January 17, 2019, 05:06:40 AM

Author Topic: Small magics - Critique Thread  (Read 859 times)

Offline Jake Baelish

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Re: Small magics - Critique Thread
« Reply #15 on: December 19, 2018, 03:02:57 AM »
@Jake Baelish, “Better with Bread” is a lovely piece and deserved the votes we gave it. But a little polishing might bring out even more luster.

Quote
Granny had been baking bread for decades even before Pom came along. She’d been doing it another decade since. She’d grown increasingly fragile and withered in that time. It pained Pom to see her so.

“It really did work wonders,” said the spritely man across the counter in awe. “I mean, I’d heard stories of the famed Granny Curie and ‘Better With Bread’ Bakery, but hadn’t thought it possible until today.”

“You enjoyed the bread then?” Granny said.

“Oh, we all did! The whole family. It was only when I woke up this morning with no aches that I realised my back pain was finally gone! Astonishing!”

“We are glad to have been of service.” Granny winced, a hand pressed to her spine. She quickly recovered her smile. “You won’t be needing another. Though can we interest you in any of our more ordinary wares?” She gestured around the earthy space of the bakery and its rows of wooden shelves adorned with loaves of wheat, rye and even barley bread.

“Indeed,” the spritely man said. “I think I shall, anything to help.”

Pom, from his seat in the corner, grinned when the man’s gaze came to him, then went back to kneading his own dough in silence.

> Why “anything to help”? We’ve seen nothing to indicate Granny needs help. “Indeed, everything looks delicious!” might make more logical sense? But if you want to get across the relative poverty of the shop, then you need something else before this or attached to this.
> I’m big into rhythm and emphasis. In JMack’s peabrain, “The spritely man said” should be “Said the spritely man.” This puts “man” at the end not “said”, which emphasizes the man. It’s also iambic rhythm (Shakespeare’s rhythm):Said the sprite-ly man instead of “the sprite-ly man said” which puts all the emphasis of placement and sound on the uninteresting word “said”.
See also one that works now: the bread then, Grann-y said, which also gives a pleasing internal near-rhyme with “then” and “said”.
> “Grinned when” is an interesting point. I’m over-analyzing (as usual). I infer from “when” that Pom was definitely not smiling before, maybe he was even frowning. If this is your intention (which I like), maybe “Pom pasted on a smile”, though that’s pretty aggressive for this part of the story.

Quote
Pom could make bread rise the old fashioned way, with yeast, and the taste would be all the same for it. When Granny Curie made it rise though, it performed miracles even ordinary bread couldn’t achieve. Something about the kneading, Pom knew that much. And seeing her now, hobbling back to the kitchen, he also knew it took something from her, each and every time.

Pom, slumped over the counter with the midday heat, juddered upright on hearing a clattering of footsteps.

Three men entered. Flanking the leader were two overly armoured guards, such as would bring a fright to any humble baker boy. Between them stood an elderly, imposing gent with a big bushy beard and pointed red hat. His girth suggested a wealth befitting one sent from the upper echelons of palace life.

“Granny,” Pom yelled without greeting. “There’s people from the castle here.”

The boy retreated to his corner and gingerly kneaded his dough.

The elderly man winked at him. “No need to be coy, lad. No one’s in any trouble. We just have urgent business with your Granny, is all.”

> I love repetition with progression.  “He knew that much “ to “knew it took.” Simple and maybe obvious as you’re writing it, but so effective and pleasing to read.
> “Pom could” make bread normally implies he could do it in another way, too. Not what you mean. Simplify to “Pom made bread rise” the normal way. You still set up the comparison to Granny.
> “On hearing a clattering” might be streamlined to “at a clattering.” Since clattering is a word about sound that is jarring, the hearing part will be understood by the reader.
> ‘Between them stood” is unnecessary repetition and confusing. You already said the leader was flanked by two guards. So here, simply say “The leader was”. Or restructure things for the interest you’re after. “The elderly gent standing between them was graced with a huge bushy beard and preened under a wide red hat.” Or some such. Or, “Flanking an imposing, elderly gent, were two overly...etc. The old fellow was graced with... etc.”
> “sent from the upper echelons of place life”. I think you can be used to the upper echelons of palace life, or belong to them. I don’t think you can be sent by life. So, “sent by the upper echelons of the palace.”
> “elderly man”. It’s fine. Remember, we’re polishing, so I’m going all in for nits and opportunities. Look for something more tied to his persona. The beard, the hat, and the whiff of the palace are far more interesting as tags than “elderly.” Choose a good tag and stay with it throughout.
> “Gingerly” is an awkward word. I don’t think it communicates the emotion you’re trying to convey. “Anxiously?” Or better yet, drop the adverb and go for an emotional action. “Retreated to,his corner and pounded at his dough.” That may not be exactly right either because it was to fit “coy” in the next sentence. Anyway, I’d look formso,Ethan get better than “gingerly.” Unless he’s making gingerbread.  ;D

I’m stopping here for the moment. Is this useful? If so, i’ll Add more soon.

P.s. All this above is line edits. Here’s something more structural to consider. Again, you’re already doing it. Might you make it even stronger... This is, that there is a comparison and opposition between Granny and the wizard. Can you enhance the contrast through visual parallels and differences in their appearance? Can you show them equal in some way? He’s pretty accommodating and jovial. Do you want any negatives in him that enhance Granny? Like I said, the comparison is already there and works well. I’m looking for one or two small opportunities to strengthen it without being too obvious. Just a thought.

Thanks for that JMack! Much more than I'd ever have expected!

That's all great advice. The stuff on iambic rhythm is interesting and honestly not something I'd ever given thought to (though certainly will now it's been brought to me attention); I have in the past noted how certain word order gave a sense of rhythm but the technicalities are new, so thanks for that.

It was my intention to imply Pom wasn't smiling before, so glad that was noticed.

Appreciate the points of repetition and redundancy. They are things I tend to notice in other people's work but often fall through the net of repeated readings of my own as my eyes whiz by the same sentences for the 5th, 6th, 7th etc. times...

Thanks for the note on the echelons of palace life. Small, but certainly something I'd like to get right in future!

I agree with most of the rest. The only thing I'd probably keep is the, "anything to help", which isn't necessarily meant to imply he thinks Granny is struggling (as Pom mentions later that they are doing fine); more so it is just a figure of speech. But actually, even in typing this, your "everything looks delicious" is a great alternative that would also enhance the description of the shop as a really lovely, wholesome place  ;D

Given a higher word count, there is definitely more I'd like to do to play on the way Reza and Granny communicate, so totally with you on that.

And absolutely yes this is all extremely helpful, probably the most helpful feedback I've ever gotten, honestly. I'd of course appreciate more, but only if you have time since I can't imagine that was quick to go through.

And a final thanks for the added bonus of this probably helping with my own way of analysing and giving feedback in future too  :)
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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Small magics - Critique Thread
« Reply #16 on: December 19, 2018, 03:13:01 AM »
@Jake Baelish here's my pretty useless critique of "Better with Bread"

I loved it.   ;D ;D ;D

Offline Jenny HJ

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Re: Small magics - Critique Thread
« Reply #17 on: December 19, 2018, 08:20:16 AM »
I am happy to take criticism of the HMRC.  I am already aware of a LOT of faults in it e.g no real hook for a short story and I feel it lost it’s shine and humanity by over editing for grammar etc. I deliberately followed the current suggested ‘rules’ on adverbs as well, Which I don’t usually. Thinking back to thenthread in prologues and adverbs a few weeks ago :-)  So it was a bit experimental.

Please don’t feel it needs line edit critique! That would take all day!!
 

Offline Jenny HJ

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Re: Small magics - Critique Thread
« Reply #18 on: December 19, 2018, 09:06:16 AM »
I haven’t given critique before, so I hope I am doing this alright!

@Slaykomimi
I agree with the others, this was much easier and a smoother read than previous months.  The arc was well thought out and I liked the idea of the small magic that it enclosed. I find it amazing that you write so well in another language.

The area that is still making it slightly harder to read and therefore affecting the flow for me, is the switching between past and present tense. I don’t want to pick many examples, but to help you develop this have you thought about looking at an editing package- ( Don’t rely heavily on it! As they are not well designed for fiction. But it may help you see where these things are happening, so you can learn from it.) prowriting aid does a free check of up to 500 words at a time, so it may help you see these tense switches for yourself, in comfort.  I hope it is okay to suggest it. It certainly helped me as I often use Welsh grammar and am a scientist- so struggle with making my writing active instead of passive!

@Jake Baelish
Sorry... I loved it. No help I know!!


@JMack
I really enjoyed the tone of the piece, the magical setting and the idea.
I am not good at the copy and pasting bit, so please excuse my lack of forum familiarity.

 There were only two things about the piece that didn’t quite sit- for me and this is my opinion only. The wall betweeen Aulie and his wife, I would have liked that more clear, why was it there? Was it the lack of a child?
The other part was that the relief at having found that he wasn’t responsible for his fathers death could have been more expanded on. I realise word count limits this, but it was slightly glossed over at the end and so despite the really sweet ending of his brothers wish, it felt unresolved.  That said I did really enjoy this story!!

@ryanmcgowan
I liked the idea and there were really well done moments; the boy’s protective aura and the reactions of the wilding to the magic in particular.  I felt the magic was too big for the prompt.  It was like a scene from a big epic story, that made me want to find out more. For me the taking of the pain and the power of the boy together was too big for a small magic.

The one suggestion I have;
The moment where the Wildling took the pain and the breath returned to normal read slightly odd to me, I might have swapped breath for breathing. (Although I think that is probably a matter of personal choice rather than an improvement).






Offline Nora

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Re: Small magics - Critique Thread
« Reply #19 on: December 21, 2018, 11:59:25 AM »
OK.

Christmas is a fucking nightmare atm. My shop goes from doing a normally busy day of 20k sales to a busy day of 80k sales, so I've been an automated puppet all month, and a soulless zombie each evening, making me keep away from reviews. Today I am off and I am dealing with all the stuff I should not have delayed.

So.

Here's for you @Jake Baelish :

You're gonna hate me, because I really enjoyed your story. I loved the idea, though behind a beer I'd argue that your magic isn't a small one. It was well written too, better than most. The only reason I ended up withdrawing my vote was that you came shoulder to shoulder with other stories, less masterfull but that had in my eyes a more agreeable story.
Hear me out : I was kinda flabbergasted by the choice of the young man. I thought it was horrible, in the same sense that in the theatre, I found that Rose saving Fynn from sacrificing himself was horrible. Then upon reflection, I saw that his sacrifice was pointless, and so him being saved was good, thought I still didn't appreciate the way it came about.
I still kind of feel the same way with your story. The gran REALLY wants to save people. The boy is being incredibly selfish by wilfully killing a stranger his Gran wishes to save.

But then, I'm Nora, right? The one who wrote a pseudo-rape-referential red riding hood story where the wolf is little's red's dad turning into a monster and eating people, as my 2nd submission to the contest! I'm the one who wrote about dog eating fairies, and I'm in Jmack's quote too...
So why would I disagree of your ending?

I feel like the problem in my eyes comes from the love they just exude to each other in the end. A more satisfactory ending following the same idea, in my eyes, would have been a focused pov on the man baking a second bread, and then standing there in front of the adviser, who looks grateful and hopeful, and making the choice, in this man's face, to hand him the wrong loaf. You could even make it entirely unclear which he gave out. "I gave him the bread" kind of sentence.
Then you'd cut to him looking down on his Gran, admiring her strength and her dedication, feeding her bits of bread throughout the night, and him smiling, as she slowly regains her strength. Ending on something chilling ("I simply can't let her go like that" - and I know she'll despise me when she wakes up and realises what I've done) or sad (speaking to sleeping grandma, as her colours return, "I know I've done the wrong thing, I know I've chosen selfishly, I wonder if you'll forgive me?" - bells toll, and grandma wakes at the sound of them, looking back up in his face -end).
I think an open ending, as to whether the gran would forgive him or damn him for abusing her magic and her confidence, would have been better. The fact that she seems to instantly forgive him and smile in the wake of a little girl's death left me feeling like the bleakness of it was not intentional.

Though I could be entirely wrong about it, and you may have wanted to go really bleak, it came across like you wanted to make this a close and lovely story of love and kinship.

So my issue with you is entirely with the tone or your ending, and nothing else. It's not even a bad story, it just left me surprised and thinking how to better it, and what did you mean exactly, etc. So that was a drawback that pulled you to second vote, and then enough good story emerged that I had too many second votes and decided to give none.
 :-\

The bright side is, this was still a winning material story, and obviously others thought so too, so here we are. Votes reflect personal taste, so you're bound to have the odd person like me not feeling it. Hope it doesn't make it sound too harsh though.

@JMack :

I'm kind of ashamed to say I felt the same about your story. Well written as usual, but it was a plot issue that held me back. In you case, the one that held me back and made the story feel flatter, was my lack of understanding of what the magics were, or looked like.
I was first confused by the kids crying and rushing their mom. They seem seriously clueless and very young, since they won't seat still and it never occurred to them that everyone has a Da, including their mom. So why would they cry? I would only picture them being puzzled.
We don't see them receiving their magic, and the following time jump of their mother dying as very unclear, leaving me only more confused.
The fact that the magics could be buried was interesting, but another confusing element. Since I had no way of knowing what the magics were, looked like, or how they worked (like, maybe they're highly personal? It never occurred to me they could be stolen, but I might have guessed so if I'd known they were physical objects), the reveal of the brother stealing them and returning it felt a bit gimmicky. The whole time I thought, 'well, no matter how the dad died, it brought some seriously happy consequences and he was a prick'. Aullie doesn't seem to be suffering from that much remorse. You do mention a weight lifting off of him, but if his remorse is what made him work his ass until the farm looks fantastic and he can give comfort to his wife despite the lack of children they crave, then imo 100% worth it...

Anyway, I felt like the whole story was full of great ideas, used to little emotional impact. Some suggestions might be :

- Let us know the magics are physical things that can be handled and stolen.
- Make the mom's choices starker. As it is she's speaking in riddles and doesn't make her use of her magic sound like something bad or silly, but like a weird mystery, like she's embarrassed to come clean. Making her a once-dumb-girl who judged a man on his looks and not his character and ended up stranded with a violent husband would be more potent.

- What if Aullie knew his brother stole his magic bead? But thought it had been used anyway? by him or by his brother? When he returns, he'd have more than simple estrangement to be prickly about, and it would come as a big surprise if Padden had actually saved his magic, and returned it, or never used his after that, and is offering to wish a thing for his brother as a reparation.

- If I was rewriting this, the way you did mine, I'd make Padden unbury both beads, and confront his brother. They fight, the father comes around and menaces them. Extremely weary and disheartened Aullie wishes really hard his dad would just fucking die. One bead in one of Padden's hands explodes and dad dies almost on the spot. Both brothers stare in horror, and Padden bolts with remaining bead and is not seen again.
Aullie plagued by doubt and some remorse, but wants his bro back. When padden returns, it's a wish come true in its own way, even if it reopens old wounds. Then Padden comes clean : It was his bead that burst, his wish of death that was heard (maybe you need to hold it yourself to work?) and he left in dread and shame, feeling like a murderer, and later like he abandoned his brother.
Came back to make penance and return his brother's bead back, so the bro can have his kids.
I'm a bit on the fence about the values of having the wife once pinning on the brother. It adds a lick of flavour to her but really just hints at possible future complications which feels unnecessary.
Boom.

Still think your final line is great.
So yes, the plot and characters felt a bit flat and their motivation was questionable, despite the fairytale idea being good, and the writing being up to your usual standard, so I couldn't pick you above Jake, for example. T_T
Of course I can't repaint your story, it's rude, but I guess it's the best way to carry my point across too.

@ryanmcgowan :

In the case of your story, my first problem was the formatting, which really put me off. My instinct when I see such great slabs of text is to not read at all, and I usually keep such stories for last. It was a shame because you have a nice, pretty poetical prose, though at times your vocabulary choices made it look like it needed more editing, like when the same character is "surprised" twice in a row, and both use of surprise appear on top of each other in the text.
Another thing that felt a bit odd was how the father and mother never seemed to stop believing that the MC is delivering Death magic, even as she helps the daughter. I felt their lack of progress or change was a bit off. Why keep the MC in their home if they this obviously don't believe her? "A smile even touched the girls lips, another small magic." That was a great line though.
The idea of your magic was really good too.
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Offline JMack

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Re: Small magics - Critique Thread
« Reply #20 on: December 21, 2018, 12:27:49 PM »
Hi, @Nora:

Glad to see you have a moment to breathe. Happy almost-Christmas-is-over and all that.  ;)

I don’t find re-painting rude at all if it’s only - as we’re both saying - definition by example. Anyway, I think you’re points about all three stories are excellent. I’m in a mood right now to start re-writing and expanding some of my contest entries from the last years (starting with “In the Ruins” from the Regret &nRedemption month), so this is good stuff.
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Offline Jake Baelish

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Re: Small magics - Critique Thread
« Reply #21 on: December 22, 2018, 03:51:23 AM »

Here's for you @Jake Baelish :

You're gonna hate me, because I really enjoyed your story. I loved the idea, though behind a beer I'd argue that your magic isn't a small one. It was well written too, better than most. The only reason I ended up withdrawing my vote was that you came shoulder to shoulder with other stories, less masterfull but that had in my eyes a more agreeable story.
Hear me out : I was kinda flabbergasted by the choice of the young man. I thought it was horrible, in the same sense that in the theatre, I found that Rose saving Fynn from sacrificing himself was horrible. Then upon reflection, I saw that his sacrifice was pointless, and so him being saved was good, thought I still didn't appreciate the way it came about.
I still kind of feel the same way with your story. The gran REALLY wants to save people. The boy is being incredibly selfish by wilfully killing a stranger his Gran wishes to save.

But then, I'm Nora, right? The one who wrote a pseudo-rape-referential red riding hood story where the wolf is little's red's dad turning into a monster and eating people, as my 2nd submission to the contest! I'm the one who wrote about dog eating fairies, and I'm in Jmack's quote too...
So why would I disagree of your ending?

I feel like the problem in my eyes comes from the love they just exude to each other in the end. A more satisfactory ending following the same idea, in my eyes, would have been a focused pov on the man baking a second bread, and then standing there in front of the adviser, who looks grateful and hopeful, and making the choice, in this man's face, to hand him the wrong loaf. You could even make it entirely unclear which he gave out. "I gave him the bread" kind of sentence.
Then you'd cut to him looking down on his Gran, admiring her strength and her dedication, feeding her bits of bread throughout the night, and him smiling, as she slowly regains her strength. Ending on something chilling ("I simply can't let her go like that" - and I know she'll despise me when she wakes up and realises what I've done) or sad (speaking to sleeping grandma, as her colours return, "I know I've done the wrong thing, I know I've chosen selfishly, I wonder if you'll forgive me?" - bells toll, and grandma wakes at the sound of them, looking back up in his face -end).
I think an open ending, as to whether the gran would forgive him or damn him for abusing her magic and her confidence, would have been better. The fact that she seems to instantly forgive him and smile in the wake of a little girl's death left me feeling like the bleakness of it was not intentional.

Though I could be entirely wrong about it, and you may have wanted to go really bleak, it came across like you wanted to make this a close and lovely story of love and kinship.

So my issue with you is entirely with the tone or your ending, and nothing else. It's not even a bad story, it just left me surprised and thinking how to better it, and what did you mean exactly, etc. So that was a drawback that pulled you to second vote, and then enough good story emerged that I had too many second votes and decided to give none.
 :-\

The bright side is, this was still a winning material story, and obviously others thought so too, so here we are. Votes reflect personal taste, so you're bound to have the odd person like me not feeling it. Hope it doesn't make it sound too harsh though.


 :D

Yeah, as I was writing that, in my mind I knew there might be some people who felt that what Pom did was actually pretty horrible in some ways. It is selfish, I fully agree. At the same time, it was true to the character and it is what 'he' would do. I think many would too, since there is always a (however awful) level of detachment from people we don't know and those we're closest too; a massive level in fact. So while I totally agree, I also tend to think many people would do the same thing Pom did; there is certainly much debate as to whether that is the really terrible or understandable as humans (both). In any case, I'm glad you raised the point, and it is interesting someone noted that side of things.

I absolutely love your suggestion of focusing on the decision more, and I had intended to (a little) but the word limit forced it into what in the end was two sentences (bloody word limits lol). But at the same time this was also intended to be, as you rightly note, a tale of love and kinship. It's for that reason that Granny's response came across a little (very?) understanding (again, given words I'd have had her acknowledge the weight of Pom's choice, while still, ultimately, forgiving him). Yeah, no bleakness was intended, I only mentioned the bells as an informer to reinforce what had happened.

Thanks for sharing your take on it though. Interesting alternate view for sure and I'll be sure to take it on board when casually 'killing off' characters in future!

PS: I clearly need to go back and read some of your older entries - they sound awesome!  ;D
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Follow Prince Leon Atlantus as he forms a dangerous friendship with his captors, while held hostage across a world headed for war...