Ace of Hearts

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  1. One thing I learned from researching romance stories is that for relationship plots, they generally have to establish two things. 1. Why do the characters need to be together (typically has an emotional component)? 2. Why can't they be together? What's pulling them apart? The contradiction here is the key. Advancing the plot requires the characters getting both closer to each other and getting pulled away more and more. And they generally have to happen at around the same time. Because it's not characters getting along or characters not getting along that is engaging, it's the pull between the two. At any given moment the relationship must be vital for the characters' well-being but also teetering on the edge of failure for stakes to be established (after learning this it made a lot more sense to me why so many romance novels depict unhealthy relationships). How does this relate to Ras and Ala? Right here we get all of the pulling apart but none of the need to be together (even though they do have a long shared history). So when I read it I'm like "cool. Yeah they should just be apart. End of their dynamic I guess." So why does Ala feel like he needs Ras? Does he feel lost without his mentor? Making sure this is there throughout the whole story is key, and so is ensuring that the dynamic advances both the disagreements and the need to be together.
  2. I'll also have a spot for the 31st as well if there's room! I notice that we have new readers so if they wanted to submit something and it would put us over 5 I'd be happy to sit out.
  3. All right time to get into it! As I go: pg 1-3. Whenever I see a glossary of character names and affiliations, I have two reactions: 1. Glad this is here! 2. ...This is going to be hard for me to follow, isn't it? -Idk how set in stone these characters are but since nb seems fairly common here I'm curious if there's a reason why all nbs seem to use they/them exclusively. I'm guessing it's so that you dont' have to deal with the confusion of switching pronouns with an already large cast, but if you wanted you could have chars who mostly get called one pronoun who do use others. -I'm also thinking about the one binary trans character. I think it's probably okay but I am thinking if there's a better way to represent it, since 1. it can be a source of annoyance when being trans is highlighted as a thing but being cis isn't and 2. labelling every other binary character as cis might just clutter up the page. No real suggestion here; just sharing my thoughts. pg 4. I want the first line/paragraph to draw me into the story's dynamic. Right now it feels like it's mostly setting the scene and it's hard to be engaged. pg 5. I'm already on team A. More funny names for stars/planets please -I'm curious if the protocol is supposed to seem super restrictive in a bad way or if it's supposed to be innocuous. So much sci-fi I see is dystopian that I'm always looking out for that at the start of stories. pg 6. At this point I feel like I need a bit more clarity about what I'm supposed to be tracking pg 7. Generational punishments seems pretty dystopian! ...It feels like this isn't the main point but I also can't really tell what the main point is right now pg 8. I don't really understand the significance of the lifeform. Part of me thinks I'm not supposed to, but in that case I think we spend too much time on it unless it's a constant lurking mystery type of thing pg 10. As I understand it, the emotional dynamic here is that A is afraid to live on a planet and that living with constant gravity seems like a nightmare? I think I need more of this throughout the earlier pages. pg 11-13. Okay I'm engaged here! This gives me a fun dynamic that feels distinct and a clearer idea of what's going on. Overall: Part of me wonders how useful my thoughts are going to be since I feel like a lot of the constructive feedback I bring up is true for a good deal of the sci-fi I pick up, so maybe it's a personal thing rather than issues with the story. With that preface out of the way... Would I keep reading? If I were able to get to the part where J wakes up, then yes. As of now, I'm not sure I do. I don't think I really "get" the part with A and the lifeform. I generally understand what's happening, but I had a hard time picking up the narrative dynamics and finding points of engagement. I tend to get bogged down in sci-fi and I don't always see strong emotional dynamics that get me invested in the characters or story, and that's how I feel about the first few scenes. Funny names for the planets is fun, but I don't really see how the actions here fit together to form the kind of story I'm engaged by. The part with J is a good hook for me. Honestly I think I understood it well enough on its own and some dynamics with A really only made sense to me after J's section. That being said I still don't get the feeling that the story has really gotten rolling yet. I'm hooked by the end, but cautious since I don't see promises of motion yet.
  4. Oh this doesn't really have much to do with anything but funnily enough I wrote multiple drafts without realizing that Z has ADHD. After I got diagnosed, I looked back and was like "...huh."
  5. Ooh more feedback! Thanks everyone! This is super helpful; thanks! I really appreciate having this inside perspective (though of course I understand that I need to get a broader view of the community too!). I think my pitfall here is that I did research on the condition itself, but I haven't learned from intersex spaces since that's not really how I've been taught to do learn. So a lot of the pitfalls I was told to avoid from articles written about intersex issues were... very very obvious and didn't cover stuff like this, since they were probably written for people who don't really understand what intersex even is. I'm glad you mention the trans thing. How do I make it clear that trans issues aren't present without, well, bringing up those trans issues with regards to S being intersex? My worry was that if I just ignore it but everyone sees him as having female body characteristics, he'll come across as trans rather than intersex. Most of S' "queer people not fitting into society" stuff is around the other ways he's queer. I assume that's fine so long as I'm clear with drawing the lines? From his perspective being intersex highlights biological and racial traits... which maybe there are still issues with, idk. To some extent though I think there is an element in the story of "people of all types who don't fit in need to band together" and that's not something I want to compromise. I hope that if I'm better at drawing those lines between intersex and (other) queer it won't be an issue to have him feel like a part of this band of misfits? I'm also guessing that I should shift more towards "people should be precise when talking about this even if that wouldn't be usual for people in this culture?" I was already trying to lean that direction and it sounds like I need to go further? This matches up with what I've heard from other readers as well. My current plan is to focus more on him finding RA in this chapter--that is, have them actually make an appearance--and save the family stuff for S' next chapter since that's when he actually talks to Z's partner. Thanks a ton for your thoughts!
  6. Thanks for the feedback @kais @Mandamon! I could feel that something wasn't clicking this chapter and this helped me identify more of why. Yeah, I think this is the key. Especially since Z is specifically *not* focusing her story around rescuing her partner, and I wanted the brother to be important but no real progress was made on that front. I think the next Z chapter is a little more focused but I'll have to see if that's also not enough. There's a big event concerning the brother's death a couple more chapters in with Z so maybe it makes more sense to start there for Z. This is something I see from time to time and I've never really quite understood the rationale behind, so I'm wondering if you'd be able to talk more about this. Is is really more accurate if they sound generically 18th/19th/20th century instead of generically 21st century? Or is the issue period-specific slang? I don't really consider words like "badass" to fall under that category, though maybe that's just me being a zoomer lol. I definitely understand why you wouldn't include stuff like modern internet slang but I need more help understanding why something like this is off-putting. Thanks again!
  7. This could be a good thing to show since right now I have no reason to not take him at face value. For example if he's grumbling about mages but then tries to do something nice for them after they heal him we get to be like "oh that's just kinda how he is." Not that it has to be this but hopefully you get what I'm saying. I think I dislike him a lot less here if this show he's putting on for himself is undercut in some way.
  8. Yup I think there needs to be setup that C is dangerous even if the characters don't see it. Because while I could put two and two together, it was mostly from meta knowledge rather than anything in the story itself. Idk if you've watched Brandon's lectures but he has a whole section on this which he calls "keeping your promises." This is a dynamic I like and I think does flesh out his character relative to the others like you were saying. It wasn't until this chapter that I realized how much this story benefits from having someone like Ala who has big dreams about building things up since like you mentioned we don't really have a character with that perspective yet. Tbh if this is his main attribute in the early chapters I think I'll be more invested in him. Hmm this is an interesting idea. That Ala's conflict and plot at the begin is focused on his relationship with Ras, which to me signals that to some degree it's a relationship plot/subplot (whether the story wants it to be or not). This could definitely be a way to set up an inciting incident early on that doesn't have to be a world-shattering political shift like this, though new challenges arise. Happy to comment further but I won't make you read too much more for now since I'm not sure how much the story wants to lean into the relationship between Ala and Ras as the main conflict/plot. I was wondering if this was the case. I think hanging a lantern on it could be a good idea. From this alone (maybe there's more context that makes it work) I still think that's a hard sell as an inciting incident. The reason this chapter is engaging to me is because Ala is forced to deal with C and the issues surrounding it. Him realizing that he wants to get involved with magic laws isn't as powerful since there's nothing binding him to it. Knowing that he could back out of it whenever he wants to (even if I'm expecting that he won't) lowers the stakes. Though this is quite solvable if you do want an inciting incident along these lines (which, imo, comes down to something arising that means he needs these magic laws now. Like someone he's close to getting sick and needing magic healing). Really like this idea. Pretty tried and true strategy of introducing something as a serious deal is having it kill someone and there's nothing wrong with going back to the basics!
  9. I'll have a slot for this Monday, please!
  10. As I go: pg 1. It seems like there's been a rapid shift in how C is viewed. And to some degree, yeah killing a royal will do that, but there's something about it that still feels rather sudden. Maybe it's because I never really pictured C being a huge worry before Is and crew were attacked. -I like the detail about T not having adequate defenses due to past politicking. Really highlights how caught in the middle of this Ala is pg 2. I do like the general vibe I get from this chapter so far. This feels like the inciting incident for Ala's character moreso than the stuff with Is back in part one. pg 3. I'm sure if this gets published it will have a map to make this clearer, but I feel like I need to understand the geography better here. Is T a tactical landing/invasion point for C? If so I think this makes this whole thing more engaging since Ala is really in trouble. pg 4. I don't remember the nuances of what's going on between Ala, Ale, and T, and tbh it's not really a point I'm super invested in to begin with -insurrectionists in T? And whose mother are we talking about, and what work? pg 5. Oh so it's insurrectionists against the throne who are pro-magic? That does make sense. When you mentioned insurrectionists in T I was picturing an insurrection against Ala which would have been a big thing to drop on us here. pg 6. I really do like the base dynamics here but something still isn't clicking. Maybe we need more about what his mother's work is, what it means to Ala, and how it connects to the current situation. Right now I don't know what the stakes are. -I think I also just don't see Ras as being super important in general which is part of my holdup here. What's the reason Ala seems to have no faith in Ras? Yeah we get the thing with the insurrectionists but his distrust seems to run deeper. A lot of these dynamics are good for building conflict but I feel like the setup isn't there. -And that comment was before I even got to the part where they plan to dissolve the bond. That's quite a drastic action over what feels like a minor disagreement. I also don't know what the deal is between Ras and Ala's mother so that accusation doesn't mean anything to me. pg 8. It's been going that direction? Maybe WRS but this was not clear to me. I get that they have different ideas about what to do but dissolving all formal connections in such a turbulent time is a huge decision -So I'm gathering that R is super pro-magic, which I'm not sure I even realized before now. What exactly does he want to accomplish politically and why (the why can be a mystery but in that case we need to know it's a mystery)? Consolidating his character around "dude who wants magic to be legal" could help us better understand his role in the story. pg 9. This discussion about roads is... actually really interesting! I want to see it come earlier in the chapter so I get a better view of the geography. Ala's dynamic of "I wanted to build up infrastructure to help my people but now it's being used against us" is an interesting one. pg 11-12. I get that Ala is confused too but we might need a little more about what's going on. If you betray your oath, does it only manifest in situations like this, or is R actively betraying his oath only now? Ala seems to think the former, but that doesn't seem like a great oath system if you can get away with stuff for years and it only gets caught at this check in. And maybe the most important question of all: If R broke the oath, why is he going along with this if he knows it's going to be revealed? I trust that you have the answers to these questions but I think we need more insight on them here and now. 1. Mostly the end, as I mentioned in LbLs 2. Nothing too long in particular. Mostly it just feels like the setup isn't quite there for a lot of these beats... which as you said you're already aware of. So it's a little hard for me to assess but I think you're on the right track since you knew to comment on the setup. 3. Ras isn't coming across for me like he needs to, but again maybe that's a setup issue. 4. How Ala has to prepare for an invasion by C and how he's going to be left out to dry potentially is a big source of engagement for me. If his military is too strong G sees him as a threat, and if it's too weak C just rolls over him. Add in his desire to build infrastructure and help his people rather than dedicating resources to war while his people struggle in the harsh environment. Like I said in the LbLs, for me this is strongest inciting incident in Ala's story I've come across so far because it ties together his ideals, motivations, and political situation (his thing with Is felt more like him stumbling onto something unrelated to his character and then not doing anything regardless since V handles it all). Of course, I'm guessing it's not meant to be because it occurs in chapter 20 when an inciting incident should be in the first couple of chapters we see from a protagonist. That all being said, I really do feel like his story is only starting now. I haven't seen the new setup with revisions but I can't think anything else that gets the ball rolling as much as this. Which is true for the court as well. I never really felt super engaged with the court politicking before but now it feels vital since everyone's survival is directly on the line. I know I brought this up before and I'll mention it again: if we start the story in part 2, I think a lot of my hangups with the story vanish entirely. Again, not expecting you to actually take that advice, but hopefully it can be a springboard for new ideas. Because I do wonder about the pace of this story overall. It seems like the story is really only getting rolling now and even after a lot of cutting we're 20 chapters in. And it's not like these are short chapters, either. How far are we into the story? 75k words? The word count Brandon recommended for new writers trying to publish epic fantasy is 125-150k in total, so while I don't know how long this is going to be I worry in general that we're getting off the ground too late. I do hope this comes across as encouraging since aside from the Ras stuff where I don't have proper context for the setup this is really what I've been looking for in Ala's story all this time. I just think we need to get here (or to an equivalent getting the story rolling point) much faster than we do.
  11. Glad to hear this because this is actually exactly what I want. The issue I'm running into is that a lot of what's normal in the setting that's associated with Islam (veils, polygyny, ect.) didn't originate with Islam in Arabia, and make a lot of sense for a culture set in a desert. I do think there are probably a few too many details in there that I based off Islam though and I can try to trim those back. The main thing I'm wondering is if having this culture be monotheistic at all is the right choice. My rationale for that is otherwise the world ends up with a sort of "each race is so different from the others and has their own god" which was the original historical setup of the world and is kinda a tired trope in fantasy. Hmm... I'll be sure to do more thinking on this front. Even if I do keep it monotheistic the whole setup of the religion may be too close to Islam, too. With FC being a great prophet figure like you inferred. I'm wondering if calling out "angels" is hurting this as well since as I understand it they're mostly associated with abrahamic religions. I wonder if there's a better way to frame "divine messenger" in a way that still gives the same weight. Kind of, but iirc it's mostly religion from a historical lens rather than a theological one. So yeah maybe it makes sense to shift further away. I think my issue is that I'm so used to the framework of abrahamic religions that it's hard not to default to (my incomplete idea of) that. I'd be happy to hear any more comments as we go along! Oh really! Yep I looked it up and you're right there. I think vipers might be what he's looking for. This comment highlights that I maybe need more meat here because the truth is that currently S has no idea what it signifies. He (kinda) has opinions about what the angel represents in the abstract but doesn't know what to make of one appearing right in front of him now. But it makes sense for this to be where the story develops, not the stuff at the end that there's no context for. Hmm I can definitely see why this is coming across this way and I do kind of agree about the multiple chapters thing. Z is the other PoV character so just seeing her first probably helps tbh. I'll think this over. I think this ties in well to what you were saying about needing more from the angel since I'd need a new thread to end this on anyways. Thanks for your thoughts! This is one of the things I was wondering if it would be unclear. The crystal provides a protective aura that nullifies all psychic powers, but if it's physically covered then the aura disappeared and psychic powers such as telepathy can work on the person. Intersex and trans, yeah. Specifically, the characters don't know this (S doesn't and some of the scholar types know a little bit), but to have the coloring someone has to have 2 or more X chromosomes. This is a good idea. There's a telepath in the next chapter (I might bump the talk with J back so can't count on that) so that can carry through. I think the main point the story wanted to convey here was that S being an empath is rare rather than the standard (as one might assume if that's the first one they're shown), but I think I can convey that without mentioning telepaths. Good to hear! I'll do another pass on them. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone!
  12. As I go: pg 2. I'm interested by the oathband thing, though I don't feel like I have enough to work with for it to be a point of engagement for now pg 4. What does G think that this guy did? I can believe the burst of anger but insisting that he deserves worse than death for finding a horse seems really strange pg 5-6. O is the most interesting character to me so far. I'm worried she's not going to show up much more though so idk if I should get invested pg 6. Seems like G's anger is what he's using to cover guilt but tbh knowing that doesn't make me like him any more--or be any more engaged with his story. It doesn't seem like he's supposed to be fun to hate either pg 7. Damned mages for healing him? I know he was raised in a culture that isn't comfortable with magic but come on dude -uhh should I know C? pg 8. Is there a reason why she's shortening the names? It's not like other words are being shortened for efficiency's sake and it's not exactly a cover code either. pg 12. We make good progress with G finding traces of Is, but I'm not sure what this actually advances in the story. Partially because I don't know how close he is, since for all we know this could be days after Is did the ritual. What should we take away from this chapter? Right now I need a bit more help seeing it. 1. Nope and partially because I didn't remember all of the details about how the dude died so I was right there with G lol... which means it might have felt repetitive to someone with a better memory. But my instinct is to say it's fine. 2. Nope! 3. As you can see in my LbLs G is uh not my favorite part of this. I think part of it's personal preference, since I rarely like the stern loyal trainer figure even though there are a lot of beloved ones in fiction. What I will say about G here is that he makes too much sense to the point of not feeling distinct. It's natural that he feels guilty about losing Is since that's his duty, it's natural that he covers that with rage, and it's natural that he hates magic since he was raised in a culture that does. Which means his actions here don't give us a ton of insight into who he is. If you want to hammer home being suspicious about magic I think it has to feel personal to him for it to stand out. Not that it has to be a stereotypical "my parents died to magic" or whatever but I think there needs to be something that actively weaves his personal dynamics with magic into the story. O I do like a lot because unlike G she is in a distinct position of straddling two civilizations, and her opinions on what's going on interest me more because of that. 4. Mostly O and the cultural exchange between Gil and M. Which I wasn't sure was the main point so I actively held myself back from focusing heavily on. 5. Hmm for me the main thing is that it doesn't feel like Is' arc has been advanced much and we're just watching her try to survive instead. Like I said before I'm biased against those kinds of stories but I do think there's a lot of that for a character whose arcs are are set up around magic and politics. I'm also still not sure why Ala really matters to the main plot, though I guess I could say that about a lot of PoV characters in epic fantasy.
  13. This is good to know! A couple comments: 1. The fact that people don't normally do it themselves was clear to me, and I didn't see it as a big focus because the information emphasized by that (namely that Is is in a pretty desperate situation to need to do this herself) is already clear to us. 2. The fact that it's supposed to operate more like a trial that people get dragged to was something that I missed. I imagined this as something closer to a Catholic confession. So they wouldn't have expected that marking to appear? That was something I didn't pick up on. I just figured Is was unfamiliar with the ritual and her surprise was due to knowing the marking was coming but not having internalized it yet. I do still think that the ritual itself tells us little about Is and her character, but after hearing this I think the circumstances around it I'm more interested. If I'm reading this right and J's response was more dramatic than expected, it has lots of potential to bring out interesting character dynamics in Is' reaction to it, and advance plot threads. If that's the case then my comment is that she is a little too successful in focusing only on the pain for it to be an engaging dynamic for me. I never felt the threat of her falling to her emotions... which isn't necessarily a bad thing but if that is her big struggle here we need to see some vulnerability in order to be engaged. Because under this light, she's counterintuitively totally in command, and there doesn't feel like a chance of failure on this front. And some things won't come across the way we want no matter how good of a job we do in the first round of editing. It's something I try to tell myself since I find it pretty easy to get discouraged by this sort of thing. Happy to help!
  14. I'd also like a spot for tomorrow!
  15. Since this is the second version of an earlier sub I missed, I'm going to jump into this one. As I go: pg 1. Great opening line! -How long has it been since she's met her gf? 14 was the only age we were given so I'll need help seeing them as anything super different from that. pg 2. The way we jump from narration into scene makes me confused as to where exactly we are -A's line about work feels generic to me, and even though that seems to be somewhat intentional it's hard for me to get a real read on her. The concept has hooked me but the characters have not so far -Similar note about the book writing. It's definitely more revealing, but we already know she's into girls, steamy romance lit, and probably history too from the train, so this isn't really telling me much I don't know. Imo in a short story format characters need to have striking qualities revealed about them pretty quickly pg 3. I like the taking pieces thing! -I'd like to see more about why J is having such a hard time proposing. Again I think my hangup isn't with lack of sense; it's that it makes too much sense. The fact that almost anyone would be nervous in her situation means that I don't find her challenge here to feel distinct or personal to her pg 4. I feel like there's gotta be a way to tactfully ask about why she wants to keep train pieces. I feel like I'm supposed to believe that these people are very connected with each other but their communication difficulty has me... not exactly worried, per se, but I wouldn't have guessed they were close enough to be on the brink of marriage. pg 6. The train spirit thing is really catching my interest, and I want to see more hints of it earlier on so that it hooks me from the start instead of 6 pages in. I can see where the story's trying to go with the ghost stories, but at the time I didn't feel like I had any reason to take them literally. I want to feel like something's clearly off that I don't know how to place (though other effects could work just as well, of course) pg 7. Ah so the communication conflict I saw before on pg. 3 was intentional. I think this could be called out earlier. I get that J isn't fully aware that she thinks A is keeping secrets until it happens, but hanging a lantern on the communication barriers or lack of trust there earlier on could still help I think pg 8. I don't feel like I'm getting enough about the spirits. If they're, like, cognitively equivalent to humans then them moving to drown these two people in the lake (even as collateral damage) is awful. If they're closer to raw emotion and don't think the same way humans do this starts to make more sense. pg 11. If J doesn't trust the ghosts, why is she not booking it the moment she gets out of the train? pg 13. I'm getting a really good feeling for their conflict here, and this is the first time I feel fully engaged by the conflict in their relationship. If these ideas of trust and secrets are as integral to the story as I'm guessing, I need more setup in the early pages to hook me. pg 14. Idk if this is the intention but I'm really worried about J. Sticking with someone because you don't see another way to live is, uh, not great. This all kinda reminds me of the time I was in a codependent relationship that was never going to end well. pg 15. Random q but why does an author like A have chainsaws lying around? I haven't thought about the physical setting of where they live much but if it's a more rural/forested area it might prevent me from questioning this. Plus emphasizing where they are helps me picture where they are a bit better, which right now I don't feel like I have a great idea of -Oh so A has ADHD. I'm pretty certain that's an intentional callout. I'd prefer to know something this integral about her earlier on, and nothing before really screamed ADHD to me. Though I don't think it's vital to do so. pg 17. The kitten appearing feels a little random to me pg 19. This could be a personal thing (and is an issue I have with a lot of romance tbh) but I'm really not sure I believe they're good for each other. 1. In terms of beats to crank up, I think the ideas within the story are solid but could use clearer setup. On the supernatural side, I think we need more about the ghosts early. Hearing that there are ghost stories doesn't give me any reason to think that they're real on their own. This isn't to say that we need to see the ghosts, but there should be something the story is focusing on that tells us there's more going on than meets the eye. On the romance side, the ideas of secrets and deceit, and how J deals with them both in herself and in A, doesn't really feel like a focus until a good deal of the way through, and I think it needs to be there earlier. 2. Hmm can't speak about the last draft but I saw the haunting as more of an aesthetic thing and only recognized it was literal when it happened. 3. That would help me, yeah. 4. Honestly... not quite. As much as I like romance, one of the gripes I have about the genre is that it's hard to get endings that feel earned because the romance plot demands a showy love declaration over characters actually working out their problems. The conflict here is great! The secrets, lies, and trust dynamics hit hard given how fundamental they are to their relationship. But the characters don't really solve that problem other than (kinda) saying that they'll stop doing it. I think there needs to be a firmer thematic resolution to these strong ideas you've set up. The kitten thing is sweet but imo doesn't really connect to the story's main ideas in its current form. I'm going to shill this book since I just finished reading it and it has a lot of the same ideas of trust and lies that I found interesting here too. The singular romance book I've read (out of not a ton tbf) that I feel like has the characters actually work out their problems in a compelling way is called "Hold Me Closer Toni Danzig." Highly recommend if you don't mind stuff that's somewhat sexually explicit. It's a novella so pretty quick read too. Another unrelated note about the romance genre is that I want to be more connected with these characters than I am. As I'm guessing you know, romance plots are pretty cookie-cutter so the characters really have to do the heavy lifting. The ones here have a lot of good moments but I think there's room for improvement. In particular what I'm looking for are specific, distinct personality details. Right now I don't feel like I really know them on a deep level as people, which I think comes from how so much of what we learn about them fits neatly into place without telling us too much about who they are. I think there's more room for specific quirks, likes/dislikes, values, memories, ect. to surface. Good luck editing!
  16. Maybe! Though tbh I'd need a bit more help to see it. So far the potential of political upheaval in ch. 1 seems disconnected from the magic mishap in the prologue--I know that there is a connection in the mage rebellion and magic laws, but I think we'd need more about that for this to work. Which requires a whole separate dimension of worldbuilding when some people say this is already a lot. Though I can picture it being really good once it all comes together. Tbh I think this is going to be a difficult thing to consolidate with what this chapter wants to be right now. Particularly that V has everything under control. With this perspective it makes me understand why the story was going for Is and R bickering about minor things in previous drafts--after all, if she thinks things are under control it makes sense to focus on what she can't control--which is R (though it's clear that this wasn't the right direction for the story). A part of me does wonder what the story actually gains by having Is think everything's under control, though I'm sure there are ways to keep it there. Maybe I'm overcomplicating things. I think it comes down to stakes. If Is messes up, what are the consequences? If they're focused around her not being able to talk sense into R, we might need more tangible stakes on that front. What consequences have R's behavior led to before, why are they extra-important now, and how does it connect to the world around them in tangible ways?
  17. I don't read/know much about middle-grade but I'll do my best! As I go: pg 1. Love the first line. Usually I hate it when stories start in dialogue but it works for me here. -I think I need to feel a stronger connection between B and this duck. It's believable that he'd react this way but I think I need to see a bit more of where that comes from. Something like a meaningful moment he has with the duck (just throwing stuff out there). I think that's especially important because he's adamant about this duck not being able to be replaced by another duck. pg 3. I don't see what the first half of the page adds to the story, currently -skin shriveling is a pretty... intense way of describing that. I have to admit that image never crossed my mind. Is this a common thing for other swimmers to think about? The muscles aching does seem on point, though. There's something satisfying about it... even as someone who kinda hated swimming. -"Intergalactic" gave me a bit of whiplash. Potentially fine if people are expecting space stuff from cover/synopsis though. pg 4. I like the coach's line at the bottom. The fact that they're not saying "it's bad to damage property!" and is instead saying "you didn't do a good job of actually affecting him so the vandalism was pointless" is refreshing for a mentor figure and has some interesting implications about their politics pg 5. The couple paragraphs about Q was exactly what I wanted back in page 1. Any chance it could be moved up? Also would tell me that this is a space setting on page 1 which would be helpful. 1. I'd say yes, though mostly because of the dynamic between B and the coach, so I'd be a little tentative going forward because I'm not sure how much of a focus that will be in the larger story. 2. Not a middle-grade reader but yeah. He does sound mature for his age which I see as a positive. Kid protags in fiction always seemed... especially childish to me as a kid. 3. I think the worldbuilding taking the backseat a bit is fine, but what we do get I'd like to see earlier since it 1. Doesn't force me to reimagine the story halfway through the chapter and 2. fleshes out character dynamics more 4. I'm expecting a sports story, though most sports stories I know are about team sports so I'm not sure what will be done here without all the "power of teamwork" stuff. I mean obviously he could swim relays but that doesn't seem to be what's being set up, and it's not like those require a ton of coordination anyways. Also I'm guessing there will be lots of focus around economic inequality which I'm here for. It's presented in a way that I think I would have liked as an 8-10 year old (when I did most of my middle-grade reading).
  18. I glanced over other comments and once again I seem to have very different reactions from a lot of people. Huh. Hopefully you can figure out what to do with that because it's too late for me to think about this any more.
  19. Slowly making my way through old subs... As I go: pg 1-3. This is a lot of space dedicated to this visceral survival stuff. Which isn't a bad thing but I worry that too many people like me won't be as interested in the content due to personal preference since this isn't why I got engaged with the story and people who find this kind of thing compelling would want more earlier on. pg 4. Just airing my thoughts as I go: I think my current hangup is that I'm not understanding how this surivial/pain stuff is advancing the story's ideas. Though like I mentioned a personal bias against this kind of thing probably isn't helping. pg 5. My first moment of being hooked in the chapter is about how her injuries relate to magic and healing. pg 7. Is the idea that if she dies before getting to do the ritual, she'll get condemned in the afterlife? Again I have a personal thing of usually not finding that kind of motivation super interesting in general but I do feel like it's a little basic. Mostly because if it's something everyone is expected to do in her situation, it really tells us little about her character that she's doing this. I'd like to for the story to either fast-forward through this or go further in and explore Is' connection to this ritual in a way that's more personal. Maybe that shows up later but I feel like I need at least hints of it now. pg. 8. The J is a deity, right? So far the most interesting thing about the ritual is how she views them (him? Can't remember if they're gendered) as maybe having a different view than a reasonable person. I'm interested in whether that means "The J's view is higher than we lesser mortals can comprehend" or "The J isn't reasonable sometimes but I gotta play along so I don't get smited to hell." pg 9-11. I think the story's on the right track because I can feel that this should be impactful, and it's the right place for something like this. My hangup is that right now I don't know how this advances the story's ideas. Religion has felt like more of a background fixture so far, though I'm starting to see what you mean with wanting to put more focus on the vows early since that would make this seem less jarring. pg 12. It's good that the story is setting up this mystery to convey that we shouldn't know exactly what's going on either, but I also don't really feel the stakes of whether or not Is figures out her magic stuff. 1. Nothing I can think of! 2. Yup does feel a bit out of the blue. I think using part 1 to contextualize this will help with that point, but I still have the lingering question of what this does for Is' character and the ideas of the story. Mostly because if this is such a standard thing to do in the world in this situation, is it really telling us that much that Is is doing it? So far it seems like the price she has to pay is the biggest candidate for a strong story beat to come out of this since it has the potential to be personalized, which means that we might need more info about her price here to understand why we should care. Not necessarily more answers, but more hints or why we should care about those hints. Though that's one of many routes the story could take in revision to deepen the chapter's connection to Is' character. 3. I personally think that yes it is still, though like I mentioned it's something I don't tend to love in stories even when it's done "well". My main hangup is that pain itself really tells us little about her character. How she reacts to the pain can, sure, but the experience of her being in pain for multiple pages feels more like it's there to convey a sensation than aid in telling a story, if that makes sense. Which... is also often how I feel even in media where people say it's done well, so idk. And while this isn't just pure pain and she does do stuff while she is in pain, I don't find it to be delving into the parts of her character I find interesting given how much pain colors everything she does. 4. To me this chapter had more of a feel of "a bunch of things that almost work and I can see where they could be going" rather than being hooked by one aspect in particular. For example, the hints of Is' religious views and a potential personalized cost she pays for the ritual have real potential to be interesting, but I don't feel like I get enough to be fully engaged.
  20. All right I read over everyone's comments because the first chapter is super important to get right so I want to leave as much feedback as I can. My guess, and you can decide whether or not you agree with me, is that the reason I was more engaged with Is' convo with R all the way through is that I knew to piece together how fragile the situation is with V and how it relates to Is and R based on what you told me and what I knew from later in the story. I'm just spitballing here, and I'm wondering if the reason that fragility isn't resonating much with people is that it's all in the hypothetical for now. I wonder if there's a way to make the threat of political upheaval feel more real. My first thought is for it to be connected back to some sort of previous time this happened which is still recent in everyone's memory. The circumstances might have been different, but maybe this is where you bring the mage rebellion in? Which I know you got criticized for before, but if it's framed as a device to make political threat seem more real instead of a lore dump then maybe it will be received better. And you don't have to call it out by name if you think it's too much for people to deal with in chapter 1. And as yet another aside, if you can set up that political upheaval is a real, tangible thing that is on the horizon, I think Ala's story also benefits from him being at the center of that. In the current/previous draft (idk if you've revised them since I read them), I never quite understood why his interactions with the court matter. If he's the tipping point that could mean descent into chaos and violence, I'll grasp that much better. Okay one final point is that I think what happens at the tournament also works better if we can feel exactly how fragile the situation is. I really do think the story clicks into place if this piece is solved. But hey, I'm not the one who calls the shots and it's possible I'm off the mark. But feel free to chat me up if you want to talk more about this.
  21. Time to get back into all of the critiques I've been letting slip by. As I go: pg 1. Commenting on the first sentence given how important it is. I think it's good but the part after the dash is unnecessary and makes it feel like the story isn't trust us to connect the dots ourselves. Not egregious, but not what I want my first thought to be. -I think there's a bit too much descriptive info in the 2nd paragraph. We're (or at least I with ADHD am) only going to remember one or two key details about these chars anyways. What do you want them to be? -I do like the setup of the scene though. Gives Is space to be active. pg 2. There's been a lot of Is telling us why L is doing what. To me the strongest moments of these are when it's connected to her (i.e. "It wasn't her opinion he had been looking for"). The others don't do as much for me. pg 3. By this point I feel like I need to get more hints about what Is is trying to accomplish here pg 4. So L is hiding something big? I think that's information we could have used at the start. pg 5. All right so L is worried about... something. That's a little to broad for me to get invested. Does Is have reason to believe it's something about C specifically? That would give me more to latch onto. -As much as I like R, I'm curious why the story doesn't have Is figure this out about T and Ala herself. It's easier to get invested in Is if I feel like she's good at what she does, and right now I'm not seeing that. pg 6. I really like that detail about Is not wanting the sentiment of her being named heir to be repeated. It does a lot to ensure we know that R's position as heir is precarious pg 7. is Is accusing R of making some joke about her drawing him in through attraction? If that's the case, he should at least firmly refute it before telling her to relax. -I like R's line near the bottom. That vulnerability is something I like seeing from him. pg 8. Good way of weaving in info about M and L. I don't think we knew this in previous drafts (or if we had I forgot), and now I care about them much more. Tbh this is so important I might not mind the story straight-up telling us this at the start. -hmm I don't really get the line below. Was L's plan to marry M off to Is? That hardly gets his son "on the throne," right? Unless I'm mistaken and people do talk about royal spouses that way, which is a possibility. I just imagined some sort of plot to make M king by offing the royal kids or whatnot, which to me is more interesting. -"You're going to balance yourself right over a cliff" lmao I love this guy pg 9. I understand the whole thing with Is and marriage much better than I did in the first draft and I think it's an absolutely excellent character conflict between her and R. It's like I was saying from the start: the politics were never the problem. The story just needed to be cleaned up to let them shine. 1. A bit too much imo. To me I think the issue is I honestly care about Is and R a lot more than L and M. When Is makes observations about L in particular, I don't care much unless they reflect back on her. I think it's fine for L and M to not hold my interest as much, tbh, though maybe that's not acceptable if they're important down the line. 2. I think so though I am somewhat familiar with this world at this point. I'd honestly be more explicit about the lack of patriarchy here in ch. 1 if you can because to me this still reads like a patriarchal situation. I wouldn't assume that Is not being heir and her dynamics with marriage had nothing to do with her sex/gender except for what you told me. 3. Yes! Though I still think we can do better. Why does Is care so much about weaseling this secret out of L? We get a few hints but they're a bit to vague for me right now 4. Yes their relationship is the best part of this chapter and honestly one of the best parts of the story as a whole. I was really feeling the weight of the situation while arguing which almost never happens to me during a ch. 1. Tbh if I can offer prescriptive advice (in my usual vein of not actually thinking you should do this but hoping it reveals more about how I'm currently reading the story), if I were in charge I'd start the story by R dragging her away from the convo. The details of what she was talking to L about could come up in their conversation because if I get to focus on just R and Is I'm totally hooked. 5. I think it's good because it sets up Is' and R's conflicts/arcs well. I don't get a sense of much happening outside of that but I don't feel like I need to for now. Imo it's more important to set up character plots than overarching plots anyways, and it's often more intuitive to do so. Like for R and Is, all I have to see is them interact and I can be invested even without knowing all of the context. If you wanted me to care about C's invasions in ch. 1 it would be a lot harder of a sell just because of how much more complicated it is. 6. I think it's totally fine. Imo prologues should be different from chapter 1s in ways like this, or else they'd just be the chapter 1 and chapter 1 would be chapter 2. 7. Not confusion in what's happening so much as why what L's doing/hiding really matters. Both to Is and to the larger world. It feels like I'm missing something there. 8. Like I said, R and Is. That's really all there is to it. In particular the way they view their roles, politically and in marriage. I know we talked about this before and you brought up how Is doesn't understand a lot of what's actually going on with her, which makes them difficult to address. Well, I think you addressed them great without her fully understanding herself. I hope that feels good to hear because I really do think all the work with those ideas paid off. And I do remember how I was the one who was interested by those political dynamics in the first place.
  22. For me the important part is not even that V realizes (which I kinda get already), but why everyone else doesn't realize this lack of logic. That gives V more weight as the protagonist if only he has the tools to figure this out. Yeah that definitely makes sense. I did get the vibe that N was quite different from M but I think that has to mean something more than it does currently in relation to the larger story for his inclusion to be justified in my eyes. Currently I think if we take him out the story stays the same so it's hard to say he's needed. If K approaching V about the situation would throw everything off then there's no need to force it. My main rationale with that is really highlighting K's trust in M from the start, and how V deals with that as M is quite obviously being sketchy.
  23. As with many things, looking back on it with this context it's easier for me to see where the story is trying to go. To me it seems like the big way the story tries to do this is by having her seem confident, but then remark on her own stupidity later. The thing is, I personally just attributed that to Is generally being hard on herself rather than her actually not dealing with the situation as well as someone more experienced. Still, I think something along those lines is probably a good way to convey this; it's just that this particular one led me to conclude something different than I should have.
  24. Yeah I think that helps two related story points: 1. I get a much better feeling of why Is really wants R to get his act together. I assumed that him being declared unfit to rule was a sort of worst case scenario that she's overly concerned about, but if R's only the crown prince because V is making an exception to the rule then it becomes a lot more plausible for that to be reversed. 2. Nobles trying to prop Is on the throne feels like a much bigger threat now for the same reasons as above. Oh yeah I did forget about that vow. Tbh I wasn't even thinking about those vows at all since I associate divine punishment in this culture primarily with magic use which I know Is--n can do though I was confused as to how V could make conclusions based off that. Maybe highlighting the vow aspect more in this chapter (either having V give at least that much info or having Ali figure it out) could be helpful. Just spitballing though. This is all interesting to me in the context of her openly arguing with V. How she's doing it not because things feel desperate like what R is doing by lashing out, but because she doesn't see the danger so isn't afraid to have what she sees as a simple discussion. I think this sets up a good dynamic where R, Is, and Ali have key similarities and differences. Very serious and tuned into politics; understands the gravity of the situation: R, Is, but not Ali Wants everyone to get along and tries to play nice with the family: Is, Ali, but not R Is very willing to break rules and argue with the king: R, Ali, but not Is To me, this allows all three of them to act as foils for each other in different ways, especially since their similarities make their big differences stand out more. This gives an easy way to make each combo of the two have a fresh dynamic.
  25. Oh I'm the first one after over a week? ...I feel bad that you had to wait this long with no feedback. My anxiety would be killing me lol. As I go: pg 1. Trying to remember if I should know C. Anyways I'm always game for an awkward crush/romance which this... seems like it could be? Idk. pg 2. Though if it's going to get interrupted like that I'm not totally sure what I'm supposed to take from that or where my attention is supposed to be. That being said if this is going to mostly be pure fantasy you might not want to linger on the relationship stuff too long even though that's what I would want to see, so maybe this is okay. pg 3. This is not relevant to like anything at all but I'm curious what the gender norms are and how common it is to have a woman guard like C. So far as I understand the place is pretty explicitly patriarchal, right? Since R is the crown prince despite not being the king's kid. Anyways that isn't a criticism and maybe doesn't need to be explored but I am curious. pg 4. I think Ali is suffering from some of the same stuff that was mentioned about Ala in part 1; namely not being allowed to be a super active character while the other royals are doing important royal stuff. pg 5. Magical contact boxes are cool pg 6. Ooh Ali actually stands up to V! If she's the one character who gets to stand up to him then that makes her more interesting to me. Well I guess one of two counting R which is part of why I like R so much I think. pg 7. All right now I feel like I should know exactly what they're talking about. Something to do with magic probably but I think it might help to spell out exactly what Is--n did that's getting them to react this way. pg 9. This is a good way of pushing Ali's motivations into something plot-relevant pg 10. Oh yay I get to see more of R in the future since he's going with Ali 1. Mostly just the point of what exactly Is--n did. Also I wasn't totally clear on what Ali is doing with the boxes 2. Yep! Even though I was confused a bit the characters kept it real which really helped 3. Tbh I'm someone who thinks commenting on the emotion in a piece is pretty useless since I think if the emotions hit right is better explained by fundamental story dynamics. In this case, I think it's really solid overall since (*drum roll for the fundamental story dynamic*) Ali is allowed to be an active character in the face of the most powerful person in the story. It's what I like about R and now it's what I like about Ali. As for what didn't grip me, the scene at the very beginning didn't really do a ton for me. Really it's as soon as Ali starts arguing against V that I think the emotion works. 4. Ali standing up to V, as I've mentioned before. I think V being the antagonist in her story like it currently feels is a great way to go. They both care about the family but that causes them to want different things, and Ali has to navigate around the king to get what she wants. That makes her conflict especially engaging and I want to see V continue to stand in her way and Ali continue to persevere despite him. If anything I think it's more interesting than R's views of V because Ali isn't as angry with him and cares about him more (or at least more explicitly), so she has to be more precise and delicate in how she approaches the situation. Looking forward to more.