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Thread: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43

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    Default The Critic's Quill: Issue 43



    From the TeamHello and a warm welcome to all.

    Here we are with another edition of the Critic's Quill. Today we are proud to present a well rounded edition, from the happenings of the Writer's Study written by f0ma, to insightful reviews and articles impeccably penned by our staff. And today's main event feature, an exclusive interview with our very own Radzeer - Exceptional writer, Admin, and a strong pillar of the Writing community.

    So time to bring out the snacks and start on this edition, which goes quite well them. I hope you enjoy the work our team has done and, I speak on behalf of the team, that it is pleasure to be able to bring each edition to our great audience.

    Regards,
    m_1512
    Editor


    Table of Contents
    1. Catching up with the Study
    2. Interview with Radzeer
    3. Chronicle of Spain
    4. In the Light of Dusk
    5. The Epic of Preamu
    6. The Knight of the Black Cross
    7. The Road to the Shah
    8. The Sultan and the Servant
    9. What Motivates an AARtist?
    10. The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly
    11. Inspiration - Part II
    12. It's just a matter of Perspective



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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43




    Catching up with the Study
    Report by f0ma

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    (What do you mean I have to do this segment again? My hand still hurts from writing the last one! Tch, no rest for the wicked I suppose)

    Welcome back everyone to another edition of the Critic’s Quill! I’m f0ma, your resident tour guide here to give you all the juicy gossip surrounding the Writers’ Study! Or you know, the competition news.

    When we left you last, the special Tale of the Week competition that was TotW 218 had just come to a close. Pitting the staff against the denizens of the Study, the staff collapsed spectacularly in the face of Ybbon. However, the mighty buffalo was bested the very next week by none other than our dear editor himself, m_1512! In the ‘After the War’ themed TotW 219, M’s story about the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus seized the prize after a fierce six-way free-for-all. Wait…Scipio? Wasn’t the person running the competition called Scipio as well? Hmm, something smells fishy here… (Ow! I told you to stop hitting me. What do you mean stop inventing conspiracies? Tch, nevermind) A round of applause for M, who won fair and square – I promise!

    The Gauls were the subject of TotW 220 and three separate tie-breaks! After some ferocious voting, Tale of the Week newcomer patriotgabe advanced over the corpse of Ybbon to claim victory! With a stirring tale recounting an ambush upon Julius Caeser himself, patriotgabe claimed his place on the great Writers’ Study scoreboard.

    With Romans and Gauls, what else could follow except gladiators! Ybbon stormed to yet another victory in the 221st competition, entitled ‘The Red Viper’. An interesting take on a duel had a man face off against a woman, with words coming to sting just as sharp as swords!

    Any guess as to who won the 222nd Tale of the Week? That’s right, it was Ybbon! He’s well and truly on his way to being the first person to achieve a gold medal based solely on TotW points alone! Drawing on the theme of ‘Coronation’, a particularly lecherous man needs a bit more than a royal invitation to attend a certain ceremony.

    At the time of writing, TotW 223 is undergoing a tie-break vote, but I’ll be sure to pick up where we’ve left off in the next issue! However, with the conclusion of MAARC L and MCWC V we definitely still have some more news for you!

    However, first we still have the coverage of MAARC XLVIX. When we left you last, Dance and Chirugeon were still battling it out for third place. Unable to break the deadlock however, both were declared third place winners; Chirugeon with his Germanic Rome 2 AAR ‘Children of the Forest’ and Dance with his picture heavy Skyrim tale 'Judicator of Elysium’. Returning in second place yet again was General Retreat with his famous ‘Sword of the Sea’ AAR! Keep it up; we’re sure you’ll stand first on that podium one day! Although finishing consistently in second place would actually mean you’d reach a gold medal faster than coming in first every second competition… Finally Lugotorix claimed his first MAARC victory as his ‘Bastard Son of Hannibal Barca’ sailed into first place. With another fabulous Rome 2 tale, this budding group of AARtists are surely re-writing many of the negative comments surrounding the game!

    The 50th MAARC was then in full swing! With some relaxed submission rules and a whole bunch of rep prizes up for grabs, the competition was truly fierce! Lugotorix once again returned to the competition to steal third place with his other Rome 2 AAR (that’s right, he has two!), ‘The Pasture of Slaughter’. Everyone’s favourite Empire writer also returned to the winner’s circle in MAARC L, with IneptCmdr’s famous ‘For King and Country’ taking a well-deserved second place. Finally, Justinian Australis’ long-running ‘The Last Pagan Emperor’ claimed first prize, showing the upstarts in the Rome 2 subforum just how dominant the original RTW AARs still are. A fantastic competition and a mighty fine display of talent all round!

    MCWC V also concluded in July, after a first place tie-breaker. A new writer going by the name of golded took first place with his fast-rising tale ‘The Knight of the Black Cross’. With a growing fanbase and some wonderful prose, this really is a story to watch out for! Losing out in the tie-breaker was none other than that pesky fellow Lugotorix, who added yet even more points to his growing tally! With a collection of excerpts from a published book, ‘Neck of Ivory’ has dazzled many of us already – and for good reason! Last but not least some other dude came in third with a story that definitely wasn’t worth voting for. I think it was the same guy that won that Panzers-themed Tale of the Week we looked at in the last issue? I’ll have a word with the staff at the Study and try to see if we can get him banned from these competitions, because this is just going too far now.

    Finally we have also learnt of the winner of the last duel we had! Where we last left off, Maximinus Thrax was locked in a mighty struggle with the Buffalo himself. However, dazzled as he was by a recent string of TotW victories, Ybbon became overconfident and Maximinus seized his chance to topple such a mighty foe! At least that’s the excuse I’m sure Ybbon will be giving! Many thanks to both contestants for an entertaining duel and congratulations to the great Maximinus Thrax.

    That about wraps things up for this edition of ‘Catching up with the Study’! I know, I know, it’s always sad when we have to part ways like this. Just try not to cry okay? If you’re really that distraught at the prospect of my leaving you, why not head over to the submissions threads for MAARC LI and MCWC VI to see if they’ll cheer you up? Or you could always try your luck against the Buffalo over in the Tale of the Week competition – win or lose I’m sure you’ll come away with a smile on your face. So remember, keep reading, keep writing and I’ll see you guys later!
    Last edited by m_1512; August 16, 2014 at 12:54 AM.


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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43



    Interview with Radzeer
    Interview by m_1512

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    1. Hello Radzeer, welcome to another edition of the Quill. I am sure this will be an interesting interview. First and foremost we would like to congratulate you on your promotion to Moderation Hex. Any inspiring message for our readers?

    Thank you very much, and let me return the congratulations for your excellent leadership at the Quill, following the long traditions of this publication. In terms of inspiring messages, instead of a corporate line of "go team" or "shoot for the stars", I'd say that the greatest strength of this community is the camaraderie between writers no matter what other positions they hold. Whenever I browse the Writers' Study, I always do it as a writer - and regardless of anything else that will remain my main identity on TWC.


    2. For the benefit of our new members of the forum, could you give a brief paragraph about how you came to the Writers' Study?

    It was almost by accident. I was sitting in a hotel on a work trip when I stumbled upon Skantarios' first AAR. He already had dozens of chapters, and it kept me up almost all night. I registered just to congratulate him, and soon decided to challenge myself in this genre too. I found an incredibly supportive community here, and started to spend a lot of time in the WS. It indeed must have been a lot, as after a few months the then director, Hesus de bodemloze, offered me a local moderator position. I owe him a lot for the confidence he had in me. Eventually I made it to WS director, and had the chance to work with many exceptional staff members and writers here.


    3. Now to your AARs, no point denying it, they are of exceptional quality. What is your philosophy behind AAR writing?

    I appreciate you saying this, and I guess my philosophy can be narrowed down to two major points. The first is quality, in a sense that if I cannot do something right then it is not worth doing in the first place. I am the strongest critic of my own work, and I put a lot of time into the AARs I write. Quality comes in many forms of course, and people can excel in writing, visual arts, campaign management, battle skills or humor. Writers should build their AARs around the strengths they have.

    The second is the fun factor (broadly defined). A writer must enjoy creating the story. If it becomes a chore or it is something he is no longer comfortable doing, the dreaded writer's block will be inevitable. It is often said that the lack of reader feedback can be the death of an AAR, but I found that people often continue to update their stories despite the lack of comments. And I've also seen AARs being discontinued despite ample reader feedback. So at the end it comes down to the writer - as long as it is fun for him, the story goes on.

    So in short, my philosophy is to make sure that I have fun while putting all that work into a story. Of course sometimes I tend to overdo this, for which a good example is the ridiculously long Behind the Scenes part I wrote after finishing my Kievan story.


    4. Any tips or secrets you would share with our readers about writing?

    I'm not sure how much secret there is, although many books that "teach" writing would probably argue the opposite. Writing is a creative art which can be evaluated in many ways, but for me the most important is whether the writer himself is happy with the product. If yes, the goal is met. So let me offer this insight for those who face the first hurdle and are not certain whether they should write: just go and try it, you have nothing to lose. You will create something that reflects your own personality, creativity and perspectives on life. And regardless of anything else, you will like this accomplishment.

    As for the tips, well, probably the best known tip for writing is the importance of reading. Reading other stories can help a lot more than what you may think, because of the unconscious fine tuning going on in the mind of the reader. This is particularly helpful for those whose native language is not English. I myself learned a lot this way. Another suggestion is to pay attention to structure. It is very tempting to write whatever you have in mind, and if you have a strong moment you should really write, but if you have nothing very inspiring going on, you may want to see if what you have written so far has a good structure (reasonable plot, characters, scenes etc.). A reader would not look directly for structure, but would notice its absence and would likely conclude that the story is not really great even without knowing exactly why.


    5. This is something many would like to know, is there any AAR you are planning to write? Some speculative spoilers for gossip, please.

    I wish I could confirm something like that! It took a lot more time than I anticipated to finish my third AAR (I may still be working on the last update when the Quill comes out), and due to some changes in my job I now have a lot less time for large AAR projects. If I ever have time, I'll probably do a late campaign MTW2 AAR with Poland or maybe Novgorod. But that is very much in the future if it ever happens. I do have an idea for a mini-AAR, based on one battle, and if all goes well I'll be able to pull that off this year.


    6. Coming to the point of writing, has involvement in the writing sections helped in RL? A small analogy would be quite the motivation for readers.

    It does help. The Writers' Study is an excellent training ground for RL writing. Few could make a living out of that of course, but that is not the point. People mostly write for self-fulfillment. Actually in that respect the Quill works just the same way. I remember when my first article was published in the Quill, it felt like an RL accomplishment. But to give you a more traditional example, the time I invested into writing my AARs actually paid off in a novel I'm currently working on (loosely based on my Kievan AAR). Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres, and writing a plot-heavy, medieval themed AAR helped me a lot in finding the right tone.


    7. Do you find any changes in the site and the writing sections compared to when you first came here?

    That is a good question. I'd say that some of the changes are "normal" so to speak. Very few of the active writers from that era are still around, which makes sense as people move on with their lives. The AAR scene has changed somewhat, although the dominance of Rome 1 and MTW2 AARs is still great. The post-Warscape titles could not really make a dent on this, which shows the power of great overhaul mods on old titles that still provide immersion and inspiration for writers. The pillars of the WS are still the same: the AAR scene, the Tale of the Week (TotW) competition and the creative writing section, which shows that the foundation of the WS is strong. The Lounge is less active these days, but that is because the writing community has not yet bounced back from the devastation caused by the prolonged site errors last year. And there is always experimentation with new competitions and new ideas, so I am optimistic about the future.


    8. Recently there has been a surge in activity in the Creative Writing sections. Any thoughts about this?

    I really like it. Back when I was on WS staff and then Director, we struggled with the Creative Writing section as only few people posted there. Those that were not AAR writers usually flocked to the TotW competitions. I think the CW section is the perfect place to experiment with styles and themes or polish one's writing skills, so any activity there would pay good dividends across the WS. In creative writing there are no game limitations, and the competition is entirely voluntary (unlike in TotW where one can only submit to compete). At the same time, the writer does not need to worry about extra elements such as visuals and gameplay like in AAR writing. I really hope that the recent surge in CW will remain a sustained one, and the WS will eventually see many new writers branching out to various genres and competitions.


    9. Perusing your writing works, I could not find any Creative Writing piece yet. Would there be any reason to it, and also would we soon see another exceptional piece there from you?

    There is actually one story which I wrote for the Scriptorium Competition back in 2012, and received the Librarian's Choice award for it. This was Artistic Representation, and you can read it here. I don't think I'll ever become a regular in the CW section though. What really drew me to the WS was the AAR style writing with all its unique challenges, and the flash fiction competition of TotW. My AARs tend to be writing heavy anyway, so I was able to use those stories to do as much creative writing as I wanted.


    10. Any thoughts for our readers as we conclude the interview?

    I want to express my appreciation to all who contributed to this community in the past years as writers either in the WS or as staff for the Quill. You kept this community alive and entertained many of us. And for those who are still looking forward to writing their first story, well, it's about time.


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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43



    Chronicle of Spain
    Review by f0ma

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Being one of the small handful of people I know of on TWC who have attempted an original Shogun Total War AAR – and I’d hazard perhaps being one of the few around who even still plays the game – I often find myself snooping in the Medieval and Shogun subforum. It was to my delight one day that I stumbled across a rare creature indeed: a Medieval: Total War AAR!

    The AAR in question is Cyprian2’s ‘Chronicle of Spain’. Compiled primarily in January this year, it stretches for six chapters, alongside a prologue and an interlude. Rarer still – at least for myself – it’s a faux-historical piece, as opposed to the more narrative driven stories I usually read and review. It’s presented in the traditional history book format, supposedly written by one Rodrigo Moncada; a Spanish nobleman of the late tenth century. The tale he weaves however, is one of a blossoming Castile in the 700’s.

    The prologue itself, written in first person by Rodrigo, is especially gripping and engaging. His generally put upon and downcast nature is supplemented by a wry cynicism and dry wit. As such, one might think he’d make a wonderful biased narrator; commenting on the events of the past in a particularly tongue-in-cheek manner. Such a circumstance arises not unfortunately and the colourful narrator never really impacts upon his own story in the way one might have hoped. A missed opportunity, this reviewer feels.

    It would be wrong to say that the story itself is dry however. The writing is actually quite sublime, which is hopefully a compliment I don’t pay too often, because I try to reserve it for a very special kind of writing. Indeed, ‘Chronicle of Spain’ is written in a very fluid, polished and professional style; mixing the complex and the simple in a way that the reader is simultaneously impressed, yet never once has to struggle. Such a feat is all the more impressive when considering the amount of Spanish names continually evoked. With history-style AARs perhaps more so than narrative ones, there is a greater tendency to introduce a greater number of characters. ‘Chronicle of Spain’ avoids this common pitfall reasonably well; taking the time to establish and reinforce new characters to aid the reader. However, the author seems apprehensive about including further Spanish terminology, losing out on providing his audience with a greater sense of immersion. Although employing a local lexicon can often be a double-edged sword, it’s clear the author would have the skill to pull such a technique off.

    Whilst the majority of the piece is laid out in the aforementioned history-book style, an exception is made for the interlude chapter, which employs a much more narrative style. Whilst the author seems equally at home in this territory, it’s a confusing shift; bearing in mind we already have an established frame story with Rodrigo. Is this still Rodrigo writing? If so, then how has he come to know about people two hundred years deceased so intimately? If not, then in what context do we place this chapter? Although still well-written, from a storytelling perspective it’s a strange move to mix styles in such a way.

    Returning to the historical style, without the added colour that Rodrigo might have brought with his narration, the story – despite its excellent language – can at times feel a little flat; another common pitfall in this kind of AARtistry. Although it hints at the uncommon and perhaps risqué themes of homosexuality and incest, neither are ever more than alluded to. Not that every story must convey such themes, yet to mention such subjects so rarely tackled in AARs and to not expand on them is almost a disappointment for the audience.

    The author does however tackle the issue of women quite well. Although very much on the side-lines in AARs, female characters have seen much more prominence in the past year or so. However their collective portrayal can often be haphazard – ranging from engaging to shamefully token. ‘Chronicle of Spain’ is one work that does present a number of interesting and well-rounded female characters, by way of letters they have penned and the occasional aforementioned lapses into narrative styles. The two princesses Jimena and Berenguela are both quite captivating. The former is definitely the more interesting of the pair; torn between the differing loves – platonic or not – she has for her separate family members. Berenguela herself is actually set up to be the more engaging – at least inasmuch that she has a chapter devoted to her – yet she toes the dangerous line of being the strong and independent heroine and being the clichéd multilingual princess, traversing the world to forge alliances. Whilst the author fights to break the mould prescribed by the Total War women he and others have to work with, his efforts are not entirely convincing.

    With a generally very solid writing style, one hopes this comes twinned with a host of pictures to fawn over – or at least to help make better sense of the story at hand. Upon my first reading, I was impressed by the multitude of crisp images on display. Doing the best he could with the out-dated graphics, I didn't feel they were the eyesore one might expect; quite the opposite in fact. However, at the time of writing, these pictures are unavailable, which is unfortunate. ‘Chronicle of Spain’ wasn’t a story that necessarily relied on its companion images, yet they were a huge benefit to the sometimes sparse battle scenes at the very least.

    ‘Chronicle of Spain’ overall is, ultimately, a fantastic piece of writing. The language is clear and crisp; easy to read and engaging. However, it is also a story of missed opportunities and mismanaged endeavours. A strong story, it attempts to break free of the confines of the traditional historical style, yet I’m inclined to think it stumbles a little at the last hurdle. However, there are times when you should ignore this critic’s quill of mine and read the tales for yourselves; in this case I’m positive you won’t be disappointed.


    In the Light of Dusk
    Review by Merchant of Venice

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Whenever I see a new Shogun 2 AAR, I do a little dance because it just doesn't get the attention it deserves. So when I saw an AAR by such a well regarded and loved author as Tigellinus, I broke out into a full boogie with disco balls and everything. In the Light of Dusk follows perhaps one of the greatest Japanese figures of history, Oda Nobunaga, who laid the foundations for his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu to conquer the country. His character is said to have been unpredictable and I was eager to find out Tigellinus’ take on him.


    Note: This is only a preview of this AAR and a longer review will be written once the AAR has progressed more. This preview will only focus on Tigellinus' contribution to the AAR rather than Reronicus' due to the latter only posting one chapter.


    Plot Synopsis
    So far, this AAR follows the legendary character of Oda Nobunaga, who was Daimyo (leader) of the Oda clan. It starts off with Nobunaga as only a young man who suddenly becomes leader after the death of his father. Nobunaga then quickly starts doing what he has to to secure his throne, which involves imprisoning even his own mother. I thought this was an ideal introduction for the story, especially the opening scene, which shows Nobunaga training with his mentor, Himichiro. This wonderful scene helped Tigellinus immensely in creating the character of Nobunaga as well as Himichiro, both of which are wonderful characters, but more on that later.

    The story then continues to follow Nobunaga as he is forced to face the less than ideal situation he has been placed in. Surrounded by enemies, some of whom are within his own clan, and with little means to defend himself, Nobunaga tries as valiantly as he can to defend and protect his clan. But, with enemies around every corner, will he be able to?

    Writing
    One thing I truly love about this AAR so far are the intricate and well developed characters he has already managed to craft. Tigellinus’ take on Nobunaga is extremely interesting. He is portrayed as a young and very brash man, who, while having good intentions, often makes mistakes and is prone to lashing out at friends and innocents. He seems to be quite troubled, especially after hearing of his father’s death. I also feel that Tigellinus’ portrayal of Nobunaga also fits historical sources of his character and personality.

    Tigellinus’ other characters are also showing much promise. Nobunaga’s sensei Himichiro is a character which shows great potential to influence plot lines and the story in future updates. I am eager to see how his and Nobunaga’s relationship changes and evolves. Tigellinus' writing is extremely descriptive and never fails to immerse you. Be it an epic battle or a council meeting, Tigellinus never fails to excite his readers. His dialogue is also top notch as well, especially the dialogue surrounding Nobunaga, which so perfectly captures his erratic personality.

    Critique
    As this is only a preview and the AAR is only in its beginning stages, there isn't much I can legitimately critique without reading further into the story. However, I would like it if the author could add some screenshots for the battles which have taken place, as some of the battles in the AAR are very much deserving of pictures. But the author has admitted that this is an area of improvement and is actively trying to remedy this. A great author is someone who can take on-board suggestions from their readers and Tigellinus is very much doing that. Also, I personally think it would be great to write some chapters in another character’s perspective as this would add another layer of complexity to the plot. Yet these are only suggestions and not really problems already present in his writing.

    Conclusion
    In the Light of Dusk holds much promise as an AAR and I personally am very excited to see where it goes. Already the plot has taken some interesting turns and (while I won’t reveal any major spoilers) some of the twists put Nobunaga’s future in serious danger. While there are some minor points of improvement, Tigellinus is very much on the road to replicating the fabled Takeda, something which is by no means an easy feat.




    The Epic of Preamu
    Review by f0ma

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    I remember reading this story when I first joined the forums, over a year ago. It was especially exciting for me personally, since it shared its setting with an area I’ve been interested in since I was a child. However, for one reason or another, I never quite found the time to review it. So, here it is, a year late alas, but no less deserving of an in-depth look despite the passage of time.

    The Epic of Preamu’ is a strange story, inasmuch that it’s almost an after action report. Stranger still it’s almost an after action report of a browser game; something of which I can’t recall ever seeing. However, as close as it might be, it is not. Instead, it serves as a background story and narrative history to accompany the author’s Nationstates gameplay.

    The aforementioned setting is that of north-west China and the fringes of Central Asia. Whilst sharing the same locale as ‘The Road to the Shah’, which I’ve also reviewed this issue, it is set nearly a millennia before, in the tumultuous fifth century. It follows the prince of a fictional Sino-barbarian people known as the Liu, who would eventually lay the foundations for the nation of Liugark. The prince in question is the eponymous hero: Preamu.

    ‘The Epic of Preamu’, it its current form spans seventeen chapters, not including a prologue, chronicling the early life of Preamu; the son of the khan and heir to the steppe. It is quite clear that the hero is modelled closely on Alexander the Great; something which is alluded to, but is still quite overt in the story itself. However, the author falls afoul of the different between telling us who he is and proving to us who he is – in essence talking the talk, but not quite walking the walk. Preamu is described by our narrator as being in possession of a multitude of great qualities; an action hero almost. Yet this isn’t particularly prevalent in Preamu’s actions at the beginning of the story. It’s there in his dialogue at times, but Preamu himself never particularly does anything to live up to his own reputation.

    Along with the Alexander comparison comes the obligatory homosexual undertones. ‘The Epic of Preamu’ is quite unique for Writers’ Study stories, inasmuch that it isn’t afraid to tackle this issue of sexuality. It’s quite rare to encounter homosexual themes in after action reports and creative writing pieces and that alone might very well be enough to recommend ‘Preamu’. The author begins by introducing the theme quite subtly, from the early wrestling matches with Preamu and his friends, through to Utruru’s ambiguous spanking in Chapter Four, to finally the narrator’s admittance of Numu’s non-platonic love for Preamu. These early chapters all occur at different stages of the boys’ childhoods and the author is quite clever in weaving this homosexual theme through the opening of the story, with recourse to perhaps mirroring the real life manifestations of these feelings in young people throughout puberty. As such, the slow shift from the subtle to the overt is quite intelligent on behalf of the author, who portrays the quite a successful perception of homosexuality through the eyes of a growing child.

    This theme is supplemented by the omniscient and perhaps biased narrator, who stands apart from the story at large, yet clearly seeks to cast Preamu in a positive light. However, it is the authors’ use of dramatic irony that is particularly striking. Although I confess I might not be too well read as of late, this is perhaps one of the few, if not then still definitely one of the most conspicuous uses of the technique I’ve seen in the Study. The narrator, whilst essentially fighting in Preamu’s corner, is at the same time detached from the protagonist, and the audience are provided with a very direct narration that often excludes him. This is first noticeable when the narrator reveals Numu’s love for Preamu to the audience – presumably a fact that Preamu himself has yet to ascertain. This lends a new dimension to the story, breathing a fresh life into it and partly compensating for Preamu’s somewhat bland character. It’s a particularly rare way to inject excitement into the story – in regards to writings in the Study – but nonetheless a successful one.

    Alongside this comes a similar predicament, although perhaps not necessarily as positive a one. Although dramatic irony doesn’t break the fourth wall per se, it does make a bit of a racket which is difficult to ignore. Although this itself isn’t the issue, it is compounded by problems perhaps halfway between anachronism and fallacy. I believe the author when they claim to have researched the period and setting, yet they sometimes allow the omniscient narrator to seep into the characters, inasmuch that they perhaps know things they realistically shouldn’t. Sometimes this is a marginal concern, such as Preamu and Numu’s discussion of India, yet at others it seems more purposeful, where Preamu tells us he’s read extensively on Alexander. Can a nomadic steppe boy, with presumably a child’s grasp of Chinese, really comprehend Alexander in the same was as his counterparts in the Mediterranean? I’m not entirely sure how prevalent stories of Alexander were – written or spoken – in China during this period, but it does feel unnatural and unrealistic; further still overemphasising a comparison between the two which is already overt enough. The author explains it away by telling us such stories came from Chinese pilgrims returning from India – yet this still feels like more of an excuse than an explanation; not in regards to the fact that Alexander could have been known, but in the fact that he could be perceived so.

    The issue of immersion in general is a tricky one. Being reasonably familiar with Chinese history and geography, I feel quite comfortable when the author rattles of names such as Gansu, Rouran, hsien-pi, Hwang-ho and Toba. To a layman however I can see these being rather confusing. The author did attempt to provide maps and some extra information on the history surrounding the story, yet the histories are mostly fictional ones covering the Liu people, whilst the relevant pictures have long since been taken down. As such, to read it now might be confusing for someone not acquainted to what already is a very niche area of Chinese history. However, the lack of additional information within the story itself to explain these terms detracts from the authenticity they seek to provide, instead merely instilling confusion.

    To return to the earlier issue of dramatic irony, it was from that point on that the story began to mature and one could yet again be forgiven for believing the style of writing to be a reflection of the protagonist’s age. Following on from Preamu’s exile, the pace of the story begins to slow down now that he himself is older; perhaps reflecting the transience of childhood itself. Where previously he had been a character possibly lacking in dimension, his struggles to survive on his own shape him into more of a well-rounded character, again tapping into the subtext of growing up; the sheltered upbringing producing a generic prince to a man cast out into the wilds, forced to discover who he truly is without the aid of his family. The episode where he makes his first kill is particularly striking. Although he only feels ‘cold and empty’, it’s the first time we truly get a feel for the character’s emotions. Highlighting the themes of independence and individualism, this can only come in the fresh context of his being alone – no longer the prince, but now Preamu himself.

    This turn of events is exacerbated by Preamu’s friends; all of whom retain a sense of childishness after their collective exile. Only Preamu appears to mature, a process silhouetted against the playfulness of his companions. His once flat tones now instead clearly prove the young man’s cool and mature head; the lifeless fight with his father stands at odds with the powerful confrontation with Utruru following it. Indeed, the changes are so subtle one would struggle to notice them. There is a shift in the writing style, but it is not centred around Preamu and his actions; it concerns instead his reactions to what is happening about him. As the environment changes, the audience comes to see Preamu in a different light, which is a particularly clever device. When writing a story so closely tied to one character, it’s easy to become carried away with how you want to develop them. The eponymous hero here however always stays constant, yet still manages to evolve without excessive attentions paid to him.

    However, despite the growth of Preamu’s character, the homosexual undercurrents which defined the early chapters are somewhat stunted in the latter half of the story; owing primarily to the hero’s obliviousness. They’re still there, but they don’t particularly change or progress in the same way as the rest of the story. With the author once more employing dramatic irony to further expand on Numu’s character, it feels incredibly forced in comparison to the natural and subtle ways in which his love object has evolved. It was a shame to see a once dominant theme take a side line, even if it was at the expense of Preamu’s impressive character development.

    The sphere of heterosexual romance is not without its issues too. The issue of Rudur’s bride is resolved very swiftly by an impulsive Preamu whom I had not come to expect. If I were feeling generous I would subscribe it to his being back in the presence of his father, thus bringing out the childish nature we saw in the opening chapters. Yet honestly I think it could have been handled better; an expanded sense of conflict between his two options would have been a milestone in Preamu’s development, yet as it stands it instead was almost a step back – standing at odds to the beautifully crafted protagonist we had come to know.

    Conflict in general comes to mark the later chapters, as ethnic tensions and further romances come into play, but they tend to be resolved as swiftly as before. Despite the introduction of a harsher and more sadistic side to Preamu, the author quickly resolves uncomfortable issues with a very typical hero coming to the rescue at the last minute scenario – something which even if it weren’t so cliché becomes stale quite fast, with the consequence of the author missing the chance to explore some more complex storylines.

    However the story comes to a premature end after seventeen chapters. As such it’s difficult to review the entire story as a whole, because it’s still very much an introduction to a much grander work. Yet not all stories are to be penned. ‘The Epic of Preamu’ is, all the same, a very mixed bag. The storytelling and style itself may seem weak at times, yet at others the story is incredibly intelligent and masterly crafted. It tackles the rare theme of homosexuality well in early chapters, whilst later chapters are defined by a clever and unique form of character development. 'The Epic of Preamu' is definitely a story about growing up and maturing; discovering yourself when you realize the labels you've been transcribed fail to define you. However, many of the story’s strong points come at the detriment of the supporting cast, but, hey, this is the epic of Preamu after all! It’s only meant to be about one man and it’s very safe to say that one man is portrayed magnificently. Still, this review is about more than that. Many tomes line the shelves of the Writers’ Study; many still long since abandoned. We tend to only focus on the recent writings of our contemporaries, yet buried in the archives are some real gems. I hope this can inspire a few of you to dig a bit deeper to uncover a lost gem like ‘The Epic of Preamu’.



    The Knight of the Black Cross
    Review by General Retreat

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Occasionally you will (as a consumer of fine fiction) happen across a creative work and wonder what on Earth inspired its author to share it with the Internet; usually this will be some travesty of fan fiction with grammar as irregular as its romantic pairings. With The Knight of the Black Cross (TKBS) I do still wonder it is doing on the Internet, but for an entirely different reason. When reading this masterfully written story, I genuinely feel a little guilty - as if I’ve inadvertently stumbled into a pirated .pdf of what should rightfully be a paperbound novel (or at least an ebook for my Kindle). As a preface to establish the calibre of work we’re dealing with, I don’t think that’s a bad one to start with. For those of you who haven’t, read it now and come back to this later (spoilers and such).

    Initially set during the hard winter of 1060 in the heartlands of Normandy, TKBS follows the trials and tribulations of the young knight Tristan de Vernon as he sets out to carve himself a place in the world. Initially a minor retainer within the household of the Count of Evreux, Lord Richard, Tristian soon earns the deadly hatred of Bardulf de Bolbec by bedding his wife. Soon he must fight to his last breath to preserve his life and all that he loves. Far from the usual white-knight of clear-cut chivalrous virtue that regularly makes an appearance in the genre, Tristian is a potent blend of impetuous youth, adulterous avarice, arrogance and ego, tempered (partially) by devotion to his paramour. These characteristics drive his insatiable lust for personal gain, which is the impetus for most of the ensuing plot.

    The story itself, tracking Tristian’s progression through Europe, is tight and to the point, eschewing the common problem of unnecessary rambling plot arcs and stalling. As a matter of a fact, one might argue that some sections are excessively to the point – the early chapters strike a nice balance between development and pacing, setting the scene in Normandy before jumping directly to Paris (cutting out the ensuring walk that would have needlessly diverted the narrative flow). A disappointing omission is the journey between Paris and the Mediterranean, which would have been the perfect opportunity for the contemptible Burdulf to catch up with Tristian’s fleeing party, allowing for a thoroughly dramatic showdown to wrap up Act I. As things stand, Bardulf is left at a loose end in the French countryside, and I’m struggling to think up how he could be re-introduced without shattering the reader’s suspension of disbelief.

    As well as telling a wonderful story, golded has really put the history into historical fiction here. TKBS provides an absolutely fantastic interpretation of medieval feudal society and life, which is clearly expressed through the thoughts of our protagonist, dialogue between characters and even the descriptive passages detailing the setting itself. It is obvious that the period is something the author is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about, as the depth of detail is impressive. Whether it is describing the equipment and preparations of a mounted knight prior to battle, or cleverly integrated references to historical events and places, the story has been lovingly and authentically grounded in a very specific portion of Norman history.

    My only criticism in respect of this is that some of the descriptions of Tristian arming himself are needlessly long and could be seen to detract from the pace of the story. While it could be argued that in the opening of chapter 3, this long winded digression from the main narrative represents Tristian’s own distracted state prior to his duel, it does affect the pacing and drama tends to drown in the details. Despite this, the thoroughly authentic setting is one of the many ways this work stands out to me, as it does genuinely give the impression of portraying the aristocracy of yore, as opposed to modern men with bloody great big swords on their hips.

    To conclude, this is a story I can whole-heartedly recommend any fan of historical fiction take a peek at. If the gaming industry hadn’t ruined the word, I’d say the action passages were visceral and great fun to read, while the less bloody chapters are equally strong, wonderfully crafted and reeking of character development. As I insinuated in the opening, I reckon TKBC has the makings of a book in it (after a little editing to eke out some of the missed potential). Based on that, I’d read what’s there now before a publishing company asks golded to delete his posts as a part of a signing deal! The eponymous black cross doesn't seem to be there yet, but the knight certainly is and I've had a marvellous time reading about him.



    The Road to the Shah
    Review by f0ma

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Being the incredibly vain and arrogant person that I am, I occasionally search my own name on the forum to see if anyone is praising me behind my back. I stumbled across a story where a few of my friends were prophesizing that I would rep the author, owing presumably to the story being quite closely linked to my own interests. I was pretty ashamed at these so-called friends of mine in all honesty. They think that I’m only going to rep this story and leave it be? Why do that when I can review it as well?

    The story in question is entitled ‘The Road to the Shah’ and it was penned by a new writer by the name of justdownloading. It recounts the tale of a nameless Tangut/Chinese engineer, taken from the wreckage of his home in northwestern China and pressed into Mongol service.

    The story is divided into two sections. The first has the protagonist recounting the brutality of steppe life. He begins by discussing the practice of eating and drinking from animals, which then broadens out to a perspective of horde life in general. Mongol hierarchy and authority are frequent topics the protagonist touches upon, reinforcing upon the previously established brutalities of life amongst them. The second section is more specific, elaborating more upon the title of the piece. The engineer is called to aid the Khan in his conquest of Khwarezm by way of constructing rockets. Short dialogue adds a little more flavour to the piece and is used to clever effect to establish the dominance of the Khan (the only speaker) over the protagonist – and by extent everyone else. It’s rare to find such an intelligence use of dialogue and it’s definitely one of the story’s finer points.

    The language in general is, for the most part, quite solid. The author employs some pleasant wordage in sentences such as ‘We truly believed him a demon’ and ‘we value good blood in the charge of leadership’, which brings a unique and compelling flavour to the piece. However, the defining feature of the piece is the contrast between long and short sentences, which runs throughout the story. This technique could be indicative of a few things; the long desert days opposed to the short nights; the peaceful life he had once lived to the warlike one he’s been forced into or perhaps the quick deaths of his family contrasted with his own life that doesn’t seem to end. In essence however, the use of contrasting sentence lengths captures the duality of the character: the humble engineer and the indentured rocketeer. It is particularly effective in the last paragraph, which begins with one long sentence and then ends with several shorter ones emphasizing his new allegiance.

    However, by employing such a technique, the author runs the risk and falls foul of some clunky longer sentences. Sentences like ‘I remember on my first day, as I watched with disgust as one of the men took an arrowhead and made a small slit in his horse's throat, collecting it in a milk cup, and I vowed never to do any such degrading act myself, no matter how lacking the food became’ are cumbersome and unwieldy, which can spoil the story at times. This is reinforced by a number – albeit a small number – of spelling and other grammatical errors, which would be easily fixed with a quick once over.

    Some other inconsistencies arise in the storytelling itself. As effective and powerful as the last paragraph is, the author concludes with the line: ‘The city will fall.’ This would be a great ending to the story had the author referenced this city before. As such, we have reference to a country and a peoples to be invaded, but not of any specific city. This detracts from the power of the concluding statement, leaving the reader simply confused.

    On the whole, ‘The Road to the Shah’ is an interesting and unique piece, exploring not only a setting rarely seen here, but also some literary techniques we don’t see very often either. It suffers from a number of problems, most of which however are easily remedied by a simple re-read. Still, it’s a great start from a promising new author and definitely a fine addition to the many scrolls that line the walls of the Study.



    The Sultan and the Servant
    Review by f0ma

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    In November last year Rex Basiliscus embarked on a new creative writing piece entitled ‘The Sultan and the Servant’. With the setting of an ascendant Ottoman Empire, the premise definitely intrigued me. A lack of updates caused the work to fall somewhat off my radar, but a couple of new chapters in June re-sparked my interest – and so it should yours too!

    The story follows the titular servant; originally a Greek boy named Stefanos, forced to take the name Jahja following his indenture to the Ottomans and forced conversion to Islam. Originally a servant to a local governor, Jahja soon rises through the Ottoman ranks to a military command, due in no small part to the patronage of his master’s wife: Emime.

    ‘The Sultan and the Servant’ is notable for its use of time-skips. Whilst each chapter is a self-contained small tale, large periods of time usually separate each instalment. Some negative aspects of this technique are remedied by the frequent use of flashbacks and Jahja’s inner musings; both of which aid the reader in piecing together the puzzle of whatever happened in the preceding interim(s). The author however is wry enough not to give too much away when employing these devices, so the desired effect of having the time-skips create an atmosphere of mystique and intrigue is still maintained. Indeed, just how Stefanos the boy came to be Jahja the slave is still unclear, as is the true nature of his meteoric rise through the military.

    Supplementing these time-skips are a number of subtle undercurrents and subtexts to the main piece, each of which adding a second layer of mystery and excitement to the tale. Racial tensions, not only between the Greeks and the Ottomans, but Armenians, Bulgarians and other ethnic groups are hinted at; although have yet to be fully explored. Jahja’s relationship with Emime belies certain pseudo-Oedipal undercurrents, which are particularly tantalizing from a narrative perspective. This climaxes at the end of chapter two, yet is not pursued in the next instalment, showing the author’s wry skills are audience manipulation.

    One subtext I felt could be explored more is Jahja’s inner turmoil. As a protagonist, whilst Jahja doesn’t feel entirely without dimension, he comes across as a little flat at times, which stands at odds to much of the complexity of the story about him. Jahja seemingly accepts his new life with no question or conflict and, aside from one early nightmare, doesn’t provide a fitting contrast to the animated and colourful Stefanos in the prologue. Much of this might feed into the prevalence of Emime’s character, and her influence upon him, but the protagonist’s emotions in regards to his being transplanted into both a new culture and religion is a plot point I honestly expected to see explored further. When you have a character possessing this kind of duality, it's not unreasonable to expect a more pronounced inner conflict between old and new - it almost feels unnatural not to have something to this regard.

    On the topic of creating a complex story however, the author does a fantastic job in providing an easy access for the reader into the Ottoman world. Foreign terms and customs are explained either through footnotes or instead through Jahja’s own eyes. Using a foreign character to explore a setting not only foreign to him, but to the audience as well is a clever technique which the author exploits quite well.

    This technique, alongside the topic of Jahja’s twin character in general, is dealt with very interestingly in chapter four, where the author switches from his previous third person narrative to a first person perspective. The shift isn’t as jarring as it might seem and instead is implemented rather subtly. On one hand it can be seen as symbolising Jahja finally succumbing to his new Ottoman life, whilst on the other it could perhaps mark the shift from civil to military life. An interesting point of contrast occurs in the first chapter, where a first person narrative is employed in a flashback, chronicling his early sale as a slave to Emime. Whereas in the first he was still the Greek Stefanos, it does mark the start of his new life as Jahja. However, it stands at odds to the technique’s use in chapter four, where he is now an Ottoman military commander. Whilst this is an interesting switch, the links between the two pieces of first person writing elude a connection to any immediate symbolism. This could be seen as adding yet more mystery to the tale, but I find it more confusing than anything else.

    Regardless of this, the author does succeed in creating a wonderful sense of immersion in his tale; due in no small part to the adoption of Ottoman terms. There is a marked difference between making a foreign setting accessible to the reader and making such a story immersive at the same time. ‘The Sultan and the Servant’ is certainly a story that falls into the latter category and is another testament to the author’s skill.

    The story is supplemented by the occasional picture, usually standing in to aid a chapter heading. Whilst the two currently presented are quite striking, their quality is a little poor. With creative writing as opposed to after action reports it can be more difficult to access higher quality pictures to best represent your tale, so this isn’t a particularly important complaint – I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to say they detract from the writing. Yet cleaner and crisper images might lend the story a heightened aesthetic.

    Overall 'The Sultan and the Servant' is a surprisingly complex story, employing some difficult techniques and exploring some exciting themes. My advice to the author would be to maybe tap into the richness of the characters some more and breathe a bit more life into the piece by way of the available subtexts. The story is incredibly subtle as it is, but it could do with a few more pokes and nudges in the right directions; to replace some of the confusion present with the mystique the author already engineers so well.
    Last edited by m_1512; August 15, 2014 at 10:24 PM.


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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43



    What Motivates an AARtist?
    Article by Tigellinus

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Okay, this topic has interested me for quite some time: I was curious as to what makes an AARtist. Why does this interest me? Well, it interests me because I want to know why I write. I want to know what makes me feel . . . complimented(?) when it comes to writing. I originally assumed it would possibly be rep, as I am quite arrogant. So I assumed that it would be rep, recognition and such. The ability to go around with flashy rep.

    A disgusting admission? It does get better, I assure you. After a few comments on my AAR - compliments, criticism, it didn’t matter -, what mattered to me was that they had spent the time to read that. If it was criticism it meant that they had been reading it; reading it closely (I assume?) and found those mistakes. I must have been doing something right if I caught their attention enough to point out the mistakes, right? So, I followed the advice of those that gave it, read a few other AARS (Takeda-Robin de Bodemloze, Pasture of Slaughter-Lugotorix and A Wolf among Dogs-Radzeer, I also read countless others, all brilliant in their own way. But all of them gave me some unspoken advice on how to improve my AAR.) I improved, and I found out that what drove me to continue writing an AAR wasn’t the rep, it was that people took the time to read it. They took the time to comment and I learned a lesson: that even the criticism is helpful after you get over the “How dare they criticise me” feeling.

    What I was saying was certainly aid before and what I’m about to say is also. If you read an AAR, and you hate it - utterly despise it or whatever - have the courtesy to tell the author why. Because it does help, if you hate it so much. That is at least a feeling, so, drive yourself up into a frenzy and read through that work you despise, write down the mistakes, or remember them, and tell them what they did wrong. Tell them how they may improve it. You can probably leave out the “I utterly hate this work! You should never write again!” as that is simply petty

    Comments are the essence of motivation, whether it is in the form of kind compliments that make you want to live up to their expectations, or the criticism, so that you may improve it in a way that suits you. Maybe not because you want their readership, but because some of the things that they pointed out will be some things that everyone hates. Their advice is honestly more helpful than the compliments. I love compliments, they make me all warm and fuzzy inside. It puts a smile to my face, but they don’t improve my work, at least not by targeting a specific area and trying to improve it. Criticism is the most helpful form of feedback. As long as it is constructive, compliments and criticism go well together.

    There you go, my short, slightly jumbled, article on what motivates an AARtist. As well as why criticism helps. The reason I wrote this was because I can actually empathize with this. I wanted to try and express that in my own way, hopefully it got the point across.

    Good luck to all my fellow AARtists and writers!



    The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly
    Article by Merchant of Venice

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly
    Creating an interesting set of characters

    We all read and enjoyed fairy tales when we were children. You know, the cliche-ridden, easily predictable tales that involved princess who didn't get hair cuts and princes who for some reason, thought some random woman was so amazing he’d fight a dragon. We would all cheer for the prince or the hero and all boo at the evil witch or troll. Yet, apart from teaching young children important morales (like trotting around with a shell on your back will win you every long-distance event), the most famous fairy tales are hardly a shining light of character development. Admittedly, some fairy tales, like the ones written by the Brothers Grim, are indeed good pieces of writing, yet the ones we are all most familiar with have fairly weak plots and characters. But what makes a good character? Do they need to be handsome, lucky and great at everything? Or do some basic human flaws actually make a character more relatable. Some of the greatest characters have not been perfect and when you add flaws to a character, it makes the plot harder to predict and thus more exciting. But what about the evil characters? Surely, we don’t need them. In contrast, evil or bad characters, even as a protagonist, can help weave interesting relationships which can open up many plot openings for the writer to use. It is when good characters, combined with bad characters, combined with characters in the middle, that a great story is made.

    The Good
    Every girl wants her Prince Charming, yet this doesn't mean he is necessarily an interesting character. Sure he’s handsome, good at fighting, honourable, wise and did I mention handsome? But he is a character which makes the story drive in one direction and one direction only. Prince Charming isn't going to die, that would break too many young girls’ hearts. He will survive every situation, even if it just by a whisker, and in the end, he will win the heart of the princess.

    But in normal books and narratives, the last thing the writer wants is a predictable story line. Unfortunately, many kids and even teenager level books are centred too much around one character, meaning that character has to survive, essentially creating a ‘get out of jail free card’ which the character can use whenever he or she is in a sticky situation.

    Not only do good characters often have to survive, they also have to, and always will, make the right moral decisions. Admittedly, this happens a lot less the older the age group that the book is targeting, yet it still happens in a lot of books. Sometimes when trying to convey a theme, the author accidentally makes one character almost morally ‘perfect’, almost discrediting the message the author is trying to convey, because after all, no one is perfect.

    Unfortunately, creating a ‘perfect’ character is a trap many amateur and beginner writers fall into, myself included. It also seems to happen often in AARs, as narrative driven AARs tend to focus on one character only, and the majority I have noticed have seemed to end up with the protagonist achieving his goals and conquering his enemies.

    A story or narrative that is centred around one character isn't always bad though and I don’t wish to discredit or unfairly criticize any story which does focus primarily on a single protagonist. Some my favourite stories, both on here and in books have focused on one main protagonist, yet after reading a couple of books I have really come to appreciate and love books which create interesting and imperfect characters.

    For example, Game of Thrones is a great book which doesn't fall into the aforementioned trap. The characters are dark and gritty and many are just down right cruel. The good characters, or should I say the not evil characters, have serious flaws to them and often make wrong decisions. Even characters which have good principles don’t always do the right thing. It is often the children who are the most morally correct, yet this is often due to the innocence of childhood and they soon realise the evil nature of the world and of other people.The lack of perfect characters is the reason why so many people find Game of Thrones so compelling because the plot is so infamously unpredictable. The good characters don't always survive and when they do, they haven’t always done it honourably.

    There are also many other examples of ‘good’ characters which also have major flaws. Frodo, in the Lord of the Rings, a series which is hardly the pinnacle of unpredictability, is attracted to the One Ring, even though he knows of its dangers and history. Because of this attraction to the ring, Frodo finds himself pushing away many of his friends and allies, most notably Sam Gamgee. This character flaw helps to create uncertainty in the reader’s mind about the survival of this character. This helps create a more interesting and developed story line.

    Overall, good characters are vital to a story. They are the major source of conflict within the story and are the reason the story has any plot at all. However, it is beneficial for the story on a whole for the good characters to not necessarily be perfect. Perfect characters may enjoy the support of the reader and often good characters have the major fan following in big book series, but they don't allow such a wide variety of plot openings as good but flawed characters. While the author can often compensate this with killing off many supporting characters, this can sometimes highlight how lucky the protagonist is and can sometimes remove plausibility from the story line. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that when starting up, newer writers understand that sometimes you don’t have to completely and utterly love a character for the character to be a good one.

    The Bad
    Bad characters aren’t necessarily evil characters, they’re just characters which aren’t exactly shining lights of morality. However, bad characters or neutral characters have a very important role in the stories of many books; they can often help make the good characters seem even better or they can give a sort of justification to why the good characters aren’t perfect.

    Firstly, bad characters are best at home in times when morality was second to survival. People like mercenaries, lower lords and even simple townsfolk can all be bad but not necessarily evil people. You have to remember that in times such as the Medieval era, people weren’t so preoccupied with being morally right (though that could be said for some people nowadays).

    If there are many bad people, they can sort of make the main protagonist seem better because the reader often makes comparisons between characters. If many of the people around the good protagonist are bad people, then the protagonist can look a lot better than he or she actually is.

    Bad characters can also help justify some of the main character’s flaws. When hiding the main character’s flaws doesn't work, the author can justify why some of the good people have had to make arguable decisions. If everyone else around you has little care for morality, than sometimes, just to survive, the main character has to make such decisions. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.

    Neutral and even bad characters can also add another layer of unpredictability because they won’t always pick the wrong decision or contrastingly, they won’t always go with the right decision. Neutral or bad characters also have a lot of room for character development over the course of the story, either turning darker or slowly becoming better people. This allows for their relationships with other characters to also change accordingly, with good characters finding new allies or conversely, new enemies.

    Overall bad characters are helpful when creating a story - especially if it is set in a different time period or location - and can even change the reader’s perception of the main character.

    The Downright Ugly
    I have something to confess; I absolutely love evil characters. Furthermore, for some reason I love it when unexpectedly an evil or bad character traps the protagonist or one of the good characters. Evil characters aren’t always unpredictable but they help show the worst of humanity and besides from opening new sub-plots, they can help convey darker themes.

    Evil characters are the characters you are usually meant to barrack against and, in many stories, the evil guys usually die at the end or they change, abandoning their evil ways.

    However, the evil guy doesn’t always need to lose. The evil guy may survive the duration of the story, constantly being a thorn in the protagonist’s side. This helps the writer open up new sub-plots and can help keep the story interesting. However, the author also has to try and figure out a way where the evil guy doesn’t die, though this can always be at the expense of one of the good characters.

    However, if one keeps the evil guy alive for the duration of the plot, an element of achievement for the protagonist can disappear. Similarly, the reader may end up asking his or herself whether it was worth it was for the protagonist, considering they didn’t really achieve any of their goals or objectives, possibly leaving a sour taste in the reader’s mouth. However, in a series, keeping the evil guy alive for the duration of one book also serves to keep the reader hooked on the series. Therefore, while it can be used for book series, it can be very dangerous to keep the evil or bad guy alive without him eventually being defeated by the protagonist.

    But what if your protagonist is in fact an evil character? For example, Assassin’s Creed 3 (I know its a video game just bear with me), had the player playing the character of Haytham, who we later find out is in fact a Templar, the order which have spent the last four games hating on. The important thing to remember about making your protagonist evil is timing. It is extremely important to time when you reveal this major bombshell, in order to really shock and surprise the reader. Also you should make subtle hints about his true character, though beware to make them not too obvious otherwise the shock factor may lessen when you actually do reveal it. An evil protagonist also leaves room for character development, whereby you can make him or her more evil or eventually turn to the side of light.

    An evil protagonist also helps to convey darker themes in interesting ways. Instead of just seeing horrible actions and atrocities through a good character, the reader gets to explore the mind of someone who may think differently to them. This allows the author to explore themes such as racism and sexism through the eyes of someone who may be racist and even might allow the author to explain why the protagonist is evil through an intricate and well developed back story as well as interesting dialogue.

    Overall, evil characters are almost essential to any storyline. They help contrast the good characters and often create the major source of conflict within the story. They can also convey darker themes and if used properly, can explore these themes through the eyes of someone whose been brought up to believe and think in a certain way.

    In summary, the most important thing in creating characters is to create is diversity and variety. It is essential when creating an intricate and interesting plot that your characters are different and represent all sides of humanity. Too many evil characters and the world becomes too dark and gritty; too many good characters and it starts looking like fairy land.

    Furthermore, for all characters, a detailed back story is recommended, as this makes them feel more like people rather than names in a book and helps the reader relate with even the most evil of characters. It is also important to ensure that no characters are too perfect or too evil in order to install believability and plausibility into the storyline. In the end, a set of great characters can separate a great story from a good story and are the best tool in hooking in more and more people.



    Inspiration - Part II
    Article by McScottish

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Welcome one and all, ladies and gentlemen, avians and bovine stock alike, to this next segment on the subject of 'inspiration'.

    In the last entry we looked at my general overview and ramblings of exactly what such a strange concept is, and how it can be applied by budding Creative Writers and AARtists on TWC and beyond, that inspiration can be dredged up from the most mundane every-day things and warped into something altogether more exciting.

    This part of the series focuses on an aspect of inspiration that many people may inadvertently include, but commonly do it in such a way that they rarely realise that they are- I am of course speaking about the self, and its inclusion in writings.

    Much like the cameos in cinema, except hardly as blatant, there are many writers that transplant themselves- or at least an aspect of themselves -onto either their stories or one or more of their characters. I myself have done this on more than one occasion, whether adding a bodily attribute or aligning the mindset of a particular character with my own. What with writing sometimes referred to as 'escapism', whether for the reader or the author or both, it need not come as a shock that you can find deep wells of inspiration simply by taking a seat and looking inward once in a while.

    Personal beliefs, personal morals, personal traumas and jubilations can all have a profound influence on the writing of the creator, just take a look at C.S.Lewis' Narnia books, or Tolkien's Middle-Earth novels; in both we can see shades of the writer, Lewis' Christian beliefs and symbolism, or Tolkien's experiences with industrial technology- as well as his love for Old English and Norse mythologies. If it were not for their personal paths in life, then their may have been no Aslan, or no Isengard to terrorise the people of Rohan and burn the forests down, in short there would have been large chunks missing, if the novels had even been completed at all.

    One example from my own writing, as horrible as it may be for people to read, is that of male rape by another male. Now, please bear with me; most people today would clearly be horrified to find this in a novel of historical-fiction, or indeed in any novel/story/etc, but why is this? Aside from rape being an unforgivable act in the first place, that is. I would argue that it is because of the way we have been shaped, personally, whether by parents or the society around us, to flinch away from even reading such things; things that no doubt happened and have happened in warfare and out of it to this very day.

    Why use this as an example, why even bring it up at all?

    A lecturer once told me to suspend all my modern beliefs, all my ethics and morals or right and wrong, when going 'back in time', so to speak. The Ancient World, she rightly said, is nothing like our own and is as alien to us today as Martians probably would be should they ever land on Earth. Aspects like stuprum, or slavery, should not be glossed over simply because of modern feelings. It happened.

    This, in a round about way, is an example of my writing taken from personal experience. Settings aside, what I think I know, and what I believe as a modern-day person, is just something I do, but there is so much more.

    There are a few more examples of my own which I can give, to show you what I mean. In many of my stories a lot of the characters, mainly the protagonist, will have one or more of my bodily features- whether it is my height, build, hair colour or some other one. This is obviously a superficial example, and probably the easiest one to do, but can add something of yourself to either your main character(s) or supporting characters in a very subtle way.

    Perhaps an example closer to the point would be in my characters reactions to events and the world around them. In one of my Roman AARs, for example, the protagonist had to face the deaths of both his Germanic wife and his Grandfather who had been acting as his mentor. Now, my Grandfather had recently died, and it was not a huge leap for me to imagine how I would feel if I lost my girlfriend, and so I was able to use those emotions to try to see through my characters eyes and react accordingly.

    I must say that my girlfriend has helped me to measure many of my emotional scenes between husbands and wives, lovers and so forth, in how exactly I would feel or react if I were that character and in that situation.

    Apart from that many of the situations where I have inserted a little of myself have been during dialogue between characters. I am a rather sarcastic person, and sometimes I cannot help injecting that in to a few lines of dialogue! If you are anything like me, then I'm sure you've done it too.

    Lastly are the situational examples - looking through the characters eyes, or changing skin, if you will, for example what would I do if I burnt my hand on a candle? If I received a wound? If it was my first time in battle - and, yes, many of my characters reactions where they have soiled themselves have been what I would likely do - or if I was surrounded by an overwhelming enemy force.

    It takes a good amount of imagination, but not really as much as you might think.

    So, how about yourself? What could you take from your own mentality, life, or body that you might infuse into a story of your own creation?

    A child that seems oddly familiar to you? A sibling that is picked on by another sibling in a story-book imitation of something you know very well?

    I would call these 'lighter' examples, because there are 'darker' moments in life to delve into as well.

    Your protagonist has just lost his parents, or perhaps a relative or close friend - what would you feel in this situation? How would you react? Perhaps he goes into a deep depression, but would you become depressed? Would you become violent or enraged or vengeful? Why would you react in that way?

    Your antagonist needs a little bit of 'umph' to them; a time to let out some of your thoughts that you may have conjured up but would never say out loud? For example, a prisoner has been taken and needs to be interrogated, what do you do? What would this scene say about you, if anything?

    You could simply gloss over the scene, write an aftermath dialogue or some such. On the other extreme you could describe an overly detailed yet very removed description of torture and imprisonment. Yet, as I believe, the best way would be to take a look inside yourself and figure out what you would do.

    Clearly if your antagonist is a psychotic killer, and you are not, then there is little to connect the two of you and there would truly be no point. On the other hand you can ask things of yourself in respect to this situation; how would you respond again? Does the idea of hurting another person influence you greatly? Would your antagonist react in the same way as you would, or would they take a different route? How does the prisoner react?

    A much shorter way of putting this would be to make a suggestion, and that suggestion is to focus. To focus very hard, to get inside the heads of your characters (though maybe not all of them!) and see for yourself what they might see. Of course, do not veer wildly off track just because you think or believe something, but if there are parts or pieces of you that could click with the parts and pieces of them, then taking a moment of time to breath and ponder will do both you and the story a world of good.

    Much like my last article, it is all about questioning- although this time it is far more about questioning yourself, rather than things around you.

    While I may well not have provided any great guidance here, I do hope it has helped to provoke thought, and that it will make those that wish to try their hands (or keyboards) at writing do so.

    That is all for this article and I hope you enjoyed reading my ramblings as much as I enjoyed writing them.

    In next month's article on inspiration I shall be speaking about a facet of inspiration that comes from looking backward, from history and from the great figures within it.

    Until then, get writing!



    It's just a matter of Perspective
    Article by Merchant of Venice

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    It's just a matter of perspective
    Writing in the view of different characters

    While third person is used quite a lot just for focusing on a single protagonist or character, I find it is best used when writing in the perspective of a whole host characters; i.e changing view point every chapter or so. Now you may ask “Why is this better than first person or only focusing on a single character?”. Writing from the view of multiple different characters allows the writer to explore more sub-plots and environments than possible with a single character and on the whole, it enriches the world and characters in a story. By writing in the view of different character say, every chapter, the writer can explore events happening simultaneously miles or even continents or, in the case of science fiction, worlds or universes apart. The writer has the ability to construct many different plots which unravel simultaneously and, while a larger character cast can get confusing for both author and reader, it often benefits the story greater by making it less predictable because of more variables and overall more enriched.

    Different sides of the same coin
    When the author writes each chapter in the perspective of a different character, they can explore the same event yet in different ways. For example, an epic battle may involve three of the most important characters, all of whom may be at different locations during the battle or on opposite sides. The first chapter with the battle may follow Character A as the battle commences. The next chapter then switches sides and focuses on Character B, who may be losing or winning the battle and details his or hers emotions and thoughts. The following chapter then switches back to Character A and focuses on their part in the battle. Then the next chapter may introduce Character C into the battle, as maybe reinforcements or maybe they were there the whole time. Here, instead of detailing the battle from the view of simply one character, the readers get to read about the battle from three different points of view, possible changing the reader's opinions on the battle or even on the characters themselves.

    With this technique, the writer is allowed to cram as much detail about one event into the book as possible. The first chapter about Character A then the following chapter about Character B, could be happening at the same time in the book, therefore allowing the author to write as much possible about one event. This can be especially useful when concerning major battles such as the Siege of Gondor in the Return of the King.

    Writing in different characters can also add a layer of suspense to certain events, enabling the author to use more cliffhangers than possible when focusing on one character. Often when focusing on one character, a cliffhanger can really only occur at the end of a book (the exception being like an AAR which is updated in contrast to a finished book). But when writing with this technique, the writer can withhold the result of the event for a couple chapters while exploring the other characters' plots. However, be sure to do this to every character or at least a majority of them because if only one or two characters have cliffhangers than the others can become boring and a lazy reader might want to skip them.

    Many famous fantasy and historical fiction books follow a whole set of characters. The aforementioned The Lord of the Rings follows a whole range of characters and especially after *Warning Spoilers* the Fellowship breaks up, it allows the reader follow both Frodo and Sam as well as Aragon and the rest (though if you haven’t read the Lord of the Rings by now, what have you been doing with your life? Honestly, seriously, just watch the movies if you can’t be bothered reading). The series A Song of Ice and Fire (or for those who don’t read, HBO’s Game of Thrones) follows a whole range of characters, both good and bad and allows us to follow the civil war in Westeros while reading about Daenerys’ struggles across the narrow sea. Another benefit is that this techniques allows the author to go Martin style and kill off everyone single character you ever loved without creating problems. Martin style allows you to really make your plot nice and unpredictable because who likes it when any of the good guys win.

    Some problems
    There are a couple of problems when trying to write in the view of different characters.

    Firstly, there are the characters that you are writing with. No one likes boring characters and people like it less when they have to read in their point of view. The characters don’t always have to be paragons of virtue or brave knights but they have to have an interesting personality. For example, Tyrion in Game of Thrones, is an excellent example of how a character can have few morals and few physical and still be an utterly entertaining view. While making sure your characters aren’t boring is a given for any type of fiction writing it is especially important here. (A more detailed analysis into creating interesting characters can be found in my other article in this issue The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly- A guide to creating interesting characters.)

    Furthermore, a great character needs to be paired with an interesting plot or storyline. This requires the author to be quite good at creating plots and sub-plots as he or she will need a fair few of them for all the characters. The unique thing about having multiple characters being written about is that the main storyline or plot can change and evolve and doesn’t always have to be linear. A good example is A Song of Ice and Fire, where it is less about a single storyline but rather multiple which are connected to each other. However, this still requires a large bit of planning on the part of the author in order to avoid continuity errors and the like.

    The next point kind of ties in with the above one. You should try and keep the number of characters being written about to a fairly low number or at least to a number in proportion to your writing experience. A newcomer should not try and write in the view of twenty different characters. Even 3-4 characters can sometimes be a big undertaking especially if they have different plots to keep track of. With that being said, when writing in this style, one should aim for 3-4 characters. Remember you can always increase or decrease of characters written in the story and you can always put a character on hold if the sub-plot concerning them is less important than the others.

    In conclusion, when done properly, writing in the view of multiple characters can really enrich a story by allowing the author to delve into many different sub-plots and explore the different thoughts of each of the characters. While there are problems in writing in this style, they can all be dealt with with experience and practice and, in the long run, this technique can create a riveting and wonderful story.


  6. #6
    m_1512's Avatar Quomodo vales?
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43



    And that is all we have in this edition. Special thanks to f0ma for his 5 articles, and Merchant of Venice for his 3, and there is still time to make a new record. We hope to be back with more good content in the next edition. Please share with us your comments and valuable feedback.

    Let us hear it for the team:
    - f0ma
    - General Retreat
    - McScottish
    - Merchant of Venice
    - Tigellinus

    If you would like to request a review done for any specific writing work, please feel free to PM me about it. Also, there is always room for reviewers on Critic's Quill, so if you would like to join our team to deliver articles, PM me and we can discuss it.

    Until next time,
    m_1512
    Editor


  7. #7

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43

    Great issue guys. I'll have to check out some of the CW pieces and AARs reviewed and see what I'm missing out on. McScottish's Inspiration piece was also really good and thought provoking. Also are you sure f0ma is a real person and not CQ review making machine. Maybe we should just call the reviews section next time F0ma's Reviews.

  8. #8
    Hitai de Bodemloze's Avatar 避世絕俗
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43

    Quote Originally Posted by Merchant of Venice View Post
    Maybe we should just call the reviews section next time F0ma's Reviews.
    I support this proposal.

  9. #9

    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43

    Good stuff chaps. Really enjoyed this.
    The Wings of Destiny - A FotS AAR (Chapter 12 - Updated Apr 24)
    Takeda - a Shogun 2 AAR (Completed) Reviewed by Radzeer

    My writing | My art | About me | Sekigahara Campaign - Developer

    ~~Under the proud patronage of Radzeer, Rogue Bodemloze. Patron of Noif de Bodemloze, Heiro de Bodemloze, and Hitai de Bodemloze~~

  10. #10
    Lugotorix's Avatar non flectis non mutant
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43

    Excellent reads all around. Fantastic work on the publication. I'm flattered to be mentioned. I'll take it easy on RTW:II AARs except for my continuing one, until mid next year when Barbarian Invasion II inevitably crashes into my life, changing people's perceptions of Rome II better than I ever could.
    AUTHOR OF TROY OF THE WESTERN SEA: LOVE AND CARNAGE UNDER THE RULE OF THE VANDAL KING, GENSERIC
    THE BLACK-HEARTED LORDS OF THRACE: ODRYSIAN KINGDOM AAR
    VANDALARIUS: A DARK AGES GOTHIC EMPIRE ATTILA AAR


  11. #11
    Radzeer's Avatar Rogue Bodemloze
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43

    Well done guys. Plenty of good reading stuff all around (except the interview which was a bit boring ). Special kudos to the new artwork!
    Last edited by Radzeer; August 28, 2014 at 10:10 AM.

  12. #12
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: The Critic's Quill: Issue 43

    An excellent read - and a great source of inspiration for me as a (fairly) new AAR writer. Thank you to everyone involved.

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