kais

01/07/19 - kris - SANDS (L,V)

9 posts in this topic

A first draft, so don't feel like you have to read it. It'll be a rough ride. I mostly need thoughts on level of info dump, likability of E, and if it is a compelling enough inciting incident (and if the through line is viable, or I need to punch it up).
 

Many thanks!

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Posted (edited)

This is my first critique, so I do hope I'm doing this right and it's at least somewhat helpful. Overall: very compelling setting and character, and I'd like to read more, just needs some tweaks -- which I've enumerated below for you to consider in Draft 2 -- with regard to plot presentation. 

_____________

First off -- I love the voice. You've got a gruff character who's evidently been through hell, so feel free to play into it. I like the feeling that she's talking into the camera, and the short, snappy sentences really convince us she's been standing out in the dust for hours on end. That, you certainly didn't overdo.

I think, however, you do need to watch your world-dumps. E seems like a terribly nostalgic person, but she doesn't need to reminisce every other paragraph for us to get a picture of her pain. Give us images -- the snow freezing over the river so she can walk home worked particularly well -- not an explanation of how Earth abandoned Q that presumably anyone the character might have a chance to relate this to would already know. The simple lack of supplies and dwindling population will let us put that together. Constantly mentioning "it's like this sort of thing I used to remember on Earth," combined with one or two specific memories, ought to let you cut some of the explanation. You've already done a good deal of this: it was a perfect character moment when E pointed out that one of the Ms' garments was dyed Earth blue. 

(That being said, some of your more direct monologue sections do work. That part at the beginning of p. 11 -- I couldn't give her the ocean -- could make a Koloss start sniffling. Just err on the side of ruthless cutting and you'll be fine with a few moments like these; this one fits particularly well with the one or two specific memories portion of our Pyramid of Nostalgic Regret).  

Same thing with your explanation of the gender question on p. 7. This might just be because I read your critique request and so knew already that the protagonist would not conform to traditional gender roles, but I'd already gotten the sense by that point that she was something different. By the end of the story, I knew for sure. If she's not going to define exactly how she identifies herself, that means she presumably isn't quite sure. As she's a first-person narrator, we shouldn't be so sure either, especially considering the only way to state this explicitly comes across as rather a forward statement of purpose; it's much better for the audience to accept this character as an intriguing part of the story and engage with her organically than for you to tell them what they're supposed to be seeing. 

(It's also reasonably simple to understand that Q is an all-female planet from the way you describe it, so you don't really need to say this either if we're only introduced to female characters, or at least characters who aren't explicitly male). 

I didn't get much of a sense of E's scientific expertise, and actually didn't realize she was a scientist until after I read your critique request a second time. I think this can be done with the method above: just have her throw around scientific terms, or describe things in scientific ways. You tell us the beetle has five legs: it probably has something -- from what little I can remember of elementary biology -- to do with some sort of mutation of some alpha gene somewhere that you'd absolutely be in a better position to describe than me, so let her describe it that way. We all walk a fine line with jargon, but I think this can be more of a persuasion than anything else, a throwaway line or two, almost field notes that would instinctively pop into her head, about something she studies (or at least used to). 

The prose is gorgeous. I already said its structure enhances the voice really well, but I can't emphasize this enough. If security wasn't so tight, I'd start quoting lines. E's the perfect character for internal monologue one-liners, and you've a gift for them. I do have some nitpicks -- certain sections are a tad clunky and certain metaphors a tad overdrawn -- but this is a first draft, so there's no real use mentioning them; just watch for odd-sounding descriptions (there's a particular instance with snowshoes if you're wondering what I'm talking about, or, catchers' mitts from baseball, unless there's some other kind of catcher's mitt on Q) when editing.

It's not as explicit as the descriptive world-building, but I'd also try and make the dialogue a bit more vague. Let the characters introduce themselves, talk about inane things. This is a bit of personal preference creeping in -- I tend to have this beef with a lot of authors -- and it may run contrary to your world; the damnation dust gets everywhere, so people can't help but be get to the point. However, if you are just reflexively shoving conversations towards the plot -- don't worry, you haven't pulled a Ken Follett -- I'd consider letting them off the leash a little; these two are sisters after all, and I feel like they'd only get to something like N snapping at E to join the council and change things goddammit after a significant buildup.

Because it's such a significant plotline, I also felt like you could have mentioned T's ailment and fatal decision a little more obliquely. It may be possible -- you'd have to try it out and see if it actually worked -- to get the whole thing across with a few mentions of E's favorite memories of T randomly inserted, combined with a simple, curt reference to how she went out into the desert to die. As is, while I certainly didn't see the ending coming, the passages on T seemed rather too overtly flagged as a DRAMATIC CHARACTER MOMENT, where I think, if we're dealing with a grieving character, she ought to insert T wherever possible into the material I described in my second paragraph. This may be out of character -- E may be trying to repress memories of T -- but from the way she describes it in the current draft it appears rather that she is awash with them, which I feel could come out more organically.  

That being said, the ending hits like a ton of bricks. The world-building really draws you in. I want to know how these people live in such a desolate environment, and I found myself relishing your descriptions of it. When that last line rolls out, it feels like the Star Destroyer suddenly bursting across the screen in the first few shots of Star Wars. This is going to be one hell of a ride.

tl;dr --

Compelling, necessary character buy-in, spot-on worldbuilding, interesting through-line: Hell Yeah. 

Too much Info-Dumping: Also yes. 

____________

Edit: in retrospect this critique does seem rather prescriptive rather than descriptive. I usually like to suggest solutions to problems I may encounter, but if you feel like I'm doing it too much, or in a way that warps your second draft -- a phenomenon about which I've heard several authors complain when showing early drafts to writing groups -- please do tell me. 

Edited by Severian4Scadrial
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I really like this. The flow of this story I think is one of your best yet.
I think E is a very compelling character. She (they?) has a compelling reason for what she does, but is not too likeable. The "Competence" and "Protagging" sliders are high enough to compensate for it.

2 hours ago, Severian4Scadrial said:

(It's also reasonably simple to understand that Q is an all-female planet from the way you describe it, so you don't really need to say this either if we're only introduced to female characters, or at least characters who aren't explicitly male). 

I have to disagree with this. I think it's necessary to make E's gender-nonconformity very clear.

I also didn't have as much of a problem with infodumping as @Severian4Scadrial, but it did slow the pace of the story a bit. I think it you took a little away from the worldbuilding (as much as I like it) in this section and added a touch more emotional reaction from E to T, then the ending would have even more of a punch. Right now it's really good, but I think that last line could be an absolute punch to the gut. Right now it's close, but it could be bigger.

 

Notes while reading:
pg 2: "There wouldn’t be a lot of use for sentry work if your sentry died each time you sent her out."
--lol

pg 3: "Like Earth’s shadow didn’t oppress us hundreds of light years away"
--I didn't quite get this metaphor(?). Earth's specter maybe? Or Earth's memory?

pg 3: “Still, you know what they say about the dunes.”
--what do they say? I feel like I'm missing the pun. Also, this is spaced out a bit from the last dialogue, so I had to go back and see how it connected to this sentence.

pg 5: "I heard N’s hologram click from existence "
--This is a really cool twist, but also I was confused. Was Nadia a hologram the whole time? I though she was physically there. What was the cyclone that spun up to E?

pg 5: "not bothering to answer my sister"
--ok, now really confused. What was the hologram, and is N still standing there?

pg 7: Very cool worldbuilding setup for the planet. So there are other colonies that are doing better then? I had the impression that this was all that was left of the human race.

pg 8: love the beetles.

pg 10: "and a nice work scrolled across the faceshield"
--lol. I would hate those suits.

pg 11: "some rare fungus that Queen would never know."
--I see what you did there...

pg 14: Nice ending.

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Posted (edited)

47 minutes ago, Mandamon said:

I have to disagree with this. I think it's necessary to make E's gender-nonconformity very clear.

True. I think part of this point may have just been me already knowing the protagonist's position. As you said, I'm slightly allergic to info-dumps generally and, being used as I am to Robin Hobb working fans into a frenzy trying to figure out the Fool's gender, I probably reacted more strongly to that particular instance than will most people here. Somehow or other it should probably be established early on, considering it's a submission requirement, but -- well, see below --  I believe it could be presented more concisely. 

Speaking of which, I never noticed a single instance of awkward substitution of binary pronouns for a non-binary character -- as I did in my critique -- or of the even more awkward "they." Nice one, OP. 

 

47 minutes ago, Mandamon said:

I also didn't have as much of a problem with infodumping as @Severian4Scadrial

Between this and my Advice for New Writers post, I may be positioning myself -- to engage in a little Egotism -- as the resident Hammer of Info-dumps. Feel free to wield it against my own upcoming submission, whose narrator delights in a good info-dump. 

Edited by Severian4Scadrial
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Thoughts As I Go:

Pg. 1 - You have ‘morning’ and ‘tidally-locked planet’ in the same paragraph. Not that it’s a problem, just that mornings on tidally locked planets take about a month and a half.

Pg. 1 -Now we’re up to three month long morning, given that a Q year is about 2 terra firma ones.

Pg. 1 – Sweet forcefield. Bet they use a lot of those.

Pg. 2 – What are Ms? Sentient aliens? Dune style sandworms?

Pg. 3 – I’m very unclear on precisely where on the planet they are.

Pg. 3 – Why is E blaming N for the pain of bringing up T’s name, when E brought it up?

Pg. 5 – I am lost. Holograms? Wasn’t N real?

Pg. 6 – Earth’s legacy is an odd description for cancer.

Pg. 7 – So this is now a Fallout Vault. All-female planet? Why? I don’t understand.

Pg. 7 – Are you referring to double X male here, or some other variant? And is E a double X? You imply her biology is different, but you don’t specify how.

Pg. 7 – Also, why are people living on this planet if there are apparently other inhabitable ones?

Pg. 8 – Giant intelligent beetles? Cool concept, but I have a feeling that this isn’t going to be explored.

Pg. 8 – I don’t like asymmetrical animals, even alien ones, unless there’s a really good evolutionary reason for it.

Pg. 9 – Where did these Ms come from, if not colonists?

Pg. 10 – Cool gun, but how does it work?

Overall: There was no indication of any scientific expertise on E’s part. There is ample motivation to get off Q, but that’s because it’s basically the bad parts of Tatooine mixed with the terrible parts of Arrakis. I don’t really have an interest to tell you the truth, E is the only fleshed out character and the world is a desolate wastespot seemingly built with recycled tech. It’s a world usually used for high-stakes survival, and there’s just not so much of that right now. It could use a little punch up, to use your own words. I didn't find the info dumps to be too long, but I'll never find info dumps to be too long.

 

41 minutes ago, Severian4Scadrial said:

Between this and my Advice for New Writers post, I may be positioning myself -- to engage in a little Egotism -- as the resident Hammer of Info-dumps.

Oh dear. I fear for my upcoming works.

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Posted (edited)

Overall... Overall I had trouble getting into this. I felt like it was all over the place in the beginning, and I didn't get enough of a feel for the character before the story went headfirst into introspective wandering for me to want to wade through it. Every time I'd get reengaged, there'd then come another round of memories, and they'd break the flow for me again. It's not that I disliked the piece, but that I ended up feeling frustrated at the end of it. At the text, not the characters so much. 
 
I found a lot of similarities between E and your characters from other books, and I just don't feel like I got enough of E to differentiate her from Foxfire's So. E reminded me of Foxfire's So (introspective to excess, obsessive, not wanting to be around people because of how they view her, having issues with a more extroverted female friend who wants her to go somewhere because of a ruling body) wearing an Ard Ne costume (bulky flight suit, hip holster, big boots, broken old-earth tech). I would really have liked to get more sense of E as her own person in these early pages than paragraph after paragraph of old-earth longing. 
 
To answer your questions:
 
I didn't see much infodump, once I corrected for an overwhelming amount of old-earth maundering. I feel like the story didn't really find its feet until the beetle attack, and that I would have liked more info on T and the relationship, and T's decision to die than all this "woe is me this is not earth" that's in there. I think a lot of "punching up" will happen naturally if the beginning is pruned heavily, and E and T find their own personalities. I got no sense E was a scientist. There's definitely a compelling story in there! I just feel like it's buried under a lot of exploratory, author-is-getting-a-feel-for-the-world paragraphs right now.  
 
As I go:
E feels very much like foxfire's So, but with a few more curse words. Introspection can be nice, but I'm having a hard time not skimming these first few pages. I feel like a lot of this "oh woe is me Queen is not Earth" at the beginning is less worldbuilding more just maundering. At the end of it, I know very little about Queen other than it's red and oh-so-horribly not Earth, and what I gather about E is that she's prone to such extended woolgathering that I question her effectiveness as a sentry. Maybe her post is the proverbial left field of the planet? A safe place to chuck people who can't hack it elsewhere but can't be fired? 
 
I am also confused by the sudden switch to anger, happening as it does right after so much prolonged introspection. What is actually happening here? I thought they were hunting, with the mention of hides, but it's some kind of return-home order? I'm lost, and at the moment I don't feel particularly attached to Foxfire-So (The Red Dust Mix). 
 
So M are a people but T is a person (singular)? I thought they were, again, animals at first, because of the focus on plant and animal life (and leather) early on, then I thought M were just one person, since T is one person and they're handled so similarly in the text.
 
"See T’s mother" --  Wait, whose mother? Whose wife? Does E have a daughter? I'm confused here. At least I have confirmation that T is a singular person and M are a group of people.
 
Definitely also have hologram issues like the others, but I won't belabor the point.
 
Yeah, when E throws these introspective "Queen is terrible oh woe It isn't earth oh woe, woe woe" pity parties I just lose all interest. It's too much for me, too many passages of this particular kind of introspection. I get it already. 
 
"Queen’s complete lack of resources had taken T and M stole what few we did manage to store" --  Wait, what few Ts? Is T a person? T is a person, right? Because here T is talked about more like a supply or resource and I thought I had it figured, but now I don't know. I guess you can't marry a resource, so therefore T is a person? Unless, on this crapsack world people ARE resources in which case I have no clue what's going on. 
 
I think part of my problem is this habit I seem to be seeing of describing most things two, three or even more times, just using synonyms and increasingly flowery language. Foxfire had it too, but this just seems to be a lot more concentrated version of it.  And, like, a little of this is sort of thing is fine, but I feel like you could trim literally pages out of this current story just from taking the triple-repetitions down to doubles and still not lose a great deal of pertinent information. 
 
Once we hit the beetles, I'm still heckin' confused (is it a blue shawl or a blue headband and how the heck is a headband/shawl made of leather dyed with fabric how do you get actual dye out of fabric in usable quantities and then it's used as some kind of bolo/wrap like what going on why are we suddenly talking about water is there even any action happening or did E just like zone out while watching people die?) but I finally feel like I'm engaged in the story. 
Edited by industrialistDragon
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It’s been a while since I did this, and that seems to be a recurring trend as well. So, here we go :)

Info dump: There is a lot of information in these first pages. Some of it was a bit redundant, I think you explain what the sun side and the cold side of a tidally-locked planet mean at least two times in the first couple pages. Most of it though is E. remembering what life used to be on Earth with seemingly equal parts longing and hate, and each time E. remembers it slows down the pace of the chapter.

Likability of E: Seems fine to me so far. E. is a tough character with a bitter history and that shines through – for the most part it’s understandable, like losing her wife, being stuck on a shithole of a planet. What I don’t like so much is the constant reminiscing of Earth and lamenting her lot in life.

Also, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, but E. does remind me of a certain other main character from another book you wrote, and I wonder if you’re not rethreading the same ground here.

Inciting incident: I’m not really feeling an inciting incident here. As far as I can tell there are three things going on:

  • E. hates her life on Q., and people who care about E. want E. to stop moping and get on with her life. E. however does not want this, and makes no move to do so, so there isn’t really an inciting incident there.
  • Then there’s the M., but I’m not really feeling the threat here, since E. has already made it clear that they are dying out anyway and it seems this small incursion was stopped rather easily.
  • There’s the question of what happened to T. out in the dunes, and if she encountered the M., but at its heart T. is still (most likely) dead due to terminal cancer (if not the environment), so where the body is and what happened to it is not all that compelling to me. And it’s not really all that compelling to E. either because, as E. says in the beginning, she had three years to look for T. and didn’t.

Given the above the first chapter so far is a character hating their lot in life on a horrible planet.

Hologram: This confused me. When N. first appeared you describe a sand tornado and then N. wiping the dust from herself. I thought she was actually there and had stepped through a dust storm to get to E., but nowhere in there did I ever think she was a hologram.

Earth’s shadow: Not sure what you mean by Earth’s oppression of the colony world, since you just described how Earth is gone and therefore there is nothing to oppress. The planet itself still gets some help and colonists from the outside galaxy, but for the most part the planet is left to fend for itself – not really seeing the oppression.

Tidally-locked planet: I like this, it’s interesting to see what you’re going to do with this.

All female planet: Seems like an odd thing to do, create a colony full of people who – without artificial or outside help – can’t naturally reproduce. If anything goes wrong with their technology and/or their off-planet sperm supply the colony can do nothing except slowly die out. Seems like a bad investment, considering the cost of colonizing a planet and the fact that the planet that started the whole colonization process was on the verge of being destroyed and now actually is.

Planet’s worth: E. wants to get off the planet, so there are other colonized planets out there apparently and an Earth II as well, so it’s not like there’s a need to stay on such a horrible planet when there are better planets out there. So if Q. is so horrible, what’s the worth of the planet that would have:

  1. Drawn colonists there in the first place.
  2. Keeps them there when there are, potentially, more hospitable worlds out there.

M.: I thought these had to be aliens, but they seem to be human? Is that correct? E. converses with one of them but I’m still not sure what they actually are.

Rough start: I do want to see where you’re going with this, since you’ve written cool stuff before, but I agree with you that this is a rough start and I’m not really hooked by it yet.

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Hokay so, the writing style didn't float everyone's boat. Check. I think I can strike a balance between the narrative voice I want and the problematic redundancy in the first several pages. 

The hologram thing was a fragment from a past edition and has been thoroughly edited. Apologies for that. I've decided to hold the scientist relevance for next chapter, so no need to work it into this one. I did change some other aspects a bit, and will resubmit this chapter before moving on to the next, to see if it's better hitting the mark.

I've finished drafting the piece and while it unfortunately won't work for the anthology (I reread the submission requirements and it has to have some magic, too, which this does not) I'd still like to run it through the group. It might be useful some other time. 

On 1/7/2019 at 10:11 AM, Severian4Scadrial said:

in retrospect this critique does seem rather prescriptive rather than descriptive. I

Not an issue at all. I've been on the board for a few years and will take whatever form feedback comes in. Sifting through the comments is a useful exercise.

On 1/7/2019 at 1:13 PM, Mandamon said:

I think it's necessary to make E's gender-nonconformity very clear.

Yes, I agree. @Severian4Scadrial if it helps, the movement in the community is very much say it on the page. Especially in the kind of anthology this was slated for, a section like that was critical. You'll see something similar in whatever I come up with next for the anthology, since this one is being scrapped.

On 1/7/2019 at 1:13 PM, Mandamon said:

I feel like I'm missing the pun

And of course I've forgotten what the pun was, so I can't edit it accordingly. May have to stay vague due to author memory lapse.

On 1/7/2019 at 1:13 PM, Mandamon said:

I see what you did there...

AHAHAHAHAHAHA

On 1/7/2019 at 2:45 PM, aeromancer said:

Why is E blaming N for the pain of bringing up T’s name, when E brought it up?

LOL. Because sisters.

On 1/7/2019 at 2:45 PM, aeromancer said:

Are you referring to double X male here, or some other variant? And is E a double X? You imply her biology is different, but you don’t specify how.

Yeah, this is what I'm curious to see how it comes across. I am definitely referring to XX men and that E is XX but with variation, too. She was meant to be nonbinary but ended up intersex...which I was going to change but it doesn't seem right so once again, another reason this short won't go to the anthology. I like the intersex angle a lot. I want to explore it more.

On 1/7/2019 at 2:45 PM, aeromancer said:

I don’t really have an interest to tell you the truth

Here's hoping V2 is better then

On 1/9/2019 at 9:49 AM, industrialistDragon said:

I would really have liked to get more sense of E as her own person in these early pages than paragraph after paragraph of old-earth longing. 

Not entirely certain how to do this in the first chapter, but will think on it. I was marginally considering this short as a sort of prequel to an actual book or trilogy, or at least a way for me to build characters in my mind for such. I think E will come along after a few more passes. Or at least I hope she will.

9 hours ago, Asmodemon said:

So, here we go

Hey hey! Always happy to see you around, @Asmodemon!

9 hours ago, Asmodemon said:

at least two times in the first couple pages

Guilty as charged

9 hours ago, Asmodemon said:

it slows down the pace of the chapter.

I've cut probably half of these wanderings so I'm hoping V2 keeps the flavor and recovers some pacing.

9 hours ago, Asmodemon said:

but E. does remind me of a certain other main character from another book you wrote, and I wonder if you’re not rethreading the same ground here.

Unfortunate, and something I want to avoid. She's a shell character right now that I'm hoping to repaint a bit after I've had one go through of draft zero. If you decide to read v2 this week (and I totally understand if v1 traumatized too much to do so) I'll be curious to see if she's more distinct from previous leading characters.

9 hours ago, Asmodemon said:

I’m not really feeling an inciting incident here.

Yeah, I need this part to resonate for everyone, not just half the reading body. I've tried to bring it out more in the new version. Here's hoping.

Thank you so much everyone, for suffering through this. I'd normally do a few more go throughs before submitting but I'm on a time crunch with this. AND now I've decided to scrap it so ARGH! 

Anyway, edited version tomorrow. Oof.

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16 hours ago, kais said:

I like the intersex angle a lot. I want to explore it more.

Yeah, that's probably better done in a longer piece, rather than a short story like this was supposed to be, where the through line is about something else entirely. In this submission the addition of the paragraph stating E.'s gender nonconformity feels a little tacked on and its additional or removal wouldn't actually affect the story in any meaningful way.

 

16 hours ago, kais said:

I've cut probably half of these wanderings so I'm hoping V2 keeps the flavor and recovers some pacing.

It does :)

 

16 hours ago, kais said:

and I totally understand if v1 traumatized too much to do so

I don't traumatize easily ;)  

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