Hi Noah! Always fun to see your writing pop up again!
Your prose is actually fairly good! It’s very clear and fairly strong. I don’t see any glaring issues, though there are some things you may want to keep in mind. I’ll come back to that later 😉
As for the italicized thought, personally, I don’t use or particularly like it. Since you’re writing in a third-person limited, it isn’t needed, and for me, it always pulls me out of the story. I already understand he’s thinking all this, so there’s no need to italicize.
Now, there were some larger issues I noticed that don’t have to do with prose.
You seem to have trouble describing a large crowd of people vividly and accurately displaying the large amounts of diversity, so you’re using a list format. First, you describe all the sounds, then all the smells, then all the people.
I used to do this all the time. Apparently, other people struggle with crowds too!
The problem is that it has no imagery. Personally, I can’t picture a medieval Lombard off the top of my head. A solution to this is singling out a few people and describing them instead of trying to describe a large crowd.
This is hard to explain, so I’ll quote a couple of paragraphs where I was describing a market scene.
Despite the early hour, the market was filling up with vendors setting up stalls. A boy teetered on a stool, trying in vain to secure a carpet to the wall for display. Intricate geometric designs in blue and yellow danced across it.
Ferran shot a look over his shoulder to make sure I was keeping up.
“Don’t get lost,” he said, briefly.
I gave a kneeling camel a wide berth. A father and son unloaded sacks of spices from its back and the camel stared at me with large, placid eyes.
A girl with black hair coiled in intricate braids draped a bolt of emerald fabric across the stall, it dripped down, displaying the fine weave. The bolts of fabric on her stall were brighter than fields of wildflowers in spring.
I was glad about my red dress. It had felt conspicuous and too bright, but now it was the only thing that kept me from fading into the stones, an invisible speck among all this noise and color.
This isn’t fantastic, it’s from a first draft, but you get what I mean. I only describe four people in total, but you (hopefully) get a detailed idea of what is going on in the entire market.
People are hard-wired to connect to individuals, more than a large group.
So, instead of saying “Gascons guarded their supplies closely with their unfriendly demeanors and conspicuous weapons.”
You could say:
“Hugon slowed, eyeing a conveniently placed apple on the edge of a stall. He tried not to attract attention as he wandered past. If he was cautious, he might be able to pocket it without anyone noticing. An unfriendly snarl interrupted his carefully planned heist. The soft hiss of metal over leather made him jump aside, away from the stall. The Gascon trader was glaring at him, a short knife half out of the scabbard. Hugon tried to look innocent, which was far from easy.”
Something else you might do to enhance the voice and the scene overall is to have him calculate who he could rob. He might comment that it was no use robbing the Italians and Lombards because they had far less money than their fancy clothes let on, and that the Saxons always kept one hand on their purses, and that he’d rather not rob a Scandinavian for fear that they’d break him in half.
That way, you get voice and characterization, while simultaneously getting an idea for the scene.
Another issue I noticed was that the first half of the text is just a description, and Hugon only observes what’s going on around him. The reader doesn’t know why he’s there, or what he’s looking for, or what might happen.
Then halfway, suddenly, he’s planning things, he’s active, he has goals and it’s so interesting. And then he gets caught and something might happen to him and who are these people and what do they want from him and why have they been looking for him and all these other fascinating questions get raised at once.
The first half of the text wasn’t terrible, but the second part was interesting and active and so fun to read! So, you could try to mention why he’s there, and he can immediately start scheming about who he can rob and you can drop in some backstory about whether he’s been successful with this before, or whether he’s fallen on hard times and is resorting to thievery.
I really like Hugon, he’s a fun character to read! He has this humorous, sarcastic voice that gives everything a bit more zest. Use it, especially in descriptions. Opinions and reactions are some of the most interesting parts, and they give you both the character and whatever you’re describing.
Okay, as for prose, you’re definitely on the right track! It lacks some polish, but it isn’t jarring or hard to read. Some things you may want to watch out for are the distancing verbs like ‘saw, heard, seemed, thought’ They increase the narrative distance, and they’re irrelevant since you already know it’s what Hugon’s seeing. You don’t use these often, but a couple slipped in.
Another issue you seem to have is overusing -ing verbs. They’re not necessarily bad, but if you can change them to an -ed verb, that sounds better. So instead of saying “The young woman was smirking down at him,” you can say “The young woman smirked down at him.”
A trick to improve your prose is to go through a piece of text and try to cut one word from each sentence. You won’t always succeed, but it forces you to be more concise.
I’ll try to rewrite a paragraph, and try to show you how I’d improve the prose:
The young woman was smirking down at him. Blast her. Her hazel hair fell across the brown cloak that she wore, though the hood was pulled down. She had a slight dusting of freckles, and a firm, though still soft, face. Her pale blue tunic fell down to those criminal boots. He would steal those boots right off her feet just as soon as he had the chance.
And the edit:
The young woman smirked down at him. Blast all of them and her in particular. He couldn’t see much of her face, her hood shadowed most of it. He only got a vague impression of firm features, barely softened by youth, framed by hazel hair. Her periwinkle blue tunic seemed almost too delicate for those criminal boots. He would steal them right off her feet as soon as he had the chance.
As you can see, I didn’t describe her too much, since this isn’t exactly the time for it. He’s in obvious danger and wouldn’t get much more than an overall look at them. You can mention the details, like her freckles, later.
(Okay, I think I might have gotten confused. I wrote it as though her hood is up, but you might have said her hood was down. Whatever, you get what I mean 😉
It’s great that you’re paying attention to your prose, but I do want to warn you, it’s very easy to get stuck on it. I spent a lot of time trying to improve the prose in my first draft, and now I’m completely rewriting it, so all that time is wasted. In your second draft, you’ll end up cutting out entire scenes, possibly even chapters, so don’t get stuck on the prose.
I like to make it readable before I move on since I have a tendency to rephrase something several times when my train of drafting gets stuck. But how you have it now is good enough for a first draft! It’s readable and there are no glaring errors. It will get more polished as you continue writing.
So, in short: Your prose is fine, don’t get stuck on it, when you’re describing a crowd of people, pick a few people doing specific things and describe them instead of listing, don’t stop the story to describe things, use your characterization to describe stuff, don’t over-use -ing verbs, and be careful with distance verbs.
That’s all I can think of, hope this helps!
Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?