Free writing critique 1: The Princess of Azbar by John 4

online writing tips logoMany thanks to John who has sent us an excerpt from his novel in progress, The Princess of Azbar. This is the first in our new series of online workshops. We’ll leave this post live for a week, during which time we’ll welcome any constructive comments that can help John with his writing. At the end of the week, John will receive a free critique from one of our writing tutors.

If you’d like to share your work for critique – anonymously or with your name in neon lights – please see here for all the necessary information. Remember to include a synopsis (we didn’t get one for The Princess of Azbar), and please remember that you can submit excerpts of up to 1200 words.

The rain beat down and the hooded man turned to look through the window. He met the gaze of the brown eyes. The brown eyes looked down. Lightning roared across the night sky. Behind the hooded man a torch flickered, shadow dancing on the wall behind. The brown eyed man stepped into the light. His expression was neutral. “Stand there.” Said the hooded man.

The door was heavy oak and I was nervous as I pushed it open. Quitly I nudged inside, blond hair bobbing on my shoulders. My face a full beard of blond fluff. It was dark and difficult to see. The hooded man removed his hood and green eyes flashed into the zone of my vision. “What do you want?”

“I come from Azbar.”

“Azbar that is a long way.”

“Yes but my message is important”

“Who has sent you?” I felt those cavernous  brown eyes look me up and down.

“I think you know who.”

“Yes” he said nodding wistfully. We sat at an oak table. “Bring us some wine,” he gestured at the other man who scurried away obediently. He returned with two tankards of sickly sweet liquid.

We sat staring at each other in the silence. The brown haired man busied himself with this and that. I drank more of the intoxicating liqueur.

“I want to show you something” said the hooded man “come”

He led me up a creaking flight of stairs, getting darker with every step until we were crawling on our hands and knees. At the top there was a grand hall lit by flickering torches. The hooded man gestured to a slab altar in the middle of the grand room. On the altar a woman was manacled in a star position. The brown eyed man scurried behind us.

The woman looked at me with pleading blue eyes. “Unchain her.” I said.

The hooded man flicked his acid eyes at the brown eyed man, groping under his robes for a rusty clanking set of keys he unlocked her.

We left the castle straight away and struggled out into the bitter rain. “Hey, thank you” she said as we climbed into my horse and carriage. “But why, I don’t understand?”

“I was sent from Azbar.” The faceless driver whipped the horses and they galloped forward. The carriage rattled and bounced on the rocky road.

“Yeah but why me?”

“All will be revealed I said, thinking how beautiful she looked in the dark.


DD Johnston 2013Hi John. Many thanks for sharing this extract from The Princess of Azbar. It takes a lot of courage to expose your work to critique, and we’re grateful to you for taking that brave step. Thanks are also due to Chloe and Phil, for their insightful comments, which cover much of what I want to say about your piece.

I won’t lie to you: this needs a lot of work before it reaches a publishable standard, but the fact you’re looking for critique shows that you’re serious about your writing and are capable of putting in that work. It will take time and effort, but you can get there.

The main thing you need to think about is just to remember that writing is a really difficult form of communication. I can sense that you have a great imagination; you can see the whole episode playing out in your head, but at the present the message is getting scrambled before it reaches the minds of your readers. See here for some more information on writing as communication.

Here is an annotated version of your text with my full comments: Princess of Azbar feedback. I hope the feedback is useful. Thanks again for sharing your work, and good luck with your writing.

All best wishes,



  1. Well, I’ll jump in then. I think it’s very imaginative and the atmosphere is really quite sinister and intriguing. But I found it a bit hard to follow what was going on – like, at the start, I wondered who even are these guys? It does get clearer as it goes on so maybe I was just too impatient to find out. But I think you write an awful lot about eyes… maybe mix those descriptions up with something else? Thx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for this, John. I have a few thoughts on the excerpt. Hopefully some are useful!

    1. You set the scene really well. Without a synopsis I can’t say with 100% certainty that this falls into the fantasy genre, but I am fairly certain it does – and that’s a credit to your writing. The mood, characters and the scene you depict are all strong enough to give the reader a clear picture of the drama, with only the first few sentences. I would say that there are moments where you over-describe things, for example: ‘he gestured at the other man who scurried away obediently’ – you could cut ‘obediently’ to make this sentence stronger. There are a few other examples of adverbs in your excerpt and I feel your writing would be leaner and stronger for removing them. I like to remember what Stephen King said, ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs’ – so if it’s not needed, cut it!

    2. Your dialogue helps form the mysterious and suspenseful mood you shape in this passage. At times it works really well, particularly in the short, snappy exchange at the beginning of the piece. Do look out for your dialogue and attribution tags, though. For example:

    “I want to show you something” said the hooded man “come”

    Should read:

    “I want to show you something,” said the hooded man. “Come.”

    Check out our guide on how to perfect your dialogue, attribution and action tags here:

    3. I think this passage works as a hook. It makes you want to find out why the girl was rescued, who she was, and what this world is they are a part of. I do think you might need to give ‘the hooded man’ and ‘the brown eyed man’ specific names, or at least justify why he is wearing a hood. Is it religious or for disguise? Specificity is key.

    4. You switch from 3rd to 1st person at the start of the piece. I’m not sure if this is intentional, but it might be worth considering sticking to one or the other. Personally, I like the immediacy of 1st person and the point of view that comes with that. Your last line is particularly salient, and I think you could make more of the narrator’s attachment to (what I presume to be) the Princess, by adding a little colour to their relationship and building up to the moment she is released. There’s room for tension there. It’s too easy at the moment – he gets the girl without any problems. Perhaps her captor doesn’t want to let her go? Or maybe there are other problems. Back to the original point – I’d stick to a consistent 1st person POV, as I think it works really well.

    Take a look at our advice on point of view and tense if you need some extra guidance:

    I really enjoyed reading The Princess of Azbar, and I’d be keen to see more of it! Thanks for sharing and good luck with your writing. 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Many thanks to Phil and Chloe and, of course, to John for sharing his work. John, I’ve updated the post above to include my feedback. If you have any problems opening the attachment, please let us know. Thanks again for taking the brave step to share your work – I hope the experience has been useful.


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