Jun 20, 2015: Black Pepper. I love the stuff. I put it everything from eggs to steak, from veggies to rice. I sprinkle it on generously, and I get really excited about peppercorn grinders.
I remember once, during dinner, (early on in my devoted relationship with pepper), my mother watching me as I heaped teaspoon upon teaspoon into my chicken soup. “Little Lifesharpener,” she cried. “you’ve put too much pepper into your food!”
Confidently, I said to her, “You can never have too much pepper.”
Turns out I was mistaken. I learned that hard lesson an hour later in my bathroom, embracing the white porcelain throne.
That’s exactly what Lorelei of the Sea suffers from. Too much seasoning. In the story’s case, the offending substance is Imagery.
To break it down simply, Lorelei of the Sea follows a young woman who is at the forefront of a battleground, princess and half-god, who faces a bunch of emotional and stressful events. I found it difficult to read for three reasons:
Excess Use of Imagery, Unrelatable Main Character, and Questionable Plot Progression.
I shall use yet another food analogy to explain my points; let us say that a hungry man walks into a restaurant. He takes a look at the menu. “Beef Stew!” he declares to the waiter, who soon procures a steamy bowl of the stuff, and sets it before the man.
Pepper. Way too much pepper.
There is so much pepper that just the spicy smell of it is enough to cause beads of perspiration form on the man’s forehead.
EXCESS OF IMAGERY:
You know how sometimes in stories there is a prologue? And usually in that prologue, there’s a lot of descriptive, flowy, and artsy sentences like . . . “The fluttering, tattered flag drifted aimlessly over the blackened field . . . ” well, in this story, almost all the sentences are like that. It’s one giant prologue.
In Lorelei of the Sea, the language is overflowing with imagery to the point of just plain confusion.
For example – (this is from the 2nd chapter, but there’s plenty to choose from):
“Lorelei found herself again, kneeling on the shore. The sand stuck to her knees, to her palms. The sun dried the ocean water in her hair, on her face, and baked the salt on her skin.”
It doesn’t sound that bad right? It actually sounds great; I very thoroughly see the picture of a gritty woman on the beach, who has obviously been there for some time.
Let me show you the full paragraph:
“Lorelei found herself again, kneeling on the shore. The sand stuck to her knees, to her palms. The sun dried the ocean water in her hair, on her face, and baked the salt on her skin. The priest stood before her, the light bright behind her, making her dizzy to look at him. His hair, black and knotted, was dunged into great spikes around his head and his naked body was shining pink and silver with new and old scars puckering across his chest, his belly, his thighs. In one hand he carried a long, thin knife and in the other a rope lead tethered around the neck of a goat.”
Not only do we get a very descriptive picture of Lorelei, we are now looking at a very detailed image of a man (who sounds rather gross). I counted over ten modifying words in a single sentence.
Now multiply this paragraph by a thousand more just like it. Too much.
Imagery (vivid, descriptive language) is used to convey an idea, emotion, feelings, mood . . . Good usage is subtle. Good usage is like how a good chef uses pepper; you sprinkle it here and there to supplement the soup’s flavor, not dominate it. Who do you want the reader to focus on? How do you want the reader to feel during this moment?
The author is trying too hard. I understand what he is trying to do, but it is having the opposite effect. The reader is bombarded with so much imagery that he doesn’t know what’s important, or what to feel or think. It is masking the important elements of the story . . . which brings us back to our hungry man in the restaurant . . .
The stew has too much pepper, it’s simply overpowering.
Luckily, the hungry man really, really, loves pepper. Although it’s too much, since he is starving, he decides to go ahead and take a bite, spooning a large chunk of meat into his mouth. He chews, trying to enjoy the peppered beef.
Hm, that’s odd.
It doesn’t taste like beef. In fact, the meat doesn’t taste quite like anything the man has ever experienced before . . . He asks the waiter, who affirms that it is beef; but the eater is not convinced after trying another piece. The waiter then suggests that it is may actually be chicken. This only serves to convince the man that it’s neither, and he instantly becomes suspicious that what he is eating . . . is something he shouldn’t be.
UNRELATABLE MAIN CHARACTER:
Lorelei is a complex character: spunky, has an honor code, violent, emotionally dependent, vengeful, religious, tough, cares for her people, yet also betrays them fairly easily.
Sounds too incredible to be true?
Yeah, that’s what I thought too.
One second she’s gutting a man (she actually hands him a knife so that she can pretend that he’s fighting back?), the next second she discovers her dead mother and she’s filled with rage, and tries to kill her father, and then gives up promptly at the mention of their soldiers’ well-being, (whom she decides to completely betray a few more chapters in). She weeps for her mother, challenges her father yet again in front of everyone, gets talked out of it, in a roundabout way, tells herself that strength dictates fate, desperately cries out for the temporary unavailable gods, and then decides that weeping for her mother is not the way to go, and decides to insure her own people’s demise by burning down their fleet.
Strong emotions usually make a character believable and identifiable.
Along with the imagery, the author actually conveys emotions very well, that’s not’s the problem.
The problem is that this girl feels so intensely about everything that it makes her unbelievable. Her many emotions make her difficult to comprehend.
There is actually one logical explanation that I would buy; Lorelei is certifiably insane, completely bat-shit crazy.
And not in the cool, dark, way like the Joker in Dark Knight (“I’m feeling strange and frightening emotions rising up inside of me . . . ”).
It’s more like the way your hysterical girlfriend embarrasses you in public (“I have no idea why she’s acting like this . . . ”) Trying to emotionally connect with your female lead as she dumps wine in your face is quite the challenge.
If the hungry man in our story was suddenly told that he was on candid camera, and that the mystery meat was supposed to be unrecognizable, he might have been convinced. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen to our eater . . . .
The man takes another bite; by this time the pepper has numbed his tongue, and he tries to examine the other flavors in the soup. They almost elude him, hiding under the pepper, but the hungry man is determined, trying to find something in the soup that will convince him to keep eating. Faintly, he detects garlic, and he is relieved at the taste of something other than mystery meat and black pepper.
Then a frown appears on his lips; some other flavors have also appeared. He tastes peppermint, as well as a cloying aftertaste that seems to be ginseng. The flavors do not mesh well together; the chef has made some very peculiar recipe choices.
QUESTIONABLE PLOT PROGRESSION:
Some elements of the story just don’t make sense. The reader ends up questioning a lot in the story.
Really? Kings can be so stupid that they walk into the middle of the enemy army to be killed directly by the opposing king? Literally, all Lorelei’s father has to do is stick out his sword and the enemy king is gutted, almost like it was on accident.
Really? Defending Nation? It’s during war-time, and you just lost your king, but leaving the gates open seems like a good idea? The enemy soldiers just waltz in? Are you lambs to the slaughter? You die so easily.
Really? Lorelei halted some strange ritual during which her father would rip out her mother’s heart? Why didn’t he just do it after he overpowered her (twice), and after convincing her not to do anything about the fact that he just murdered her mother?
It feels like the Author is just going with the flow, looking in the back of the fridge for stuff to throw into his literary soup. “I have some leftover ideas about ritual sacrifices, let’s throw that in. An idea for a scene where disguised soldiers sneak in and take out an entire city? Yeah sure, that should add some flavor. Don’t forget this week-old premise about being betrayed and then fighting against everything you’ve ever known and loved.”
My advice to the author, is to plan out a recipe, and then follow it. Experimentation is critical for any good chef, but that happens behind closed doors, and you certainly don’t serve it to others without tasting it yourself. Make sure all your components are being properly explored, and especially make sure that they make sense when you put them together.
You can probably salvage this soup . . . . But until then your restaurant gets three stars:
1st star because the writing, vocab, grammar is all actually pretty good. You definitely have all the proper tools that a good chef (author) needs. But good tools does not automatically a good author (chef) make.
2nd star because if you just erased half of the elements in your story, I’d bet you’d actually have a great recipe. The common theme in all three of the issues I described, is that there is just too much. Take it easy, make it simple. Start with chicken noodle, not consomme.
3rd star because I like Vikings, and I vibe those crazy bastards off of your story pretty hard.
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