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andyk

20140804 - andyk - What Destiny Demands (V)

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Another short story from me this week, and not much to say about it beyond that. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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This is not the type of fiction I lean to, so bear that in mind...

 

My biggest hangup is that the story felt too...unsublte? Linear? Myths are delicate materials, and I'm not super familiar with the characters, although I know them well enough for the purpose of the story, which is where it works. But I never felt the tension, or a real grasp of the stakes, and the fact that the story ends on its message rather than a concrete action hurts it a little bit. But I know plenty of readers who would dig that, so it could absolutely just be taste.

 

When Caradoc agrees to help near the end, he cites the King's deterioration, but this effect on him seems a bit random, convenient as it correlates to Mordred's emotional arc. We see the King snapping at him, but the sword's role in it is just kind of mentioned and not shown (to me anyway). I feel like the story could be constructed more around the actual influence of Excalibur. The conflict in the beginning is our hero's relationship with the King, but Excalibur's part in that doesn't become clear until halfway through.

 

That's all I can really say about it, which is not entirely a bad thing! The dialogue, prose, and even the characterizations were all well done. It's what they do and how that's trouble, so that's mostly craft work.

 

I enjoy your short fiction, andy; I like that you're able to write about one event, one situation, and close it tightly. Something I am trying to get better at. 

Edited by jagabond
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Contrary to jagabond, I like myths and retellings quite a lot, so this was just my thing.

 

Some notes:

 

Cool reveal to Authurian legend on page 1 and 2...

 

Pg 7:  I'm guessing where this is going...interested to see if my guess is correct.  I like seeing the legend through Mordred's eyes.

 

Pg 8:  I also like the different visions of the present; different takes on what Arthurian legend was "really" like.

 

Yep...it ended like I thought.  Events go as they must, but you give us some buildup during the story that something might be different this time.  Where jagabond thought it was linear, I felt tension because, knowing how the tragedy of Authurian legend usually ends, I was watching the try/fail cycles of Mordred going against his destiny.

 

This is well written and concise, giving good depth to a character that is usually not sympathetic.  Is that interpretation of Excalibur yours, or have you seen that somewhere else?  Showing visions of the present is a neat difference from how one usually thinks of them.

 

I do agree with jagabond that the message at the end was a little strange.  I felt pulled out of the story a little as I didn't know if Mordred was addressing a contemporary audience or the reader directly.

 

In all, a nice, tight story.

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I concur with the others, this is a nice and concise short story, even though Arthurian retellings aren’t really my thing. I’ve seen retellings from Mordred’s perspective as well, either as a villain or a hero, so that’s not as interesting to me anymore. But maybe that’s just me though and despite that I liked what I read, even though there wasn’t much tension and the climax was lacking. While reading I expected and hoped for more than I got at the ending.

 

Arthur: I like your portrayal of Arthur and the burden of Excalibur.

 

Mordred: A problem I have with Mordred is that I can’t really picture him. He is knighted, so he should know how to fight. He is also learned. He should be a competent person, yet, these things don’t really come across to me in this story. I don’t know how to picture him, I keep seeing a child or at the oldest a teenager seeking attention from his father. Yet he is knighted and should therefore be older than twenty, unless he’s some sort of prodigy …

 

Lady of the Lake: The appearance of the lady of the lake doesn’t strike me as the mystical and grand thing it should be and that jarred me a bit. You have Mordred state from his perspective that he is in awe, but he doesn’t act like it. When she appears the first words she speaks are so ordinary, as if she’s just out for a stroll and happens to find Mordred where he is not expected to be.

 

Caradoc: Caradoc appears to be leading Arthur along just fine, balancing the king’s visions and erratic behaviour enough that it seems he is nearly in control of the kingdom. For a while I thought he was sort of an antagonist, running the kingdom in Arthur’s name and being the ruler behind the throne.

 

His sudden shift in behaviour in wanting to take the sword from Arthur and healing his mind – if that’s really what he wanted, though with the way the story ended it seemed he did – came too sudden. Especially the bid about working with Mordred. This is a dangerous move, why would he risk himself by allying himself with someone who hasn’t had the chance to prove himself?

 

Caradoc also isn’t surprised to see the lady of the lake, which is strange since she shouldn’t be gallivanting with everyone who sits near her shores.

 

First paragraph confusion: You confused me when you stated that “Caradoc was there in his father place.”

 

This is how the first paragraph, before the POV character is introduced as Mordred, came across to me: The POV character watches his father at the round table. It is implied that his father wears the crown. He then sees Caradoc and it is stated that Caradoc is there in place of his ailing father… so who did he just watch if Caradoc is there in place of his father? When Caradoc speaks with the king I thought I must have been mistaken in my thought that the POV character is the king’s son. Yet on comes the next paragraph where it’s stated that the POV character is indeed the king’s son and that the king is there.
 

The ending: The others already covered this. It feels disjointed from the rest of the story. I’d rather have seen the actual scene where Caradoc is struck down.

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Going to echo what's been said in that Arthurian retellings are not something I generally go for. Retellings of mythic stories, in general, are difficult for me, but there are some I can get into.

 

Anyway.

 

Prose was nice, characterization strong, arc of the story was good and clear. Overall I enjoyed this, although maybe not for any reasons that were intended. 

 

In the beginning, I was enjoying the bitterness of the narrator. I got a very strong sense about how this whole situation felt to him, and knew right away what the source was. Conflict set up well and quick. A character story.

 

My first impression, as I was reading, was that the source of the king's erratic behavior was not tied to the sword, or to anything magical. That this was just an old man who's mind was slipping, perhaps due to dementia or something akin to Alzheimer's. That was such an intriguing concept to me, honestly, that I felt a bit disappointed when it turned out to be completely because of the sword. It's not necessarily a bad thing that I'm wrong in this, but I'll be honest that even when it was revealed that the sword was influencing the King's mind, in my head I decided it was both - the king's mind was going due to dementia, and the sword was SO not helping that. :P

 

Contrasting to what Asmodemon said above, I really liked the portrayal of the Lady of the Lake. I enjoyed how the grandness and the mysticism of the character was downplayed. There is still awe at the sight of her, but it's more subdued, like being friends with a celebrity. Yes, you know they're famous, but you've known them long enough that you're able to see past that, and they've become just a normal part of your life.

 

This idea, I think, is what I was enjoying the most. The sort of... de-mythication of these classic, mythic elements. You know the myths, you know there larger-than-life elements as they are used in other stories, but this is like "the truth behind the legend" kind of thing, which really appeals to me. (I will admit, I am working on a novel that has this as a primary theme, the juxtaposition of the legend with the truth, so that might be where my enjoyment of that aspect comes from).

 

I don't know if this was intentional when you wrote it, but it was something I was seeing, and made the story really strong for me. The possibility that the King's mind was going with age, the Knights of the Round Table getting up in years, the honest dysfunctional relationship between father and son, and the pseudo-mundanity of the Lady. It put the focus more on the character, and less on the setting and mythic elements, and I thought it was really strong.

 

Anyway, to wrap this up, I agree about the ending. It felt weak and disjointed to say "You know how it ends, this thing happened." On the one hand, it fits with the theme I was feeling, as mentioned above, but on the other, that feels like a scene we really should have seen, at least in part.

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Hey Andy.

 

I haven't read the other comments yet, so this should be interesting.

 

It's written really well and flows easily. A couple minor issues that I've flagged in my comments below, but really trivial stuff ... to the point of me feeling embarrassed for even mentioning them... but I had so little else to call out. :)

 

As far as the story... interesting, I guess, but I'm a little weirded out by a corrupted King Arthur. I've seen probably a dozen interpretations of him, the worst of which being the UK serial they did some years back, but never where he was so corrupted. (and yes, I fully get the pot-kettle-black thing here... my rendition of Heaven was far from usual)

 

I also have a little bit of a hard time reading anything about the Camelot characters without my mind reeling through every interpretation, every person who has ever played a part, etc. Since you've gone the route you have, it seems likely that you're covering new ground, but it's in a field so heavily travelled that it's hard to make that ground feel truly unique.

 

At around page 4 I also felt myself wondering what the real conflict was. Obviously Arthur spurned Mordred, but that seemed a little thin. Then eventually we determine the blade is corrupting him. Okay, but I didn't get the sense that was ever resolved. The end of the story was confusing for me. It seems Caradoc stoof up to Arthur and died, but the last paragraps almost read like a letter to someone or something, and in the end I don't feel like we resolved the issue of the blade corrupting Arthur or anything related to it.

 

So those are my general thoughts.  Some specifics...

 

"Hidden behind a pillar in the corner of the great hall, I looked out at my father and his knights sat in their bright heraldry at the Round Table."
Seems an off word or something here.

"But I donned my none the less"
I assume you meant "mine".

"I though about the way his expression changed "
I assume you want "thought".

"'Enough!' I turned my back on her. 'You cursed my father when you gave him that sword. It is up to me to save him.'"
Seems awfully bold for him to be mouthing off to her when in the last scene with her, he was in awe of her power.

Caradoc seemed pretty casual around the Lady of the Lake.

 

The ending of the story really confused me.

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I think this piece has a really interesting concept--I was really into the legends of Arthur Pendragon when I was younger and so seeing it from Mordred's perspective gets me going. Especially with The Dark Tower still fresh in my mind (featuring a very...unique interpretation of the character). 

 

However, I felt kind of let down by the story. It moves less like a reframing of a cultural epic and more like a YA demythification. While that works for a lot of people, that's really not my thing. Keeping that in mind, a lot of comments I want to give become irrelevant; I'm not your intended audience, so why should my opinion matter?

 

That being said, I happened to really like the ending. The Battle of Camlann is one of my favorite scenes of all time and a call to arms, a rallying before the battle seems fitting. Take that for what you will--those who like the story hate the ending and vice versa.

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Thanks for the feedback folks. I'll mull it all over and get down to some rewriting (once I've done that for last week's submission, which is still in the to-do pile).

 

Looking at the overall pattern, I can see that I've fallen foul of a mistake Writing Excuses, and particularly Mary, has warned us about in the past - not matching the ending to the start. When I originally planned this, the central plot was Mordred's arc towards betrayal due to a sense of rejection. But I also threw in the idea that Excalibur was driving Arthur mad by showing him the lives of all these different Arthurs of myth, legend and history, one of several brainstormed ideas I threw in. But even sticking to my plan the focus shifted, and so I've got this Excalibur event resolution to a Mordred character start, among other issues. Some heavy editing is in order.

 

jParker - please don't hold back on the basis of who you think the audience is or isn't. I'm writing this to submit to a themed issue of a magazine, it's not YA targeted, and frankly I know nothing about my audience beyond the fact that they're sci-fi and fantasy short story readers - any thoughts you have, especially if they shed a different light on this from the others, are very welcome. And on a side note I just finished book three of the Dark Tower - such a good series.

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I enjoyed this story. Like some of the others I'm not a big fan of Arthurian legend, but I like the way you took a fresh perspective. I don't think you're going to get all that deep into the machinations or motivations in a short piece like this, so I took it that way, trying not to over-examine (it's a Robinski first!). I thought the character emotions were convicing, maybe minor tweaks to certain reactions, but all in all very entertaining. I'd be perfectly happy if I came across it in a short story collection.

Edited by Robinski
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I'm writing this without looking through other's comments.

 

It's hard to formulate what I think of this story. It's solid as a piece of writing. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of turning these old legends on their head, just because I feel like it defeats the purpose of having legends.

 

That aside, the first person perspective was decent. Different and unique way to show the other side of the conflict. Mordred already seemed disillusioned, but I felt like Caradoc's arc was less believable. Maybe because I didn't understand him, so I hadn't bought into him.

 

So, overall, I liked your writing, felt like you grasped the anger of Mordred. But I wasn't a fan of the plot.

 

Hope this helps. Now I'll read everyone else's comments.

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any thoughts you have, especially if they shed a different light on this from the others, are very welcome. 

Be careful what you ask for.

 

Frankly, Mordred feels like an angsty bitch. Somebody like Tywin Lannister could walk in and just dominate him, who is an archetypal villain. If anything, I would draw closer parallels to a biblical antagonist, a Jacob, a Lucifer, even a Saul (in his later years)--someone who has a semi-legitimate complaint and wants justice. "My daddy doesn't love me," doesn't carry much water; if it's going to be done, it's got to be done convincingly. 

 

The framework of reversing the tables, having this epic call-to-arms against an embittered foe is really cool, but we don't see enough conflict. Too much time is spent at the lake and far too much time doing exposition; we know the characters and the broad strokes of the plot. Don't give me that. Give me what makes this story different. Give me reasons to care about Mordred. What makes him a worthy protagonist? Sell him to me.

 

Game of Thrones does a great job of exploring this. Ramsay Bolton, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, even Sandor Clegane are all solid examples of directions this sort of character can go. Right now, Mordred is a Joffery.

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