Robinski

Waifs and Strays – Submission 2 – 151005 – Chapter 2 - 4458 words (V)

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So, here is the second chapter. If you have a chance to read it, any comments that you have would be very much appreciated.

 

Cheers, Robinski

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I didn't read the prologue and first chapter, and I'll just parachute here. That was a fun read, I hadn't much trouble following the story despite missing the beginning.
 
Since I'm not sure about which sort of feedback you're after I'll tell my reactions and the reasons behind them. Eh... My post became rather big, sorry about that.


Promises I see and my guesses
- Sword and magic fantasy story, with a possible subtle touch of modernity for flavour (a business specializing in washing and ironing clothing? Tastes like industrial revolution for me. I like that.). For now, I don't think it'll be a particularly dark story, it feels more like a classic. Your tone is very light, but if you decide to write darker passages it'll get grim quickly, since you use little humor and enjoy using your tools to create dramatic effect.

- Ahma is a caster or is closely connected to them in some way. She has a lot to learn, and is likely to be the foolish, selfish young character who grows into a likable character after wreaking some havoc.

- Benam will grow as a character, becoming more confident in himself. He's the level headed character, and the best fit for a leader.

- Covelle will work with Benam towards a common goal. They'll be in direct conflict at first, but work out differences once they face a common enemy. It'll not be a road without bumps, though.
 

Style, pacing
I liked your style, I was sold in the first paragraph. However, I feel the pacing is too slow at some points. For instance, you describe Ahma's day almost step by step (pg 3).

 

I understand that you wanted to give us a glimpse of the setting and also touch on some plot points like her motivation, casters, but I wonder if you couldn't do that in a different way. It felt too sparse, because the character wasn't fully invested in what she was doing (so I wasn't), and I can't see the relevance of some of her daily tasks to the plot. I, as a read, would be completely okay with you telling what she did in a concise way, particularly if you manage to weave it into the ongoing narrative. I know it goes completely against the "show, don't tell!" convention, but there are times when telling is useful, being a fantastic tool to mark the passing of time or even inject some emotion.

Pg 4:
I missed Ahma thoughts on casters. Is she curious? Does she fears them? Feels revulsion? The ladies clearly despise them. How does Ahma feels about their reaction? Does she agree, disagree, doesn't know, finds amusing, is bored by it? You're signaling it's relevant to the plot, but it's not relevant to the POV character.
 
Once you switched to other POVs the story picked up more speed.

Pg 17:
The ending was unsatisfying. My understanding is that they were magically transported; my issue is not exactly ending in a cliffhanger, but how it came out of nowhere. Even the lack of a transition works as a transition ("I blinked and we where somewhere else").

Covelle led them to where? Back to the room? How would he not notice the change of scenery? No light change, no new scents, temperature drop, different acoustics. No double take. I missed the character reaction there, you simply dropped the bomb, telling exactly what the bomb was, then cut.


I can't get a good grip on some of your sentences, they twist away and I end skimming. One of the reasons, I believe, is that some of them are trying to do too much at once. Example (pg 10):

He’d have preferred not to run up four flights of stairs from the old quayside, but it was no strain, spending one’s adolescence in the rigging did that for a man, and he hadn’t squandered his fitness since.

That sentence told me:
He ran 4 flight of stairs
(but he'd rather not)
From the old quayside
(but he's not tired; simultaneous implication that he's fit)
He spent his adolescence in the rigging
He's fit
because he still trains

That's a lot of information at once. It didn't allow me to properly catch my breath, and it has a beefy "middle" over which I invariably skim. Twisty sentences don't have a clear hierarchy of information, and they also create a fatigue that affects how you perceive the following sentences. They affected how I perceived the pacing.
 
 
Characters
Ahma - She had a romantic air when going about her routine. Having multiple occupations to raise enough money to achieve her goal earned her some points, but the effect was cancelled by the passiveness of her daydreams. I suspect it felt this way because she didn't actually made plans.
 
Pg 3:
"One day she would have a fine horse like the stallions the dukes provided to carry the mail. Then she could travel." sounds passive. Random active version: "One day she would have a fine horse (...). Will I raise enough money before the next horse fair? I wonder if that x horse race merchant will be there this year. She decided she'd buy a horse this time. He offered excellent deals, and she could rent the horse to someone to (...)"
 
Placing leaves in her book to mark the passing of time is passive again, particularly if she's been doing that for years (and the leaf-book thing is what gave her a romantic air). Because it's not a concrete countdown it makes her either look like an unusually calm and collected person, or a procrastinator. "Someday I'll travel..." 
 
These two "I wish..." passages in a row lowered her agency, and perhaps made her slightly more incompetent as well; she's been about it for so long and yet showed us no concrete progress.
 
Pg 9:
Then, she talks to Benam. The moment Ahma opened her mouth her likability plummeted.
 
Lots of crossed signals here. Her daily life suggested she's clever and romantic, but she was crude. That could suggest intimacy between her and Benam, and their shared acquaintance increased this sensation, yet she was extremely tactless in her treatment of him. It didn't fit. She certainly didn't improve his mood or cared to improve it, she was self-serving instead.
 
After the talk she came off as someone selfish, if not nearly cruel.
 
A caveat (pet peeve):


It didn't help that she seems to fall into the weaponized femininity archetype, which is a pet peeve of mine. It irks me for being poorly done most times. It's very hard to explain why I feel uncomfortable by it, it's just... It's often used as a quick way to empower the character, except it doesn't. The rare times we actually get to hear the character reasons to act like this (it's mostly a conscious decision) they make little sense, or are simply contrived and poorly presented. The focus often slips to the male characters and how they perceive her, and it becomes about men and their impressions, not about the character herself, her emotions, motivations, etc.
 
Be careful there. Ahma has a little of that. It goes like that:
 
Ahma: I'm sexy and I know it. ;)
Male POV 1: *tunes out her statement, yet gets caught in admiring her figure* She's beautiful.
Male POV 2: She's beautiful.
 
Ahma knows the effect she has on men, and is using it to manipulate them (even if it's only to tease them) because of (???) reasons. Yet, little of what happens is direct result of her actions. She could have done nothing, and the result would be the same. The final balance is negative, because she's manipulating people (-1), and it's of little consequence in the following events (0).


 
Benam - Came off as a modest veteran. I like him, and I feel sympathy for him.

Covelle - I also like him. Possibly my favourite POV, simply because he does things out of curiosity and has some sense of humor.

 

 

 

Overall, I enjoyed reading this chapter. I'm curious about the magic system, curious enough it would be the main hook to keep me reading the book at this point.

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Wow, thank you Sera, really great feedback. No need to apologise for the length, the more the merrier.

 

Promises: At the risk of being spoilerific, there isn't much wrong with your assessment of promises. There is one which I am toiling a bit with keeping, but that doesn't mean I didn't make it of course.

 

Style: slow pacing is something that I tend towards. This story has been through a writing group, but not edited before re-submission here. I'm glad you see the point of recounting some of Ahma's stuff, but I need to do that in an enjoyable way for the reader. You make some good suggestions there - thank you.

 

I totally accept your point about not 'delivering' Ahma's feelings on the matter. This is something I am guilty of elsewhere along the way. I am not averse to a bit of telling. MRK references its usefulness in a couple of WE podcasts, and I am happy to accept DW's view that the complete absence of particular techniques (e.g. passive voice, but equally applicable to telling, I think) is, in itself, strange. Everything in moderation, as the saying goes.

 

I think you are not alone in having an issue with the ending of this section. I have had a call to include Benam's fight with the Kingsmen but, that aside, I take your point about the problem with the transition and lack of blocking in them returning to the common room. I can fix that.

 

Sentences: excellent point very well made. I plead guilty but, in mitigation, I will say it's a first draft. I like to think I would catch this sort of sentence in the edit, but that's not to say there aren't similar complex sentences that I would consider satisfactory. I will pay closer attention to sentence structure though, because I do agree with what you say.

 

Characters:

 

[Ahma] - as I've alluded to (or maybe outright stated), she is the character that presents the most issues, and you have very ably highlighted several of them, certainly the central one. My initial rationale for Ahma was much more active, providing a common person's perspective on events, but because there are several p.o.v.s, she suffers by comparison. It takes a long for her to get where she is going and this is something I need to address.

 

I just re-read the section you refer to, and Ahma certainly is crude (I was going for harsh, but I see how it does both). My intention was to show Ahma's attitude to men, derived from her absent father, but mixed with affection for Benam, although perhaps she is not willing to fully acknowledge it, or it's true nature. I could rein it in. I suspect I was having too much fun. It was also in part to engender sympathy for Benam, but maybe it doesn't work. I've had a range of reactions. I do feel that I can tune this section better to fit with her rationale and her background (which itself needs a little tuning, I think).

 

[benam] - excellent, mission accomplished.

 

[Covelle] - double excellent. I am pleased about that. Over the course of the next 27 chapters (I think I have may 3 or 4 to go), I think I have lost my grip on Covelle's character a bit, and need to adjust some reaction later, but I should not be making that kind of comment now.

 

Superb comments, thank you Sera. I really appreciate them. You've uncovered some points that I haven't had in previous critiques, and given some enlightening comments on things that I knew were difficulties, but not quite had a handle on how to tackle.

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That's a first draft? It's so clean!
 
 
I think a great part of the issues, including pacing on early pages, can be linked to Ahma's POV, and you're onto the origin of the issue with this POV already. At the risk of sounding prescriptive... and by no means I want to be prescriptive, it's simply what works with me as a reader, any example being a quicker and clearer way to express something:
 
I realized every time I had issues with Ahma I was locked outside of her head. Sometimes it manifests as slower pacing when I hit passages that seemed to be an account of her life by an external observer. I got a quick taste of her emotional state—the same thing I'd be able to glean if I were looking at her face—but not enough reasoning, intention, thoughts.
 
Other times it becomes antipathy. She sounded mean because I had no clue about her motivations or feelings at the moment (besides the "I'm having fun at your expense" feeling, which is quite unsympathetic on its own). I could, however, clearly see Benam's discomfort, and his POV bled into hers. Every reaction she had was physical, body language alone. That meant I, the reader, was seeing her through the eyes of the other. And who was the other in this scene if not Benam? I could see his feelings, I could read his motivation in this actions, and being able to see this while Ahma didn't acknowledge it made her extra unsympathetic. If she had acknowledged the effects of her words on him I'd have a completely different reading of her character. That she's a jerk if she didn't care at all, that she's emotionally awkward in some cases if she felt a pang of guilty, that she had an ulterior motivation if she felt it was well deserved despite any remorse she felt. In any case, I'd feel a stronger connection to her, not to Benam.
 
She doesn't need to be always likeable to be compelling. The reader in me loves flawed characters and desperately wants to connect with the character I'm reading, may it be due an emotion I can relate, or seeing something so interesting I can't take my eyes off them.
 
The writer in me, knowing its reader side, says you don't need to tune her background unless the impulse came from you alone, not based on a couple of earlier chapters feedback at least. Being careful to step in her shoes during her POV, kicking Benam's and Covelle away, might be enough. You pointed your engendered sympathy and I agree. It can be hard from other POVs if you allow yourself to wander to this side. Keeping a list of questions in mind might help you to better immerse yourself in Ahma's character as you write her. What does she see, how she processes what she's seeing, what led her to feel that way, which secondary feelings stem from this (e.g.: I'm happy someone tripped that annoying brat, and I'm a horrible, horrible person for feeling this way. I should feel awful and I don't!) , how she externalizes (or represses) these feelings. How she perceives the feedback to her actions? What does she see (literally), smells, hears, touch?
 
Small wordsmithing note: Another thing that facilitated the POV bleeding was how the other customers were treated in Ahma's POV. She barely acknowledged them or their requests, except as an interruption of her interaction with Benam. It's good for plot flow, but effectively hung a spotlight on him, accentuating the accidental feeling that it's not quite her POV I'm reading.
___

My bad habit of overusing "but"s made them my top suspects when it comes to sentence skimming. I ought to say that this sentence I flagged curiously reads fine, it rolls and pauses on the right points.My only issue was the volume of information, and the cumulative effect of these. Yeah, in any case it's not a high priority flag in a first draft.

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Thank you once more, more really useful comments. I agree there is a danger of me over-editing Ahma, you did the right thing to highlight that, and that I should certainly wait for reactions to her whole ark, but some of what you say is minor stuff that can be fixed without affecting her character, I reckon.

The point about showing why she acts the way she does (the list of questions) is a very good one, and something I need to improve at. My other characters will need some of the same treatment, I think.

Your comments are very constructive, and have given me a push to finish the story. I need to get done by end October if I'm to enter Nanowrimo, and this is good motivation. I just happen to be writing an Ahma scene just know, in Chapter 31.

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I liked this. The actions was well paced for me and I enjoyed Covelle trying to escape but allso being a self-serving hero. I loved the last line and am excited to know what happened.

 

Critique wise:

Ahma Father: I had the impression that she never knew him from the earlier submission.

 

Thirty summer of dreaming: now this might be hyper picky but i thought i would point it out. I was assuming Ahma was conceived during the war so it could be 29-30 summer which is fine but how can she be dreaming as an infant. That note a side i think saying twenty five years of dreaming of a grand adventure might be confusing.

 

Ahma and Benam: This was a weird interaction. At first i thought they were friends and Ahma was just joking with Benam to see him blush and splutter. but then she is very harsh with him and alternates being sort-of kind to him. It felt bi-polarish, and i didn't know what to feel but i definitely did not like Ahma as much after.

 

Men playing Cards: In Ahma's POV there are three men playing cards then a fourth joins them. When we are in Covelle's POV there are only three again. I understand one might have left as time passed but i though i would point it out. 

 

Casters: I like where this is going.

 

Looking forward to the next.

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Great comments, thanks Kammererite.

 

Good spot on the card-playing men. I wouldn't want the reader to have to concentrate on (or be distracted by) how many of them there were, so I will simplify / correct that.

 

Summers' dreaming: another good point - that's the sort I like to think I would pick myself, so I will definitely tidy it up.

 

As to Ahma's father, again, this is a great spot. It does sound like he physically gave her the book, which was not my intention. I think I'll go with "book her father left her" or similar. In fact, no, I think it would be more poignant if he left it for her mother, and Lina (her mother) gave it to Ahma. I think there's something a little bit 'heartbreaking' in a secondhand gift like that.

 

I've said before that Ahma needs tuning (at least). I love that she gets a strong reaction. I feel that gives me emotion to (try to) harness, but there's a danger of going too far. I am learning so much (still) from all the critiques I've had on the story that I'm going to have lots of great thoughts to work with in the Edit.

 

Thank you again, Kam, great stuff.

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I liked the fight. It was easy to follow while not feeling choppy.

I also like how you introduced the idea that blonde hair probably means something in relation to casters.

 

The description of Ahma's day felt like it went on too long.

 

“ He shook his head, spitting on the cobbles. Benam had won and lost the love of women over the years, even married one in the capital although she had dropped him when he decided to leave Hasstal, even after bearing him a son. She had been a piece of work too.”

 

 

 

This seemed clunky to me.

 

The chapter started a little slow for me, though not slow enough to cause me to stop reading. Overall I really enjoyed it.

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Great - thank you Rohyu.

That sentence is definitely two or three smaller ones in disguise - I will fix that.

Glad the fight worked, and you are not the only person (by far!) to comment on the passge about Ahma's day. The shears are out.

Thanks again, R

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- The section in italics is interesting - it gives us our first real glimpse of casting - but the italics feels out of place. I can't seem to remember them being used much in the previous chapter. It just feels a bit inconsistent.

 

- By the night time is underlined, and I really don't know why.

 

- I still like Alma's personality, and I also like seeing how the various things in her daily routine effects her demeanor. I also like her scowling at the old man.

 

- Seeing Benam in the bar took back a bit . . . up until this point I figured they didn't know each other, though everything in Benam's story so far suggests a need to drink a lot.

 

- I liked the action with Covelle, but I couldn't help but want to see the same events from Bermen or Alma's eyes too given their part in the story.

 

- Overall, I'm interested. The pacing is a little slow, but I don't think it's necessary sluggish. Interested to see what chapter 3 brings. 

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Thank you, RD.

 

Yeah - the italics is totally out of place. It's their to show events that are out of the time line - in the past, actually. I wasn't sure how best to do that, but pretty much everyone has picked up the italics. I shall think on it. I think it's the only italics in the m/s, so not appropriate. Elsewhere, I've just said 'thirty years ago', etc. - but that doesn't seem appropriate to me here, as I almost don't want the reader to know these events are out of time. Hmm..., just had a thought  :)

 

I've also had other calls to show the fight between Benam and his opponents, and have pretty much decided to put that in.

 

Glad that Ahma still interests you. I hear what you say about pacing, and that has been a common comment. I do need to try and streamline the earlier sections. I will look to wield the knife when editing.

 

Great comments, thanks!

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