A/N: PLEASE READ THIS FIRST SO THE PASSAGE MAKES SENSE. LIKE SRS IT WILL BE GOBBLEDYGOOK OTHERWISE.
This is a lousy - I mean..."unpolished" excerpt from my WIP script of Essence, which I have been rewriting for the past several months. So I can focus on cranking out the story, I'm waiting until I am ~100% finished to start editing and overhauling. I haven't caught any gross technical errors in this passage, but it IS the first draft, so the style, content, and syntax are subject to change. Thus, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. Seriously, don't hold back - be as critical, honest, or 'wat shin wth is this trash' as you wish. I promise I can beat myself up much better than you or anyone else can, so don't worry about hurting my feelings!
If you haven’t played the demo, I wouldn’t read this excerpt, since it assumes the reader is familiar with the plot and characters. If you have, though, I still need to explain a few things.
Due to malfunctioning in Alice’s system, she frequently hallucinates. Though this often manifests in green static and haze (or “the green”), the figures from her fragmented memories also emerge from the fog to torment her.
In the passage, the “young ones” and “giggling” she mentions refer to a pair of little girls that appear in her dreams and hallucinations. Before this scene, when Alice and Cath are crossing the carcass-ridden wasteland, the girls giggle incessantly until Alice “hears” a woman scold them. This manifestation, spurred as Alice snags the hem of a skeleton’s maternity dress, is the “pregnant corpse” Alice refers to.
Additionally, the “eyes” and “audience” she describes are the people she was forced to kill over and over during her nine-month coma. Because her memories are corrupted, the victims’ faces are pixelated save for their eyes – which is how she came to identify the men and women she repeatedly murdered in her nightmares. After enduring their accusing eyes for nine months, she cannot stand being stared at.
Until the fog thins enough to see its shimmer, I don’t notice my heart beaming through the growing shadows.
Instead of rippling like water, the green light storms as the wasteland seeps back in. As the sun trickles behind them, purple mesas glow like my chest. Aside from the ruins of a station, the cliffs alone bind the nothingness I thought was boundless.
I jump when Cath speaks for the first time in hours.
C: “There’s food inside. Good with camping?”
A: “…If I a-answered, could you hear me over your headphones?”
C: “Sorry, what?”
Sniffing, he starts toward the pumps without lowering the volume.
A: “…With your head up your ass, would you hear me without your headphones?”
He only stumbles for a second, but it’s a second that he can’t strut toward the store unruffled. His head wouldn’t fit in those jeans, anyway.
If I hadn’t held my breath when Cath tied off his mouth, I’d keel over at the storefront. The crumbled walls heave rot worse than eggs and toilets.
C: “Shall I compare thee to a skunk’s decay?”
Feet from a hole that nearly consumes the building’s face, Cath prances through the door.
C: “Thou art more pungent than gym socks, more rancid than – ”
He wheels and grips the door chimes interrupting his poetics. As he steps back, they still whisper, determined to voice an entrance no one but us will ever hear.
C: “…You gonna stand there? You should eat.”
I grimace at the trail of tiny, mushy skeletons while Cath skips around the junk-food coffins as if he’s playing hopscotch.
A: “…I’m good.”
C: “Even if you’re plastic, you can metabolize food. How else could they market Chef Barbie?”
I’ll admit, the two-liter just inside the hole looks tempting. As a projectile.
A: “I’ll metabolize rat leftovers when you do.”
Swinging open a dead cooler, Cath stretches his collar to drops bottles and cans inside.
C: “Tch, don’t write off what you haven’t tried.”
Pivoting toward the shelves, he follows suit with candy bars and gum, eyes widening when he spots a jumbo pack of marshmallows. In the wake of a dreamy sigh, he shoots me with a stern finger.
C: “You need to modify your perception. Don’t think ‘guts,’ think ‘sauce.’ Protein, if you’re lucky enough to get one with fur.”
I think he’s kidding until he transfers a marshmallow from his shirt to his mouth. My nose scrunches imagining the sugar along with the rats’ stench, which only worsens as he sloshes around a jug of lighter fluid.
A: “You…r-really can’t wait til you get outside?”
C: “Ah’m tryin’ ‘fore buyin’. Joo wanf sumfin?”
A: “I’m not hungry. That even safe for you to eat?”
He licks the mush caking his lips and twirls out the door with blank-faced contentment.
C: “Processed food only ripens with age.”
A: “No, I mean…is it infected?”
C: “That whole room is clean.”
I follow Cath to a rock face, where a scrawny tree dodges the day’s final arrows. Untucking his shirt, he dumps his food and sits, but I step toward the blobs wriggling on the pasty bark.
C: “As of now, Blight can’t eat up bone. So once it ate up all those rats’ flesh, it ran its course. You can’t catch it in there anymore.”
A: “So…how are these guys still alive?”
Like sleds stranded in the arctic, five caterpillars stumble through the bends of the tree, my heart sparkling above them like a northern aurora. As they scurry from the light, their exoskeletons shimmer, as shiny and hard to the touch as obsidian.
C: “Those armored things? They’ll die soon enough.”
Cath squints, snaking closer.
C: “Hard shell’s worthless when there’s nothing left to eat you.”
Now and again, one pauses to nibble at the bark, but her teeth are too weak to scrape up a morsel. So she paces for a few seconds before forgetting and trying again, only to reap the same reward.
A: “…Do you have anything I could feed them?”
C: “Tch. When’s the last time you saw a worm eat a Cheeto?”
A: “They’re not wo – ”
Cath whips out his gun and fires, sending three branches tumbling before I can blink. While he slinks around and stacks the debris, I gape at the tiny creatures milling around the trunk in terror.
A: “Y-you – ”
C: “ – are sorry about the tree, I mean it. But it’s dead. And I want s’mores.”
He dumps the lighter fluid and tosses a lit match into the pile. As quickly as the mass outdoes the sky’s orange residue, the caterpillars thrash into the new hidey-holes. Their tyrant yawns and dangles a fist-sized sugarwad over the fire.
My fist curls, but my energy tapers like the amber tongues. More than I mind sitting next to Cath, I want to force the tree and young ones as far away as I can. It’s easy enough to ignore him when I have to peer over the mound of spoils to see him.
Wood groans, fire snarls, and his headphones buzz, but the darkness pens us up before he finally makes a sound. Clicking them off, he drops his headphones. Before tightening with the strain of six marshmallows, Cath’s frown sags lower than normal.
He glares at his sneakers, avoiding the fire like I do the starless sky, before glaring at me.
C: “You hungry?”
C: “Then how ‘bout you stop oglin’ me like a piece’a meat?”
A: “…I’m metal. Shouldn’t I be impressed?”
Although you’re far from a fine cut.
C: “Then worship me with words. Not your creepy-ass eyes.”
He hunches closer to his soda. Minutes pass in insignificant noise – I fold a squeaky bag into a frog, Cath munches, fizzes, and sighs – but they barely mask the silence looming over our bubble. No crickets. No wind. A highway yards away, but no rumbling tires or horns. Just high-pitched giggling, stifled in fear of hair being pulled.
Cath starts when I gasp in the syrupy air, though I wish I hadn’t when it mixes with my memories of the pregnant corpse. After shaking his head, he crumples up again, leaving me lonelier and colder by the fire than I ever was in the wasteland.
A: “…You say you don’t know me. F-fine.”
A: “So why did you wait on me?”
His beak doesn’t even acknowledge me this time.
A: “…P-please, Cath.”
I pin his hand the moment it crawls toward his headphones, locking my fingers tighter when he bares a face more grim than the skulls’. Though his jaw creaks open, his arms and legs grow stiff as a coffin.
C: “What do you see out there?”
I peek past him into the dark, half-expecting something to leer back, but –
A: “There’s nothing.”
C: “What? No shopping mall?”
Beneath my hand, the rubber glove whines. Even with the wild light tearing across him, not a single blink disrupts his gaze. I shudder and look at the fire, but eyes are still on me.
C: “No theme park? Carnival?”
A: “Don’t…stare at me.”
But he continues, joining the audience that’s watched me for the past nine months. I feel his nails curl into the dirt.
A: “I’m s-serious.”
The bag beneath his eye spasms in time with the flames.
C: “Not even a drive-thru. What else did I have to do besides wait on you, then?”
I lift my hand, but it doesn’t rise an inch before he hooks it down with his.
C: “I had other options, sure. Coulda been trampled by a mob. Run over at by an idiot driving 90 miles an hour to dodge a virus he already had.”
I writhe out of his grasp, but he stays faceted on me.
C: “Thrown in a death camp if I so much as sneezed. Shanked by a grandma for drugs or worthless money.”
Every time I turn back, green pixelates his face til only his eye beams through – probing, judging, seething – a single green high-beam in the midst of hundreds.
A: “Stop – staring – ”
C: “The world’s a fine place, Alice. Just dandy. So don’t begrudge me for keeping all that fun to myself. I’m doing you a favor, keeping you in the dark – ”
Before the word leaves his lips, I snap to my feet.
A: “Are you s-serious? Really? You think you’ve l-lived through hell? That sitting and staring at a wall, cramming your face with cookies and candy for nine months is hell? Nothing…nothing you tell me could be worse than what I’ve already done. You’re not keeping me in the dark, Cath. I haven’t been able to get out of it for the past nine months.”
Throughout my rant, Cath sits rigid, letting my spit and the fire flog him as much as they would. As I leer over him, he stares at me like I’m nothing more than a column of air. But then he rolls up, leans in, and casts a much greater shadow than me.
C: “Maybe you suffered, but you sure looked comfy in that chair to me.”
C: “Maybe each dream you had was a nightmare, but I couldn’t sleep. I lived. For nine months, watched hell grow hotter, realer every day. Watched it scarf down the sun til the whole world was as dark as that damn room. I only left so I wouldn’t starve. I only stayed with you so I could believe there was one human face that wouldn’t take one look at me and try to rip me apart. For God-knows-what reason. Thinking I was an EA, thinking I had money...tch.”
Cath’s laughter pours out through a flurry of squares.
C: “And then the first thing you did was try to rip me apart. When people came at me, they really meant to kill me.”
His eye flickers to my fist before he drifts back to the ground.
C: “When people came at me, I really...”
A: “…You…really…killed them…?”
Like rocks split my eardrums, I go deaf to all noise. Green trickles and saturates the fire all the way from the mutilated tree.
A: “What does that mean?...You think I didn’t really kill people?”
Even as the fog swells, I see the caterpillars wheel faster until they match the pace of my heart. Cath looks straight at me, speaking slowly enough for me to read his lips.
C: “Dreams are dreams, scrap metal.”
The green erupts from the earth, consuming the fire and sky in a surge. It drowns the glow with an inferno, but neither of us flinches. Cath’s mouth moves, but I don’t hear him.
A: “Don’t you dare speak to me.”
I don’t even hear myself anymore.
A: “Don’t look at me, don’t follow me, don’t ever think of bothering me again.”
I whip and dart out of the heat, away from him like I’ve wanted all day. Not four steps out, the giggling scampers close, rushing me into the darkness that chills me more than death.
I hope you guys like it, and if you don't - like I said in the A/N, don't hold back! I want to know what I can change so reading is more enjoyable for you. The script as a whole will be more effective combined with the visuals, but I want the writing to be as good as possible beforehand.
Let me know what you think and if there's anything else I should explain (that I didn't, which is very likely).
Story/characters (c) Shinkami/SheerGlade
This is not about the writing but I just love Cath and Alice together. Like they seem to hate eachother so much it almost turns in to love. Like I'm partly waiting on the moment where Cath just grabs her and kisses her, lolXD I'm looking forward to the romance scenes! These two characters just have a connection and it's very hard to explain really... Oh and by the way I love Alice's inner comments they are just hilarious! XD
I hope you're doing good! Don't push yourself too hard and as always I'm really hyped for Essence! ^__^
I just love your descriptions, they make everything feel so real and so fantastic at the same time! And Alice's interactions with Cath continue really fun to read. ^^ Aaah, I wanted to leave a more meaningful comment, but your skill level at writing is so much above mine! ;w;
Senpai is uploading stuff
ANYWAY. I'm such a bad person that I actually wrote all of my criticism first, to get it out of the way. Looking at this giant comment full of 'y u do dis' statements is kind of guilt-racking but I believe that's because I can't say anything simply and without a 'well if it works for you I'll just sit over here with my opinion and do my own thing' disclaimer at the end. Yeah. Also you know I'm
Daemon's your biggest fan ouo
Anyway. I think I know which part this is and I like it. It's darker, but only because it's more realistic. There's a sense of this place, the shop, as only being one of many, nothing to think twice about, something that really lends to an overall atmosphere of impersonal despair. It's really interesting that you've decided to add shreds of flora and fauna into the description. The whole caterpillar thing just got me because I know Daemon would be like "no they are my children I will put them in my hair" and then they would slowly eat him alive while Fitch is all "uh you okay there mate" but is secretly wondering if plant-boy's love of larvae is because he himself anticipates becoming a beautiful butterfly. Look at me embarrassing myself out in the open we need to Skype more
But I like the addition of these things because it shows that the passage of destruction has honestly been quite brief. Nine months you said? Quite a few cold-blooded animals could potentially live that out if they were lucky (or unlucky) enough to escape Blight. Also, I'm imagining that the virus ate the tree from the inside out, turning the rest into deadwood. Cath's reluctant apathy in having to burn it down is something that really humanises him.
I'm glad you kept Alice's sass. So glad. Also I'm with Anon, the descriptions of the liquified rat offal and crystallised sugar caking Cath's mouth were beautifully written but undeniably gross.
And the dialogue. I wish I could do the dialogue thing like you can BUT I CAN'T SO ALL OF MY CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK IS ABOUT DESCRIPTIONS WHICH I CAN DO. ;A;
I just really love how you were able to incorporate bits of figurative language, bits of sharp wit, bits of popular culture (sort of) into the dialogue and used it to progress the story without seeming like it's explaining everything or overbalancing the actual actions of the characters. The things the characters say in tandem with their movements and observations keep the pace really well. I love how Alice and Cath faced two different sort of nightmares: one terrifying because it should never be real, the other terrifying because it was.
I like the pixels swarming in Alice's vision too, and she is a lot less whiny, I get what you mean now. Why does she stutter though?
OKAY NOW I HAVE A FEW THINGS WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT BE PROBLEMS BUT I'M GOING OFF MY GENERAL IRRITATION WITH SOME OF MY OLDER WRITING WHICH HAS DONE THE SAME THING SO BEAR WITH ME. I feel like I'm nitpicking here but I think these are things that you can keep in mind for the rest of your writing.
Also there are a couple of typos around the middle of this piece around when Cath is looking in the cooler just letting you know
Firstly, your descriptive language. It seems a little and as if I have permission to say this but too abstract at parts? Like, I don't know whether I just have a limited vocabulary or not but some of the descriptions, particularly at the beginning made me squint and re-read. I don't know whether it's just because I'm angry at my writing style because it went through an over-descriptive phase or because I like to be more literal, but there are three pieces of figurative language in that second sentence and my tired brain was spinning a little. Paired with a visual it might work, but maybe if you did a bit more comparing with your language that might help? So uh, "the green light floods over the landscape, like water casting rivers in cracked earth." On that note, it's sometimes easier if you start with a general image and then pinpoint things about it, such as the way I structured that simile. I guess you could start with the aching nothingness, then talk about the purple crags and then add the seeping green. Unless you want the image to be spoiled by the green pixels. Then carry on in that order XD From what you have already read my advice is all over the place.
To explain what I mean about the description, here. It's in a lot more words and you might think it's too literal or inspecific but it's part of a little thing I wrote for Vanilla a couple of weeks ago...
The road led, predictably, to one of the small towns that peppered the landscape. Set among hills of golden grain, it really wasn’t much to show for. Thatched rooves and whitewashed walls described almost all of the houses. A bell tower peered over the structures. Voices rose from a square somewhere nearby. Fitch cupped a hand to his forehead and peered at the dust swirling on the paths, and a dog sleeping in a doorway.
Some of your verbs seem to have a similar thing sometimes... they're either just interesting verb choices which aren't necessarily bad, the ones which describe Cath are really good because they show Alice's sense of sarcasm or distaste. But does she really 'writhe' out of his grip with her entire body, or does she just jerk her hand away? I think specific words can make a story more visually alive, but sometimes they need a little more affirmation, and if you don't want the particular part to have to be explained and lengthened then it's probably better to stick with a smaller and more basic description. If she has to write out of his grip when he's only pinned her hand down then that either would have needed to be explained earlier in the story (super-human strength, you may have done this) or explained right then "he only held my hand down, but it took all my strength to writhe from his grip."
Also, uh, you have these descriptions of senses, such as pungent smells and heat and Alice's discomfort when they're arguing, but at times it doesn't seem to reach back to her. I get the feelings of her anger and irritation, for example with the caterpillars thrashing painfully to save themselves. And then there's the bit with the rot being heaved worse than egg and toilet rankness and you've said "I would have keeled over". What did she do instead? Did a lump rise up her throat like forced reflux? Did she feel nauseous after a while and feel it digging at her sinus cavity or whatever she smells through? I've very recently been in close proximity to steaming sulfur pits that smell like rotten mayonnaise so I can affirm those descriptions are from experience When she's arguing with Cath, does she go hot with rage? Does her mind cloud with black fog? When the pixels begin to swarm in her vision, have they been there all along and are now thickening like flies, or does she feel a sense of dread when she sees them, or does she just ignore them? I may notice this more because I tend to internalise feelings and I know exactly how my body feels when I argue, when I'm anxious or just want to get away. You don't need to inject that into your writing if the visuals help or you think you've gotten your message across for 90% of readers but... eh, you may as well know hehe. You've probably explained most of these things and I'm just too dumb to pick them out but in the off-chance that you haven't, that's something to think about.
Okay, that's all my criticism. I sound so mean wow. The only reason I can do this is because I'm so annoyed with my own writing at the moment that I'm putting all writing under scrutiny and if I'm not like "DON'T DO THAT I DID THAT" I feel like "why are you superior why do I even try" and it's vicious. I am really glad to see your writing again, I was feeling like I didn't know your characters anymore XD Plus you've inspired me to do some work on my own story.
SO I HOPE THIS HELPED. //runs away
DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I WANTED A SUPERSEXY CRITIQUE FROM YOU??! IT'S JUST WHAT I WANTED. IT'S A CHRISTMAS MIRACCCLLLLEEEEE~~~~ //spins around until falling and taking out the christmas tree
BUT NO RLY. You took...all the time to write this ;-; so don't even whine about how mean you feel because YOU'RE NOT YOU INSUFFERABLE WOMBAT i want to get better and UMM. I THINK YOU KNOW I VALUE YOUR OPINION.
I knew 100% before but now I know 500% that we're soulmates because YOU ADDRESSED JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING I HAVE BEEN UNEASY ABOUT WITH THIS WRITING STYLE.
but first I want to say thank you so much for the encouragement ;-; i hope you don't mind a disgustingly long reply but it feels so good to get your feedback and talk about it xDD my soul has missed this. with dedication i have forced myself to not send you things because
But yeah. The "impersonal despair" is heavy between Cath and Alice at this point - neither one of them seem like they have much desire to live, but they cannot/will not/do not want to seek comfort in each other, the only companion each has at this point. Outwardly, Cath is much more hostile, while Alice is more reserved, but there are small moments where they can connect over how similar they are. I feel like I understand them both so much better, so it's been a lot of fun to work with them - especially with making Cath as unappealing as possible oDo I love him but I need to remember that if I don't really emphasize his redeeming qualities/moments, no one else will XDD
Also, thank you so much for saying it's darker and more realistic ;-; I know this is just one passage, but hearing that means a ton. I've really tried to make it so (especially in the character's struggles. read my update post so I feel special ouo and so you can judge me for wanting to add H-scenes).
But yeah, when I was still working off my "16/17-year-old me" ideas of this story, it just seemed totally cool to be like "yeah there was this virus and um everything is dead so yeah" and for the demo I guess that was okay, but since thinking about everything so much more, I can't believe I hadn't tried to expand the world more (or at least make it more realistic e.e 9 months and everything's gone? really?). I had vague ideas, like various survivor cities, etc., but now I've tried to add infrastructure, specific hierarchy within Malware, their propaganda, some other freaky efforts of their scientists (including but not limited to plant-boys ouo), and just...I have this scifi world that I barely tried with. I think I cared too much about Cath's pants. Or Linus's nipples. Yeah that's probably it actually OK OFF TOPIC THE POINT WAS THAT YES there are still surviving animals AND YES the tree was eaten from the inside out and YES the caterpillars are a motif, one in particular Daemon and Alice can connect over ouo and not just because he likes them.
Also THANK YOU about the dialogue ;-; I hope that through it, players will still grow attached to the characters like they did in the demo and that I haven't gone backward instead of forward. Like you said, too, I've tried to limit and simplify explanation as much as possible. WHICH IS WHY ALICE'S oh hell I can't blame it on her MY frequently abstract description INFURIATES AND UNSETTLES ME QUITE OFTEN.
A lot of the time, I feel like it's okay if I can find the correct words or syntax - as long as the meaning is still obvious or at least easily decipherable. BUT YESSSS. THOSE FIRST FEW SENTENCES YOU MENTIONED. HOLY CRAP YES. I HATE THOSE. THEY ONLY MAKE SENSE TO ME BECAUSE I KNOW THE IMAGE IN MY HEAD. BUT THE POINT IS TO PLACE THE IMAGE IN EVERYONE ELSE'S HEAD. I have let things like that slip by knowing I would eventually come back and edit, but honestly, like you said, I should stick to the literal if I can't find an unambiguous "pretty" way to say it. Not those particular sentences - but sometimes I have these really weird images/expressions in my head and I LIKE them but they're pointless if they only make sense to me. I have enjoyed some of the surreal description and narrative I've gotten to write with Alice's hallucinations, but if I can keep those images clear, then I should certainly keep her actual surroundings clear. XD
Also - yes to my weird verb choices. XD Thank you for pointing that out - because I know I really do need to work on it. Like you said, they're fine for effective situations, where I can find just the right word to convey a strong meaning, but otherwise...keep it simple. I promise I don't shy away from using ordinary verbs, I just...try to over-enhance too many things XD;
And then, the disconnect between Alice and the things happening to her - that bothers me, too, and a lot of the time I'll go back and make sure I included enough of her reaction to events and dialogue. I really think it's a byproduct of trying to shorten the script (and remembering how whiny and longwinded she was in the demo). She really is "flat" in this passage - as a character at this point, she is very numb and withdrawn - but I always felt I didn't do enough for her here. ): I often don't put enough effort into conveying her reactions through physical cues. I can do this through her sass or dialogue in certain situations, but since she is more reserved, it's important that I emphasize the physical.
Also, you mentioned - and I should have explained this in the author's note - but she stutters so much because she is always cold. It's a detail beyond the scope of this passage but I totally forgot about it. I've considered eliminating the stutter if it gets annoying to read, but it does get taken care of before too long, and I kind of like the contrast between her physical strength and emotional fragility. She could break someone's neck but she's so crushed she can't speak without shaking. Since she's shivering, she can't help it, but it's her body betraying her - she tries to present as strong (fighting, killing, being strong is all she's known for the past 9 months) but all her uncertainty and despair still creeps out through her voice.
SO UM. SORRY ABOUT THIS SUPER LONG GROSS RAMBLE THaT YOU PROBABLY NEVER WANTED TO READ BUT ILU SOULMATE AND I CANNOT THANK YOU ENOUGH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO WRITE ME YOUR THOUGHTS SO hiaofhaoa don't be surprised if I break down and send you a little more
because before the final draft i really really REALLY do want you to be one of my first readers when I finish the second draft