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mrwizard70

Reading Excuses - [10/8/18] - [mrwizard70] - [Hell is for Heroes] (No tags)

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Take 2! 

I've made some adjustments, but honestly, I'm more interested in feedback from people who haven't read this yet. 

1. How are the characters? This kind of piece relies entirely on the characters being extremely strong from the outset. Specifically our protag Ala, but the side characters are of nearly equal importance. Do you need more from them to become invested? How much more?

2. Does it lack plot/agency/stakes? This is supposed to be the inciting incident, and I've basically introduced the major points of the narrative at this point. Do you feel invested? I want the reader to be invested primarily in the characters. Hoping to avoid "save the innocents and protect the downtrodden" as a defining motive. 

3. Anything else you feel like saying!

 

People who have read this already; a. don't feel obligated to reread. b. if you do, have I fixed the religion problem? 

 

Thank you very much!

Hellisforheroes.docx

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Well, I'm pleased to be reading more of your work. Looking back, I have some warm feelings towards the work of yours that I read previously, namely The Fregn War and 'Untitled Academic-based Story'. Okay, I had plenty of issues, but looking back now, certainly in relation to TFW, I can remember the basic arc and tone of what I read, and retain a certain sense of character from back in March, which I think is s good sign :) 

Anyway, to present business.

I'm two paragraphs in and I'll throw out there that the language could do with a polish. But then that's the same of pretty much everyone to some degree or other.

After Page 1, I don't have a great sense of A's character. He's pretty passive, and doesn't betray much emotion or thought process. I know you mention his blood rising, but I'm not sold on that. It's a bit 'tell-y', compared say to something like 'His heart began to thud in his chest; his throat tightened. He realised he had half-crushed the parchment in his hand, which now was a fist.'

Page 2: I'm a bit thrown by him deciding on the spot that he'll go back to war when we learn on Page 1 that he hates it. I would expect that he'd need to wrestle with it a bit beef caving in.

'consideringly' - not a word. Surely it's just '...another two [What? you don't say] considering the poster'.

"at least 30 kilograms" - Why do you use the numeral here? Have you every seen a numeral in any period fantasy story? SF probably, but not fantasy. That's a no-no. Also, why use kg? That is a modern SI unit, and feels really out of place in a period fantasy story, IMO. I think you would create a much better feeling a place and period by using an old-fashioned scale of measurement, like Imperial (pounds). I think that will give you a greater sense of setting.

Page 3: I'm baffled by Paragraph 2. I don't understand the dialogue, but I am very worried by the phrase "turning the last word into a curse." Maybe it's my confusion over the wording (which I think is confusing), but is she denigrating herself because she is a woman?! The correct answer is 'no'. But if not then I really don't get what's at at the heart of this dialogue. Because of that, I don't understand Alex's reaction.

I didn't see anything in Alex's words to convey that he didn't want to leave. You're also potentially setting up 'A' as the woman's protector, which is a bit disappointing. You then underline it by emphasising T's relative weakness (physically, as a woman). I just see warning signs here about how female characters are likely to be treated in the story and it makes me nervous.

I'm struggling to be convinced by the way A defuses the argument, which I didn't really understand in the first place. It seems to easy.

Outsiders offend God?! Jeez-Louise. Now we've had sexism and racism, and the village chieftain is trying to ethnically cleanse his village.

The horse that saved mis master's life feels like a cliché to me.

I thought Alex was the 'older man', but then on Page 6 he's nineteen?

"weren't from around here" feels like a stock phrase to me.

The discussion about the horse underlines the problem I'm having with the dialogue. I feel it's kind of stilted, and I find the phrasing unclear. I struggle to understand the point the speaker is trying to make

There is a real avalanche of names, different nations, etc. and I don't really understand how they relate to each other. The mercenaries come from yet another place, but we don't know who they were fighting for when the sacked the village. More importantly, I don't understand the stakes, or who to root for, so all the names kind of wash over me.

The animal seems really touchy for a trained warhorse. It seems to be set of really easily by almost nothing, whereas I would have thought training would have made it much more impervious to minor gestures, and small signs of emotions. I mean, Alex isn't exactly ranting and raving, or being aggressive.

'What's the plan is another stock phrase, for me. I would really like to hear something original in the voice of the characters, but I'm not getting that. Maybe I'll pitch in on that now. I'm not finding the characters engaging. Their dialogue is unremarkable at best, and A's internal monologue is pretty much emotionless. I don't really know what they care about, and, so far, they're falling into some very broad character tropes. (a) strong, white, male leader is competent and respected by everyone; (b) big strong lummox is less bright and emotionally developed than the others; (c) token female is beautiful and potentially mysterious. I suspect that @industrialistDragon will provide chapter and verse on tropes, so I won't dwell on this, but I'm finding very little to engage my interest in the characters.

I must add that I've been guilty 'cut-out' characters in the past, but I like to think now that I've learned from that and gone beyond it to be able to make my characters stand out, and have some facet that engages some reaction other than recognition. I really don't mean that to sound patronising: I would genuinely like to try and illustrate my point by referring to the characters in the novella I'm working on now, if you'll indulge me. (a) My m/c is a white male, but he's not the most powerful in the group of four, either physically, or in skills. He does have an ability where he bests the others--playing the mandolin--a skill he uses to his advantage to get him into an important place, and he secrets certain tools of his trade in the case. The mandolin comes into play emotionally too (I hope) when it is broken later in the story. (b) Although not physically the strongest, my main female character is stronger physically than my male protagonist, and she is the smartest and most experienced of the four. She has the biggest reputation in the world. She is analogous with African, in other words black. This is seen to define her for some side characters, but not for others, and not I trust for her associates. I've never written a PoC character before, so I've rightly been pulled up over various problem issues. I hope I've learned from that. There are other (fairly) prominent female and coloured characters in the story. Another choice I made was to make her the most physically demonstrative, taking a trait that would be distasteful in a male m/c, to try and subvert it. (c) I have a big lummox character, and he is perhaps to the trope. I tried to make him feel different by not giving his background, and that became him being secretive about his background. So the big quiet guy, in theory, is the most mysterious of the four, because his background is unknown and he doesn't talk about it. (d) The fourth is the small, stealthy character, but I've tried to make him feel different by making him old (like 60-something). He's the most proficient with weapons, perhaps unexpectedly, and he has a long past which allows me to make him bitter about fallen comrades, and to take offence when people make light of 'red shirts' being sent into the fray, and getting cut down.

What I'm trying to get it in way too many words is that your characters need to pop from the page in the first couple of lines. You need to tell the reader what they look like, how they behave and 'who they are' in a very few words, and most importantly and absolutely critically (I think) give is something about them that is unexpected, and not in any way formulaic. There is a thing called low-hanging fruit, and Howard Tayler speaks eloquently about it in one of the WE podcasts in particular. When developing a character, think of a character facet then throw it away, go beyond it (it is the low-hanging fruit) throw that away and you get further and further from that tired old median line of white, male, ex-military men who hate war but always get sucked back in.

For me, you go away off on tangents with all those names of places that the reader will not care about. We need to know the characters first, and if recognise them immediately from a dozen other stories we have read, we may well never get to the interesting stuff that you have planned down the line. As I noted before, I think you've got two or three paragraphs at most to hook us on A, possibly fewer with Alex and T. Those first lines have to work much harder, IMO.

I've gone on a big old rant there, and I'm sorry for that. Also, I started skimming ahead about here, because I'm going to come back to another issue. T appears again on Page 9, where the two men are talking about her without her present. They talk about her like she's an asset, i.e. a piece of equipment. This is reinforced on Page 10 when Alex is dismissed by A to go a fetch T, like she's standing around waiting for them to whistle. On Page 11, T is mentioned in a dismissive way like, 'Oh yes, and the woman was ready too.' She "looked competent enough". Eh? To me that reads, 'competent enough considering she's a woman'. If you're going to include a female character, it's imperative that you treat her equally to the males. That you give her a voice, and don't just wheel her on when the me need someone to argue with. In my opinion (and it's well noted in various sources) you must to give all your characters hopes, dreams and goals if you want them to come over as three dimensional, involving and engaging.

Page 13: Good lord, you've compared your female character to behaving like a dog. I would suggest you change that, quickly. Treat her with respect. You do want female readers to read your story too, right? I'm sorry I'm hitting this hard, but I think it's hurting your story. As an engineer, I resort to stats. Ala is mentioned 46 times; he's the m/c, fair enough. Alex is mentioned 37 times, and T gets 16 mentions. I would recommend making her a much more rounded and interesting character, on the same level as the other two. I think it will serve your story well.

I hope these comments are useful. I'm going to go back a read the feedback on the first submission now, and I look forward to hearing what the others think.

I really want to leave you with something positive though. I think the dynamic of a three-person group could be great. You've got a framework of three disparate characters, and if you can cut past all the nationalistic stuff, get us interested and engaged with them as people first, before laying all those complicated names on us, you could have an interesting dynamic here.

<R>

Edited by Robinski
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1 hour ago, Robinski said:

Well, I'm pleased to be reading more of your work. Looking back, I have some warm feelings towards the work of yours that I read previously, namely The Fregn War and 'Untitled Academic-based Story'. Okay, I had plenty of issues, but looking back now, certainly in relation to TFW, I can remember the basic arc and tone of what I read, and retain a certain sense of character from back in March, which I think is s good sign :) 

Anyway, to present business.

I'm two paragraphs in and I'll throw out there that the language could do with a polish. But then that's the same of pretty much everyone to some degree or other.

After Page 1, I don't have a great sense of A's character. He's pretty passive, and doesn't betray much emotion or thought process. I know you mention his blood rising, but I'm not sold on that. It's a bit 'tell-y', compared say to something like 'His heart began to thud in his chest; his throat tightened. He realised he had half-crushed the parchment in his hand, which now was a fist.'

Page 2: I'm a bit thrown by him deciding on the spot that he'll go back to war when we learn on Page 1 that he hates it. I would expect that he'd need to wrestle with it a bit beef caving in.

'consideringly' - not a word. Surely it's just '...another two [What? you don't say] considering the poster'.

"at least 30 kilograms" - Why do you use the numeral here? Have you every seen a numeral in any period fantasy story? SF probably, but not fantasy. That's a no-no. Also, why use kg? That is a modern SI unit, and feels really out of place in a period fantasy story, IMO. I think you would create a much better feeling a place and period by using an old-fashioned scale of measurement, like Imperial (pounds). I think that will give you a greater sense of setting.

Page 3: I'm baffled by Paragraph 2. I don't understand the dialogue, but I am very worried by the phrase "turning the last word into a curse." Maybe it's my confusion over the wording (which I think is confusing), but is she denigrating herself because she is a woman?! The correct answer is 'no'. But if not then I really don't get what's at at the heart of this dialogue. Because of that, I don't understand Alex's reaction.

I didn't see anything in Alex's words to convey that he didn't want to leave. You're also potentially setting up 'A' as the woman's protector, which is a bit disappointing. You then underline it by emphasising T's relative weakness (physically, as a woman). I just see warning signs here about how female characters are likely to be treated in the story and it makes me nervous.

I'm struggling to be convinced by the way A defuses the argument, which I didn't really understand in the first place. It seems to easy.

Outsiders offend God?! Jeez-Louise. Now we've had sexism and racism, and the village chieftain is trying to ethnically cleanse his village.

The horse that saved mis master's life feels like a cliché to me.

I thought Alex was the 'older man', but then on Page 6 he's nineteen?

"weren't from around here" feels like a stock phrase to me.

The discussion about the horse underlines the problem I'm having with the dialogue. I feel it's kind of stilted, and I find the phrasing unclear. I struggle to understand the point the speaker is trying to make

There is a real avalanche of names, different nations, etc. and I don't really understand how they relate to each other. The mercenaries come from yet another place, but we don't know who they were fighting for when the sacked the village. More importantly, I don't understand the stakes, or who to root for, so all the names kind of wash over me.

The animal seems really touchy for a trained warhorse. It seems to be set of really easily by almost nothing, whereas I would have thought training would have made it much more impervious to minor gestures, and small signs of emotions. I mean, Alex isn't exactly ranting and raving, or being aggressive.

'What's the plan is another stock phrase, for me. I would really like to hear something original in the voice of the characters, but I'm not getting that. Maybe I'll pitch in on that now. I'm not finding the characters engaging. Their dialogue is unremarkable at best, and A's internal monologue is pretty much emotionless. I don't really know what they care about, and, so far, they're falling into some very broad character tropes. (a) strong, white, male leader is competent and respected by everyone; (b) big strong lummox is less bright and emotionally developed than the others; (c) token female is beautiful and potentially mysterious. I suspect that @industrialistDragon will provide chapter and verse on tropes, so I won't dwell on this, but I'm finding very little to engage my interest in the characters.

I must add that I've been guilty 'cut-out' characters in the past, but I like to think now that I've learned from that and gone beyond it to be able to make my characters stand out, and have some facet that engages some reaction other than recognition. I really don't mean that to sound patronising: I would genuinely like to try and illustrate my point by referring to the characters in the novella I'm working on now, if you'll indulge me. (a) My m/c is a white male, but he's not the most powerful in the group of four, either physically, or in skills. He does have an ability where he bests the others--playing the mandolin--a skill he uses to his advantage to get him into an important place, and he secrets certain tools of his trade in the case. The mandolin comes into play emotionally too (I hope) when it is broken later in the story. (b) Although not physically the strongest, my main female character is stronger physically than my male protagonist, and she is the smartest and most experienced of the four. She has the biggest reputation in the world. She is analogous with African, in other words black. This is seen to define her for some side characters, but not for others, and not I trust for her associates. I've never written a PoC character before, so I've rightly been pulled up over various problem issues. I hope I've learned from that. There are other (fairly) prominent female and coloured characters in the story. Another choice I made was to make her the most physically demonstrative, taking a trait that would be distasteful in a male m/c, to try and subvert it. (c) I have a big lummox character, and he is perhaps to the trope. I tried to make him feel different by not giving his background, and that became him being secretive about his background. So the big quiet guy, in theory, is the most mysterious of the four, because his background is unknown and he doesn't talk about it. (d) The fourth is the small, stealthy character, but I've tried to make him feel different by making him old (like 60-something). He's the most proficient with weapons, perhaps unexpectedly, and he has a long past which allows me to make him bitter about fallen comrades, and to take offence when people make light of 'red shirts' being sent into the fray, and getting cut down.

What I'm trying to get it in way too many words is that your characters need to pop from the page in the first couple of lines. You need to tell the reader what they look like, how they behave and 'who they are' in a very few words, and most importantly and absolutely critically (I think) give is something about them that is unexpected, and not in any way formulaic. There is a thing called low-hanging fruit, and Howard Tayler speaks eloquently about it in one of the WE podcasts in particular. When developing a character, think of a character facet then throw it away, go beyond it (it is the low-hanging fruit) throw that away and you get further and further from that tired old median line of white, male, ex-military men who hate war but always get sucked back in.

For me, you go away off on tangents with all those names of places that the reader will not care about. We need to know the characters first, and if recognise them immediately from a dozen other stories we have read, we may well never get to the interesting stuff that you have planned down the line. As I noted before, I think you've got two or three paragraphs at most to hook us on A, possibly fewer with Alex and T. Those first lines have to work much harder, IMO.

I've gone on a big old rant there, and I'm sorry for that. Also, I started skimming ahead about here, because I'm going to come back to another issue. T appears again on Page 9, where the two men are talking about her without her present. They talk about her like she's an asset, i.e. a piece of equipment. This is reinforced on Page 10 when Alex is dismissed by A to go a fetch T, like she's standing around waiting for them to whistle. On Page 11, T is mentioned in a dismissive way like, 'Oh yes, and the woman was ready too.' She "looked competent enough". Eh? To me that reads, 'competent enough considering she's a woman'. If you're going to include a female character, it's imperative that you treat her equally to the males. That you give her a voice, and don't just wheel her on when the me need someone to argue with. In my opinion (and it's well noted in various sources) you must to give all your characters hopes, dreams and goals if you want them to come over as three dimensional, involving and engaging.

Page 13: Good lord, you've compared your female character to behaving like a dog. I would suggest you change that, quickly. Treat her with respect. You do want female readers to read your story too, right? I'm sorry I'm hitting this hard, but I think it's hurting your story. As an engineer, I resort to stats. Ala is mentioned 46 times; he's the m/c, fair enough. Alex is mentioned 37 times, and T gets 16 mentions. I would recommend making her a much more rounded and interesting character, on the same level as the other two. I think it will serve your story well.

I hope these comments are useful. I'm going to go back a read the feedback on the first submission now, and I look forward to hearing what the others think.

I really want to leave you with something positive though. I think the dynamic of a three-person group could be great. You've got a framework of three disparate characters, and if you can cut past all the nationalistic stuff, get us interested and engaged with them as people first, before laying all those complicated names on us, you could have an interesting dynamic here.

<R>

okay. So I'm going to turn this into a couple of broad categories.

1. Character comments. These are super helpful. Generally, I'm thinking I may have a character enter the village with the news and join the party, which allows me to have an uninformed perspective. I'll either create a Janissary or redo Ala. 

T is supposed to be a bonafide genius. She's a random peasant with a better brain than pretty much everyone except maybe some Stratlavian (Italian) princelings and the Riemunate (ottoman) administrators. I was trying to make her come off as head and shoulders more intelligent than everybody else.

Ale is supposed to be a natural horseman and farrier which is why there's a scene with a horse at all. I obviously need to make that more clear more quickly. I was going to do it slow burn but that apparently isn't good enough. He's supposed to be the most emotionally sensitive of all of them. 

Ala is supposed to start out "better" in his mind, than either of them and gradually allow himself to be overshadowed, developing from a prideful guy to a grizzled and veteran field commander. Yeah, he's archetypical, but I basically want him to be a canvas with which to paint the other two on. This may be the problem. I'll think about how to fix. 

They'll pick up Sammal (Muslim) soldiers and side characters over time, but that's about as interesting as I can go, racially.  I guess I can't get away with introducing them and then leaving things to be shown as we go along. see uninformed perspective note at the start. 

 

2. Red flags regarding race, sex, etc. The problem here is that T's character arc is "I'm so much smarter than all of you that it's not even funny." She's supposed to end up as the head of the mercenary company they form. But it's not much of an arc if the main characters start out weirdly accepting and un-racist/religious. I was trying for an omnipotent pov, but I cannot for the life of me get that right. If it's as big a problem as it appears, I can keep trying.

That said: Ala is sexist and racist. Ale is vastly more so. It's literally impossible for them not to be unless I want to give them both even more past baggage, and there's already too much of that going around. They're going to have to overcome these traits while working in a multinational army. 

Nationalism is a really tricky one. The real world was completely defined by nationalism until the rise of ideology and religious conflicts in the 1600s. Obviously, the peasants aren't going to actively rebel unless they run out of food, but the whole Balkan region (where this is set) maintained national identities and concepts for literally five hundred years of occupation and launched fairly regular nationalist rebellions. T doesn't have it because she's a Gene and pretty much everyone except the Sammal kill them for sport. Ala was raised as a nobleman, and so he's got liege loyalty and chivalry, but no nationalism. Ale has to otherwise I don't have a way to show why everyone's killing each other later on. They're all going to sign up to ride around with an army. Armies of the period were basically Nazis except for the people they killed and raped knew it was coming and both sides did it.

The fact that by modern definition soldiers from 1200 to 1700 were undeniably some of the evilest people in history is supposed to be the central conflict of the story. Their mercenary company will become a refuge for the people whose lives were destroyed by the army, and this will inspire them to develop a new model of warfare, which will bring them into conflict with the traditionalist elements, culminating in a civil war. 

 

3.Schematics. This is edited and written stream of consciousness, so don't worry too much about that. I'll make the changes you suggest. Thanks for the comment on names. I toned that down significantly already, so short of abandoning the idea of realism within my story, I'm not sure what I can do besides just having the characters not talk about places. However, my standards push me on that one, pretty hard. If this world's going to be realistic in the fantastic way I want it to be, it's got to have a ton of countries, I figured the minimum of independent lords/dukes/kings/etc would have to be at least five hundred. I'll think about introducing nations later. Taldovia isn't even a country anymore, so I'll just remove that and cross that bridge later.  

 

Edited by mrwizard70
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22 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

but honestly, I'm more interested in feedback from people who haven't read this yet.

There's only really four of us on here routinely, and we usually read and comment on everything. So were you just wanting non-regulars to comment? I didn't make it through the first page last time, so I'll see how much farther I get this time.

Overall

22 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

1. How are the characters? This kind of piece relies entirely on the characters being extremely strong from the outset. Specifically our protag Ala, but the side characters are of nearly equal importance. Do you need more from them to become invested? How much more?

I can't tell them apart, as their voices are too similar. I don't know enough about any of them to care, right now, and the bits of information I have been given I couldn't pin to any character, outside of one is a woman and also a Jew, and apparently that makes her look like a dog. This is my disapproving face.

22 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

2. Does it lack plot/agency/stakes? This is supposed to be the inciting incident, and I've basically introduced the major points of the narrative at this point. Do you feel invested? I want the reader to be invested primarily in the characters. Hoping to avoid "save the innocents and protect the downtrodden" as a defining motive. 

Yes. I'm not clear what the inciting incident is. It reads like Main Character saw two Side Characters and they just followed him on a quest of unknown direction, because he is Perfect. There is a war, but I don't yet care about it at all. My emotions about the piece right now could best be summed up as somewhere between 'distinct discomfort' and 'rage.'

6 hours ago, Robinski said:

but is she denigrating herself because she is a woman?! The correct answer is 'no'. But if not then I really don't get what's at at the heart of this dialogue. Because of that, I don't understand Alex's reaction.

I was also confused by this. At first glance I was willing to give it a pass as worldbuilding, but after all the other stuff that gets thrown at her, this reads like (however unintentional) authorial voice instead of character voice. And that is not okay.

6 hours ago, Robinski said:

Good lord, you've compared your female character to behaving like a dog. I would suggest you change that, quickly.

Heartily seconded. Very not cool.

5 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

Ala is sexist and racist. Ale is vastly more so. It's literally impossible for them not to be unless I want to give them both even more past baggage, and there's already too much of that going around. They're going to have to overcome these traits while working in a multinational army. 

If you're going to do this, you have to be very careful. Your narrative will have to refute the opinions put forth by these characters as basically every turn. You have to be very sure that narrator voice, authorial voice, is very clear that their opinions are wrong. Otherwise, you might as well be saying those things yourself. And even then, marginalized readers seldom want to read stories where they are further marginalized as a plot device to advance the evolution of a non-marginalized character. 

Think of the Halloween campaign: My Culture is Not a Costume

Now let's turn this for writing: My Marginalization is Not a Growth Point for You (otherwise read as 'do not advance or evolve white, cis, male characters on the backs of the marginalized and their pain)

 

So in general, it's not that I think the story has bad bones. I just would encourage you to consider whether you want to take on the burden of properly couching the racism and sexism of your characters. It's hard to write a book like this well. It's very easy to write it poorly. We can help, but I'll be real upfront that there's only so much anti-Semitism I can take before I just check out. 

 

As I go

- the first page already holds together much better than the last one

- 4: I'm unsure what the stakes are right now, or why I care about this war. I think that needs clarifying much earlier on

- page five: this far I'm not sure who is who. Yes, they have different names, but they all have the same voice. One is a woman, which I only know because you hung a lantern on her. But even then, I can't tell when/if she's speaking because the voices are so similar.

- 7: why are they considering traveling together? Where are they going? Why are they going?

- 9: why has this guy just been made a leader? I'm confused. I don't know what is going on other than a very long conversation about packing

- I actually think this chapter should start here. This is the first hook line with clarity I have seen:

“So what will we do once we get to Molbul and get enlisted?” A pause. “Will we be fighting the Zelodowvi?”

- 10: 'Gene'? If this is a stand-in for 'Jew,' tread very lightly. This is my dubious face

- 13: WOAH. You.... just compared a Jewish woman to a dog. Nothing in the narrative is refuting this blatant racism. This is not okay and it is triggering. Like, super triggering. Suggest you start tagging these subs RS for racial slurs

 

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I'm glad we get a chance to discuss. Sorry I was rather forthright in places, I'm not good at tempering...

7 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

T is supposed to be a bonafide genius. She's a random peasant with a better brain than pretty much everyone except maybe some Stratlavian (Italian) princelings and the Riemunate (ottoman) administrators. I was trying to make her come off as head and shoulders more intelligent than everybody else.

Right, I didn't get any sense of that. 

7 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

Ale is supposed to be a natural horseman and farrier

The big guy? I thought he would have known how to behave around the horse then, and not spooked it.

7 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

Ala is supposed to start out "better" in his mind, than either of them and gradually allow himself to be overshadowed, developing from a prideful guy to a grizzled and veteran field commander. Yeah, he's archetypical, but I basically want him to be a canvas with which to paint the other two on. This may be the problem. I'll think about how to fix. 

Again, I'm struggling to get a sense of this from the limited dialogue and internal narrative.

7 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

I was trying for an omnipotent pov

I can't advise you on that, I've never tried it that I can remember. I thought we were fairly solidly in Ala's POV. Although what I might say is that strikes me as being more impersonal than a first person or even third person story, potentially.

7 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

That said: Ala is sexist and racist. Ale is vastly more so.

I'm not saying don't do that. It was the village elder that jarred so heavily with me. It seemed to me he was essentially saying 'You're foreigners (even thought one of them isn't, it seems?). Leave my village and go die somewhere else.

7 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

Nationalism is a really tricky one. The real world was completely defined by nationalism until the rise of ideology and religious conflicts in the 1600s. Obviously, the peasants aren't going to actively rebel unless they run out of food, but the whole Balkan region (where this is set)

This was one of my principle problems, after the second or third nationality/country, I switch off, because it's too much to process. All these names come flying at us while we're trying to get a sense of the characters. The country names don't mean anything to the reader. I would strongly recommend cutting down on those names and saving them for later, when the characters are established.

7 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

If this world's going to be realistic in the fantastic way I want it to be, it's got to have a ton of countries, I figured the minimum of independent lords/dukes/kings/etc would have to be at least five hundred.

All I would say is that if you want readers who don't know all the details, and don't have all the notes to become engaged in the story, I think you need to rein back on the names in the early pages, drip them in, otherwise the characters get swamped.

:) 

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Well, I think @Robinski and @kais pretty much tagged everything I was going to say, and more. I'll repeat, there are good bones here and solid worlbuilding, but the characters don't stand out for me yet.

A couple additions:

16 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

T is supposed to be a bonafide genius. She's a random peasant with a better brain than pretty much everyone except maybe some Stratlavian (Italian) princelings and the Riemunate (ottoman) administrators. I was trying to make her come off as head and shoulders more intelligent than everybody else.

I've seen absolutely nothing in the text to show this. This may be her character, but right now all I've seen is a girl who's sort of in the background of two men. It would be a great hook to have T showing off her intelligence at the very beginning, or even better, seeing things from her POV.

16 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

He's supposed to be the most emotionally sensitive of all of them. 

Didn't get this either.

16 hours ago, mrwizard70 said:

I was trying for an omnipotent pov, but I cannot for the life of me get that right.

This isn't in omni POV. It's in Al's POV. However, if you want to do omni, it's a great chance to show Alex and T's reactions to everything that is said, and give us a much better glimpse into their characters. A true omniscient POV is in everyone's heads, all the time. I'm usually not a fan of it, but in this context, it could go a long way to showing that the characters are racist and sexist, while also showing that you, the author, are not.

Might be worth just doing a exercise of a quick three-way conversation between the characters, and try to put in a reaction from the other characters for everything the third person says. It'll be a little much to read, but would probably help you out with capturing that POV.

 

Notes while reading:
pg 1: "Genesess"
--is this still a gendered term? As in a female Genes? Alex gets a neutral term. To further disassociate this with the original term, it might be good to change it to a neutral term describing the person's race/homeland.

pg 1/2: These descriptions still make me think Alex is mid 20's-30's, mainly because of the way he challenges the village elder:
"shoulders forward to loom over B. like a bear"
"outweighed the old man by at least 30 kilograms"
"the hulking bear of a man"

pg 4: "Outsiders cause problems, and they offend God. I don’t want to kill you, since killing offends God"
--This is pretty abrupt. I get the sense these two have been living in the town a while. Why is the topic of killing suddenly coming up? Has something changed?

pg 6: "I always knew you weren’t from around here, but seeing it’s different"
--Al answers this, but I'm still not convinced. Alex has seen the horse before. There's not enough change here to make me believe there's enough difference with the horse to suddenly make it seem strange.

pg 7: Something about the timeline isn't adding up. When did the soldiers come? There was something about the village resettling 20 years ago, but Alex is only 19. Was there another war in between?

pg 8-10: There's a lot of talk about what they will do, here. I'd rather get into the story faster, and see this stuff when it happens.

pg 11: Lots of place/people names and they don't have any meaning to me yet.

pg 13: tongue lolling out like a dogs. 
--Er, no. Especially not with the "Genesess" connotation.

pg 14: so...they just sort of set off. I don't really see a hook for the story yet. They've been peacefully living in a village, and then the elder decides they're going to be killed? 

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I wasn't going to reply on this one per your request, but since I've been mentioned by name, I'll say a little. 

 

Re religion: Switching "Jew" to "Gene" does indeed take the sharpest edge off of it for me. However, nothing else was changed, so I feel like it becomes clear very early on what specific religion is meant instead. To my mind, much of the benefit that was gained by changing the word is lost at this point. I think @Mandamon's point about the "-ess" suffix is a good one.  A little more obfuscation on this would help me out a lot more. I also agree with @kais's assessment re the sexism and racism: it's not that it has to go away, but if it stays it needs to be handled carefully. I would really want to see a lot more of Ty succeeding or working around the other's opinions of her. Right now for me the only thing that shines through is how little the others think of her. 

 

For the character questions

Ty: I like that she is no longer shrill. That improves her a lot for me.  However, it does uncover how much the story seems to highlight her weakness and low social standing. If she is brilliant, and heads above the rest intellectually, then I feel like this fact should be the one highlighted, early on and often, and the other (her low standing in the eyes of the men and physical weaknesses) aspects I think should be used to to bring out or define her primary trait. Right now, the line that I felt like highlighted her intellect in the first version (where she explains the situation to Ale during the argument with the village elder) has been given to Ala in this one, and I think it really steals her thunder. 

Ale: Same with Ale. I like that he now seems slightly less belligerent to me in this version, however, I'm not getting from the text that he has more emotional intelligence or sensitivity than the others. Again, I feel like the fact that he is big and imposing are traits that should be used to help highlight his primary trait of empathy (which would also help move him away from the "big dumb lummox" stereotype, I think).

Ala: I liked the increased episodes of PTSD. The memories made me believe he'd been at war before. However, I'm not getting much else about his personality from the text. If he was raised in the nobility, I feel like there should be something -- his manner of speech, his accent, the quality of his clothes, his thought processes, something -- that marks him as different that's plain in the text for readers to pick up on. I feel like bringing out these differences, even if he's trying to pass as a commoner, will help me become more invested in what he's doing.

 

Re stereotypes and tropes: Based on what you've said on this and what I know about historical fantasy, I'm willing to give this story a bit more leeway for tropish characters than I would for a more character-driven genre of story. That said, @Robinski and @kais do have a point. I like what you've talked about for the characters, both in their futures, and what they're supposed to be, but right now in the text that's written, all three of them don't show that. Right now to me they are fairly common, well-worn stereotypes that don't, unfortunately, hold my attention very well. Tropes are not necessarily all bad or all good, but I feel like some of the most important things especially with genre fiction is 1) knowing what tropes are being used, and 2) finding ways to make those tropes uniquely your own. Right now, I'm reading the story for the setting (which I will do and have done, but I am very odd) and not the characters. 

 

Re plot/agency/stakes:  I think it is definitely very plot-ful! :) War and politics always make for lots of plot. I enjoy a good political novel, too. I'm not sure where the characters fit into the plot yet, though. The two things, plot and characters, don't feel very integrated into each other to me yet.  Agency is tougher. As @Robinski and @Mandamon have pointed out, Ty is not really present in this section. She's treated more as an annoying piece of equipment necessary for travel than a person in her own right, so I think she definitely lacks agency. Both she and Ale seem to me to lack a certain ... urgency? reason? I'm not sure. Like, they've been in this village as untrusted, shunned outsiders for years... why didn't Ty at least leave before now? Why hasn't Ale seen the writing on the wall sooner, if he's supposed to be so emotionally perceptive? (I understand why he wouldn't have left, but it seems odd for him to be clueless of his situation.) For Ala... I think this version is better than the last for being clear about his having been a soldier previously, but I'm still not sure why he wants to go back to war. Why can't he just stay incognito? He's been living just fine as an outsider in this town for a year and a half, what in this (old, possibly already out-of-date) announcement forces him to reveal himself and return? 

 

Re the dog comparison: I agree. It's not great and needs to go. 

 

Re the "I'm a woman" statement: I actually didn't mind this as I thought Ty was being more rueful than anything else. To me, she was acerbically acknowledging that her society doesn't allow women to travel alone, and not merely being disparaging to her gender. Upon thinking on it more now, the line feels very modern-snarky and i'm thinking maybe that the sentiment might be better being expressed more blatantly? Nothing in the text states that women can't travel alone and that was all an assumption on my part. 

 

Re 3rd person omniscient: I think this would be a great story for the omniscient POV! I also completely agree with @Mandamon and @Robinski that right now the story is in 3rd person limited, and that one POV is Ala's. :( Mandamon's suggeston of exercises is spot-on too, and I'd add to that the suggestion to check out Ursula LeGuin's book on writing, Steering the Craft (the link is to the most recent version). I read the 1998 edition, and it had a really fantastic section on the different POV types and example exercises for trying them out. I think it would really help if you wanted to try for 3rd omniscient. 

 

Re lots of countries: It's great to have them! But I feel like they need to be added in slowly, at the point where they are most necessary (even if that's very much later in the story). Front-loading names and connections is common instinct, but in my experience doing so usually just bogs down the important parts of the beginning and confuses readers. I know I get confused when there are too many places and people I don't care about yet being named all at once. 

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2 hours ago, kais said:

So in general, it's not that I think the story has bad bones. I just would encourage you to consider whether you want to take on the burden of properly couching the racism and sexism of your characters. It's hard to write a book like this well. It's very easy to write it poorly. We can help, but I'll be real upfront that there's only so much anti-Semitism I can take before I just check out.

Yeah. There is a huge amount going on in this first submission and I think the bottom line is that none of it has sufficient nuance or depth to be convincing. In a strange way there is actually almost no conflict between the characters, and they just accept what is expected of them by the story without pushing back, considering, arguing or debating. It's possible to establish lots of background and character in a very few words, with care and work.

I do agree with @Mandamon (no surprise there then) that there are good bones, and many excellent opportunities for character conflict, although the topics of racism, nationalism and antisemitism are very chunky ones that I suspect a lot of published authors would not take on in the way you seem to be planning.

And I'm still picking over this country/name thing. I got curious and did a search to break down the number and frequency of names. I attach an image which as a picture will be 'invisible' to searches, so I hope you are okay with me putting the names in there. A thing the contributed to my confusion was Ala and Alex having very similar names. I don't think that helps with keeping characters distinct. In relation to places and nationalities--if I have the assessment correct--there are 5 nations with 'S' names, and that is difficult to keep track of at the start of a story. Then there are 10 different names of nations and nationalities, which increases the difficulty for the first time reader, and that's not including the place names.

I'm not sure where you will go from here with the story, but I remain with the view that there are good bones and the characters, as you describe them (but not yet portray them), can be very effective.

 5bbf266d98c62_ScreenShot2018-10-11at11_00_55.thumb.png.3b8e480cf2ecea84b87a603cc7f0dbef.png

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15 hours ago, industrialistDragon said:

Re lots of countries: It's great to have them! But I feel like they need to be added in slowly, at the point where they are most necessary (even if that's very much later in the story). Front-loading names and connections is common instinct, but in my experience doing so usually just bogs down the important parts of the beginning and confuses readers. I know I get confused when there are too many places and people I don't care about yet being named all at once.

thumbs-up.jpg.f6aee8c747186c3295a09c89a327a886.jpg

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It's been a rough week, so I'm sorry if I come across a bit snarky or grumpy. 

1. How are the characters? This kind of piece relies entirely on the characters being extremely strong from the outset. Specifically our protag Ala, but the side characters are of nearly equal importance. Do you need more from them to become invested? How much more?

The characters were a little fuzzy to me, and yes, I need more. I did not understand their motives very well, especially since the why they had to leave came from the mouth of a different character. 

Ala seemed wishy washy from the begining. If he was hiding, why did he all of a sudden want to come out of hiding for something as bad as war, which, his first reaction to it, first flash or memory, is a negative, anxiety ridden one. I know very little of the other characters, had a hard time picturing the woman. Just new Ale was big, and when they were talking, I had a hard time following who was saying what. I had to reread the scene a few times to figure it out. 

The horse had lots of personality. I like animals with personality. 

2. Does it lack plot/agency/stakes? This is supposed to be the inciting incident, and I've basically introduced the major points of the narrative at this point. Do you feel invested? I want the reader to be invested primarily in the characters. Hoping to avoid "save the innocents and protect the downtrodden" as a defining motive. 

Regarding plot, this works as an inciting incident as it is getting them out of the place they've been and onto a journey. I have absolutely no clue what the stakes are aside from the fact that after X amount of years of tolerating outsiders, the village elder just decided he doesn't want them anymore. I'm not invested, but that is more because of the characters than the plot. 

3. Anything else you feel like saying!

I'm confused. I got lost in the opening dialogue though I did eventually more or less figure things out through rereading.

Here are some notes I made as I went.

Opening line: Why not "the village elder's hands" instead of "the hands of the village elder"

"back to war...but" So up until this line, I was thinking he didn't want to go back to war at all, since he was hiding. Now he seems open to it all of a sudden. 

"You've never been out of the village" I wasn't sure who was saying this to who.

"But her got between" "should be "but she got between"

"Alexander, face..."

"You are from...."

wasn't sure who was saying the above things

"Tyio, I pretty sure..." still not sure who is saying this -- Ala or Ale

B continued... After reading on, it sounds like all three of these people have been in the village for a while, Ale his whole life, Ala almost two years, not sure about T. So why now does B want them gone? Simply because he has an excuse? 

 

I got more engaged in the later scene with the horse and starting on the road, but those seemed really rushed. If you slow down, there is a lot of potential there to show Ala's character and introduce his history more. 

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Just a note – I’ve read both, but I’m behind, so I’m only commenting on this one:

Thoughts As I Go: The mention of ‘two capitals’ immediately makes me think the divide in the Roman Empire, which only is confirmed through further reading, like the mention of village resettlement. I like the atmosphere on this piece.

A’s ‘diffusion attempt’ should be in the reverse order – first to T to clarify Alex’s statement, then to Alex to give it an answer.

‘Fearless leader’ seems just a bit anachronistic for my tastes. In general, you match the era’s tone, but there is the odd slip-up. On that note, using Sultan when you’ve substituted every other word of note is also out of place.

So, his sword would be a large curved cavalry blade, of course, fitting for a man on horseback. I’d assume he regularly treats the sword to keep it from rusting.

Notes, overall:

You’ve elected to use what seems to be the late Roman Empire as your setting, but have swapped up every single term of note. In general, I like historical fiction (so long as it’s accurate, but that’s not a problem you’ll have) but I think books should either commit to be set within the history (i.e. Romans) or, while being loosely based on real-life empires, be different enough so this wasn’t just a case of calling rabbits shmeerps. That is not to say that you are calling rabbits shmeerps, because this doesn’t give me enough of a perspective, I just wanted to make the point.

In terms of your characters, A (main character) is a bit too generic at this point for me to care about him. T has her own problems, in the sense that she belongs to a unique ethnic group (which now are Genes (which just makes me think Dune)) and it bleeds very little into her character. Alex, on the other hand, is interesting because I’ve never really read a historical fantasy where the village idiot (yes, I know he’s just an outcast, but that is the stereotype) is one of the main characters.

(Also, if we haven't met, I'm aeromancer, occasional poster on these forums, resident hard-sci-fi nerd.)

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