September 30, 2020, 12:39:31 AM

Author Topic: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Critique Thread  (Read 810 times)

Offline ScarletBea

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[MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Critique Thread
« on: June 23, 2020, 10:31:42 AM »
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.”
« Last Edit: June 29, 2020, 07:55:00 AM by ScarletBea »
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Crtitique Thread
« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2020, 10:34:16 AM »
@CameronJohnston, are you very busy at the moment?

We thought that a plus on entering the contest would be to get a critique by a published author.
Would you be willing to do this for one of this month's stories?

If yes, not sure how we'd go about it: I assume you can choose, but if that puts you in the spotlight, maybe we can ask for volunteers to propose their story hehe
(if not, maybe in a later month?)
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Offline Skip

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Crtitique Thread
« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2020, 05:40:26 PM »
Would we re-post the story on the Critique Thread? Or just reference where it already is and express willingness?

Also, what's the time frame? I ask because I'll be hosting my 10-year-old grandson for two weeks, then spending another week with grandson and his parents, so my availability is sort of shot until mid-July.
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Crtitique Thread
« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2020, 05:46:08 PM »
Just mention here that you'd like a critique for your story, people then go to the submission thread to read it.

As for timelines, there's nothing. To be honest, you can go back a year and ask or offer a critique for the older stories, there's nothing preventing that.
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Offline JMack

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Crtitique Thread
« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2020, 05:33:40 PM »
As always, I’m up for feedback and to provide same.
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
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Offline Skip

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Crtitique Thread
« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2020, 08:15:55 PM »
Same here. Critiques cheerfully given and received.
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Offline Caith

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Crtitique Thread
« Reply #6 on: June 27, 2020, 12:38:30 PM »
As always, I’m up for feedback and to provide same.

Critique for 'Ship'

Hi JMack,

Not done this for a while, so please excuse any clumsy wording on my part.

I thought the story idea and the internal logic of the story was sound and it was neatly structured to bring the reader to the reveal ending. The countdown through the story works well, in moving things along. I was really taken with the dialogue between the captain and the ship and particularly, the ship's internal dialogue. I though this was the meat of the story. The voice of the ship stood out, it had an 'uncanny valley' feel, with a human and inhuman element that lent it authenticity.

The inter-play between the captain and the ship was a fine vehicle for raising the tension at the beginning and middle of the story. There's no let up in the escalating disaster and the story shows us, with deft turns of wording, what is going on. The twist with the easter eggs is smoothly introduced but I found the use of the term easter egg a bit jarring in this setting. Just the easter bit, not the egg! I thought easter egg just has the wrong connotations for this kind of story.

I wasn't sure that the section with the cyborg canine is needed. I could see what it was trying to do but  the ship's dilemma is already firmly established, so I thought the introduction of this thread just slowed things down at this stage. And the story does race, as it gets towards its end. You can feel it wanting to get there, right up until the para beginning "I have thirteen minutes untill the missiles arrive." I thought the text following this, as the ship tried to find the last part of the code, was draw out far too much and could do with pruning to keep up that forward momentum.

Same with the text after "The egg cracks", I thought this could do with honing down to just a few, tight lines. The change in the ship's voice as well, at "...Screw you, missiles". For me, that was too much of a step change in tone, so it threw the closing lines in an awkward direction.  "I am coming for you, you bastard." That does work and is a killer line to take the story to its closing line.

Thanks for giving us this tale, I've enjoyed reading and re-reading it.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2020, 09:17:10 AM by Caith »

Offline CameronJohnston

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Crtitique Thread
« Reply #7 on: June 28, 2020, 01:31:44 PM »
@CameronJohnston, are you very busy at the moment?

We thought that a plus on entering the contest would be to get a critique by a published author.
Would you be willing to do this for one of this month's stories?

If yes, not sure how we'd go about it: I assume you can choose, but if that puts you in the spotlight, maybe we can ask for volunteers to propose their story hehe
(if not, maybe in a later month?)

Between healthcare work and an unspecified project I can't talk about yet, pretty busy. I might get some time next week so I'll do my best so make that happen! I'll pop in and roll a die to see which one I look at.

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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Crtitique Thread
« Reply #8 on: June 28, 2020, 02:37:55 PM »
Oh thanks so much, we understand if you can't do it for now.
You're one of the "NHS heroes" :D and good luck with new project!

Participants, see above!
So far only Jmack and Skip explicitly requested a critique, what about the others? Anyone would like a (potential) review from Cam?
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Offline SugoiMe

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Crtitique Thread
« Reply #9 on: June 28, 2020, 10:33:52 PM »
I'll throw mine in there. I was going for a bit of a Spiderwick chronicles vibe with tiny dragons instead of fairies and gender non-conformity. The whole gender part and using they/them pronouns was REALLY hard to write.
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Offline Caith

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Critique Thread
« Reply #10 on: June 29, 2020, 03:37:04 PM »
Same here. Critiques cheerfully given and received.


Hi Skip, critique for your story. Apologies if there are any spelling mistakes or oddities in my text, I managed to delete my entire post and had to re-write from memory in a hurry.

The opening para is intriguing and immediately drew me into the story. The idea of a glass dragon is excellent and its well described in this opening.

The opening para's give a clear view that all is not well in this world and the lack of trust between our two main characters. I would have liked to see the conflict between these two brought to the fore here, to get the story going more quickly and to escalate the drama. As it stands, I think the story starts to slow down too much at this point.

Couple of minor  suggestions on wording. The sentence beginning “She stood erect near...” I think needs shortened and the phrase “I have in my clenched hand” just doesn't sound right.

The dialogue between the two main characters comes across as strong, with each having a distinct voice. However, these are two powerful people who hold conflicting views and I would have liked to more emotive dialogue to ramp up the conflict and the drama between them. As it stands, it felt too low key for me, over such an important issue. This bit of the story is the place to really let the two main characters have at each other, as they struggle to hold back their powers. The way the dragon winds into this section worked really well for me but Maddig's farewell didn't sound authentic.

The second half of the story, concerning Ceelken's journey and battle with the dragon adds a good action sequence but I though it should be shorter and focus on the battle, rather than the details of the journey, as this slows down what should be the race to the end. The description of the dragon in flight is really well described here.

The ending is suitably ominous and rounds of the tale nicely. Well worth a second read. I picked up a lot of nuance that I missed the first time round and once again, thanks for giving us this story.


Offline CameronJohnston

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Critique Thread
« Reply #11 on: July 02, 2020, 03:53:10 PM »
I have rolled the dice and they came up SugoiMe, with The Stolen Ring

I enjoyed this story, and huge kudos for attempting to spread your winds and write the gender pronouns because I know that can be difficult to wrap your head around as a writer - not least overcoming the singular/plural they in reader's heads. They is perfectly fine and always has been correct to refer to a singular person. If you seen a hooded figure where you couldn't tell, you would be totally fine saying "They opened the window and leapt out" so I've never seen what the fuss is about really, but it can be a useful piece of kit in your writer's toolbox to introduce the concept like that. Something like Devon drawing and somebody stomping over. "They stood over Devon, their shadow blocking out the sunlight. Devon looked up to see Jessie..."

The first thing I wanted to say is that this reads much like one of my old short stories where I wanted to write 'An Idea' and wrapped a story around it. The problem with that is that the idea or the message can often take over the story and characters and it feels like hammering the author's message home in the reader's head. There's an imbalance between story and message here, and there are two ways to go: make it longer and give it more story, or cut down some of the discussion on correct pronouns / make it flow a bit more naturalistic (like when talking to the dragon). For example, you have a bit of backstory about Devon learning in school, and then Jessie saying it's stupid. For me, dramatising and living through those strong and emotional moments would be ace, instead of being told it in an info-dumping way (that's partly where the story should get longer...). 

There's a fair bit of condensing you could do to cut down the word count while still keeping the message:
“Well, you’d better find it, brother,” said Jessie. “Or else.”
“I’m not your brother. I’m your sibling.”
“You’re a boy.”
“No I’m not!”
“Yes, you are. You’re a boy with boy parts and I’m a girl with girl parts. That’s the way things are, Devon. Wearing pink and nail polish won’t change the fact that you’re a boy.”
“I’m not a boy!” they yelled.
They kicked her in the shin. Jessie screamed and yelled for dad.
Devon ran to their bedroom and slammed the door. They sat with their back facing the door, tears pouring down their cheeks. They wiped dripping snot from their nose with the long sleeve of their hoodie.
“You don’t understand,” they sobbed. “You don’t understand anything. I’m not a boy.”

becomes

“Well, you’d better find it, brother,” said Jessie. “Or else.”
“I’m not your brother!”
“Yes, you are. You’re a boy with boy parts and I’m a girl with girl parts. Wearing pink and nail polish won’t change that fact.”
They kicked her in the shin. Jessie screamed and yelled for dad.
Devon ran to their bedroom and slammed the door. They sat with their back facing the door, tears pouring down their cheeks. They wiped dripping snot from their nose with the long sleeve of their hoodie.
“You don’t understand,” they sobbed. “You don’t understand anything.”

You want to try and avoid a character going like this: “I’m Devon and I’m non binary,” they told themself between sobs. “I use they/them pronouns.” as it seems really artificial, like hammering in that author's message yet again. I reckon most of that should come out in discussion with the dragon rather than stated by Devon.


Small things:
"legs spread in that upside down “v” shape" - well...yes, it always is. It seems rather redundant to say it and I would just cut that. Especially when you have a fun line about a face that could scare a kitten right after. (Also, in my experience kittens are really easy to scare so it's not saying much).

If you want the dragon trapped by a closed window, you could start the story off with Devon running in, grumbling about being cold and somebody having opened the window and then have them close it, and then the dragon's appearance calls back to that.


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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Critique Thread
« Reply #12 on: July 02, 2020, 03:59:08 PM »
Thanks, Cameron!

@SugoiMe , look a critique by a published author! :D
(calling you because I know you don't check this every day)
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Offline Skip

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Critique Thread
« Reply #13 on: July 02, 2020, 05:13:23 PM »
Thank you Caith for the comments, it was helpful feedback.
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Offline Caith

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Re: [MAY 2020] Unconventional Dragons - Critique Thread
« Reply #14 on: July 03, 2020, 02:45:59 PM »
I'll throw mine in there. I was going for a bit of a Spiderwick chronicles vibe with tiny dragons instead of fairies and gender non-conformity. The whole gender part and using they/them pronouns was REALLY hard to write.

Hi SugoiMe, critique for The Stolen Ring below. I haven't read Cameron's comments on your story, so I might repeat some of what he has said.

Firstly, I thought this was a bold idea for a fantasy story and bold use of the they/their pronoun. I like fantasy that gets away from blood, swords and a middle age setting and The Stolen Ring couldn't be further from that. It has the feel of both a folk tale and a childs story, which fits neatly with the story idea but with a thoroughly modern twist, which I thought was really creative. The they/their pronoun use, while bold, doesn't work that well to my mind. I kept reading it in its normal usage (through years of ingrained habit), which meant it didn't make sense and caused the flow of the story to stutter and slow down.

There were also, I think, some instances of sudden point of view change (or at least, it read like it, but it may have been the pronoun use)  from limited third person to omniscient author, that also interuptted the flow of the story. Para 5 is an example of this.

The start of the story is well handled. We're quickly into the central conflict of the tale, the dialogue is crisp and clear and shows us what we need to know. Except that 5th para again (!) that switches to telling us.

The middle part that links the opening scene to the appearance of the dragon, I thought was too heavy on exposition and might benefit from being trimmed down?

I liked the way the dragon was introduced, a nice action sequence that picks the speed of the story up again, just when it needs it. Minor point but the sentence "It wasn't a bat at all" feels out of context, as there is no prior mention of a bat.

The dialogue between Devon and the dragon is a delight, utterly charming and I loved the back and forward nature of it and for me, it carried the story to conclusion satisfactorily, but only just. Perhaps more conflict in Devon's discussion with the dragon, perhaps an exploration of the difficulties either or both of them had faced, would have made the story stronger. The ending works well, a happy ending in a fantasy story. A rare beast indeed!   

Thanks for giving us the tale of Devon and the dragon.