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Heartlands Nova- Chapter One

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Old 10-08-2006, 02:24 PM
ronoxQ (Offline)
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Heartlands Nova- Chapter One


Borderlands (Earth)
Whispering Falls, NJ

A soft wind blew through the street, and autumn leaves drifted lazily throughout the sky in accompaniment to Nicholas Bates’ every step. The faint rustling as a leaf fell from its parent, the satisfying crunch underfoot as it crumbles to dirt, the sweet melody of birdsong ringing through the air… all combined to form a symphony more intricate than that of even the most calculated harmony of the old masters.

Through the air came sounds of children: the whooshing of a softball, and the soft thud as it hit the catcher’s glove; the mother, calling her children inside as the sun set; the basketball, its rhythm only disturbed by the occasional shot… but these, too, were farther down the road Nick walked down, and faded into the constant melody that is life.

Nicholas Bates was in a bad mood, however. A real bad mood. And so, as he walked through this picturesque moment, he tried with all his heart to ignore it. There’s nothing like a beautiful day to spoil a bad mood, after all. Besides, he had more important things to think about than beauty at the moment.

In part, it was definitely because of his age. Being thirteen was pretty lame, when you think about it. They tell you you’re going be the king of the world in eighth grade, but you still have math class, right? And the teachers are still pretty much the same, nice for the first five minutes of class so you don’t run away, but venomous afterwards. No big change there.

What stunk even more was how nothing changed between seventh and eighth grade, even through the teachers always tell you it will. Kids were supposed to be more mature, right? But Nicholas still felt like the odd man out every time he was with any other kids. He wasn’t a total nerd or anything, but he was still a real outcast at school, and he still felt like he was missing something that nobody else did. Nobody wants to feel like that.

Boy, the first day of school stunk.

Every second Friday of September was a day every kid dreaded, for it marked the end of summer and the beginning of hell, did I say hell I meant school. Only the nerds liked what they were learning, and they hated school, too, since they were the ones that were getting beaten up for lunchtime entertainment. Eighth grade is even worse, since it’s the first year that despite an agonizingly long math class, school ticks by before you know it, and you’re stuck in an even worse place called high school.

Most high schools aren’t bad, as the high-school “tour guides” have to tell you every year before high school begins. You walk through the vast hallways, and look at how nice everything is and how wonderful your life will become when you enter the ninth grade. Nicholas’s school wasn’t quite the same, though. The first bad sign came at the end of last year, when his tour guide broke down crying while trying to talk about how great the school was for self-esteem. The next bad sign was when the high school principal got lost trying to navigate them through the tour of the school. Things pretty much went downhill from there.

Nicholas had heard stories, of course, about what high school did to you, whispered down from kids whose siblings were in high school before them. The hallways changed courses overnight, they said, and if you didn’t get to class on time you were whipped. Older students, the Upperclassman as Nicholas thought they were called, would dunk your head in toilets and put you in their gym lockers. If you ever got a bad grade, you got branded (like cattle, they said) with the grade you received. Oh, and then you got whipped. Oh, and thenthenthen you got put in gym lockers, and got your head dunked in toilets by the Upperclassman. It sounded pretty bad, actually.

Of course, some stories were bound to get out of hand, like that last one. Nicholas didn’t believe that one for a second. Really, he didn’t.

(He believed it.)

With these thoughts of dismay and doom soaring through his head, Nicholas was quite able to ignore everything beautiful around him. His walk home resemble a gloomy shamble, and he prodded along the road in an almost caricature of himself. Occasionally, he would reach his hand out and touch the old wooden picket fence running along the edge of the nearby field, and grasp the soft, rotting cedar, as if he had to feel it every so often, to make sure it was there.

In one particular board of the wooden fence, five or so minutes away from the school, a huge heart was etched in the decayed wood. Engraved on it were the letters RM + CW. Nicholas looked at these initials, and thought about the other worst part of eighth grade: the girls.

Used to be, girls were either totally lame, or they were like other guys but with higher voices. Simple, right? But they’d changed somehow over the summer: now, when he looked at one, it was like he was looking at a beacon of light in the darkness. He felt sick whenever one looked back at him, but it was a good sort of sick, which didn’t really make sense, did it? And the worst part was, everybody else looked like they knew what they were doing, like the guy on that TV show who always said, “Relax, ma’am, I’m a trained professional.” Even today, the first day of school, Nicholas had seen two kids kissing, which was something that pretty much no kid ever did. And worse, he knew, was that even though he was fascinated with girls, he didn’t have a chance with them: he just wasn’t “cool” enough.

It was even worse on the bus: that was why he walked home now. On the bus, he couldn’t get away from the din of the other students, couldn’t hear himself think. Walking home was better, even if it took longer.

The walk from school to house usually took about two hours on foot, and so it usually let Nicholas calm down a bit before he got home, and think about what he was going to do when he got home. Today, lost in gloom as he was, he went slower, took longer, so that even though school let out at three-thirty, the sun was already beginning to set when Nicholas saw the circus tent and finally snapped out of his depression.

You see, a long long time ago, there was a clown named The Great Zagby who started up a circus in Whispering Falls, and it had been a huge success. A huge success, that is, until it closed one day without notice, leaving behind only one large, deflated circus tent. The closing of the circus became the most-talked-about event in the town’s history, since nothing else had ever really happened in the town before (or later, for that matter), and it quickly became the stuff of urban legend. Some people said the circus had been a front for a national crime syndicate, though some people say that about everything; some people said that The Great Zagby just hadn’t been that funny, and that all his employees left him.

As the years went on, the circus tent just laid there, abandoned, all alone at the very tip of a dead end. The once-gravel road was overgrown, and eventually disappeared altogether. Every so often, some people petitioned the town to remove the circus tent and build some houses there, instead, but the town always refused. It would cost too much, they said, and demand for houses was low, anyway. It was dangerous to remove it, since it might disturb the animals living nearby. Why can’t you get rid of it yourself, if you care that much. Only none of the people petitioning cared enough to actually do any work themselves, and so the tent remained for another year, run-down and beat-up.

When Nicholas saw it, however, the tent wasn’t run-down at all: it billowed, with that majesty all circuses strive to achieve but very few can. Shadows passed along its surfaces, like demons trying to escape Hell. The music playing through the speakers rumbled more than just a little, giving the impression that it was thunder incarnate. Though the sky was still a periwinkle blue, it seemed to Nicholas blacker than midnight around that tent, a vortex of malice gathered around that pavilion.

Above the music came a sinister voice, booming out advertisements in a voice that sounded like it was trying hard to be jovial, and failing. “Come one, come all!” it rumbled. “You don’t want to miss this grand revel! You only have one chance!” Throughout it all, circus music played, but to Nicholas’s ear it sounded twisted, broken. Chills ran down his spine.

When you are depressed, you sometimes find yourself pulled into a wake of sorrow so severe, it takes weeks to escape it—in fact, the first day of school is often a culprit for this kind of behavior. Often, however, the quickest way is to become scared. That feeling of terror, so hard to come across, can be a greater medicine than excitement and joy rolled into one. It is with this in mind that Nicholas quickly cast aside the dreary mindset he had carefully cultivated for himself, and replaced it with a mixture of wonder and terror. The circus called to him, it seemed, and he knew right away that he had to go up to it, and see it.

Another, smaller part of his mind warned him that if he walked up to it, the circus would end up killing him. But really, wasn’t that always what that part of his mind warned him about? The fact that this time the voice was right would only occur to Nicholas a bit too late, and by then it hardly mattered anyway.

Nicholas began his walk up the long, twisted road that led to the tent. That the road was suddenly well-paved and easily visible hardly occurred to him: it wasn’t such big news today.

The tent grew grander in the horizon as he came closer to it, larger than he thought it would be. It resembled some fallen god from ancient times, fallen from the heavens. Its yellow-and-red stripes floated in the air, tempting passers-by such as him to come closer, ever closer. Nicholas’s desire to reach the carnival continued to grow, until it was almost an obsession.

The cul-de-sac at the end was surprisingly bare. There were no houses, though Nicholas rather thought there had been some before. The only thing that really stood out was the tent, of course, now nicely framed by the setting sun, and a clown.

Ever since he had been a little boy, Nicholas had been scared of clowns, to an almost irrational degree. There was just something about them that crept him out. Perhaps it was the red, bloody lips, or the sharp vicious teeth they revealed when they grinned. Maybe it was because of their pale skin, which meant they must pretty much be vampires. In any event, he didn’t know whether or not this clown before him was so scary because he was a clown, or if he was truly as frightening as he now seemed.

He was tall and lithe, powerful yet graceful. He had a face paler than bone, and wore a suit that seemed in tatters, darker than night. His mouth was colored black, and through face paint, stretched beyond the limits of any mortal lips. Alone on his face, it resembled nothing more that a wound, as if his would-be executioner had chickened out at the last moment. His eyes were rimmed with black, and his irises were darker still. He looked like a monster from fifties TV, no color but lots of screams.

His eyes turned and caught Nicholas in their grasp, though there was no doubt the he had seen Nicholas far before he had even reached the tent. Presently, he began to walk toward Nicholas, quickly but carefully. He gave the impression that the whole walk had been planned out years ago, and then practiced to the point of perfection. He seemed almost to be acting out a play even now, and giving a superb performance.

“Nicholas Bates,” pronounced the clown, in a voice soothing yet menacing at the same time. “You have been summoned to the circus, I see. And who would blame you?” He smiled, revealing teeth sharper than that of a normal clown. Nicholas had no doubt, at that moment, that the clown ate little boys like him for snacks. “It is a majestic occurrence, one that I am sure you will never forget. Soon, too, we shall be performing once more, to the rapture of thousands.”

Nicholas felt a prick of fear at this proclamation. The clown knew his name. It really didn’t come as a surprise—the monster that lives under your bed always knew your name—but still, his name was one of the few things that was really his to keep. He didn’t want anybody taking it.

“I-It’s really coming back? The c-c-circus?” His stutter was that of a little boy scared by a monster, and even though this was actually the case, Nicholas heard it and was ashamed by it. “T-That’s amazing.”

The clown laughed, and it was not a nice laugh. It was the laugh of a being who enjoyed pain and misery as much as he enjoyed performing. It didn’t exactly help soothe Nicholas’s terror. It probably wasn’t meant to. “Isn’t it wonderful? The old town legend, brought back to life now every Monday night. We’ll have lions, and elephants, tall men and bearded ladies. And clowns, of course. You can’t have a circus without clowns to make people laugh, can you, Nick?” He grinned, and it looked like a knife wound in a mouth. His eyes were painfully bright. “Listen! You can hear them practicing now!”

And he could, though he wasn’t sure whether or not it was really there to hear or not. He heard lions, elephants, applause, the sound of circus music floating in the distance. But it was all wrong. In the lions’ voices, Nicholas heard a sickening mewl, a cry of loneliness and hurt. The elephants… they were loud, too loud. They’re stampeding! Nicholas thought somebody said. Somebody, get out the… The voice he heard, a man’s voice, was cut off instantly.

The circus music continued to play throughout this nightmarish soundtrack, but it was a sickening sound, filled with hatred and scorn. Something was very wrong here. This was no circus Nicholas wanted to attend. And as if on que, his mind fetched up a phrase, seemingly meaningless but filled with ominous tension. Black jack. Somehow, this was the circus. And as he thought this, Nicholas hesitated, and lost his chance to escape the circus forever.

“Wait!” The clown’s voice snapped through, no longer rich with harmony but cutting like a knife. Nicholas snapped around, as if he had no control over his body. The clown was holding a piece of what looked like paper, about the same size and thickness as a card (black jack), which he twirled around in his hands.

“I have with me here a ticket with your name on it, young Master Bates. A ticket, in fact, for my—our—very first performance, this Monday night, nine o’clock to midnight. Would you like to see it?” Nicholas didn’t move, and the clowns grin widened. “The circus is legend, Nick. Legend. You wouldn’t want to miss a bit of excitement in your life, now, would you?” And ironically enough, this was the argument that did Nicholas in. He did want excitement. He did want adventure.

And boy would he get one.

The ticket was conspicuously blank, for a ticket—there was none of the small little things written down that usually appears on such a piece of paper for no reason other than to look professional. There was just his name, NICHOLAS C BATES, and underneath was the date: MONDAY. Underneath was a small image of a club (of course its a club hes not the spade he cant be the spade), seemingly out of place but appropriately sinister. Nicholas reached out his hand to take it.

As he took the ticket, his hand touched the clown’s. A jolt ran through Nicholas—it felt like something was trying to get in him in some unnatural way. The clown’s touch seemed infused with something vile, and for a moment he felt the clown and its very being.

(You saw them, Nicholas, you heard them. You will come to the circus and you will like it, oh will you ever like it. The animals, they are all returning and they will make your life a joke…)

(no get out i don’t want you black jack in here get out now just get out )

And then it was gone, and the clown chuckled. “I got you, Nick! I got you!” He raised up his hand, and Nicholas saw for the first time a round piece of plastic concealed in his hand. “Joy buzzer, of course. Oooooh, I got you good!” He seemed like a real clown for that moment, and at that moment Nicholas felt true terror. The clown was obviously evil, but that was fine: Nicholas knew some very sadistic kids were at school, too. This, though, was different. The clown wasn’t just evil: it was insane, truly insane.

Again unbidden, Nicholas now felt his mouth open, heard himself say, “Blackjack.”

The clown’s crazed grin faded, and for a moment the clown looked feral. Then the old grin was back, evil, dark, but sane. “I’m sorry?”

“Blackjack. Your name is Blackjack, isn’t it.” It wasn’t a question: Nicholas knew. Blackjack wasn’t just this clown, but this clown was certainly Blackjack. He searched for something else to say, something else to get back at this clown, but Nicholas had nothing, had only an eighth-grader’s capability for lobbing insults, and sadly it wasn’t much. When he opened his mouth to speak, the only thing waiting for him to say was, “That’s a stupid name.”

The clown’s—Blackjack’s—grin stretched yet wider, to an unnaturally wide almost-grimace. “Nick, Nick. If you’re going to call me names, call me by my full name: Blackjack Harlequin. I won’t settle for anything less. And you should know that the name fits me perfectly, too. Do you know what a blackjack is, Nick?” After a very brief pause, Blackjack Harlequin continued. “A blackjack is a club, Nick, a weighted stick that you can use to bash out the brains of people you don’t like very much.” His grin fell away, and suddenly to Nick he looked very murderous indeed. “And there you have me, Nick, don’t you? A clown, yes, a harlequin, but more importantly, I’m a living blackjack—the Jack of Clubs, if you’ll forgive a little joke.”

Nothing in Nicholas’s life had ever been less funny. And he hated the name Nick, too.

“But I digress.” Blackjack Harlequin stepped back, looked down, and when he looked up the old smile was back. “You have your ticket, young Master Bates? Yes, you do, I see it tucked away in your little hand there. Good! Yes, very good indeed! But alas!” He took on a mockingly sad look. “I still have one ticket left! Oh, the horror! Well, would you like it, young Master Bates? Can’t give it to your parents, they’re not young enough for a circus, but I’m sure there are many girls your age who would want a date to a circus. Why not give it to one of them?”

Nicholas was agape. This clown had gone too far. Somehow, it hadn’t crossed this line when it had been threatening Nicholas before, but now—mentioning the girls it knew Nicholas couldn’t get—it had gone from the impersonal concept of murder to the far more irritating teasing. Nicholas really didn’t like this clown.

“I wouldn’t ever give one of your tickets to a friend,” he spat. Blackjack Harlequin kept on his sad face, but the mocking look in his eyes remained.

“Are you sure, young Master Bates? There’s three days left until the circus, after all, and you never know what will happen.” Nicholas’s face stayed stony, and Blackjack Harlequin sighed. “Fine, fine. But when you meet Miss London, tell her it wasn’t my fault. Miss London has a temper sometimes, doesn’t she?”

Nicholas had no clue who—or what—Miss London was. He didn’t want to find out. He wanted to go home. Standing there, he realized something else: the sun was setting, and his own shadow was trailing enormously behind him. However, neither Blackjack Harlequin nor his tent were casting shadows of their own. It was almost as if they weren’t really there.

With that last thought, Nicholas Bates turned and ran back down the road, immersing himself finally in the grand concert of leaves that surrounded him.

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Old 10-09-2006, 06:03 PM
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Just read through your chapter (hint: try to keep submissions to the board a little shorter for a faster response from others - like maybe half of this would have been OK] and there are comments in between quotes and marked in red within the text. Portions without comment have been snipped:

A soft wind blew through the street, and autumn leaves drifted lazily throughout the sky in accompaniment to Nicholas Bates’ every step. The faint rustling as a leaf fell from its parent, the satisfying crunch underfoot as it crumbles to dirt, the sweet melody of birdsong ringing through the air… all combined to form a symphony more intricate than that of even the most calculated harmony of the old masters.

Through the air came sounds of children: the whooshing of a softball, and the soft thud as it hit the catcher’s glove; the mother, calling her children inside as the sun set; the basketball, its rhythm only disturbed by the occasional shot… but these, too, were farther down the road Nick walked down, and faded into the constant melody that is life.
Nice description! However, it doesn't grab me as much as the opening sentence of your next paragraph, below.

Nicholas Bates was in a bad mood, however. A real bad mood. And so, as he walked through this picturesque moment, he tried with all his heart to ignore it. There’s nothing like a beautiful day to spoil a bad mood, after all. Besides, he had more important things to think about than beauty at the moment.
Nice opener



In part,[<---cut comma] it was definitely because of his age. Being thirteen was [is] pretty lame, when you think about it. They tell you you’re going be the king of the world in eighth grade, but you still have math class, right? [<----LOL terrific line!] And the teachers are still pretty much the same,[;] nice for the first five minutes of class so you don’t run away, but venomous afterwards. No big change there.

What stunk even more was how nothing changed between seventh and eighth grade, even through the teachers always tell you it will. Kids were supposed to be more mature, right? But Nicholas still felt like the odd man out every time he was with any other kids. He wasn’t a total nerd or anything, but he was still a real outcast at school, and he still felt like he was missing something that nobody else did. Nobody wants to feel like that.

Boy, the first day of school stunk.
This is good writing-wise, but it feels 'ordinary' in terms of plot. Maybe hint at what could possibly make Nicholas' already bad day even worse...something unexpected, perhaps?

Every second Friday of September was a day every kid dreaded, for it marked the end of summer and the beginning of hell, [(]did I say hell[?] I meant school[)]. Only the nerds liked what they were learning, and they hated school, too, since they were the ones that were getting beaten up for lunchtime entertainment. Eighth grade is even worse, since it’s the first year that despite an agonizingly long math class, school ticks by before you know it, and you’re stuck in an even worse place called high school.

Most high schools aren’t bad, as the high-school “tour guides” have to tell you every year before high school begins. You walk through the vast hallways, and look at how nice everything is and how wonderful your life will become when you enter the ninth grade. Nicholas’s school wasn’t quite the same, though. The first bad sign came at the end of last year, when his tour guide broke down crying while trying to talk about how great the school was for self-esteem. The next bad sign was when the high school principal got lost trying to navigate them through the tour of the school. Things pretty much went downhill from there.
Again, nicely written, it's just not really going anywhere plotwise (sounds like what I hear from my own kids). What sets your story apart & makes it different from all the other hatred-of-school stories?

Nicholas had heard stories, of course, about what high school did to you, whispered down from kids whose siblings were in high school before them. The hallways changed courses overnight, they said, and if you didn’t get to class on time you were whipped. Older students, the Upperclassman as Nicholas thought they were called, would dunk your head in toilets and put you in their gym lockers. If you ever got a bad grade, you got branded (like cattle, they said) with the grade you received. Oh, and then you got whipped. Oh, and thenthenthen you got put in gym lockers, and got your head dunked in toilets by the Upperclassman. It sounded pretty bad, actually.
Hmmmm.... Whoopin's and commode-head-dunkings...now we're moving into more interesting territory...

Of course, some stories were bound to get out of hand, like that last one. Nicholas didn’t believe that one for a second. Really, he didn’t.

(He believed it.)

With these thoughts of dismay and doom soaring through his head, Nicholas was quite able to ignore everything beautiful around him. His walk home resemble a gloomy shamble, and he prodded along the road in an almost caricature of himself. Occasionally, he would reach his hand out and touch the old wooden picket fence running along the edge of the nearby field, and grasp the soft, rotting cedar, as if he had to feel it every so often, to make sure it was there.
Great narrative, and excellent description here.

...snipped text...

The walk from school to house usually took about two hours on foot, and so it usually let Nicholas calm down a bit before he got home, and think about what he was going to do when he got home. Today, lost in gloom as he was, he went slower, took longer, so that even though school let out at three-thirty, the sun was already beginning to set when Nicholas saw the circus tent and finally snapped out of his depression.

You see, a long long time ago, there was a clown named The Great Zagby who started up a circus in Whispering Falls, and it had been a huge success. A huge success, that is, until it closed one day without notice, leaving behind only one large, deflated circus tent. The closing of the circus became the most-talked-about event in the town’s history, since nothing else had ever really happened in the town before (or later, for that matter), and it quickly became the stuff of urban legend. Some people said the circus had been a front for a national crime syndicate, though some people say that about everything; some people said that The Great Zagby just hadn’t been that funny, and that all his employees left him.
This is very interesting regarding the clown & the circus tent. If this were mine,I'd keep your opening paragraphs, cut the school stuff way down [keeping only the essentials that Nicholas really hated, like the head-dunking in toilets, etc] and move right into this part, above.

As the years went on, the circus tent just laid there, abandoned, all alone at the very tip of a dead end. The once-gravel road was overgrown, and eventually disappeared altogether. Every so often, some people petitioned the town to remove the circus tent and build some houses there, instead, but the town always refused. It would cost too much, they said, and demand for houses was low, anyway. It was dangerous to remove it, since it might disturb the animals living nearby. Why can’t you get rid of it yourself, if you care that much. Only none of the people petitioning cared enough to actually do any work themselves, and so the tent remained for another year, run-down and beat-up.

When Nicholas saw it, however, the tent wasn’t run-down at all: it billowed, with that majesty all circuses strive to achieve but very few can. Shadows passed along its surfaces, like demons trying to escape Hell. The music playing through the speakers rumbled more than just a little, giving the impression that it was thunder incarnate. Though the sky was still a periwinkle blue, it seemed to Nicholas blacker than midnight around that tent, a vortex of malice gathered around that pavilion.
Excellent! Really liked this, above!!! Scary stuff...

Above the music came a sinister voice, booming out advertisements in a voice that sounded like it was trying hard to be jovial, and failing. “Come one, come all!” it rumbled. “You don’t want to miss this grand revel! You only have one chance!” Throughout it all, circus music played, but to Nicholas’s ear it sounded twisted, broken. Chills ran down his spine. [<---liked this, great job!]

....snipped text.....

Nicholas began his walk up the long, twisted road that led to the tent. That the road was suddenly well-paved and easily visible hardly occurred to him: it wasn’t such big news today.

The tent grew grander [more grand] in the horizon as he came closer to it, larger than he thought it would be. It resembled some fallen god from ancient times, fallen from the heavens. Its yellow-and-red stripes floated in the air, tempting passers-by such as him to come closer, ever closer. Nicholas’s desire to reach the carnival continued to grow, until it was almost an obsession.

....snipped.....

He was tall and lithe, powerful yet graceful. He had a face paler than bone, and wore a suit that seemed in tatters, darker than night. His mouth was colored black, and through face paint, stretched beyond the limits of any mortal lips. Alone on his face, it resembled nothing more that a wound, as if his would-be executioner had chickened out at the last moment. His eyes were rimmed with black, and his irises were darker still. He looked like a monster from fifties TV, no color but lots of screams.[<----great line!]


His eyes turned and caught Nicholas in their grasp, though there was no doubt the he had seen Nicholas far before he had even reached the tent.[<---awkward sentence. Suggest breaking it in two] Presently, he began to walk toward Nicholas, quickly but carefully. [<---too many adverbs] He gave the impression that the whole walk had been planned out years ago, and then practiced to the point of perfection. He seemed almost to be acting out a play even now, and giving a superb performance.

...snipped......

“I have with me here a ticket with your name on it, young Master Bates. [<---'Master Bates' drew an unintentional laugh from me - you might want to rethink this surname]. A ticket, in fact, for my—our—very first performance, this Monday night, nine o’clock to midnight. Would you like to see it?”

....snipped......


Nicholas was agape. This clown had gone too far. Somehow, it hadn’t crossed this line when it had been threatening Nicholas before, but now—mentioning the girls it knew Nicholas couldn’t get—it had gone from the impersonal concept of murder to the far more irritating teasing. Nicholas really didn’t like this clown. [<---I'd cut this last line, already established that Nicholas doesn't like this clown]...
Pretty good - the beginning started out rather slow (most of the dreary school description could go without hurting your story), but once it got to the evil clown it became interesting. I like your description and the hook at the end of the story is good enough to keep a reader reading. Some minor things - cut adverbs whenever you can and use stronger, more descriptive verbs instead.

Nice work, I enjoyed this -

Keep writing,

Jillian
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Old 10-10-2006, 04:20 PM
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Hi, Jillian! Thanks so much for the feedback.

Nicholas really didn’t like this clown. [<---I'd cut this last line, already established that Nicholas doesn't like this clown]...


Would this work if I put it on a new paragraph? I think it might help emphasize that statement again, but that might be redundant.

[<---'Master Bates' drew an unintentional laugh from me - you might want to rethink this surname].


I'll have to work on this. I want the clown to be amusing, but not intentionally so. He's supposed to be very "out of it," to say that least. ^_^

This is very interesting regarding the clown & the circus tent. If this were mine,I'd keep your opening paragraphs, cut the school stuff way down [keeping only the essentials that Nicholas really hated, like the head-dunking in toilets, etc] and move right into this part, above.
This is definitely the response I get the most, and it's tricky for me. The later chapters are better off for not having to describe school all-of-a-sudden, but it drags a bit at the beginning. I'll try to slim it down a little bit, though. Thanks so much for helping out!
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Old 10-10-2006, 07:29 PM
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About the only thing I could add to OnceUponaTime's critique has to do with your use of passive phrasing. You noted inyour comments that the beginning tends to drag, but it is very colorful and descriptive.

While I read through it, I noticed the number of passives tended to ebb and flow and it made me wonder how many edits this has been through. (I don't know why passives bug me - they just do)

He was appeared tall and lithe, powerful yet graceful. He had aHis face was paler than bone, and a contrast to the suit he wore; it seemed in tatters and darker than night. His mouth was colored black,and shown through his face paint and, stretching it far beyond the limits of any mortal lips. Alone on his face, it resembled nothing more that a wound, as if his would-be executioner had chickened out at the last moment. His eyes were rimmed with black, and his irises were darker still. He looked like a monster from fifties TV, no color but lots of screams.

His eyes turned and caught Nicholas in their grasp,grasp; though there was no doubt the he’d had seen Nicholas far before he had even reached the tent. Presently, he began to walked toward Nicholas, quickly but carefully. He gave the impression that the whole walk had been was planned out years (,) ago and then practiced to the point of perfection. He seemed almost to be As if acting out a play even now, and giving a superb performance.
The Master Bates thing caught my eye as well and made me think of that Richard Pryor movie - The Toy. heh
Please keep in mind these are only suggestion based on the only thing I know (which is how I write) The ending, however, was cool and quite interesting. (since I tend to ignore passives in dialogue - go figure)
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Old 10-12-2006, 04:27 AM
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Originally Posted by ronoxQ View Post
Hi, Jillian! Thanks so much for the feedback.
Would this work if I put it on a new paragraph? I think it might help emphasize that statement again, but that might be redundant.
Maybe just have him tell the clown right out: "I really don't like you, Clown."


I'll have to work on this. I want the clown to be amusing, but not intentionally so. He's supposed to be very "out of it," to say that least. ^_^
The only reason I pointed out 'Master Bates' is because it's been done before many a time. It was funny, but at the same time, I was thinking 'Where have I heard this before?" Then I answered myself, "Self, you've heard it in at least 3 movies and 4 books." Maybe give the kid a different name that's another play on words?


This is definitely the response I get the most, and it's tricky for me. The later chapters are better off for not having to describe school all-of-a-sudden, but it drags a bit at the beginning. I'll try to slim it down a little bit, though. Thanks so much for helping out!
The reason is that most of the school stuff you're describing happens to a lot of people who go to school every day. You should probably re-do that entire portion as a scene, rather than just telling what normally goes on in school. For instance, you could set the scene as the first day of school, with your character finding himself seated next to some guy he knows & hates while in English class or perhaps sitting next to some girl who's new to the school. Let them have a conversation saying some of the things you already described in your narrative. Example: Girl - "I hate Mrs. Plum's class. She drones on and on and it always smells like boiled cabbage in there." Boy - "Yeah, I know. At least you don't have to go into the boy's locker room. I don't have to tell you what it smells like...besides, the Seniors like to grab freshmen and give them the Swirlie treatment." Boy then goes on to explain to curious girl about how a Swirlie is done - head down into toilet, then flush. It shouldn't be hard to do, just think about the kind of conversations that go on during a given school day. In fact, what might be interesting is when you're at school try to ovehear some of them & take notes. It might be interesting to see what other kids are really worrying about during a given day. Make observations - which kids are popular, which kids hang out alone and where. Point out the things most people probably wouldn't notice about an average school's day.

Hope this helps

Keep writing -

Jillian
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Old 10-14-2006, 03:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Lethe View Post
About the only thing I could add to OnceUponaTime's critique has to do with your use of passive phrasing. You noted inyour comments that the beginning tends to drag, but it is very colorful and descriptive.

While I read through it, I noticed the number of passives tended to ebb and flow and it made me wonder how many edits this has been through. (I don't know why passives bug me - they just do)



The Master Bates thing caught my eye as well and made me think of that Richard Pryor movie - The Toy. heh
Please keep in mind these are only suggestion based on the only thing I know (which is how I write) The ending, however, was cool and quite interesting. (since I tend to ignore passives in dialogue - go figure)
Hi, Lethe! This hasn't been edited much at all- I scrapped what I had and started anew. So there are bound to be a few bugs here and there.

He had aHis face was paler than bone
Wait, His face paler than bone? Or do you mean "He had a face paler than bone"? Just curious. Your other advice was really good, though; tonight I'll hopefully put up the revised chapter.

The only reason I pointed out 'Master Bates' is because it's been done before many a time. It was funny, but at the same time, I was thinking 'Where have I heard this before?" Then I answered myself, "Self, you've heard it in at least 3 movies and 4 books." Maybe give the kid a different name that's another play on words?
I see where you're coming from on the cliche. I wanted to make their "evil villain-small kid" relationship very cliched at first, then slowly evolve it. As for his name, I don't want it to really have much of a deeper meaning. I'm not a good enough writer yet to play the symbols-within-symbols game, so for now I'm trying to work only with narrative. What's more, the story changes as I write it, so I can't define any symbols yet. I might changer his name when I'm done with my story overall, though.

Chapter 2 kinda breaks the cliche thing. Don't worry. ^_^

The reason is that most of the school stuff you're describing happens to a lot of people who go to school every day. You should probably re-do that entire portion as a scene, rather than just telling what normally goes on in school. For instance, you could set the scene as the first day of school, with your character finding himself seated next to some guy he knows & hates while in English class or perhaps sitting next to some girl who's new to the school. Let them have a conversation saying some of the things you already described in your narrative. Example: Girl - "I hate Mrs. Plum's class. She drones on and on and it always smells like boiled cabbage in there." Boy - "Yeah, I know. At least you don't have to go into the boy's locker room. I don't have to tell you what it smells like...besides, the Seniors like to grab freshmen and give them the Swirlie treatment." Boy then goes on to explain to curious girl about how a Swirlie is done - head down into toilet, then flush. It shouldn't be hard to do, just think about the kind of conversations that go on during a given school day. In fact, what might be interesting is when you're at school try to ovehear some of them & take notes. It might be interesting to see what other kids are really worrying about during a given day. Make observations - which kids are popular, which kids hang out alone and where. Point out the things most people probably wouldn't notice about an average school's day.
The first day wasn't something I wanted to dictate. School is only a big deal in two other chapters, both of which rely on the reader's not-having-known what happened on the first day. It's tricky, though: I'll have to think about how I can make things ambiguous while still not boring people at the start.

Last edited by ronoxQ; 10-14-2006 at 03:30 PM..
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Old 10-15-2006, 05:45 PM
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Originally Posted by ronoxQ View Post
Wait, His face paler than bone? Or do you mean "He had a face paler than bone"? Just curious. Your other advice was really good, though; tonight I'll hopefully put up the revised chapter.

The sentence should have looked like this:
His face, paler than bone, a contrast to the suit he wore; it seemed in tatters and darker than night.
Sorry bout that - I should have also deleted the 'and' and inserted the commas - but sometimes the html doo dads get in the way of what I'm typing (or seeing for that matter) - dyslexia is a wonderful thing
- be looking forward tot he revisions

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Old 10-16-2006, 05:51 AM
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Alright, here's what I'm going to do - I'll give the full crit and then any overall comments, ok?

A soft wind blew through the street, and autumn leaves drifted lazily throughout the sky in accompaniment to Nicholas Bates’ every step.
It should read '...lazily through the sky...' not 'throughout'

The faint rustling as a leaf fell from its parent, the satisfying crunch underfoot as it crumbles to dirt, the sweet melody of birdsong ringing through the air… all combined to form a symphony more intricate than that of even the most calculated harmony of the old masters.
You've switched tenses here - 'leaf fell' is past tense, but 'crumbles' is present and so is 'ringing'. You should be consistent and choose a single tense. Also, I think the ellipse (...) is not really needed. Maybe it can be replaced by a hyphen. Finally, I think 'that of' in the last sentence should be cut to make the sentence crisper.

but these, too, were farther down the road Nick walked down, and faded into the constant melody that is life.
If they were farther down the road and Nick is walking towards them, then how did they fade

Nicholas Bates was in a bad mood, however.
I don't really think that 'however' is needed here. You aren't contradicting anything, so what's the point?

And so, as he walked through this picturesque moment, he tried with all his heart to ignore it.
A moment lasts for just that long - a moment. It won't last for the whole tenure of Nick's walk. Is there a way you can replace this word?

In part, it was definitely because of his age.
What was definitely because of his age? It doesn't seem too clear to me. Could you specify further?

Being thirteen was pretty lame, when you think about it.
You've switched tenses again - this is present you're writing in. It should be '...when you thought about it.'

What stunk even more was how nothing changed between seventh and eighth grade, even through the teachers always tell you it will.
It's 'stank', not 'stunk'. I think you've used this later also. When I get there, I'll highight it for you.

Kids were supposed to be more mature, right? But Nicholas still felt like the odd man out every time he was with any other kids.
Number disagreement here. It should either be '...with any other kid.' or '...with other kids.'
Boy, the first day of school stunk.

Another thing here is that you should avoid using the same word too often on the same page unless you're using it for effect. Could you possibly change it?

Every second Friday of September was a day every kid dreaded, for it marked the end of summer and the beginning of hell, did I say hell I meant school.
In my opinion, this should be broken up into three sentences like so -
'Every second Friday of September was a day every kid dreaded, for it marked the end of summer and the beginning of hell. Did I say hell? I meant school. Of course, this is up to you.

Oh, and thenthenthen you got put in gym lockers, and got your head dunked in toilets by the Upperclassman.
Was the triple then intentional?

It sounded pretty bad, actually.
What an understatement! I love this line!

His walk home resemble a gloomy shamble, and he prodded along the road in an almost caricature of himself.
Should be 'resembled' and 'plodded', not 'prodded'.

Nicholas looked at these initials, and thought about the other worst part of eighth grade: the girls.
Other bad part, not worst part. Worst can only be used for one object, not two.

The walk from school to house usually took about two hours on foot, and so it usually let Nicholas calm down a bit before he got home, and think about what he was going to do when he got home.
You've repeated these words. Is there a way you can play around with this sentence and omit one of them?

You see, a long long time ago, there was a clown named The Great Zagby who started up a circus in Whispering Falls, and it had been a huge success. A huge success, that is, until it closed one day without notice, leaving behind only one large, deflated circus tent. The closing of the circus became the most-talked-about event in the town’s history, since nothing else had ever really happened in the town before (or later, for that matter), and it quickly became the stuff of urban legend. Some people said the circus had been a front for a national crime syndicate, though some people say that about everything; some people said that The Great Zagby just hadn’t been that funny, and that all his employees left him.

As the years went on, the circus tent just laid there, abandoned, all alone at the very tip of a dead end. The once-gravel road was overgrown, and eventually disappeared altogether. Every so often, some people petitioned the town to remove the circus tent and build some houses there, instead, but the town always refused. It would cost too much, they said, and demand for houses was low, anyway. It was dangerous to remove it, since it might disturb the animals living nearby. Why can’t you get rid of it yourself, if you care that much. Only none of the people petitioning cared enough to actually do any work themselves, and so the tent remained for another year, run-down and beat-up.

When Nicholas saw it, however, the tent wasn’t run-down at all: it billowed, with that majesty all circuses strive to achieve but very few can. Shadows passed along its surfaces, like demons trying to escape Hell. The music playing through the speakers rumbled more than just a little, giving the impression that it was thunder incarnate. Though the sky was still a periwinkle blue, it seemed to Nicholas blacker than midnight around that tent, a vortex of malice gathered around that pavilion.
Excellent description! You had me smiling with the first two paras and the third made me scared. Good playing with emotions!

Above the music came a sinister voice, booming out advertisements in a voice that sounded like it was trying hard to be jovial, and failing. “Come one, come all!” it rumbled. “You don’t want to miss this grand revel! You only have one chance!” Throughout it all, circus music played, but to Nicholas’s ear it sounded twisted, broken. Chills ran down his spine.
Wait a second. Isn't the circus shut down? And if it is, then why are the speakers still playing? Or is this something that only Nick can hear?
Another thing - it should be 'through', not 'throughout'

When you are depressed, you sometimes find yourself pulled into a wake of sorrow so severe, it takes weeks to escape it—in fact, the first day of school is often a culprit for this kind of behavior.
Did you mean to write 'wave' or 'wake'? Personally, I feel wave would sound better. And what an apt description of school being a culprit! Excellent!

Another, smaller part of his mind warned him that if he walked up to it, the circus would end up killing him. But really, wasn’t that always what that part of his mind warned him about? The fact that this time the voice was right would only occur to Nicholas a bit too late, and by then it hardly mattered anyway.
Good. Elements of horror/scary stuff is entering.

The tent grew grander in the horizon as he came closer to it, larger than he thought it would be. It resembled some fallen god from ancient times, fallen from the heavens. Its yellow-and-red stripes floated in the air, tempting passers-by such as him to come closer, ever closer. Nicholas’s desire to reach the carnival continued to grow, until it was almost an obsession.
Your descriptions are very good. You've captured the essence of 'show, don't tell'. Good job!

The cul-de-sac at the end was surprisingly bare.
Er... doesn't cul-de-sac mean 'dead end'? In that case, 'at the end' becomes redundant.

Perhaps it was the red, bloody lips, or the sharp vicious teeth they revealed when they grinned.
The order of adjective is wrong - it should be 'bloody, red lips' and you've forgotten a comma between 'sharp' and 'vicious'

He was tall and lithe, powerful yet graceful. He had a face paler than bone, and wore a suit that seemed in tatters, darker than night. His mouth was colored black, and through face paint, stretched beyond the limits of any mortal lips. Alone on his face, it resembled nothing more that a wound, as if his would-be executioner had chickened out at the last moment. His eyes were rimmed with black, and his irises were darker still. He looked like a monster from fifties TV, no color but lots of screams.
You got that right. He's already freaking me out!

His eyes turned and caught Nicholas in their grasp, though there was no doubt the he had seen Nicholas far before he had even reached the tent.
Alright - several problems with this sentence:
1. 'turned and caught Nicholas' doesn't seem quite powerful, if you get what I mean. It doesn't have the same effect as the rest of your writing does on me.
2. If you are going to write 'though...' then you should mention earlier that it seemed as if Clown Man saw Nick for the first time when their eyes met.
3. You've said 'Nicholas' twice. Replace one or both with a pronoun.
4. Lastly, it should read '...no doubt that he had...'

Presently, he began to walk toward Nicholas, quickly but carefully.
Did Clowny (for the lack of a better name) wait for some time before approaching Nick? Because 'Presently' causes a jerk in the time flow which has been moving smoothly so far.

“Nicholas Bates,” pronounced the clown, in a voice soothing yet menacing at the same time.
I think, in this case, the adjectives (soothing, menacing) should precede the noun (voice).

Nicholas felt a prick of fear at this proclamation. The clown knew his name. It really didn’t come as a surprise—the monster that lives under your bed always knew your name—but still, his name was one of the few things that was really his to keep. He didn’t want anybody taking it.
I really liked this.

It didn’t exactly help soothe Nicholas’s terror. It probably wasn’t meant to.
You're good! I like your narrative a lot!

He grinned, and it looked like a knife wound in a mouth.
What looked like a knife wound? Could you specify?

And as if on que, his mind fetched up a phrase, seemingly meaningless but filled with ominous tension.
It's not 'que'. It's 'cue'
And as he thought this, Nicholas hesitated, and lost his chance to escape the circus forever.
How so? Did Nick turn to go and then stop or something else? Please elaborate.

And boy would he get one.
Comma between 'boy' and 'would'

(of course its a club hes not the spade he cant be the spade)
Missing apostrophe in 'hes'
(no get out i don’t want you black jack in here get out now just get out )
'i' isn't capitalized.

Nothing in Nicholas’s life had ever been less funny. And he hated the name Nick, too.
Um... even I didn't find it funny. It was just ... oddly stupid.

Nicholas was agape. This clown had gone too far. Somehow, it hadn’t crossed this line when it had been threatening Nicholas before, but now—mentioning the girls it knew Nicholas couldn’t get—it had gone from the impersonal concept of murder to the far more irritating teasing. Nicholas really didn’t like this clown.
Even when everything is so scary, you're making me laugh. Teasing worse than murder! Excellent concept!

Blackjack Harlequin kept on his sad face, but the mocking look in his eyes remained.
This sentence seems a bit clumsy. It would need a rearrangement of words like so, 'His face became sad, but his eyes remained mocking.' or something to this effect.

Standing there, he realized something else: the sun was setting, and his own shadow was trailing enormously behind him.
The sun has been setting for an awfully long time, hasn't it? (You've mentioned the setting sun twice earlier)

However, neither Blackjack Harlequin nor his tent were casting shadows of their own. It was almost as if they weren’t really there.
One word - scary.


Overall, I liked this. Initially, I wasn't too interested, but as the story went on, I found it hard to stop reading. I think a lot of the school description was rather pointless and didn't really lead anywhere. It would be best if you cut a lot of it down.

Another suggestion - post in shorter posts, so more people critique your work. Most people get turned off by long posts

Good job overall! Even though I ... dislike horror (get scared too easily, what can I say?) I would definitely want to read more!
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Old 10-28-2006, 04:42 PM
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Wow. Thanks everybody, so much. Nitpicking is what I do the worst, and I've been helped along a LOT thanks to everybody's efforts here. ^_^

I've stopped writing this for now, sadly. I just don't think I can do this justice right now- it takes place over 3 worlds and many times, with at least 50 important characters. I'm working on another story, but this one's next up on my list. Thanks again, everyone!

Was the triple then intentional?
Yeah. I was trying to show just how ridiculous all these horrors of high school were: just ONE after ANOTHER...

Missing apostrophe in 'hes'
And one in 'its', and the period. I was trying to make this a rush of thoughts on Nicholas's part- he isn't thinking clearly, just randomly, wildly.

Another suggestion - post in shorter posts, so more people critique your work. Most people get turned off by long posts
Heh. Thanks for the advice!

Good job overall! Even though I ... dislike horror (get scared too easily, what can I say?) I would definitely want to read more!
Horror? Really? Heh, I was going for epic fantasy- but horror's more fun. XD
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Old 10-29-2006, 01:09 AM
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I'd say it was horror because it scared the hell out of me. It's not yet fantasy, but still, good job!
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