Okay, I took some time to go over the biography and I have a great deal of feedback to offer. Normally I would just move on, but because you’re putting such an effort into this I was happy to spend something like forty minutes offering you as much information as I can. Before you continue reading though, I would like you to carefully consider how much you want to receive real feedback on your work. If you are easily offended, it might seem like I’m tearing it apart, but in reality my only objective is to give you the feedback on the sort of things that would be necessary for me to consider it as material for Kongming’s Archives.
If you are prepared to read everything I’ve prepared for you, go ahead and work your way though, feel free to ask any questions you might have and I’ll keep an eye on it to answer (and anyone else as well, please offer your thoughts). For inclusion on Kongmig’s Archives the biography would essentially have to be rewritten (as we don’t have a non-category biographies section at this time), and while it would be difficult to do that working through my notes, it might be something to consider doing simply for writing practice. However, I’m actually going to suggest a completely different approach to writing Sanguo yanyi
biographies at the bottom of this post for your consideration if you are interested.
Asellas wrote:Ma Chao, the son of Ma Teng, was raised in Xiliang Province. His father and Han Sui were trying to capture the rebels Wang Fang and Li Meng. After the words Those are traitors! Who will capture them? A youth dressed in white, carrying a long spear who's eyes shone like shooting stars riding out onto the battlefield. Ma Chao was only 17 at this time, Wang Fang didn't think anything of it and set fourth to challenge him. After many bouts, the spear of Ma Chao was thrust into Wang Fang killing him instantly. Enraged, Li Meng pursued him to avenge his fallen comrade and Ma Chao was completely unaware of Li Meng's pursuit.
With the traitors quote above the actual spoken words should be placed in quotation. I would also suggest clarifying who spoke the words by name, and perhaps rewriting the area around it to flow better with the new addition. The reader might wonder why Wang Fang would have thought little of Ma Chao, and as it is a novel that reasoning would have been provided in the text. It would be good to include that in the biography as well if the aim is to make it comprehensive. I would avoid the wording 'the spear of Ma Chao was thrust...' unless someone was thrusting his spear for him. As he thrust it himself, it would be 'Ma Chao thrust his spear...'
Asellas wrote:"You are followed!" cried Ma Teng to Ma Chao, Ma Chao now knew he was being followed but pretended to turn a blind eye. The moment Li Meng got in range, Ma Chao swung his spear, wheeled around and with fierce strength knocked Li Meng off his saddle, so now the troops of Wang Fang and Li Meng were leaderless, then fled the battlefield. Back at Ma Teng and Han Sui's camp, Li Meng was later beheaded.
The first sentence though separated with a comma is not connected well. I would suggest either re-writing them into two separate sentences or linking them with different words to let the text flow better. He knocked Li Meng off his saddle [with his weapon]. It is okay to try and find flare in words, but you don't want to miss out those little details. I would personally advise staying close to the original SGYY text, there is no need to worry about rewording things too much. The biography is a compilation of their actions within the novel, so quotes and descriptions can stay close the the novel form. Li Meng was beheaded, but what before? He was captured? Think in lines of the reader, what questions might they have as they read the biography?
Asellas wrote:Ma Chao in Xiliang, recieved a letter from Zhuge Liang about moving to Tong Pass; so then Cao Cao couldn't launch an expedition south. One night in camp, Ma Chao had a dream where he was laying on the white plains and tigers were biting him. Unable to interpret what it could mean, he told his generals; and one general said the portent was evil. This general was none other than Pang De. "The uncle and his sons are dead!" cried a voice from behind: It was Ma Teng's nephew, Ma Dai. Ma Chao gripped his teeth, his eyes filled with rage and hatred for Cao Cao. The horses were saddled and mounted, the infantry was assembled. Ma Chao was summoned by Han Sui and showed him a letter he recieved from Cao Cao promising to give Han Sui the Lordship of Xiliang as a reward for sending Ma Chao a prisoner to the capital.
'Ma Chao in Xiliang, received a letter...' The comma isn't good here, it breaks the flow of the sentence. I would suggest doing away with it or rewording the text. Cao Cao couldn't launch his expedition because Ma Chao received a letter from Zhuge Liang? Additional detail is necessary here. 'He told his generals; and one...' Semicolon use? Doesn't fit there.
The objective of a paragraph is to open up with something specific, then every following sentence should be related to the subject of the paragraph. When the topic at hand breaks away from the paragraph in question, it should become a new paragraph. I suggest learning more about paragraphs here: http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/paragraphs.htm
Asellas wrote:Han Sui and his eight commanders whom had eight divisions, both prepared their troops which consisted of around 200,000 troops. In Ma Chao's army, he had generals Pang De and Ma Dai, Han Sui's eight commanders were Yang Qiu, Cheng Yin, Hou Xuan, Liang Xing, Cheng Yi, Li Kan, Ma Wan, and Zhang Han. With this many forces, they marched to Changan. Zhong Yao as the governer, sent a fleet messenger to Cao Cao, then led his force onto the battlefield. During the 10 days of sieging Changan; the capital of the Western Han, Pang De proposed a plan. Pang De's plan about relaxing but at the same time saving supplies rather than keep going with the sieging of Changan; which would use them up, the plan was executed after Ma Chao gave approval for the plan to be executed.
First paragraph could use some reconstruction. 'Han Sui and eight commanders, each with their own division, prepared approximately 200,000 troops...' might be a better way to word it. I would attempt to find a new wording which is proper in your own eyes though, as this is the best way to learn. Whenever you write a sentence think about the contents of it and consider whether or not they are appropriate in context. Han Sui and eight commanders both
? This is an example, both doesn't fit with nine people. In writing of this form, numerals with one syllable should be typed out. Instead of '10', use 'ten'. The text on from the siege, Pang De proposing a plan, on to the plan's execution doesn't flow well. When reading the text should flow easily through the reader's mind and they shouldn't have to re-read them for clarification (ideally). The multiple uses of 'executed' are redundant as well.
Asellas wrote:Zhong Yao's younger brother, Zhong Jing was leading the forces on the right gate, one night; Zhong Jing saw a moving flame, thinking somethign was suspicious he investgiated then from out of the blue an attacker came, "Here is Pang De!". Zhong Ying was eventually slain, the gate keeper was dismissed, the gates had been destroyed then like a flood stormed into the camp were the forces of Ma Chao an Han Sui. Zhong Yao fled to the tong pass, leaving Changan to be occupied by Ma Chao.
The first sentence opens with Zhong Yao and Zhong Jing as leaders of the right gate. This defines this paragraph with them as the subject, thus everything included should be related to them. You've pointed out who they are, but when you go on to what Zhong Jing saw, it should form into a new paragraph. "Here is Pang De!" someone says, but the speaker isn't defined. Also, in this context, it should form a new sentence as it is left unclear with the one before it. At the end of the statement there is an exclamation point, followed by the end quote, then followed by a period. Avoid closing sentences twice, the exclamation point inside the quite suffices for this, the period would be dropped. Zhong Ying was slain? How did that happen? Why was the gate keeper dismissed?
In this paragraph you begin by discussing the two fellow guarding the gate, then move on to the battle which can be worked into the paragraph. The aftermath should probably find a new paragraph, and the introduction of a flood breaks the reader's line of thought completely (see notes at bottom).
Asellas wrote:When Xu Huang and Cao Hong eventually came out of the Tong Pass after Ma Chao's men fired insults about the Cao Family, they all fled and when they both went out to pursue, Ma Dai attacked Xu Huang. Cao Hong and Xu Huang couldn't flee for two bodies of troops had appeared. Barely able to escape, Cao Hong and Xu Huang and some of their forces left the Tong Pass and went to the main camp of Cao Cao, Tong Pass was now lost.
You open with Xu Huang and Cao Hong coming to the Tong Pass, which is a great introduction for a paragraph related to the two officers. Ma Chao's insults and the results which come of them are unclear to the reader who isn't familiar with the Sanguo yanyi
, however, and they find themselves lost in the sentence. They all fled, meaning Huang and Hong? They pursued, meaning Ma Chao and his men? You've referred to two separate people in the same sentences without names, and this misleads the reader. Putting them both in the same sentence by name breaks the focus of the sentences. This information should be conveyed with two sentences.
Asellas wrote:Ma Chao marched to Xiabian to clash with Cao Hong's forces consisting of about 50,000 men, he [Ma Chao] dispatched Wu Lan to reconnoiter, but soon fell in with Cao Hong and was hoping to retire but was advised against making this move. Ren Kai thought it would be a good idea to challenge the young leader; Cao Hong and Ren Kai's challenge was accept but in the 3rd bout, Ren Kai was slain thus giving Cao Hong the advantage and Wu Lan was pressed back. When reporting to Ma Chao about the loss, Wu Lan was blamed but boldy placed the blame on Ren Kai for marching towards and challenging Cao Hong without orders.
Why did Ma Chao march to Xiabian? What events lead up to this decision? The Sanguo yanyi
is more than a chronology of battles, the beauty of the book takes place in the form of politics and the representation of how a person like Ma Chao might have actually thought. Omitting these important details create a hollow text when held in the light of the original novel, so for this reason they should always be retained in biographies meant to represent the officer's actions and life.
Ma Chao's decision to dispatch Wu Lan should form a new sentence as it presents information separate from the paragraph's introductory text. Ren Kai thought it would be a good idea to challenge Ma Chao? What did he do? What reasoning did he make? A deviation from the thoughts in the novel itself shouldn't be a part of biographies. In a sense making a biography is compiling a series of events, but like translating a historical document, the content should always remain true to the source. The author of the biography should never infer then place the resulting beliefs into the biography. This is okay to make sure one understands the context of what took place, but the text presented in the novel should be in accordance with the original author's thoughts and direction.
Instead of '3rd' consider 'third'. The final sentence jumps through numerous subjects. Each of those subjects should have their own sentence, and each of those sentences should stay true to the original paragraph's introductory subject.
Asellas wrote:"Defend the Pass most carefully. Do not engage," said Ma Chao. Ma Chao sent a report to the capital if Chengdu and awaited orders for a further action. Cao Hong suspected some ruse when Ma Chao remained so long inactive, and retired to Nanzheng.
The composition of the quote at the start of this paragraph is good, but it is a poor way to introduce a new paragraph unless the paragraph is specifically detailing the discussion he had with someone else. Additional information is, however, presented, and for that reason the paragraph should be broken down. Initially, whenever you make a new paragraph, consider to yourself what the paragraph's focus will be, then when making additions to that paragraph ask yourself each time if the focus of those additions is in harmony with the paragraph's objective.
Asellas wrote:Cao Cao was in Xie Valley, Zhuge Liang dispatched Ma Chao with several other units to harass and hasten Cao Cao's retreat. For this reason the retreating army had to keep on the move. Cao Cao was suffering from his wound, the main force kept fighting his army off soon making Cao Cao's army dispirited. Now, Liu Bei started the Five Tiger Generals and Ma Chao was included in the powerful and famous five which also had Zhao Yun, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and Huang Zhong.
You begin by telling the reader that Cao Cao was in Xie Valley, but they don't know why he is there. Because you've introduced the paragraph's subject as Cao Cao in Xie Valley this is something they will consider. Furthermore, they will expect the additional contents of the paragraph to be focused on Cao Cao's stay in Xie Valley, why he is there or what brought him there; what he plans to do to get out, etc. If you wish to discuss Cao Cao's battles, or movements of his forces, make sure the start of the paragraph begins in this leg, then make a new paragraph when the subject shifts.
Cao Cao was wounded? When did this happen? How did it happen? Always remember what the reader will think. Even though Cao Cao isn't the subject of the biography, he plays a key element here. Major information, such as his wound, should be included inside the paragraph along with the introduction of the new information.
You then discuss the Five Tiger Generals. This is a new paragraph in the least, and should be introducted where it actually took place. Liu Bei's reasoning in choosing Ma Chao should be included, and the definition of just what that group is should be much clearer. Not everyone is even going to know that this is, but yet, it is something that people think about first when they consider the kingdom of Shu-Han.
Asellas wrote:Zhuge Liang soon wanted to attack the Qiang tribes for assauls on the Shu territories [222 A.D], using Ma Chao's reputation with the Qiang whom were on very friendly terms with his forefathers: hailed Ma Chao as "General Who Possesses Heavenly Prestige" so Ma Chao was assigned to to hold the Xi Ping pass and send ambush parties to many points of the field where the Qiang could launch attacks. In the year of 225 A.D Ma Chao was also holding position between Wei and Hangzhong but later on, Ma Chao died of illness and was greatly mourned by the Prime Minister, Zhuge Liang
It might help to guide the reader from one paragraph to another if they shift drastically in subject. A good way to do this is making frequent use of dates (something you're doing in this paragraph), and using words like 'later' and 'in' (e.g. 'Later, in AD 222, Zhuge Liang launched...' or 'In the year of AD 222 Zhuge Liang prepared...').
A word on dates. AD, Anno Domini
, translates to 'In the year of our Lord'. You should place AD before all dates. 'In the year of our lord, 222', not '222, in the year of our lord'. There are people who do not believe AD should go before the date, but personally, I think putting it any other place is broken grammar. If someone is offended by the religious meaning they can always choose CE (Common Era), but it is less known to people, and for this reason is not used at Kongming's Archives.
Additionally, you placed one of the dates in brackets ''. Brackets are used when information is injected into an original text that didn't include it before when the person compiling the text wishes to distinguish between their addition and the original information. As you are creating a biography, there is no need to use brackets. Use parenthesis instead.
What did Zhuge Liang use Ma Chao’s reputation with the Qiang for? This would be unclear to the reader. How is this related to the title given Ma Chao, and if not related, how was the title given? Was the title related to the actual campaign? If so, it should be linked textually, if not, it shouldn’t be in the paragraph. Was Ma Chao assigned to hold Xi Ping because he was given a title, or was he given a title in relation to the decision to have him hold Xi Ping? Ma Chao is defending a place, then suddently he dies? Just later on? How much later on? When did this happen? Illness? Is that all you know? Again, consider the reader’s perspective.
Asellas wrote:I found it hard to talk about his death, I looked through all the chapters and I only managed to find out when Kongming said "I have losed my friend, Ma Chao to illness" but it didn't say anything about Ma Chao's death before then so the description about how he died is short.
Good start, trying to figure out how the death took place. Don’t try to add filler text when information isn’t available. Include what information can be found in Sanguo yanyi
to let the reader know what happened, along with anything related (such as what people said about him, and anything that happened to his kin directly related to his death). If you want to include information found from Sanguozhi
, for example, to clarify his death, this can be done in the form of an author’s note. You also included, “I have losed my friend…” You should use a modern word processor that can catch spelling errors such as ‘losed’, then do the necessary research whenever you come across one to find the correct term. In this case, it is ‘lost’.
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If you are interested in improving your writing there are three major starting points I would like to suggest. Aside from learning little things like my mention above of date formats and brackets, the true thing to focus on is the actual composition of your work. Three mentions are found below, two useful for writing of all kinds, and the final specific to writing Sanguo yanyi
1) All paragraphs should have a meaning. The introductory text of a paragraph establishes its focus, and everything included inside it should remain true to that focus. When writing, pay attention to meaning and flow of words, but never to the actual visual appearance of your document. Sometimes a proper paragraph can be only one line, sometimes it is very large. You can see examples of both in the Mi Heng biography I put together (listed below). To learn more about making paragraphs, I would study the reference link (also posted below), and spend as much time as you need to looking up terms, asking about them in the forum, practicing what it explains, then including the new knowledge in your writing. Clarity of words is one of the most important things an author has to keep in mind, secondly they must always put fourth the time and effort necessary to make a finished product they can be proud of through and through.
2) Sentences, like paragraphs, each have their own place in the text around them, and are also composed with subjects. First, a sentence should be directly related to the subject of a paragraph. If not proper in a paragraph, it should be moved to one in which it is
proper, and if one is not available, it should be placed in a new paragraph, the wording always changed according to the text around it. Finally, the contents of a sentence should all stay focused on conveying a single point, the meaning of that sentence (e.g. one person’s dialogue, the results of an action, an action itself as done by a single person). When the information you wish to present is no longer relevant to a paragraph, make a new one, then check to make sure it is proper in the sentence.
3) Writing a Sanguo yanyi
biography is not difficult, but getting one posted in the actual content section of KMA is going to be a difficult task (one you may or may not be interested in taking up). Once I post a biography for someone, it is unlikely that anyone else is going to attempt it, so I want to make sure every biography is good enough to be the only one. The original text, be it Moss Roberts or Brewitt-Taylor, is your friend here though.
When you’re writing these biographies keep the original text close at hand. Don’t be afraid to stay true to the paragraph formatting presented by the original translator, and always compare the words you use to the words they use to make sure they hold the same meaning. You can lean heavily on them for quotes especially, making sure to note which translation your biography was assembled based off of when you complete it (Brewitt-Taylor is suggested because it is known to be friendly to online use). Include every relevant detail to the person for which you are making the biography, and whenever you find yourself trying to drop information stop writing. Ma Chao, if written by me, would probably be at least seven pages. If a person wanted to focus only on the most important events, a chronology would be made, but this sort of presentation is dull for a biography, which should include the climactic moments as well as the drama which unfolds leading up to them.
That said, when writing, always focus on clarity over expression, but not so much that your work becomes dry. If you include the climactic moments of Sanguo yanyi
excitement should not be a concern. This said, don’t seek to make the text more exciting, keep the elements which are already in place and instead focus on consistency and clarity. Format sentences in familiar structures, experiment after you’re developed a considerable skill as a writer (this is something that takes years or months of intense research at least). With each passing word in the document make sure you consider it from the reader’s perspective. You might understand what happened, having read the surrounding text, but would a person who has never read the novel have any clue what just happened? Convince people you know to read it and mark it up with their thoughts, people who haven’t read the novel. They can provide the point of view necessary to glean the information which might otherwise be difficult to see.
If you are interested in becoming a good writer, this site will probably be a good friend to you (listed below). I suggest frequenting it, and studying yourself. The English taught in our schools at sub-college levels is not enough to be a good writer. http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/index2.htm