Mandamon

Alpha Readers Thread

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Hi all.  There was some discussion of getting feedback on full books (pacing, plot holes, character and story arcs...) rather than just the chapter format submitted here.  This would be something that does not compete with the weekly submissions, but takes place over a longer time, where volunteers can read over a full first draft of a book and offer critique.

 

Resources:

This idea came up before, and resulted in the creation of a Reading Group A, listed in Silk's Welcome post.  There is a dropbox shared folder under JamesW.  Not sure if we need his permission to add more people/if he's still around.  I can set up a new group if needed.

 

The problem we had before was that people would put things into the shared folder, but there wasn't any notification, so no one has kept up with it.  I propose we keep this thread going as notification for those that are interested in reading/having alpha readers for complete books.  These critiques would be less about chapter edits and grammar errors and more about the flow of the whole book.

 

We should probably also have a time limit or certain range that is available for alpha readers so 1) the shared folder doesn't get cluttered and 2) the author can gather all the critiques at one time.

 

So far, myself, Robinski, and akobel are interested.  At least two of us have books going through final edits that will be ready for alpha readers shortly.

 

Thoughts?

Edited by Mandamon
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For another critique group, we've been using Google Docs in a folder shared with the participants.  It works well, as it allows inline comments (for documents editable via the Google Docs interface, anyway).  On the other hand, something like that may be too much for alpha reading.  Also, I don't know if there are limits to the number of people a document or drive is shared with, though I doubt there are.

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Okay--let's try this thing out.

I've put The Seeds of Dissolution in the Writing Group "Alpha Reader" folder on Dropbox, because I'm just picking at it now and I need people to read it.

If you want to read it and have Dropbox, send me a PM with your email and I'll add you to the group.  If you don't have Dropbox, you can link to it here (It's free and this link gives me more space if you use it).

I'm looking for overarcing issues, plot holes, ignored possibilities, and other things like that.  I'll also steal from Mary Robinette Kowal, by asking the same questions she asks alpha readers, namely things that:

1.    Confuse you
2.    You don’t believe
3.    You are bored by
4.    You think are cool

I don't really care about grammar, but if you do find a typo and want to mark it down, or see a word I use constantly and it annoys you, feel free to jot it down.

Timeline: End of September.  I'd like to have some comments back by then if possible.

To avoid cluttering up the dropbox folder, why don't we try adding responses to this thread?  If that doesn't work, then I guess stick a text doc or something in the Alpha Readers folder.

Also, I'm certainly willing to trade a read for a read if someone else has a completed work they want me to critique.  I know this takes a lot more time than a single chapter.

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Thanks for setting it up Mandamon. I'll read your work as soon as possible.

 

I've put the whole draft 2 of Shrouds in the Alpha Readers Dropbox folder. I fiddled a bit with InDesign to make it appear as a real book (it's a B trade paperback format, so printing to A4 or letter might be difficult) - if someone wants a more printable format or an ebook one, I'll be happy to provide one.

 

The whole is 420 pages long (a bit over 130k words).

 

I'm looking pretty much for the same input Mandamon asked for. Points I'm interested in : 

* does the ending work (I've already toned it down once - maybe it wasn't a good idea, I don't know)

* consistency in character voices

* any point which would be unclear

 

I'd like to have a finished work for World Fantasy (start of November) : so any input arriving before mid October would be very useful.

Edited by akoebel
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I must say, I forgot about writing excuses until a little popup for the dropbox folder caught my attention today...

I will try and read through the alpha stuff, by now I will have too much backlog to do the main submissions that I have missed, however, I will try commenting on any from this point on...

And hey guys, how's life been?

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Glad we attracted your attention again Guen!

 

Akobel--I'll start on yours this week.  Looking forward to seeing the rest of the story.

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I shall certainly make some time to work my way through any work posted in there. Only fair as I will be bombarding you all soon with chapter submissions on the forum.  :)  

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And I'm done with Seeds of Dissolution.

 

I'd like to begin by saying that overall, I found it was a good book. I've bought published works that were less interesting or had much more typos in them. I usually only read during my commutes (so twice 45 minutes every week day), but for this book, I read in the evening as well. This is a good sign that the book was good and held my interest.

 

What I liked most : the setting and the plot were engaging. I didn't find the learning curve to be that hard (Ok, I can stomach Erikson, so I might not be a good judge on that). Some characters I liked very much (Rillan, Sam and Enos). Ori isn't very sympathetic but I think you wanted him to be this way.

 

Slow parts : the beginning (before the rocket launch), a couple of places like the tailor chapter (usually a couple of pages), and the epilogue (more on this later). Overall, you set a good pace throughout the book.

 

Now, the parts I have questions about:

 

* As a physicist, I have trouble imagining someone creating a wall of air without some heat being produced (If you imagine reducing air to one hundredth of its volume to produce the wall, the heat generated will at best bring the air to a temperature of 1600°C, so yes, it will become very hot very fast -- and the fastest you compress the air, the hotter it will get). You said something about heat in the climax chapters, but it wasn't near hot enough. Speaking of pressure, I expect different planets to have very different gravity fields. Masses on Earth, the nether and Methiem seemed to be all the same to me - which is a strange coincidence. I had also some troubles with your depiction of the capsule landing : chairs don't just start to jump around under large decelerations ; they are all torn out at once. I got a bit weary in the starchart scene but it was handled well (some points there were more characters ignorance about astronomy than errors).

 

* The nether frightens me (and it should frighten Sam a whole lot more) : the thing gets into your head and translates. What makes people think they can trust the translation? At least Sam should be very worried. And if the nether translates the ideas, why do people have accents or strange expressions : you should be able to hear others speak as if they were talking in your own language. I know that introducing those language quirks was nice (even if Ori talking could get a bit annoying), but the very presence of the nether should remove them. One point I liked is your usage of gender neutral species and the pronouns they use when speaking. Speaking of language, I was expecting Sam to be unable to understand anything once he got away from the Nether and I got very frustrated when I discovered he could. The explanation "magi can understand everything once they get through the portal" felt a bit too convenient to me.

 

* Aside from the houses of communication and healing, the real uses of the other houses are a bit unclear to me. We see some examples in action, but I still don't understand the core of the other houses abilities. The ones I understand come from viewpoint characters, so I guess it's normal to understand them better though.

 

* Sam's reaction to the Aridori seemed a bit too strong at first. He hasn't been around long enough to have all the bias of the other species, so why did he fear Enos so much? And on her part, I thought she forgave him way too easily. About her : I thought she wasn't pushing much for the group to retrieve her brother in the ending. She looked worried about it but I expected her to drag them all to her brother's rescue once the drain was gone.

 

* Is the book a SF book masquerading as a fantasy or the other way around? It started very SF, then turned fantasy for almost the whole length of the book, then ended in a SF way. I think either is good, but you should know for yourself what kind of book it is.

 

* Do you intend to write a sequel? You seem to have left room for one (the voice in Sam's head, the brother to save). If not, I will need those points resolved!

 

About the ending: I think the ending works well (minus the epilogue), but that it wasn't as powerful as it could have been. It's all very well until Rillan makes her gateway and then Sam's story separates from the others until the very ending. I think the emotional payoff would be better if the two stories were told in parallel at this point. About the epilogue : it is mostly you cleaning up some loose ends in a very passive way. I didn't really need the information in the epilogue and its presence toned down the whole ending.

 

I'll stop here for now (just finished reading, so I might have missed a few things). If you want me to elaborate on some parts, I'd be happy to.

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Akobel--Thanks a bunch!  I am about 3/4 of the way through yours and hope to finish it up this week.

 

First off, glad you liked it.  This gives me some hope I can get an agent with this one.

 

Sort of back to front on the questions...

Interesting you thought it didn't need an epilogue.  I added that thinking the ending was too weak and didn't tie everything up.  Maybe it was the passiveness you mentioned.  I'll have to take a look at that.

 

I do intend this to be the first of a series, but wanted it to work as a stand alone so it would be easier for a publisher to pick up.

 

I really like this "genre" in that it is a science-fantasy, but I know publishers have a hard time with things that don't have well-defined bounds.  I wrote this as either a soft sci-fi where the magic was a type of science, or a more "hard" fantasy where the magic had a scientific leaning.  I enjoy both types of books and some of my favorite works sort of cross the line.

 

Aridori/Enos/forgiveness:  yep.  I fixed it some in the edit, but not enough.

 

Houses and the Nether:  I intend to flesh out the other Houses in the next books, but I couldn't find a place to work them in this one without causing bloat.  The previous version had a lot more and was about 50k longer. 

Yes, the Nether is scary, now you mention it!  It got more so as I wrote it.  That and the planetary coincidences are there for a reason, which I hope to elaborate on later.  Again, I had to cut out a lot of bloat the first time through, but I tried to weave some of it back in with the chapter headings.

 

And last, the magic.  I'm a engineer, so I know exactly what you mean with the wall of air.  I started out trying to make the magic system as "real" as possible, in that you had to change things within the natural order, but it wasn't very exciting.  There are some sections this didn't work out as well.  Thanks for pointing that one out.  I have an idea how I might fix it....

 

Again, thanks so much for reading through.  I'm excited it held your interest.  If you think of anything else, let me know, and I hope to have your review up soon!

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Alright, Akobel, time to return the favor with Shrouds:

 

I posted a document in the Alpha Readers folder containing my reactions as I read through, as well as a few typos I noticed.  You can get more detail there, but in overview:

 

I really like the story idea of a god who is also, basically, a P.I.  Sort of like the Dresden files, but with gods instead of wizards.  I also like that the story was a murder mystery at the same time it was a fantasy.

The ending was satisfying, and had a good “surprising, yet inevitable” feel with the new greater god candidate.  I had a definite drive to read more and find out what happens next.

The characters felt real to me, and I could sympathize with their reactions, and understand why they did what they did.  There were only a couple places, mostly with Arlon, where I thought a change in character was a little too overt.

 

Comments and questions:

There were four main areas, which you’ll see most of my comments focus on.

 

Better descriptions of location and travel time.  Specifically at the beginning, I had a lot of questions about where all the gods lived, how close their temples were, and what their followers were like.  Later in the book, you started to supply this information, but that information needs to be propagated back through the book.

 

More/clearer explanation of the magic.  As the book is called “Shrouds,” I feel I should have a good understanding of them by the end.  I still don’t understand completely.  I can tell you there are different color shrouds, some affect time and some affect space, and they change the fabric of reality.  I still can’t tell you which color matches which shroud or why.  If you make specific tags for the type of magic, it might inform the reader better.  There also doesn’t seem to be a clear cost for the magic aside from the user getting tired.  This means you could (and do) have humans that are far more powerful than their gods.  With a specific cost, it becomes more interesting to figure out how the magic is limited and how to get around it.

 

The gods and what they represent.  OK.  This is the big one.  I said before I really like the idea of a god detective.  It’s got exactly that right mix of the strange (god) mixed with the familiar (investigator).  That said, I think there was some missed opportunity in this category to bring the book from a good read to a really fascinating story.  First, I never got a good feeling for what made a god or why they were chosen.  It seemed random.  There was some explanation for a greater god appearing, in that they are “anointed” in some way.  The numerical relationship of gods and greater gods also seemed almost random, and wasn’t satisfying from a reader perspective—it seemed more like a plot device.  You spend hardly any time on how a god is different from a human, in fact going so far as to show how vulnerable they are.  They’re more like immortal humans that can still be killed.  I’d like to see the direct reaction between followers and gods and how it changes their emotions, or physical makeup, and then what happens to that power void when a god is killed.  I’d also like to see more of Mahau’s backstory; how he became a god and how his hip was injured.  For reference, Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods has a great scene of a god rising to power again.

You make a plot point of how Mahau works as a god, but it is only at the very end of the book.  I think the “twist” could work even better if you layered hints of that relationship throughout, and also applied it to why both Arlon and Arden changed (from benevolent to evil, and from lesser to greater god).  You could even apply it to Debolah and how she came to be the oldest greater goddess. 

 

The mystery.  There is of course the mystery of the murderer.  However, it turned out to be exactly the person I thought it was, so not as satisfying to me.  Most of the first half is taken up by Mahau going off on false trails that really don’t matter in the end.  I’d love to see more on how a god works, how he or she is tied to followers, and how the worship affects their personality.  If you can then tie the type of god (vengeance, love, greed, etc.) to the mystery itself and get that same “surprising, yet inevitable” for the reveal of the murderer as you do for the new god at the end, I think it would make Shrouds a really great story.

 

I'll let you know if I think of anything else.  Otherwise, read through the comments in the Alpha Readers folder and let me know if you other questions.

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I have a 45 minute commute too, but if I was reading during it I think I might get pulled over ;o)

 

I am enjoying 'Seeds of Dissolution' too, but I've afraid you're not going to get my comments for a while yet - sorry! I'm a slow reader even once I get the chance. I'm managing about one chapter a night when I get the chance to reader, so about two / three a week, but I'm getting there - it's very readable, it's my time that's the problem...

 

And I want to read Shrouds too, perhaps my comments will be in time for Christmas (arrgghh!)...

Edited by Robinski
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Robinski--thanks for the effort in any case!  I look forward to hearing what you think.  And don't get pulled over on my account...

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Glad to see you guys got an alpha reading group set up, hope to someday rejoin with you all. 

 

Hey and such to you all while I'm here!

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Thank you so much Mandamon!

 

Your comments are much more detailed than I expected. I wonder how you can take notes while reading at a reasonable pace.

 

I guess I'm going to need a third detailed draft to fix some issues.

 

One point I'd like to know is about the ending (spoilers following). In the original draft, I had Mahau cut off Arlon's leg as part of the trick against him and after the trial, they sentenced him to have both his hands cut off. After my primary alpha reader went through the book, she felt that it was too much against Arlon (who is basically a likeable character even if he's an antagonist). I agreed on the leg thing (because it was a bit out of character for Mahau to cut it) and I cut back (so to speak) the sentence to fingers instead of whole hands. I'm a bit conflicted about that last change because removing his hands was the perfect punishment for his crimes; on the other hand, it was a bit too graphic for this book. Now, as you read it, did the sentence bother you and do you think it would have been better not to change that part?

 

For your comments, a few explanations about my goals with this book:

 

* Description, foreshadowing, explanations : check. Nothing much to say here.

 

* About the mystery. I feel like it's a promise I never intended to keep as I wrote the book (discovery writer here). I always knew that the book was (in my head) more about finding a way to godhood for Neda than finding out who did it and why. That's why unmasking Arden comes at the end of act 2 and not at the end. I also wanted to explore Arlon's downfall once he came to believe his father wanted him. As a result, it's not a mystery through the end, but I kept advertising the book as "God PI" as you said it. Now, I'm not sure how I can fix it. I need the mystery (obviously), but I don't have yet someone else to point the reader at. Smells like a major rewrite is needed.

 

* About the magic and gods. I wanted to separate the magic from what makes a god, so from the start, I set up the system so that regular humans (even if those are rare) can be of equal or even more skill with Shrouds than gods (Arlon for instance is very bad at Shrouds). I get your concern about limitations : I've limited Shrouds on size (might not have mentioned it in the book) and the mental focus necessary to form them (which causes fatigue). I've also added another limitation on the number of actions one can perform in a given place (which works kind of like your own limitation on the Symphony). The thing is, I kind of broke that limitation during the climax fight. I'll have to revise it on this point.

 

* About the arbitrary numbers of gods vs greater gods. I wanted to add the notion of balance (separate from the Shrouds) to godhood and that's where I set a rule that there should be a multiple of 12 number of gods with 1 greater god per slice of 12. Now, that number might be arbitrary (and I don't have any logical reason to back this number), but it's no more arbitrary than, say the value of the electron electric charge. I look at it as a characteristic of the world and I'm not sure I can explain more than that. I can have Mandos comment on it, if you think that will help.

 

Once again, thanks for all the useful comments.

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Akobel--on the ending, I completely agree with your alpha reader.  I was sort of horrified that Forys even suggested cutting Arlon's leg off, but I thought the shroud "clot" was a cool idea.  I was a little disturbed even by removing fingers.  At first I thought it was unusual violence for this book, but then looking back I you had other similar descriptions, so it's something else.  I think part of it is the quick change in Arlon's temperament.  It feel almost like an innocent (or maybe someone of low intelligence...) who's been manipulated into a crime, but then has to suffer the full extent of the punishment. Do they deserve it?  Well, yes, but... and there's your moral dilemma.  

 

On the other hand (ha) removing the entire hand is a more fitting punishment, but only because his modus operandi is to use his hands to strangle.  I think you could pull this off, but you need a lot more buildup of Arlon using/admiring his hands.  Again, this comes to the switch in character.  In the first half, he's sort of goofy, with anger under the surface, and only in the second half does he start actually strangling people.  That theme should be carried all the way through the book, or maybe just brought out more...did he strangle the original gods he was put on trial for?

 

Okay...I've written much more than I started out to, but one more thought:  You could use the same method with the leg of putting shrouds in Arlons wrists to stop his from using them, without the gory implications of cutting them off.  Then you get the tie-in between use of hands, punishment for crimes, and "Shrouds," the title of the book...

 

On the "arbitrary" 12 Gods, this suddenly makes much more sense when you say "1 greater god per slice of 12" rather than 11 lesser gods to one greater god.  12 at least has some historical connotations: 12 hours in a day, 12 (greater) Greek gods, etc.  I would certainly have Mandos comment on it.  I've often found that one explanatory sentence "in world" can erase all sorts of reader questions, because that's the way the characters know it to be true.  If Mandos says something like "I don't know why; it's a natural law," many will suddenly shrug and let it be, rather than asking about it.  I think part of the reason I was worrying about it was that you had a lot of math going on with number of greater to lesser gods.  You might remove some of the numbers and just say "with that any dead, we can't support another greater god" rather than telling the exact number when a greater god disappears.

 

Again, I think this does have a lot of potential, even if parts require a rewrite.  The version of Seed of Dissolution you read was actually my second attempt.  The first one had so many problems, even after editing, that I kept (some of) the characters and basic plot, but started at the beginning and rewrote the whole thing without looking at the original text.  I lifted a total of three short scenes from the original, because those were the parts I liked the most.

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Hello again.  I might be working on credit here, but I have one other work I need alpha readers for.  I've put my NaNoWriMo work from 2012 in the Alpha Readers folder.  It's called, "It's Not My Fault!" and is a 70k YA book about a small Midwest town where the teenagers stop getting acne, but start developing superpowers.  I'm hesitantly saying this turned out better than I thought, so I need some others to read and deflate my ego, if necessary!

 

Let me know if you're interested in reading in the next month or so.  As always, I'm willing to read and critique for others in return.

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Hey Mandamon,

 

I don't want you to think I'm having trouble with 'Seeds of Dissolution', quite the opposite, really enjoying it, but the last couple of weeks really dented my progress (one in court, as a good guy!!! and another with my daughter at work) - but I'm about 60% through. I'm also into outlining for NaNo, which doesn't help with the whole alpha reading thing, as I'm not an outliner - so trying a new approach this year. I'm aiming to finish Seeds before November, of course  : o )

Edited by Robinski
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Mandamon, I'll insert it into my reading queue. I should be able to start reading it in early November.

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Thanks to you both!  I know NaNo is coming up, as well as the usual real world problems.  I don't think I'm doing NaNo this year (even though this piece came out of it last year) because the next work I'm going to start lends itself more to slow and deliberate writing rather than all-out-as-many-words-as-possible-a-day.  But who knows.  I'll note my words per day and see how far I get!

Anyway, thanks again, and I look forward to comments.

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I'd be interesting in seeing this if possible, Mandamon.

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Two McMillion:  Sure.  Are you on Dropbox?  If not, you can sign up through this link (it gets me free space): https://db.tt/MQ7OQ3x

 

If you already have Dropbox, just send me a PM with your email and I'll add you in.  There's a lot of other good stuff in there to read, including Akobel's work Shrouds.

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 There's a lot of other good stuff in there to read, including Akobel's work Shrouds.

 

I feel intimidated already. :lol:

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I've now read the first eight chapters. My biggest concern thus far is the repetition that occurred there. I feel that one or the other of the wings or acid sequences could be deleted without changing much in the book. Once is great- it introduces the characters, gets us to understand this world a little better, but twice where basically the same things happen? My suggestion would be to make the first two days more unique, or cut one of them. There's no reason Allen couldn't be on the early bus two chapters earlier.

 

The main weakness so far seems to be worldbuilding. I'm having a hard time visualizing how a world where the curse happens is operating. Is it just this town, or is it everywhere in the world? If it's just in this town, why aren't there reporters, gawkers, and tourists everywhere? 

 

The way the adults treat the curse also puzzles me. As you have it now, it seems they're fully aware of it but just ignore it. It feels like they should at least acknowledge what's happening, even if they adopt a long-suffering attitude. I think it would be better if something like the Mist from Percy Jackson was at play- it would be more believable if they just couldn't see what was happening. This wouldn't affect their behavior thus far very much, but would help me understand what was going on more.

 

Of course, you may have aspects that come in later to explain all this, but those are my impressions as they stand now, take them as you will.

 

Throwing out my guess for the ending right now:

 

The vaccines are doing it.

Edited by Two McMillion
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Thanks for the comments so far!  

I've thought about cutting one of the first two reactions, so thanks for the confirmation on that.

 

I've left the adult's reaction vague on purpose--sort of the "dumb adult" syndrome.  But I don't want it to take you out of the story.  I'll look into making it more believable.

 

Your other questions (I think) get answered.  Let me know what you think later in the book (also about your guess for the ending).

 

Thanks again!

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Do I still send my chapters to [email protected] ?

Um… Wait… So what do I do? Im really confused, with the google docs and dropbox and stuff… lol. Thats what. I get when I leave for ~8 months.

Edited by Stroniax
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