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Author Topic: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread  (Read 1448 times)

Offline J.R. Darewood

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[JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« on: March 02, 2019, 06:17:04 PM »
I hope you all don't mind me starting this. Here's the critique stuff to kick off if anyone wants critiques:

Here is the possibility to get critiques for your stories entered in the writing contest - and to give critique as well.

So what we're doing is this:
1. Everybody who wants critique for his story posts in here.*
2. Everybody who wants to do a critique for a specific story (whose writer has asked for critique) posts it in here.

If this thread is overrun fast, I'm splitting it so that every story has its own one to avoid confusion.

* I know that critique isn't always easy to handle, especially if you are not used to it. So if you feel more comfortable receiving it in private, people can send it via pm. They can post here that they sent a critique via pm so that others know about it.

At the moment I don't think it necessary that we create a system balancing given/received critiques. However, if it turns out to be unfair and some people are giving critiques without receiving some (or the other way round) we have to add one.

Basic rules for critiquing:

This is just a small guideline for those that haven't done critiques before, stolen from this forum's writing section.
   
       
Quote
Critiquing Other’s Work

            1. Please read what the poster is asking for before you post your critique.
            2. Critique the writing, not the writer.  Never, “You are...” or “You should...” but rather, “The writing is...” or “The story should...”
            3. We all have different levels of writing ability here, keep that in mind when critiquing.
            4. Find what is right in each piece as well as what is wrong.
            5. Remember that subject matter is personal. You don't have to like a story to give it a fair critique.
            6. Remember what your biases are and critique around them.
            7. Remember that real people wrote this stuff, and real people have real feelings. Things you may not say while critiquing: “That’s awful.” “That’s stupid.” “You couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag.”

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2019, 06:32:44 PM »

I'd love any feedback you guys have on how I could make this story better!

I was playing with repetition in this piece as sort of an intellectual exercise (red, the daughter, the automated voice), so it was totally different than my usual process, and it left me feeling like the emotional arc and pacing of my piece was just really weirdly structured.

So in the first version of my piece this month, I was really heavy handed with italics thoughts.  Like every paragraph was  Rick thinking There's not enough air we're gonna die but I can't tell you!.  Then i read it and I was like-- this totally kills the power of the ending-- and I took almost all of them out, leaving just "I did the math" near the point where he offs himself.

The downside of that was that I think it left this weird sort of hole in the tension. The beginning is all action but once the fire's out the revelation of his daughter is interesting... but not really the same.  I felt like things kind of stalled when he first finds his daughter.  The emotions didn't really build on each other, it was sort of like "feel this! pause. feel this! the end."  So I was thinking maybe I needed some unresolved danger to carry through that in-between part before I reveal that he's gonna die.  Like maybe even something as simple as the ship shuddering to give a sense of insecurity... idk. Maybe that would give the story a more continuous feeling. I kept wanting to change it after the time was up! (and @xiagan would I even be allowed to make changes on the version going on the main site at this point?) But anyway, that's a thought I wouldn't mind getting feedback on.

It's sort of an issue I'm having with my WIP too-- when you start out with a high tension moment, how do you get to those low-tension moments where you get to know the character better without messing up your emotional arc and pacing?  I'm struggling with that. (and related to that-- how do you get the reader to get to know and care about your character when you start in high tension?-- it makes the character more of a reaction than a person).

Anyway this is way more than I meant to write but those are some thoughts I was having.

Offline JMack

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2019, 07:12:25 PM »
And I’m also interested in feedback. Two folks have already said my ending is confused, maybe even a bit WTF?!

What happened there is that I was pantsing something fierce and found myself near the end without a single iota of fantasy in the story. Plus, “he dies, the end” seemed, oh, boring?

Maybe if I’d not been two days late completing the first (and as it turned out, only) draft, I might have found my way to a different ending.
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Offline xiagan

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2019, 08:22:31 PM »
(and @xiagan would I even be allowed to make changes on the version going on the main site at this point?)
Well, your story won the way it is. So minor edits are okay, but nothing big. Polishing the atmosphere a bit to make an emotion that is already there stronger would be a minor edit for me.
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline D_Bates

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2019, 03:08:53 AM »
I wouldn't mind a critique of Harbinger since I'm hoping to make it a part of a new novel I'm plotting. I had a huge struggle with the PoV since the creature isn't a person so to speak, but beyond that I'd be curious on thoughts about the setting and magic.

It's late right now, but I'll drop something on Bradley's and JMack's tomorrow.
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Offline D_Bates

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2019, 01:30:58 PM »
For Bradley,

I read your concerns, and for me personally, I didn't really notice any of those emotional shifts or lack of tension, so you certainly did enough there. The not overdoing the italic thoughts was also probably a good thing, because I can find that sort of thing distracting, but again, that's just me.

For the structuring, I thought you did an excellent job. Were this my work, I'd have been tempted to put the flashback of him saying goodbye to his daughter at the start, but your decision to open with the pod escape was the far better call where it gripped me in by the throat from the offset, and you delivered enough exposition and character details in small but regular chunks that I understood what was going on throughout.

I'll give some love to that flashback by the way. These are always headaches because people either love them or despise them, but here it worked perfectly, was necessary to set up the full emotional impact of the ending, and was cleverly inserted in a way that was natural and didn't break up the story.

Characterwise, you have a very similar love of the exaggerated, emotive, exclamation mark on the head, bombastic Monty Python-esque characterisation that JMack also uses. From every story I read I can very easily picture your characters on a theatre stage, larger than life with their dramatic flailing and facial reactions for the benefit of an audience to be able to read and understand from a distance. Where you and JMack differ is that he often crafts his tales around a scenario that's equally insane--like a guy cementing himself inside a room to protect his claim on the air--whereby the exaggerations compliment one another in a story designed to make people laugh. You, however, seem to veer more toward serious events with emotional impact, something far more difficult to pull off because there's the risk of the contrasting emotional undertones clashing to the point that the character exaggerations can feel like they're diminishing the serious aspect, while the serious elements suck out the entertainment of the exaggerations and shine a light on the characters appearing silly and stupid. Thinking back on what I read of your novel--and blimey, that was years ago now!--I think that issue may have affected me back then but I didn't have enough experience to see it at the time. However, that certainly wasn't an issue in this story, where the manic back and forth reactions from panic and relief perfectly complemented the chaos of the event.

In fact, I'll go a step further and say that they heightened that strong emotional impact that so many had at the end, because the humorous runarounds created a light-hearted expectation that the ending would be a crazy escape or a heroic but somewhat funny death, essentially elevating my emotional state upward. So when that twist of the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter landed I had all the farther to crash back down, and the further we fall the harder the impact. That's me brainstorming to myself btw :p, so by all means dismiss it as arse-talk. But if that makes any sense to you, you might consider experimenting with it down the line considering your characterisation style coupled with tastes for more serious themes like nuclear destruction and parental sacrifice.

Regarding edits before the official forum posting, one thing that did throw me was Hootch. (I loved the name btw! I don't know why Hootch makes me laugh so hard but I suspect Scrubs has something to do with it). Anyway! Near the start Rick eyed Hootch's body in a pod, and then after the memory sequence Hootch's pod was empty and Rick found him burning in a corridor. It's possible that Hootch's body wasn't in the pod to begin with and Rick just glanced over it, but the sentence so strongly suggested Hootch was there that I got confused to how he disappeared, and that sparked me imagining a scene locked on Rick standing there daydreaming while his formerly dead colleague gets up and burns to death fighting a fire in the background. Which, in all fairness, worked for how humorous I found Hootch to be!

Other than that though, this was a solid story that made it into my final four. As to why I eventually cut it, I'll be honest, I don't really know how to dish out three votes, so I often veer into weighing up silly things. The reason I cut this was that I couldn't suspend my disbelief on the premise: that his daughter could sneak on board a spaceship going on some deep space exploratory mission. The pods hinted at cryogenic stasis--though now I wonder if that was actually the case?--and in my limited sci-fi mind the only reason to cryo is if the journey is so long that you'll either die of old age or run out of resources before reaching the destination, so I crafted this alternative scenario without the accident whereby he woke up only to discover the decayed body of his daughter and have a full on Darth Vader 'No!' moment. But that's not something you can or should fix, and the only reason I picked up on that was because of prickish micro-analysing for the sake of voting. Had I just read the story, I'd have simply appreciated it for an exciting space tragedy with an emotional thought-provoking punch.

But I'll end by saying I'm genuinely chuffed to read the strong reactions many had to this story. There were only 7 voters on the 21st--including me--and yet it pulled in 9 by the end which must be nearly a full house. As somebody who also tries to focus their writing on the serious side, who likes to explore deep relationships--whether friends, family, or a love interest beyond a victory fuck--and who's had years of criticism for 'boring soap drama' and weak characterisation because somebody dares to act playful with somebody they genuinely care for, to see such an outpouring of praise for a father's sacrifice story is really inspiring. It gives a glimmer of hope that you can succeed without the need of cheap emotional shock through ultra-violence, sexual gratification, torture, and abuse. So from one ailing esteem self-doubter to another, I sincerely thank you for that.
« Last Edit: March 04, 2019, 05:46:30 PM by D_Bates »
David Bates
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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2019, 12:57:05 AM »
From every story I read I can very easily picture your characters on a theatre stage, larger than life with their dramatic flailing and facial reactions for the benefit of an audience to be able to read and understand from a distance. Where you and JMack differ is that he often crafts his tales around a scenario that's equally insane--like a guy cementing himself inside a room to protect his claim on the air--whereby the exaggerations compliment one another in a story designed to make people laugh. You, however, seem to veer more toward serious events with emotional impact, something far more difficult to pull off because there's the risk of the contrasting emotional undertones clashing to the point that the character exaggerations can feel like they're diminishing the serious aspect, while the serious elements suck out the entertainment of the exaggerations and shine a light on the characters appearing silly and stupid. Thinking back on what I read of your novel--and blimey, that was years ago now!--I think that issue may have affected me back then but I didn't have enough experience to see it at the time.

Oh wow, that's something to reflect on for my WIP.  When Harper Collins reviewed it ages ago, they also said the comedy didn't quite land in places, and this really clarifies why.  Thanks, I'll have to wrestle with that some more!

Thanks guys, I'm trying to get this application out that's due tomorrow, and then my dad is visiting from outta town but I'll get back at you with some reviews as soon as I can!

Offline D_Bates

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2019, 03:04:05 AM »
For JMack,

I don't think there's really too much to say here. The writing was as solid as yours always is, and the I have no idea how you come up with your ideas, but being original is not something you've ever struggled with.

The main issues I had resolved around structuring, which, in all fairness, considering this was a single draft hashed up in a weekend was still way better than it had any right to be.

The main thing that threw me was the flashback, and I wrote a bit in Bradley's review about those. While his worked, your one didn't,and I think the main reason for it is that you fell into the trap of crafting a scene rather than a moment. The thing with flashbacks is they happen for a character in real time, so when you consider yourself reflecting on moments of your life, do you remember all the emotions or reactions in a whole day, hour, 15 mins, even 5 mins? Or do you just remember that brief 10-30 seconds related to what triggered the reflection? If we compare your flashback to Mr Darewoods, his is pretty much just that moment of when Rick said goodbye to his daughter. That's the important detail for the ending to come. In your case you had this whole closing scene in the court with multiple reactions and emotions from multiple characters. Thus it was far more solidly constructed in my mind, and when I was still trying to get to grips with the scenario in the house, getting pulled into the court and then spat back into the room threw me. That's not to say the scene wasn't good! The dialogue and character emotes were, in fact, excellent. But for what this story needed I'd say you'd have been better to have pulled the important details from the court out by Maurice's enraged ramblings to himself while he's still in the room rather than teleport us into that event in a full blown flashback.

Outside that though, the only other issue I had was the ending. It wasn't even the continuation of the feud in hell, since, after suspending my disbelief for a guy cementing himself inside his own room for pride pretty much anything flies! My issue was that I didn't understand how Antoine got away with killing Maurice. Maybe it was too meta for me and the idea was that once Maurice signed away the room anything flew, since the judge's verdict was only to not kill him to resolve the dispute. But the judge's emphasis on life, even quoting the bible commandment 'Thou shalt not kill', left me going 'huh?' when he turned up the following day after Maurice was in fact murdered, and did nothing but tut like this was an unfortunate accident. I suppose that in a way the flashback is also to blame for this. But the thing I was lacking was some twist where Antoine got his comeuppance too.

But otherwise a great story that I found very entertaining to your usual standard. And if you take nothing away from this, take the fact that the sentences were word perfect. I don't think I recall a single mistake, and I'm usually pretty brutal at picking them up. So the quality of this first draft is in many ways better than my own work after 4-5 edits and beyond.
David Bates
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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

Offline D_Bates

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2019, 01:57:37 AM »
More for JMack, because for some reason I can't get things out of my head.

An alternative ending you could consider is, rather than Antoine killing Maurice after he signs the document, you could have Maurice commit suicide in some bizarre fashion in order to get back at Antoine, resulting in him being sent to jail by the judge. That way you continue the tit for tat game the brothers play through, and you have this balanced ending whereby their stubbornness causes both to lose out on the house, one dying while the other is sent to jail.

Anyway, brain melting. Two hours past bedtime. Going to lie down now. zzzz
David Bates
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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

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #9 on: March 10, 2019, 05:24:57 PM »
Alternative ending numero due:

After signing off the deed, you could have Maurice blow the entire house up, killing himself and Antoine. This could be from the gas Antoine pumps in being flammable, or maybe he has a gas fire or something. Then, rather than having that end scene of Maurice going to hell anticipating the moment he reunites with his brother, you could just have them both be in hell, first making up for the way they treated one another, and then starting a new fight over their claim to some island in the rivers of lava or something.

Okay, I'll stop now. This is driving me insane.
David Bates
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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

Offline ScarletBea

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2019, 05:35:44 PM »
 ;D
Loving the ideas...
At home in the Fantasy Faction forum!

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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #11 on: March 11, 2019, 09:01:38 AM »
@JMack --

I was a huge Poe fan growing up and your tale of gentlemanly disagreement turned murderous was very evocative of Casque of Amontillado, The Black Cat and of course the infmaous Tell-tale Heart, with a death in an enclosed spot in a mansion.  Unlike Poe you had no bricks, and you chose the victim, not the killer, as your POV character. Also, you had a lighter boyancy to the piece that Poe lacks.

Anyway:

In the opening, we immediately get a satisfying characterization of Maurice, between the dialogue and the description you've captured him perfectly in just 2 lines.

I love the sense of suspense wondering what Antione is up to (the hole between the eyes of the wallpaper angel was an excellent touch)

The backstory-backflash was well-placed.

When Maurice signed, you had me yelling at the screen for him not to!

The ending, of course, was disconcerting.  It felt out of left field.  In the spirit of D_bates, I'll just express a few ways to fix this that crossed my mind.

1. By far the easiest way to fix it, now that the contest is over, is to not make it a fantasy piece. Cut off the the last couple of paragraphs, and instead add a couple of witty lines to seal the piece with Maurice's death.

2. If you want to keep the haunting in, you need to set it up as a possiblity earlier in the piece.  Maybe the room is important because Maurice's line is said to be bound to it in life and in death. Can he feel his father watching over him there?  Maybe some object like a painting could seal the deal.  Then when Maurice dies, the after-death bit won't seem as out of whack.

3. If it were my piece, I'd put a POV shift after Maurice's death (in text with no break). I'd have Antoine come into the room to check on his handiwork, and notice something different about the painting. Maybe there's a new one of Maurice he never noticed? Maybe he feels like it's glowering at him. Then the door would get blown shut and he'd be locked in, and suffocate in the same gas as his brother. That would maintain a bit of mystery: was that afterlife stuff really true?  which I think is more unsettling than making it definitive.
« Last Edit: March 11, 2019, 09:04:51 AM by J.R. Darewood »

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #12 on: March 11, 2019, 09:49:15 AM »
@D_Bates

The strength of this story is in the description. You painted a vivid picture of an incredibly beautiful Olympian society, and an equally vivid picture of horrific, revolting decay.

Luminous threads, artificial clouds, sparkling falls, golden obelisks, "canvassed beneath an iridescent vault of rainbows" made me want to be there and see it live so badly!!!

Great word choice, great imagery, great similes, excellent rhythm, excellent use of language all around.

So yes, the setting, at least what I've seen of it, is excellent.  The beauty of the floating city and the technology (or magic?) that supports it is great, and makes for an excellent juxtaposition with the disgusting magic of your Harbinger, which is conveyed excellently as well. So in answer to your question: setting: +++ magic: +++

In terms of where it could use improvement, you mentioned POV.  If I were you, I'd make a series of choices in the following order: 1) emotion/tone 2) structure then finally 3) POV.

1. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to feel.  I'd start by posing that question to you (or perhaps you posing it to yourself): What did you want the reader to feel in this piece? And from there I would let that guide your revisions. You hint that they are wasteful. Did they have this coming? Was this a complete tragedy? None of these questions need to be answered, per se, but having at least one question asked could build a larger sense of investment.

2. Structrually, you begin with the swarm, and the entire piece is a process of decay. Despite the rather intense content, the flat structure of the piece leaves it feeling a bit more like a scene study or a slice of life. There's nothing wrong with that, but it feels more like admiring a Goya in a museum as opposed to actually being inside the painting and feeling the horror (hope? desperation? satisfaction?) of a full narrative. There's nothing wrong with a slice of life scene painting as a narrative choice, but for a longer piece you probably want to structure things differently.

If you wanted to convey a sense of dread, I'd probably make the beginning about the society itself and bring the creature in at the last half or even the last third. That would give the decay a bit more meaning and context, and the first two thirds could be about building anticipation for the decay. On the other hand maybe you want to stick with the monster, and you want the reader to question whether it will be successful or not. For that to work we need more information as well-- we'd need to seed that possiblity that it might not succeed. Motivations could also be either dropped all at once or teased, making them reveals that drive the story. They don't have to be human-- is there a logic to it's actions no matter how foreign?  Is there a reason why it's there? Even if you wanted to stay close to the monster from the beginning to the end, you could still establish Aerox more in the beginning, with the monster observing it but not acting or revealing itself yet (maybe observing from afar?).

3. Once you've got the feeling you're going for, the structure you want to use to convey that feeling, the final thing I'd reconsider would be POV.  You've gone with omni here-- which can work very well-- but you've wedded yourself to the monster. That can be great if you're going for lurid fascination with evil or even a "they had it coming" angle, but we need more revealed to get invested. If you want the reader to sympathize more with the civilization (Aerox?), you might need a central Aerox character either as your POV character, or someone you follow a bit more closely in omni.

Again, it's perfectly fine as it is, but these were just some thoughts on other choices you might make in converting it to a longer piece and obviously it's all just my opinion.

Offline D_Bates

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Re: [JAN 2019] AIR - Critique Thread
« Reply #13 on: March 28, 2019, 01:21:03 AM »
@J.R. Darewood

Sorry for the delay responding to this. I have to admit, I'm a bit of a coward when it comes to feedback, and while I ask for it freely I have this tendency to avoid it when given.

Finally got round to reading your thoughts and I'm really glad I did. I truly appreciate the kind words on the setting and magic at a time when I'm questioning my descriptions from feedback at a writing group.

PoV I seem to especially struggle with, though I don't quite get what I'm missing yet. But your points on that and the structuring were spot on the money, especially the comparison to a scene study or painting. The piece was initially written as a nightmare sequence, so it being omni and disconnected I think is kind of what I was going for, but seeing how that was received from an audience's PoV is a valuable insight that may make me reconsider where in the story I bring it in if at all.

So again, thank you for taking the time. It's very much appreciated.
David Bates
Works in progress:
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