aeromancer

Reading Excuses - 3/20/17 - aeromancer - Quenched in Flames(Slight L,V)

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Here's a brief one-shot. I'd like feedback on the atmosphere, principally. Also, seeing as there's a brief tangent on the nature of good and evil, comments on that would also be appreciated. (Wouldn't mind getting sidetracked into a weapon-forging discussion either, but if wishes were fishes no one would  go hungry except people who really don't like fish.) Violence isn't beyond what I normally send, the reason I put slight 'L' is because (while the language is tame compared to what other people use), it's beyond what I normally do.

Also, yes, the protagonist is a villain. Just in case you were wondering.

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I'm not getting much in the way of atmosphere here beyond "generic western European fantasyland." I feel like it's maybe supposed to make me feel ominous? But, it's not quite doing that for me. 

 
I am engaged with Ra. She is interesting and mysterious. 
 
"greyscale" - (gray scale) this is a newish (circa 1930s/1940s) word associated with film and television, and more recently with computing. It seems out of place in the fantasy story you've set up.
 
D's name might be a bit on the nose for the power set.
 
Fight scene POV switch. Up to that point, the section had been from D's perspective, and he'd been referring to her as "the woman." I don't think she ever introduced herself to him? Once the fighting starts, she's being referred to as Ra, and it's more from her perspective.  
 
I liked the fight scene, it was well-staged. The braid bit is a kind of over the top, though. 
 
"The first soldier slowly approached her from behind" the one that she just stabbed through the calf and into the ground?
 
"I meet out justice" mete
 
I don't see her as a villain, really.
 
I am confused by the ending. Why was he bad? What was going on? Is Ra dead? Is Ru the same person and Ra was an alias? are they some kind of human person+otherworldly spirit duo? Is this an "absolute power corrupts absolutely" thing? Is magic forbidden? 
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Posted (edited)

29 minutes ago, industrialistDragon said:

"greyscale" - (gray scale) this is a newish (circa 1930s/1940s) word associated with film and television, and more recently with computing. It seems out of place in the fantasy story you've set up.

Well, yes. But the way Rune's power set works is such as seeing the world in gray except for traces of other powers, so I felt justified in it's usage. Probably just worth swapping to 'gray', I suppose.

29 minutes ago, industrialistDragon said:

Fight scene POV switch. Up to that point, the section had been from D's perspective, and he'd been referring to her as "the woman." I don't think she ever introduced herself to him? Once the fighting starts, she's being referred to as Ra, and it's more from her perspective.  

This is my fault. I meant to have Rune introduce herself, but I kept swapping what name she was using, so I suppose I forgot to put that in.

29 minutes ago, industrialistDragon said:

D's name might be a bit on the nose for the power set.

(laughs) Yeah, it's Latin for Destiny. I have an unhealthy obsession with using names that secretly mean things if you're good with ancient languages, word puzzles, or both.

29 minutes ago, industrialistDragon said:

I liked the fight scene, it was well-staged. The braid bit is a kind of over the top, though. 

"The first soldier slowly approached her from behind" the one that she just stabbed through the calf and into the ground?

Rune's character is part of a larger universe, and Rune, in it, has a reputation for using her hair as a weapon. This is because her hair has limited movement on it's own, and a couple unique properties. The hair wasn't strictly necessary, but it's in line with her character. The first soldier was elbowed, second was stabbed, I believe.

29 minutes ago, industrialistDragon said:

I am confused by the ending. Why was he bad? What was going on? Is Ra dead? Is Ru the same person and Ra was an alias? are they some kind of human person+otherworldly spirit duo? Is this an "absolute power corrupts absolutely" thing? Is magic forbidden? 

No, De wasn't bad, there's nothing going on geyond what you read. Rachel isn't dead, she's just a disguise that Rune wears (Rune has limited shapeshifting abilities). Rune isn't a human host to an otherwordly spirit for two reasons. One, her original species wasn't human. Two, she was never alive in the first place, so when she received the 'otherwordly' spirit (it's a bit more complex than that, but for now that shall suffice), so there was no host to overwrite. Well, this gets interesting, as Rune as an a pretty complex backstory and simplistic motives. Her job is to kill Order hosts. She's tasked with this by her father/creator, the reason being that Orders are too dangerous to allow in the mortal realm. The reason isn't because absolute power corrupts absolutely, Rune kills them because she's born to do that. Her job is killing Orders who have the ability to use their powers to their full extent. The reason she was created for that isn't because the Shadows were afraid Orders would turn dark. Shadows couldn't care less. That being said, 'magic is forbidden' is kind of an oversimplification. There are powerful forces in the world overall which don't appreciate magic, but the rule of thumb in the world is that everyone in it has access to 'magic', of sorts. The species determine which one you have access to, but everyone has some form of it, so isn't any government which forbids it. Though, having a 'Children of the Light'-esque group isn't a bad idea. You've given me food for thought.

Edited by aeromancer
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An interesting story. I thought the worldbuilding was good, if generic, but had some problems with the plot. Also, the POV seemed to switch in the middle from omniscient to limited 3rd, focusing on Rachel. Then it went back to omni at the end.
The excuse that Destinare committed evil because he thought Rachel would hurt him is a little weak to me. Yes, he was too quick to action, but Rachel exploited it and her reputation to drive the situation. As for the town itself, I didn't see any indication that the inhabitants couldn't leave if they chose. If the question is either to live in a more efficient city or not, I don't see that as a big problem.

Agree with @industrialistDragon that Destinare is a bit on the nose. You don't even need Latin to see that connection.

Re: you explanation of the ending above, generally, my thought is, if you need to commit that big a paragraph to explain it, more of that information needs to go in the story. I also saw this is weak on the ending, because you never really asked or answered a question. This one would be good to apply the MICE quotient to and see what you're trying to address.

Notes while reading:

pg 1: Interesting--this is in 3rd omniscient? I like the way you use it to show how the driver and Rachel see each other.

pg 2: I'm interested as to where Rachel comes from that haggling is such a large part of the culture--enough to see the minor differences here.

pg 4: "She wished she could tell the difference, but that wasn’t within her powers"
--Rachel seems to be a construct or robot of some sort?

pg 4: "To her, lying was no different than telling the truth"
--I would try to show this.

pg 4: "She chewed carefully, but tasted nothing. As usual."
--the "as usual" part makes me think that she has tasted something in the past. If that's not the case, you could probably cut it.

pg 5: "I’m not so good at explaining things"
--one too many "goods"

pg 5: "Unconsciously, her expression shifted, becoming hawk-like"
--since page 2, this has been limited POV from Rachel. If that's the case, she can't see her own face.

pg 5: "The innkeeper had told her a group of scholars had spent two weeks watching the bustle to try and learn how Corromast did it."
--Something is nagging me about this and I don't know what. The populace should have some opinions if they are part of the efficiency, maybe?

pg 6: "Not that Rachel had intended to spot the urchin, of course, she just needed to make the attempt for the bait to work."
--awkward. Also very coincidental that he shows up at that instant.

pg 6: "Her brown eyes glowed, and shifted to greyscale, as did her vision of the world around her"
--again, seeing things outside of Rachel's POV

pg 7: "The effects are marginal..."
--the next few paragraphs are infodumpy. How does Rachel know this?

pg 8: "and four guards posed no threat whatsoever"
--There have been several repetitions of this, and it's reducing the tension. It makes me care less about Rachel.

pg 9: back to omni POV?

pg 9, end: very infodumpy.

pg 10: "I’m not sure why you call what I would do ‘killing’"
--fairly simple...if she causes someone to die, that's killing. If not, she didn't.

pg 11: "the wooden circle"
--have we seen this before?

pg 11: "twisting their destiny so that they’d always be fanatically loyal."
--show, don't tell.

pg 12: "The inn fell."
--unneeded.

pg 12: "His powers had protected him from the impact"
--by controlling destiny? how?
"Another moment or two, and he’d be able to restore the inn back before it fell"
--confused. This sounds like controlling time, not destiny.

pg 12: "host of an Order"
--is this referring to Destinare? awkward.

pg 13: "“Clever. The knife may have been mine..."
--expositing...

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I really liked the setting here, and honestly that was most of what pulled me along in the story. :) It's easy to tell that Rachel isn't quite human right off the bat, and her powers are super awesome. The whole mist thing made me feel like I was seeing the world through an entirely different lens. :D I wanted to keep reading because I wanted to see who or what Rachel really was, and how that would interact with Destinaire and whatever he was trying to do. The whole bit at the end about choice and consequences was also super interesting. Using fantasy magic to bring up moral dilemmas is always a nice touch. 

Downloading the file and opening it up, I was surprised how short you managed to keep the word count, mostly because it felt like you were trying to get so many different ideas across. In fact, it felt like you had to explain so much for us to even understand what's going on that you weren't able to use that space to tie the story together. It also felt like you had to dump a lot of info on us because you simply didn't have the time to show us everything that we needed to know in 4k words. For example, I was confused when the whole "Order" thing popped up, and I only know the bare minimum about it to understand what's happening between Rune and Destinaire. It's still an abstract concept in my mind, and I can't really make any conclusions about it with the information given. This left somewhat of a strange feeling in me. I loved a lot of the ideas in this story, but it felt like I could only see what was happening on a surface level. 

Honestly, I think that there's enough that you can do with the city and the characters to find material to write about for an entire novella. It would give you more space to delve into the awesome worldbuilding stuff and it would allow you to show rather than tell us about a lot of the mechanics that are playing out in the background. In addition to confusing setting points, I would also love to hear more about character motivations. Maybe you could get more specific about what exactly compels Rune to do what she's doing rather than simply stating that she's out to kill Order hosts because of their power. And I would be interested in looking closer at the way Rune thinks and how that is different from the way humans think (her commentary about choices was fascinating, and I would like to see her go into more depth). I would love to hear more about Destinaire and why he created the utopia city... sure, many people would like to make a happy city with happy people, but what separates Destinaire from those who don't? What small differences make his utopia city different than someone else's hypothetical utopia? Where do his insecurities with power come from (he's clearly not comfortable around people he can't control)? I got the impression that you knew the answers but felt too rushed to explain. :) Expanding this into a novella would also allow you to play more with the ideas after establishing them and allow you to hit at a unified point. 

Also, I noticed the same PoV switch as Mandamon. It felt a little jarring. 

I don't read/write short stories that often and they're not my strong suit, so you can take my suggestions with a grain of salt. :) But I really do feel like there's a lot in here that you could explore in more detail by switching this story to a longer format. Either that or maybe cut some of the worldbuilding out...? But then again, most of it's needed to understand basic character motives. This is why I always struggle to write short stories that are fantasy. :( 

Thanks for critiquing my story and I hope that this helped! :D 

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Overall

I agree with @Wisps of Aether in that there is a lot told, instead of shown. If you pulled out those elements and expanded this story, it would make for a very interesting novella. I see that @Mandamon and @industrialistDragon also hit on the Destiny name. 

As always, your fight scenes are well blocked and straightforward. The very heavy exposition dialogue and similar elements could be cleaned, but there is certainly an interesting story here.

 

As I go

- if you start with a cold open with the word beautiful, you'll want to back that up with imagery

That was what the driver had missed. Huh? Is this part of the 'beauty' thing? I'm still trying to find what she finds so beautiful about a city that has been described generically

- page three: Corromast, eh? We are in world. Check.

- page six: 'Riddle me this' throws me out of the narrative, and into a Batman movie with Jim Carey

- Not a fan of 'Destinare' as a name

- there has been a fair amount of telling instead of showing, but I think it really hits around page ten. I would like more shown in the blue light business of Destiny personified, here, and more of his mental workings, since we are in third omniscient

- by page fourteen, I am lost. Why did Destiny kill himself? To get away? I know we've chatted about this before, this killing-that-isn't-really-killing thing, and here too, it takes away the impact of deep wounds, because it has no effects that last

- page fifteen: “To perform an action with no consequence,” you might actually be able to work more with this idea. I like it better as a thread than the sort of absolute power corrupts absolutely thing I think you're going for

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23 hours ago, Mandamon said:

An interesting story. I thought the worldbuilding was good, if generic, but had some problems with the plot. Also, the POV seemed to switch in the middle from omniscient to limited 3rd, focusing on Rachel. Then it went back to omni at the end.

I seem to keep running into that problem. I also know what's causing it to. I tend to write short stories in patches, and piece them together, which can work for someone more skilled than I, I suppose. Need to stop doing that.

23 hours ago, Mandamon said:

Re: you explanation of the ending above, generally, my thought is, if you need to commit that big a paragraph to explain it, more of that information needs to go in the story. I also saw this is weak on the ending, because you never really asked or answered a question. This one would be good to apply the MICE quotient to and see what you're trying to address.

Fair point. Other people have pointed out that there's a lot of information, which is kind of the struggle I ran with. This backstory is exploring a complex character of a literary world that I've created spanning (currently) multiple books, which may mean that a short story isn't the best way to run this.

14 hours ago, Wisps of Aether said:

I really liked the setting here, and honestly that was most of what pulled me along in the story. :) It's easy to tell that Rachel isn't quite human right off the bat, and her powers are super awesome. The whole mist thing made me feel like I was seeing the world through an entirely different lens. :D I wanted to keep reading because I wanted to see who or what Rachel really was, and how that would interact with Destinaire and whatever he was trying to do. The whole bit at the end about choice and consequences was also super interesting. Using fantasy magic to bring up moral dilemmas is always a nice touch. 

Thank you, it's what I was trying to do.

14 hours ago, Wisps of Aether said:

I would also love to hear more about character motivations. Maybe you could get more specific about what exactly compels Rune to do what she's doing rather than simply stating that she's out to kill Order hosts because of their power. And I would be interested in looking closer at the way Rune thinks and how that is different from the way humans think (her commentary about choices was fascinating, and I would like to see her go into more depth). I would love to hear more about Destinaire and why he created the utopia city... sure, many people would like to make a happy city with happy people, but what separates Destinaire from those who don't? What small differences make his utopia city different than someone else's hypothetical utopia? Where do his insecurities with power come from (he's clearly not comfortable around people he can't control)? I got the impression that you knew the answers but felt too rushed to explain.

Guilty as charged, I'm afraid. Yes, I do know all the answers, but it'd take far longer than a short story to develop both Rachel and De's respective characters and motivations.

20 minutes ago, kaisa said:

I see that @Mandamon and @industrialistDragon also hit on the Destiny name. 

Okay, okay, I get it. I wasn't attempting to be subtle about it, but I suppose there's something in between Random Name Generator and brick-to-forehead-foreshadowing. De's name will be changed to something else.

22 minutes ago, kaisa said:

As always, your fight scenes are well blocked and straightforward. The very heavy exposition dialogue and similar elements could be cleaned, but there is certainly an interesting story here.

Well, glad to see I'm consistent. I think I have a problem with heavy exposition just because I like it. I don't mind sitting through a couple text walls to find out plot elements or story, so I suppose it just doesn't register when I do it.

24 minutes ago, kaisa said:

- page three: Corromast, eh? We are in world. Check.

- by page fourteen, I am lost. Why did Destiny kill himself? To get away? I know we've chatted about this before, this killing-that-isn't-really-killing thing, and here too, it takes away the impact of deep wounds, because it has no effects that last

Yes, we are in the world of Corromast, although this story takes place roughly 750 years before Gears & Sigils. Rachel should be familiar to you as a character, though she goes by a different name in G&S. Still has the same ax, though. Your point on my inability to kill people is valid. Thinking about it, Destiny couldn't easily used his power to make him elsewhere in the town. So, I killed him for no reason. I seem to do this often, don't I?

31 minutes ago, kaisa said:

- page fifteen: “To perform an action with no consequence,” you might actually be able to work more with this idea. I like it better as a thread than the sort of absolute power corrupts absolutely thing I think you're going for

I was actually going for that. The reason why Destiny thinks Rune is killing him is because of absolute power, the reason Rune is killing him is closer to 'action with no consequence'. That needs to be more spelled out.

Also, I actually use 'Riddle me this' as part of my normal lexicon, though whenever I think Riddler, I think either Zero Year or Hush. I have a riddle/puzzle obsession. Stump me if you can. I usually mean to make those references, but that was completely accidental.

Thanks everyone for the feedback. I was getting slightly worried, but it was worth the wait. I've got what to think about and (more importantly) what to fix.

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- I like the whole scene with the gold coins and bad omens. Way to set the stage!

- And I also like how the theme of gold vs. silver plays out at the end of the next section.

- It seems like the POV briefly shifts to Destiny at one point, with the words "Burn the witch. Destroy the city. Burn the witch."

- Overall, I liked it, though I enjoyed Rachel/Rune interacting with the townsfolk most. Once she started engaging Destiny, it gradually turned into a pretty standard fight after that - though I did like Rune's last line in the story. 

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so flipping through this, I have to apologize; it's pretty clear at this point that I've been overly harsh on you given your age. I'm pretty used to dealing with adults by this point; I'm not really used to dealing with teenagers anymore. This isn't really all that bad given that lack of experience, but you need a lot more practice, both writing and reading more widely. You should definitely focus on leaving your comfort zone, and working on analyzing what makes that work or not work. Feels a little like class, I know, but honestly there's some good foundational stuff you'll be learning there too. Right now you definitely have a lot of markers in this of just not being familiar with what you're doing, and I can see them in your other stuff in retrospect. No shame in that. That's just one of those things that takes practice to work through. (so, taking that into consideration, I have no particular expectation that you'll go over my submission this week; it opens on a sex scene and I wouldn't want someone underage critting it)
 
So, in light of this, I'm going to step back and go a little more basic than I normally would, and wind back to your general approach to crit, and why I've taken a pass on your stuff before. As a rule you respond to crit with the operating assumption that the work is already correct and the crit is a failure of understanding on the part of the person giving the crit. The thing is, if this were the case, this would obviate the need for crit as a rule. You don't need to agree with everything a reader says and you don't need to follow every bit of advice a reader gives, and you don't need to know how to react to a given crit-- I know I like to think out loud about how to work with crits I receive-- but if your go-to response to crit is to work out ways in which that crit isn't valid, it's disrespectful of the person who's giving the crit, who's taking the time out (I know it takes me hours to do each one of these) to do this for you, and it stunts the potential of your work. The goal of putting a piece out for crit is ultimately going to be to make that piece better. This isn't to say that things that are done well shouldn't be called out, but: if the only thing you're prepared to deal with is praise and spelling/grammar/typo correction, get a pal to read your stuff. No shame in that either; just know what you're looking for and get the help that fits your needs accordingly.
 
So, let's get started.
 
p.1
 
I talked a bit on one of the other submissions this week about epigraphs on shorts. I'm gonna go into a little more depth here: epigraphs are great for doing things like adding context or giving additional angles to one's story. They're great for painting off the edges of your canvas to suggest there's more going on in the story than what the reader can immediately see. The thing is that shorts need to be concise and they need to be elegant; every stroke you make, so to speak, needs to be done with purpose and it needs to have a specific direction. You're working within constraints, so everything you do needs to be purposeful. So this epigraph is... not doing that. It may have relevance to later actions but right now it's a little lump of explaining a process to the reader that, frankly, is not going to give any meaningful additional understanding of the story or the place where it occurs. It's not even written within the story; this wouldn't look out of place on a Wikipedia page. It's not doing the job that it needs to do, so: cut.
 
So we open off with a declaration that this city is beautiful, and it is apparently shockingly so. This is a really weak opener, so let's pull apart what's going on here: we know we've got a city. We know the POV character's name and that they use 'she'. We know she does not think carefully about things before saying them; this implies a lack of familiarity with her surroundings. We know that she has not up to this point been discussing either this city or beauty. What we're missing, really, is what drove this urge to speak a non sequitur. You're having your POV declare a thing beautiful without saying anything at all about the thing. We the reader are given no tools to address this statement ourselves. We don't know what the POV character considers beautiful: do we agree with her? do we not? You're opening on this so it must be important, but we are provided nothing to gauge this against.
 
This is something you might be able to get away with deeper in on a story, when we already know the POV character, already have concepts of what she may or may not consider beautiful, when we may or may not have concepts about what the city looks like, any of that. But here and now: this doesn't work. We have nothing to go on. We have no extant context, we have no metrics by which to judge. Here is where we start, so it must be important: but this is not being treated as important.
 
In the second paragraph we head-hop. Omniscient POV? Your grammar's out ('short as' should be 'recently') but I'm not going to harp on those sorts of issues too much. So we're getting exposited now at the city's prior decay and sudden revitalization. This is really clumsy, honestly-- what it feels like is that you're glossing over things you don't personally care about. Which, I mean, fair cop, but you're frontloading them and presenting them in ways that suggest this is important and meaningful to the story. If it's not: don't include it. If it is important, you're not providing enough context for the reader on this. What sort of decay has this city been suffering? What was killing it? The city being determined to die doesn't mean anything without the context you're witholding.
 
Expensive as a descriptor here is once more pretty non sequitorial to the sentiment at hand. It could possibly be telling something about the character, that she associates expense with beauty, but you're not really presenting it as such here. We still do not know what Rachel is looking at here. Are we outside the city, looking at it from afar? Are we inside, looking at a public space? A private building? You give us a crumb when she notes that there's no mess, but you're not giving us what about that she expects: what does she consider a mess? It's a sentiment with a lot of meanings in this potential context. But as it is, you're not giving the reader a lot to work with here.
 
Honestly, it feels like you're afraid of description, and this came through in prior submissions that I've read too. Thing is, especially when you're working within a POV, which I am not entirely certain you are doing in this piece (and you should make it pretty clear as swiftly as possible the sort of POV you are using, in the interests of disorienting your reader less), you can use this to filter these sorts of things. Don't say what something looks like, give us what the POV character thinks and feels as they look at something. If we're inside a character's head, we can use their eyes to give us meaning about the place, rather than just point-blank statements like 'the city's beautiful' 'it used to be in bad shape in an unknown way'. Again: we're working within constraints from format when we work to length, and we need to use the space we have to be evocative. The reader doesn't know what you were thinking as you wrote, the reader doesn't go into it with
 
This is really one thing that I think is a critical takeaway for you: the reader is not you. They don't have your knowledge of the underpinnings, they don't have your contexts, and they don't have identical interests. Your role as writer in this is to make the reader interested in something that you are already interested in, but that they don't know anything about. You need to temper your interest in such a way that it invites the reader in, rather that presents a wall that they will bounce off of. Do not assume the reader is already interested; the only person interested in what's inside your own head is you. You're taking the story outside of yuor head, so you need to find what makes this interesting, and share it.
 
It takes until the very last paragraph on the page that we get literally any visual here; this is coming way too late given the length of the piece and given that the entire story thus far has been about the visual. This is what we should be opening on, if we're opening in this scene. Every word counts, in a short.
 
So, we also have the driver, who is apparently of so little import that the story only contextualizes them as a driver of vehicles. The primary piece of information about their identity that you have chosen to provide is their profession: so the fact that they have somehow forgotten their profession prior to this point, when the story does not, cannot forget this... this isn't believable. You have not created a context where this is easily believed.
 
P.2
 
The dialogue here is flimsy and frankly cliche. I know you like to re-create things you've encountered before, but this is a pretty stock exchange about the coins. This is a conversation that's been done before, following these beats precisely, and you're not bringing anything new to the table. The problem with doing this especially when it comes to conversation is that it doesn't naturally reflect conversation; it comes off stilted and awkward, as if the people involved aren't familiar with conversation. So exchanges like this are a pretty good example of why it's better to come up with your own material. It may be you're playing into something familiar but if you're not comfortable working that familiarity in new directions, it falls flat. And the "And, well, a warning, as well" line-- a repetitious line like that obviously shouldn't make it through your next revision. It's not a big deal; I naturally fall into weird phrasings like that sometimes too, you just need to learn to be aware you do that. This is where other eyes do help.
 
So let's talk about how you're handling giving out information, because this is really clumsy. So Rachel's citing a popular supersition. The only reason we know it's popular is because it's narrated as such: despite this popularity, the driver shows no familiarity. This is at odds with what you're saying here. If you're going to be presenting something as well-known, and if you want that to be believed, it can't be presented in the context of explaining something to someone unfamiliar.
 
The extent to which the driver's looking Rachel up and down is frankly odd. It feels like you don't know how to describe the act of looking at a person from within their own head. If her dress, her braid are worth calling out: what makes them worth calling out? Is there something remarkable about the fact that she's dressed simply? Why's the braid worth remarking? Do people wear their hair like this normally? Is it ordinary to wear a knife openly on your day-to-day?
 
Then you leap right from that to the oracle business: you make mention that context exists but you breeze right past that. It comes off non sequitorial.
 
But really: with the extent to which this scene actively avoids providing context, the way it leans on cliche, and the way we've not actually had any plot: the first scene should also be cut. It's superfluous, not giving the reader anything of particular import.
 
The next scene, then, which starts on this page, is probably where we should start: we've still got issues but here's where a story begins to exist. That said: dwelling on what's ordinary for the POV character (as it appears we're not in omniscient?) just lends to over-explanation. Show us what's unusual about her and what she's doing. Peasants, conceptually, are also fairly at odds with an urban environment. This feels like sloppy worldbuilding more than anything else.
 
P.3
 
I'm also quite certain at this point that you're not really familiar with haggling in any meaningful sense-- it's an involved process. Whatever's going on here, you're going to want to be calling on a concept other than haggling. As it is, this has the really awkward feeling of someone who's not at all familiar with how negotiable prices work. So the fact that prices aren't being negotiated on being abnormal isn't ringing true, because it's clearly being written by someone who primarily interacts with non-negotiable market pricing. Especially in the context of staple foodstuffs: these things would still typically have a non-negotiable price.
 
Like, this is a clear sign of just not doing the research that you personally don't find interesting. Which, I mean, again, fair enough. But the result is that when you don't know what you're talking about, it shows pretty badly. It just does not ring true at all; it smacks of using RPG sourcebooks as primary research material.
 
But yeah, going onto this page, it becomes really clear that you weren't at all engaged with writing the first scene. That said: pretty much all you're doing is telling. You're devoting a lot of time to saying and repeating what thing is weird, but no time at all to why this is a problem. You're outright telling us Rachel is torn; you're not making the reader feel her conflict.
 
P.4
I am going to start scaling back commentary at this point; if there's anything you'd like me to explain further I certainly will, but I've been at this about four hours already, I have other things I'd like to do with my evening.
 
Yeah, your dialogue is areally awkward; it is very much Here To Do A Job Within The Story, which pretty much prevents it from ringing true as dialogue. This may seem at odds with my harping on how everything within your story needing to be purposeful, but remember too is that one purpose of all this is making the reader care about what's going on and happening. So you need to multitask with this; right now you're neglecting that aspect. You're not really giving either character any sense of internality, any sense that there is an existence beyond what you're showing.
 
Now, what, this is a pie shop owner, they're a bit part in the story, they don't need to exactly have a full life story or whatever. But going into this conversation, they need to have a purpose to themself: what do they want out of this conversation? Right now, all this conversation is doing is serving to point Rachel in a direction; the pie shop owner has no function as a person. You could replace them with a signpost and nothing would change.
 
P.5
 
So, your POV is sliding around all over the place. The thing to remember when working in POV is to stay within that character's head-- her expression shifting and turning hawklike is definitely an external angle.
 
Then you have here things like 'the local inn'. Again, this is pretty RPG sourcebook worldbuilding, and it's another sloppy cliche. You seem to want to present this as a prosperous market town, but then give us peasants and a single place for people from out of town to stay. You're neglecting demographics, you're neglecting pre-modern urban life in general-- and you're giving us very little actual sense of place.
 
You're also really sort of doubling back on prior things: do people know that this city is unusually efficient? The sense that has been presented prior to now is that no, this is not the case, and Rachel being able to perceive this is somehow anomalous and related to her being something other-than-human. But nah, it's famous, groups of people are coming to try to figure it out.
 
P.6
 
You are using and overusing the specific word urchin in a way that really bespeaks a lack of familiarity. At this point it feels like you don't know how to paint bit characters. The whole of their existences are subsumed into these miniscule descriptors. And the fact is, you know, to reiterate: when you're working to this length, everything is significant. This means you have no bit parts. You really need to flesh that out.
 
P.7
 
Greyscale's a really recent term to be using in so nearly the same breath as urchins and peasants, and it's also not an applicable word to what you're describing here; in fact this description here in general is sliding all over the place POV-wise. Remember: if we're in Rachel's head, we can't see her eyes. The rest of the sentence is just grammatically wonky; if one were to be describing her eyes themselves changing, it would be to grey (or black or white, I suppose); if one were describing her own vision losing colour you'd want to actually describe that. Greyscale is appropriate to describing printed images; it's not appropriate to simply any thing that is monochrome black to white.
 
That said, you know, your meaning here is clear so it's not a total loss; the issue is that it's tonally inconsistent and that the word has specific connotations that affect its conversational usage.
 
Same with 'messed with', actually. It's not tonally appropriate either to this character's vernacular or to the general verbiage you've been using thus far.
 
Honestly though this scene c/should be cut and the important information within it slid around elsewhere. This conversation is pure knowledgeable-person-explaining-to-not-knowledgeable-person. Which, you know, again, no shame in doing that, we all do it from time to time. But it means rework is called for. No big deal.
 
P.8
 
Yeah, so here's one of the markers giving away your age, and it's the name Destinare. Don't, like, feel bad about it or anything. We all have this phase where we go through where boy howdy wouldn't it be awesome if these characters' names meant something deep and cool about what they're like. And, believe me, when I was your age, I did this all the time. The problem is, like, this isn't how names work. Even when people choose a name because they like the meaning, this isn't how names work; a word plopped down like that does not have the feel of a valid name because it isn't, really; it rings falsely to people who are familiar to whatever language you're cribbing, and it rings falsely to people familiar with the language you're writing in. Hate to say it, but this is a phase that the faster you work through, the better for your work down the line.
 
That said: we're literally halfway through your story, we've been in Rachel's head nearly the whole time, and here's the first indicator of what she's actually doing here. This is a problem. And, frankly, this is awfully convenient, that the first time it's come up, she already knows his habits, and poof, he's right there. We've spent this whole time just being told what's going on when we could have been learning along with Rachel. This would have done a lot to create the interest that I've been lamenting the lack of.
 
P.9
 
I hope this dialogue is supposed to be funny because it's hilarious.
 
Like, again, this is really showing your age here, this sort of dialogue. The problem is that it's basically impossible to take seriously, but it's clear by the trappings that the story requires taking it seriously. Like, this is presented as a conversation between two people, but the dialogue here is straight out of a B-movie or like, Skeletor, or, ugh, I don't know what kids your age have as touchstones for cheese these days. I would scale the whole thing back, look at the goals of the people in this conversation, and use that for a ground-up rework of this exchange. It helps to read your stuff aloud, if you can. It's good for checking natural flow.
 
Head-hopping again toward the end of the page too.
 
P.10
 
The bit at the top is-- really lazily written, to be honest. You're suddenly leaving POV in the interests of creating drama with the visuals but this honestly reads like you're just transcribing a scene you're watching out of the corner of your eye from a TV show. You're also assuming knowledge you haven't imparted: 'empowering Destinaire' is basically meaningless. You're telling, and it feels like you don't know how to show.
 
And then we drop out of that into more, telling, more explanation, more nothing actually happening. This is page ten of sixteen and we're still getting explanations and outright told what's going on. 'your kind lacks mercy' like this is a statement we have to literally take at face value because we have nothing else to go on.
 
Like, I get you have all these cool ideas in your head that really fascinate you, but you're not translating them to the page at all.
 
P.11
 
Again, this dialogue and Destinare's POV aspects are so thoroughly cheesy that they're really hard to take seriously; comments as above there. 
 
On the one hand, we're finally hitting a point where it seems like you were actually interested in writing. On the other hand, this doesn't feel like you have any meaningful conception of how to make a fight scene have any narrative weight. You're solely focused on the motions, making everything seem really blase. You're not giving the reader any reason to care about what's going on, it's just-- oh hey here's a fight. It feels really purposeless. And your narrative is so unconcerned with the violence, the lack of regard for the people being acted upon-- severely injured. 
 
And to be clear, this isn't something that is coming from POV handling of it, it's the actions you're describing; it has the feel of mashing barbie dolls against each other. This feels obligatory, it feels gratuitous; there's no violence to the actions, there's no adrenaline in the motions; it's literally the character taking out some mooks. That's kind of gross.
 
P.12
 
Yeah, this fight has no narrative presence in the slightest. It feels plastic: and then it proves to have not meant anything at all.
 
Also, it's 'mete'.
 
'Powers had protected him' is shortcutting, lazy-- describe what's going on, don't just tell the results. What does it feel like to be in his head in this moment?
 
Dialogue here combines cheese and explanation-- it's falling flat.
 
P.13
 
oh gosh just stop point-blank explaining things please. Probably well over half your wordcount is just outright telling the reader what's going on, it's wasteful and it's obfuscating any story you might have. This is, again, not how names work.
 
and as we go into this, like, a) death by blood loss, which is what the motions you're describing here are, is not instantaneous. It's not even credibly instantaneous. 'cut his own throat, drops dead' just doesn't work. It'll be quicker than a lot of the alternatives, sure. But we're talking minutes, not 'middle of an action scene without skipping a beat' fast.
 
But gosh, we're back into cliche territory; this is pure video game schlock at this point. Like, this is overdone enough to be laughable when video games have their 'end boss' die and reveal their 'true form'. Honestly, your dialogue around here does feel really informed by poorly-translated video game dialogue.
 
p.14
 
And now that you're done writing the bit that you wanted to write, you're glossing over everything again. 'Using his powers to set the city against her' which is, apparently, setting it on fire but you're giving nothing. 
 
But yeah this is definitely dialogue informed by bad translation here. Japanese handles elipses differently than English does; it doesn't work to use them like youre using them here. There's things to be taken from the stories you're liking in terms of overall beats, but in terms of the actual language use, it's really showing a lot how you're not all that well-read. Which is fair; it takes time to read broadly, but translation is always going to have a different flow than a native work. Definitely read more English-language novels; definitely pay attention to how the ones you go over in class are written. You may not enjoy them (I certainly didn't) but it'll help in your mechanics.
 
p.15
 
This conversation is still too on-the-nose and still too cheesy but with some rework you could probably do something with this; this is the first real inklings of actual personhood in your characters. It's too little too late but you could work with this some.
 
P.16
 
And the story ends as it began: saying things outright.
 
So, the thing is, this story is not really unsalvageable, much as it might feel like that at this point. You've got some decent seeds-- a place being unnaturally regulated by someone, the person who comes to stop it. Still a little bit facile in the underpinnings, but this is some evergreen concept work, really. But you don't have any characters, you don't-- really-- have a plotline; there's no motivation and there's no drive to any actor. Things happen but the story gives no meaning to them. At no point is the dialogue representative of how people talk and you're really gunshy of your narration; the only times you're really spending any time with them, it's very much like you're just relating a point-form version of scenes you're watching on TV. (this too is another thing showing your age). Your POV is all over the place in ways that are really disorienting.
 
Thing is, there's nothing shameful about these sorts of issues and they're all easy to make. I think if you stripped the story down to its fundamentals and rebuilt it from there you could have a much stronger short, and it'll be good practice. Working in constrained formats is pretty helpful for focusing on specific things to work out in your writing.
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Hey Aero, glad to be ab le to reciprocate by critiquing something new of yours, and excited to read another short when we haven’t had many for a while. Then they all come along at once!

  • Nothing like starting at the beginning. The title made me pause, not ‘Quenched by Fire’?

  • Once this is done, the sword will harden shortly”- I think this line has more bite if it’s more direct.

  • Any imperfections made in the quench will stay” – I feel like the imperfections don’t occur in the quench, but are fixed by it. Surely the weakness is part of the prior beating/forming process.

  • “As short recently as three years ago”

  • I thought there was a pov slip, when we heard that Rachel was shocked and the still got the driver’s thoughts, but I guess the first line could be in his pov.

  • “I’ve seen more expensive cities” – unusual measure of a city, as it implies the cost of goods and services. It would be more usual to consider a city grand or modern, rather than the cost of it to build or to live in - which I think is what you meant.

  • Back to the pov thing; if we’re in the driver’s pov, it’s strange that he knows her name.

  • “The day was a market day” – awkward, compared to simply ‘It was market day’.

  • I think two out of three stories on here (mine are not immune) have a bustling market with vendors calling their wares. I think we as a group need to look at different ways to convey the bustle in a city.

  • “Corr-level products” – another line about the city that sounds off to me. I think you could convey more in this statement, talking about Corr quality or standard.

  • “Gold, unasked for, always spells misfortune” – Cool.

  • Yeah, the pov’s making me uncomfortable. I don’t know if you’re going to omnipotent, but whatever it is, I’m find it disorienting.

  • “As she watched, a peasant walked in front of her to a stand selling various breads. He picked up a large loaf, haggled for less than thirty seconds, paid and then left. That was what the driver had missed” – This passage is rather messy for me. The description doesn’t convey how the vendor moves, which way they’re facing and even whether they’re trying to sell the bread to Rachel. Using ’30 seconds’ is a hard crash on my fantasy vibe – off tone, I think. ‘Various breads’ is awkward. It’s a minor detail, why draw attention to it with novel phrasing?

  • “But, it was different than from other towns”

  • I’m finding the phrasing unnecessarily complicated, even excluding the many typos.

  • “To her, lying was no different than telling the truth” – This is a great line, and I feel like it’s central to the USP / heart of the story. I think you need this line WAY up front in the story. So far, I’ve got to say, there has been nothing to excite or really interest me that much. The opening is very dry and lacks any kind of wonder or intrigue. A woman gets a taxi, walks through a market… meh. This line right here is clever and it contains more character than the first two pages.

  • “Any information that you could have is easily worth coin” – This line is way too unspecific. Would you go up to someone in the street and say, “Give me information about your town.”

  • “I found that explanation satisfactory” – By this point, the discussion with the pie-seller, I am starting to be intrigued, but again, this comes way too late for me. I would consider cutting back hard on the first 3 or 4 pages. What purpose does the cab driver serve? I think you could cut him down to less than a page.

  • “small street urchin” – this is another trope on the fantasy story checklist.

  • So far, all the currency has been silver and gold. Even throwing silver around seems pretty remarkable. I’m willing to accept that Corr is the equivalent of Norway or Switzerland, or something, so silver is the norm for small consumable items, but I still think you need to call it out more.

  • “Rachel sat in silence atop the local inn” – You say this is normal, is she on the slates? I can’t believe that’s normal. Is she not on a roof terrace or something, a balcony or walk-way? The lack of blocking stops me in my tracks here.

  • “The rooftop was empty, save for Rachel. Rachel attributed the reason” – This is not the first time you’ve used her name close to another instance. I think it sounds so awkward. I hope others mention this, because sometimes I feel like I'm the only one that sees how clumsy it sounds, when it’s so easy to use ‘she’ for the second one and make the prose so much smoother. I feel it sounds like someone calling them-self by their name in conversation. "Hi, I'm Robin. Robin is going to sit down. Would Robin like a drink? Robin would, thank you!"

  • “Riddle me this” – I like this line, and generally, I like Rach’s voice, but I don’t think there is enough of it. I think she has good potential, but I find the narrative too dense and sometimes start skipping, looking for dialogue.

  • “Rachel spun around and used her second sight” – I know you’ve foreshadowed Rachel being special, but this was a kick in the plausibles for me. I would prefer something specific in foreshadowing this.

  • “Like you’re a missing piece that doesn’t fit?” – Yep, I’m enjoying the interplay with the urchin. And I did enjoy the description of her second sight, I just felt you hadn’t really earned any wonder at the reveal, because of the foreshadowing issue – it felt a bit offhand to me.

  • I like the feeling around Rachel of her being a supernatural gumshoe – she can be the real strength of this story, I think, if you pare back some of the blurb narrative and give us more character.

  • “you had a year or two to build them up” – I'm confused by her exposition here. I think there’s confusion between immunity, which the kid could have built up, and merchants coming in. Surely, they are not immune, so would be affected. But the kid isn’t? I think this section could be clearer.

  • “Dest’s only used it for good so far, but that remains to be seen” – These two phrases are contradictory. She makes a statement, then say it remains to be ‘proven’. If she said ‘I think Dest has only used it for good so far, but that remains to be seen.’ – I.e. there is something still to be proven in the statement.

  • Her spilling the plot to the urchin felt a bit tell-y. I would prefer she told him reluctantly, like he forced it out of her. I think your dialogue would be uplifted by an out-loud read through, from a mistrusting perspective. If it is the case that Rach is innately trustworthy, and that is why people are totally (and unusually) honest with her, then I think you need to foreshadow that.

  •  “She’ll know what to do.” – I like this bit, sending the kid to safety. It feels like a Western, the lone hero sending a loved one away. ‘I gotta do this. I’ll come back for you.’ Nice.

  • “landing in the building’s shadows fifty feet below” – Yeah, I don’t think you treating these abilities she had with enough wonder. I don’t feel you’ve sold me / convinced me on them.

  • “After all, you did build this town up from scratch” – Huh? I didn’t get this before. Is this new information? I think you need to foreshadow this somehow before springing it here. M,

  • “Handshake to seal the deal?” – What deal? I'm not aware that she’s offered him a deal.

  • Sorry, but the dynamics of this fight sound like that standard bad Hollywood fight scene where the hoods attack the hero one at a time. Counting them off really accentuates it, but what I really want is for them all to attack at once, because that way SOMEONE gets a strike in. That’s what happens in the real world, surely. All the world’s hoods cannot be that stupid.

  • I like the collapsing of the inn, that was unexpected.

  • “Another moment or two, and he’d be able to restore the inn back before it fell” – not required, imho.

  • “The Shadows don’t enjoy being stopped, host of an Order, so they created me” – what is this bit? I don’t get it.

  • “this is my rune ax. Die” – first time, I thought the axe was called ‘Die’.

  • “only to see the dagger behind” – Huh? Word missing? Behind what?

  • “Dest gave one last look at the burning city” – The city’s on fire too quickly for me.

  • The typos, wrong and missing words really affect my ability to judge some passages.

  • I find some of the language in the debate rather muddy, confusing, and I find it hard to extract the point that’s being made. “Once you can or can’t be a bad person, that’s all the cause I need” – I just don’t know what she’s trying to say.

  • “seeking more hosts of Order” – I just don’t get the grammar of this at all. The Order? Also, I'm confused now about whose Order it is, his or hers.

I enjoyed parts of the story, but was confused and frustrated by others. The typos are killer. Have you been through an edit of this before you posted it? Do you use grammar checker? It would make it easier for critiques to run over it with a checker.

I think you’ve got a good story here. Rachel’s a good character, I think, but Dest came off a bit of a cut-out. The henchmen attacking came off lame to me, for reasons above. To close though, I think it would be worth working this through a few more times. I would work on the flow, of both language and references/plot – both of which could definitely be stronger.

Interesting stuff though, thanks for sharing.

<R>

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On 3/24/2017 at 3:34 PM, Robinski said:
  • Nothing like starting at the beginning. The title made me pause, not ‘Quenched by Fire’?
  • Once this is done, the sword will harden shortly”- I think this line has more bite if it’s more direct.
  • Any imperfections made in the quench will stay” – I feel like the imperfections don’t occur in the quench, but are fixed by it. Surely the weakness is part of the prior beating/forming process.

Excellent, looks like I get a chance to talk about weapon forging after all. Quench (you may have looked this up, I'm going to assume you haven't) is when you plunge a freshly-forged sword into hot oil or water, depending on the weapon. Oil is the standard. The quench does harden the blade, but what I'm referring to when I say 'imperfection'  is a tilt or bend in the straight blade that can occur when you plunge heated metal in a liquid cooler than it. The blade fully hardens about ten seconds afterwards, so a blacksmith has that time to quickly correct that. The title is 'Quenched in Flames', because, while you can't literally quench a sword in fire, it often shoots up a flare of some kind, hence it's being quenched in flames. Also, there was going to be a scene where Rune and De fight each other through the flame-torn city, but I misjudged the amount of time I had to work on the story, and that never ended up happening. That's the deeper reason behind it, anyway. Though, if I have to explain it, it means it should've been included in the story.

On 3/24/2017 at 3:34 PM, Robinski said:
  • I’m finding the phrasing unnecessarily complicated, even excluding the many typos.

Yeah, I know. I was going through it, marking it for edits from the comments, and noticed how bad it was. I was really tired, and didn't spell-check as well as I thought I did. That's my only excuse, and it's a bad one. I'll see if I can get a friend to do a quick run-through of these so we don't see a repeat of that.

On 3/24/2017 at 3:34 PM, Robinski said:
  • “To her, lying was no different than telling the truth” – This is a great line, and I feel like it’s central to the USP / heart of the story. I think you need this line WAY up front in the story. So far, I’ve got to say, there has been nothing to excite or really interest me that much. The opening is very dry and lacks any kind of wonder or intrigue. A woman gets a taxi, walks through a market… meh. This line right here is clever and it contains more character than the first two pages.

Good advice. I'll probably switch the opening scene to this, then, and save the description of the city for later.

On 3/24/2017 at 3:34 PM, Robinski said:
  • “small street urchin” – this is another trope on the fantasy story checklist.
  • “The Shadows don’t enjoy being stopped, host of an Order, so they created me” – what is this bit? I don’t get it.
  • “seeking more hosts of Order” – I just don’t get the grammar of this at all. The Order? Also, I'm confused now about whose Order it is, his or hers.

So, in addition do 'small street urchin' on the fantasy checklist, I was also going for universal Chaos vs Order forces. The Orders are Order, and the Shadows represent Chaos. Rune and De represents avatars of each, and they're fighting each on the human plane. The thing is, as Rune mentions, she isn't a normal host of Shadow, she's a bit different, which makes the fight unfair. Shadows are immune to Order, but Order can command humans to destroy Shadow hosts, which balances the factions. Rune was forge to change the rules, and can't be destroyed by humans.

Yes, I though this all could be deduced from the story by capitalizing the word 'Order' and error-riddled dialogue.

I am glad to see you enjoyed this short more than my last one. As the endless amounts of explanations may tell you, QiF is part of an expanded universe and Rune shows up every now and then, so it was great to be able to write a short starring her, and good to see that she's well developed. Thanks.

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9 hours ago, aeromancer said:

The quench does harden the blade, but what I'm referring to when I say 'imperfection'  is a tilt or bend in the straight blade that can occur when you plunge heated metal in a liquid cooler than it.

Right, I've got a basic impression about quenching, just what you see in movies where blacksmiths plunges hot blades into what looks like water, usually. I guess that's just to make it look impressive for TV. Oil, I did not know about. Interesting.

9 hours ago, aeromancer said:

That's my only excuse, and it's a bad one.

Hey, no worries! A draft is a draft.

9 hours ago, aeromancer said:

universal Chaos vs Order forces

Always cool, for me. I love Michael Moorcocks books.

9 hours ago, aeromancer said:

The Orders are Order

This is what's tripping me up here, having Order(s) as a title, but it's also something your can receive (i.e. a command) AND something you can be a member of, as in a organisation.

9 hours ago, aeromancer said:

Rune shows up every now and then

Cool - recurring characters are neat, imho.

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