KP Critiques – 37

Welcome to the 37th edition of KP Critiques! May others be inspired by your bravery, R. J. Wordsmith. Even the most skilled knights of the pen shudder at the sight of an editor’s dagger, but it’s a necessary training procedure. Although you may emerge with blood splatters on your hands, your sword will be sharpened and your story will wield more impact.KP Critique 37

Before I begin, I have a quick note for anyone who has viewed my previous critiques. Up until now, I’ve essentially performed a critique and copyedit combo on each piece wherein I’ve tried to improve the sentences as well as comment on plot, characters, theme, etc. However, I’ve decided to cease that practice because it’s tedious and time consuming to transfer all my line-level edits from a Word document to a blog post without missing something. I will still be doing critiques, but more in the true sense of the word (focusing on content only).

I thought I should mention this change in procedure, lest someone spot a typo or grammar error and mistakenly assume I’ve lost my “superpower.” 😛 Occasionally I may point out small blunders and trim words, but generally I won’t be marking up novel excerpts like a copyedit anymore. Since the following story contained some recurring issues, I’ve positioned my assessment at the bottom of this post rather than scattering it throughout. My apologies to anyone who hoped to witness or experience a more comprehensive edit. Thank you for understanding. 🙂

Now, onward to R. J.’s dastardly tale!

James ‘Kit’ Kessington Wraith lived at house No. 166 on West Regicide St. in the City of Wickton. He came from a perfectly respectable evil family (two of his more famous ancestors being Morgana and Mordred) and was top of his class at the ‘Wickton Academy for the Mastery of the Villainous Arts’. Now you may think it strange that this story does not begin with the introduction of a classical hero, but truth be told this story isn’t about one. For you see, sometimes the world needs a hero to save it and other times the job can only be done with a bit of good old-fashioned villainy. But I begin to digress.

Our story begins shortly after lunchtime on the first day of school. Here we find the young master Wraith; a pale boy, with black hair and a clever look in his eyes. He is standing in one of the Academy’s halls while talking to a friend. “So Bulg,” said Kit, “What angle did you use for the summer report on Moriarty?” “I don’t remember,” replied the Orc. “I kind of wrote it last night, took me until almost three o’clock to finish. That’s what I get for procrastinating. Say, this new Villainy Through the Ages course looks like it’s going to be really tough. Rumor has it we’ll have to write a fifteen-page analysis of a randomly selected villain for midyear exams. And you know writing isn’t exactly my strong point, I’m more the math type.” And he scratched a pointed green ear.

Kit shrugged. “Well you know rumors, more often than not they turn out to be ether false or exaggerated. I personally think the professors would have us do something more experience related. Hey, speaking of professors I better get going. Essential Evils is up next and Professor Black is picky about being on time.” So the two friends parted and went their separate ways. Kit proceeded towards the east wing of the building, under arches carved with dragons, around crowds of various students, past the water fountain where the seventeenth century kids liked to hang out, turned a corner and was at his class. He was just in time to slip into one of the back desks before Professor Black swept into the classroom.

The Professor was tall and had broad shoulders. His dark eyes gave him an imposing presence that his charcoal suit and deep voice only served to enhance. Striding up to the lectern he made barely a whisper of noise and all the students began turning to their places, frantically wracking their brains for any details of the summer prep assignments they might have forgotten. He gave the classroom one sweeping glance and then began to take roll. “Adams.” “Present sir.” “Allen.” “Here sir.” “Archenemy.” And so forth. Until he had marked down the names of those present, after which the lesson started.

“Please turn to page fifteen of ‘An Evildoers Guide to Ruling the World’,” he began. “Now, some of you may have gotten the idea in past years that the protagonist is the star of every story. This however, should not be. A good villain leads his story in the direction he wants it to go. They are free to be as creative as they wish, while the hero is merely a stereotype. Every action that the protagonist takes is merely to counter the antagonist, something that you will learn to take advantage of throughout the course of this school year.”

“Make no mistake, this is not Professor Hemlock’s Malicious Malefactions class for learning the different avenues of evil, nor is it to be confused with Professor Night’s Conniving Combat class. Here you will learn the subtle ways, the refined arts that will make the role you will someday hold become legendary. Pay close attention and you shall pass with flying colors. Slack in the least, and failure awaits you. Rest assured, the shirking of one’s duties will not be tolerated. Now, in your books you should have arrived at the beginning of the first chapter. This chapter and the following two are on Villain Introduction. Who can tell me some of the things that aid an antagonist in making a quote, “Good” first impression?”

Several students raised their hands eagerly. The Professor pointed to a boy in the first row. “Yes master Shade, you may answer.” “Presence,” said the boy. Professor Black nodded. “Very good. You there in the back, Miss Le Rogue.” “Appearance. A villain must be conscious of their appearance.” This she declared while twirling a golden curl around her fingers. “Indeed,” said the Professor, raising an eyebrow. “Now just one more. Why don’t we allow master Wraith to enlighten us, hmm? Since he seems to be incapable of keeping his hand out of the air.” Kit grinned at the comment. After all, what was wrong with a little enthusiasm? “Timing,” he said. “I mean, what good does it do to go to all the effort of appearance and presence if you don’t show up at the perfect moment?” The corner of the Professor’s mouth quirked up, as if he was slightly pleased. “Quite right master Wraith,” he said, “And all of you, be warned that part of your grade in this class will be dependent on your arriving on time. Now on to our next point…”

It did not seem like long before the bell rang and homework assignments were being handed out, but all lessons come to an end soon the hallway filled with students heading to their final class of the day. Conniving Combat was not something you could slide by in with a low grade. Professor Night, a dark Fae who dressed all in emerald green, was very strict. His hair was in a black braid that reached his waist and his wings were a blur as he zipped around the students. Everybody knew him, as the class spanned multiple grades. Things started without any fuss and everyone went right into an hour of running laps and rousing calisthenics; something I will not bother you with the description of, because to read it would be physically exhausting. Suffice it to say that the students were all glad for a break and collapsed on the floor mats in grateful relief.

“Listen up now,” said Professor Night, flying to the front. “Despite any rumors circulating which may have stated otherwise, we will not be taking Firearms and Explosives combat courses this year.” The students let out a collective groan at this, everyone looked forward to the more dangerous classes. After all, if you didn’t develop your stamina and experience levels while you were young, when you got older you would be behind everyone else. The professor raised his hands for silence. “However,” he said, “I have here some permission slips.” And he waved a stack of white papers. “You need to take these home to your parents and have them signed. Once you do, bring it to the next class so we can issue you a knife, and not a wooden or ridiculously blunted one. All right?” “Yes sir!” replied the class. “Good, then let’s practice some basic hand to hand.”

The last few moments of the class passed in a whirl of exhaustion and Kit could barely have told you what happened. As the bell rang Professor Night called out a “Good afternoon, and I will see you all tomorrow. Please remember to bring in your permission slips!” as the students exited. Kit sped out into the happy melee of kids trying to leave and battled the way to his locker. He waved to Bulg as he saw his friend pass and nodded to a few other acquaintances. The moderns, as usual, were crowding up the doorway and it was going to be a fair piece of work to get around them, but Kit was nothing if not creative. He took a large, rubber, lifelike spider out of his pack and threw it at a girl near him. She screamed loud enough to wake the dead and there was a sudden parting of the waters, as it were, when about half of the moderns scattered. Kit seized the opportunity and rushed through the opening while it lasted. Once outside he took a deep breath of the fresh air. Then he looked down at his watch, the ride to his neighborhood was leaving in two minutes!

Kit ran as fast as he could, through the cobblestone courtyard with the stone fountain in the center, under and archway engraved with fauns and centaurs. Then once outside past buses, saddled horses, and carriages waiting for passengers, over to a side clearing. A large dragon was waiting there. “Hurry up! Hurry up! Departure in one minute!” It yelled. “Oh there you are master Wraith, I was wondering where you had got to. Anyone else due? No? Then get on and let’s be going.” Along the dragon’s tail and spine ran a set of blunt spikes, Kit climbed the tail, and seated himself near the back. Then he hooked his pack around a ridge, put on his goggles (didn’t want the eyes to water), and got a good grip. The dragon began to flap its wings and after a moment they were airborne!

High above the city of Wickton they soared, over the modern section that was supposed to be just like the reader world, past the regency section where carriages of students would soon begin to arrive, around the sci-fi section (to avoid flying ships), and into the fantasy neighborhood. One by one students were dropped off, until at last they landed in front of No. 166 West Regicide Street; a large grey manor with black shutters. “Master Wraith, I believe this is your stop!” the dragon called. Kit gathered his things and scrambled quickly down. “Thanks for the ride.” He said. “Not a problem.” Replied the dragon. “Have a nice day!” and then he was off to deliver the last of the students.

The boy put his goggles back into his pack, smoothed his navy blue Academy robes, made sure the matching suit was unstained, and ran up the steps, and through the door. The interior of the place could only be described as impressive. High ceilings, portraits of famous ancestors, thick rugs that completely absorbed the sounds of walking, and large diamond-paned windows were only part of what made the house’s air of grandeur. Kit walked across the entrance hall to a great open stair, and started going up, taking the steps two at a time. He was halfway to the top when he met a badger in a purple apron bustling along with an air of importance. “Good afternoon Mrs. Truffles,” he said. The badger stopped briefly. “Oh! Good afternoon to you to Master wraith. I’m terribly sorry but I can’t stop to chat now, dinner’s in the oven and I’m afraid Lily might let it burn. Really must be going.” And she went off again, Kit waving goodbye and beginning to ascend once more.

Now perhaps you think having a badger in one’s house is strange, but you must remember that this is, after all, Fantasia, the magical land from whence all story characters come. The Truffle family had worked for the Wraiths since long before Kit was born. Mr. Truffles was the butler, Lily and Violet were maids, Heath and Hawthorn handled the stables and gardens, and Mrs. Truffles ruled the kitchen. They had dug a very nice burrow under the house that had become quite extensive over the years, and it was the coziest, nicest burrow you could imagine.

Once Kit got to his room he changed to his play clothes, a pair of jeans and green button-down shirt. Then he began the assigned homework. There wasn’t much, just a few problems to do for Criminal Maths, outlining his first Villainy Through History essay, and listing what you hoped to learn from Essential Evils. It was the first day of school after all, and the teachers always took their time. Probably so they could move in for the kill when you least expected it.

After he had finished Kit decided he would go out to the gardens. He opened his window and began to climb down the side of the house, using vines that had grown all up the sides for handholds. He jumped the last few feet and looked around, carefully surveying the garden for enemies. It was a beautiful garden, gravel paths wound between flowerbeds, around small hills, and ponds filled with ornamental fish. There were birdbaths, wind chimes hung from willow trees, and even a waterfall with a bridge over it in one section. But none of this held the boy’s attention. He was aiming for the woods that lay just beyond the orchard and kitchen gardens. Kit crept between the bushes as silent as possible, tiptoed along the gravel paths, crawled through the peach trees and made a wild dash the rest of the way.

It took only a few minutes of running before he arrived, a bit winded, at the base of a giant oak tree, with low-hanging limbs. A little way up was a tree house. It had shingles on the roof, a balcony that ran all round, a lookout platform above it, and a trapdoor leading to the branches below it. This treehouse was Kit’s greatest secret. He had discovered it by accident one day while playing in the woods. None of his friends had ever been to it, as far as he knew his parents did not know it existed since they had never mentioned it. When he had found it, the place was empty, no sign that anyone had ever used it. But he knew someone must have, because there it was, and besides it had been built with enchanted materials, so it was obviously meant to last that someone a very long time. Perhaps the previous owner of the house had built it-but no. His house had been in his family for generations.

Kit climbed up the branches until he reached the trapdoor. He pushed it open with one hand and got a hold on the edge with the other. Once inside he looked around, none of his things had been moved. His first knife still rested in the corner, the photo taken last school picture day was still stuck over one of the windows with bubble gum, and the chest in the corner remained locked. He gave a contented sigh, all was right in the world. Then taking a book from a corner bookshelf, Kit sat down and began to read a well-worn copy of King Arthur.

It was one of his favorites, given to him when he was just six years old as a birthday present from his father. That was the day he decided he would be the greatest villain that ever lived. The day his Father explained to him what villainy was all about. “It isn’t just the evilness, though that helps a lot,” he had said. “Without us the heroes would never grow, become who they are supposed to be. We are the ones who push them to achieve beyond what they thought was possible, and thus give them greatness.” Kit liked the thought of being able to give someone else greatness, and it made him smile as he read. Time however, passes swiftly when one does something they enjoy and it was not long before the boy heard the sound of Violet Truffle screaming “Kit! Kiiiiit! Time for dinner!” as loudly as she could. He sighed and put the book away before yelling, “I’m coming!” out the window, and beginning to climb down the tree.

I can see you must have had fun writing this. I like all your clever character names and course titles, and I chuckled at some of the teachers’ remarks. However, if this had been a random book I grabbed off a library shelf, I would have stopped reading after the first chapter, if not earlier. The POV was distant, and I didn’t have any reason to connect with Kit. He exists, he talks, he does things, and that’s all. Life is a lark for him, aside from school, which he considers slightly annoying. I didn’t detect a goal or problem or anything to propel the story until maybe the final paragraph. I caught a glimpse of what I believe is your theme (villains shape heroes), and although it would be an interesting concept to explore, its inclusion was too blatant and seemed like an afterthought.

You want your book’s opening scene(s) to serve as a fuse that ignites the rest of the story. My recommendation would be to rewrite the above with that in mind. Stir conflict and give each detail and conversation significance. K.M. Weiland has some great advice on this topic:

I’d also encourage you to hone your descriptions more. I noticed several instances of state-of-being verbs (was, were) and progressive tense (“A large dragon was waiting there”), which tend to indicate passive voice and weigh down your writing. Here are some articles from KP and beyond that may help you to sharpen and tighten your narrative:

Lastly, dialogue should never be jumbled together. Always start a new paragraph each time the speaker changes:

“So Bulg,” said Kit, “what angle did you use for the summer report on Moriarty?”

“I don’t remember,” replied the Orc.

Profile photo of Brianna Storm Hilvety
Brianna was born with a rumble in her veins. She finds the tap of a keyboard to be soothing like the pitter-patter of rain. She has been a writer for a decade, a freelance editor for a few years, and a bibliophile from the moment she pronounced her first syllable. Proudly a Silver Member of The Christian PEN, she serves on their team as Graphics Coordinator. She exudes her passion for speculative fiction and helping young writers by being an Associate Editor at Castle Gate Press and the Copy Editor/Director of Graphics for Kingdom Pen. When she isn’t poring over words, she may be spotted shooting her Canon, riding The Breeze (an all-terrain vehicle), or romping with her dog, Zookie. Purple is her signature color, and she refuses to recognize all other claims to it.
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  1. R. J. Wordsmith says:

    Thanks so much for the critique Brianna! I really appreciate it, and this will definitely help. The descriptions for this chapter are rather weak, and the pov, and the whole dialogue thing is something I struggle with remembering to do. Although villains shaping heroes is not the actual theme of the story, and that part of the chapter actually was an afterthought, I definitely need to enhance it more. The problem is, to properly establish my theme, which comes to light more in chapter 2, I have to unload a huge amount of backstory, which I was planning to piece out as I go along. Maybe I could meld parts of chapters one and two, since the first really doesn’t go anywhere important.

    • Glad to be of service, R. J.! 🙂

      Yes, it might be a good idea to shorten this chapter and blend it with your second chapter. It’s important to make sure you open your story at the moment where it truly starts. 😉

  2. This is so clever. I absolutely love the concept of a ‘reader world’ with all the different genres mashed together and the people actually representing character archetypes and such. 😀
    I thought I would mention one thing, if I may. This line— ‘For you see, sometimes the world needs a hero to save it and other times the job can only be done with a bit of good old-fashioned villainy. ‘ immediately pushed me away from the story because it seems to say that the story will be promoting villainy. I’m sure it isn’t, but that’s the perception I got. Just thought I’d throw that out there. 😉

    And can I just say I LOVE his address. XD

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