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Villains

21 days ago
Commended by mizal on 5/8/2022 11:06:39 AM

So, I posted my first draft of this prologue couple of years ago, but was very unhappy with it, and so spent a long time trying to figure out my protagonist's backstory and whether the story should be written as a memoir, a letter or an interview. After several rewrites, this is the prologue I finally settled on.

What parts do you like? What areas can be improved? Should I scrap the whole thing and start over again? Any feedback you guys could give would be really helpful. ^_^

 

Prologue

So, you want to know the truth?

Of all the favours you could ask of me, why this? I do have connections, you know? Friends in high places that could get you anything you want, legal or otherwise. Possessions, property, influence with important people. Yet, you ask of me the one thing I was hoping to take with me to my grave. Besides, the legends about me are so much more entertaining! I could be either a revolutionary hero of the people or a demon summoned from the deepest pits of the inferno depending on which stories you listen to. I personally recommend you pick whichever narrative best suits your fancy and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of tales to accommodate it. The truth, I fear, will be rather boring by comparison. Moreover, the truth can be a cruel and bitter thing. You know that as well as I. I doubt it will bring you any satisfaction.

Still, if it really is the truth you want, old friend, then you shall have it. All of it. I promise you, there will be no sugar coated versions of events and I will omit none of the harsh realities that led me to where I am today. These pages will contain nothing but complete and utter honesty. It is the least I can do after all you have done for me. You are a good man. One of only a handful of good men I have ever known. I cannot refuse to grant you one small favour before the end.

On that note, I feel inclined to spoil this entire tale by beginning at the end. Not the traditional way to tell a story, I know, but then who really cares how my story begins? The ending on the other hand, well, everybody knows the ending. You know the ending. I know the ending. Every man, woman and child in the city already knows how my story will end. It ends with my execution.

Yes, I’ll grant that the ending is not technically set in stone. After all, I am not in the ground quite yet, and I have grown rather infamous for my ability the cheat death. It is possible that some dark-humoured deity has one more miracle in store for me, but I confess that this time I do not much fancy my chances. You know better than I the reputation of Blackguard Fortress. Once a prisoner walks through these gates, he does not leave, unless accompanied by an escort to the gallows. I’ll admit I’ve pondered a few possible methods of escape, more for my own amusement than any serious breakout strategy, but after much contemplation, I’ve deduced that with anything short of an airship at my disposal, any attempt at getting out of this hell hole alive would be futile.

Escape is impossible, my chances of being pardoned, even more so. Of course, there is always a chance that some illness or disease will end me before the Monarch’s justice can be enforced, or that some disgruntled guard will lose his temper and put me out of my misery. But since I am in tolerable health at present, and I always maintain a civil tongue towards my captors, I judge my chances of surviving this journey to it’s inevitable end to be likely. My only uncertainty is whether I shall be hung as a common criminal, or burned alive as a traitor to the crown. Neither fate particularly appeals to me, but I suppose it is a fitting reward for a life such as mine.

To the point. I can only assume that is the reason you came seeking answers from me. To discuss the trial, throughout which I remained unequivocally silent. Doubtless you want to know why I didn’t speak up for myself. Why I let them say such awful things about me without so much as muttering a word in my own defence. Were the charges true? Did I really do all those terrible things? Am I really the monster they say I am? The short answer, I’m afraid, is yes.

The long answer is that it is all far more complicated than that. Some of the charges were criminally exaggerated. Some were true, but the circumstances behind the crimes were not fairly explained. Some, I am glad to say, were entirely false. I can assure you that the noble’s daughter who accused me of dragging her into a dark alley, having my way with her and leaving her bruised and weeping in the streets with a child in her belly, I have never seen before in my life. Doubtless she got herself into trouble with an undependable suitor and decided that a prisoner with a rap sheet long enough to fill a scholar’s library was a preferable excuse for her condition. I do hope you never imagined me guilty of that. Still, for the most part, the charges brought against me were true. I have no justifiable motives or excuses. If you are wondering whether or not I deserve my fate, I can say with total conviction that I do. I have earned any death the Monarch sees fit to bestow upon me a thousand times over, and probably worse.

As to how I got here… Does brutal, merciless bad luck make for a sufficient explanation? No, I suppose it’s more than that. My choices led me to this end. Some good, most bad, many just plain, inexcusably stupid. Do I regret it? Absolutely. I regret every thing I’ve ever done that helped shape me into the man I am today. Yet, strange as it sounds, if I could go back to the beginning. If I could do it all over again. If I could somehow erase that long list of charges the judge brought against me, I do not think I would. In spite of it all, I feel that, somehow, everything ended the way it was supposed to. Every story needs a villain, after all. No one can deny that I played my part. You played yours. Now, here we both are.

Upon reflection, I do not know if I can tell you everything before the executioner comes for my head. It could be a year hence, or with the rising of tomorrow’s sun. I cannot say. Still, I promise that I will write for as long as I can. After all, I have spent the best part of a year in solitary confinement, laying on a cold stone floor, staring up at the ceiling of my cell, eating stale bread, pissing in a bucket and repeatedly crushing the unlimited supply of cockroaches that come to greet me every night. It’s not as if I have anything better to do. But before I begin, I would ask you one small favour in return. When you have finished reading these papers, I want you to destroy them. Better yet, destroy them as you read. Burn each page as soon as you’ve finished it. Smuggling me parchment, ink and quill is one thing. Getting caught with the hand written memoirs of the city’s most notorious felon, on the other hand, would be slightly more difficult to explain away. It is not worth the risk. Besides, I doubt you will want to read it twice, and no one else needs to know my story.

Not that I imagine anyone would be interested in the self indulgent ramblings of a man gone half mad from several months of solitude. What can I say? History belongs to heroes and kings, not career criminals who build their fortunes on a foundation of death and destruction. If this city remembers me at all, it will doubtless be as a grim little footnote in it’s long, wretched saga. An old wives tale used to frighten small children at night. “Be good, or his evil spirit will hunt you down and drag you into the great inferno.” Yes, I can imagine that. That is the kind legacy I deserve. The truth, good and bad, should die with me.

I briefly considered asking you to preserve these papers. To share my tale. To tell people who I really was. But then, who would I ask you to tell? My friends? My lover? My child? No. All the Gods forbid, no. I have promised to put nothing but the truth on these pages, and there are truths in my life that I pray my friends will never find out. Things I have done that my lover wouldn’t even think me capable of. And the atrocities I committed to secure the boy’s future… I would not burden him with that knowledge for all the world. In truth, I seem unable to share my final thoughts with any save for you. I am afraid that with the parchment you provided, I have wasted countless attempts on letters of bitter farewell, guilt-ridden apologies and confessions of undying love, all of which lay torn and crumpled on the ground, given up as a lot cause. There are a million things I wish to say to the ones I leave behind, and no words I can find to express them.

I confess, I do wonder why I feel so willing to pour out my heart and soul to you when I cannot seem to string together a single sentence for anyone else. I ask myself and find I am not quite sure of the answer. Perhaps it is simply that you asked it of me, and I have given you fair warning that my story will not be pleasant. As such, I cannot be held responsible if you don’t like what you read.

A few other possibilities come to mind, the most obvious of course being that I have simply been alone with my thoughts for too long. How long has it been since I had a real conversation with another human being? Besides the incredibly rare and brief opportunities you’ve had to visit me, the only time I open my mouth in this cell is to utter a quick thanks to whoever it is that slides the tray with my food and water through the hatch beneath my door.

No, that is a lie.

I promised you I would write only the truth, yet already I have lied before the story has even begun. The truth is that I have spoken aloud to myself quite frequently in the past few months. It began with simply muttering my thoughts under my breath, and has since devolved into full blown tirades, raging at myself for all of my past transgressions and failures. More recently, I have started enacting two party conversations with myself, imagining that I am speaking to friends, enemies and the ghosts of those long dead, telling them of all my troubles and regrets and trying to imagine what they would say in return. I confess, I think I am getting rather good at the various tones, accents and mannerisms. See, I do not exaggerate when I say I have gone half mad.

Still, I doubt that loneliness is the only reason that I wish to commit my sins to paper. Perhaps a part of me is searching for absolution through the act of confession. An old habit from my childhood years I still cannot seem to shake. More than anything, I think that like you, I am searching for answers. I see the man you have become, and I contemplate. How did our lives take such entirely different paths? How did I stray so far from my own nature? How did that innocent, bright eyed boy become the most infamous criminal this city has ever seen? How exactly did the man become the monster?

I have heard the best place to start when trying to comprehend the mind of a criminal is to look at their background. Where they were born, how they were raised, who their parents were. The age old question of nature vs nurture. How far can the apple fall from the tree? Well, as to that question, I am afraid your guess is as good as mine. I cannot even recall whether it was my mother, my father, or some other ill-suited caregiver that left me at the gates of the Temple of Sister Ada the Penitent.

My parents I have neither knowledge nor memory of. Though I often contemplate who they may have been, and what drove them to the temple that day. Were they debtors or slaves? Could they have been so poor they could not afford to feed their tiny child? Were they devoutly religious, so much so that they surrendered their own child for the glory of the Goddess? Or was I simply a bastard, abandoned by his father and leaving his mother in shame? Was I dragged from my mother’s arms kicking and screaming, or did she gladly rid herself of me the moment I was weaned? Worst of all, could she have died giving birth to me, gone before she even had a chance to hold me in her arms? All this I have asked myself many times, the answer forever out of reach. But I digress. I agreed to tell you my story and for better or worse, my parents were not a part of it.

Now, if we are to look to my upbringing for an explanation of the man that I became, I’m afraid we would be straying even further from an answer than before. Call me arrogant if you wish, but I do not think I exaggerate when I say that if I was not a perfect child, I was as close to it as any mere mortal can hope to be. Granted I was not particularly intelligent, my memorization skills left something to be desired and I had no talent whatsoever for chanting. But what I lacked in natural skill, I more than made up for with enthusiasm. I honoured the gentle temple sisters, dutifully served the brotherhood and was utterly devoted to the Goddess Xia, with the unwavering faith that only a little child knows. It’s funny, I wonder what the people of Brass Haven would think if they knew that the most hated man in the city once dreamed of becoming a priest.

Doesn’t really add up, does it? Not the recipe for a cold blooded killer that people would expect. I was a good boy. I was raised right. I had a kind and honest soul. Where exactly did it all go wrong? That much, at least, I can answer. Not when I changed. Not how. Perhaps not even why. But I can tell you the incident that started it all. I suppose it is fitting that in relating my life of crime, I should begin with my first crime of all. And you can certainly say this much of me, I do not do things by half.

Even within the strict, disciplinary confines of the temple, I was rarely ever in trouble. When I was, it was generally due to accidents or misunderstandings. I was a virtuous little monk, you see, and I did not break the rules. I did not lie. I did not steal. I never so much as shook hands with a woman after taking my vow of celibacy. Perhaps that was the issue. Perhaps I was too perfect for too long. Perhaps, over time, all the neglected wickedness built up inside me until it could no longer be contained. So, when the bad finally did come out, it came out in it’s full, uncontainable fury.

I did something terrible. I did something that my meek, innocent self never thought I could be capable of.

I killed a man.

Villains

20 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 5/13/2022 9:55:16 AM

My dearest friend,

You know, or think you know, even before I reply, what I will say.  You look at these pages, blurred with droplets that let's call tears for your predicament, but we both know is probably sweat or grease from dinner, and you think, ah, even though everyone else is silent, you can count on good old Gower to reply, to give you some solace in your imprisonment.

You think, as well, that I will make some mild jest, like you having spelled "favor" as "favour" for some insane geographical reason, or possibly say something about a semicolon and move blithely on.  Perhaps mention the errant "it's" at the end of one of the last paragraphs.  (it's full, uncontainable fury.)  But no, no, I will not mention these things.

However, of these matters I say nothing.  Indeed, I would like to encourage you to take what you have written and halve it.  I think, too often, old friend, that in your eagerness to make that connection with me, the reader, you retread ground that either you already have betrodden--trod--treaded--walked on, or make explict things that would be best left to the imagination.  The rhetorical questions followed by the restatements two or three times--(" Doesn’t really add up, does it? Not the recipe for a cold blooded killer that people would expect. I was a good boy. I was raised right. I had a kind and honest soul.---or " I have heard the best place to start when trying to comprehend the mind of a criminal is to look at their background. Where they were born, how they were raised, who their parents were. The age old question of nature vs nurture. How far can the apple fall from the tree?" --- or " What can I say? History belongs to heroes and kings, not career criminals who build their fortunes on a foundation of death and destruction. If this city remembers me at all, it will doubtless be as a grim little footnote in it’s long, wretched saga. An old wives tale used to frighten small children at night." 

All lovely sentiments, no doubt, but highly *condensable* and with a prologue like this, I think less is more.  We do not wish to tire of this voice, and this voice that repeats and rechews moves from the intriguing to wearying at times, especially when that voice is telling me how cool they are multiple times.  Let me decide, in short, if you do things by half.

I would be most interested if you were to revise this prologue and see what you can strip away from it.  After all, what else is there to do while you await your death.

Yours,

As Always,

Your obedient humble servant,

Professor Gower

Villains

20 days ago

Thank you Gower! Yes, the dreaded semicolon. Just can't seem to shake it. Must make it my priority to review every single "it's" before I share anything I've written again.

But thank you. I was worried that the prologue dragged on for too long. I think my main issue is that I have something in mind I want the protagonist to say, and find it hard to transition naturally from one topic to another without it seeming to come out of nowhere. So, I end up just blathering on for a whole paragraph about nothing in particular, repeating the same topics over and over because there's one crucial sentence that needs to be included, and doesn't make sense without the half dozen sentences before it. Will have a look and see what I can get rid of without breaking the flow of the writing.

Villains

19 days ago

I quite enjoyed this! Though Gower's observations are keen, I did not find myself tiring of the protagonist's voice. Maybe that's just because I enjoy reading monologues. It definitely piqued my interest, and, we're it a complete piece, I definitely would have continued to read the story. It did what it needs to as an introduction, and what changes may be necessary seem few in my eyes. 
 

In short, great read Avery!

Villains

19 days ago

Thank you! Really glad you liked it. Will get to work on Chapter 1 and then tweak the prologue accordingly after. ^_^

Villains

16 days ago

I think the concept is good. Who doesn’t like unreliable narrators?

Villains

16 days ago

Thank you! Nice to write in first person for a change. It's always been my preferred POV. ^_^

Villains

16 days ago

Well it certainly works with the premise and story that you have here.

Villains

16 days ago
Commended by TharaApples on 5/13/2022 9:54:39 AM

This prologue is really well-written! From the first question, I was intrigued. As the purpose of prologues are to hook the reader by planting questions in their mind, I think this does a good job, because I found myself wanting to know more about this villain's tale.

Suspense

I enjoy the gradual build-up before the truth is revealed; the stretching of suspense as far as it can go. The narrator's unwillingness to disclose the truth, combined with the build-up of its significance, really makes the truth more fascinating when it comes. And even so, once the truth is revealed, there are many more questions left unanswered -- Why is the villain getting executed? How did his corruption arc occur? And finally, what led him to kill a man?

As Gower mentioned, perhaps the lengthy prologue may cause readers to tire of the narrator's voice, since in my haste to know what happened, I may have skimmed several sentences. Therefore, I'd suggest that if you do cut out some parts, do try and keep the main moments that pique the reader's curiosity and edit/ combine the sentences that aren't essential. (Unrelated sidenote: I find the advice to halve this prologue amusing considering this line -- "And you can certainly say this much of me, I do not do things by half.")

I recently read a piece of advice which said that every sentence must do one of the following -- advance the action, or develop a character. While I still haven't mastered this skill yet, if you tend to use drafts/ rewrite and edit a lot, this might help fine-tuning some parts that may be overwritten. But all in all, this piece is effective and the suspense element meant I kept wanting to read on.

Character's voice

Your character's voice is highly distinct; this makes everything feel more personal, especially when combined with the first person pov and the nature of this passage (a letter to an old friend). I once read that a story's events would only affect the reader if they are first shown to affect the characters. In this way, I think you've succeeded since the main character's life events are shown to have a drastic impact on him. From the way his imprisonment has driven him to the depths of insanity, to the fact that he rambles on due to having no other way of entertaining himself, you've really driven home the scope of impact the plot has on the protagonist. I'm taking notes on this to improve my own future works haha.

Another brilliant thing about this character is how he is essentially a contradiction. His narrative is said to be the truth, but when taking into account the life he has built out of deception and his rather questionable motivations, he does become an unreliable narrator. And yet, I can't help but want to know about this version of the truth. 

In terms of feedback, there's a lot of backstory covered in one letter, and it might border on the verge of info-dumping. One thing you could consider is this: is everything here essential for the reader to know about the protagonist at this stage of the story? Sometimes, I fall into the trap of over-explaining things if I spent a lot of time worldbuilding or developing my characters. It usually helps me to think about how I can separate a lengthy backstory into categories (e.g. knowing nothing about his parents, lacking talent but having enthusiasm, being a 'perfect child', etc) and deciding which ones I can later sprinkle into the narrative. For instance, the part about the parents could later come up in a conversation about parental figures and role models, adding more depth to the character's personality. It would make sense to leave some things for later, so the reader will constantly discover new things about the protagonist (plus, it makes sense that this half-mad man who has been deprived of social interactions for a long time would, in his haste to tell his story, forget some details and provide a slightly disjointed, non-chronological narrative).

Other notes

While setting may not be a main part of the prologue, I like the little details that hint at it. The Blackguard Fortress sounds menacing, a world that executes prisoners perhaps signals a somewhat medieval society (and there are also nobles, the crown, the monarch, etc), and deities are mentioned too. It seems like a great backdrop has been set for a fantasy/ dark fantasy story!

This is a rather polished piece. I could only find one minor grammatical error: After all, I am not in the ground quite yet, and I have grown rather infamous for my ability the [to] cheat death.

One of my favourite parts (because I begin to wonder what role the 'old friend' plays in the story): Every story needs a villain, after all. No one can deny that I played my part. You played yours. Now, here we both are.

The last line is so impactful, especially after the two other sentences before it and the whole build-up together with the juxtaposition of the protagonist's past self. To be honest, I read that last line by accident before the rest of the prologue, but because of that, I started reading this prologue, and stayed until the end. If there's another page I would have clicked the 'next' button by now.

Overall, I hope you're satisfied with this rewrite, because it's very eloquent and engaging :)

Villains

14 days ago

Oh wow, thanks MW! Damn, you really went all in with that review. I genuinely appreciate it. It really means a lot. Sometimes I get dissuaded when all my mistakes are pointed out, so it's always encouraging to hear that I'm doing something right. ^_^