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Inkheart
February 10th, 2014, 01:35 AM
Hey, everyone! I wrote this short story inspired by my Science and Society class (we were talking about science in the dark ages and how you could basically be killed for something as simple as being able to read) and I was hoping for some constructive criticisms and tips. I'm not that experienced at writing short stories, but it is something I want to work on.
I mostly want to focus on sentence flow, pacing, and writing quality in general. So if you could please tell me what you think about it, what I did well and what I could improve, I'd be very grateful.
The title is Burn the Witch.

The stagnant smell of oil was what brought me back to consciousness. A cold, icky wetness seeped down my shoulders, down the front of my body and my back; as thick and sticky as tree sap.
Pain exploded in my lungs when I tried to take a breath, pulling a low groan from my lips. The whole world spun around me; a shrill ringing was barely perceptible on the edge of my hearing. I tried to take another breath but my chest was so constricted I could only manage a strangled gasp, and more pain.
“She’s awake,” a man whispered.
“It,” a woman corrected.
I blinked my eyes until the world came into focus. In the steadily growing shadows of twilight I found myself surrounded by a large group of people; villagers, from the town visible in the darkness, dressed in rags and caked in dirt; a league of men dressed in elegant robes and carrying golden crosses and black leather-bound books. They stared at me with such a coldness that I could not gaze at them for long. Fear sparked inside of me.
I tried to move my arms but my wrists were tied around a tall wooden pillar. I glanced down and saw I was standing on a stack of firewood that, like myself, was soaked in oil.
My heart began pounding quickly in my chest as I realized what was going on.
“She-witch!” the villagers began to some scream, and “Devil worshipper!”
The one that got to me though was “Satan’s whore!”
“ENOUGH!” Rage burned inside of me, fed slightly by my growing fear.
The night fell silent, save for the hiss of the trees nearby, and the crackle of torches some villagers carried. I swallowed and before anyone could stop me, continued. “I am not a Witch! I am not evil and I am NOT a devil worshipping whore!”
“You have committed crimes against the church of England-” began one of the robed men, an elderly, frail guy with thinning white hair. But, I was not going to let him speak.
“What, you mean being able to read?!” I spat venomously. “The fact that you would kill anyone who is educated in such a simple way shows what ignorant dick-heads YOU ALL ARE!” My screams tore at my throat painfully and left tears running down my cheeks but I still would not let myself stop. “I HAVE NO MAGIC-”
“Then what do you call this?!” The elderly robed man threw something at my feet, on top of the piles of firewood stacked around me. I glared at him and glanced down. “I have allowed my eyes to be soiled by such heresy to prove that you are influenced by Paganistic ways! That manuscript speaks of magic and witchcraft. Sin stains every page and it is more than enough to see you hung from a gibbet until the crows peck out your black heart!”
The mob cheered. I ground my teeth together, my wrists twisting and turning, the ropes scratching the skin away.
“Killing me will not bring you what you call ‘justice’. It will stain your souls with the blood of an innocent girl! And I am not alone. Killing me will not be the end of me.”
An almost palpable change swept over the crowd then, a change in their eyes and their confidence. Suddenly they seemed uncertain of their actions. I saw a few slip away into the darkness.
I didn’t let myself smirk, despite successfully scaring them. I stared coldly into each of their eyes without saying a word.
It was one villager that finally broke down, a filthy pig with pock-marked skin and a bald head.
“Enuff of this!” he shouted.
Before anyone could stop him (though I doubted they would have anyways) he grabbed the closest torch and flung it onto the firewood.
A few of the onlookers gasped but no one said a word as the flames grew higher and higher, hissing and spitting into the night as the fire greedily ate up the wood and oil and tinder in its red maw.
The flames grew, and the world turned into a ring of fire.
Black smoke choked me, burning my lungs and eyes; variably blinding me. I thrashed against the ropes tied around my wrists and felt the skin get rubbed raw from the rough material.
I didn’t scream or curse, and looking back I have no idea why. I had all reason too, but I didn’t. I was terrified, but all I could focus on was trying to escape, though it seemed hopeless. I was not going to let this be the end of me!
Then one of my hands freed itself from the ropes.
Pain exploded across my wrist and up my arm, but I hardly took notice of it. I didn’t see the blood glistening in the flamelight. I only saw an escape.
With all of my remaining strength I clawed at the ropes until at last I wrenched my other hand free, grabbing hold of the blackening pillar to steady myself on the uneven pile of wood.
The heat was unbearable; the wall of smoke and flames made it nearly impossible to see.
An intense pain exploded up my right leg, making me cry out in agony and alarm. Flames licked up the side of my leg, igniting my shift and burning my calf. I screamed and tried to pat it out but that only caused my hands to get cooked too.
Burying my face in the crook of my elbow I tumbled forward, through the smoke, down the hill of blackened wood. Flames licked at me as I passed, but either by luck or divine protection I came away virtually unscathed. I fell onto dew-dampened grass and rolled about until my shift had quit smoldering.
It felt as though I had entered a different world, lying on the cool grass in the dark. The burning pyre cast deep shadows across the ground. No one saw me escape.
Coughing, sputtering, feeling nothing but pain and fear and exhaustion, I made a break for the dark treeline of the forest, because I knew they wouldn’t follow me; not until morning.
As long as something didn’t attack me in my weakened state, I had a fleeting chance of survival.
I more limped across the short clearing to the woods than ran. The night air cooled my injuries somewhat but tears still flowed down my cheeks and gasps of agony escaped my lips with every step.
I had to focus all of my energy and concentration to stay on my feet; to stay moving; to stay awake.
It’s funny how being nearly burned at the stake can make you so tired.
The entire forest was a black army of sentinels. I had to be careful where I stepped, aided only occasionally by the stray bit of moonlight and starlight that made it through the thick canopy.
More than once I stumbled, barely catching myself on my hands and knees. The woods were silent, with only my breathing and the heavy beat of my heart to listen to. I didn’t stop to detect if anyone had been brave enough to follow me. I kept going.
I was lucky for the first mile into the forest- the ground was blanketed with mostly pine needles, soft and soothing on my bare, blistered feet. Occasionally I would step on a pinecone and feel new pain. I kept going.
I don’t know when I stopped crying, but perhaps there wasn’t enough water left in my body to continue. All of my energy was focused on one thought, one goal: Stay alive.
It was when the moon was half-way across the sky that I finally stopped, because my knees buckled, and my body gave up.
I fell forward, catching myself on my elbows, because my hands were useless. I rolled onto my back awkwardly, gasping in lungful after lungful of sweet, crisp night air. I breathed in the scent of the forest through my nose- that wet, mulchy smell that came after a rain- and it calmed me somewhat.
I was so tired….
My eyes began to close.
Maybe if I allow myself some rest, I would be able to do more in the morning….
I turned onto my side, stretching out my stiff, aching limbs and using my arm as a pillow.
I wasn’t even cold. I was too tired to be cold. I was too tired to cry. I was just too tired….
In the morning, I thought, I would find my friends, and we would leave here and never come back….
Exhaustion took over then, numbing the remaining pain and pulling me into a dreamless sleep. I didn’t care if I woke up or not.
I didn’t care that I didn’t care.

LeeC
February 13th, 2014, 06:17 PM
Well, it's obvious you've got an active imagination, which is an asset in storytelling. Then to take the next step in writing down your thoughts, shows an interest in storytelling. Translating your musings into a lucid and interesting story however, takes a lot of preparation and practice. You've obviously started on the practice part, but how much preparation have you done?


By preparation, I mean reading widely, not just for enjoyment, but consciously examining styles, techniques, coherency of language usage, and flow. My opinion is that there is no such thing as talent, but rather a driven desire to do something well, despite all the inevitable obstacles and naysayers. I don't believe any great work came about without bloodletting, and trial by fire.


You've done some preparation, whether incidentally or purposely, but haven't yet challenged minimum issues of verbosity and reader immersion. I found myself scanning the text, and tripped up at least in the escape part. Scanning because of the verbosity, and tripped up by questionable believability. One can describe a dragon realistically enough to entice the reader to believe, but you haven't managed to do that in escaping from the fire. Don't just trust your imagination, but mentally experience a situation to see how believable it seems. Being burned, as severely as you suggest, like intense enough to make one's skin blister, is excruciatingly painful, and the mind reacts quickly to the trauma by closing down and inducing shock. One might stumble away a few feet and drop unnoticed in shock, but what you describe doesn't seem plausible (too drawn out).


Something roughly like:


"In the fear of the fire being lit, and exploding to block vision, I wrenched first one hand free ..."


It better be PDQ :-)


Yet, for all that, you've the makings of a good scene.


Hang in there,
Lee C

P.S. Critiquing others writing, at least in how it strikes you (and importantly why), is a valuable exercise. Try it a bit more, and it might help in rewriting. Write with imagination, then rewrite with the mind of a detached reviewer.

dither
February 13th, 2014, 07:03 PM
I am in no position to critique anything, except to say this is a great storyline.
Okay, as someone i know might observe,
"it could do with a tidy-up",
but it's compelling.
Even the title,
you can't,well i couldn't, not read on.

I really do envy you guys.

MsPilgrims
February 14th, 2014, 09:12 PM
I read your story and yes, maybe it's not so believable but I think you have a vivid imagination, a good style and a wide lexicon. You also have the capability to keep your reader interested as the story unfolds and, believe me, that's not a common trait!

Very good, I would say :stung:

bazz cargo
February 15th, 2014, 11:39 PM
Hi Inkheart,
interesting work. A tidy SPaG wise and some of the plot could do with tweaking. But readable and easy to relate with.

Building a story takes a lot of missteps, you haven't made that many, congratulations.

Bazz

lewis
February 18th, 2014, 05:02 AM
I really like the first sentence/paragraph. It lures me i and wants me to keep reading. My biggest qualm is how conversational it seems, as if it is being told by someone from the modern era. I would expect the language from this time to be more esoteric. Something out of 1600s pub. You refer to somebody as a "guy" which I think is modern slang for man. Maybe "fellow" or something would work better. Overall it's catchy and very cool, though.

Pidgeon84
February 18th, 2014, 02:39 PM
I would get rid of "dick-heads." It doesnt really fit.

InkwellMachine
February 18th, 2014, 06:31 PM
First of all, you've a wonderful name. So far I've only had a few ink-cousins on the forums. You come closest, I think.

Second, I agree with what LeeC said. You have a lot of preparing to do. A lot of the nuances and devices used in professional works are not present here, while some of the things that experienced writers deign to use are.

My advice would be to read your genre. Every day. Always try to be reading something in your genre. And write, of course, as often as you can.

It's simple, but it works.

bezidentita
February 25th, 2014, 07:28 AM
Very good! Great descriptiveness. Ok, if there was something I'd say improve, I might say, in the line that goes "“ENOUGH!” Rage burned inside of me, fed slightly by my growing fear," take out the word "slightly." See how it reads. Otherwise, good stuff. I actually thought I was there with the character.

Vain Vanir
February 25th, 2014, 08:33 PM
Great to see some historical fiction. :)

Won't comment on the historical accuracy although I disagree with you about some parts.

The writing was good but there are few things that left me wondering.

1. What was the book she was convicted on? That was never explained.

2. If this mob is so dead-set on burning her and convinced she's a witch, then how can a stern look and an accusation that they will be found to have done wrong when they do what is right be of any concern to them? If these people don't listen to the girl's defence of her innocence then why do they listen when she accuse them in return?

3. For my life I can't understand how someone who is in the center of attention can stand on pyre, release herself, and then escape without anyone noticing and giving chase after her? I must ask for an explaination because that part seemed very strange to me.