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Reading Excuses_2.28.2022_Mwindaji_Warbringer_Chapter 1_3659 Words_(V G)

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Some notes on the content tags I forgot to include in the email: V: there is violence in this chapter, and some involves an animal. G: slight gore, mostly blood, some bodies.

Hi all! This is the first chapter of a fantasy epic I've been working on. This is the first novel I've fully committed myself to finishing. I've gotten pretty far into it, and I've learned a lot along the way, but I need tons of feedback.

I'm looking for all kinds of feedback. How is this as an opening chapter? Is it too generic?

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Congrats on submitting! It takes a lot to put your work out there.

I think your prose is good and it's easy to read. I didn't notice any typos, so that's a good first step.

This seems to be a fairly generic fantasy, with no real mention of where it's happening, what sort of people are fighting, or why. I'm not really drawn in yet because as yet there's nothing in the worldbuilding to catch my attention.

You do have a good character and are already building some backstory, which is excellent! That's a good way to have readers connect with the story. The problem is, I don't really like G. He's whiny, he has no experience, he's pulled around by B once any action starts, and he doesn't have any reason for me to cheer for him. Writing Excuses had a great episode on "Character Sliders" several years back, where you can imagine three aspects of a character: Sympathy, Competence, and Proactivity. A character will all three levers all the way up will be an unstoppable self-insert. However if all the levers are down, there's no reason to like the character. It's good to have some mix. Right now, I have a little sympathy for G, but his "Competent" and "Proactive" sliders are all the way down. Changing this around a little will make it easier for the reader to connect.

Hope this helps!


Notes while reading:
Pg 1: pretty good opening paragraph! The only thing I'd say is to add specifics. Maybe one or two words about where this fight will be.

pg 1: watch the adverb usage. There are a bunch in the first few paragraphs.

pg 1: "How could he survive any violence, let alone lead a hundred men into raging battle?"
--aha, here's the thing he's doing. Maybe move this to the first paragraph.

pg 1: oh, there are other people here too!

pg 2: "Apparently, the people of this country extracted a sweet nectar from these trees, which they insisted on drizzling over every meal."
--oh no! They're attacking Canada!

pg 2: "G shook his head and returned to admiring the leaf in his hand"
--starting to go off into the weeds here.

pg 3: bit of a maid-and-butler here with the two discussing G's past, that they both know about.

pg 5: They've talked about leaves and a ten-year-old fist fight for three pages now...

pg 8: I don't have a lot of sympathy for G yet, and he's not competent, or proactive. He's just sort of a weenie.

pg 12: "Next to them, one of the newcomers began to protest,"
--I had to go back to find when others joined them. There's a couple sentences about them, but all the talking sounds like it's just G and B, so it's a surprise when one of the others speaks.

pg 12: "“Is that they will be looking for G"
--Do they know who G is? Have they ever seen him? Is he dressed differently?


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First thoughts, I might have more later.


I did notice a couple of points where punctuation needs tidying up (e.g. capitalization that isn't needed, sentences need full stops/periods, that kind of thing).

I can understand the criticism of G being too inexperienced to be leading soldiers into battle, but I'm presuming the reasons why he was kept out of war and then thrown into the deep end would be explained later. Also, is the reveal of his title meant to be something of a chapter cliffhanger? It kind of came out of the blue for me, as I presumed his family were rather lower on the heirarchy. Is there some kind of dramatis personae at the beginning of the book? Although I do understand that those can present some issues with spoilers etc.

I was a little confused about why this book was so significant that he had to scrabble through his saddle before escaping an ambush, but I also presume it will be explained later. I had to go back and check whether it had been mentioned at all. 

I liked the part about drizzling the nectar on their food. I feel like food is a good part of worldbuilding and character development and I'd like to see more of that.


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Congrats on the first submission! It’s always fun to read submissions from new members. 
The writing overall is smooth and very readable through here, but I’d be careful of overwriting. There are a lot of adverbs, a lot of descriptive detail (excellent in small doses, but overwhelming when excessive), a lot of longer sentences or complicated sentence structures.  All of that is forcing the reader to slow down to process (or just physically takes longer to read) which is slowing down the pacing.  Especially in the action-y parts.
I tend toward the same thing in early drafts (more in the complicated sentence structure and extra wordiness…sensory detail is not my best thing), and have had a lot of luck plugging chapters into this site to find sentences where wordiness might be a problem.  Not that every long sentence is bad, but the longer it is, the more chances there are for a reader to get tripped up in wording or punctuation. 
I do think we could use a little more setup for where G and company are going and why. Not a full history of the conflict between the kingdoms (I assume it’s kingdoms?) but enough to know what their specific goal/expectation is at the beginning of the chapter. And enough to add a little more color to the world setup. 
There are a few hints of fun worldbuilding, but a non-specific “riding into battle” scenario cut off by a non-specific ambush, followed by the appearance of a non-specific threatening enemy commander feels like something that could happen anywhere, in any world.  
What makes the world special, and why can this scene only take place here?  A few strong details enforcing that for the reader would be really helpful in dragging it away from the generic-fantasy direction it’s currently leaning in. 

Pg 1: 
Careful of overwriting. Sensory detail is good in small doses, but can get overwhelming if piled on too thick.
Gambeson plus mail plus breastplate seems like a lot if they aren’t under active threat while riding.
Pg 2:
“at home” How big is this chapel? Is it in his hometown? Home country? In his actual home (though I guess that would be more of a shrine)?  Has he not seen the sacred tree close enough to see the shape of the leaves?
I like opportunities for showing interesting world-building (so I tend to poke at those things when I see them :)), and see some solid potential in the tree/leaf comparison, but you could probably push some of G’s associations there a little further to tell us more about him, his purpose, and the world he lives in. 
I especially like his wondering whether the whole forest is sacred, but feel like it’s missing a chance to point out the significance of that (and a chance to show-not-tell worldbuilding).
If he’s devout, does the thought make him drop the leaf for fear of tarnishing something sacred? Is it the sort of sacred where he tucks the leaf away for later as a luck charm? Is the reason he’s going to kill tied into his understanding of what is sacred (Is he ashamed of killing under the observation of a potentially sacred forest? Or does it push him more intently to his purpose?).
Pg 3:
“In your position” Knowing that position would probably be helpful here.  Knowing more about who G is and what his responsibilities are will make it easier to be sympathetic to his goals.  Is he a common footsoldier who just wants to survive? Or is he some sort of leader, and has to keep a bunch of other people alive? Or somewhere in-between. 
How long are we holding off the reveal of who his father is?  It’s being set up pretty firmly here, but if it’s something that would be on a back-of-book summary, that mystery isn’t going to hold the tension it would otherwise. 
Pg 4:
Good, smooth dialogue flow, though you’ll want to keep an eye out for overwriting through here too. I’ve spent a lot of time in my own work trying to trim back places where I’ve broken up dialogue to add in facial expressions, unnecessary physical reactions, etc., so they jump out to me when I’m reading other things. For the most part, the dialogue here is strong enough that you don’t need the extra saidisms or physical reactions. The clear one being “Haven’t you…what?” which already conveys B’s confusion. (on the previous page)
The dialogue is also clear enough that you could probably trim some of it back to avoid being too heavy-handed with the point. We get the point that G is inexperienced pretty quickly, so taking too much time to hammer it home makes the pacing lag.
Also, we should probably get a better sense that there are more people with them than we do now.  Even if you’re trying to set up a reveal for who G is, knowing that there are a whole bunch of soldiers with him presents a different image than just having him and B riding into some mission alone.
Pg 5-6
What are his companions doing while this is happening? He’s worried about getting laughed at initially, but it takes a while for him to get to the horse and find the arrow (partly due to the extra description – again, great description, but a little too much of it – slowing down the pacing). What is going on around him between the stumble and the discovery of the arrow?
“…breathing halted.” I imagine it would take far longer for the horse to die, and that would be a far louder, more miserable process.  

Pg 7:
“the prince” Yeah. I think this would be more useful early on.  A prince who is expected to command soldiers being afraid of bloodshed carries its own assumed tension and conflict of fear vs. responsibility.  Some random sympathetic foot soldier doesn’t have that implied (what’s stopping him from just chickening out when it comes to it?).  And if his title is going to be mentioned in any back of book summaries or blurbs, it ceases to be a reveal.
It might also be helpful to set up at the beginning how long they expect to travel before they meet the enemy.  A comment that they’d have to put the real armor on when they stopped for lunch or having G nervous and a little paranoid if it’s expected sooner.  Then when he realizes that they’re under attack here, making it clear that it’s not what was expected.  Having G call it out in his thoughts as an ambush or one of the other characters shouting it as a warning to the other soldiers.
It’s also probably worth setting up a little more emphasis on the book when it is mentioned earlier. Just an extra detail to hang a lantern on it being important to him. 
Pg 8:
If G is a prince, who is B, for G to obey him blindly as if he’s the authority figure?
I’d also like to see more of a hint of where G’s skills lie if they aren’t in warfare. And why he was sent to lead (?) this group if he isn’t capable of actually keeping them safe. I don’t mind B stepping up to protect G, but want to see a little more from G.
Pg 9-10:
I’m having some trouble picturing the surroundings/blocking/etc. through here. 

Thanks for submitting! I like the bits of worldbuilding that are coming across in here (I just want to see more of them :D), and am interested to see where they fit into the larger world!


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Congrats on your first sub! :) 

As I go:

pg 1. I like the opening line and imo the rest of the paragraph is unnecessary

-The descriptions we get feel pretty long-winded. I'm on the fence about whether it's a problem with the story or a personal hangup of mine

pg 2. Maple syrup? Are we in Canada? (/s)

pg 3. To me this seems like the first real story dynamic we're getting. The dynamic of him being a soldier later in life who has to start from scratch is one I'm willing to be engaged with, though I think it has to do more than put him into a state of fear like it is now. Almost anyone would be afraid in his situation so it doesn't really tell me a lot about him.

-It seems like the story wants the leaf to be a point of focus but I don't really feel a big weight to it

pg 4. Huh so G's 21? Given their talk I assumed he was a good deal older. Though I guess 21 would be pretty old to start fighting in medieval fantasy

pg 5-6. I get G's confused but I'm having a bit of trouble following what's happening. I think the issue might be that there's too much description for me to focus on so I end up not really getting a big-picture view of what's going on

pg 8. I think I need a bit more about what this battle means for the characters and dynamics set up by the story. The pieces are there but I think the story isn't quite putting them together. 

pg 10. The soldiers haven't felt like fleshed-out people in the story so them dying doesn't mean much to me

pg 12. Why is G especially so important? I'm assuming he's a noble but aren't some of the other characters his family?

On 2/28/2022 at 0:19 PM, Mwindaji said:

I'm looking for all kinds of feedback. How is this as an opening chapter? Is it too generic?

Let's start with the good. I think the story's biggest strength is that the end of the chapter gives us a good path forward, and that we get a decent idea of G's backstory and what his whole deal is. I'm interested to see how they regroup at this fort. 

What I'm missing from the story is 1. What the story is really about and 2. How the battle ties into that. Right now the events of the story (especially the fight) seem to exist mostly to push G and crew in a specific direction. If this is all it's doing, it can easily be background summary rather than us needing to see it in action. I think the story's trying to play around with ideas using the leaves and blood imagery, but for me this doesn't work because of how broad it is. There are plenty of stories about war and death. What is this one really about on a personal level? 

Congrats again on your sub! Hopefully it wasn't as nerve-wracking for you as it was for me... though I'm sure some element of it is universal. 


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Congratulations on the first sub!

As I read: The introduction works well enough, but after the first paragraph begins to feel a bit long.

P1 “Swaying gently… G contemplated…” for some reason I thought they were moving at a full gallop, but this suggests otherwise. I think it was the sense of urgency in the first two paragraphs that queued me to believe they were moving at a run.

Okay, onto the second page and the introduction is definitely becoming long. There is a lot of reflection in this first couple of pages that seems at odds with the sense of urgency the chapter started with, and even as far as three pages in we’re not getting any more information about why it’s happening (though it’s good that we get some explanation of why he’s so reluctant).

“Many others in my position hunger for this chance…” I was initially fairly skeptical of this. It wasn’t until later that I realized he was being assigned a command position without any prior experience, which makes this make a bit more sense. May need to move some of the info around.

This conversation reminiscing about fistfights with siblings also seems – again, just at odds with G’s tenseness before: during this conversation he seems genuinely relaxed. I see why you’re aiming for that structurally as the pause before the ambush happens, but from a character perspective it doesn’t quite make sense.  

It seems like a very long time passes between the initial attack on the horse and people actually running out of the bushes for an ambush. I could maybe just buy G’s failure to notice the arrow for that long given his inexperience, but the ambush definitely took too long to happen.

Top of p7 “The attacking soldiers reached them” I thought there were already people pouring out of the bushes? My impression was that G was already in the thick of things by now.  

“G’s eyes widened and he cursed…” seems pretty overstated for just having the sword get wet. Or is this about the fact that he hasn’t even unsheathed his weapon yet? If so, that’s worth hanging a lantern on.

“I have a feeling they won’t spare you just because you’re not the prince” Well, we did see them do just that with the other folks.  

Overall: There’s some good interiority here and some good glimpses of the horror of war, but I think there are two major things missing. First, a clearer idea of what the stakes are – who’s fighting? Why? Why does this action that G is riding to right now matter, for him personally, for the bigger picture?

Second, I mentioned the interiority above, and I think it’s both a strength and a weakness. I highlighted several places in my LBLs where it felt like the reflection from G went on too long. In the early parts fo the chapter it’s mostly that we’re getting too much reflection without moving the plot forward, and in the later parts of the chapter I’m having trouble suspending my disbelief that he has that long to stop and think about things in the middle of battle. It feels like the world around him often pauses a little too often to accommodate his tendency to reflect.  

That said, I’m quite happy to get a military fantasy where the main character isn’t a soldier or brilliant warrior, and I’m totally on board with G freezing up in a fight as he seems to do here. Worth noting that I would expect him to continue grappling with this in some way through later parts of the narrative, but you already seem to have that setup underway.

And, as others have mentioned, the prose itself is pretty clean and easy to read, and it looks like you've got a good way forward for the next chapter. All in all, a good start!

Congrats again!


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Welcome to the forum and congratulations on taking that first step!


Your writing is sound and grammar/syntax all work well. The work was easy to read and I appreciate that a lot. My main comment echoes @Mandamon in that this feels very generic. What makes it stand out from any other 'boy coming of age through war' story? In addition, what are the B and C plots? Why do I care about this boy, or his cause (what is his cause?) or what happens to him. 

First chapters in books are tricky because you have to hook the reader and give them a reason to care about your MC while also teasing various plot threads and getting them to care about the world. We got a clear A plot (boy was stranded in battle and in peril) but that isn't really a thread that will take a whole book, I don't think. What's the larger story? And what are the several small stories that humanize the character? Why is he going to war? Who is he fighting for? Why does he need to prove himself? I think focusing on a few of these will help this chapter pack a bit more punch.

As I go

- I'm not super drawn in by that first paragraph because I don't yet care about the MC so I don't know why him being a killer is a problem. It also reads fairly generic, and I'm wondering what the twist or hook will be

- first page and I have all the same questions, including what the narrative is supposed to be

- pg 3 seems to be when the narrative arc begins

- pg 5: at this stage I would like some idea of the greater arc of the story. It's clear that this chapter will be 'young boy is thrust into battle' but what is the story arc? And why do I care about this boy or the old man? Why do I care what they are fighting for?



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Congrats on submitting for the first time! And sorry for being late with my critique. 

My overall impression was that on the sentence level, you're writing is good but the chapter takes a little too long to get to the action. Your first paragraph caught my attention, but soon after, I was starting to get bored. I think a page or two to concisely convey that this is an inexperienced prince who doesn't want to fight is all we need before the ambush. I also think it would be good to get a better idea of why the prince is suddenly in command now. 

You asked if the opening was generic. And it probably is. Prince getting ambushed and having to hide seems like a standard thing, but then generic and tropes aren't always a bad thing. However, like some of the others said, what makes this one different? What aspects make it yours? set it apart from the others? Can you work those into the intro? The prince being reluctant is a start, but I want something else to grasp onto. 

As I read:

Opening paragraph was engaging and got my attention

By the second paragraph, I was wondering, if there would be someone more experienced leading? Or is this the first time this nation has gone to war in this generation?

"Despite his advancing years, his composure betrayed no ill effect from an imminent return to bloodshed." So is every veteran from the last war too old to lead, so they have someone so young and inexperienced instead?

"The rest of his armor rode in the baggage wagons"I was thinking the battle was imminent, that they were just getting ready to fight.

"...thought that turned to violence" Now we are spending too much time in his head, too much time thinking about the surroundings. Something needs to happen.

“But most men your age—in your position—have several battles under their belt already" So why is he in command and not them?

I only wish he had allowed you some experience before expecting you to take a position of command. He held you back far too long.” Sounds true

"M was there too, not just B" How could he compare a little kid fight to a battle? Even a skirmish? Is he trying to make a joke and I’m just not getting it? (sometimes I miss sarcasm)

"B chuckled through tight lips" Not sure if the cousin fight stuff is really needed? I feel like it is delaying us from getting to something happening.

In the section when the ambush began, I like how his focus was on his horse and for a moment, he was oblivious to everything else. That showed what kind of character he is.

"...the prince out of his stupor." I’d missed this on my first read through. But I think I need to know he is prince from page 1 though. Being prince does sort of explain why he is in command, but I also want more of a "why now".

"He wouldn’t be able to catch the deadly cut this time" I like how focused this is on the moment and the hesitation.

I didn't make any comments after that. 

I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next! 


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@Mandamon, @jamesbondsmith, @C_Vallion, @Ace of Hearts, @Silk, @kais, @shatteredsmooth,

Thank you all so much for your invaluable feedback! You've definitely helped my find some ways to improve this chapter. I'll be moving around information and hopefully fixing a lot more when it comes time for that. Fortunately, it seems some small changes might help establish this character better, and give you all a better feel of who he is and his personal stakes.

Unfortunately, spring break wasn't as much of a break as I'd hoped for, and now I've been back in classes full force without much free time. I think I'll wait for the semester to end in April before I submit any more of my chapters. I'll try to make time to give some feedback to you all though!


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