Sunday, 5 November 2017

#1 Chapter 1 critique

To understand what we're doing here check out Chapter Critique Corner.

To reiterate a key point - this process depends on audience participation. I'm just hosting, not taking part in the critique.

I had quite a few entries quite swiftly and I chose this chapter 1 to start with as it is fairly short and it's fairly traditional. One entry was in rhyming couplets which seemed rather a taxing place to start the exercise!

You can offer your thoughts in the comments - these are moderated and I will pass "tough love" but not anything that I feel crosses the line into meanness or mockery. So, rather than waste your efforts, do bear in mind that the object of the exercise here is to help. That said, robust critiques are encouraged and I guess we will just have to find our level as we go.

You can also email critiques to me and I will see if they can be transferred to the blog post in a way that preserves their editing markups.

This is actually a prologue. My feeling is that if someone offers their prologue for critique in a Chapter 1 critiquing exercise then we should judge it as if it were a first chapter. If you are not expecting a reader to skip over your prologue (which I used to do habitually in 80s fantasy where they always seemed to be be dull info dumps) then your prologue needs to be as engaging and readable as any chapter 1.

Chapter 1

A howling night’s gale sharpened its teeth on Tolford’s cheek, licking the warmth from his exposed face. A thin web of branches danced in fervor above him; the arms of ash, cypress, and cedar joining hands to ward against the wind. He stood solemn atop a crumbling stone bastion, olive fingers of ivy creeping patiently up its face. A large fire roared above him; locked away in an iron cage atop a tower, it surged and showered all surrounding in a warm, glowing orange light.
Tolford wore brass studded leathers strapped across his chest, and a worn and hole-ridden chainmail coif atop his head. It fit loosely around his shaven chin, for which he was thankful, for every link that touched his skin brought a chill. He stood leaning with both gloves on the walls edge, the standing waters of the swamp lapping hungrily at the dirt banks below Rohn’s Front.
 The fort had stood since the Second War, built in its infancy, and separated the southern edge of the Central Valleys from the Morass of Rohn. It housed more than fifty men on any given day, with daily patrols who swept the bog’s edge in search of bandit trails; those who would brave the swamp instead of face the lands law. The stench of death was a small price to pay for safety from your own.
Tolford was to watch from the wall for any movement, which he found particularly difficult on a night such as this, for it seemed the wind had brought life to everything amongst the trees.  Each shrub and misplaced flower stood to beckon in turn, and he found his eyes tired and strained.  
His eyes wandered skyward in search of rest. The black of night stared back at him, punctured by diamond pins; a thousand and one keyholes to a greater plane. He faced what he knew to be south, and sure enough, Aethera gazed back.  The gleam of her eye left the rest in shadow, somehow finding him through the thick tree tops.  “And she watches from her kingdom,” his mother would say as she named the stars, so patient in wait for sleep to claim him.  As a youth, he often wished he could join her amongst the heavens and explore a realm beyond his own. Thirty two years and nothing had changed. He slipped into slumber as he stood, eyes weighted by a long days watch.
A firm hand grasped Tolford’s shoulder, bringing back to the conscious world. A familiar voice said, “Tol, gather yourself. Captains makin’ rounds.” Peter stood behind him, the rough illumination of the tower’s brazier pulling him from the shadows. He spoke through an unkempt, black beard, its odd knots curling over a mail coif. He stood a hand’s height over Tolford, shoulders broad and belly lean.
“Aye,” Tolford started, “right, dozed there a bit.”
“The wind catches me as well, sends me right off,” Peter said, pretending to fall asleep himself. He laughed and punched Tolford’s shoulder with a gloved fist.
“That it does,” Tolford replied, grinning though disoriented. He nodded in thanks and Peter returned a half smile before turning back to his post on the western wall.  He had known Peter since his fourth day in the Fort Rohn and he was the only one he might consider a friend amongst the guard.
Tolford looked behind himself to the inner fort. Captain Garn was taking his usual route, circling the inner wall from below, torch held aloft. It sputtered and spit hot oil onto the earth, which had been worn by countless steps into a natural path. As he passed each post the guards gave the all clear from above. This was done every night, three times per watch. Tolford thanked his god this was the third. He would be relieved within the hour.
Garn passed underneath his side of the wall. Tolford raised a closed fist and Garn returned the same. Turning back from the Captain, he returned his sight to the maze of mossy trees.
A shadow jumped from beyond the trees, flashing black in the bright light of the tower fire. His grogginess was ripped away as his heart jumped and his eyes focused. He leaned once more on the stone wall and waited for the shadow to shift again. The tower fire whipped, a mighty gust sending sparks flying free into the night air. The light faded and surged back again as the flame returned.
All was still. The wind had died. The sound of crackling embers returned to his ear as the howl subsided.
The darkness had a way of prodding the worrisome part of his mind at this time of night. Still, he thought of raising his arm in alarm. It wouldn’t hurt to take a gander, though he didn’t fancy the thought of soaking his boots so soon before he slept.
Ten minutes passed and no man or beast walked from the dark. His worry subsided, and the thought of his bedroll crept into his head. A shout sounded from inside the keep,
“Watchs Done!” Captain Garn’s commanding voice carried well in the silence.
Tolford made his way and lowered himself down from the wall on a wooden ladder propped up beneath his feet, hopping with a grimace as he reached the last step. A young mad clad in identical uniform stood waiting. Tolford did not recognize his face, only the familiar look of exhaustion upon it. They exchanged nods.  Tolford turned toward small shack that housed the fort kitchen as he lifted the chain from over his ears, tucking it in a leather pouch around his waist. He let out a deep breath of satisfaction as air rushed over his short, rusty hair. As he walked he worked the aches from his legs in an awkward stretch.
Hot, stuffy air filled lungs as he walked through the kitchen door, weighed down by the smell of poorly cooked cabbage. Tolford knew the scent well, as he had eaten more cabbage while stationed here than all his other years combined. He strode over to stand at the food trough, regarding the cook, Bert. He was a large man with little hair, not by his choice. What he lacked in locks he made up for in chins and a kind heart.
Bert ladled a few steaming spoons of stew into a wooden bowl and passed it across the trough, followed by a dense wheat roll. He wiped his hands on a filthy, once white apron and said, “Got some fresh pepper in this morn’ from Goldleaf, does wonders for the taste.”
“Not that it needs it. My thanks,” Tolford replied. In truth, it desperately needed many things, but he would lie through his teeth if it meant staying in the cook’s good graces.
“That’s mighty kind,” Bert said. His eyes brightened as he snuck another roll into Tolford’s hand.  
Tolford raised his bowl in thanks.
Peter waved him down as he wandered into the mess hall. He found him at an otherwise empty table, already tearing his roll into pieces to let soak in his stew.
“Surprised yer’ not out already, you look like hell, old man,” Peter said, scratching his dark beard as he waited for his bread to soften. He was not much younger than Tolford, but he reminded him often.
“Not much better than you, I’d say,” Tolford retorted as he sat down across him. A dull, lonely ache filled his gut. He dug in his soup, grabbing a potato morsel between his dirty fingers and began to eat. The pepper didn’t help.
“You know the new bloke on our watch?” Peter asked between bites.
“Only in passing. A new recruit, I take it.”
“Aye, from Andersgate. By his word, dark things be brewing that way,” Peter declared, munching away. “Damn Ashcloaks are after it. Raided a caravan due for Oaksheart, he said. Baron’s trying to point the finger at the highwaymen. But the boy, Trevor, I think his name, said they found a wounded one off the trail, nothing but grey threads about ‘im.”
“You trust his word?” Tolford asked, pausing with his bowl in his hand. He knew Peter to bite easily on any lure, buying any rumor that came his way as fact. The new blood often had many stories to tell and sold them for favor with the Fort’s Guard; men with too much time for idle hands.
“That I do. That’s why they sent ‘im here, I think. Seen too much,” Trevor tapped his temple with his forefinger, “says they have the bloody Oathbreaker in irons, holding for word from the King.”
“Tensions high enough as it is. Best not rile the beast further.”
“Should’ve just axed the bastard and kicked his head back to the Ashkari. Tyrael’s going to try and kiss and curtsy his wait out of a war. Ha! It’ll be on his hands.”
“It’ll be on your hands and mine, and every other man with blood to spare.”
This drew pause from Peter, his eyes falling to his meal.  After a moment of thought, he said “Too true, that.” Tolford arched a brow at the words.  Raising his head, Peter continued, “Still, I’d’ve cut him down myself, finished ‘im right there in the woods. No better grave for a bandit.”
“And no better blade,” Tolford said, toasting him with one of his buns. He knew a conspiracy when he heard one and he had heard far too many within these fort walls. He would let Peter have this one tonight; he had neither the care nor energy to counter it in his current state.
Peter shook his head and grinned, saying, “You’d do well to hold a sword like me, old man.”
“Keep calling me that and I’ll put one between your ribs,” Tolford said, standing with a now empty bowl. He slapped down his second wheat bun across the table in front of Peter and said, “Here, you’ll need your strength,” and walked back to return his dishware. Peter called some curse or another after him but he paid little mind, raising a hand in farewell as he left for the barracks.
The smell of burning flesh filled his nostrils, another familiar scent, especially this time of year. As he rounded the outer wall of the kitchen he saw the smoke trail billowing into the night air, an acrid fume building. A bright blaze glowed from over the western wall, no doubt a pyre for the freshly executed. As if it wasn’t enough the bog wood itself released a foul scent when burnt, an inconvenience the fort experienced too often on chilly autumn nights such as this. He watched on as two men tossed another lifeless and naked body over the wall. Red sparks exploded in a crunch of timber, drifting with languid reproach as the corpse crashed into the burning pile.
Tolford covered his mouth and nose with his hand, which did little to block the scent. He hurried to the barracks some twenty yards away, choking on the plume of justice done.
The barracks was a miserable abode by any standard. Four dozen bedrolls lay shortly spaced over a crooked wooden floor, each one as lonely as the last. There was little light in the hall, only a few short candles lit to find your way. Ten or so dozing and snoring men filled the floor, scattered about. Tolford made his way to his bedroll far off in the corner under a breezy window he had fought hard and long to claim. His bed was a simple, cotton roll that stunk of sweat and swamp air. Peter owned the one opposite him.
Tolford unclasped his leathers, steel, and satchel. He set them underneath the always open window, before kneeling and rolling onto his bedroll with a grunt.  He untied the laces on his dirt caked boots, kicking them off near his armor. He laid still, exhaustion seeping from his pores.   
For most of the guard, this would be the time to admire keepsakes and trinkets from families or lovers, perhaps only memories of home. Often during this time Tolford would feign sleep and watch Peter from the corner of his eye.  Peter always had a simple, silver chain he would run through his fingers when he thought no man was watching. He would fall asleep with it tucked tight to his chest.  Some nights, this brought a bubble of envy from within Tolford’s belly. On others, he thanked his god he had nothing to yearn for.
On this night he fell into sleep with a mind’s image of crimson sparks glowing against a tar black sky, and the star of Aethera watching over him.

Tolford woke suddenly, his skin clammy and aching. His eyes opened to a slate darkness and his ears to crushing silence. He coughed, clearing his lungs with raking pain. A foul taste crept across the back of his tongue. His throat was gravel, grating as he breathed in shallow breaths. He stood, fumbling with his hands to find the waist high windowsill to support himself. He looked through it, searching for a sign of the dawn. He found none.
He must not have slept long, he thought. There was an illness about him.  Random, sharp pains stabbed at his limbs. He knelt back down, feeling around for his boots, fingers prickling with numbness.
Tolford stood, dazed. He took a blind step, bending to feel what would have been Peter’s bedroll. It lay empty, uncovered and cold. His heart lurched into an odd beat.
He stumbled to the barracks door, falling over a half dozen empty bed rolls, each as cold as the last. Fear touched him then, a slow caress of horror waking his skin in gooseflesh.
The outside air struck him with a cruel emptiness. He strained his eyes, searching with desperation amongst the black, with not a torch or candle to be seen. His heart, galloping now in his ears, drowned the silence. Tolford called out, first for Peter, then for someone, anyone to hear him. He was yelling now, scrambling to the inner keep on clumsy feet.
The abyss swallowed his screams and spat back desolation.
Tolford fell to his knees, the taste of hot iron searing in his throat. Fingers of dread raked at his skin. His grasped the dirt, running it through his fingers; the only grounding presence in a shrouded sea. Feverish, he rolled to his back and searched what he thought was the sky.

She had forsaken him as well. 

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  1. There are some cool images in the beginning, and some confusion. There's a web of trees above him, and a roaring fire? How is Tolford in its light? How is he on a wall with trees above him?

    The history of the fort may be a necessary info dump, but it's executed poorly here. I liked Tolford's and Peter's interaction, though maybe a little awkward. I couldn't quite follow their political conversation in the mess hall. Nor did I much care.

    There are a lot of words used here, and not much happens. Tolford is on watch. Tolford has dinner with Peter. Tolford goes to bed. There is some talk of bandits, and The Oathbreaker (probably the antagonist?), but there is no conflict. Much more could have been accomplished with far fewer words.

    I couldn't find any conflict. Nothing to make me take a side with Tolford. He hates guard duty, but does nothing about it. He hates cabbage, but does nothing about it. He maybe saw something in the swamp, but does nothing about it (Granted, that's probably addressed in later passages). There are some bodies being burned that came from nowhere, and led nowhere.

    Perhaps Tolford has an argument with Peter because Peter takes his duty seriously, and doesn't want Tolford getting them all punished? Perhaps Bert is a prick, and Tolford has to steal the extra bun? Perhaps another soldier wants to talk to Tolford, but he just wants to go to sleep? I think you're trying to reveal something about Tolford's character, and these suggestions go against that, but you still need to find something, or someone for Tolford to contend against. Give him a chance to be clever, and active.

    I admit I do want to know what's happening to Tolford at the end of this passage. Is he poisoned? Was the fort attacked while he slept? I bet he's dreaming. Be careful if it's a dream. That'd be hard to pull off here.

    Please accept these criticisms in the constructive spirit they are meant. This was a worthy effort, and you should continue.


    1. First off, I greatly appreciate your input. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      Its strange how many things become readily apparent after hearing another person highlight the issues. I found myself asking, "duh, why didn't I see that?," more times than I care to admit while reading your critique.

      The fort info dump is probably best off being removed and dumped back later. Reading it again I don't see how it applies to what's happening, save the mention of bandits.

      I agree there is a lack of conflict. I think I spent too much time thinking about where they were, rather than what was going on in that particular place and the people within it. The conversation between Peter and Tolford is all about things which are happening or have happened elsewhere, which I find now is probably a poor way to draw someone into the story.

      The fort was attacked yes and he was poisoned in a sense(its probably closer to a curse than anything). I was trying to write it as if Tolford woke up having lost his sight completely, but not necessarily realizing that he had. Everyone else in the fort is taken, but he is left behind on purpose. Later this is all explained to an extent.

      I may need to adjust the timeline. I had pegged this as a prologue because Tolford isn't heard from for awhile after this incident, and things are happening elsewhere during that time with other characters as the main focus. He becomes important later, however. I wasn't sure how to capture that exactly, which is why I threw the incident in a prologue.

      Again, thank you. I really appreciate having someone with fresh eyes take a look.

  2. First of all, the good news: I find the scenario familiar but still engaging. Some effort has been given to description of the setting, the characters are stock, but given some distinction, and there is a mystery to be revealed. These are all sound reasons for reading on.

    I like the idea of comparing the wind to the jaws of a wolf but there are simply too many metaphors and adjectives crammed into too small a space. The prose is rich to the point of being indigestible. I can see what you are trying to say, but you can’t say everything all at once and some things, even good things, need to be omitted. What is the purpose of the fire? It won’t provide much heat on top of a tower, so is it a beacon or an alarm? If it’s to provide illumination, is it the only one? I’m not sure how much light that would provide and it might create shadows below the walls. Not much use for men on watch.

    Need to be clearer about whether the wounded man is an Ashcloak or a highwayman. That said, Ashcloaks reminds me of “Whitecloaks,” in the “Wheel of Time.”

    Oathbreaker, Beast, Bastard, Tyrael: We don’t know any of these people and this paragraph does not really establish their identities or significance. We don’t have sufficient context to work with at his stage. The same when it comes to the conspiracies you mention.

    I like the exchanges between Tolford and Peter. We’ve established that Tolford is a bit of a dreamer and a bit of a moaner, somewhat dissatisfied with life. We learn a little about their natures, but, this being a prologue, I wonder if we ever hear from them again, or if the story moves elsewhere entirely?

    Are they tossing the body over the wall, or off it? How high is the wall and why are the bodies being burned outside it if there is a threat of attack?

    It’s cold and windy. Why would he want a breezy window and why is it always open?

    The final section as Tolford awakes is a little overwritten. We don’t need to admire another metaphor when danger threatens. An inventory of his symptoms is less important than establishing what it is that is unnerving him.

    Overall, I think this shows potential both in the idea and the writing. That said, I also think the ambition exceeds the grasp at this stage. It really needs rewriting, overseeing with a strict eye in order to reign in those moments when pleasure of writing this phrase or that runs out of control, meaning some clarity and purpose is lost as a result.

    1. Thank you for reading, and thank you doubly for taking the time to comment.

      I see a common theme I need to work on: clarity. To your point, the overuse of metaphor and adjectives only compounds that issue further. That lack of clarity expands to their conversation and why things are the way they are. Like the window. I imagined a floor full of sweaty men and thought, hell, id fight to be near a window for fresh air. With that many bodies cramped in there, its bound to be hot right? So, the window is always open. I didn't mention any of that thought process at all in the writing. The same goes for the conversation. I'll work on that.

      I mentioned in my reply to another comment that in the last section I tried to write it as Tolford waking up blinded in this ill state, panicking after he realizes that everyone is gone from the fort. I think my execution was poor.

      I've never read the "Wheel of Time," though I have heard of it. That might be considered blasphemy at this stage. It's going on my TBR. I took your comment about the Ashcloaks/Whitecloaks to mean it was too similar a name/description, and having googled the term I see what you mean.

      Clarity and purpose. I'll remember that. Thank you again.

  3. My participation will be short winded, but I think this has great potential. Small critiques would be that, though it is beautifully written, I felt a lack of description. Example being that we didn’t get a description of sound in the beginning. The first paragraph was well laid out to create imagery, however, I think even just the addition of the sound of the trees creaking in the wind, or leaves rustling, branches chattering etc would help that opening.

    A confusing part in the dialogue where it’s volleys 3 or 4 times between the two characters without reestablishing which one is speaking. Definitely lost after reading this, but that just makes me want to read more. All in all I like it.

  4. You are a good writer, but sometimes it feels like flexing here. Too many descriptors and metaphors, for sure. The only thing that was actually grating to me though was the description of Bert- "little hair, not by choice" is a clumsy way to write that someone is balding, and "he makes up in chins and a big heart" is corny and if he has a big heart, we should see that, not have the character tell us. If this character is not meant to return, perhaps just the word "kind" might do. But other than that, there was nothing in the descriptions that seemed off- just too much of it, for too little movement. A first chapter is meant to draw you in to the story, and this has elements that would draw a reader in. It just needs tightening, and as some people mentioned earlier, clarity. There will plenty of time to describe things in greater depth later in your story.

    I would definitely remove the info-dump about the Oathbreaker and the other characters in the middle (perhaps there's a more organic way to put it in the story later?). At the present, it is not necessary to the narrative you are trying to tell and the reader is already trying to get the bearings on your story, so adding extra exposition makes everything more confusing.

    To be honest, most of what happens after he wakes up confused me. I read the comments earlier and understand what you were going for, but didn't while I was reading it. If I picked the book up in a bookstore, the confusing ending would make me put it back.

    I hope I helped. I do see potential in your story! Just relax a bit. Sometimes less is more!

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  6. I found the first paragraph confusing. Took me a while to figure out why. I'm not sure if it's personification or if the subject in sentences is not always clear?

    Here is an example I found:

    He stood solemn atop a crumbling stone bastion, olive fingers of ivy creeping patiently up its face.

    I had to read the above twice to figure out if the ivy was creeping up the man or the stone bastion's face. Re-ordering the sentence can make it clearer for readers.

    Olive fingers of ivy crept up the face of the solid stone bastion on which he stood.

    I think maybe the best advice I can give would be to remember that usually readers will read fiction for leisure. They don't want to work hard to figure out who is talking and what is happening. It's up to you to make it as clear as possible, because readers won't have the vivid image you already see in their minds yet.

    Simple things like making sure the reader knows who is saying and doing what will make a big difference here, I think. Overall your writing style is lovely, so I'd say there's loads of potential here.

    Hope that was helpful :)

    1. It is most helpful. I thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. After all of the comments I've received, I went ahead and taped a printer sheet with the word "clarity," on it on the wall above my desk. I will be working on it for sure, and not just this chapter.

  7. Lovely images. Particularly like the patient ivy, but sometimes more words than you need 'warm, glowing, orange light'. The main criticism I would level here is that I don't get much sense of where the character's story is headed until the very end. I'm reminded of the Aaron Sorkin maxim "Within five minutes, I need to know who this guy is, what he wants, and why he can't have it." You've nailed the character - I know who Tolford is, but there is no drama until the moment he wakes from the poisoning. At that point, the game is most definitely afoot. Unfortunately, I fear many agents/editors/readers will be unwilling to wait for it to begin. Look at the opening of 'Red Sister' - apart from being beautifully written, it is ON from the word go - all that description and character building is wrapped into the action. That's very hard to do, but I don't see why that shouldn't be achievable with this. You have talent.

  8. Nice premise, well written, with some really nice phrases... I particularly like 'choking on the plume of justice done' and 'The gleam of her eye left the rest in shadow'.

    The pace felt a little slow to me - there is a lot of information here (info-dump's already been mentioned by a previous commenter) and I'm not convinced that all of it is entirely necessary to give a flavour to the piece. Life is obviously hard, dirty, dangerous, and somehow, Tolford misses out on the fate that befell his companions - I think? There is a sense of confusion at the end - not just for Tolford, but for me as a reader too, so I wasn't entirely certain I'd come to the right conclusion. (And I have to say, I'm a reader that doesn't like to do too much work, so I prefer things to be fairly obvious - that does not mean if you're making the reader work in your writing, that you're doing it wrong.)

    Advice for improving? I'd look at how much detail could be cut and yet still keep a sense of the world that's been created, and tighten the pace a bit to move us through the chapter to the real action, ie after Tolford wakes up.

    Definitely got potential, so stick with it. And accept, amend or reject my comments as you see fit. Good luck.

    1. I appreciate your comments. It is extremely helpful to know that people who read this are seeing similar patterns, mainly clarity and pace it seems. I will prune and rewrite the problem areas with your comments in mind. Thank you!

  9. Although this isn't a painfully long first chapter, I do think what is told here can be told with more brevity.

    One of the strengths of this author is the description, using the sense and very poetic imagery to shape the world around his character. We do appear to get bogged down in the pretty prose in the beginning especially, and then when we're into the daily doings at the fort, a lot of the description just seems unnecessary. Definitely build your world, but don't describe every little bit if it's not important to moving the plot forward. Skip some of the thematic moody description when you find yourself relying on it, but keep key elements like the night sky -- since you're going to circle back around to that later on, it definitely seems important to the main character.

    Since you're going to return to Tolford later, I definitely think you can mark this a Chapter One instead of a prologue. I always feel like a prologue is world building or introductory stuff that doesn't necessarily have to be read to understand a plot. I'm sure a number of readers skip them for whatever reason. Since this is very clearly the beginning of the story, it's your Chapter One. You can return to Tolford when he becomes important to the story again.

    1. Thank you for this insight. I struggled with the prologue/chapter 1 decision mightily. Moving forward it will be the first chapter, and I will be editing it as such. I think I can alleviate some of the pacing issues by taking the info dumps out and shifting the important parts to other parts of the story.

  10. I thought I'd have more to add, but after reading several other critiques, I agree with everything said. Fewer words. Write to the point. One metaphor at a time. One description at a time (worn/hole-ridden?: if you think hole-ridden is better, use that, because clearly something hole-ridden is thus, worn) Make sure characters are DOING instead of just Existing, even simple actions are better than no action.

    Other than those, keep at it. It's your story to tell.

  11. I also thought I'd have more to add, but mostly will echo that there's wordiness that has to go. A lot of the imagery, while beautiful, fails to advance plot and would be better included over time if the setting will be reused in future chapters. If it isn't, this level of description puts too much focus on the physical world rather than the characters and conflict (which I also found missing, though intriguingly hinted at by the end of the chapter).

    Tolford is immediately an identifiable character, with familiar human traits. However, I didn't know what to want for him as a reader, because what he wanted/needed wasn't obvious. This chapter contains nice prose, and defines a solid foundation/background for Tolford, but there isn't anything that lays out what Tolford needs to do or why he's worthy of our attention as opposed to another guard at the fort or any other person in the world. He needs a more obvious "hook" as a character to provide immediacy and engagement for a reader.