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Author Topic: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread  (Read 13283 times)

Offline shadowkat678

Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #15 on: March 07, 2017, 05:07:42 PM »
If anyone can critic mine I'm going to try to look through and do some critics of my own this month for people.

@shadowkat678

Spoiler for Hiden:
Selected Quote:
“The entire scene descended into chaos within moments. A dance of the elements, brightening the room with flashes of lighting; chilling the air with ice; scorching skin with the heat of flames.”

Something Awesome:
The whole damn battle was great. I liked the pov breaks too because it opened up the story to see more than one side, but this also caused some confusion with the rest of the story. See below!

Theme Appropriateness:
It didn’t keep me in the UF feel through the story. Apart from the opening lines about Chicago and a warehouse, the setting faded away as the fight started. The references to Merlin and Arthur immediately threw me into an old typical fantasy setting and I had to remind myself it was UF.

Conflict and Tension:
I liked the fight and the duels and pov breaks was interesting, but the conflict itself was a little hollow. This goes into the Something Confusing below, but I didn’t get emotionally connected enough to really feel it.

Characterization:
The battle took a lot of words, so that left little room for deeper investment into the characters.

Something Confusing:
I wasn’t really sure who I should be rooting for. Most of the story was a battle, but outside of knowing the name Merlin, I didn’t have enough understanding of the characters to determine motivation etc.

Did Mordred only have power because his mother healed him? I felt like I was missing something when the link was gone at the last scene. I would have liked to see more development into the why's of the story.

Thanks for the critique, and I promise I'll get to some stories myself, I've just been kinda busy.

Yeah. A lot of my issues, I think, is that the idea was bigger than the space. I wish I could have fleshed out their characters more, because when the idea hit it started with them over the actual conflict. And Mordred, since he's only half a wizard as his father was Arthur in the legends, did indeed get his powers when he was healed. Because he still had some magical blood, it kind of stuck, but it still wasn't necessarily his power, so he wasn't able to use it to it's fullest. When Morgan died, it started to die with her, and now he's starting to age again.

To be honest, the ending was entirely different than what I originally planned. I was just going to have his mother die, and I kinda wanted to have prologue after submission that showed Merlin confronting Mordred about his mother's death and his fading powers. But I had to end it quickly, and that also wouldn't have made since, since he would still be a threat when Arthur returned, like the legends said he would. So. The ending was likely a bit rushed again.

Thanks again for taking the time to give feedback. I promise I'll get to one of you guy's stories soon!
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #16 on: March 07, 2017, 05:22:10 PM »
I would love any comments/critiques of The Chase

Here's my critique of The Chase with some general and down-in-the-weeds feedback. Overall, I really liked the story, and I love the concept of body-snatching creatures. I think the story worked well, and all my suggestions are minor.

Spoiler for Hiden:
At the top-level, you were going for a twist ending, and you succeeded. I had no idea what I was in for going in, and didn't until the very end. That makes for a powerful, Twilight Zone kind of twist, but I think what seemed like petty theft was too "light" of a crime, and that cost you some drama, suspense, etc.

Also, I thought you might have used the distinctive habit of smoking cigarettes with the filters pinched off as a clue - that's the kind of evidence a body-hopper wouldn't care about leaving behind, and that's the sort of stuff forensics people focus on.

The interactions with the female cop were distracting and didn't advance the story. They weren't detailed enough to understand - are they lovers? Former lovers? Are they always bumping heads? I noticed that the interactions before and after were essentially the same, and their demeanor seemed at odds with the idea of celebrating together.

Some weed-level feedback:

1. Detective “Tiny” Kekoa pulled into the small driveway and put his Jeep in neutral.  2. He let the engine idle a minute before turning the key, his grandfather’s voice in his head.  3. Don’t ever leave your girl running hot.  You treat her right, she’ll be with you ‘til you die.  4. A small smile split the man’s lips.  5. His grandfather would always give a conspiratorial wink when he’d say this, (6) and it wasn’t until years later that Tiny had realized his grandfather was speaking about more than cars.
Your opening paragraph was a great moment, but it seems out of place in this story. Also, I read somewhere that to facilitate readers who are visual, one should write in camera-pan mode and avoid jumping between things any more than necessary. That said, not all readers are visual, and for those that are not, this is a non-issue, obviously. From that perspective, I recommend resequencing this way: 1, 2, 3, 5, 4, 6.

   Sergeant Sekioka replied, “Lone male, older ‘n sin, sir.  Don’t see how he’s our man, but if he is, he ain’t going nowhere.”
- I would put the dialogue before the tag, and I might drop the tag, as it's an answer to a question and there's only two players on the stage. Also, I'd move the name of the speaker to the character's entrance one paragraph earlier, since Tiny knows him, then refer to him as officer here.

   Tiny raised his eyebrow, knowing he couldn’t have been wrong, but suddenly second-guessing himself.  “The man’s a magician when it comes to theft.  Don’t care what he looks like, I know this is him.”
- Faces and bodies usually don't need possessives, with some exceptions. The heart of the first sentence is confusing, as there are three men in the discussion - two speaking, one being discussed. So "He" is unclear - is Tiny thinking that he himself might be wrong, or Sekioka? This ambiguity is heightened by Tiny's statement and thoughts being offset 180 degrees. Also, "theft" seems a pretty small crime for all the hype, confessions, etc.

   Sekioka shrugged.  “You’re in charge, sir.  Anyway, don’t think he’s gonna be a problem too much longer.  He’s coughing up blood, and there’s already a fair amount on the sheets.  Ambulance has been called, but it’s rush hour.  Waikiki traffic’s a bitch.”
- First, this is very true :) Second, although it's not lengthy, it is obvious exposition-in-dialogue, since Tiny would surely know this. The reader would infer this if you just let it stand the way people on Oahu would say it: "Ambulance is on the way, but it's coming from Waikiki in rush hour."

   Tiny grunted as he moved towards the house.  As soon as he entered, he was met by another officer, Keniki Leinani, who stopped him with a small hand.  She looked at him, shaking her head as she spoke, “He said he’d confess, but only to you, and only alone.”  She paused, reading his face and knowing his answer, “I don’t like it, but I know you don’t care.  He’s in the bedroom, that way.”   She made a small gesture towards the back of the house.
- Grunts and other nonverbal are only useful if we know how it is delivered: with disgust, resignation, agreement, etc. The suspect's demands are odd and interesting, and the first officer would have mentioned them. "was met by" is passive voice that would boost the energy if made active. I lined through the stuff that is obvious/assumed and could be removed. I didn't understand what the relationship here was, so I would advise removing it or taking it further and making it clear. I don't know why she doesn't like it - is she scared for Tiny? Or are they always arguing, etc.? Too much drama for a capture of a thief.

   He smiled a controlled smile, then walked past her.  As he moved back towards the bedroom, he saw a number of unique items he recognized—from pictures only, before they had been stolen.  Other than the priceless artifacts, he could have been inside any of the small, indigenous homes that remained scattered throughout Waikiki.  The homes, the people, remained, ignoring the growing Haole hellhole that had grown around them.
- I think it would be stronger to identify what he's controlling. Having lived in Hawaii, and not being an islander, Asian, etc., I am a Haole, and resented the racism in a small way, as it reminded me of my son getting beaten up at school. Potentially offensive content is a delicate decision, and you should at least ask yourself what it brings to the story. In this case, I don't think it adds much. I don't disagree with the central notion, that non-Hawaiians have built a hellhole, or even that there's ongoing racism. What bothered me is that it is not altogether one-sided.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2017, 05:25:29 PM by The Gem Cutter »
The Gem Cutter
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Offline Nora

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #17 on: March 08, 2017, 12:14:19 AM »
I would love any comments/critiques of The Chase.

@gennerik my critic to you story might come across as sadly harsh, but I think the flaw I'll describe is easily fixable. Please be advised I often sound a lot harsher than I mean to be, I'm going to the point and not beating around the bush, but ultimately you remained a very strong story, so it's only my opinion, cast in such a way that it is a "critic". The main highlight was the great prose.

Spoiler for Hiden:
The prose was very good, indeed pretty professional, I read on with zero issues, picturing the things quite well as I went along. I even really appreciated the twist... and then didn't.
To be honest my problem is that your story makes no sense at all to me, and is unsatisfying plot wise on a few levels. The more I thought about the twist and ending, the less it made sense.

We get a sense of that chase being long and drawn out between two characters, and one is inhabited by a demon who finally takes possession of the cop. Fine.
But what was that demon during all that time in a thief? Is he kleptomaniac? Can he not direct the actions of his host?
If he's happy to be in this younger body, why not have met up with the cop or any other potential host sooner? Can he only transfer if the host is dying? Why not orchestrate that then?
What's to be gained for the demon, lost by the cop?

If any of those points are addressed, I did not understand it from reading the story.

We also don't hear the dying man's tale, don't see the death, don't understand the mechanics of the possession... It felt like reading the background of a story and not seeing any of the action. Even said background influence the story little (Why on an island, how does it influence the character, besides the very basic set up of the moody cop who wishes there would be less tourist?)
It's not always compulsory, but here it felt I had to analyse it afterwards, because it's all I was ever given to draw conclusions from.
So it felt like a very pretty picture with a bare-bone plot and well done but still rather superficial characterisation. There were a few places with very pretty prose that served no intent and purpose, filled scenery, but did neither develop the plot nor improve the character. In a short story I think it's a trap you can't afford. Pretty prose has to advance the story telling.
Stuff like :
Quote
Tiny stood outside in the dark.  The fireworks had ceased some hours earlier, and he was left alone in near-silence—only the wind, waves, and the insects could be heard.  He pulled a newly purchased pack of cigarettes from his pocket and selected one.  He pinched off the filter before he put it to his lips, dropping the filter carelessly to the ground.

is literally 64 words to describe a cigarette being lit. Since the ciggie plays little role in the plot or character dev, it's fantastic for a novel and worthless (imo) in a 1,5k short story.
The ciggies were a great foreshadowing, but to be honest the whole cutting of the dialogue irritated me more than anything else and I was hardly thinking anything crazy had happened in there, at that moment, so I barely noticed them as foreshadowing on first read. Not because it was badly done, but because the dialogue was cut off in such a way it at first read felt more like 'skipping some boring stuff' rather than 'skipping all the exciting stuff'.

It's my humble opinion that the entire story ought to have started in the room. You lose so many words over cop characters I hardly remember the existence of, a month later, I would scrub all of that. Start in the conversation, fill us in smartly, don't cut us off just before the whole life story. Maybe if you do want to cut, do it before a point interesting in the story? Or make that whole thing more suspenseful?
Or make the whole soul exchange very fast and flashy, seen from a very detached 3rd person, and keep us suspended by having Tiny behave quite normally (internally raving against the tourists, talking to subordinates in a normal way...), only to have our suspicion confirmed once he gets home?

So to me you can truly make it all better by reshaping the plot, doing a whole lot of less-is-more, and maybe showing the exciting bits somehow?
In my view, this is way easier to do than correct appalling prose fit on a great plot. Working on a plot or moving it around to fit the word limit is a matter of self editing and brainstorming. Acquiring good prose is months or years of practice, years of reading, arguably a level of innate talent, etc. You're obviously very far down that road and certainly able to produce great stuff.
I felt overall that your story would have been great as a beginning to a longer work where stuff gets explained, but it was not fit as a short, self contained story. Even though some short story leave stuff out, in yours I feel like it was vital stuff.
It's something we see a lot in beginners to the contest who are not yet used to the very short format, so reading you I had no doubt you'd be one day soon a very strong contestant, but not with that story (as far as I'm concerned).

This is all to take with a large dose of salt, as of course it is all very subjective, and I can see how others would have felt compelled by the well told story and be happy with the twist without nit-picking at it as I feel I did.
Hope it helps, and definitely explain why you didn't get my vote, though I suspect you might before long.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2017, 12:16:40 AM by Nora »
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Offline gennerik

Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #18 on: March 08, 2017, 01:15:47 AM »
@Nora and @The Gem Cutter , you'll have to excuse me, but I'm putting the kids to bed, so I'll be brief and reply at length a little later.  You both provided great, in-depth feedback that I really appreciate. I think it'll be a huge help going forward. Audio thank you both.

Nora, you have me pegged pretty well, as this was the first real short story this length that I've written. I think even 500 more words would have helped, or more experience in the format. I didn't think that you came across as harsh.

The Gem Cutter, I'm still working on finding my best choice. I've found that I insert a lot of passive voice (and am still figuring out what that is, which is the first part of learning to avoid it), so thank you for pointing it out.  And I understand what you're saying about racism (as I experienced it while living in both Japan and Hawai'i). For a short answer, I'll just say that characters are one of the most important thing to me, and typically I am a discovery writer when it comes to them. In this case, Tiny developed into what you read.

So thank you to both of you, and to anyone else interested in giving me feedback, please do. I want to keep writing, so feedback is vital to me. I'll respond in-depth a little later.
Author of Lamentation's Peak
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Offline gennerik

Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #19 on: March 08, 2017, 09:29:56 PM »
@Nora I've written a little of the backstory regarding The Chase.  You can read it if you desire or completely skip it, but it does answer some of your initial questions.  More of them would probably have been answered in a longer format, but as you correctly identified, I'm new to short stories.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Joe is actually a magician that transfers his soul from one host to another.  Magic already taxes the host body, essentially a vampiric trade where you sacrifice your life essence for magic powers, but the original soul also feeds off the body, making the aging process much faster.  Essentially Joe has on the order of 10-20 years in a host before he has to find a new one.

The process of transferring his soul is particularly taxing on the body.  Joe essentially spent about 20 years of his current life just preparing the spells to make the transfer in the weeks before he finally met with Tiny (before that, he was roughly 40-50 years old, nearing the age where he normally transfers to another body).  As to why he chose Tiny, it came down to the thrill of it.  Tiny chased Joe almost 11 years, which gave Joe two things: a high from being chased, and also an understanding of Tiny.  They forged a relationship that Joe was going to use to step into his new life.

As far as the transfer goes, you didn't miss much.  Not being able to see a soul, there really wasn't anything flashy to see.  Joe took over Tiny right at the cut-away.  The rest of the time in the room was Joe getting used to the body while writing down his own confession.  So, in truth, you did just miss the boring parts, though I can definitely see how you would think you were missing out on the action.  In a longer story where I wrote about the transfer, I probably would have made it flashier, but in my mind it was nearly transparent for this.

So, one of the biggest things the feedback has showed me is I really need to work on the story focus.  1500 words is not a lot, and trying to set up a traditional story isn't very feasible.  Reading back over it, I did spend a significant amount of the word limit setting up the background.  I could have used that to expand on the characters and strengthen the characters.

That being said, it's funny that you picked that part of the story to discuss the cigarette.  I had attempted to use the scene to further grow Tiny as a character.  He has a problem more with people, and lives away from them.  The cigarette was definitely foreshadowing, but I wanted it to stand out, which was another reason why I spent so much time on such a mundane thing.  I just couldn't figure out a way to make it stronger without undermining the very end.  After reading the critiques, I realize that I probably should have made Joe's smoking habit stronger in the beginning, and then I could have possibly shortened this paragraph.

@The Gem Cutter Tiny and Keniki did/do have an on-again/off-again relationship.  You're right, it's not very clear in the story, and I probably could have cut it out, but in my mind it was another clue to Joe not being completely comfortable in Joe's life yet.

For the weed-level feedback, I agree with your sentence structure.  I write how I think, which can be disjointed.  You're arrangement definitely flows better, just by moving that single sentence.  Also, I was using the dialogue tag as a character introduction.  I definitely could have moved it.

The second-guessing paragraph was clear in my head, but I can see how it could be confusing.  I had actually had more there but didn't like how it sounded, so I cut it.  Apparently I didn't adjust the preceding sentence.  As far as the exposition-in-dialogue, I left it there because people unfamiliar with the island might not know, and also because sometimes people do say the common knowledge things (I do all the time, at least according to my wife).

As far as the drama of catching a thief, in my mind, Joe isn't just a thief.  He's a master thief.  He doesn't steal things, he steal artifacts and treasures.  I went for the non-violent crime because a violent criminal could easily become the focus of a state-wide man-hunt.  This is more personal.  Tiny has a vendetta against Joe.  He's been chasing him for 11 years, being made the fool countless times.  It comes out as Tiny making rash decisions, decisions that typical cops wouldn't typically make (meeting alone, not suspecting alterior motives, etc).  Much of that was limited by the length of the story and my inexperience at telling a short story.

Finally, I would like to touch on the racism.  I understand that not everybody is racist there (or anywhere), and that it's not just a one-sided thing.  I lived in Hawai'i for three years and got to experience it as well.  My wife (half-Mexican and adopter of local language) often passed as a Hawai'ian, but our kids (both very caucasian, even though both were born in Hawai'i) never were.  My wife got stopped a number of times by people thinking that she was the nanny for some Haole children.  Before that, we both lived in Japan, and the number of times I would get thrown out of an establishment hearing "No gaijin!" shouted at my back was quite high.  But in this case, it fit Tiny.  Every glimpse I got of him included someone that disliked people, born and raised on the north side of the island.  He disliked people, and he inherited his grandfather's dislike for the people that (in his opinion) were destroying his homeland/way of life, while at the same time resented the fact that he had a job where he was expected to live by their rules.  I really fought with myself about including it, but it destroyed the character (for me) if I didn't.

Once again, thank you both for taking the time to critique my story.  It will be invaluable going forward, both in future contests and just for writing in general.
Author of Lamentation's Peak
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Offline Nora

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #20 on: March 08, 2017, 10:03:21 PM »
@gennerik : I think if you want an example of what tremendous work some authors here can do on setting up a character in no words at all, I would invite you to peruse the flash fiction month, and more particularly my absolute, two years standing favourite story in this entire forum:

http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/(jul-2015)-flash-fiction!/(jul-2015)-flash-fiction!-submission-thread/msg108587/#msg108587

I don't know where the hell @OnlyOneHighlander has gone (I miss your wooooork!!!) but he left some incredible works behind, and that one, which was imo the best that month, is a master piece in making a compelling set of characters, mood, and micro plot–all in less than 500 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Quote
No mobs, no torches, no righteous priest banging on the castle gate. Even the wolves had gone.

It pained Scrofula to see his master this way. The last few decades had not been kind. To be slain was one thing. But to be forgotten... The life had gone out of him, which, for a vampire, was saying something.

I mean, DAMN!


But after that, making a meaningful story in 1500 words will come to you over time and practice. No point beating that particular cat.
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Offline shadowkat678

Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #21 on: March 10, 2017, 01:37:29 AM »
Okay. Which story that hasn't been looked at does someone really want looked at? Any specific parts? I'll probably be easier to get some drive if I can narrow in on what I'm going to be doing, and I can give more detail than one or two general thoughts.
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Offline JMack

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #22 on: March 10, 2017, 06:00:24 PM »
I'd love to hear what anyone felt was missing, unsatisfying, or confusing about my story. 
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #23 on: March 10, 2017, 07:31:59 PM »
I'd love to hear what anyone felt was missing, unsatisfying, or confusing about my story. 
As requested.

Spoiler for Hiden:
I voted for this terrific story and found it superb, so most of my comments are in the weeds.

At the top level, my only suggestion is not about execution, which I thought was excellent, but your decision to shift from a casual tone to a very informal one with the 4th wall breaks. You were already perfectly couched in that medium zone, using neither very high language nor very low. For me, the breaks had a campy, tongue-in-cheek effect, as though the story wasn't taking itself seriously. If the story had fully comedic moments, or was comedic in nature as many in the contest are, it would have been more natural. But because the premise was not outlandish but squarely in the center of UF played straight (a la Dresden Files), I was conflicted with that decision.

Fourth wall breaks interrupt the narrative and remind the reader they're reading. The payoffs should outweigh these costs, and I don't think these do. They conveyed attitude, perhaps, but didn't provide value judgments that convey character, or introduce key exposition. Because of the length, we will not get to know this character well, and so having her speak to the audience highlights the limitations of the character in her 1500 word world. The first person POV was flawless and very strong already, and if you went through and parsed it out, you would find a smoother, more powerful story that takes itself seriously without being heavy handed.

All that said, you executed the story and its wall breaks very well.

Weed-level stuff:

A black paw flicked from the shadows and swatted my candle, snuffing out the flame, and spilling wax on a ten-thousand-dollar rug. "Stop that, Py," I said. The wax hardened into another strata of trial-and-error. Teaching myself witchcraft had been a very slow business.

I righted the candle, but as soon as I flicked the lighter, Pywacket pounced on the summoning circle again. I scooped up the annoying cat and tossed her out of the room. As I yanked the study door closed, Py let out a weird yowl and dashed down the hall.

- These two paragraphs are a terrific opening, one of the best I can think of. The image is straightforward and simple and loaded with exposition and character that is not rushed, and sets up the hook in the next sentence flawlessly.

Something walked across my grave.

Yes, I know. I live at the height of the Empire State building in my father's thirty-million-dollar skyscraper condominium, eighty floors from balcony to blacktop. The closest cemetery is a thousand feet down and ten blocks over. Still.

- The story until this point was casual, using medium language. The 4th wall breaks begin pushing things down from casual to informal here.

I followed Py into the living room. She was pawing at something on the other side of the thick floor-to-ceiling glass wall that kept us from falling out into the midnight sky above Manhattan. "You are ridiculous, cat." My so-called familiar was frantically chasing a moth.

- This bit is good, and completes the setting, complete with all the tactile elements, and all the thematic ones; witch, midnight, cat. My only issue is the cat teleporting from the candle, to the living room, to chasing a moth, and soft language relying on 'was'. Animal behavior, esp. a familiar, could be leveraged to foreshadow things here, and advance the sense that something is about to happen hinted at by the grave sensation.

The endless nightscape beyond the glass drew my eyes. You've seen those photographs of Manhattan at night, like the entire galaxy is laid out at your feet. From our building you can see everything, day and night: the iconic towers, the bridges, the broad avenues, the Hudson. We had an unobstructed view across to the East River until another skyscraper went up right across the street from us. Now we had an unobstructed view that way of partially-finished glass sheathing, open girders, and construction cranes.

- Following a 4th-wall-breaking "you" with "we" invites a minor, fleeting moment of confusion, or so I read somewhere, because we're unsure whether it's "We - me and my cat" or "we, all of us"

Something moved on that building; my eyes caught on it five floors down. Pale, multi-limbed, nearly invisible unless you're a witch. A goddamned jibber, and it wasn't alone. A whole line of the things was crawling up the side of the unfinished skyscraper. I hadn't seen that many since a hunting pack found me practicing spells in the clock tower at college. My father forked out millions to make the four-alarm fire thing go away.

- The repetition of "my eyes" in two paragraphs, and "my (eyes, eyes, father) at the beginning of sentences and phrases set off alarms for me.
[...]
Knife-like fingers reached around the glass, and ozone filled the room, prickling my nose. My heart stuttered. I turned in panic, and a black blur streaked past. Pywacket struck the jibber right in it's horrible face. They tumbled back out the window and fell together, into the dark.

My so-called familiar. My little stray.

- Loved the fragments here. Masterful.

I dropped to my knees and took a ragged breath. I was freezing, but I didn't even have the strength to close the window.

- I wanted a clear MC emotional reaction to the sacrifice of her cat.

Py jumped back through window an hour later. They say true familiars have nine lives.

- I wanted a snippet of description here on Py, and a MC reaction.

I hope this was helpful.
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline JMack

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #24 on: March 11, 2017, 03:30:00 AM »
Thanks, @The Gem Cutter
Really good stuff for me to think about.
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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #25 on: March 11, 2017, 09:28:19 AM »
This is for @Nora :

Spoiler for Hiden:

Selected Quote: …she'd spent years roaming the city, its many wonders locked behind cold glass, often leaving her feeling like it was her who was trapped in a vitrine, and the rest of the world rolling by, an endless show of things for her to see and desire but never own, lest she steal or got lucky at the bottom of some bin.

Something Awesome: Yuri’s anger and resentment plus the descriptions of her power in use. Svarenko probably isn't a good guy from what he said, but is probably with Yuri to try to start a new life in the same way she sees him as her new hope as well.

Theme Appropriateness: Very High. Poor and abandoned kids with magical powers trying to survive in a city. Magical soldiers.

Conflict and Tension: High. Emotionally we can see their connection and why they matter to each other. Physically I’m not sure if they really were in danger. Svarenko said he could take care of everything and Yuri herself (even if only in “berserk mode) pretty much does it too. At the end you mention Marlow from the CIA. I think this could’ve been upped another notch if we had an antagonist with a face and name in the action.

Characterization: Very Good. We know where she comes from, her old and new perspectives. It's more subtle with Svarenko but we can guess these for him as well.

Something Confusing: I think the biggest issue I had with the story was the structure. We have Yuri in the present day and then flashbacks in two different timelines - before and after Svarenko. Plus two POVs with a nameless soldier and brief switches to Svarenko.

You separated the story in 14 scenes and this is how they looked like:

1- Present moment - She also remembers what he had said to her when they first met. Maybe the story should've followed the same pattern (I will get to it later).

2- Nameless soldier POV

3- Flashback before Svarenko

4- Present moment

5- Flashback with Svarenko

6- Present moment

7- Flashback with Svarenko - At first I thought “I got blood on my hands” was Yuri’s internal thoughts right after just killing a man. I needed the other parts to figure it out that it was Svarenko. Which made me go back to reread and reimagine the scene.

8- Present moment (but mostly remembering the explosion that was mentioned in #2)

9- Flashback with Svarenko

10- Present moment

11- Flashback with Svarenko

12- Nameless soldier POV

13- Flashback with Svarenko

14- Present moment


In #1 you had the character remembering the past but without leaving the present moment. I think you could have continued with that style.
It wouldn’t break the action and the rage moments. For example, there’s a scene where her power spikes up and she kills one soldier. Then it keeps alternating with Svarenko’s one liners, a scene where she remembers the explosion that was already mentioned in #2, then when it returns to present 11 enemies are already dead and we didn’t see anything.

For example, <starts fighting> “I have blood on my hands. I’m a wanted man. Do you understand?”, he had said back when XXX <Kills one or two soldiers>. “It’s now what I want for you.” <Rages, power spikes massively, kills half a dozen> and so on.

But I believe then the starting point should’ve been another. Probably #5, with the “They had come in the quiet of night”, maybe with a few alterations along the way. At that point there would be a situation and you could follow  the story chronologically.

Svarenko goes to the soldiers, Yuri runs according to plan. She may walk through streets that trigger memories, remember where Svarenko found her, etc. Then the explosion happens.

Another thing that bugged me was that Svarenko at the end says “I should have trusted you more”.

I don’t know how much time they’ve been together, but considering in #5 he was reading a book to her, and considering  her past of being avoided, a loner and and likely a mistrusting personality, it probably was some significant time until their bond solidified like that.

So I felt he would have told her his plans instead of leaving her in the dark like that. That if he “went off her radar” it wouldn’t be a problem and was part of the plan.

That’s where an antagonist, like the Marlow you mentioned, could’ve been handy. He could track Yuri or maybe the explosion wasn’t in the plan. And he’s more powerful and interacts with Yuri saying how he got the old man. Also so we could know what Svarenko did or maybe why the CIA hunt psychics (if that’s what happened to the other kids).

So with this Yuri would’ve been informed of Svarenko’s plans, but now she would think it didn’t work and he’s totally dead and she goes nuts.

So, starting with scene #5 you could have make her run (and maybe even glimpse a little of Svarenko fighting some soldiers and his abilities), she may remember the past while she runs through the same streets, then the explosion. Then she may go back by desperation or guilt or is tracked by Marlow and his team, goes nuts and gets even more power from her rage as she fights while remembering her dearest memories and then Svarenko returns.

It would be a pretty straightforward story without different flashbacks, POVs and scene breaks. You mentioned the lighthearted ending, but I didn’t have a problem with that. For me it was more the structure that switched many timelines and POVs a little too much.

Hope that was helpful!

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Offline Nora

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #26 on: March 11, 2017, 06:15:52 PM »
Aaah... Thanks a lot Lanko. It's always nice to receive some reviews, especially as yours highlights things I wasn't sure came across as I wanted, to really pleased, but kinda sad too, because the reason why I did not come to this thread asking for a review is that you just wasted all this time trying to help fixing the one thing I'm not interested in fixing this month : the story structure.
Though I realise my quotes toward the end were more confusing than helpful, and I put them in on a whim and ought to have cut them off (which I almost did), I am overall pleased with the way I cut my story. It was all planned, very voluntary, and I totally wanted to avoid the normal storyline you so kindly set up for me. It's close to what I thought up originally, and I very soon decided it wasn't what I wanted to do at all.
I didn't want to wrap an origin story at the same time as a fight. I didn't want to show Svarenko and Yuri meeting, or bonding. But I didn't want Yuri to be baseless, and so I decided to experiment that month, and do a combination of past and present tense. I'm personally happy with the result, though I can totally see where it was over confusing, and how 500 more words would do a great deal to help.

The main plot point I disagree with you is about a main Vilain. It most certainly could not be the boss of the CIA. The CIA boss is a guy who organizes work, delegates and manages budget and communication with the gvt and other federal departments. Marlow is the guy who orders the squad to attack, the successor of the guy who opened  the projects that created Svarenko as he is, the man who still supervises teams meant to create espers used as weapons by the country, etc. He's not a video game boss, he's most certainly not even an esper himself, but a guy who wields a lot of power through others.
Yuri's story was not to be against someone, and she was never to be the aim of any attack, she's unknown in the equation, Svarenko wants her to remain so, and hence instructed her to run away in time, while he distracted/took care the soldiers. No one is here to taunt her, and she's by far the biggest fish in that pond that day. Her fight is against herself, her inexperience and fear, we're seeing her breaking down, not fighting off anything.
I was really experimenting, I didn't want to write up an urchin who gets the power and fight off against the baddies a-la-mistborn.
But you're right, I ought to have cut off words from Svarenko and spent them on making the "plan" clearer. I was really missing space to be clear this month and was happy to go for mood over clarity.
But for clarity's sake : you did not miss Yuri killing eleven people. That was Svarenko, and the explosion that took "unit 1" off the radar, as per first conversation between squad guys hints.
The plan for her is to run and hide while he kills them all off, and Svarenko indeed blows most of "unit 1" off, but some teleporting occurs, and he isn't around just long enough for Yuri to freak out and turn on the remaining soldiers. I clearly wasn't clear enough in that respect, but I don't feel that changing the story structure would help make me clearer as much as giving me 100 words would.
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Offline Lanko

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #27 on: March 11, 2017, 06:57:55 PM »
I wasn't sure if you wanted a critique, just thought you did because you opened the thread  :P Should've asked.

I mentioned Marlow as a villain because his was the only name there, but yea, not a CIA boss, maybe the squad leader (well, the chief died early, actually...), a bounty hunter or whatever.

And the "missed killing eleven people" part, that came from when Svarenko/Yuri are talking and she says "But there's only twenty." And early "she prods for the twelve survivors", so I thought Sven killed 8 during/after the explosion and Yuri was killing the twelve left. She killed one, there are some flashbacks, then "they're all dead" and then when we come back again there's only Randall left. That's what I meant.

But I see what you tried to do now and the word limit indeed worked against you. Cheers for experimenting though, and you did accomplish your main goal of inner struggle as that was the best part of the story.
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Offline Nora

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #28 on: March 11, 2017, 07:43:16 PM »
I mentioned Marlow as a villain because his was the only name there, but yea, not a CIA boss, maybe the squad leader (well, the chief died early, actually...), a bounty hunter or whatever.

Totally see your point but remains a plot I'm not keen on. It's not girl vs old killer man, it's girl vs herself.

And the "missed killing eleven people" part, that came from when Svarenko/Yuri are talking and she says "But there's only twenty." And early "she prods for the twelve survivors", so I thought Sven killed 8 during/after the explosion and Yuri was killing the twelve left. She killed one, there are some flashbacks, then "they're all dead" and then when we come back again there's only Randall left. That's what I meant.


Yep you're right, you've got my numbers better in your head than me, so it's me who misunderstood you. Indeed I had to skip the killing, and the details of the fact you can't directly kill a creature with an "opposing will" with your mind, which I had hoped to develop, but hey! *shrugs* word limits, all that...
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Offline D_Bates

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Re: [Jan 2017] - Urban Fantasy - Critic Thread
« Reply #29 on: March 13, 2017, 01:08:27 PM »
Made a new years resolution to do more story critic requests on this competition, so let's start living up to it!

@Alex Horman (Do the spaces work now? How do people do that!)

To address your initial concerns, I think Jmack hit the nail on the head that the main thing from a story perspective is that there's no major conflict that the protagonist is working towards. That said, there doesn't have to be. Like Jmack also noted, this was a really fun narrative that drew pretty large smiles from me by the time I got halfway through, and entertaining is the ultimate point, right?

I would say that the bigger issue for me was the start. This could be in part because when in critic mode I tend to be harshest on openers, but what I found was that the initial encounter with the zombie lulled me into a false sense of this being more of a horror or serious script than what it turned out to be. Once the autopsy took place and the humor started to come in, I was a lot more engaged and at ease with what I was reading. That line about there being no chips as a followup for what a mess the kebab shop was actually drew a laugh!

If you were looking for a conflict or exploratory narrative, zombies are always fun as a metaphor for everyday life, and I think you touched on that a bit with the reveal that the seedy kebab shop has his army of zombie workforce in the back. So whereas Jmack gave a good example of how to direct the narrative towards the protagonist into a character conflict, I think you could have gone the other way and veered the story more towards a satirical overview of modern life with this zombie population with no real ambitions who blindly buy into and follow whatever they're told no matter how false it may be.

In terms of the smaller things that niggled me:
- There were a few situations I thought sentences were fractured. A good example of this is the first two sentences in the second paragraph, where linking them with a comma would be better. This is stylistic though, and were i not critiquing, I probably wouldn't have cared too much.

- '"Taser!" I called out, and puled the trigger.' I didn't get why he yelled Taser as he pulled the trigger, unless the weapon is voice activated :p.

- 'his reanimated nervous system vulnerable to such a shock.' This is a line you could cut to save on word count. I would say it calls into telling rather than showing, because all it's doing is clarifying why the first half of the sentence (the showing side) is happening, and it's not necessary.

- 'He toppled, dead for a second time, into...' I thought the comma insert here fractured the sentence. I'm of two minds on whether you need to state dead for a second time, but if you did, I think it would have flowed better on the end of the sentence rather than splitting the toppling and what he landed on in two.

- 'Now he's filthy and bleeding as well as dead.' It felt like you were trying to dramatise the death a bit too much here. The statement doesn't make sense, namely because you don't really picture a zombie as 'clean', and the initial graphic description of his head injuries make any suggestion of glass cuts to be trivial.

- 'no way I could get a partially shredded corpse...' See above. I wasn't sure where the shredding came from. If you wanted to go that route, then I would have had the Taser shock have him explode into two parts. But even if you did that, surely moving a cadaver in two pieces is easier than moving a complete corpse? Whether the thing is in multiple parts or whole, the mass is the same, right? So I couldn't understand the protag's struggle here.
So yeah, if you needed more space to work in the conflict, you could have cut a lot of this section away to allow more words later on.

- I shared Jmack's confused frown over what purpose the coroner wanted the brain intact. Especially considering the opening made a point of describing said brain already oozing out the creatures head even before the protag interacted with it.

- 'He offered me a handful of innards... ...doesn't mean I want to go around fondling people's lungs.' This is another section you could have cut back. In terms of humor, it works. But something that is commonplace with humor is that it often comes about by degrading the seriousness of the situation. This is a funny scene, but it's only funny because the coroner is coming off as rather incompetent in order to draw out an overdramatised quirk from the protag's character.
In serious terms, there's no reason a coroner would notice a crucial bit of evidence in a body and then ask the investigator in the room to extract it. Likewise, it comes off a touch contrived for Will to be selling up a revulsion of innards right after proclaiming his pride for the lungs of one of his kills displayed on the wall. So I would have changed one of the situations to complement the other, and if I'm being honest, it would probably have been to sell the revulsion for the lungs on the wall, as the humor side of this story works so much better.

- 'and accepted his offering.' This is another few words you could have cut to make word count. It's unnecessary and feels rather posh and polite in light of the setting and tone the rest of the story takes.

- 'A cheap engagement ring...' While this makes sense in the context of the revelation at the end, it did leave me wondering why the team came to a conclusion of a diabolical smuggling operation based off a cheap ring. This probably fell into your plotting concerns where you were trying to conceive a reason for the protag to go to the kebab shop. But in this case, simpler is better, where the find of the menu and why this zombie is in possession of such a thing is enough reason to investigate without the red herring of the story possibly evolving into some nefarious gang operation.

- 'though I was already forming a rather different opinion.' From a personal reading perspective I hate lines like this. It comes across as a cheap sales pitch to read on, which 9/10 times is exactly what it is. From a PoV perspective, the protag supposedly makes these revelations based on information they have from living in the world longer than we've been exposed to it. From a writer's perspective, the line is dropped in simply because they want to coerce the reader's curiosity to read on and learn the big development. Except, if it's a good story, we expect there to be a big development/twist coming, no?

Later on, it sort of happens again when Will states how what he saw in the kitchen will scar him for life. Now, this is actually a very funny statement. But it would have been more powerful had it been Will's reaction to what he'd just seen, rather than a prelude to what he's about to see. Had this line come after he choked back bile, it becomes a funny complement to his character after what was a ridiculously funny opinion on how zombies preparing food is quite possibly the worst thing he's ever known. But where it is at the end of a scene break (an unnecessary one, by the way), it becomes the proverbial carrot of 'read on to find out what he saw! You're not going to believe it!!'

I'm not going to say this technique doesn't work for some readers, but for others (like me) it's a huge turn off mainly because it throws me out of the story. The reason for that in the first example is because the logical conclusion of why the finger is in the zombie is exactly what Will said: he ate someone. So when he says he's forming a different opinion, that encourages me to think back to earlier events to see if I can reach that same conclusion. Except I can't, because none of those details were ever presented, since the line is not asking me to think back, but rather trying to encourage me to go forward, so it's having the opposite effect of what it intends.

- 'Dai's Dive was one of the' There are people that would probably criticise this section for show don't tell. I'm not one of them, as I think chunks of exposition in moderation and at the right times can help develop the characters, since if done right, they are essentially insights into how the character views the world.
That said, I do think this section would have been better to come after the character has walked into the shop and looked around. Possibly after No CCTV. So first we get the showing of the setting, then we get the exposition where Will gives his opinion on such establishments and their role in society, and it segues on to noticing the man behind the counter and the scene begins.

So in conclusion, I enjoyed this story for what it is, which is a fun escapism. The ending does come about a bit abruptly, but that's normally a sign of a writer writing off the cuff. So going back to your initial concerns, the structure is fine: you have the beginning (the zombie encounter), the middle (the autopsy) and the end, (the kebab shop). All you're lacking is the punch on what the story is trying to say, and to resolve that all you need to do is take a little extra time to think more on your setting, protag, and fantasy elements, and work out what they say about day to day life when you combine them all together.
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Ciara: A Faun's Tale - 90,000; The K.B.G. - 100,000; Maria and the Jarls of Jotun - 90,000; The Shame that lurks in Stableton - current project; Ezra'il - Plotted. TBC July 2018