|Reviews for The Song in the Darkness|
| Ragnelle chapter 2 . 6/27/2009
A lot of what I say here is a bit general as ways of how to improve one's writing, but I think it is relevant to this chapter and have tried to show examples of what I mean.
As always my suggestions are just that, and you might not think they are an improvement. If so, feel free to not use them. If you like any and think the style is not incompatible with your own, feel free to use it.
In this chapter the pace of the story picks up and you manage to convey the sense of urgency in the first paragraphs. They work quite well, but if you want to improve on them, I would suggest using shorter and simpler sentences. One action, one sentence. And less adjectives, especially those describing emotion (I will tell you why later). To give an example with the first paragraphs:
“A high shriek echoed on the fields of Pelennor. It startled all that heard it. The Dunedain rushed from their tents, swords in hand. Something was wrong. They did not know what. A dark shadow passed across the sky. It brought despair in its wake
They ran. The two sentries were found. Dead. Their featured twisted in a mask of horror and the rangers knew; the servants of the Eye had returned. Why? Revenge, or to quench the courage of the Children of the West?”
I have here tried to mainly use short sentences with only one action in each. I have not followed this unconditionally, no rule is absolute, but a bit stricter than is called for, just to give an example of the effect it gives.
In addition I have cut some of the imagery and rearranged some of the events to make the telling of the scene more succinct and, in my view, logical. Everywhere else in the book the nazgul are recognized in the effect they have on their surroundings, most of all the impression of despair and/or fear in those around. Even when they just fly high up out of sight, the people below can feel them and I think the shadow is enough for the rangers to identify the threat. Having done this, they would search and find the sentries, confirming their suspicions. Saying at once that they found the sentries, tells us that they are recognized and so you don’t have to tell that they still could be. This makes the narrative more succinct and more immediate, more vivid.
The third thing I have done is to cut what one of my teachers called the language of feeling and use mostly what he called the language of action.
The language of feeling is when you say things like “with a feeling of horror”, “overwhelmed by despair” or otherwise specifically tells us what emotion a character is feeling. The language of action is when you tell what they are doing: “he ran”, “he saw”, “he drank” etc. there is a third language, the language of description, which is used to describe things: “A magnificent sword with elven script on the blade and hilt, reflecting the dim light that was beginning to lighten the sky.”
All these languages have their place and use, but generally speaking the language of feeling should be used sparingly and with great care. Sometimes not at all. The danger in using this language is that you very quickly impose on your reader what _they_ should feel about the events you describe. In doing so, you take away their freedom and capability of judgement, and often get the opposite effect of what you want. The readers become resentful and are pulled out of the story instead of feeling with the characters. Using actions or descriptions to convey feeling is most times more effective because that shows us what happens and lets us interpret and draw conclusions, instead of telling us what we should think. It really is about the old “show vs. tell”.
The language of action has the effect of making the story move forward and can create a great sense of urgency and haste. It answers the question: and then what? Too much of it makes the narrative barren, though, and takes away the sense of place; we get no image of the events.
That is what the language of description is for. It lets us see the events, the characters, the places. But it also slows down the narrative and can pause the action completely. With all description the story stops.
If you use the different languages consciously, it will help you pace our story and give it rhythm and timing. It is a very good exercise to force yourself to rewrite the same part using only one of these modes at a time. You will then see where the different languages work and where they don’t. in the re-write above, the first paragraph is at times forced into a form that don’t quite work because I have kept to one mode of writing also in places where it don’t quite work.
If you want to do this exercise and want someone to discuss the effects with, just contact me and we'll find a good place to do it.
One example of how to say (almost) the same with a different language, is when I rewrote: “A dark shadow passed across the sky, and everyone who saw it was overwhelmed by despair, despite the uncertainty of what had transpired this night.”
“A dark shadow passed across the sky. It brought despair in its wake”
I translated the original from the language of feeling into the language of action here, and it has made the shadow more menacing and sinister as it emphasizes that it is the shadow that causes the despair they feel. And the scene becomes more succinct.
I think this should give you something to work with on the rest of the scene. It is generally good though. The only really jarring thing in it, to me, was the laments of the sons of Elrond. The way they spoke clashed with the style in the rest of your writing. It is not that it was out of character for them to say something like that; it was just so different in tone from the rest, the same way the quote from the Paths of the Dead was in the first chapter. It fits Tolkien, but it is not integrated in your writing-style.
Nitpick: “The tortures of Barad Dûr were terrible, and Sauron knew already who Aragorn was.” Cut the last comma.
That paragraph needs some rewriting, btw. It is a bit confusing as it is now. If you give us more of Gandalf’s thought-process it might become clearer. If you include some speculation on what Sauron might want from Aragorn and why he was taken, and from there goes over to what will happen if Aragorn reveals Frodo? The transition from Sauron knowing who Aragorn is, to the fear for Frodo is a bit abrupt to me. If you move the conclusion that Sauron will ask Aragorn about the Ring before you bring up the concern for Frodo, I think it will make more sense.
You also mix tenses in this paragraph, which adds to the confusion.
The second part of the chapter where you take us back to Aragorn is also well done but can be improved on as well. Here I think you should make the dream-like elements stronger. Use the image of the wave for all it is worth. Since you return to the image of being pulled under water (by a wave this time) you don’t have to specify that it is an image of how he felt. A possible rewrite is:
“… Aragorn writhed in a new wave of agony. Darkness grew tall above him; a wave dark as the depths of the sea. From a high place he saw it coming for him; a deadly wall of crushing pressure. Nearer and nearer until it washed over him.
No breath. No thought. The whirling streams of darkness extinguishing the light of his soul, hammering into him from every side, pulling him deeper and deeper into the colourless world of shadows.”
Confuse the line between what is happening and Aragorn’s perception of what is happening to emphasize the confusion and pain he is feeling. Description is the main tool here, and the nightmarish visions. You do this already, but do it more and make the visions more real, avoiding the word ‘like’ and phrases like these: “he saw it like”, “like as swarm” etc. Your readers are smart people; we understand that it is visions.
Here to you can use the length of the sentences and a mixture of action and description to pace the narrative and create a rhythm within the story.
The part where he finds a place to hide inside, is beautiful. You do overemphasize Aragorn as Hope though. I think you can convey this message with more power if you leave that aspect in the sub-text; let it be an underlying understanding, implied, instead of stating it so openly and crudely. This goes for all parts of the story. Don’t let it be stated openly that Aragorn is the hope of anyone, the story tells us this very strongly anyway. Use the name Estel, but don’t translate it in the text. If you want to make sure that your readers get the point, give a translation in a note at the beginning. Most of your readers will know this anyway.
So, the image of an inner sanctuary, connected to his childhood and by implication his childhood name, is very good and beautiful. The stressing of the point that this is hope and hope is him, his inner core, is heavy-handed and works against the message you try to convey. Trust the story and symbols to be strong enough and clear enough on its own.
Shorter than the first ;-) Am I improving?
| Ragnelle chapter 1 . 6/26/2009
I finally had the time to start reviewing your story. As I said in the PM, the overall impression is good, but since you wanted some constructive comments I will probably focus mostly on those places where I think you can improve. At times I will go into detail, and just ask if you want me to clarify some points.
First: I think it is good that you give the references when you quote Tolkien, but the text does not flow very well with footnotes. Not in this kind of story, or at least that is my opinion. In a more humorous story it would not be a problem, but here I think the reading of the text would flow better without the numbers attached. I am not quite sure of the best way to give the references though. In this chapter there are few enough that you could make a note at the end or beginning explaining how you mark the quotes and where they are from. You need a few more words to do this and with longer chapters and more quotes it could become a little hard to follow, but the story itself would read better.
That said, I think you should either work more on your style to make it fit Tolkien's more, or keep the quotes to a minimum and preferably use your own words throughout. (This does not apply to the use you make of the Lay of Leithian later in the story, but I'll comment on that when I come to it.) I think the second is the better alternative both because no one can really do Tolkien’s style as well as he so there will always be a noticeable difference, but more importantly because you will become a better author this way and develop your own style. Copies are not as interesting as originals even in fanfiction. Now, you do not use quotes excessively so it is not a big problem and it does not make your story boring as it does with those that quote movie-script with an additional character. Your use, especially later, has a point, in most cases, but in this chapter I find the second superfluous and not well enough integrated in your writing-style. The first serves as an introduction, to set the stage and give us the point where your AU breaks off from Tolkien’s story so that one is fine. It serves a very good purpose and does not need to fit with the rest of the story stylistically. You could even make it a longer quote so that this quote is our way into the story, starting it _in media res_.
I am not sure what you have aimed at, so if this suggestion is way of what you have wanted with the opening, just tell me, but I would consider tightening the first chapter, making it shorter but more intense. The long reminiscing in the first four paragraphs makes the beginning of the chapter feel a bit slow. To me, too, it is a bit unnecessary as we all know the story. I would recommend that you cut all or most of it and concentrate on the “new” story rather than repeat what has happened before. I think that could make this fist chapter more intense. At it is now, it drags a bit in the beginning.
This is not all due to the fact that you have a recap at the beginning. It is also a side effect of the reflective mood of Aragorn here, and the fact that you tell from his point of view, making us hear his thoughts in a way. And it also feels a bit long or dragging because you use a lot of words to say the same thing: Aragorn is tired and concerned for the Ringbearer. In combination with the recap it becomes a bit too much.
Your writing-style in this first chapter is spot on for the kind of angst-story that focuses on the main person’s feelings and thoughts. Many here love that, and if you want to write in that style, just continue the way you do. I think, however, that you could develop your writing and make the story better if you work on some points that I think is a weakness in this style. Bear in mind that I tolerate this introvert, feeling-centered writing only in small doses before I get impatient so take that into consideration when you read my comments.
You keep repeating words like “weariness” and “exhausting” which do emphasize the exhaustion of Aragorn, but it also makes me think “I get the point, get on with the story”. Tolkien said it in one sentence: “When he could labor no more..” and needed no more words for it. You want to embellish on this, and that is fine, but you hamper too much on the weariness and then it loses its effect.
Reading the first part again I realize that what I have written is not exactly right either, I just have a hard time pinpointing what it is with this part that I think could be improved. I want to say that you should try to get more description and less thoughts/feelings and use the descriptions to convey his emotions, show them to us rather than tell us what he feels. You kind of do that but it does not quite work for me. Perhaps it is that your descriptions are a bit stock-in-trade. I would not call them clichés, but they are close; stumbling with weariness, blood-soaked fields, and corpses on the battle-field, to mention some examples. All these things are true and realistic, but therefore also typical and much used. It does not help us see Aragorn’s exhaustion with any vividness. Now if you want an example of what I mean by using descriptions to convey Aragorn’s emotions, I have posted a vignette where I do that with Éomer and you can look at that if you want (no, you don’t have to leave a review unless you _really_ want). I too have the stumbling, the blood and the corpses but I think I have managed to make it vivid anyway. You can find it in my profile.
One other thing is that you overuse the passive a little and that also contribute to the feeling of dragging. Again this is not much, so little that when I just look for examples, I don’t really find that many and it is not as if you can’t use passive ever. It is more a case of many small things that are not a problem separately, but together they create this slightly dragging feeling.
Good news is that this largely disappears when you come to the fight. You know more of this than most here and it shows in your writing even if you don’t try to show off your knowledge. Very good.
A few times in this part you try to give too much information and so lose some of the flow and urgency of the narrative. Most noticeable when Aragorn sees the fallen kinsman:
“He rushed in the direction, where the cries came from, and stumbled over a body. It was one of the sentries, his features twisted in horror… Aragorn spent no time by surveying the body, the features were hardly recognizable, but he knew the name of the man – Lenareth, one of the most trusted rangers, one of the only kin he had. He felt a light touch on his cheek that sent shivers through his body, like a wing of a nightmare.”
A bit too wordy. Try something like:
“He rushed to where the cries came from and stumbled over a body. It was one of the sentries, his features twisted in horror; Lenareth. A kinsman. One of the only ones he had. Aragorn felt a light touch on his cheek that sent shivers through his body, like [the] wing of a nightmare.”
Remember the maxim; less is more. We don’t need to have everything explained. Descriptions should be precise and vivid, but that is not the same as using a lot of words, only that you choose your words and what you describe with care. To include details in the descriptions is good, but only a few important ones.
In the scenes where you go more deeply into Aragorn’s mind, you can try to vary with some direct thoughts as well, this will break the slightly monotone voice of the narrator. The fourth last paragraph is a good place, when you bring in the image of the gate.
“The gate was cracking beneath the force, and he knew that the next blow would be the last. He couldn’t let the blow fall! He felt as though he was looking up from deep dark water that he was sinking in. But he didn’t give up, not yet! Desperately, he struggled to swim to the surface… and he did!”
Try something like:
“The gate was cracking beneath the force, and he knew that the next blow would be the last. *No! It can’t fall!* He was sinking into deep water, down, down into the dark. Above was the surface, too far away. *No! Not yet. I won’t give up yet!* Desperately, he struggled to swim to the surface…
He broke though. Once again he was aware(…)“
I suggest changing the “he did!” with the image of breaking though the surface of the water as that is a more vivid image. Also that you make the image more real by dropping the explanation that Aragorn felt like he sank. It is such a well-used image of losing consciousness that we get the point without it and it makes the image more vivid. You can also consider re-using it when he finally does at the end.
One canon-nitpick/question: why does not Andúril melt? Though it is only specifically stated that all blades that pierce the Witch-king is destroyed, it is implied that the same goes for all the Nazgûl. At Weather-top Aragorn uses only torches to chase off the wraiths and at the Ford they do the same. If blades could be of use, Aragorn and Glorfindel would have used them.
In addition: With all the emphasis you have put already on how tired Aragorn is the wraiths should be enough to overcome him even without the trauma inflicted in killing the first. Also it seems to detract from the deed of Merry and Éowyn in killing the Witch-king. Aragorn is high enough on the hero-scale as it is, you don’t need to give him more great deeds for us to know he is great and skilled and all that ;-)
“Unable to take hold of the hilt any longer,” I think would make more sense to say: “Unable to hold on to the hilt” He has not lost it yet, has he? It might be that the way you said it is correct and it just sounds strange to me because I am not a native speaker and don’t know all the possible expressions, but it sounded to me as if he had to take hold of the hilt again, not that he was holding it and couldn’t any longer.
I think this is officially my longest review
| lindahoyland chapter 14 . 6/26/2009
A moving end to a great story.I love the way you use poetic images and language. Excellent writing!
| Anonymous chapter 14 . 6/19/2009
I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant about reading this story... torture can either be written very well or very badly, and I've seen both. I must say, however, that within the first two chapters you put my reservations to rest. I noticed a couple of typos, but on the whole, this story was extremely captivating and very well written. I love the imagery and symbolism that you wove into this story, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your work.
| Firefly-Maj chapter 14 . 6/17/2009
Sorry for being so late- again!
This is a great ending for a great story- writing in verse is an art in itself, and making it so that it fits perfectly even more so!
And I think its realistic that Aragorn will still have nightmares in the years to come, but its good to see that he is strong enough to overcome them.
Thank you for giving us this precious piece of fanfiction, and keep writing (Im looking forward to September, by the way)!
| hoellenwauwau chapter 14 . 6/11/2009
Thank you for this wonderful story!
| Nosterineth chapter 14 . 6/11/2009
Wonderful epilogue, Mirach, I really loved it!
Well, thanks a lot for this greatly enjoyable story. It has brought so many tears to my eyes! Thank you!
| Casso chapter 14 . 6/10/2009
Thankyou so much for this story. I went looking for and Aragorn Angst story and found so much more than that. The poem in the epilouge is terrific.
Can't wait to read more of your stories.
| Libertinestar chapter 14 . 6/10/2009
That was a very fitting ending to a beautifully written story. I will miss it but no doubt I will be reading it again. Enjoy your summer.
| Destined Darkness chapter 14 . 6/9/2009
hehe, i cried again, damn it, i should really dtop that aye, hehe, o well, cant undo the past tehe lol
| eVeRyThInGblaCK chapter 14 . 6/9/2009
LOVE IT! I applaud your awsome writing skills. This is really, REALLY good. I consider myself a Tolkien fan (I think i've read lord of the rings like 6 times :] ) but i had no clue where some of those verses were from. Once again, GREAT job. Please write more!
| StarLight9 chapter 14 . 6/9/2009
Aragorn smiled, and I did too. What an end! Mirach, I have read many stories that I have enjoyed, but at the same time made me think 'if Tolkien could read this, he would roll over in his grave'. I've read very few that I thought the professor himself would like and approve, and this is certainly one of them. I might be wrong, but I strongly believe that Tolkien would be proud if he could read this. You have done something very hard and rarely seen - you have written a very vivid torture and hurt/comfort story that at the same time stays true to the spirit of the book and everyone is in character. It was a pleasure reading this. I know this bittersweet feeling at the end too well, and I will be looking forward to seeing more from you. Gil-Estel has a great idea and if you keep your wonderful writing, I know that we will get another gem in September.
| Calenlass Greenleaf1 chapter 14 . 6/9/2009
Great ending! It ties it up well. :)
Your summary for your new story sounds quite intriguing. I've read very few stories on Eärendil or in his POV, so I look forward to that!
| Blip-chan chapter 14 . 6/9/2009
once again you use the text to inspire your writing. And it's not a bad poem either. XD Can't wait for the next one!
| Aelaer chapter 14 . 6/9/2009
Wonderful! I loved this little epilogue, and I eagerly await your next story- Earendil looking down at someone (Aragorn, I assume...) and watching his story unfold- very creative. I cannot wait to see it.
(And man, do I know about the time it takes to prewrite something... I'm over 130 pages in with this story I'm writing right now and I'm made 1/3th done... if I'm lucky. XD