SPOILER: There are no gifs in this post. I must be coming down with something.
If you've never worked with a critique partner before, I highly recommend it. I've been lucky enough over the course of my writing to have the opportunity to work with some awesome people who've taught me SO much. My experience thus far working with other writers in WiM is no exception.
For purposes of this blog post I have blacked out the name my CP for their privacy. I am so grateful for their feedback and I want to show anyone who is interested the notes so you can compare it to the changes I ultimately decided to make.
I didn't take every suggestion, but these were so high quality I ended up taking most. One of the things I struggle with most, especially when speed drafting fantasy, is making sure that everything makes sense -- which this CP did an amazing job pointing out in a couple of places. Namely, why the heck haven't these villagers invested in shutters?
Red notes are leftover from my original edit.
Another thing that my CP pointed out was a difficulty understanding the set up of the landscape. In my head, I know exactly where the tower is and what Thea can see from above. However, I failed to properly communicate that in the text.
In the original story I had Orion out in the woods doing something, but I have NO idea what that was. I must have just liked the idea of him having dirt on his face at the time. So that got cut. Which is a good thing because somehow this ended up LONGER than the last draft. My original draft was 97(something), second draft was 996, and this one came in at a hefty 1058. Am I doing this wrong?
One of my favorite changes in this draft happened because of the first note on the page below. I got to explore what happened to Jaime in a little more detail which was missing before. Additionally, I got to pull back in the book angle from the first page and if you know me, you know I love it when things come full circle. Sometimes to my detriment.
I'm actually really thrilled with the changes and I couldn't have done it without the careful eye of my CP. I was so excited that I actually got this done BEFORE the deadline which is a miracle.
Thanks for following along with me on this project. Below is draft number three!
In the Shadow of the Tower
By Natalie Lockett
The hearth lit of its own volition, a spirited flame dancing to life. It was a constant companion from frost to first harvest. Save for its muted roar, Thea barely noticed it anymore. Each evening, as the sun kissed the snowcapped mountains across the channel, her tower came to life — unseen servants fluffed the pillows and delivered decadent dishes of glistening meat and aged cheese, making it a comfortable place to be held captive.
She ran her fingers over the icy stone ledge where she perched by the window. Her entire memory was of this place, its rich furniture and the smell of sun warmed leather the only thing she knew of the world. She spent her time following paths of imagination through the pages of books, and looking down on the village and the wood beyond. The people below became her favorite characters. She watched as they fell in love, had children, and most enviable of all — lived. All while her own, unchanging face reflected back at her in the glass.
Tonight her neighbors busied themselves preparing for the full moon, shuttering the windows and anchoring floating lanterns along the shore to warn away passing vessels. An older boy with broad shoulders and a wicked grin danced along the bank, kicking up tiny waves and splashing girls who giggled in spite of themselves.
Soon, the ripened moon traded places with the sun and the village fell quiet, its paths dark and deserted. At the edge of the trees a thick fog crawled ever closer, as familiar and inexplicable as Thea’s tower. She tugged at the curtains, closing them before they deigned to do it themselves. Crossing to her bed, she pulled the covers over her head just as the screams began. High up in her tower she was safe, but nightmares don’t have to touch you to keep you awake.
The screaming would stop in the late hours of darkness, a hush settling over the village until a new sound rose with the sun. The mornings were always worse as villagers wailed, mourning loved ones lost during the cursed night, while others said prayers of quiet thanks for having been spared. Their cries were a stone in Thea’s stomach, taking the place of her appetite.
The curtains opened themselves, light spilling across the stone floor and inviting her to rise from slumber. As if she’d gotten any sleep. Though fear gripped her, she took up her seat by the window, surveying the waking village. One house in particular held her attention, its thatch roof glittering in the sun. The door opened, a black void that seemed to grow darker as the minutes stretched on.
“Please be ok,” Thea whispered into her fist.
A figure stumbled from the house, nearly hitting his knees before catching himself on a low, split rail fence. It buckled under the weight of his bowed shoulders. Thea’s heart stuttered.
The first time she saw Orion she’d named him after the hero from her favorite book. He was strapping and handsome, with hair the color of winter wheat. While she couldn’t be sure from up so high, she liked to imagine his eyes were the green of new grass and always alight with mischief. But even from her tower she could see today was different.
Orion wiped at his face with his sleeve, staggering toward the wood where he crumpled to the ground. His fingers tore at the collar of his shirt, clutching his chest and Thea thought he might rip out her heart.
Back at his cottage, the village men carried out a wooden plank draped with a white sheet. Thea was too preoccupied to see where they took the body, instead watching the boy in the wood repeatedly slamming his fist into the dirt. She cried for him and though she knew she could not touch him, the window was smudged with her fingerprints.
The sun tumbled over the moon again, the night quiet and uneventful. It did this over and over, as the moon became nothing more than a sliver of light in the sky. The village moved forward as usual—tending gardens, fishing, letting go—but Orion did not. He stayed hidden in his house and on the rare occasion she saw him on the paths he never smiled, never looked up. On the afternoon of the next full moon he didn’t shutter his windows.
When the sun set, Thea tugged at her curtains, but something moved on the path below, catching her eye before they closed. The moonlight cut his shadow out in the dark, glinting off his golden hair. Her heart crawled into her throat like a spider, its spindly legs threatening to make her vomit.
As the fog crept over the quiet village, Orion lit a torch, a beacon in the night. At first, the dense mist shied away from the fire, like a hand afraid of the heat. He swung the torch in a wide arc, keeping the fog at bay, but it surrounded him, circling as close as it dared. Then it nipped at the flame, seeming to dance in delight when it retreated unscathed.
Thea slammed her fists against the glass, screaming a name that didn’t truly belong to him. The name of a beloved hero. Why had she named him that? How had she forgotten the hero always died? It was the worst part of the book.
She climbed onto the window ledge, her feet slick against the cool stone. Standing at her full height, she pounded harder as if it made any difference. Tears blurred her vision and her hands throbbed.
The glass shattered.
Surrounded by fog, Jaime growled, swinging the torch in another wide arc. The mist was not afraid of the flame, instead appearing to enjoy playing with its food. He shut his eyes, preparing to join his mother in the afterlife when he heard a sound akin to the tinkling of bells. Clenching his teeth, he risked a look just as the fog began slinking back through the trees where it dissipated completely.
In the morning, the sun rose over the tower, reflecting off the glossy stone roof. The broken window sat jagged and empty, no one looking on as Jaime was praised as the savior of the small, tormented village on the edge of the wood.
Natalie Lockett is a real estate agent, videographer, and unacclaimed one-on-one comedian you didn't invite to the party but she showed up anyway.
She's been featured in Bob Eckstein's LitHub piece about the Writer's Digest Conference and her personal essay Rural in the City can be found in Across the Margin.
Natalie is also the producer and host of the podcast Write Away with Natalie Lockett, on which she interviews writers and publishing professionals. When not writing, she can be found annoying her critique partners and trying to convince herself to switch to decaf.
Talents include being caught on film laughing in really unflattering ways.