Monday, March 30, 2015

Small John II

    There was another knock. Serah obviously wouldn't go away. He got up from his bed and unlocked the door.
    "I knew you were there. Why did you make me wait so long, boy?" Serah looked up at him with a sour face.
    "I'm sorry, Serah. I just didn't feel like doing much today. I feel like..."
    Serah stomped past him into his room. "I don't care what you feel like. One does not keep the Princess waiting. Now you can't go to the Princess like that, you look a mess. Comb your hair and I'll get you some clothes."
    Small John sighed and did as he was told. Serah began to rummage through his drawers, pulling things out one at a time, huffing at everything that wasn't clean. He didn't want her to yell at him again, but he also couldn't hold his tongue any longer.
    "I know I shouldn't have locked myself in." Small John yanked the comb through his hair to get the knots out.
    "That's right. There's no good reason to keep a Princess waiting." Serah had already found a good pair of pants, but was struggling to find a stainless shirt. "You should at least let the maids come in here to clean your clothes."
    "I know. I know. It's just that lately I've been feeling like I'm not being true to myself. "He put the comb on the dresser and turned to face Serah. "I enjoy spending time with Wendy. I really do. But she lives in a completely different world. I don't belong here. And I just feel like I have to be something that I'm not in front of her." Tears began to sting his eyes. "And that's all that I have, because if I look back. If I remember what I've lost. Then I... I..."
    "Oh dearie." Serah dropped the dirty clothes she was holding and pulled Small John into her arms. "You poor thing, you. I know it's hard. We all have lost people dear to us at some time or another. It's as bad as it gets for you of course, but don't worry, my boy. Don't worry. The sun will shine another day."
    He felt the small, plump woman pat his back. He knelt down to her so that she could reach over his shoulders. It was an awkward position, but it was comforting nonetheless. It felt good to be held, to be understood.
    "It's just that." Small John sniffed, even though his snot was surely already on Serah's clothes. "I spend so much time with Wendy that I don't have much time for myself. For my thoughts. Sometimes I drift off while we sit together and I remember what my life used to be like. Then... then it hits me all over again. They're all gone. And there's nothing I can do. They were slaughtered by Orcs and I'm here. As far away from those beasts as possible. Safe, in the castle." A big sob left his lungs. "It's just not fair. It's not right."
    Serah squeezed him tight and held on to him for a moment longer. When she pulled herself away he felt all alone again. "Now I don't know if I can be of much help. If you like we can sit and talk every once in a while. You definitely shouldn't speak to the Princess about any of this. It would be too distressing for the poor girl. It was right of you to keep this for yourself. At least in front of her."
    "Thank you, Serah. I just think I needed to let it out. I've been keeping all of this locked inside for too long. I just wish there was something I can do. Something to make things right. So that I don't feel like such a coward. A useless boy, hiding in the castle."
    A spark came to Serah's eyes. She looked him up and down and began to smile. "You know what? There might be something you could do. Not just for your lost ones, for your family and friends. You could be of service to the whole kingdom. You're a strong and tall lad. You could join the new battalion. You could go out to fight the Orcs."
    Small John wiped his nose on his sleeve. She was right. He had never thought of joining the King's army before, but maybe that was where he belonged. Maybe that was the place where he would find a purpose and would be able to avenge his village. "But what about Wendy?"
    Serah smiled. "She might worry about you, but she will understand. She might even like the idea of you in a suit of armor." She chuckled.
    What did she mean by that? He thought about Wendy and knew he would miss spending time with her, but he never belonged in her company either. This felt right. This would let him be true to himself. "I'll do it. How can I join?"
    "Calm down, my boy. Calm down. Let us first get you ready to visit the Princess. Then I will talk to the Commander and will get you a spot in the battalion. There's no way he would give up the chance of getting a young strapping lad like you under his command." She picked up the least dirty clothes she could find and shoved them in his hands. "Now go get dressed. The Princess is waiting."



  1. I liked seeing Small John again, but I gotta say, for me, the chapter should have ended with this: "A spark came to Serah's eyes. She looked him up and down and began to smile. "You know what? There might be something you could do.""

    Until then, I think it's really great. Some good emotional portrayal there, some subtlety and some complicated self-searching for a young character. The only thing that would give added value to the chapter up until that part might have been an idea how much time had passed since we last saw Small John. I feel like it's been a while because there have apparently been a ton of visits with the princess, but we don't know.

    Once you hit that point where Serah has the idea, I feel like you missed out on a great opportunity: A little bit of a cliffhanger. It's not exactly a gigantic leap to know what Serah might have in mind, what with all the things that have been going on, but that brings me to my second point: Once you pass the point where Serah has the idea, the dialogue and the exposition feels uncharacteristically clunky and obvious. And you could have avoided that with the cliffhanger, have Serah's proposition be something Small John thinks about in retrospect. It's a bit of a shame, really, but you're forgiven ;) After all, the larger chunk of the chapter is very well done.

  2. Well, I had to give you something to critisize, so I wrote a few extra lines that weren't necessary. :P

    Actually, I'm glad I made that error. It's good for me to have that cut-off point that you mentioned and reread what wasn't as good afterwards. That really helps me learn how to improve. I remember thinking at some point, "I could end it here." But decided to right a bit more. Maybe next time I will learn to trust my intuition. ;)

  3. I'm baaahaaaaack :)

    Minion #3 has returned and is very grateful for the princess - thanks boss!
    Let me start right there actually, since there seems to be a lack of princess experts in your herd of underlings.
    At first I was a bit disappointed at the apparent cliché of a princess whose name is Wendy(!) and who apparently managed to retain some of her beauty despite being busy dying. Then there is the handsome, kind-hearted yet naïve young fellow who seems to have a bigger problem not flirting with said princess than the death of everyone he ever knew until he suddenly decides that he is sad and thus needs to join the army (excuse my harsh words, I'm exaggerating a bunch for effect here).
    Then I realized that this is actually perfect!
    A perfect start that lulls the reader into a (false) sense of security, thinking "Hmph, the boring teens again, when's the next Orc post coming up?" and then getting hit with a much darker, non-sappy side of the princess storyline.
    I think you should give her a Hulk of sorts, the opposite of that dainty princess character. Maybe a split personality disorder (opportunity to give her more than two personalities) or something like it (bipolar, borderline etc.) it doesn't have to be (shouldn't be?) obviously medical or magical, keep it confusing and unpredictable.
    I would enjoy a well researched and well-conceived downside to that "silly girl" persona and I think it would make the whole storyline much more believable. She might even be the secret tyrant that controls the castle and king through fear or it might be part of her fatal disease.

    I also think John needs a stronger motivation either for hanging around or leaving and he definitely needs a reason for being interested in some chick when he should be curled up in some corner, traumatized like hell. He might be the master of suppression or maybe he’s a cold mofo who never cared to begin with and had his own plans all along to get close to the king. Maybe he’s just REALLY naïve and we end up feeling bad for him being such an idiot and enjoy watching him learn and grow (emotionally rather than learning to read).

    With adding something unforeseen to the storyline you would give yourself an in to expand and explore these two character as well as Serah's and the king's and all their relationships.
    You could work with Serah here, letting us in on some undefined and curious fear and thoughts. Maybe she's not concerned about John being a lowly peasant, maybe she wants to save him from being murdered/eaten/hexed like the others before him? Or maybe Wendy is Serah's tool to control the king and she's really behind everything and the last thing she needs is Wendy to fall in love and thus stop relying on Serah for basically everything?

    I disagree with Tom's idea of a cliffhanger though, that would've appeared soap opera-ish to me and would've earned you a "rolls-eyes" from me. The chapter was quite predictable and obvious, so use that to make an even bigger impression when you turn it around.

    What do you think, Tom?

    (More comments in the other older posts to follow. I have some catching up to do!)

    1. Oh my. So much to respond to and only four and a half hours left of the day. :P

      You definitely have a much darker side of every character in mind than I did initially. I have some thoughts and plans for character's plotlines to come, but I'm also very open to the idea of mixing it up a little and getting inspired by your ideas.

      It might be difficult to change stuff, but that's what I did with Small John as well. I noticed that he was lacking the emotional effects of losing everyone he knew, so they came later. The tricky bit is to try and explain why they weren't there in the first place. I think I handled that alright. ;)

      This is all part of this project however. It's supposed to be a learning experience for me and is still supposed to be entertaining for the readers. Basically this is a first daft of a novel in the making. So it can easily happen that I have an idea, write it down and then decide to go a different way later on. Also the occasional typo, spelling mistake or grammatical error sneak their way in. I will however try to keep an eye out for those intruders in the future. ;)

      Thanks and welcome back! :D

    2. Hmm, BQoS, I stand by my assessment that the cliffhanger would have made this chapter, as it is, much stronger. The dark turn you speak of really isn't there (at least I don't see it) and the whole "epiphany" Serah has is akin to a character breaking the fourth wall and going "let me explain to you my inner thoughts so that I can be lazy and tell instead of showing".

      A darker turn would be welcome, generally speaking, yes, because that would be more interesting, but I feel like there's some darkness going on already in the story. I'm not sure I need the teenagers to have any of that (yet) either. Small John is already burdened with loss and Wendy is very sick. Maybe once the current stuff is resolved... You think all is well for the young lovers (if that comes to pass)... and then... DISASTER STRIKES (insert "dunh dunh dunh" here)!