Literary Reviewers: Please Read

Hello, I am in desperate need of some feedback regarding this essay I have been working on for the last hour. I know the people on this message board are, for the most part, helpfull and informative, so I was hoping someone could respond with a comment or two about the following essay about a personal experience:

(Title Pending)

To my right stood the love of my life. To my left: a towering black bishop.

This was to be an easily won battle, I thought. My young opponent may have had more experience on this particular theater of war, but I was sure my developed ability to reason and strategize would give me the edge I needed.
The fight began slowly, as was to be expected. She commanded a small wave of pawns to be sent down the center of the battlefield, protecting her soldiers with two white knights to their rear. I quickly realized she was doing one of two things: attempting to control the front lines, or arrange her men in a pretty little ‘star’ pattern. With her being only twelve years of age, I assumed the latter.
Deciding to forgo the opportunity of an early attack, I chose to work on releasing my more powerful units. A strategy such as this would surely weaken my defenses, but only momentarily. Once I managed to free the rooks and bishops, my early lack of defense would then be compensated for.
I took turns ordering a few of my pawns into the battlefield in an attempt to open the future lines of attack. My thoughts were that my opponent would be too busy creating visually pleasing arrangements of her men to notice my helpless and unguarded soldiers. So I continued.
Once the pawns were in position I called for my most distant rook to flank the left battlefield. I smiled as I felt my plan come together.
Just then, an opposing white knight leapt from its standing position, soared over the heads of two friendly pawns, stopped in mid air, turned hard left, and came crashing down on my noble rook. I watched as the poor soul was flung from the battlefield, over the horizon and out of sight.
After quickly mourning the loss of such a valuable unit, I was forced to reconsider what my opponent’s true motives were regarding the positioning of her men. Maybe creating an aesthetically stunning battlefield wasn’t all she had in mind. Matching her moves with added caution on my part would have been a more appropriate strategy in the beginning, but it was too late for that. My pawns were already scattered recklessly over the combat area, exposing both of my knights, a bishop and my one remaining rook to her, now menacing, forces.
I decided it was time to push the offensive as well. I instructed my nearest bishop to move in on the imposing ivory steed hoping to scare it away. My attempt was thwarted, however, by a swift, diagonal move from one of her men. The impact caused my bishop to topple and role off the edge of the battlefield. There were now two enemy units within my kingdom and the nearest means of offence was nearly three moves away. The pressure was mounting. I called upon any men that thought they had a chance against my opponent. A bishop of mine took it upon himself to attempt to slow the enemy’s advance. But my resistance was quickly put to an end when her knight surprisingly doubled backed and killed the renegade unit. She leapfrogged with her knight killing another soldier. Then another. And a fourth. She seemed to take particular glee in the death of my men, laughing as they were bumped, lifted and flicked onto the carpeted abyss beyond the battlefield. I was not amused.
My remaining units scrambled across the board in a futile attempt to put an end to the madness. But their efforts would only be in vain. My opponent picked off almost every last unit of mine, even those who posed no threat to her like the innocent pawns, immobilized in a standoff between another enemy pawn. Soon, my once glorious army lay shattered with only my beloved wife and I remaining.
It was obvious now as to where my opponent’s attention was focused. Suffering from a gimp leg of sorts, I was only able to take one step at a time, so I decided instead to seek refuge beneath the Queen’s robes. She stood before the advancing chaos, arms drawn back as to shield me from my opponent. She fought valiantly, circling around me move after move. But it was not long after until she too was slain.
With her death I was left alone, cowering on my knees, looking up towards the towering white army. Realizing that the end was inevitable, I rose to my feet. With one last look at my opponent, I tilted myself to the right and fell stiffly to the ground with a light wooden tap.

“Checkmate!” She giggled. I watched as my opponent began to circle the living room, savoring this well deserved moment, chanting: “I beet Arthur! I beet Arthur!”

My opponent. My mentor. My twelve year old sister. All three united as one, even if only for a moment.

“Na na na boo boo, I beat yoou!” She cried.

Well, maybe more so a teacher than a mentor.

Is it cute? too mechanical? lacking emotion? has potential? Fill me in on what needs to be changed in order to make this essay more effective. I reaslize there are flaws, but it is really hard for me to critisize my own work.

First, it’s trite. Send it to Reader’s Digest; they might like it. Second, how many times are you going to post this?

I posted once in the worng forum, and it was redirected to the the MPSIMS message board. I came here and posted again, but my computer froze in the middle just as i clicked to send the message. I wasnt sure if it had sent or not, because when I came back to the forum the mesage didnt appear. So i composed a third post regarding my essay. Sorry again. It wasnt until after the third post I noticed all three were on this forum. But thank you for your response.

First the positive

The technical aspects of your essay are fine and dandy: nice word selection, eloquent and elegant descriptions, correct structure, punctuation, etc. If you are submitting it as part of your schoolwork it should do very well.

If it is an initial attempt to develop your story-telling skills I have some suggestions:

Decide first on your intended audience, determine what they want and from that design your story. I quickly scrolled down the essay since it was tough to maintain my attention focused on it. Why? As many people on this planet I don’t care much about chess nor am I very knowledgeable about it. A chess-intensive, playing strategy-laden narration is, as you correctly stated, too mechanical and lacking in emotion. You need to add more material to grab the attention of your readers. Unless, of course, your only objective is to accurately describe a chess match, in which case you did a very good job at it.

Assuming my last speculation to be false, you need to insert more pacing into your story as it was, IMHO, overly descriptive and slow-paced. You need to add a more ample story line to captivate the attention of your readers and induce them to dip into the flow of the narrative.

For example, while describing a move you can tell us about how it made you recall a particular event in your life, thus creating a link between the slow pace, emotion-lacking flow of the match and the more amenable and entertaining events of your exciting existence. Show them something they can taste and feel, make them relate with you, throw in some humor into the equation, show them your charismatic side. That way their interest will arise and they will passionately immerse themselves in the story.

For instance, when your opponent has you against the ropes, you can relay your feelings of concern to the audience by sharing the story when, as a little kid, the local bully was about to make mashed potatoes out of you when suddenly, as you were saying your dying prayers, from the nothingness of the sky appeared a majestic bird who gracefully dropped its excrement on your nemesis’ head, providing a distraction for you to run away. .
Other commentaries

The concealment of the identity of your opponent was very good. Portraying her as being a fierce, fear-inducing competitor only to reveal at the end that she was your kid sister was a masterful stroke.

Since you obviously like chess you can use it as an analogy to illustrate the events transpiring on your story rather than making it the fundamental element around which the plot gravitates. Reiterating what I said before, chess is not an enticing subject for the majority of the people, neither does it provide a sufficient spectrum of associated themes from which to derive subplots to enhance your story.

What do you mean by this:

“To my right stood the love of my life. To my left: a towering black bishop.”

By saying that to your left there is a chess piece you are implying that you are physically on the board, you are a direct participant in the fight, right? How can the love of your life be standing next to you? Are you in love with a chess piece? :slight_smile:

Seriously, it isn’t clear from the description who is the woman you are talking about? How does she fit into the story? Why mention her at the beginning if you are not going to include her in a posterior stage of your story?


You are a very talented descriptive writer. You seem to be creative also, why not focus that creativity on a more balanced description/narration format? I recommend you read Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. See how he effectively uses description to enhance the reader’s visualization of the scenarios he depicts. Notice how description serves the plot instead of detracting from it. Observe how pace and gripping narration govern his stories, thus seducing the reader and obliging them to finalize the story.

One last suggestion, try to develop empathy towards your character, make your readers visualize themselves in them, have them see their personalities reflected in your fictitious creations. By allowing the readers to identify with the characters you will instantly generate a honest interest about what you are saying. Remember, most people not only care about themselves more than anyone else but also fantasize about taking active part in incredible adventures. Deliver this adventures to them, trick them into adopting them as their own and I assure you will have a devoted audience for your stories.

Be sure to tell us how you did on your essay or, if it is the case, post a revised version of it.

Good luck Arthur!

Might I suggest that you check out the new SDMB writing club on Yahoo. Zette created it for just this sort of thing.

I cant let you go without thanking you for that extensive and comprehensive review of my essay. It was almost as long as the narration itself! Your suggestions, I assure you, have been taken under firm consideration and should provide me with the means to enhance my story a little more emotionally. I was very happy that you enjoyed the ending. I was so uncertain as to whether or not the final phrases came off too childish. Thank-you for those kind words.

With regards to my first two sentences, my intentions were to provide a somewhat contrasting image in an attempt to intrigue the reader. I see now that mentioning the chess piece to be the ‘love of my life’ may have been a bit extensive. Perhaps I should mention she was the INTENDED love of my life? Or maybe I should just drop that idea all together and state that her relationship with me is no more than that of the bishop standing to my left. Perhaps. But I do want to give the impression that I am the King, standing on the battlefield. I need that in order to get away with the last line in the chess match:

“With one last look at my opponent, I tilted myself to the right and fell stiffly to the ground with a light wooden tap.”

I don’t know how you feel about it, but I just love the image that sentence provides. I’d hate to see it have to be discarded.

FYI this is a narrative essay to be submitted as an English assignment tomorrow. I’m in my last year of highschool, OAC (grade 13 in Ontario, Canada), and I understand my writing has much room for development. Its strange, I can review my own work and identify what is lacking, what is excessive, what needs to be discarded and what needs to be enhanced. But for the life of me I can never revise writing assignments and have it stand as the finished product I entended on creating… even though I can identify the weaknesses. This is a problem that I hope dissapears naturally as I work on furture projects and become more in tune with my creative ‘voice’.

Thank you again for your creative input. When the teacher has marked this assignment I will be sure to return here with the final grade.

Thanks again,


My most sincere apologies. I was in a mood, having just spent the majority of my birthday grading Freshman Comp papers. My response was mean, rude, and out of line, and I’m sorry for it.

As more constructive criticism, the surprise ending is a bit O. Henry, though depending on the academic level you’re on that may be OK. It gets more and more difficult to find original technique as the years go by, but imitation is also one of the best forms of learning to go one’s own way. Keep after it, and you’ll find your voice.

Again, I’m abjectly sorry that I responded the way I did.

Well, I handed in the essay pretty much as is. I revamped a few sentences and edited out others. In the end though it was how I wanted it. Even though it seemed to lack emotion, I felt that was ment to be. The grade I revieved was 24/25, I was very pleased. Being only 17 and having just started to take a serious interest in writing, I feel I’m doing all right.

As for you, stofsky, your apology is accepted. I know my writing is far from first class, but is the best I can do for now. I understand where my problems lie and I will work on them as I continue to write. But for now, I will have to settle with my imperfections, and hope those who must grade my work do so as well.