Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Thief

Quick Note:  This was the one that didn't make it into Write Club, retooled and fleshed-out with some new details.  Would love any and all constructive criticism since I'm trying to learn everything I can from this failed venture.  Thanks!

The road was frozen solid and each step echoed through his legs as he ran.  Night’s darkness cloaked him save for a sliver of moonlight reflected across the barren fields beside him.  The harsh, hot summer had laid waste to their normally fruitful crops and the vacant land seemed to mimic the emptiness in his stomach which jostled uncomfortably with each impact of his feet on the hard ground.

He understood his brother’s anger- the Lord’s tax had taken the best of the meager harvest and the remainder was barely enough to keep them alive through the long, unforgiving winter.  But Will was too young to understand the fealty owed and his foolishness would get him beheaded.  He second guessed his decision to follow his brother to the lord’s manor for the seventh time since he began the journey and for a second even considered the prospect of Will’s beheading as a just sentence.  But the thought of his mother’s face drove him on.

He slowed his pace as he approached the stables and made his way around the back to the servant’s quarters.  He crept down, staying below the light cast by the torches and found his way to a darkened window.  Despite the cold it was left slightly ajar and he knew he was following in his brother's path, though the opening was less than his considerably taller frame would easily allow.

He held his breath as he gave one final shove and slipped his thin body through the gap.  He landed with a thud on the cold, stone floor and bit his tongue to silence the yelp.  He scanned the dark interior for movement and waited.  There were shapes and shadows, all alien and threatening, and he lay there frozen lest he be caught before he’d even begun.

He could hear the crackle of wood burning in another room and smell smoke.  But the space he lay in was quiet and still.  He took a breath, and forced his feet forward.  A faint light from another room spilled into the hallway and lit his path down the corridor.  He found the source of the light in a large fireplace, the warm blaze inviting and comforting him... until he saw what lay in front of it. 

The dark fur moved gently up and down with the slumbering breath of the beast.  The orange glow of the fire danced over the features of the massive dog, illuminating the monstrous jowl and sharp ears.  Then his eyes landed on the bone under its enormous paw and the rest of the world faded away.

He’d seen bones like that before in the cemetery and knew it could only come from a human.  The realization of which human hit him like a bucket dropped from the mow.  He was too late.

His mind spun with a blur of memories that had not yet taken place.  His mother’s tear-streaked face.  His father’s hardened scowl.  His brother’s empty chair at the table and a long, hard winter shrouded by grief.  He stood there frozen and breathless and waited for the dog to awake and finish the meal.

“Jeb!” the harsh whisper hit him and he jerked his head to its source.

The sight of his brother kneeling in the opposite doorway flooded him with the breath of relief and the dried eel he saw sticking out from his satchel grabbed his stomach with a ferocious grip.  Without thinking he ran to him, already imagining the taste of the vital food. 

Confusion overcame him as his foot caught on the woven rug and he fell, face first, to the ground.  A cacophony of sounds filled his ears as a table toppled, swept over by the rug, and spilled its contents to the floor.  When the deluge of noise ended a single, heart-stopping sound filled his ears and he looked up into the growling face of the dog, now towering above him as it stood with hackles high and massive teeth gleaming in the firelight.

He heard Will’s voice scream “Run!” and the world became an abyss of chaos.


  1. It was a good story but for me it lack tension. I think it's because the story is being told to us rather than shown. I wonder if there is way for us to experience the boys feelings more, for example, instead of 'He’d seen bones like that before in the cemetery and knew it could only come from a human. You could have "That's a human bone," he whispered as the realisation of which human etc. Just one example of showing rather than telling. Showing creates more tension, lets the reader experience what the character is feeling.

    For me the piece you've written becomes descriptive rather than allowing me to get a feel of the character's emotions. This is just my thoughts and of course you must take or leave whatever you feel is right for you.

    1. No, no- this is exatly what I needed! And I think you hit it spot on!

      One of the first things that struck about the Write Club peices that were selected is how strong they all are- which I wrote about earlier. And telling rather than showing is exactly what I did here. I think it'll be a good challenge for me to try to re-write this with that in mind.

      Thank you SO MUCH for this insight! Seriously- it's spot on.

    2. I'm glad it was of help to you Beverly. I'm still very much a learner myself. John has given you excellent advice I see. ^_^

  2. I'm hesitant provide any constructive criticism because you can take things so strongly. If you want it, here are a few observations:

    -In editing (NOT IN COMPOSITION) you might check for redundant sentence structure. Para2 has two contradiction sentences starting with "But," which makes the second one read as awkward. This sort of thing doesn't matter during composition, but is something to scan for in re-drafting.

    -The story really gets flowing in Para5, with "He could hear the crackle," and particularly with what follows the ellipsis. I dug the emergence of the beast into the story and the potential menace after you'd built up some tension with the character fleeing. Because of that positioning, it became the most interesting thing in the story, and I craved interaction with it to define the denouement, and I was bummed when it devolved into the character getting disoriented or concussed and it turning into internal strife, and it fell apart around the time that "vital food" was the motive for running. There's a lot of running - and he's yelled at to run again in two paragraphs, to close the story.

    1. 1) I'd like to believe that among the many improvements I've made to my writing one of them is increased ability to accept criticsm without taking it way personally and falling apart. I'd LIKE to think that.

      2) I'm interested in the point you made about the struggle going from external to internal. In re-reading this (the original, after it didn't make write club) I felt like the ending did sort-of fall apart. I think it was just the fact that i'd run out of words to work with rather than a planned ending. Having the explanation that the source of the conflict went from external to internal goes along with what Helen was saying about telling rather than showing. And if there's any place where telling rather than showing is NOT ok it's in an adventure piece like this.

      Both you and Helen made excellent points and I'm definitiely going to take a crack at re-writing this, simply for the sake of learning.

      THANK YOU!

    2. You're very welcome, and I'm glad it was helpful! Do you think you'll post another version of it later?

    3. Maybe, depends on how it comes it out. I may run it by you before posting, if you'd be open to it.

    4. Depending on the timing, I'd try to be open.

  3. Hi Bev, do you want the comments on here or can you send me your email address?

    1. Here is fine, if not you can e-mail me at

  4. Always pay attention, Jeb! I hope he had the presence of mind to grab that bone & smack the dog's snout with it. That might give him an extra second or two to escape.

  5. Here are my thoughts although I have no experience of critiquing another's work and have no idea why it didn't make the rounds of Write Club.

    I found it a little bit confusing, 'the road was frozen solid' but in the same sentence you talk about 'harsh, hot summer.' Perhaps starting with the summer and going in to the winter might have made more sense.

    You used the same words or very similar words closely together - 'second guessed' and 'for a second'. Also 'his foolishness would get him beheaded' and then 'the prospect of Will's beheading as a just sentence.' So was Will beheaded? 'Faint light' and 'source of the light.'

    I was confused by who Will was and who Jeb is - presumably brothers but was the journey seven years long and he followed each year for seven years?

    I also didn't understand the expression 'like a bucket from the mow' which may just be because I am from the UK!

    On a positive note, I did feel the build-up of tension and it left me wanting to know what happens next.

    I know how difficult it is when you are limited by word count to get across everything you want to but I hope this helps in some way.

    1. I definitely fall into the trap where because I wrote it I know what I meant and therefore forget to explain things to the reader. Believe it or not in this edited version I actually added a lot of explaination, but it sounds like I did it in a confusing way.

      And you're the second person to make the point about repeating sounds or words. I'll have to edit those sections seriously.

      As for the mow, it was actually an attempt to place the setting. He's a farmboy and the mow is the hayloft. I thought it would sound more organic. oh well.

      Thank you SO MUCH for your input! The more feedback I get on this the more i'll improve!

  6. I can't comment why it didn't make the cut for Write Club as I don't know what it was up against. Were you given prompts at all? i'm curious though as this piece definitely had the feel of a historical setting and I can't recall too many of your stories being historical, though I may have got that wrong. If there weren't prompts, I wonder why you picked a historical setting for a story about brothers and thieving - what does the historical setting bring to the tale is a question you need to have thought through. Sometimes going back in the past can liberate a story and sometimes it cam constrict it.

    What is the focus, the dog, revenge against the Lord, fealty, the brothers? I'm not sure because all four are in the story, but none of them are highlighted as the main thrust.

    Don't know if any of the above helps?

    marc nash

  7. I love the details and the way you build suspense and tension. Now, you asked for criticism, right? :)

    This is really picky, but when in the second sentence you say "night's darkness cloaked him" and then you say "save for a sliver of moonlight reflected across the barren fields beside him", it distanced me, because if there's a sliver of moonlight beside him it doesn't mean he isn't still completely in darkness.

    I had to read the second paragraph several times before I understood exactly what was going on--who was who (I thought maybe the POV character was Will and the piece was in omniscient POV at first). You could try to find a way to write this more clearly.

    I'm not sure who "his" is referring to in the last sentence of the 3rd paragraph-- who's frame? The POV character or the brother?

    I agree with the comments on telling, and would recommend reading this post:

    Also, in the second to last paragraph, I would put a comma after "ended".

    P.S. If you're looking for a critique partner, let me know. I'm in the market for one, and I love your writing. :)

  8. I loved the first sentence. I thought the tension really picked up with the discovery of the dog, which only escalated when Jeb tripped. I'll leave it to the others to find corrections, because I enjoyed it. :)

  9. I liked the conflict and the main character in this one. I think the critique parts have already been covered in the previous comments -- it's not the story concept (that aspect completely worked for me), but mechanical things like word choice and comma usage that could use a polish. For commas especially, I noticed the final comma on some parenthetical constructions was missing. This is one of my pet punctuation things :-).

    Do you read your work out loud when you edit? I used to roll my eyes at that advice, but I've tried it and found it very useful.

  10. Hi, Bev. It sounds like you've received plenty of feedback and I'm not sure I could add anything to what has already been said. So I'll just point out what I liked. :)

    I really liked the line where you compared the vacant fields to his empty stomach. For me, that line worked really well to show the driving factor in the story was hunger. I also liked the internal struggle that he goes through on the way. I can imagine a brother being torn by loyalty and yet feeling as if, perhaps, the other needed to suffer the consequences of his own actions.

  11. I liked the story, but I think the ending could use some work as I'm not sure what that abyss will be like, aside from chaotic. I was gripped until the 2nd to last paragraph when the table toppled over, then I just wanted a little more clarity at the end.


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