! Your closest friends won't dare look at you after what I do to your face!"
The Toa of illusion readied another rock in his hand, when suddenly he swept back and was pinned against a tree, dust fell from the branches and landed around him. He exhaled and let loose the rock where he stood. The Vortixx pushed a new bolt into his crossbow and strode back to the flaming tree that had bewitched his senses earlier. It was now cold, and steam gently rose from its once burning bark. The Vortixx froze suddenly, then retraced a step. He stood over the thick trail left as leader passed through. The Vortixx felt the trench with a clawed toe, then a wide smile slithered across his face. He pivoted, and slowly stomped along the path.
Posted Jan 25 2012 - 12:10 AM
I love your first paragraph. With just a few sentences, you managed to establish the scene clearly and concisely. Both of these are great habits in writing.
I was additionally taken aback by the amount of description in this story. In general, short stories lean their characters and not their situation. In general, of course, does not mean always. As I read further, I began to realize this is one of the few stories that works by emphasizing situation; I was not even told the Toa’s names.
One this I would like to see in this a solid point of view. I feel this story would be best told in the dramatic point of view; where we imagine that we are a video camera going over the scene. Dramatic viewpoint is completely unbiased, so you would remove any references to who is good and evil and any thoughts the characters might have. If the Toa’s names are not important, neither are there elements; we can infer what they can control from their actions (Out of curiosity, what is a Toa of frenzy?) Dramatic point of view is showing everything and telling nothing. I know it might seem a little drastic, but it would greatly improve the impact of this story.
"We cannot continue now, wait for the dust to pass!"
Be careful; commas cannot be used to separate two complete sentences. You should change the comma to a semicolon or completely separate the sentences with a period.
I noticed that you used exclamation points a lot. In my Creative Writing class, I learned that you only get four exclamation points in your life. While this is a bit of an exaggeration, the idea behind it is true. Exclamation points are like cayenne pepper: a little is good for the goulash but too much becomes overwhelming. I would also try and read some of your dialogue out loud. Some of it sounds a trifle overdramatic and you should see if there are more realistic ways for your characters to talk.
Your action scene lost me, but that was largely because it was shoved into one huge paragraph. Try to break it up according to who is acting at the moment. It might also help if you left one line between paragraphs as I am doing now, but that is an aesthetic choice.
A few other small things:
At its sound the Toa's flinched.
This should be “At its sound the Toa flinched.” You inconsistently pluralized “Toa” throughout this. In the matoran language, plural nouns are the same as singular ones. Thus, there is no “Toas” or “Matorans”.
Overall, I really liked the image this story created. You just need to make sure that it lasts throughout the story and leaves the reader thinking. I am sorry this is so late, and if you have questions about anything more specific you should feel free to ask me. Good luck, and keep writing. ^^
Edited by Yukiko, Jan 25 2012 - 12:10 AM.
Don't tell me which way I run.
What good could that do anyone?
Posted Jan 30 2012 - 08:19 PM
Abruptly introducing the reader to your story by dropping a name at them they've never heard isn't strictly advisable, in my opinion. It catches the reader off guard. It is better to identify the setting by name only once it is demanded of the narrative. I don't think you even mention the place's name again, so it obviously isn't important. "The hills were a bleak faded brown" seems like a natural improvement.
The footstep of a dried-up river cleaved the landscape in two as it twisted intricately around the scattered shoulders at the valley's bottom.
Not a bad little description. Better perhaps is, "...the landscape in two. It twisted intricately..." Making it two sentences instead of one long one helps to more easily convey the information to the reader.
Here you are abruptly introducing the protagonists, in much the same way you abruptly mentioned Tua-Nasene, which I don't advise. For one thing, since you are introducing multipled protagonists, there is no sense of intimate identification. The reason I crossed out "four" is because it is tedious for a reader to have to take stock of numbers when the information can be acquired naturally through the course of the scene itself.
Looking on the start of the story so far, if I saw things progress this way in a film, with the protagonists appearing suddenly in the midst of a previously unfolded landscape, it would be perfectly acceptable. In writing, however, I am of the opinion that it is more important to get inside a character's head as quickly as possible and not dillydally so much with the scenery at first. Writing, having no visual medium in which to communicate, requires more subtlety. But that's something for you to decide for yourself.
Exact measurements are not needed, and it's not like the reader will pay attention to them anyway.
...was hunched at the back and limped as he trod. His body was slender and fine, not meant for the hardship that had led him to his current situation, and it was patterned with thick scars that gaped freely as he swayed from side to side.
You know, these aren't bad descriptions. But I'm just not so interested in the appearances of places and characters and learning about the story that way. And you are packing all of this visual detail into a very short space and expecting the reader to absorb all of it and what it signifies. You could mete it out throughout the course of the story instead; perhaps (as an example only) mentioning his stature now, the state of his body later, and then finally a reflection on what led him to this situation.
He bore no mask, and both of his arms ended prematurely in
I remember thinking at this point, "Wow. Maybe this is where the story should have gotten off?" This is much more interesting to me than the landscape, even if you did describe the landscape very well. Without this kind of context, without characters to relate it to, the setting of the story feels totally irrelevant. If you inserted a little description of their surroundings around this point instead of at the beginning, it would flow much more nicely.
So far, your writing has proven to be quite literal-minded, with an emphasis on physical appearance and geography, but it's more effectively implemented than most.
A shrill screech echoed about the great hills. At its sound the Toa
This all feels very distant. If something is happening that alarms the protagonists, I would like to experience that emotion instead of "witnessing" it.
The leader hastily beckoned his flock with brash sweeps of his arm.
"Beckoned his flock" is awkwardly situated; if you are going to portray him as something like a shepherd, it should be in its own sentence, outside of the action. But I really like "with brash sweeps of his arm"! It conjures up the image perfectly.
The fire Toa hacked and coughed, glaring furiously through the haze of brown.
The dust was described earlier as gray, not brown (which made me think of volcano ash rather than sand or literal dust). And I would have said that "furiously" could be omitted without much loss, but it's made clearer later that he is apparently in a "rage", which is not adequately demonstrated by saying he "glared furiously".
Without looking about the leader spoke, loudly and clearly in a smooth voice. ... Though his voice was light, it carried a harsh tone that quelled the fire Toa's rage.
It does not take that many words (in bold) to illustrate a simple concept. It makes you seem like you are really struggling with yourself to get the scene exactly the way you want it to be, or else you wouldn't be using so many redundant words. That's another film impulse at work: trying to use so many words that the reader pictures the scene happening in full color. The literary impulse, on the other hand, is to describe much with less. The reader does not care about your exact to-the-hair meaning.
"Our enemy continues, dust or no dust."
Points off for utilizing a cliche. Cliches add nothing to the story or to the characterization of your characters. "Our enemy continues, dust or no dust" sounds exactly like something I would hear in a movie with a bad script. Actually, the whole theme of dust getting in the way of their journey feels like something I've seen one too many times...
Some indication of how much time has passed or why they're now together (a simple "having regrouped") would be nice, especially since it's difficult to tell when a break in the story has occurred with your choice of paragraph spacing. "Of Toas" is superfluous; "the group" is sufficient.
The transition was sudden and the forest was dense. Not watching where he was going, the Toa of fire walked through a twisted branch and a shower of gritty dust poured over him."
Right now the narrative feels very thinly spread, in contrast to the beginning which felt too stuffed. That is another detriment to your storytelling style -- getting a large chunk out of the way, leaving little to fill the remainder. I again suggest a more balanced approach.
And it is here that I am irked by your treatment of the Toa of Fire. His anger issue feels forced and lifted, again, from a bad cliche rather than something suitable for a character with depth. If we had some glimpse into his thought processes, or even those of another character observing his behavior, I may feel more sympathetic towards him.
The Toa roared
Now here I was curious about whether or not you were intending for it to sound like he was using his voice to set the fire. Later on I realized you indeed were, and I like that. Making this connection a little clearer would be helpful. "Deeply" should be omitted, as well as "blood-red", which is too corny to have any meaning to the reader. Everybody knows what simple "red" look like, elaboration is not called for. Also, my lack of sympathy persists in the face of his mindless recklessness.
Omit the beginning of the sentence; the strength of the fire is implied. I really like that bit at the end, though "quickly" could be considered for omission.
Their leader was not so keen, he tensed and his eyes
I would suggest, "Their leader was not so keen. He tensed, and his eyes glistened with fear" or some approximation. I like "glistening fear" and see why you would want to use it, but it compromises the overall structure of the sentence too much with that "were filled" cluttering it up.
"Damp that flame you fool!" [h]e said. "Our enemy will see us from a thousand Zyglak strides away! I beg you, damp that flame, and follow me far from this spot!"
"Zyglak strides" is contrived. This whole scene is nothing but a cliche to me. I could see how it was going to play out as soon as the Toa of Fire got mad at the tree. Also, you seem to be going for a formal conversational style among your protagonists. I don't like it personally, and don't see why you would want to use it over regular speech.
The Toa of fire snarled at his leader.
This feels like the perfect place to insert a little description, backstory or internal dialogue about the reasons why the Toa of Fire holds his leader in so much disdain. Also, I notice at this point that we still don't know the names of these people. You're basically telling the story of four random beleaguered wanderers (itself a cliche) instead of characters we are expected to relate to on any level. I think I have made it clear I do not like this style.
I'm really completely out of this story at this point, now that it's descended completely to really obvious cliches (the Toa of Fire's speech rings of hollow secondhand romanticism) and it seems likely that the story will end with everyone dying pointlessly (which I already suspected from the story's overtly morbid and bleak start). This is why it's important to make your characters... have character! If I actually cared about, or even just understood, these characters, how they work and what their fate will be, maybe it would be more than just an elongated shaggy dog story. Not to mention I could appreciate your writing much better.
"The other two Toa" would be better. We don't really need to be reminded of what kind of Toa they are at this point. Also, throughout this story you are inconsistent about whether you capitalize "illusion" or not, and you even use it as though it were a proper name at some points. I admit that this drove me up the wall while I was reading, even though it's not really a big deal.
The Toa of Illusion looked up
Bringing this up just because "my lord" is another part of the formal style that I don't like. It feels very unnatural.
He indic[a]ted the Toa of frenzy with a nod, who was now crumpled at the ground in an unnatural position. Dust was settling on his back already.
Ah, "dust was settling on his back already" is a good bit. It has a certain understated vividness to its imagery. It only takes a few well-placed words to conjure up a really good image.
The leader lacked the
By now the lack of proper names has gotten really tedious.
With a great strain, he leant over and heaved the Toa of frenzy onto his slim shoulders. They bucked
Nice subtle callback to the beginning there, and not a bad description overall. In fact, even though I've been complaining about finding your characters unsympathetic, just this section made me honestly care about the leader for a moment. It's a very sad image. BUT I would have liked to have read more about the reader, about his thoughts throughout this and the reasons why he's their leader if he was not meant for such a burden. Just one of those things that begs for elaboration.
The Toa of Illusion's words were said with conviction, and his Leader had not doubt that he was masking his true feelings with his power.
Oh, that's a nice little idea. I like it when powers get that kind of application.
He disappeared over a distant hillock crowned with leafless trees
The reason I suggest omitting "of silver bark" is because, just with that little color adjective, it sounds like you're making these trees out to be different from the ones they've been walking through this whole time; and if so, it's pointless because the trees have absolutely no relevance. Just the fact that they are trees is sufficient. In fact, "leafless" could probably be omitted as well.
"I wonder what wonderful lands they shall see[,]" he said
Lots of extraneous or redundant words in this section. I really like that last sentence, it really conveys the sleepiness of the scene's mood. Sadly, though, everything still feels cliche, as though lifted from another source.
"Do you think they shall ever find a land free of dust?" [t]he Toa of fire added.
"Well," replied the Toa of Illusion, "seeing as we (or the people reading this for that matter) don't know WHY there's all this dust here in the first place, I can't really say." I don't care about this "land of dust" at all, frankly. It's basically a gimmick at this point, which is a pity because you probably meant for it to mean much more to the reader, judging from the fact you named the story after it.
"Do such things exist outside of dreams?" The Toa of illusion sagged as he himself entered his own land free of dust.
What does "such things" mean? Such things as lands free of dust? Well, yes, I'm sure there are. It seems you were aiming for something deeper than that, but the way it is now the symbolism has been poorly thought out.
The Toa of fire hummed deeply under his breath and the tree's flames grew a little more joyous. The evening sun spread vast
Before I realized that his voice was what caused the fire, I was going to cross out "deeply", but now for some reason that added fact seems to give that word a lot more invested beauty in connection to the whole scene. That one bit is dubious: how can the sun spread shadows, and how can shadows be shredded into shadows? It should be light being shredded. But I forgive that, because I adore "shredded by the shadows of tree trunks". Perfect image. The paragraph as a whole is a pretty nice description, but "for a while the moment was timeless, and" should be omitted. You should not need to outright state what you have been describing quite well, and it would also allow the reader to make the connection between the atmosphere and the Toa of Fire's sleepiness themselves, instead of it being told to them.
A broader shadow cast itself across the forest floor. It fell like a cape over the two Toa
I'm getting mixed signals here. "Ferocity" suggest he is angry, but then it says he's afraid...
"Is it here?"
Now is not the time to slow down the action to describe people's voices some more. "The Toa spoke" can also be omitted, because who is speaking is implied, and omitting it will help make it briefer and thus more dramatically tense.
The swollen silhouette of an immense Vortixx strode towards them,
Hopefully at this point you have gotten some idea of why I've been crossing out words. I have tried not to be too meticulous about it for fear of imposing on you more than I am already. Even though I've made some complaints about the story itself and your writing habits, you do have a good writing sense and notion of what words to use. It's just that in many places you use too many of them, words that show what you mean but weigh down the narrative unnecessarily. Also, sometimes you emphasize aspects that aren't as important as the ones you should be. For example, "its terrible clawed feet hidden beneath dust they kicked up" would be better as "its terrible clawed feet kicking up dust", because the fact that they are kicking up dust is more visually interesting than that the dust is hiding them, not to mention you are emphasizing the Vortixx's quickening approach and not the quantity of dust at that moment.
Unfortunately, at this point the story ends in a fight scene. I don't like fight scenes, especially when I know the outcome. It serves no other purpose than to drag out the last third of the story. It's not like there's any exhilaration that occurs reading about a fight scene, as there would watching a fight scene in a movie, so what is there to get out of it? Another problem here is that you're trying to turn what should be a one-sided battle into an action scene, but you have to keep inventing locations and geographical features ("into the concealment of a short cliff," "on top of a knoll") to accomodate the requirement for a larger setting, even though the reader has had no evidence of their existence before this point.
The Toa of illusion hurled a black orb onto the ground
There are a couple bad moves in this section. "Frustratingly slowly" is a poor combination that clutters up the sentence something awful. If I may make a generalization, an adverb should never immediately follow an adverb. "Frustratingly slow" would work, but "frustratingly" still sticks out unpleasantly. (You've also mentioned the dust too many times throughout the course of the story.) And the last part is worse, stopping the narrative short to carefully explain, in a clunky fashion, an irrelevant observation on the nature of their situation. There must be a better way to demonstrate that they are running aimlessly and are frustrated by their slowness, don't you think? Also, it's interesting to me that the Toa of Fire was against running and for fighting a few paragraphs ago, and now he explicitly can't run fast enough. That inconsistency reinforces my impression of him as a cliched, poorly thought out character.
He screamed an inaudible threat and lifted a crossbow to his shoulders, which
I don't think you were looking for the word "inaudible" -- it implies that the Vortixx's scream was quiet. "Incomprehensible," maybe? A better way of revealing the Vortixx's crossbow would be to describe him pulling it out from somewhere hidden, so as to prevent the impression that he got the crossbow out of nowhere just because you wanted him to have it. And something is missing here, between the Toa of Fire running away and pacing forward, to show that he stopped running at some point.
At this point, I could go on picking out things, but the ending is pretty predictable and most of the problems are ones I've already born into the ground previously. In closing, I want to make it clear that my dislike of this story stems not from your writing ability, but from the fact that it seems like you've taken elements and cliches from other stories and patched them together, intentionally or not. This is, however, a phase I went through as well, and probably one quite typical for aspiring writers, so I'm not trying to bring you down about it. I do think you have a lot of potential and have come a long way from wherever it is you started, and I REALLY want to see you write something else. Maybe something from a First Person perspective even, just to get you more into the characters' minds, but that's your choice. In either case, I'll read it.
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