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Adult Historical Fantasy - Minglu Jiang - THE LAST SORCERESS OF ROME


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Hello, this is my opening scene, which sucks so I hope I can get some suggestions on how to improve it. It introduces (or at least attempts to) the protagonist and antagonistic force, a few secondary characters, and the world and its magic system. Hopefully it's not too confusing or cringeworthy. I apologize if there are any typos. Thank you all so much in advance for the critique! 

CHAPTER I

Winter, the Year of the Consulship of Paullus and Salinator

Lydia stopped at the edge of the alleyway, peering through slitted eyes at the Forum. Marcus skidded to a stop behind her. They had followed the shouting and stomping, uncharacteristic of a Forum usually rife with hawking vendors and haggling buyers, here. If there was such an organized ruckus, there was something the Theikos needed to know. 

People crowded the city square, pressed up against the carved stone pillars of the Curia. The tall doors were barred shut; Ostia's city council was not in session. And yet, the people raised their fists and pounded them against invisible barriers. 

"Avenge Saguntum!"

"Down with Carthage!"

"May Hannibal lose his eyes and his mind!"

Lydia tapped Marcus's hip. "War?"

He nodded. "War."

Lydia blew on her stiff fingers, stung red by the winter wind on their way here. Her white breath did nothing to warm her fingers. She clenched her hands into fists and envisioned bloodied Roman corpses. That felt good. The amulets on the string around her neck responded, buzzing with the prospect of a spell.

Thank you for being my goddess. A silent prayer to Atropos, the goddess she aligned with. There was no better goddess when your heart desires the blood of Rome. 

Marcus shook Lydia's shoulder. She snapped out of her reverie. "We need to tell Nicator and Arsinoe," he said. Without another word, he rushed out the other end of the alleyway. Lydia hurried to follow, watching her feet. The cobblestone was slick with slush and winter rain. 

Insulae, tall brick dwellings, lined the street the alley led out to. A woman swept her doorway; another on a higher floor hung laundry. Marcus had not slowed his pace. "Wait up!" Lydia called. He only laughed at her. 

Then suddenly, he turned and walked briskly toward her. His laughing had ceased. "Go to the Forum," he panted. When Lydia furrowed her brows in confusion, he cocked his head toward the end of the street. Lydia stood on her toes and saw: a group of burly men carrying fasces. Lictors. 

A raid. 

They couldn't have found the Theikos, could they? Nicator and Arsinoe were too careful. 

Lydia darted into the alleyway. Marcus trailed close behind. The crowd's chanting rang in Lydia's ears: "Avenge Saguntum! Avenge Saguntum!" Lydia moved to enter the Forum, and if need be, the screaming crowd when a shrill cry cut through the chants. 

"Mercy! Mercy!" Lydia peeked out of the alleyway. At the end of the block, a lictor dragged a woman by the hair. Her neighbors peeked through the dirty rags that served as curtains for the windows. The lictor yanked the woman's neckline down, and the woman shoved at his chest, to no avail. 

Idiot. Or coward. Or maybe both, for not burning her god's mark out of her skin. 

Another lictor dropped his fasces. The bundle of sticks landed with a clatter on the cobblestone. He replaced it with a dagger and touched it to the edge of the woman's eye. 

The woman writhed like a crow caught in a hunter's net and shrieked louder. It was a wonder the crowd in the Forum hadn't noticed. 

Lydia seized one of her amulets. The lictors would not have mercy; Romans had no capacity for such virtue. Lydia would have to provide it. "Mark her with death, painless death," she whispered, too low for even herself to hear. A sensation that reminded her of lightning coursed through her veins. It was magic, responding to the spell in her lips and the amulet in her palm. The talent that every member of the Theikos and the reason the Romans hated them so. 

The amulet tugged at Lydia's heart. She pushed the spell forward from a deep part of herself. The woman was one person and nearby, so Lydia felt no fatigue. The woman shuddered and crumpled. 

Lydia would have liked to curse the six lictors, but she had risked enough magicking the woman into a merciful death. She shoved the amulet underneath the neckline of her stola and retreated toward the crowd.

Marcus grabbed her shoulder. "Nicator and Arsinoe won't be happy about that."

Lydia smiled at him over her shoulder, though the action hurt. "It's not like I'm telling them." 

"I just wish you killed the lictors, too. It wouldn't have been difficult, not for you."

"Um, check to see if they're gone."

Marcus did, and affirmed the lictors had gone elsewhere. "In any case, it only shows they weren't here for us."

"We should go."

He nodded. They passed the woman's body, limp and folded unnaturally. Scratches marred her neck, wrists, and fingers where the lictors had despoiled her body for whatever jewelry she had. Lydia squeezed her eyes once they left her behind, trying to purge the image from her mind. It didn't matter that Lydia wasn't that woman. She could have been. 

A few years before her birth, the Senate had decreed that every Greek sorcerer was an enemy of the state. If found, they were sentenced to death—torture and burning being the preferred methods. Their mangled bodies and charred corpses were strung up in the Forum as warnings. The lictors must have left the woman's body alone because they had not gotten the chance to mutilate her. 

Rome would have gotten to Lydia if the Theikos hadn't rescued her first. 

"It will be a task for you," Marcus said as they walked home. The Theikos had made their home outside of the city, separated from prying eyes but still close enough to the city for access to what they needed. "Will that cheer you?"

Lydia had already considered that the onset of war—the perfect opportunity for the Theikos to strike back at Rome—meant the task would fall largely on her shoulders. Hearing it from Marcus's mouth heightened her excitement. "Yes. Maybe it will be one for you, too. Of all of us, you know the Romans best."

Marcus kicked a rock, flinging mud. Lydia yanked her cloak close. "You know my memory is spotty." He habitually complained of forgetting what games he'd played in childhood and the faces of the siblings he'd played them with.

"But surely you remember something."

"Oh, I remember some things," Marcus said darkly. "I remember my father beating me when my swordsmanship failed to satisfy him and muttering that it was because of my damn mark. I remember my mother secluding me so no one would see the mark on my heart because even a Roman citizen will suffer if gifted with sorcery. And I remember the day Nicator took me. I was alone, cold and hungry. I don't remember much, but I remember enough to know I hate them as much as you."

"I wasn't questioning your loyalty."

"If it's a task for me," Marcus continued, just as darkly, "it will be because of my alignment, not my childhood."

They finished the walk in silence.

Nicator greeted them when they entered the small two-room house. "So. There must be something worth telling."

Marcus told him. Saguntum, an Iberian city allied with Rome, had fallen to Carthaginian forces. Rome would surely retaliate. Lydia watched Nicator—or as much as she could see of him, which were his glittering eyes and pearly teeth—for his reaction. Nicator had inherited a predilection for darkness from his alignment and liked to shroud himself in shadows. His eyes widened, which meant he had raised his eyebrows, and he flicked a tongue at his teeth. He was pleased. "Perfect. Arsinoe and I will have a plan soon." He patted Lydia's thick hair. For a while, she'd cringed at the way he petted her as if she were a patrician lady's lapdog. By now she'd learned to lean into it. The affection of a man with a heart as dark as his god's was precious. 

Lydia bowed her head to him and stalked to the other side of the room, where Briseis and Ajax sat at the only table. Scratches crisscrossed the wood tabletop. Lydia yanked out a splinter and let it fall to the floor. 

Lydia peered over Briseis's shoulder to the wax tablet she inscribed. "What does it say?" 

"A girl needed a curse for her husband's lover, so here I am."

Rome didn't mind Briseis peddling amulets or curses in Ostia's Forum. As far as they knew, she was just exploiting the superstitious. The Theikos knew what most believed about the items—that simply wearing an amulet granted protection, that burying a curse tablet in the cemetery guaranteed its success—was untrue. 

"Who knows? Maybe I'll pity her and curse the mistress. There is a number of lovely ways I can make her die."

"The curse doesn't even include death." Briseis nudged the tablet closer to Lydia. May Polla Racilia find herself struck with bodily boils and infertility such that no

Lydia traced the R in Racilia. Briseis's rounded handwriting gave the curse an almost friendly aura. "How delightfully wicked of the wife. And I could still do it if it kills Polla," Lydia added. As long as the spell pertained to death in some way, she could cast it. 

"Save your spells for the Romans."

When finished, the curse read, May Polla Racilia find herself struck with bodily boils and infertility such that no man shall ever desire her.

That curse would sit ineffectual in the graveyard dirt and Polla Racilia would retain her seductive powers. But Lydia's spells would burst with power and she had no intention of leaving Rome intact.

Later, while warming herself by the hearth, Lydia composed a curse too large for herself—or any sorcerer, no matter his alignment—to perform. But she repeated it in her thoughts, humming a tune to go along with the words. It soothed her. 

May Rome be brought to her knees. May her allies desert her in her hour of need. May she bleed like she bled my people. May the taste of her blood be sweet as honey to those who ravage her. 

May nothing but ashes and shame remain.

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Hi Minglu,

I love that your story started off with something action-filled and thrilling. That is my favorite way to get into a story. I got the feel for the drama of the situation right off. I also think you did a great job at describing the action scenes and making them move forward dramatically. I was instantly worried about the woman they were going to torture. I also wanted to know more about the Theikos and who they were, which made me want to keep reading. I also kept reading to find out the relationship between the two protagonists. 

I would have liked to see the city, clothing and the two-room house location and description in a little bit more detail. I liked the description of the amulet tugging at Lydia's heart when she set a curse. I like to know how it feels to be a sorcerous and how the casting of a curse would feel. 

I also liked that you used some Roman words I wasn't familiar with but they fit into the descriptions well enough for me to decipher what they meant.  

Maybe a little more cohesiveness with the discussion between Lydia and (the Theikos?) when they enter the house. Was Brisies a sorceress too, but not as good as Lydia? Also is Marcus a sorcerer, or a Roman friend who is sympathetic to the Theikos? I'm sure that all gets answered later, and you did touch on it. 

I like the curse she thinks of at the end. It made me want to know what Lydia ends up doing to Rome.

Just curious, is there a romantic relationship between the protagonists in their future? I am a sucker for a little romance in any genre! And I like strong women as much as anyone, but I do love a good old fashioned rescue scene on occasion. I think even someone as powerful and talented as Lydia would agree. ;) 

Good job! 

Laura

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I was confused by the first paragraph, too many new names and new places, Lydia, Marcus, Forum, the Theikos. It took me a few re-reads to realize that Lydia and Marcus were investigating the Forum because the Forum was being noisy in a new way (since marketplaces are usually noisy this wasn't an easy concept to follow). I think you show what the Forum is and why Lydia might want to investigate it in a much better way with your second paragraph. Would it work to go from your first sentence "Lydia stopped…" straight onto a second sentence "People were crowding the city square, pressing up against…"? That way you show right away what a Forum is (the city square) and why Lydia might be looking at it (the people crowding and raising their fists).

 

Lydia tapped Marcu's hip struck me as odd. Do people tap each other's hips? It might work better to introduce Marcus here. Lydia turned to her friend/fellow sorcerer/brother-in-arms Marcus. "War?"

 

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"stung red by the winter wind on their way here. Her white breath"


I'd get rid of "on their way here." I'd also get rid of "white" unless her breath is actually white for magical reasons.

Quote

 

"She clenched her hands into fists and envisioned bloodied Roman corpses. That felt good. The amulets on the string around her neck responded, buzzing with the prospect of a spell.

Thank you for being my goddess. A silent prayer to Atropos, the goddess she aligned with. There was no better goddess when your heart desires the blood of Rome."

 

 

Nice bit of characterization. I feel like I know what she wants now, that I'm into her goal.

 

Quote

"Lydia moved to enter the Forum, and if need be, the screaming crowd when a shrill cry cut through the chants."

I'd add a comma after screaming crowd.

 

I like the idea of mercy being death, it is intriguing and sets up Lydia's power nicely.

 

Quote

"The lictors must have left the woman's body alone because they had not gotten the chance to mutilate her."

Couldn't they mutilate a dead body? Would it work to say they were probably going to come back to pick up the woman's body?

 

Quote

"Rome would have gotten to Lydia if the Theikos hadn't rescued her first."

I'd add "gotten to Lydia, too, if the Theikos…"

 

Quote

"as they walked home."

Why are they walking now? Weren't they running before?

 

I like the placing of the historical exposition around why the people were shouting about Saguntum. I think it's good to put it where you did.

 

I found the whole bit between Briseis and Lydia confusing. I was getting amped about war and revenge on Rome and then all of a sudden I'm reading about a love curse that isn't even effective? Why do Romans buy these curses at all if they don't work? I think you wanted to set up the idea of inscribing a curse on a tablet so that Lydia can compose her later curse at the end of the scene. In that case, could you have Lydia note that Briseis was writing a curse on a wax tablet without going into what exactly the curse is about, and then move Lydia to the hearth where she composes the curse on Rome in her head? That way the tension that you've been building up doesn't get prematurely released into a digression about fake love curses.

 

Quote

"May nothing but ashes and shame remain."

Maybe "nothing but ashes" or "nothing but shame"? I feel like it cuts a little at the power of the line to include two things instead of one powerful curse.

 

Conclusion: I didn't think this scene sucked at all. I thought it was clearly well-researched and vivid in its details. The conflict you set up between Marcus being from Roman background and Lydia hating all Romans is one I look forward to seeing expanded, and I think I remember from your pitch that it does get expanded. I'm interested in what happens next!

 

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Hey Minglu!

Just to start off, the imagery was well done.

I was reading it outside and had been sitting on a bench for quite some time and didn’t realize how cold I was until I read the bit establishing setting. That's gotta count for something.

This is only the opening so I tried to relegate my suggestions to things that maybe have general application. I will refer to the sections of the narrative that my suggestions apply, hope it doesn't add too much bulk and makes sense for you.

  • "They had followed the shouting and stomping, uncharacteristic of a Forum usually rife with hawking vendors and haggling buyers, here." - I would rework this sentence, I would offer suggestions but I don’t know the words you are willing to cut or keep. I’m sure you can keep most of the words (indispensable descriptors and all), scramble them up a bit until your hit with an arrangement that does just as swell a job of establishing scene but flows better. I know it's in there.
  • "And yet, the people raised their fists and pounded them against invisible barriers." -  This could be an opportunity to shine a brief light on the scope of this kind of “area of effect” magic by illustrating its position with relation to the physical buildings. I read about the intimidating doors being shut and then people banging on a barrier and for some reason my mind was like she means those tall doors. I was slow to realize it was magic, true, but maybe just give a brief explanation on the barrier. Perhaps stick it in after the sentence explaining Ostia not being in session? Or after the next sentence that introduces the barriers? Doesn’t have to spill the beans, just explaining size and purpose (does the purpose spill beans? If so, try size and magic type/properties. That should be harmless enough). It’s not a necessity, just feels like an opportunity to me.
  • "Then suddenly, he turned and walked briskly toward her." - "Stopping suddenly, he turned around and hurriedly walked toward her." (The more I read my edit, the less confident I am that it is actually an improvement. So you be the judge :unsure:).
  • "Lydia moved to enter the Forum, and if need be, the screaming crowd when a shrill cry cut through the chants." - If my take is correct, here’s a suggestion, "Becoming increasingly anxious, Lydia was poised to enter the screaming crowd she thought to have avoided when a shrill cry cut through their raucous." 
  • "I don't remember much, but I remember enough to know I hate them as much as you." - With things like this I've found (and am finding) that it’s best to make sure that characters that know each other discuss their histories as though talking with someone who is already somewhat familiar. I would keep some bits of info still coming from Marcus's mouth toward MC but other details you can have the Narrator fill in. Just so that you don’t have Marcus feeding Lydia details that she must already know simply for the sake of the Readers.
  • "Lydia traced the R in Racilia" - I’m going through a specific conundrum that I sense the potential for in here. My story is also set in history with peoples of different languages and I guess it all depends on how many cogs you want to crank, but would that letter R be the letter that we think of when we see R in the present? It might not even matter (the historical equivalent may not look like R but it doesn’t change the fact that Lydia is tracing out whatever letter it may be that we interpret as R) but I made a slight oversight regarding historical language and letters and it created a host of problems that I had to constantly scan for and rework a few scenes. It could be inconsequential for you in the nature of your story but just thought I’d bring it up.
  • "Later, while warming herself by the hearth, Lydia composed a curse too large for herself—or any sorcerer, no matter his alignment to perform." - Here, I would briefly highlight the intensity of her hatred for Rome/love for her magic kin and use that to create some emotional catalyst memory that leads into the swelling of her unspoken death spell nuke. And also it affords the opportunity to illustrate her dark and slightly unhinged personality that is, I imagine, molded by trauma. Also establishes the idea that if there’s one kind of person you DON’T want to have powers that align with "death", it’s the Lydia type of person.

That's it. I enjoyed what you have so far and I find myself interested in the characters and the story that will unfold.

No cringe.

 

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On 4/8/2021 at 9:14 AM, Laura Neibaur said:

Hi Minglu,

I love that your story started off with something action-filled and thrilling. That is my favorite way to get into a story. I got the feel for the drama of the situation right off. I also think you did a great job at describing the action scenes and making them move forward dramatically. I was instantly worried about the woman they were going to torture. I also wanted to know more about the Theikos and who they were, which made me want to keep reading. I also kept reading to find out the relationship between the two protagonists. 

Thank you so much! 

Quote

I would have liked to see the city, clothing and the two-room house location and description in a little bit more detail. I liked the description of the amulet tugging at Lydia's heart when she set a curse. I like to know how it feels to be a sorcerous and how the casting of a curse would feel. 

Thanks so much! I'm always a bit unsure of how much description is needed, so this is good to know.

I also liked that you used some Roman words I wasn't familiar with but they fit into the descriptions well enough for me to decipher what they meant.  

Maybe a little more cohesiveness with the discussion between Lydia and (the Theikos?) when they enter the house. Definitely. Was Brisies a sorceress too, but not as good as Lydia? Also is Marcus a sorcerer, or a Roman friend who is sympathetic to the Theikos? Yep, Briseis is another sorceress, though not as powerful. Marcus is also a sorcerer, though Roman. I'm sure that all gets answered later, and you did touch on it. 

I like the curse she thinks of at the end. It made me want to know what Lydia ends up doing to Rome.

Just curious, is there a romantic relationship between the protagonists in their future? I am a sucker for a little romance in any genre! And I like strong women as much as anyone, but I do love a good old fashioned rescue scene on occasion. I think even someone as powerful and talented as Lydia would agree. ;) 

I'm a sucker for romance as well! The love interest isn't introduced until a few chapters in though. 

Good job! 

Laura

Thank you again for your feedback! I truly appreciate all your time and effort. :)

 

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On 4/9/2021 at 12:14 PM, JINJUP6RICHARDS said:

Hi Jinju!

I was confused by the first paragraph, too many new names and new places, Lydia, Marcus, Forum, the Theikos. It took me a few re-reads to realize that Lydia and Marcus were investigating the Forum because the Forum was being noisy in a new way (since marketplaces are usually noisy this wasn't an easy concept to follow). I think you show what the Forum is and why Lydia might want to investigate it in a much better way with your second paragraph. I definitely see how confusing it can be (especially in an opening paragraph) now that I look back it. Would it work to go from your first sentence "Lydia stopped…" straight onto a second sentence "People were crowding the city square, pressing up against…"? That way you show right away what a Forum is (the city square) and why Lydia might be looking at it (the people crowding and raising their fists). That could definitely work. 

Lydia tapped Marcu's hip struck me as odd. Do people tap each other's hips? It might work better to introduce Marcus here. Lydia turned to her friend/fellow sorcerer/brother-in-arms Marcus. "War?" 

The great thing about having someone else read my stuff (which used to never happen lol) is that I see where my personal idiosyncrasies might be uncomfortable to read for others. 
I'd get rid of "on their way here." I'd also get rid of "white" unless her breath is actually white for magical reasons.

Noted.

Nice bit of characterization. I feel like I know what she wants now, that I'm into her goal.

 

I'd add a comma after screaming crowd.

 

I like the idea of mercy being death, it is intriguing and sets up Lydia's power nicely.

 

Couldn't they mutilate a dead body? Would it work to say they were probably going to come back to pick up the woman's body?

True, I didn't think of that. Would it work for Lydia and Marcus to find the body mutilated, which would emphasize the Romans' cruelty?

I'd add "gotten to Lydia, too, if the Theikos…"

 

Why are they walking now? Weren't they running before?

 

I like the placing of the historical exposition around why the people were shouting about Saguntum. I think it's good to put it where you did.

 

I found the whole bit between Briseis and Lydia confusing. I was getting amped about war and revenge on Rome and then all of a sudden I'm reading about a love curse that isn't even effective? Why do Romans buy these curses at all if they don't work? I realize I had this idea of lower class vs. aristocratic culture but never bothered to use different terms. I'll make that clearer in my revisions. I think you wanted to set up the idea of inscribing a curse on a tablet so that Lydia can compose her later curse at the end of the scene. In that case, could you have Lydia note that Briseis was writing a curse on a wax tablet without going into what exactly the curse is about, and then move Lydia to the hearth where she composes the curse on Rome in her head? That way the tension that you've been building up doesn't get prematurely released into a digression about fake love curses. 

 

Maybe "nothing but ashes" or "nothing but shame"? I feel like it cuts a little at the power of the line to include two things instead of one powerful curse.

 

Conclusion: I didn't think this scene sucked at all. I thought it was clearly well-researched and vivid in its details. The conflict you set up between Marcus being from Roman background and Lydia hating all Romans is one I look forward to seeing expanded, and I think I remember from your pitch that it does get expanded. I'm interested in what happens next!

Thank you so much for the feedback! I truly appreciate all your time and effort. :)

 

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Hi Minglu! You have a rich world, and as we established at the conference, a fantastic premise! This first chapter has nice conflict and action, but I'm a bit disoriented and unsure of what's really going on especially on the first read. At first, it's unclear what the Theikos is, and overall there's kind of just a lot meaningless words coming at the reader--I think the Theikos is the faction Lydia is part of? An easy way to deliver that exposition without info dumping it is to just go deeper into Lydia's PoV. So like, instead of "If there was such an organized ruckus, there was something the Theikos needed to know" it could be something like, "This ruckus wasn't good. In fact, it could mean war (insert overheard dialogue.) Lydia's pulse quickened. She had to get home to tell the other members of the Theikos they could be in danger." (Rewritten this way, it's clear that this is a *big deal* and also spells out the fact that Theikos = group of people under threat and Lydia is with them.)

Quote

Lydia blew on her stiff fingers, stung red by the winter wind on their way here. Her white breath did nothing to warm her fingers. She clenched her hands into fists and envisioned bloodied Roman corpses. That felt good. The amulets on the string around her neck responded, buzzing with the prospect of a spell.

The above quote is a nice sensory paragraph that lets me into Lydia's PoV. I'd encourage you to stay close to her PoV like this and use those sensory descriptors! I couldn't really visualize much of this chapter, so adding some details like "Her black hair (or whatever color) whipped around her face in the wind etc" would help me see Lydia. When Marcus shakes her shoulder, is his grip strong, gentle, etc.? Is he a big guy, little guy? Dark skinned, light skinned?

Lastly, I'll say that the raid happens very fast. I don't really get what is being raided yet or what's at stake, so I'd consider spending a few more pages in the "normal" before the bad guys rush in. Can we get more detail about the setting? Some intimate details of Lydia's home that she's worried about? Then when the raid happens, your reader will feel this place under threat instead of wondering Wait where are we, why does this matter, who? In fact, since the raid seems inconsequential and more for the sake of showing us Lydia's magic (which is very cool!), I'd consider if you could rearranging the scene this way:

1. Lydia and Marcus stroll through the market and observe the Forum, some interiority about why this info matters

2. Go home to Theikos friends and update them on the bad news. Go about making curses etc. doing "normal world things", get us to care a little about these characters by showing their appearances/personalities/quirks/goals

3. Raid happens. Lydia and friends watch from inside their hideout, Lydia uses her magic to spare a woman's pain (nice way of making her sympathetic btw.) Lydia and friends fret about their future (good way to tell us the stakes without it reading too info dumpy). Still end on Lydia thinking about her disdain for Rome (it's a nice poetic ending of the chapter!)

If you reorganized the chapter this way, then the scenes will be continually ramping up in tension rather than escalating and declining, and overall it seems more organic. I hope that makes sense! I'm always around to chat ideas--feel free to DM me on Twitter!

All best,

Tatiana 

 

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On 4/9/2021 at 7:01 PM, Shola said:

Hey Minglu!

Hey Shola!

Just to start off, the imagery was well done.

I was reading it outside and had been sitting on a bench for quite some time and didn’t realize how cold I was until I read the bit establishing setting. That's gotta count for something.

This is only the opening so I tried to relegate my suggestions to things that maybe have general application. I will refer to the sections of the narrative that my suggestions apply, hope it doesn't add too much bulk and makes sense for you.

  • "They had followed the shouting and stomping, uncharacteristic of a Forum usually rife with hawking vendors and haggling buyers, here." - I would rework this sentence, I would offer suggestions but I don’t know the words you are willing to cut or keep. I’m sure you can keep most of the words (indispensable descriptors and all), scramble them up a bit until your hit with an arrangement that does just as swell a job of establishing scene but flows better. I know it's in there.
  • "And yet, the people raised their fists and pounded them against invisible barriers." -  This could be an opportunity to shine a brief light on the scope of this kind of “area of effect” magic by illustrating its position with relation to the physical buildings. I read about the intimidating doors being shut and then people banging on a barrier and for some reason my mind was like she means those tall doors. I was slow to realize it was magic, true, but maybe just give a brief explanation on the barrier. Perhaps stick it in after the sentence explaining Ostia not being in session? Or after the next sentence that introduces the barriers? Doesn’t have to spill the beans, just explaining size and purpose (does the purpose spill beans? If so, try size and magic type/properties. That should be harmless enough). It’s not a necessity, just feels like an opportunity to me. I'm going to admit that the "barriers" aren't magic... just a weird phrase I used to describe the fist-shaking. I'll probably rework this so it isn't misunderstood.
  • "Then suddenly, he turned and walked briskly toward her." - "Stopping suddenly, he turned around and hurriedly walked toward her." (The more I read my edit, the less confident I am that it is actually an improvement. So you be the judge :unsure:).
  • "Lydia moved to enter the Forum, and if need be, the screaming crowd when a shrill cry cut through the chants." - If my take is correct, here’s a suggestion, "Becoming increasingly anxious, Lydia was poised to enter the screaming crowd she thought to have avoided when a shrill cry cut through their raucous." That definitely sounds better.
  • "I don't remember much, but I remember enough to know I hate them as much as you." - With things like this I've found (and am finding) that it’s best to make sure that characters that know each other discuss their histories as though talking with someone who is already somewhat familiar. I would keep some bits of info still coming from Marcus's mouth toward MC but other details you can have the Narrator fill in. Just so that you don’t have Marcus feeding Lydia details that she must already know simply for the sake of the Readers. I can see how this can get awkward. I've been playing around with slipping Marcus's personal history into a place where it would seem less out of place.
  • "Lydia traced the R in Racilia" - I’m going through a specific conundrum that I sense the potential for in here. My story is also set in history with peoples of different languages and I guess it all depends on how many cogs you want to crank, but would that letter R be the letter that we think of when we see R in the present? Conveniently enough, it actually is! It might not even matter (the historical equivalent may not look like R but it doesn’t change the fact that Lydia is tracing out whatever letter it may be that we interpret as R) but I made a slight oversight regarding historical language and letters and it created a host of problems that I had to constantly scan for and rework a few scenes. It could be inconsequential for you in the nature of your story but just thought I’d bring it up. 
  • "Later, while warming herself by the hearth, Lydia composed a curse too large for herself—or any sorcerer, no matter his alignment to perform." - Here, I would briefly highlight the intensity of her hatred for Rome/love for her magic kin and use that to create some emotional catalyst memory that leads into the swelling of her unspoken death spell nuke. And also it affords the opportunity to illustrate her dark and slightly unhinged personality that is, I imagine, molded by trauma. Also establishes the idea that if there’s one kind of person you DON’T want to have powers that align with "death", it’s the Lydia type of person. Thanks! I'll probably meld something like that into my revisions.

That's it. I enjoyed what you have so far and I find myself interested in the characters and the story that will unfold.

No cringe.

Thank you so much for your feedback! I truly appreciate all your time and effort. 

 

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On 4/25/2021 at 3:04 AM, Tatiana Schlote-Bonne said:

Hi Minglu! Hi Tatiana :) You have a rich world, and as we established at the conference, a fantastic premise! This first chapter has nice conflict and action, but I'm a bit disoriented and unsure of what's really going on especially on the first read. At first, it's unclear what the Theikos is, and overall there's kind of just a lot meaningless words coming at the reader--I think the Theikos is the faction Lydia is part of? An easy way to deliver that exposition without info dumping it is to just go deeper into Lydia's PoV. So like, instead of "If there was such an organized ruckus, there was something the Theikos needed to know" it could be something like, "This ruckus wasn't good. In fact, it could mean war (insert overheard dialogue.) Lydia's pulse quickened. She had to get home to tell the other members of the Theikos they could be in danger." (Rewritten this way, it's clear that this is a *big deal* and also spells out the fact that Theikos = group of people under threat and Lydia is with them.) Thanks so much! I've been playing around with going deeper into her POV, which is a problem I didn't realize I had before. 

The above quote is a nice sensory paragraph that lets me into Lydia's PoV. I'd encourage you to stay close to her PoV like this and use those sensory descriptors! I couldn't really visualize much of this chapter, so adding some details like "Her black hair (or whatever color) whipped around her face in the wind etc" would help me see Lydia. When Marcus shakes her shoulder, is his grip strong, gentle, etc.? Is he a big guy, little guy? Dark skinned, light skinned? Thanks! I've been working on this as well. 

Lastly, I'll say that the raid happens very fast. I don't really get what is being raided yet or what's at stake, so I'd consider spending a few more pages in the "normal" before the bad guys rush in. Can we get more detail about the setting? Some intimate details of Lydia's home that she's worried about? Then when the raid happens, your reader will feel this place under threat instead of wondering Wait where are we, why does this matter, who? In fact, since the raid seems inconsequential and more for the sake of showing us Lydia's magic (which is very cool!), I'd consider if you could rearranging the scene this way:

1. Lydia and Marcus stroll through the market and observe the Forum, some interiority about why this info matters

2. Go home to Theikos friends and update them on the bad news. Go about making curses etc. doing "normal world things", get us to care a little about these characters by showing their appearances/personalities/quirks/goals

3. Raid happens. Lydia and friends watch from inside their hideout, Lydia uses her magic to spare a woman's pain (nice way of making her sympathetic btw.) Lydia and friends fret about their future (good way to tell us the stakes without it reading too info dumpy). Still end on Lydia thinking about her disdain for Rome (it's a nice poetic ending of the chapter!)

I've been playing around with this and I think it might have solved a lot of my problems with this chapter. Thanks so much! 

If you reorganized the chapter this way, then the scenes will be continually ramping up in tension rather than escalating and declining, and overall it seems more organic. I hope that makes sense! I'm always around to chat ideas--feel free to DM me on Twitter!

All best,

Tatiana 

You too! (if that's a proper response to that lol)

 

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