First page of my fantasy novel. I'm told my writing is disjointed and jerky, but have no idea in what way! And it's driving me crazy that I don't know where the holes in my boat are so I can't really patch them.

This was a stupid idea. Heh, like all his others. His foes could have tailed and moreover, he was lost. The Far Moon rose and found Ruso scrabbling over the briars, his bow slung over a shoulder. Through a stream he splashed, chasing the wind, whilst the air blew acrid and his hearthsoul tipped. Ever so faintly the land drifted, groaning. It sped him onward until it calmed again, whereupon he searched for the tallest hill. Zaithe paced visibly atop it. She seemed taut and fidgety. Not such a menacing mercenary anymore, eh? Now that the darkness had receded, she no longer blended into the murk; her skin was a deeper brown than his hair, her tunic darker still. Belted at her waist were those assassin pouches. They could save a life, or take one.

It was with some care that Ruso approached. “Found the gem, mate,” he recited.

“No, you didn’t.”

He thanked his luck fairy—it was safe—and climbed over a fallen pine, landing with a scuff. There were few leaves here and a chill nipped the breeze. It meant that the warp must have been south- or westward. Ruso tried to envision which of the three wheels this would involve as he asked, “You got my map?”

“No, curse them gods.”

“Curse your own gods,” he said.

“What do you care. They dumped us anyway.” The mercenary’s breath fogged. She halted to glare at him and he fixed her with one of Echeris’s flat, grey stares. Then she said, “Why weren’t you on vigil?”

EDIT: I changed the first paragraph, hope it's less confusing and the narrative doesn't switch.

This was a stupid idea. Heh, like all his others. His foes could have followed and moreover, he was lost. The Far Moon had set and Ruso was still scrabbling through the darkness, thorns hooking him back, tripping him. He clambered up again and doffed his rabbithide shawl, tightening it around his waist for protection. It snagged on the briars as he scrambled. He was headed downwind towards the warp, until finally the air became sour and torrid.

Then the land groaned, shifting, and sped him along with it.

  • 1
    Welcome to Writers. Asking to explain what "disjointed and jerky" means is a good question, and thanks for asking it. I've edited out your request for a general critique, since critiques here have to be specific and answerable, as per the site critique guidelines. Again, welcome to the site! Feb 8, 2014 at 9:24
  • Thank you very much for the welcome :) I'm actually quite surprised nobody's asked this question yet, anywhere. And I apologise about the general critique thing, I'll keep that in mind.
    – Krystal
    Feb 8, 2014 at 10:32
  • Our guidelines can be somewhat confusing, so I try to be friendly about it. Feb 9, 2014 at 1:32

1 Answer 1


To start with, you have too many invented terms without definition all in a row. Hearthsoul, assassin pouches, luck fairy?

You also have enough mistakes that I really can't tell if some of these things are typos or more jargon. His enemies tailed? The land drifted? What does that even mean?

You "recite" something which is repeated or often said; it's not just a synonym for speaking.

The narrative voice goes back and forth from almost a prose of his thoughts to standard third-person omniscient. Pick one.

He fixed her with whose stare? That's incoherent.

There's in medias res and there's WTF is going on. You aren't setting the scene enough for us to understand what's happening.

In short, slow down, explain more, and quit trying to impress us with your cool world-building until we care about these people.

ETA You want more? okay...

This was a stupid idea. Heh, like all his others.

the "heh" indicates that you're narrating his thoughts. Either do all the narrative text like this or none of the narrative text like this. You can't have it both ways. It's like switching to first person in the middle of a paragraph, just for one sentence.

He was headed downwind towards the warp,

A new undefined term. You did much better in your revised para, but we still don't know what this is. Geographical feature? Building? Weaving item? Part of the Enterprise?

until finally the air became sour and torrid.

"Torrid" means "passionate." Unless you're describing how the air is filled with pheromones which cause every living thing breathing it to suddenly start humping whatever's nearest (which would be a very different kind of story), this is not what you want.

Then the land groaned, shifting, and sped him along with it.


Land does not move. You don't indicate that it's an earthquake; the protagonist acts like he just stepped onto an escalator. You are introducing a HUGE world-building element here — that the land is capable of motion — and you ignore it. You don't have to explain it, but you do have to give us enough context and detail that we understand that you meant to do this, that it's a natural part of this planet/dimension/etc., and what the planet, flora, fauna, architecture, transit, society, government, and characters have done to adapt to "ground that doesn't stay put." I could go on for a page and half about why this is such a big fat hairy deal.

“Found the gem, mate,” he recited.

You explain in the comments that this is their passphrase. You do not indicate in the text that this is their passphrase. If it's a call-and-response, then you have to show one or both characters treating it as a passphrase.

He thanked his luck fairy—it was safe

Not only is this an undefined term, you have an ambiguous pronoun. Is he literally saying a word of gratitude to a sprite? Is s/he in his pocket? What is "it" that he's grateful for? Is he thanking the fairy, and then also grateful that the fairy is safe? Is he thanking the fairy that the gem is safe? Thanking the fairy that Zaithe, who is later a "she," is safe?

It meant that the warp must have been south- or westward.

So the land warped in this direction? I finally got that after the eighth or ninth read. I previously thought this might have meant the wind.

Ruso tried to envision which of the three wheels this would involve

If this means "wheels under the planet's surface moving the ground around," I will at least buy it for now. The previous eight times I read this as some kind of religious gibberish like "the wheel turns, and sometimes you end up on top and sometimes you end up on the bottom."

He fixed her with one of Echeris’s flat, grey stares.

Is this supposed to imply that he's looking at her the way, what, their old shared teacher or commander used to do? Because otherwise he's literally borrowing someone else's face to look at her, which is incoherent.

There's a chance that this works in a longer excerpt, but broadly, you are throwing too many terms at the reader which are invented and out of context, and expecting us to not just catch up but already understand and follow along.

Additionally, because you have mechanical errors, our attempts to divine meaning and context from what do you give us are thwarted because we can't understand what we can read.

  • Thank you for the feedback! But for the record, I know what "recite" means. It's a sort of greeting code they use. Is it okay if I bother you and ask where the other mistakes are? ^^; I keep getting told that a lot of stuff doesn't make sense, it's full of mistakes, etc. but the problem is nobody is giving specifics and I still have no idea what they are D:
    – Krystal
    Feb 8, 2014 at 5:56
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    ["torrid" also means hot and dry] But thank you again! I never realised how completely lost in my own world I was. I think I'll move the beginning back a bit so not so many things are introduced at once!
    – Krystal
    Feb 8, 2014 at 21:58
  • @Krystal I was not aware of that definition, but you're apparently right. You learn something new every day. :) If you're happy with my answer, please click on the checkmark to accept it. (That's the way Stack Exchange works.) Feb 8, 2014 at 22:39
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    @LaurenIpsum I saw this line: "There's in medias res and there's WTF is going on.", and I laughed so hard I had literal tears in my eyes. That is simply brilliant. Thank you so much, though I now have to find some excuse to give my coworkers for why I'm laughing. :)
    – Josh
    Nov 10, 2017 at 18:35
  • 1
    @josh ::bows modestly:: Nov 10, 2017 at 22:33

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