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shatteredsmooth

Jan 21, 2019_The Mindless Nine Part 1 (word count) (LV)

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Hi everyone,
 
This is a short story I'm pulling from submissions to revise. It's gotten too many rejections, and one came with feedback that made me realize I failed at fixing a major plot hole my old critique group and beta readers had pointed out. 
 
I was asked to write a short for an anthology that involves magic, the cosmos, and characters who are trans or non-binary. The stories need to be between 7,500 and 12,000 words. I started a new story for it, but I'm thinking this one might actually be a better fit, since it has a plot and doesn't spend an entire page describing a tiny chunk of salt marsh. 
 
I did one pass at it yesterday and changed a few bits of backstory and hopefully eliminated the decision that caused the plot hole, but I need input from others to make significant changes. 
 
In general, what can I do to make it better?
 
 
Thank you,
 
Sara
 
P.S. I put language and violence as warnings, but I think the swears are made up ones and most of the violence is in part 2. 
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Ah yes, how well I know the requirements for this anthology.

Overall

I'm going to be a little more specific here than normal. It's not because I hate the story but rather because I think the one you're not telling is the one with the best potential. If you're not into prescriptive thoughts, feel free to skip.

While I'm intrigued by the world, I'm far more interested in the internal story that isn't being told than the one that is. There doesn't appear to be an inciting incident (I kept thinking one of the attacks would be, but then they were all summarily dealt with with no repercussions) and MC and the sister didn't distinguish themselves enough in voice until the end for me to get a feel for either of them. The world, too seemed too thin, even for a short, for me to get invested. The Nine are so nebulous as to be irrelevant at this time. 

The MC doesn't have any struggles. Their competency slider is too high to give the section tension, and I feel no danger from any of the attackers or the looming threat of the Nine. The action sequences felt too breezed over. I think, though, that's because you're skimming around another story: the one where we learn why MC turned down the heirship and how that affects their relationship with their sister. 

There's a missing opportunity here, I feel like, to explore the world by starting at the ceremony for the sister. Have MC remember their ceremony, explore the world a bit. Have the ceremony and then an attack as an inciting incident where the MC can think about or discuss the Nine. 

This would free up a lot of space in the narrative too for more action items (or character development) by cutting the dialogue and relative lack of action at the start.

As I go

- I don't understand the security being invisible line. 

- 'forsaken rock' the curses are really clumsy. Wondering if something shorter wouldn't be easier to read and potentially easier to say when enraged

- the robots seemed really sudden. They probably need to be mentioned with the security line up front. It'd be a hook, too

- that first paragraph on page two is a lot. I think it introduces too many people and too many occurrences for any of it to settle into my mind.

- Chief Security Officer's worst nightmare... who is the chief security officer? Is it our MC? If so that should probably be noted earlier, too, so this line has more punch

- pg 3: the 'who would want to kill me' line diffuses the tension and intrigue. 

debating whether ... without any snark or shrieking <-- this sentence doesn't make sense to me

- pg 5: so just to take stock at this point, this is what has stuck with me: nonbinary MC, sister, coming of age party for the MC (maybe? maybe the sister?). There's a mother and a brother? Maybe? Robot bodyguards and also human ones and there's a cake. Some nebulous threat exists that I do not yet understand or care about. 

I feel like I should have more buy in for the lead right now than I do. Is there a secondary through line for this piece that I've missed maybe? 

- I had to read the Hess section twice to figure out what happened. Not so much because the actions were unclear but because there wasn't enough emotional reaction or lead in, I felt like, to signal the scene. 

- pg 10: I really thought the mouse bot thing would be the inciting incident, but it gets dealt with really quickly. I'm disappointed

- pg 10: the abdicating remembrance from the MC would be a decent chapter lead, followed by entering right here at the ceremony to the sister taking the vows. You could have some time with the nice imagery then of the ceremony, explain a bit more about the goddess and the social structures, then have the inciting incident be whatever is coming up now (I assume some type of attack)

- pg 13: Recurring references to the nine do not add any tension because I don't know anything about them and don't feel any substantial threat to the characters at this time

 

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3 hours ago, kais said:

While I'm intrigued by the world, I'm far more interested in the internal story that isn't being told than the one that is.

I'm open to digging more into this. In my original draft, gender was barring Enzi from being heir, but I knew that wouldn't fly with the anthology and more importantly, thought hey, this is the future, people should know better. As I took that out, this internal story came. I like this reason much much better. 

3 hours ago, kais said:

There's a missing opportunity here, I feel like, to explore the world by starting at the ceremony for the sister. Have MC remember their ceremony, explore the world a bit. Have the ceremony and then an attack as an inciting incident where the MC can think about or discuss the Nine.

The Nine attack 2 or 3 pages after this section ends, so...okay you have a point. If that is indeed the inciting incident then it shouldn't be at the half way point. 

I'll mull this over while I work on the next submission and see what others comments I get.  I have plenty of time to work on this before the editorial deadline. I just need to decide if this is actually the story I'm going to use by the end of the month. 

Thank you! 

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I think @kais pinpointed the things I had trouble with. We note a lot of the same things.

My main problem was a lack of tension. I'm not sure whether to expect story about a robot attack or a story about a fancy party.

On 1/21/2019 at 1:55 PM, kais said:

The MC doesn't have any struggles. Their competency slider is too high to give the section tension, and I feel no danger from any of the attackers or the looming threat of the Nine.

Much better put than what I was going to say. This may be why I thought this was going to be a story more about E vs. U rather than E vs. robots (which I think it is?)

 

On 1/21/2019 at 1:55 PM, kais said:

I think the one you're not telling is the one with the best potential.

This exactly.

 

20 hours ago, shatteredsmooth said:

In my original draft, gender was barring Enzi from being heir, but I knew that wouldn't fly with the anthology

Right now, the events are kind of fractured. There's rivalry between E and U where I don't see why there should be any. I'm guessing this is an artifact from the original version.

E rousts out party guests who are crashing as well as deadly robots. I'm not sure where I'm supposed to pay attention.

 

Notes while reading
pg 1: first paragraph is kind of clunky with repeating E's name several times. (Also, I have a villain with the same name in one of my stories and it's throwing me off...)

pg 4: "debating whether the Goddess used magic or science to terraform their moon without any snark or shrieking"
--I think you mean E and U debated without snark, but it reads that the goddess did the terraforming without snark and shrieking.

pg 5: "reported catching glimpses of The Mindless Nine"
--I feel like this should have a much bigger impact, if they are definitely doing something. On a differnent note I wonder if having so much information about the mindless nine early on diffuses the tension. I'll have to read on to see.

pg 6: the confrontation with the aunt is a bit awkward. It seems more plotful than naturally ocurring that E blurts out about slavery. I'm also not sure what any of this has to do with the story yet. Something happened the night before, but there's not enough information to even guess.

pg 8: the tension is off with H. as well. He's quickly caught. It says in the next paragraph that E finds more party crashers, but we didn't know they would be expecting so many. 

pg 12: I'm not sure why the aunt is so important, rather than E and U's parents. I'm also not sure at the quick change in supporting U to supporting E.

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1 hour ago, Mandamon said:

There's rivalry between E and U where I don't see why there should be any. I'm guessing this is an artifact from the original version.

I'll have to clarify this when I revise. 

Regardless of the reason, E losing their position as heir meant U became the heir. U really doesn't want to be the heir, but she is the only other sibling. However, E doesn't understand that.

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1 hour ago, Mandamon said:

Also, I have a villain with the same name in one of my stories and it's throwing me off...

That would throw me off too...lol

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Overall, I had a hard time getting into this. There are a lot of interesting ideas in this piece, but I feel like they are coming at me too quickly for me to really get a handle on them. I feel like maybe narrowing the focus to be more on E and U rather than having so much of the world info up front around them might help anchor me to the story a bit better. 

 

As I go:

The invented curse words aren't really landing for me, I'm afraid. 

The dialogue is feeling a bit stilted here and plot-ful at the beginning here, too

I think I agree with the lack of stakes. Nothing really goes wrong for E. They have a plan in place for everything, and I tend to find that kind of perfection to be a bit boring. Honestly, I'm feeling more for U at this point. It seems like she's being kept out of the knowledge that would contextualize why her Big Important Party is being ruined and I can sympathize with that kind of frustration. I've also seen more emotion out of U than I have out of E. 

I feel like a lot of what E does is summarize, and while the context is nice, I don't know that I need so much of it in a short story. I feel like I want more action and emotions, and maybe a bit tighter focus on the main players, rather than the overview of everything related to the event. I also feel like this might be front-loading some of the information, especially about the assassins and other kingdoms, earlier than it really needs to be included. I would rather hear about what makes the threat so credible than what the assassins are made of before I've even seen them, for instance.

I am a little confused as to why the assassins shot up a random village, too. Wanton random destruction seems outside their purview.

I like the dynamic between E and U, how they used to be close and aren't any longer, and I think they are really good protagonists. 

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